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Searching The Wild Within with Steven Rinella [Radio Interview]

Posted on 14 March 2011 by Cork Graham

I thought I had accidentally landed on one of the ever-increasing number of hook and bullet channels when I came across an ad for The Wild Within, hosted by Steven Rinella; not the Travel Channel. With the way Travel Channel programming has followed the New Yorker nepotism of the New York publishing world, it seemed as though you had to be either a New York whinning, potty-mouthed ex-junkie chef-turned writer, carrying a child-like fascination with Apocalypse Now; or a New York glutton with a penchant for traveling the country in search of restaurant-promoting food competitions, to get your own series. To see a Michigan-born-and-raised hunter and trapper hosting a show on that channel floored me.

With great anticipation I waited for the first airing: finally a hunting show that went further than an inundation of boring kill-a-minute, 30-minute sponsor advertisements, pushed on the new overabundance of outdoor channels—how I miss the educational hunting shows broadcast during the 1980s and early 1990s. More importantly, here was a show that would, hopefully at least, reveal to its viewers how to dismantle a deer.

Can you believe that the major outdoor channels actually don’t want any close ups of the processing of game? Many would think it’s because of the advertisers, but not the programming directors who pushed for this—because they’re afraid it’s too politically incorrect: Now you know why Cork’s Outdoors TV isn’t broadcast on satellite, though many requests from the different outdoor channels have come down the pike this year—they won’t allow me to show you how to even gut and skin a feral pig!

Rinella learning to make fish arrows in Guyana

 

THE WILD WITHIN

The first episode of The Wild Within was set in a place I know well, and remains as my hunting and fishing heaven: Alaska! There are very few states left where you can truly live off the land as a hunter/gatherer, and Alaska is at the top the list. On Prince of Wales (POW) Island, where Rinella and his brother own a hunting cabin, there’s a plethora of sustenance.

I must admit that I was hoping Rinella would’ve hunted near his home, in New York or New Jersey, for the first episode. Everyone flies to Alaska for an outdoors show, and yet there are so many poorly-represented, great hunting places right next to such a major center of anti-hunting: Ingrid Newkirk and Wayne Pacelles’ cash cows, PETA and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) campaign from NYC. But, you can’t go wrong with Alaska, especially Southeast Alaska: bush planes, remote cabins, full crab and shrimp pots, and Sitka blacktails in good number…having lived and worked around the world, there’s a reason Alaska is the only place I ever truly get homesick for…

From Alaska, The Wild Within continued to Montana the next week, and that’s where I think the shake-down cruise for the show hadn’t yet found its legs. As Rinella mentioned to me over the phone, this is their first season, and they were just getting their steam and there was a question as to what to focus on: historical, environment and conservation, or the adventure of hunting, fishing and gathering.

This happens with all types of programming, whether scriptwriters on shows like Hawaii 5-0, or producers on TopShot. For most, it’s the first time the production team has met and are just learning each other’s quirks, along with not only clearly filling out the premise through field experience, but also editing and trying to coordinate programming with the broadcast company.

It especially gets interesting when parts, or all of the production team have never even participated in the main activity of the show…As is often the case, producers take the job no matter their own lack of knowledge or experience—perhaps you’ve heard of actors in Hollywood getting hired for a film, saying they’ve been riding horses since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, or that they hearken from a long line of motorcycle riders, yet the most they’ve straddled was a bar or diner stool while searching the jobs section of a newspaper? Same thing.

If you noticed that some episodes seemed to be off, like San Francisco (as one based in the City by the Bay, I know well the amazing opportunities for hunting, fishing, and gathering—I was aghast to see Rinella collect roadkill, totally illegal in California) which slapped me in the head with a big “Huh?”, or the Montana episode, that made me wonder whether this was a show best suited for the History Channel. When Rinella told me that The Wild Within was originally formulated for sale to the History Channel, it all made sense: the Molokai and Scotland definitely fit within the parameters of Travel Channel, while the Montana show appeared shot for either the History or Travel Channel.

So, like any crew on a new boat, a new production has a variety of learning curves related to the first shake-down cruise, of which this new season definitely has its highs and lows. Part of the problem can be that programming doesn’t actually coordinate to shooting and editing. What may have been shot first, ends up as an episode broadcast much later in sequnce. I can’t tell you how annoyed I was with the POW Island episode, when I heard Rinella repeat that oft repeated saying given non-hunters: You’d be paying $30 or $50 a plate for this in a restaurant!

