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  • Johnn Ventimiglia

Two hours fishing is better than no hours of fishing. Two hours of listening to water in a rush to find a way of over and around rocks is better than two hours of music. Pools and eddys, riffles and runs - they look like a painting you've stepped into. You can find great satisfaction if you just look at them patiently.

The modern life is a good life. There are many things to divert your attention. Modernity has made so many things easier. Whatever you need or want, within reason, is attainable. Think how someone like George Washington or Alexander the Great would feel if they were time warped to the present. Convenience is ubiquitous in almost every construct of man's. The only construct which can neither be improved, amended, prolonged, shortened, or compartmentalized is time. Time remains constant as it always has, ever flowing. It rushes by like the water over rocks. We can hear it sometimes. Other times we forget it as it flows under some bridge or around some curve.

Time for certain is a scare resource. It is something there just isn’t enough of. There are things to do at all times. Somebody always needs you or you always need to do something. It can be disheartening because you just don’t have enough time.

A few years ago I had this professor tell me it wasn’t about having time but making time. This was a new idea, I thought. But a little introspection on the subject helps. Like most people know, if you want to do stuff you gotta make the time to do it. Additionally it’s very easy to regurgitate this as a maxim, another thing to pull the trigger on it.

Which brings me to fishing; I love the fall. The weather is a relief from the humid Mid-Atlantic summer, the clothing is more comfortable, and there isn’t a better time to be in the woods. Hunting, fishing, hiking - a holy Trinity for any and all who treasure the outdoors. The restorative properties of the woods are best exemplified during the fall. There is a crispness to the air. Breaks in the sky of blistering sun through cold air and pockets of thermals add welcome variety. The crunch of leaves under foot underlines it. The woods and streams can break any blues. They can provide the sounding board you are in search of. They are a safe place for experimentation with your emotions and mentalities. The woods ask very little in return - save that you leave them as you found them.

Daniel Boone probably said it best, “You see now how little nature requires, to be satisfied. Felicity, the companion of content, is rather found in our own breasts than in the enjoyment of external things, and I firmly believe it requires but a little philosophy to make a man happy in whatsoever state he is. This consists in a full resignation to the will of Providence, and a resigned soul finds pleasure in a path strewed with briers and thorns.”

Trout fishing in New Jersey is great in the fall too. The waters are stocked allowing for generous opportunities in landing fish. The only issue is that the stocked season coincides with deer hunting too. Now juggling hobbies is about as first world a problem that a person can have so I say that as a disclaimer. Certainly this is an embarrassment of riches. But, having to pick between the two is a coin flip and the answer will change everyday or whether or not you are "bucked out" (harvested your allotment of deer).

Weddings are a joyful and fun event no doubt about it. But dammit all if I don’t want to sneak off to the woods if even only for a spell. So when I had a wedding in Cape May last weekend, which I was looking forward to, I had a little time before we left. I made the time to fish. Now this could be the equivalent of putting 10lbs of potatoes in a 5lb bag but I would say while it's similar it's not the same. The relation is probably similar to a goose and duck. Close, but no cigar.

That morning I got up early and got in the truck and got to the river by dawn. It was an hour drive out from where I live but I put on a good playlist and enjoyed the solitude you find on dark roads when everyone is still asleep.

There was one other guy at the parking area when I got there just before dawn. He was tying some tippet I think. We said nothing to each other. We each just minded our own business.

I hiked down a small berm and to the the stream bank. Then I worked my way up from the shore. I stepped into a shallow point where I could get better angles on pools and runs I thought might hold some trout.

The slick rock and evergreens framed the water perfectly as the woods woke up. The sun tried its hardest to peak through the cloud cover but it was unsuccessful and drizzle came on down. It wasn’t bad though and you certainly didn’t need a raincoat for it.

