Of Lightning, Thunder, and Life

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 17, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

No doubt you noticed those late night – and very early morning – thunderstorms rolling across Paradise last week. So rare here, but so full of life! Watching and hearing and feeling that crashing at 4:45 a.m. seemed to trigger sparks in every cell of my body. For a while there, it was, “What pandemic?” It was a much appreciated early Father’s Day gift.

I’d almost forgotten how much I missed my old friend lightning until that magic light and sound show last week. I’ve loved lightning since I was a kid in East Wenatchee, Washington.

By mid-spring, the waiting would be almost unbearable. I don’t think I knew exactly what was coming, but I recall that, as those warm Chinooks swept down off the Cascades and out to the Columbia Basin, my anxiety rose. As the air got warmer and drier, it became harder to concentrate on all three “R”s. Then one morning, there would be a sweet discomfort to the air, even inside. On the walk to school, I couldn’t get enough of that air.

By noon, the clouds would be building. And by the time I walked up the drive, after that mile walk home from school, it would be everywhere. Lightning seemed to fill the sky, as the earth trembled with its thunder. The dry, nervous air of spring changed with the rain. I remember feeling fully alive, watching, transfixed, until the excitement passed.

I have often thought that I became a meteorologist because of that lightning – that “Alka-Seltzer” of the air. Dancing between negative and positive charges on the ground or in a cloud, it neutralizes those atmospheric ions that can make us irritable or uncomfortable.

Last week’s flashing lightning, and that slight acrid ozone smell lingering behind it, carried me back to Lawrence, and the University of Kansas, and the spring of 1972.

As a grad student, the first class I taught at the University of Kansas was full of young people who saw no sense in studying weather. Since they drove air-conditioned cars and lived and studied in climate-controlled rooms, they reasoned, there was no need. They felt totally insulated from Nature.

But Kansas is lightning country! I loved those thunderstorms on the prairie. Commonly, they were (and still are) nighttime storms – something we only rarely see here in the Northwest or in the Rockies where I did my TV weatherman gig for some years. In Kansas, I could lie in bed and watch the magic out my window as it swept in from the west. Lightning would dash and sizzle and hang from cloud top to cloud top for a couple hours or more, sometimes. Finally it would flash and crash over and around us. I loved it.

Here in our mostly-dry part of the world, we notice it less than in more humid parts of the country, but the discomfort people feel with either “very dry” or “very moist” air often has to do with its electrical ions. With very dry air, especially in a warm wind – as in the occasional Chinook of Wenatchee or south of Yakima, or the Santa Ana of the Los Angeles Basin – an excess of negative ions may build up. With such a negative ion excess, lots of folks get irritable and short-tempered. Water vapor molecules, on the other hand, carry an excess of positive ions. With high levels of water vapor in the air (that “high humidity”), we tend to be fussy and uncomfortable, with a “leave me alone” attitude.

Anyhow, that spring in Lawrence we had a week of very warm, windy, and very dry weather. Grad students squabbled over anything from cubicle to cubicle in our study room (“Do you HAVE to turn those *!&#! pages so loud?”). It was great. Then, the night before an early-morning class with my “insulated” students, a line of thunderstorms moved through – one of the best shows ever. Two and a half hours of fireworks. As it approached, drawing warm moist air in ahead of it, positive ions built up in our house. My wife couldn’t sleep, and our kids, one by one, drowsily came into our room. “What’s wrong?” I’d ask. “I don’t feel good,” they’d say. “Well, what’s wrong, honey?” “NOTHINGGG! I just don’t feel good. I can’t sleep.” As they huddled around our bed, separated, groaning, I turned back to the show.

As the storm, at last, passed over us, at least a dozen lightning bolts crashed and exploded within a hundred yards of us. As it moved on, having sorted out our ionic imbalance, my tribe had crashed. Michelle was asleep on the carpet near her mom, Nicole on the floor by her bed and Tim was sprawled onto his, with one foot on the floor.

My young students were all yawning the next morning. “Just couldn’t sleep ’til after the storm,” someone said. “Not insulated enough,” I guessed. Our grad student study room was suddenly peaceful and friendly again. Go figure…

Being struck by lightning can mess up your whole day, so it’s not to be played with, of course. But you gotta love lightning when you have the chance.

