Thursday, March 27, 2008
If I had invested the sock full of quarters Mr. LaRoy doled out by the fistful for my college education instead of spending it to buy the first car that picked me up when I ran off from Aunt Sammy's farm, I would probably have enough now for a year at Cornell.
But that old Hudson did get me as far as Almost-Wyoming, Colorado, and over the years I have happened onto a fortune in free education, which includes living intimately with pigeons and books while embedded in the Cornell Library attic.
And after a another bunch of years mostly without books, I've gained this reconditioned I Book and the convenience of an extension cord to Davey's house.... so I'm really getting a load of new, world knowledge - with a concentration on the nature and culture of chickens, as it relates to the problems where I am at.
At Davey's troubled chicken republic.
Searching through recent chicken science news, I learn that, according to the associate keeper of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in London, Angela Milner - here commenting on the just completed genome sequencing of Tyranasorus Rex:
"The analysis shows that T-rex collagen makeup is almost identical to that of a modern chicken. This corroborates a huge body of evidence from the fossil record that demonstrates birds are descended from meat-eating dinosaurs,"
Now when you remove the feathers, it's easy to see just how much a chicken (like this one engineered for the meat trade in Israel) is like a T. Rex . Dogs will eat corn and there is plenty of it in their food, but Chickens are not meat eaters simply by virtue of the stray bugs on their greens. They are deliberate hunters and proud of it. If you look at most rooster beaks, you will see that they are more hooked like that of a hawk than straight like a finch beak.
Our chickens will run down and kill and kill and kill a mouse for about ten minutes, then run back and forth through the flock with it before tearing out and eating the entrails or leaving the corpse as a public monument in the middle of the path.
And anyone with chickens on the loose learns that roosters will tyranize and terrorize you if you allow it. Maybe they will even peck out your eyes and your entrails too, as some Jihadists have recently threatened to arrange for their own roosters to do to infidels without borders .
Anthropologists have observed that chickens were first domesticated, not for their eggs or meat, but because of their fighting ability.
That says a lot about both our species, but this superior fighting ability has got to be partly due to roosters having a testosterone level which, according to various sources, is from fourteen to seventeen times that of your average human male. Damn!
In the zoological branch of traditional Chinese pharmacology, eating Rooster balls, especially the black-meated variety, is a boost to human male potency. But, judging by roosters, roostosterone might also diminish your ability to separate love from war.
According to an online guide to Tagalog style cock fighting culture, extensive culling of the cockerls is necessary in order to eliminate "Crossed-up chickens and those that are too brainy, stylishly evasive or defensive."
These brainy, stylishly evasive and defensive characteristics have survived because they are useful for political functioning and for the survival of the species. Whereas the aggressively bred fighting cock might be better fit for the entertainment of the bloody minded, or for use by the growing torture industry, but are tragically flawed - not fit to survive in nature.
Tyranasourus Rex didn't survive as such did he....except by getting small, defensive, and brainy.
Developing feathers and wings had to help too,
In the traditions of Asia Major where they appeared before even little yellow people, chickens, and roosters in particular, are the traditional icons not so much off ferocity, as of contrary benevolent qualities. Humans would be lucky to have such well meaning friends, family members, and neighbors of such rich character and intelligent awareness as is attributed to chickens:
as in various summations of the Chinese astrological animal traditions, where the rooster epitomizes Courage; Generosity; Punctuality; Benevolence; and Wisdom ,
"-intelligence, chivalry, bravery, trustworthiness and benevolence"
And according to a modern evaluation, " honesty, ambition, curiosity, confidence, good judgment, self-reliance, courage, fear of commitment and dedication"
" Roosters" says that source, " are also eccentric deep thinkers and moody loners who always think they’re right" .
A Rooster, somebody out there generalizes, is * Intelligent, perceptive, honest, (has) excellent memory, (is) alert, organized, generous, attractive, confident performer ."
Never mind a few shady characteristics, that's already way beyond the requirements for an Eagle Scout .
Maybe we have even bred some of that good stuff into the birds. Maybe we project some and idealize a lot.