Again, YOU CAN’T LEGALLY BUY TRUE WILD GAME IN THE US!

Not until the Scotland episode did Rinella clarify that in Europe, where the laird of the land owns the land, game, livestock and those who work it (one of the main reasons my ancestor, David Graham, said to hell with Scottish and Irish landlords, and took his family of Calvinists to South Carolina in 1772—hitting home the final point to King George with a round ball at the Battle of Kings Mountain), true wild game is shipped to market in Paris and London, and sold much fresher in the butcher shops of little villages that neighbor these hunting estates.

I was impressed that the introduction scene of the Scotland episode had Steven Gow, the Scots ghillie (hunting guide), working on meat that was to be shipped out that week. They really captured the hunting in Europe, and how much of a commodity it is. It also made me cringe, remembering how in the US we’re quickly following in their footsteps: $800 to $1,500 to shoot a wild boar in California?

We already have enough problems with a majority of the population growing up in urban areas, having lost their hunting, fishing and gathering traditions by generations—traditions that would have helped keep a clear public eye on such fabricated science pushed by PETA and HSUS. Charging horrendous fees on game that legally belongs the citizens of a state, does nothing but create an elitist attitude about something that was so free and drew many from their nations of origin.

In the Scotland episode, the hunter, angler, gatherer, theme of the show really came across, from field to table. And, this last weekend, the Guyana show carried it well again. This theme of field to table, and local bonds built, is the strength of the show, and even its honesty works, though it did make me recoil a few times, starting with the crippled blacktail that they finished off in the first episode in Alaska, and then a wounding arrow shot on a tapir.

During the Central America War, tapir found a fond spot in my heart. I was at a secret Contra base along the Honduran border, and because of the ridiculously low rations afforded our Cold War allies by US Congress budget cuts, we had to augment beans and rice with whatever animal protein got from the jungle.

Contra with three Sandinista rounds in his gut, leaving on my medevac in.

 

For the same reasons of the bigger bang for the buck Rinella mentioned on Sunday’s Guyana episode, the Miskito tribal members fighting in the Nicaraguan Defense Force (FDN) guerrilla unit I accompanied, targeted the tapir with dogs—much more meat than a hapless cuzuco (armadillo) or iguana. Imagine mountains, sides steep as cliffs, and during the rainy season, knee-deep mud, and thick brush and tall canopy—a shiver runs up my spine remembering firefights conducted under those conditions. We carried AK-47s to make the shot on the hungrily sought tapir table fare, but also to defend against surprise attacks by Cuban and Russian Spetsnaz-trained Sandinista Special Forces units.

Those harried days of the 1980s came rushing back as Rinella narrated on the tapir, and Jim Jones (I worked the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco for NBC, along with longtime NBC cameraman and Jonestown survivor, Steve Sung—see enough bullet and fragment wounds and you recognize them easily, especially along the arms), but also the creepy crawlies and slithers that leave you not only very uncomfortable with a bite or sting, but even perhaps in the end, dead.

The Guyana episode also struck home the difference between sport and subsistence. In Alaska, those of us who actually survived on our caught or shot food, had no problem shooting a caribou in the water—in contrast, those who flew in from out of state for a hunt, or lived in Anchorage, would never think of doing so for the flak they’d get from their hunting party.

And this is where I’ve started enjoying the show, when in the beginning I had my misgivings with its clarity of purpose. The Wild Within really gets its legs when it focuses not on the historical qualities of hunting, or an area, something that can easily be touched on at the beginning, in short review, as with reference to Reverend Jim Jones in Guyana; but instead focuses on the present-day locals, the conditions, and work a subsistence lifestyle requires: shooting, trapping, catching and gathering everything you need from the environment, doing it day in and day out, no chance of calling in a sick day, especially when you have to provide for your family.

That’s Entertainment!