As I fished I kept an eye on the clock. I casted hastily and snagged. So focused on the clock was I that I could hear the second hand ticking in the back of my brain. I was rushing. I was desperate to find fish. Tick-tock. Skunked. Try another hole. Hike up another 50 yards. Snagged again. That was my only egg pattern. These farm raised fish love egg patterns. Gotta remember to get some more. Let’s try some nymphs. Snagged again. It began to build, the stress of going out to do something and getting all the way out there and not doing anything. On and on the pattern went. For two hours - stressed and wanting so badly to catch fish that I almost forgot why you fish in the first place. I stopped and took a moment and just listened. The sound of the water, barking squirrels, things falling off of trees. It was bliss. Before it was too late I remembered why we fish. I hiked back to the truck and packed it up and headed home grateful for two hours of fishing.

Lest I be discouraged; back to Ole Dan'l Boone, "...a resigned soul finds pleasure in a path strewed with briers and thorns.”

  • Johnn Ventimiglia

You would be hard pressed to find a meal more expensive than wild game. While prime steak and lobster can run you into the hundreds of dollars at a fine dining establishment, wild game can go into the thousands. Now before I get told, “But Johnn you can buy venison or buffalo jerky at 7-Eleven!” I should say that I am talking about true wild game. The stuff at the convenience store is a product of the captive cervid and buffalo industry where deer and bison are raised behind fences like cattle. True wild game can't be sold in a restaurant.

Here's why it's expensive. Let us examine hunting whitetail deer in the Eastern United States. To go out in the field means you require a few basics. Even if you don’t get all the camouflage and the boots you still require:

· A hunting license

· A hunting permit for the species/season

· A weapon to harvest your quarry

· A single bullet, arrow, or shell (for a perfectly placed shot)

Those are by my estimation, the bare minimum of what you need to hunt whitetail deer in most states. You probably won’t be too successful but theoretically that’s all it takes. Now if you would prefer to be on the successful side as well as responsible (because good hunting means good game care after the shot) you can add the following:

· Tree stand or blind

· Camouflage clothing

· Good boots

· More than one bullet, arrow, or shell

· Binoculars

· Rope

· A good knife

· Game bags

Lastly, consider some other things you may need:

· Time off from work/free weekend

· Car or truck

· Gas for said car or truck

· Toll money (like here in New Jersey)

· An internet connection and device to find where to go

It adds up quickly. I will save you the cost analysis of what it takes to hunt whitetail deer. I’m sure somebody has put it all in a spreadsheet. But like anything a person likes to do – if they like it enough it’s all worth it. I like hunting but I have never taken a deer or anything larger than a chunky squirrel for that matter. I’ve been hunting on-and-off since 2015, mostly off due to a hectic work schedule that required lots of travel. But I enjoy it and continue to enjoy it. The preparation is half the fun. The organization, the methodical plotting, the weather watching, all of it is enjoyable. But the absolute best part is being in the woods. There is nothing that compares to being up a tree or down in a hollow when the woods wake up. Firstly, the woods are a cacophony of sound in the dawn hours. What you think is a moose or freight train ends up being a chipmunk or a squirrel. Things are constantly walking around, around you. It’s terrifying. The first time I went in before dawn and got up in the tree and turned out my headlamp was one of the scariest experiences of my life. And imagine, I was 28 years old! I know plenty of guys and gals grow up in the outdoors but I was not one of them. I came to hunting much later in life after some friends and I stumbled on a TV show called “The Wild Within” which would later become “Meateater”. I read all Rinella’s books henceforth and that was that.

This is all a preface for my last trip to the woods last Monday. The Fall Bow season opened up here in NJ in the zone I hunt last Saturday 10/2. 10/2 was also my sister’s 30th Birthday and as much as I love the woods, I love my sister more. New Jersey bars hunting from public lands on Sunday – why I do not know, maybe to accommodate hikers. This meant the first day I could get out was Monday so I took the day off and went.

The forecast called for scattered showers. I looked at the radar and deemed a little rain wouldn’t be the end of it all. I have read that plenty of folks routinely kill big deer in between the raindrops and figured I may as well try. I already had the day.