The punctuality of roosters is a myth for sure. (Our neighbors for a mile around know that our roosters crow at all hours of the day and night) .
I am foggy about the " fear of commitment" characterization, and I really doubt the honesty claim....... Roosters are probably more sincere than the human animal, but I don't trust one never to deceive.
There is definitely dark side to roosters, including not only their naked will to power, but their petty tendencies to be " boastful , showoffs, opinionated, critical" and much worse.
Some think them to be literally devilish, and can point to their often very red eyes. You should notice that some are brown eyed, and that if a red-eye pales it is because the bird has poor circulation, not because of a good heart.
The fact is that roosters signal everything all the time, long distance and close up, with their crowing and posturing. They will stand inflated on a hillock for long periods, and if they could, would hang flapping six feet up in the air with wings and talons extended like the eagle on a flag.
Small children - who are sensitive to obvious body language which people not so close to the ground don't notice - are often deathly afraid of roosters; and kids who have been attacked by roosters, even if they have not been eviscerated, are often afraid of all chickens, if not all birds, for the rest of their lives.
In Medieval times an unlucky rooster was even tried, convicted, and burnt at the stake for practicing witchcraft. In his case, he was accused of laying eggs. Maybe he/she did.
If all the cocks here at Roosterdorf, who weigh up to nine or ten pounds, would lay eggs, we would have a peck of quarter-pounders every day and a bushel of money by the end of the year.
The wild world net says that Romanian farmers have at some point made a practice of feeding their roosters alcohol soaked grain to make them go broody and tend to to eggs and chicks, which even some hens will not do. So the accused medieval Warlock may have been only a drunk rooster, but I don't think for a minute that roosters are incapable of witchcraft. Witchcraft , when it is not being good, iis basically intimidation , and roosters prefer intimidation to actual fighting. They will try to scare you to death.
There is evil in them for sure and I expect that if you were to give him alcohol any particular rooster would be just as likely to get very bitchy as he woiuld to get broody, and that most likely he would do like the rooster who comes up when I search "drunken rooster": a rooster belonging to some jungle missionaries, to whom someone fed a fermented pineapple.
He ran around wildly crowing and singing for an hour or so, then fell down, passed out, and got up later dazed and confused.
Charles Darwin, a great observer of mating fowls, reported that for cocks courting, “beauty is even sometimes more important than success in battle.”
But the typical list of rooster virtues often leaves out (and maybe just takes for granted) that most obvious quality of roosters.The personal choices of hens have been developing rooster beauty since feathers began. Human breeders have tried to advance and elaborate upon it, but the breeders and the hens more or less agree on absolute Beauty, even though neither they nor I can define it. Nobody really thinks that the fourteen inch fingernails on the emperor's uncle, or the twelve foot tail on a Japanese trophy Rooster is more beautiful than nails that can fret a lute or a tail the bird can hold high. . And neither would be an asset in the act of mating or all out battle.
You can see the beauty factor working right here in Chicken town.
From the roost of nineteen roosters, Eric the Aracuna is the first choice of four or five out of our twelve hens, though his beauty is subtle and we might expect them to prefer gaudy George, the other Aracuna rooster.
Aracunas are named after the Chilean Indian tribe which was discovered by the Spanish to be raising them. Long before the Mayflower and the European ancestors of our Plymouth Rocks, Eric's fore-birds came across the Pacific as contributing passengers in Polynesian sea canoes. I myself used to take my hen Miss Kitty on canoe travels and she always wanted to ride on the bow, even though she had had to flap constantly to say aboard, and it would have so much easier to sit on a thwart. She was a great and eager traveler. I know of a hen who roosted on the warm engine block of a pick-up truck one winter night, and the next day rode twenty miles into Ithaca , where she was found wandering the streets with scorched fee.
Anyway, The Aracuna Indians of Chile who met and ate or traded with the Polynesians, and adopted their chickens , bred them forward to be wily, inconspicuous hens (who would evade predators and lay colored eggs) and bearded, milld-mannered, defensive males who would distract predators and win females, but not attack people. These are my kind of chickens. I am not put off by the fact that the hens also are bearded.
