Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pretty in Pink?

Blink a couple of times and the fall hunting season will be here. So it’s time to start checking the hunting gear.

 It used to be enough to check just the shotguns, rifles, ammos, knives and other stuff we need for the annual trek into the autumn woods. Not any more. Now you need to check your fashion. It is becoming necessary to be fashionable in the forest.

The clothing industry is here to help you, while of course, increasing corporate profits.

The clothing folks have a problem. They have produced too many real leaf/tree camo outfits. Almost every piece of human apparel now comes in camo. There are camo underpants. Camo thongs. Camo jock straps. Camo bras.

 Almost everyone already has a camo hoody or T shirt. So the industry has been looking for other ways to sell more. They have found it in the colour pink.

The clothing lobby has been all over the politicians and they are getting what they want. Wisconsin, New York State and Louisiana will allow pink hunting clothing this fall as an alternate to blaze orange.  Other states are considering doing the same.

I can hear the sewing machines whirring already, spinning out those hot pink vests, caps, gloves, jackets and pants. We already have seen pink gunstocks, pink camo bows and other pink outdoor accessories.

All this pink supposedly is about attracting more women into hunting. More women hunters means more hunting clothing and equipment sales. And, more money for governments through sales taxes and licensing fees.

Many women are not impressed. Promoting pink in hunting is sexist, they say.

“We felt like it was demeaning to us,” various media quoted Sarah Ingle, Women’s Hunting and Sporting Association president in Wisconsin. “I feel that the legislation should have taken a deeper look into why the sport was declining.”

The Wisconsin government’s time would have been better spent determining what women really need to become interested in the sport, she said.

It’s hard to argue against pink as an acceptable hunter safety colour. Fluorescent  pink, or hot pink, is easily seen in the woods.         

Pink certainly will not bother the deer, who are essentially colour blind. Their vision is limited to the blue-green spectrums, so blaze orange or pink does not stand out for them.

Deer do see ultraviolet, which can cause some objects to glow, or fluoresce. That’s why hunters are told not to wash their hunting clothing in detergents with brightening agents that absorb light in the ultraviolet and violet region.

Allowing pink as safety colour is part of a drift toward making hunting a more upscale pastime. Urbanites are seeing it as a fit with the locavore/farm-to-table movement in which people want to grow, gather or kill their own food.

In trendy neighbourhoods of California, you’ll find a growing number of fashionable chicken coups, where more people are said to be signing up for butchering courses.

Another factor has been the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program started back in the 1990s but which has gained increasing popularity only in recent years. Many U.S. states and six provinces now have BOW inspired programs that teach shooting, hunting and handling game.

I don’t have any issues with blaze pink as a hunting colour. It doesn’t compromise safety and it’s always nice to have more choice. It is insulting, however, to say that allowing women to be pretty in pink hunters will attract more into the sport.

“That’s terribly insulting,” Peggy Farrell, national director of BOW in the U.S. was quoted in Peterson’s Hunting. “I don’t want a youth-model shotgun, and I don’t want pink on everything I wear or carry when I hunt.”

Women who hunt don’t want pink gear for hunting. They want gear and clothing that is designed for women’s bodies. Gear and clothing that fit properly an comfortably.

Malinda White, the Louisiana politician who introduced that state’s blaze pink bill, is also a hunter and says she didn't consider the concept sexist.

"It also will generate commerce - I guarantee there are sewing machines going off right now," she said.

Do you think the clothing lobbyists were whispering in her ear?


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Lessons from the Birds

One hundred and two years ago - at 1 p.m. on Sept. 1 to be exact - someone walked past the Cincinnati Zoo bird cage and saw Martha on the cage floor, drumsticks up.

Martha died of old age at 29. She was the last living passenger pigeon, North America’s most abundant bird species, once numbering three to five billion.

Early European settlers described flocks of passenger pigeons so large they blacked out the sun. When they roosted in trees for the night, branches often snapped under the weight of their numbers.

Martha’s passing confirmed the species extinction and helped to bring about another important event two years later. On Aug. 16, 1916, 100 years ago this week, Canada and the United States signed the Migratory Bird Convention in which both countries agreed to uniform systems of protecting migratory birds.

The agreement was aimed at stopping the “indiscriminate slaughter” of the billions of birds that       made their remarkable journeys north in the spring, and south in the autumn.

Indeed, the slaughter had been indiscriminate. Ducks, geese, pigeons and others were shot by the thousands and shipped in barrels to markets and restaurants in big cities such as Toronto, New York and Chicago. Thousands upon thousands were packed in crates destined for factories where their feathers were used in fashionable clothing.