Happy summer!

All about Aliens (Not that Kind)

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 10, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Finally, fishing is opening up around the West. We are starting to see possibilities – again – on waters across the state and into neighboring states. We are also seeing a big increase in the movement of fishing boats across state lines. With that movement comes a heightened attention to any unwelcome hitchhikers – alien species – that our boats and fishing gear might be carrying.

This is important. The amount of damage done to fish habitat and the aquatic environment by alien species – which may have no natural enemies or control agents in their new homes – can be devastating.

We probably most often hear about Eurasian milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), the water vine dropped all over the state by boats carrying just a few stems from infested waters. It chokes out fishing and fun in our ponds by late summer; and clearing it is a major process. Treatments are ongoing. You will find all you want to know by googling “milfoil in Washington State.”

Another Asian native water species is hydrilla (hydrilla verticillata), a.k.a. water thyme. This one has largely been eradicated in Washington, but in other states around the West it is apparently invading rivers, irrigation canals, lakes and ponds, destroying fish habitat, clogging intakes and fish screens and interfering with fishing, boating and swimming. Active eradication programs are underway around the West, and Washington inspectors are paying close attention to all incoming boats and gear.

Invasive invertebrates are today’s biggest concern. They arrive with our boots, fishing gear and boating equipment.

New Zealand mudsnails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) are now found in fishing waters throughout the West. Elongated, less than a quarter inch in length and brown (black if wet), they travel on the seams and laces of wading or (even) hunting boots. A single mudsnail can colonize a new location. Fishermen returning to Washington from streams across the West are asked to carefully scrub boots and field gear under a high pressure hose until no visible traces of mud or sand remain.

Right now, zebra/quagga mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are atop the minds of those trying to keep our watersheds safe – They have been spreading across North America since the 1980s. From microscopic to two inches long, with light and dark stripes and razor-sharp shells, these critters clog pipes, encrust other aquatic life, and ruin boats, motors, anchors, fishing gear and other hard objects. Zebra mussels are notorious for their ability to colonize water supply pipes of hydroelectric and nuclear power plants, water supply plants, and industrial facilities. Colonization restricts the flow in pipes, creating problems in heat exchangers, condensers, and fire-fighting equipment, as well as air conditioning and cooling systems. They essentially make beaches unusable, clog water filtration pipes, and destroy boat engines. While there is not yet much information on how these mussels affect irrigation, farms and golf courses seem to be likely candidates for infestations.

Why the very high level of alert in Washington today? The Columbia River is the only basin in the U.S. that remains mussel-free, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that if they make it into the Columbia, they could cost hydroelectric facilities up to $300 million a year, with hundreds of millions more in environmental damage and increased operating expenses for fish hatcheries and water diversions.

Even with careful inspection, these critters can be very hard to find. Thus, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has adopted “Puddles,” its latest weapon in the fight to keep invasive species out of our state. At an animal shelter in Fresno, California, Puddles caught the attention of the Green Dog Project’s “Rescued for a Reason” Program, which contacted Mussel Dogs, of Oakdale California. There, Puddles learned to use her great nose to detect mussels. With a Bureau of Reclamation grant, DFW purchased Puddles for our Aquatic Invasive Species Check Station program.

She works: over the Memorial Day weekend, Puddles earned her keep. At a DFW check station east of Spokane, a boat traveling from Lake Havasu, Arizona, was checked. It had already been decontaminated three times (in Montana and Idaho), yet Puddles’ nose found mussels that several sets of human eyes had missed. Tiny mussels were found behind the boat’s sonar system – mussels that could have caused millions of dollars in damage in a body of water that doesn’t already have invasive mussels.

Puddles is just one weapon in the battle against invasive mussels. DFW asks that all boat owners help prevent the spread of trouble by cleaning, drying, and draining all watercraft (including kayaks and other non-motorized vessels) every time they come out of the water. Always check drywells and any gear that was in the boat, too. And, of course, stop at every boat check station. Find more about all of this at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/invasive.