Gorgeous George is vainer than Eric and more likely to start fights, or pile on to fights in progress, and often ends up on top of the chicken house after the others try to pull out his hackles and tread on him. Then he stays up there to display and crow. He is great to look at, but his best assets may be his lack of an easy- to-grab comb, his open-field running skill, and his flightiness. These are all characteristics also of the Aracuna hens, especially chicken Honey, who is the first to leave the hen house and the last to return. She's built for speed and can shoot right between the legs of any inflated rooster.
Eric the red Aracuna not only has a subtler beauty than his cousin George, but he also brainier and more stylishly defensive. But both of them, are low in the male pecking order, particularly Eric who is right down there with the Dominikers and is more persecuted..
The persecution of Eric is due to yet another quality of roosters which needs to be added to the list : Namely, Enviousness.
Lyndon Johnson, that America President who most resembled a rooster and who certainly had a bag full of barn yard analogies, remarked that the two things most likely to bring political ruin, are sex and envy. He might have said the same thing about Roosters. Maybe he did.
The eighteen other roosters in his roost envy Eric his beauty and his success with the hens. Some of the others only succeed in mating when they way- lay the hens as they are trying to get in the door to roost in the evening, just like they try to punk the resented Eric on his way home. The others have to screw each other, or fight among themselves for seconds with unwilling hens. They can't feel good about this. A rooster's beauty is as important not just for his mating success, but because of his vanity , which is tied up with his dignity and pride. And then comes humility. Humility appears when dignity has been trampled and plucked, ....or when posturing becomes real fighting and someone looses.....or both loose, as seems to be the case with two of the lower status cocks of Dot's flock of six. They got into a fight with each other last night , bloodied each other , and are now keeping closer company in shared misery and common understanding.
Eric has his quiet dignity, his mild mannered beauty, and only one Dominiker for a friend. I have more than once had to rescue Eric from the gang bangers and shove him in Davey's house. When I put Eric in the house, Davey gives him a rubber salamander, which Eric murders for ten minutes without doing it any harm, but it restores his dignity some.
Have I mentioned that roosters are sex fiends?
Not always, not necessarily, not all the time, but way beyond your teenage dreams.
Chickens in locked houses are like co-ed prison populations. The roosters serially tread and retread every hen that tries to get to the food or water.
After the murder rape of a Dominiker hen I tacked bin lids over the passages between the main hen house and the south room, where, for now, the roosters now roost all by them selves.
No functrional culture of humans or chickens is based only on uneducated natural instinct. Culture has to be carefully taught. Preferablly by family.
Just imagine what it must have been like on Big Orphan Island in Lake Bonaparte in the mid nineteenth century when an absentee developer Richard Orphington living in Philadelphia, legally *adopted" an entire Irish orphanage, minus the staff and infrastructre, met them at Ellis Island and transported them by train to Natural Bridge and Lake Bonapaerte, planning that the orphans would themselves clear the land, build shelter, grow potatoes, and sustain themselves to the point of real productivity, which by his calculaltions, and according to his need, should have happened within five or six years.
Needless to say, Big Orphan (formerly Bear Head) island a was less fit for agriculture than lreland had ever been; beavers ate what few potatoes were raised, and when winter came
the children were living in something which looked like a blowdown more than like anything as sophisticated even as a beaver lodge, or as sheltering as the porcupine cave they had to back into to keep out of the wind. That winter the orphaans ate the lone porcupine, fought over the tail, and stewed the quills, gnawed bark.
It was a real sad chapter and also needless to say, before a full year was up, children were eating children, and by the third year, only the monster children remained and they were doomed. About the only right thing in the whole brief history of the Orphan Island Experiment, is what the last of the orphan Cannibals did to the developer
But it is a too familiar story, and may be better forgotten. Anyway, we don't need to get into that watery horror here. The Lake is haunted enough as it is.
Moving on....the point is that what these orphans needed, besides food, shelter, and the caring which they did not receive.....was to be shown the way to work and cooperate; the way to survive, the way to be.