I had scouted the area I wanted to go and found plenty of sign in the way of scrapes and rubs and even a few beds on the end of my range. So I woke up early and drove up to the mountains of North Jersey and hiked in to state land. It was foggy and misty and I quickly realized the places I had scouted were still a ways off. Always the impulsive type, I took a quick right when I saw an opening in the woods. I called an audible and decided that this spot, where I had never scouted, would be a good opportunity. I climbed up a skinny elm tree and waited for dawn. I took the script, crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

As it should have been expected, I saw nothing. Eventually, the light came through the woods and I heard human voices. I realized where I had hung my stand was only a few hundred feet from a campsite. Busted. Knowing I couldn’t take a shot I descended the tree and walked another 200 yards deeper into the woods. I found a much nicer opening with lots of oaks and falling acorns and picked a tree that offered good shooting lanes.

Nothing still. I sat and sat as you do and saw three squirrels. Besides them, a jay and a chipmunk. Then the rain turned on. It had rained intermittently throughout the previous night and early morning but right around 10:00am it kicked up to a storm and I pulled out my slicker and bundled up and waited. An hour and change later it abated but only slightly and still no deer.

I didn’t even see a deer. I thought I heard plenty but unless you see something you’re never really sure. It was as boring and as miserable as sitting in a tree for eight hours can be. I went home soaked. However, I wasn’t down. The saying “a bad day of ______ beats a good day of work” applies here too. I learned that not sticking to my plan means that I do not know if where I scouted earlier in the summer was good or bad. For all I know there were tons of deer there. I learned that hunting in the rain is still hunting in the rain. And I learned that even though I got skunked, I can’t wait to do it again.

I fished as a kid but in my twenties I got into fly fishing. It took me a long time to get any good at it but since then my flyrod and I have caught fish in Wyoming, Montana, Alaska and good old New Jersey. I’ve caught sunnies, trout, crappie, bass, and Arctic grayling all on the fly and I’m barely half a fisherman. I say this because it didn’t happen overnight. It took trip after trip of getting skunked. I think getting skunked is the best thing that can happen to you in pursuit of game. If you pay attention you learn something. If you don’t get discouraged and decide to keep coming back then you’ll learn to execute on what you learned. It might be a little hokey to say that getting skunked is a great metaphor for life but it is. It also means that you got to go out in the field or the woods or the stream or lake or whatever and that alone can be enough.

Until the next time – I hope you keep getting skunked. I know I will be.

  • Johnn Ventimiglia

Floods are not new. Growing up on the East Coast I'm no stranger to volumes and volumes of water pouring through our streets and into our homes, especially in hurricane season. From mid-summer to early fall from Boston to Miami the impending threat of hurricane looms. It is not if, but when.

Last week's most recent episode, Hurricane Ida, was particularly brutal. At least 25 people in New Jersey drowned. But the property damage, I'm sure, is still being calculated. And while this not a new affront, it is fresh.

These types of events tend to leave everyone with a personal anecdote, somehow everyone is connected to it. So and so's house flooded, my friend's car was under water, my brother-in-law's basement refrigerator floated away. So we tell our stories and we listen to other people's stories and then we exchange a few "I'm sorry's" and "That's too bad's". Then we pick up the pieces. We throw out the old photographs and water-logged furniture, the baby clothes, the Christmas decorations, the flannel sheets that go on the bed in November and we move on. Many times we just buy more junk to fill the space of the old junk; the wheel of American consumerism turning another revolution.

But floods are not new. Cultures from around the world like the Sumerians, Aztecs, Greeks, Chinese, Aborigines, Ojibwe and Chippewa all told stories about floods. And also that guy with the ark. Their morals or metaphors vary somewhat but usually it has to do with an angry deity or some sort of fresh start needed. The deity is unhappy with how the mortals live their lives and so he hits the reset button on the whole thing by washing everyone away. These last few events seem eerily apropros and on brand.