This is important: it’s about the future of waters, recreation and economy.

Happy summer…

At Last! Free Fishing Weekend!

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 3, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Probably because we’ve been “sheltered” for the last few months, and it coincides with increasing outdoor “openings,” this year’s Washington State Free Fishing Weekend is a bit more exciting than normal. It is always the weekend following the first Monday of June, and has become, for a great many families and their youngsters, the traditional backdrop for the waterside social events of the year.

Free fishing weekend was established to introduce adults and kids to fishing; to get them hooked or re-hooked on fishing as great family recreation. It also creates a fine opportunity for you to teach a neighbors or friends – and their kids – the ins and outs of your fishing passion and recreation.

This Saturday and Sunday, you will need no license to fish in any open water in the state. Nor will you need a Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Access Pass or Discover Pass to be on any public fishing water on DFW or State Parks ground. You will need to abide by size and bag limits and closures, but opportunities abound, and plenty of fat trout have been dropped into local waters for you.

Check out the 2019-2020 Washington State Fishing Regulation Pamphlet (in effect through 30 June) for rules and regulations. You will find the pamphlet free at any of our local hunting and fishing license dealers or online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations. You will also find that DFW has posted a great deal of help and many fishing tips (including recent stocking reports) at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/free. This site also has a great deal of useful and valuable information for folks who already have licenses and fish regularly.

Traditionally, the big excitement of Free Fishing Weekend has been the kid fishing derbies across Paradise and across the state. Watching groups of parents, grandparents and friends gathered around fishing holes cheering for kids fishing has long been a very appealing way to spend time over this weekend. And why not? As a friend repeatedly reminded me some decades ago, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!” It certainly is a primary reasons we work to get kids hooked on fishing. Sadly, this year, the Covid 19 pandemic led to the cancellation or postponement of virtually all – county and state wide – kids’ fishing events.

Still, virtually all those waters on which kids usually enjoy the derbies have recently planted trout. In the last couple weeks waters in all parts of Kittitas County (from Mattoon and Fio Rito Lakes to Cooper Lake) have all received feisty fat rainbows. As mentioned above, you will find more about these recent plants and the weekend itself at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/free. This is still a perfect weekend to get kids and friends on the water, fishing.

Truth be told, while most of the fishing around Paradise will be for trout of one type or another, you never know what a youngster might latch onto on a particular day. A couple decades ago, I pulled into the McCabe Pond parking lot with Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward and his two older sisters, Tena and Anna. The kids were eight to fourteen, and ready for some serious fishing. As the morning wore on, Edward was getting skunked, but always one to make lemonade out of lemons, he took up the cause of cheering his sisters to bigger and better fish dreams. When Anna’s rod started twitching, she grabbed it and set the hook. Whatever was on the other end almost took the rod from her little hands. Over the next twenty minutes, the critter on the line triggered startled squeals of delight as it yanked away. Edward cheered Anna on, and the two-foot-long fish finally thrashed its way into the weeds at our feet. Turned out, that five-pound-plus channel catfish didn’t like being released any better than it had liked being caught. As mud flew and kids slipped and laughed, we created an ongoing family legend and cemented several lifelong fishing passions.

So. Get out, go fishing AND be safe. Most every agency involved with supporting folks outdoors these moments has signed on to the #ResponsibleRecreation (hashtag ResponsibleRecreation) campaign. Our Department of Fish and Wildlife, With State Parks and the Department of Natural Resources have been actively campaigning for safety – and continued caution – in your outdoor recreation. Some new campgrounds have opened and things are relaxing a bit, but overcrowding and leaving messes on our public ground could be cause for reversing some of the recent moves to open more and more of our outdoors.

Folks are strongly encouraged to take the #ResponsibleRecreation pledge. It simply means: planning ahead and getting licenses and park passes online; recreating close to home; following best practices for avoiding Covid-19; following state and federal guidelines; packing out trash as a courtesy to others and avoiding an appearance of overuse; and sharing your adventures respectfully on social outlets. Find more at www.recreateresponsibly.org/.

Go fishing. Take a neighbor or two. Take a youngster or two. This weekend could be a find start to a fishing life. Be safe.