If you know about that awful era on Big Orphan Island, you can imagine Davey's experiment here in raising motherless chicks.
We have here a chicken culture without a chicken cultural past: no chicken elders, no role modlels other than dogs. When Davey isn't inside pretending to write a novel while he checks out Youtube, he is always pushing a wheel barrow to move shit and holes. Chickens do not connect with this behavior. They scatch up his dirt and perch on the barrow, but you never see a chicken try to push a wheel barrow, and it is a good thing. And there is me to model after , yes, but I don't pretend to be a chicken.
For the sake of the chickens, I pretend to be a lynx. A lynx who has adopted them.
I could never be a chicken, especially a mother. I just don't want to be, and so don't a lot of hens, that don't go broody. What a job! At the startout level you have to sit on eggs all but half an hour a day, all the time keeping your own temperature up to a hundred and nineteen degrees to incubate the things. And when they hatch out, they are all over you like a plague.
Considering the abrasivness of their personalities, it is surprising to see how well, and with how very little loss of feathers the roosters are coming through the winter.
Unlike the hens, hey have more or less sorted things out among themselves. They have agreed to roost in peace and fight only in the open where there is a possibility of escape, and most of that is just posturing. Sometimes they will freeze beak to beak for minutes at a time, until one can't keep his hackles up any longer.
I do what I can to model behavior, to cultivate the top roosters, and tame the timorous ones, but the relative mildness of the roosters now might have something to do with the fact that I have developed a technique for milking them.
I don't know if Mr. LaRoy did it this way, but have done it regularly and successfully for the last month and a half.
No, I am not going to reveal the technique here, and you would not much enjoy doing it anyway.
But a good milking sure cools a rooster for a half hour or so, which has at least helped gain time for them to work out the power struggles themselves. I will need to pick up the pace when things warm up another twenty degrees and the roosters and hens are running together again.
In addition to the calming effect on the roosters, the milking has provided me gobs and gobs of a product for which I personally have no use.
I still don't know to whom or for what purpose old Mr. LaRoy sold the rooster milk he harvested at Aunt Sammy's and other swamp farms, but I prepared fifty bottles of baby shampoo with a dropper each of rooster milk, and advertised them on Ebay for thirty nine bucks a twelve ounce bottle.
The undiluted rooster milk itself would not contain much of any Roostosterone I suppose, and I didn't really claim anything for Roostosterone Shampoo, but it sold out so fast I had to take down the add after a week.
And now, out of forty three customers for Roostosterone Shampoo, I have sixteen begging for more , and insisting that, since starting with the shampoo, they have been able to do startling things you might not even want to do, or to have grown as much as four inches in length or height or both, as well as to have grown hair in unexpected places. The results seem to be very individual.
A customer from Nigeria claims that Roostosterone Shampoo has made him develop the beginnings of fleshy appendages on his head, and even he is pleased with himself and the product. Gross.
What all this tells me, is that the placebo effect is a most powerful thing. These people have allowed themselves to be hypnotized by their own roostosterone thoughts.
I have decided to stay off the net with the shampoo, at least for a while, and I presume that anyone reading about it here has been immunized against the placebo effect by my true confession.
Hens are not the better or blander half of the chicken species, with nei ther virtues nor vices of their own. We have a huge Bitchiness problem with the hens here this winter.
If it's a henstrogen problem, I can't very well milk them of it, and it has done no good to lecture them. I do not believe that a roostosterone shampooing would help, because they usually get plenty of the real stuff.
They are not aggressive with me . They aren't coy either. They will even offer themselves to me. They know I am not a rooster, but they don't care. I do. When I lived with beavers, I humped trees, but never a beaver or a chicken.
Only one of the hens actually pecks at me, and she only does it to shake down food.
But among themselves they are more than a little peckishly aggressive..... and less likely than the roosters to leave resentments outside.
This will not be such a problem when it warms up and the hens want to be outside again, but now..... after three months indoors together ......half of them have backs plucked bare by the bigger pecker-hens.