There is one story of one million bobolinks and rails killed in one month near Philadelphia to provide feathers for women’s hats.

Until late in the 1800s it seemed impossible that North America’s huge numbers of birds could become extinct or see their populations dramatically reduced. As the 20th century approached, however, people began to realize what was happening.

Organized hunt clubs were diligent in recording kills in club registers. Entries from the register of the Winous Point Club near Port Clinton, Ohio show what was happening.

Year                Canvasbacks           Mallards        Blue-winged Teal

1880                           665                 1,319                          2,110

1885                           237                     943                         1,019

1890                           697                     394                         603

The migratory bird convention brought some sanity into a society that believed  wildlife resources were limitless and existed solely for human satisfaction. It led to prohibition of hunting non-game birds, closed seasons for hunting game birds, limits on the length of hunting seasons and bans on the sale of any birds, eggs or nests.

The convention could not bring back the Marthas that once blackened the skies. It was a start, however, to changing attitudes about wildlife and slowed the possibility of other extinctions.

Extinction still threatens many species today. The latest North American Bird Conservation Initiative report notes that without significant conservation action 37 per cent of our bird species are at risk of extinction.

Nearly 20 per cent of wetland birds are on a Watch List indicating extinction concerns. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says wetland losses have increased 140 per cent since 2004.

Habitat loss and climate change have replaced uncontrolled harvesting as the biggest threats to birds. Both, of course, are the result of a soaring human population.

Bird Life International reports that 150 bird species are facing world extinction. Also, it lists 197 species as critically endangered.

Populations of common birds seen in urban areas also are decreasing. Various bird organizations have reported declines in common species once considered widespread. Bird surveys have reported that some common species have lost more than half of their populations over the past 40 years.

Declining numbers of birds show that diversity of life on our planet is shrinking. Earth continues to fall behind in the struggle to regenerate from the beatings we humans give it.

Three-quarters of the world’s fisheries now are fully or over exploited. (You probably already figured that out if you bought those mushy farm-raised trout that have been raised on pellets).

More than 350 million people do not have guaranteed clean water to drink every day. (And, if you think that’s just a far-off problem, read up on the roughly 100 Canadian First Nation communities that are without potable water).

So all this is not just about the birds. There is a good chance that sometime off in the future it won’t  be just Martha lying drumsticks up in her house. It will be humankind. 



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Beer Glasses and Conversation

There are moments when you miss the ‘good old days.’ Well, maybe just pieces of the ‘good old days.’

We live in times with so many important issues to talk about. So many challenges to meet. We have access to torrents of information.

Yet there is never time to really talk; never enough time to sort what is authentic and what is superficial.

Social media connects more of us more often but it also has distanced us from our traditional interpersonal communication. So many information exchanges and conversations are the digital banter of abbreviations, snippets, Emoticons and other shortcuts that save time but dilute context.

One part of the ‘good old days’ that I miss, TBH, is the beer parlour. Yes, to be honest, I miss the beer parlours, or hotel beverage rooms.

Beer parlours were abundant in every settled Canadian landscape. Any place there was a factory, mill, mine or timber operation, there was a beverage room nearby. They were working class social meeting places where the news, information and opinions of the day were shared F2F.

In Ontario they popped up like mushrooms in 1934, six years after Prohibition ended. Ontario allowed them in hotels, where they quickly became the most popular places for men to drink. After the Second World War, women were allowed into beverage rooms, but they were restricted to separate rooms marked ‘Ladies and Escorts.’

Beer parlours were simple places in simpler times. In their original form they were rooms with tables and chairs and seven-ounce glasses of draft beer on round trays delivered by waiters.

You had to be sitting to be served. There were no stand-up bars like in the western movies. And, you needed a government card to drink and the government kept an interdicted list of persons forbidden from being served.

There was no entertainment, no food, no gambling. No distractions, unless a fight broke out. Just beer, cigarettes and conversation – face to face with friends and colleagues, usually after work.

There was context in those conversations because you could read the faces and body language of the people sitting across from you.

My introduction to beer parlours was in Sault Ste. Marie, which being a steel plant town had by my fuzzy memory close to two dozen beverage rooms. The most popular were the Roosevelt (The Rosie), The New American (The New A), The Beaver Hotel, The Nicolet, The Algoma, The Lock City, The Royal, The New Ontario, The New Toronto and The Empire. And, of course, The Victoria House (The Vic).

The beer parlours attracted all kinds of characters, and some of the most interesting were the owners and the servers.