Water is a particularly interesting method for destruction. It is essential to life, it is fundamental to everything deemed alive on this planet. It powers our lights, it washes our bodies, it makes up most of the stuff that we are. And yet, it is a god in it's own right. It can drown, flood, saturate, dilute, and generally destroy anything Earthly given enough time and volume. Water falls into that fun category of neither bad nor good, but just is.

Driving around North Jersey after the last hurricane didn't show much of the scarification that other storms like Sandy or Irene or Floyd did. On the surface, it seemed that as soon as the waters receded things got back to pretty much normal. But a second look is warranted to see the impact. You can see dirt caked on a chainlink fence five feet high, the high water mark. You can see pebbles and dirt and dust caked on sidewalks and streets that are now bone dry. You can see the seemingly endless piles of junk, junk that was once the possessions of people but now is too water logged to be anything but garbage.

It's in those piles of junk that the psychological damage can be seen. In those piles of faded pictures of lost relatives, hand-me-down baby clothes, trophies, video tapes, heirloom furniture, and miscellaneous bric-à-brac are the histories of people. And while possessions come and go and things aren't only things, they are more. They can mean more. Why else would we visit museums? And so family histories told through artifacts are blotted out, forgotten, thrown away like junk.

But water as a destructive force is not new. Floods are not new. People losing everything is not new. What's new is the frequency of these events. No doubt it is spurred by climate change. Forget polar bears and electric cars for a second. If nothing else a warmer climate holds more moisture in the air. More moisture means more rain. More rain means more floods. I could go into the sea levels or melting ice caps or carbon expenditure or how Miami Beach floods on sunny days. I won't. All I will say is that listening to someone over fifty say something along the lines of, "I don't remember it being this bad," or, "It never used to happen like this," tells you what you need to know. There is a problem - a problem that has been defined by the brightest of us - and it will take an all hands on deck approach to stem the tide (no pun intended).

The climate issue is a humanitarian issue, it is a race issue, it is an inequity issue, it is a food issue, it is a security issue, it is the issue. It is fundamental to so many things from growing seasons for our food to where we live.

I live in the Northeast and so my experience is hyper-localized. While I like to imagine myself as able to empathize with Louisiana, I cannot. I watched Hurricane Katrina on T.V. I watched the Camp Fire in California on Instagram. Perhaps if these things touch enough people then there will be meaningful action. Then again, the people these events touch the most are the most vulnerable, the most powerless. There are many people who's family artifacts are tucked neatly into water-tight homes or storage units or high towers. Their histories will not be blotted out by the flood waters.

So maybe we should build an ark. Not an ark 300 cubits long. But an ark that is planet sized. America can lead the way. We love big things here! A place where we could put everyone and everything and save it from the rage of the tempest and the water that is coming. It sounds futuristic but it could be done. It sounds expensive but it could be done. And if the whole Jenga tower is going to fall one way or another shouldn't we at least try? We're a smart people after all! We invented sliced bread and the Pirate of the Caribbean ride and decaffeinated coffee! What if we could figure some kind of place where we could save ourselves, our race, and all the things we love and take along all the animals and plants just like Noah. It would be sublime. But where would we even begin such a project?

It turns out we live on an ark. The bones are pretty good too. They should hold up for a least another half a billion years, give or take. It has all the food and water we need as we float through the cosmos. The harmful waves of radiation and solar wind simply lap at our gunwales. We don't even have to make any pitstops or bathroom breaks. We can sit here and live our lives, pretty normally, on our ark.

We're at a critical point and it needs more than a coat of paint but given the alternative electric cars and solar panels and getting rid of plastic shopping bags is a low-stakes, very non-invasive start. The alternative is grim. And if you think that having a generator or living on a mountain top is insulation enough then I suggest the following short poem by Martin Niemöller. It's of a different topic but the theme makes the point.


By Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left To speak out for me.

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