Maybe a little alcohol soaked grain would be good for them. I know it could be good for me in heated quaters, but I think it's likely they would be even more overwhelmed and confused by alcohol than rooster seem to be.
Poultry scientists have discovered that Roosters can tell at a distance which of the other roosters of the flock is crowing, and if they hear a certain rooster crowing from some place away from where his hens are known to be hanging out , the competing rooster will run to mate with the hens while the other is away and still calling his hens. Another thing for sure then, is chickens are really good listeners.
So for now, I have given the hens one of Davey's portable radios, tuned to classic rock. They could have classic, country(said to be prefered by cows) or even the Family Life Network, if they like it. But there is no claim or sign I see that chickens have any capacity for religion or moral choice.
Friday, March 7, 2008
To jack me up to normal height and get me around I have used everything from toe-shoes to the everyday sheet-rocker's stilts and the extraordinary Kinesthetic Extenders Doc Howe devised, but as a ten or twelve year old at Lake Bonaparte I preferred to wear only swim fins.
The ladies all said, "That William is a regular fish."
True enough. I have always been able to hold my breath for long periods and used to do it so long just sitting on the floor, that the dog would worry and lick my face until I breathed. People only noticed whether I breathed or not if I was under water. So when they watched from the shore, I made sure to come up every minute or two....before people started to worry.
I wore my fins when I was on the beach, on my way to or from the beach, at the dinner table , and in the boat when Davey and I went fishing.
In those days, he was mostly into gunning big plugs with his new fiberglass rod, so he let me use the stubby solid- steel rod which had been his before.
After ten or fifteen minutes of bobbing a jig directly under the boat and leaning over to try and see what was down there, I would go overboard to fin around.
Davey was there to catch fish, not observe them, and he thought I might scare them off. But only a fish born yesterday would not already have been aware of us motoring up , dropping the anchor, and then floating over them like a blimp, while throwing plugs everywhere...but I would swim along the surface at the outer edge of Davey's casting range, to now and then call out the location of a decent sized fish lurking in the weeds.
I called out Pike, or Walleye, or Bass, but not the inexplicable Squids as big as a bears , (unless it was the same squid each time) or the large trout with the high forehead of a whale, and huge lateral spots like port holes streaming light. To say nothing of the stone horse in its back in the muck, or the catfish big as a cow, asleep on on the bottom.
Anyway, our fishing trips together pretty much stopped one day when I was swimming a little too close in on Davey's casting range and called out a Pike, while raising my hand and pointing almost straight down at the fish.
Davey cast so quick he allmost hit my head with the Pikie Minnow, and when he tried to jerk the plug away, set four out of the possible nine hooks in to my left shoulder.
So I swam to the boat before he could jerk some more or try to reel me in. Once I was in the boat, Davey bent the barbs down with the long-nose, disgorging pliers and I backed the hooks out myself, so we didn't have to go to the doctor. We didn't even go back to the island right then, but, before getting back in the water, I waited until we
were sure there was absoutely no bleeding so my blood wouldn't attract the attention of The Big Snapping Turtle, or the famous monster Muskalunge the size of a canoe which had survived from the long ago attempt to stock them into the lake.
I never saw the Monster Musky, so maybe it was just a boy's tale, but I still have the treble-hook scars on my left shoulder. I should get them tatooed over with the image of that Pikie Minnow.
After losing both legs just below the knee while a medic in World War I, Doc Howe didn't practice much medicine, but took up fishing with a passion, and became the sometime-published fishing expert , one-time national casting champion, and all-time wizard of Bonaparte fishes. He and our Grandpa Bert, working together, located all the shoals in Lake Bonaparte and made a complete map of the lake bottom by casting lead-headed jigs and counting as they sank. Grandpa Bert was a deeply serious fisherman, and had pretty much retired at fifty to pursue hunting and fishing, but he was also a family man. Doc too had a wife, but no family to support and worry about, so his and Lillian's life centered on his fishing. Of course fishing couldn't be a cure for the loss of legs and even as an escape, the jig was up every sundown. But he fished every day like fishing was a combination of rocket- science, neuro-surgery, and truth seeking. He would not have called it religious practice. He had humor, but not religion; Lillian handled the religion. Her religion prohibited make-up, dancing, and probably a lot of other things, but not fishing.