Mudding: Again? Or Still?

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 27, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

What got me thinking about mudding, again, were the two open-sided, covered-with-mud rigs making turns onto University Way in Ellensburg on Sunday. The young, mud-splattered drivers were hooting it up back and forth over some recent, and obviously exciting, adventure.

“Mudding” is the “fun” tag used all too often for tearing through high country meadows with four-wheel-drive and off-road vehicles. It destroys fragile wildlife habitat and delicately-balanced ecosystems.

I am already hearing rumors about such damage out on public – primarily U.S. Forest Service – ground around Paradise. Maybe winter was just too long. Maybe it was the stress of Shelter in Place and the boredom of the Pandemic rules. Or maybe the dirty mudders just had to break loose.

With the human turnover here in Paradise of Washington, the “Please don’t go mudding in mountain meadows!” message gets lost over time and some immature drivers start looking for excitement in the mud. It seems like every couple years, the sheriff’s office, and state and federal land agencies have to get serious about the damage to meadows around the valley. 2020 is looking like one of those years.

I learned about mudding a couple decades ago. An early twenty-something student and I were discussing the joys and frustrations of owning a four-wheel-drive rig.  He explained to me about his serious “mudding” in the forest – said it was as close as he could get to heaven while he was at CWU.

Of course, I do not know for sure that those two mud-covered rigs had been messing around in some public meadow. I was just playing the odds in my mind. Unfortunately, they were long gone down some side street by the time I got turned around to chat with them.

It is an issue. Over the past decade and more, damage to meadows and wetlands has off and on reached crisis proportions on our county’s public lands. Serious damage has been found in the L.T. Murray, up the Taneum, up Reecer Creek and on Buck Meadows.

What does Aserious@ really mean? The Cle Elum Ranger District, Washington Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources and the Kittitas County Sheriff are loaded for bear. Mudding is not allowed on any public land in the County. And anyone caught in a meadow, mudding or just making ruts, will be automatically assuming all responsibility for expensive repairs. Driving through a wet meadow or wetland such that a tire sinks into the soil can cost several hundred bucks, with fines ranging from $100 to $5,000, depending on the damage and the cost of repairing it.

Over the years, I have suggested that we need a private Mudding Park – something like a WallyMudWorld for 4x4s, maybe. Some years back, the Cowboy Church held a “mudding competition” on private ground out in the valley. A number of us hoped that might last, but it faded away. For many years, there have been off-road vehicle opportunities out in Grant County (see www.grantcountywa.gov/sheriff/specops/ORV/), but that isn’t, apparently, meeting the full “need” for mud. No matter how the need gets met, it simply can’t be allowed to happen on the sensitive meadows around Paradise.

The Mudding Prevention Subcommittee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association is debating a flyer to be posted on windshields of muddy rigs, advising the driver of the cost of meadow damage and suggesting that samples of mud from the vehicle have been supplied to the pros at the Cle Elum Forest Service District for comparison with damaged meadows. We are also working on designs for “Mud Ranger” badges. Don’t wait for these things, however, your eyes and ears are needed now.

If you spot a vehicle you suspect has been out mudding in all the wrong places, the County Sheriff or Cle Elum Forest District Rangers would like to know. Remember Sheriff Clay’s rallying call: “Give us the dirt on mudders!” Make the call; help them figure out who’s going to pay for the damage.

If you see damage happening, get descriptions and license numbers and immediately call Kittcom at 509-925-8534 for a response from the sheriff’s office, Washington Department of Natural Resources or Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you find recent damage or other evidence, call the Cle Elum Forest Service District Ranger at (509) 852-1100.

Join the posse. Do your part. Keep the above numbers handy.  This is important.

Kids and Families Outdoors Now (#ResponsibleRecreation)

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 20, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Memorial Day Weekend. That long mid-spring weekend when the outdoor world traditionally welcomes family camping, fishing, and carousing. Traditionally.

Thus, several homeys have bent my ear over the past few days about the probabilities of family camping, fishing, and carousing actually happening in this 2020 Age of CoronaVirus. “Look,” I have heard more than once, “this is the year – and the weekend – we promised to do more camping and fishing with the kids. They’re finally big enough to belong out there and do their part at camp, and we promised months ago, and… So. Will there be any open camping areas?” I have had to confess that I just don’t know.