The Sault’s Victoria House was owned by a Chinese family – the Chows. Charlie Chow established the place and his five sons took it over in 1951 after he died.

Each of the Chow brothers – John, King, Joe, Albert and James – had a distinct role in running the beer parlour.  But any one of them could be seen pouring beer behind the bar or delivering it to the tables.

The trademark of the Chow brothers was their uncanny knack of knowing the favourite beer of each of their customers. The regulars arrived at The Vic, took a seat and were served their favourite without ordering.

The memories of the Chow brothers were remarkable. I returned to the Sault for a visit after a two-year absence. I went The Vic to see if any of my former colleagues were still about.

I took a seat at an empty table and saw Jimmy Chow place a bottle of beer on a tray and head in my direction. One hand covered the bottle label as he approached my table. The other held a bottle opener.

“Ole We-enia, Jim,” he said in his sing-song accent.

I hated Old Vienna beer and always drank Crystal lager. I threw up my hands in protest. “No, no Jimmy. Wrong one!”

Jimmy snapped the cap on the beer and placed it on the table, turning the label toward me. It was a Crystal Lager. He went back to the bar, giggling all the way.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Home Runs and History

In Cooperstown, New York it’s all baseball. All baseball, all the time. All baseball everywhere.

I’m part of the baseball mania here, cheering for my grandson and his team, the Orinda Thunder from the San Francisco area. Thunder is one of 104 teams competing in a week-long national tournament for 12-year-olds.

There are, by my guess, 1,500 youngsters playing the game day and night on 25 very professional-looking ball fields. When they are not on the fields the players are lining up to get into the world famous National Baseball Hall of Fame on the village’s main street.
The Orinda Thunder

Yes, village. Cooperstown is a village, cuddling the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Population 1,800, which explodes to 50,000 during times of baseball mania. One short main street. One traffic light.

Baseball is fun and so is being around 12 year olds. However, too much of anything is not healthy, so I sneak away from the baseball action to find something interesting, other than baseball, about Cooperstown.

On Pioneer Street, not far from the Hall of Fame, I pass an ancient building. It is the Tunnicliff Inn, Est. 1802, and on the large front window is painted: The James Fenimore Cooper Dining Room.

Of course, James Fenimore Cooper (1759 -1851) the famous American author! I skip down to the village library to discover if he had a connection to the village. Connection indeed. His dad, William, founded the frontier settlement in the late 1700s and James lived there on and off for much of his life.

James Fenimore Cooper was the United States’ first famous novelist, writing 32 novels about the roughness and romance of frontier life. Some of his more popular efforts: The Deerslayer, The Pathfinder, The Last of the Mohicans.

His daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper, also was a writer, and an amateur naturalist. She wrote mainly about country living and nature in a time when nature was much more natural.

Her most important achievement, however, was founding a home for orphans and destitute children. It was established in a large house on the shore on Otsego Lake and across from the village cemetery.

All intriguing history but nagging my reporter’s mind is how a village with one traffic light became the Mecca of baseball.

Craig Muder, Hall of Fame communications director, has the answer, which he shares with the Orinda Thunder sluggers during a visit to baseball’s shrine.

A misty piece of folklore had it that Abner Doubleday, an army general, invented the game for his troops encamped at Cooperstown back in 1839. The legend, nourished by some bad research, grew and was accepted by major league baseball owners and fans.

The Cooperstown area also was known for growing hops used to brew beer. But by the early 1930s, Prohibition and the Depression had knocked the stuffing out of the Cooperstown economy.

Enter Stephen C. Clark, a Wall Street financier who had a home in Cooperstown. He was the owner of what was known as the “Doubleday Ball,” which the legend said General Doubleday and his troops used for the first baseball game back in 1839.

He displayed the ball at the Cooperstown Village Club, which began collecting donated baseball artifacts. Clark proposed a national baseball museum for Cooperstown and in 1939 the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum became a reality.

It is impossible to say where first baseball game was played. That’s because it grew out of Rounders, an English stick and ball game dating back to the early 1700s.

Certainly one of the earliest forms of North America baseball was played in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia says that a baseball-type game was played June 4, 1838 in Beachville, in southwestern Ontario. That was two years before the Doubleday game in Cooperstown and seven years before the birth of the New York Knickerbockers and the “New York game,”  which introduced nine-man teams.

No matter where the first baseball was pitched, Cooperstown is an excellent venue to celebrate the game. It is here that young players every summer learn about team play, and how wholesome sport can build better citizens.

As Craig Muder told the Thunder players: “Baseball stands for something.”