Doc had no faith anymore either in the continuing parade of prosthetic legs he had worn out just walking to and from his boat. But sitting in his seventeen foot aluminum Gruman with a half dozen rods on the seats, a cigar in his mouth, maybe a fifth of whiskey in his tackle box, and always a can to bail with and pee into, he was just about complete.
Whenever he, or Bert, or any of their minor fishing competitors caught a particularly large fish, Glen Priest would trace it's outline on the side of one of his marina storage sheds, and write the statistics inside the outline.
When we went across to get groceries at Priest's store we boys often studied the shed wall. Doc was always ahead in the statistics.
If Doc himself was recently back from his morning fishing and still in his boat tied up at the dock , as he often was for an hour or so afterwards, we would go see what he had caught and hear about what he had lost.
In the afternoons early, he would usually be sitting outside his travel trailer up by the store.
Lillian didn't let Doc smoke in the trailer, so she would set a chair out for him beside a card table for his lunch and fly tying stuff. Doc would lean a few rods up against his trailer so that the boys who stopped by could try them.
He would give a little instruction when it was wanted. If one of his "students", as he called them, showed a strong interest and some ability with the tackle, Doc might make a date for some serious morning fishing. Most of these kids had never seen a sunrise, so it was not just an honor but a stunning revelation, to get himself out of bed while his parents lay still and even the dog slept like it was dead, to go stand at the shore in the dark of morning, and then out on the lake with Doc Howe, and (so as to throw no warning shadow) cast into the sun bursting over the horizon, and on until the dull light of ten o'clock, coming home with eyes pried wide and scales off.
Doc was a total professional. During the depression, he had fished for the market with rod and reel off the Gulf Coast of Florida, depending mostly on lead- headed buck-tail jigs, gull-watching, and his sense of smell - past exposure to mustard gas be damned.
But there were no trout in that water.
If a fish is not a trout, it is just a meal, and Doc didn't need to work that way just to feed himself.
So after the Second World War, when aircraft factories turned to making aluminum trailers and boats, Doc and Lillian bought an early Spartan travel model , and took it through the Rocky Mountain West, stopping mostly at lake-side campgrounds where he demonstrated the effectiveness of salt water jigging techniques, fishing deep for trout. And he brought out the long rods to wow the locals with his fly casting; once on a side trip to Oklahoma I was told, lassooing a duck with his roll cast for the benefit of Will Rogers.
Actually wading in trout streams is something he would never do again, and the fly rod was less effective on fish in deep water, but he loved the pure, abstracted fly casting all the more for that , went to the national competitions, and became North American accuracy and distance fly casting champions.
He had the power, he had the rythim, and he had the touch.
It was his deft violin playing in the Carthage High School Orchestra that first got the attention of the Osteopath who sponsored Doc to medical school: Osteopathy, being originally a practice meant to cure with subtle manipulations, conditions caused by just about everything but land mines, without using surgery or drugs.
Of course, Doc was very conscious of the irony in the fact that was alive and functioning thanks to surgery and drugs, and though he did practice some general osteopathic manipulations, his ambition was to be a recognized expert practitioner and author on advanced fresh-water fishing techniques.
During the fifties he wrote and published a few detailed articles on his fresh water jigging , but others adopted his methods and offered them as their own in other magazines, although the only thing they had truly invented, was the fish they claimed in their articles to have caught.
Hacks, phonies, pirates, and Liars. Doc once waited in his car outside the hotel in Cody Wyoming to see the celeberty fiction and outdoor sports writer Zane Grey arrive.
When the great man climbed out of his Sedan and Doc saw that even with his Stetson hat on, Grey was only about as tall as Doc with his legs off, Doc was able to drive away satisfied.
I was there at the trailer listening and watching from outside the ring of boys around Doc who wanted to try their hand at his fly tying vice or with one of the rods. I didn't want to be at the center of attention, but I was fascinated by The long rod, and the flying line.