There are certainly moves afoot to have some campgrounds on public land opened by this big weekend, but (as of early this week) I know nothing. It is clear that large numbers of us want – need – to be in the woods around a fire with family and friends. It is also clear that, if that somehow becomes possible, there will be some pretty solid “safety” guidelines issued for behavior and distancing and so forth. Any opening will be watched pretty closely. We’ve already seen openings retracted because of overly enthusiastic and unacceptable public risk-taking afield. The whole picture right now makes me a bit ill, but it is what it is.

My grandhucklings are bugging me every phone call about getting out this summer. Can I promise camping and fishing when I come to Colorado? Do I promise to help them make stories like their parents tell? Hmmm???

Invariably, they want the “Yellowstone Story.” Probably something to do with the fundamental moral correctness of kids and parents camping and fishing. Be that as it may, they love the story.

Okay… When my oldest were still too small to do much fishing, we camped in Yellowstone. I vividly recall a very early morning on Yellowstone Lake in July. It was one of those mornings when I felt totally alive, when the colors in the morning sun were deep and rich, and the air gently flowed through every cell of my being. I stood at the edge of that clear, cold lake casting for cutthroat trout, knowing that if this was my last morning on earth, it would be okay. I was even catching a few 14 and 15 inchers.

Down the beach was another man, also fishing. Fiftyish, I guessed, a bit older than most with young kids. He commented about the morning and how badly he needed to be fishing again, and almost nervously rigged his gear. Then I understood his nervousness. Down the trail behind him came a woman and two little six- to eight-year-old girls. It was all over. He would get them rigged, and while they were casting, he would turn to his own rod. One time, he even got to squat down next to his rod as a fish played with his bait, before the cries of frustration over tangled lines, hooked limbs (girls’ and/or trees’) or lost bait drew him away from his own fishing. Just as I was thinking, “No thanks,” his wife hugged him and offered to remove the girls so he could relax and fish. He wrinkled his nose and said, “No… Thanks. I need to relax, yeah, but what I really need is you guys.” He dismantled his gear and got serious about teaching his girls to fish. Last I remember, he was grinning ear to ear, helping the little one unhook a trout. I got it – we need nature and fishing.

Okay. That question of whether or not public ground camping and fishing will soon open to family and small family-friend groups. The Covid-19 curve is beginning to flatten, but many folks are fretting a bit over the possibility of out-of-control openings leading to sudden closures again. Then, too, critics of opening the outdoors are watching closely for any evidence of “dangerous” behavior once families and groups are actively outdoors. We must be safely ready.

Given these concerns a large number of national, state, and local conservation organizations are cautioning hunters and anglers to maintain social distancing practices and follow directives set forth by their home states and the Center of for Disease Control and Prevention. Last week, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Program helped launch the #ResponsibleRecreation (hashtag ResponsibleRecreation) campaign in a coordinated effort with the National Wild Turkey Foundation, Congressional Sportsman Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Basically, this larger conservation community sees the #ResponsibleRecreation campaign as a safe and constructive way to encourage individuals and families to get outside (hunting, fishing, shooting, or any other outdoor activities) and enjoy the outdoors as a constructive way cope with the current Covid-19 pandemic and practice social distancing. The campaign recommendations may seem a bit trite, but, given the current climate around these “opening” questions, they make good sense – and for our kids’ focus, too.

Taking the #ResponsibleRecreation pledge and staying safe outdoors means: planning ahead and getting licenses and park passes online; recreating close to home; following best practices for avoiding Covid-19; following state and federal guidelines; packing out trash as a courtesy to others and avoiding an appearance of overuse; and sharing your adventures respectfully on social outlets.

Here’s the pledge: “I take the pledge to practice #ResponsbileRecreation and support efforts to get people outdoors during these difficult times. I pledge to staying safe outdoors during the pandemic as I enjoy the plentiful recreational opportunities this great nation has to offer.” Check it out at www.responsible-recreation.org/take-the-pledge.php.