On windy days at Loon Island , I liked to go up on the boathouse with one of the soggy fly rods the family used to crane worms across the creeks.
Grandpa Bert and Ernie Thomas had built the boathouse on stone filled cribbing, a few yards off shore, with a gang plank leading to it, port holes on the sides, a flat roof , rail and flag pole up top so it looked like a houseboat. We would all go up there to shoot at cans in the water and cast with practice plugs.
Up above the water that far, all I had to do was hold the rod high and whip enough line out through the guides any way I could, then the wind would pick it up, and only a little help from me, make the fly dart, hover, rise , or dap the water for half an hour without breaking my trance.
I was a little shocked if a fish actually happened to be there to meet the fly when it dapped, or actually leapt out of the water as it swooped over, and I tried to avoid that happening. I suppose the non-fishing came partly from me having been caught on hooks myself once, but mostly it was that fish interfered with my flying.
The summer after Davey caught me on the Pikie Minow, he got a fly thing Kit for Christmas and soon became as obsessed with everything about flyfishing, as if trout were girls. He stayed home from the movies, saved his allowances, and bought fly rod building kit, with tubular fiberglass blanks, cork grip rings, and a level, general-use fly line. The level line was good enough for his level of refinement , but he struggled hard and not very successfully with that little rod and level line to push those big deer hair flies he made for bass fishing. So Doc Howe gave him a spare reel holding one of his well used , slightly cracked, forward- taper lines.
The weight forward taper helped, but the main problem remained, which was that Davey kept catching his back cast in the top of the cedar tree that leaned out from shore from where the gang plank was footed. I had to get out of the way when Davey was up there whipping that thing around.
The hang-ups would piss him off so that, if he could restrain himself from yanking the rod and breaking off a fly that had taken him forty five minutes to tie, he would just lean the rod against the rail and come down off the roof.
It was understood between us that if I would climb up and get the fly out of the tree, then I could use the rod until Davey came back and wanted to try again.
Sometimes it seemed like he must have been hiding in the juniper shrubbery to see just when I had freed it up for him....he always showed up soon after I got it free..... but in a few weeks, with what time I had, I got to be pretty good. I say so myself.
I didn't know anything about Roll Casting, or Steeple Casting, or Spey Casting... which are all techniques for casting a long line forward without first bringing it straight out back..... but to do that, you need some kind of magic pulley in the sky or the water, to do that.
With no idea and much Abandon, I just started with a kind of a jump. then a step and a bounce, throwing line and fly into the air, rocking, extending, rocking, extending.
Sometimes it all collapsed and landed in a mess on the roof, and sometimes I could keep it up and going, my mind on the fly, so I wouldn't even know how long I was up there...
Doc Howe had never seen me with a fly rod and no idea of my roof casting experiments, but he always noticed me at the dock or on the outskirts of the boys around him at the trailer and always said, "Howdy Tarzan," which he didn't call anybody else and nobody else ever called me.
I had never come forward to try a rod of his and he can hardly have seen any deftness or promise in me, standing back with my hands in my pockets, but there was a sympathy between us which maybe came from my having been shortened by birth as he was by war, as he later pointed out.
And then, late one morning as he boated up the Birch island channel while shoal-hopping on his way back to the marina, he looked between Turtle Island and Evergreen point into our bay, and saw me up there on top of the boathouse, step jumping, bouncing, and dancing around waving Davey's little fly rod like I was conducting the wind or else being yanked around by it.
Right then, like it was drawn by the hand of Leonardo DaVinci on the sky over my head, he told me, he saw the schematic of the leg extenders.
I didn't know about schematics or Leonard, but within a week of Doc's vision of me (which I was totally unaware of at the time) Grandpa Bert took me over for the fitting of a one-leg proto-type made with bamboo rod parts arrayed around a beef shank bone.
And by the next week there were two legs. Each was a bundle of ten rod sections, fiberglass this time,. and connectied to rings which slid on the tube to stoppers at each end. The bottom of the steel tube accepted the knob top of a regular shoe stretcher, which had its joint tensioned by a steel spring.
The two men got me up on these new legs, but every move I made on them was magnified so I could hardly stand still, and when I tried to walk, I staggered like a drunk baby.
Doc said that was o.k. We could go easy on the walking for now.
And then he handed me a rigged and ready fly rod.
The fact is that those Extenders weren't made for walking so much as for distance casting.
In those days, the orthodox fly casting cliche was "it's all in the wrist."
The student victim was given a book, which he must hold against his body with the elbow of his casting arm, to insure that it really was all in the wrist.
I had a very good wrists, mostly from walking around on my hands, which was a thing Davey and I did a lot but I did better because I don't have the big leg overhead. And Doc also had strong wrists, not just from fly casting but from powering himself around with those canes strapped onto his forearms, but he didn't buy the all in the wrist business. Even though he himself compensated with his wrists for what he couldn't do with the rest of his body.
And seeing the way I coped with the rod and leg problem, he had realized that I was "a little something of a Wise-Body".
I probably did add twenty or thirty feet to my cast with those extenders on me, right there that day, before Doc took the rod back as if maybe I was going to over do it somehow.
He suggested I should practice back at the boathouse and see him in a week, but he didn't say anything right off about how he thought I could someday become the next North American Fly Casting Distance Champion .
And I did practice up on the boathouse but I couldn't climb up the ladder with the stilts on, so I had to strap them on and take them off while up there, And I couldn't wear them around Loon Island, because the ground was too uneven there and I couldn't wear them in the boat, because that was dangerous.
Once or twice a week that summer, Doc would pick me up to fish some in the morning and then bring me over to the marina to practice cast after Lilian gave us some lunch.
When the family was ready to head back to Ithaca at the end of that summer, I went first with Daddy Ernie to see Doc, who told me to keep practicing with the legs.
And I did practice back on Ithaca, but not so much for casting as for racing around.
With experience I was getting better at really stepping out and the extenders were really good for the streets. I could easily beat a dog up any hill in Ithaca, or make twenty foot bounds across an open area, as long as the there was no uneven ground or obstruction, but people would be very distracted by my bounding in traffic, or even on the sidewalk or the playground,.
The East Hill Cemetery was my favorite Ithaca place to use them because of the privacy and because the steep and monument studded landscape added to the interest. but I was lucky, ricocheting around there, that I didn't come to my final resting place at the base of one of the tombstones.
I did have a few moving accidents with them, and it was clear to parents that the helmet I was made to wear for roller and ice skating was not going to help much if I accidentally vaulted into a gorge or the path of a bus, so after a small incident with a tree, my Dad took over the care of the legs (standing beside the guns in the the master bedroom closet, then on the top shelf of the closet, and later in separate bureau drawers) except when he released them to me for practice, or when I snuck them out to bounce around. As it was, I had plenty of minor accidents which didn't break any part of me, but were plenty hard on the devices, and I had to wrap a couple of splits and wire up some dislocations before Doc Howe made replacements the next summer.
Ten years ago last year, the legs (still in the guitar case I had been carrying them in every since leaving Aunt Sammy) were stowed in a stone hut I had laid up in a not remote enough side- gorge up on the Ithaca Watershed. Some jerk stumbled on my place and, carried off the case, super legs and all.
Probably thought he was getting a guitar. Sorry but no guitar, And anyway, even if he was after the legs Doc Howe made, he didn't get them either because, over the years, I replaced every piece of both legs , some pieses several times.
And beyond that, I doubt that anyone but me would have any kind of use for them and if the leg thief gave them a good try ( to which I don't object) he has probably already killed himself.
I lost contact with Doc and Lillian a year after he made the legs, and I never entered into fly casting competitions, but those extenders weren't just toys to me.
There were even times, like when I bunked at the old Number 9 fire station and occasionally got to the fire before the truck arrived , and once before the arsonist left, when they have been socially redeeming. I'm not saying I was ever any part of a super hero. Just another could-have-been, like Doc Howe.