As Rinella mentions on the adjoining Cork’s Outdoors Radio episode, TV is definitely focused on entertainment (whether a travel show, or sadly of late, the news) first, and secondly, if you’re lucky, you educate as much as you can between those emotion-stirring moments, in the hopes that the viewer will pick up a book and go further in-depth. That’s where I laud the Travel Channel in even airing such a program—showing hunting and gathering for what it is: not necessarily pretty, sometimes amazingly gorgeous.  The upcoming Texas episode promises to be quite the saddle-burning ride…

The Wild Within comes into its own as it remembers that premise by focusing on the local peoples, and their quest to keep sustained on what the wilds offer them. Most importantly, not as one of the other proliferations of survive in the wilds and get out alive shows, but instead looking forward to the trip outdoors, the resulting fine meals of game and fish, to that reconnection with oft-lost skills that kept us alive where we all originally came from—the wilds!

Related Links:

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy the interview of The Wild Within’s Steven Rinella on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

TOPICS: Steven Rinella, author and host of THE WILD WITHIN, speaks about his writing and adventures for the Travel Channel.

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The River Cottage MEAT Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall [BOOK REVIEW]

Posted on 18 February 2010 by Cork Graham

Spice-rubbed wild boar ready to become Babi Guling!

Spice-rubbed wild boar ready to become Babi Guling!

No matter how you cut it, there is a reason that vegetarians suffer from a number of ailments, not the least of which is a deficiency in vitamin B12: humans have developed over thousands of years to be omnivores, not herbivores! Our diets developed over years of evolution to make sure that humans could survive in any environment, something necessary to a species that evolved as a nomadic group, a group who by necessity has had to survive on an opportunistic diet.

The only species more nomadic than humans are the world’s carnivores. Yet what are the most successful species? Always it’s the omnivores: humans, pigs and bears. These are the most successful populations of any large mammals.

But what’s an omnivore to do when disconnected societal vegetarian fads spring up during every generation, either because of religious or cultural fads inspired by powerful advertising? Get in informed…

Such is the important information I found in the masterpiece The River Cottage MEAT Book by UK food personality Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall…it was as though someone from PETA, but someone who actually did their research instead of just offering a knee-jerk emotional response to eating meat so far from reality it’s a crime, wrote a book on cooking healthy, following ecologically sound farming practices.

Meat is good, and good for you! But, as the author says, there’s good meat and there’s bad meat. Or, as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 -1826), “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

If you get meat from a meat factory that holds its cattle in boxes that prevent movement and they’ve never even had the opportunity to graze in an open field and under a sky light by sunlight and moonlight, you’re going to get an animal full of body chemicals resulting from stress, not to mention the antibiotics and other manmade materials that bring into question their residual effects in our bodies.

Instead, imagine a cow, pig, or lamb enjoying life in a beautiful pasture, feeding well on all the natural grasses and herbs and brush that bring not only incredible flavor to the animal’s meat, but also bring up a healthy offering for the table that makes you feel so sated and happy when you’re done eating. That (aside from some innovative and interesting spins on more traditional British and international recipes) is what Fearnley-Whittingstall brings to the conversation about eating meat that has long been overdue.

We live in a society in the major cities of the US and UK that is so far removed from its roots in the country, that even adults are shocked to find themselves responding strictly emotionally to become strict vegetarians, and trying to legitimize their decision through questionable science.

If you’ve ever ridden on public transportation in Thailand and India, where meat consumption is very low, and seen natives fast asleep with their heads banging against the window as the bus rattles along, you might have noticed a few of the symptoms of long-term vegetarianism: sluggishness, anemia. And, if only eating vegetables is so good for you why do vegetarians so often need vitamin supplements and why do we no longer have more than one stomach, like so many real herbivores—ever wonder what your appendix used to be?

That’s right! It is used to help us digest foliage, as true vegetarians, when we used to move across the great savannahs of prehistoric Africa.

What happened?

We advanced and learned how to make tools. And by learning to make tools we made weapons for killing to eat meat as a main part of our meals instead of just an infrequent lucky addition.

Our brain size development from what we were as a prehistoric man to what we are now resulted from our more regular consumption of meat proteins. Now, I’m not saying that every meal should have a meat protein, but mixed with a full offering of colors and varieties of vegetables, fruits and nuts and I think you’ll notice a not only a more calming, but reaffirming experience, and definitely less-stressed, daily experience.

Personally, I’ve tried a vegetarian diet. As an effort toward spiritual, mental and physiological cleansing as a form of fasting from meat, seafood and birds, it’s very effective. But any longer than that, have you also noticed how weak and sluggish you feel after the initial cleansing has occurred? That’s your body telling you something!

Meat gives you strength. And when you eat a bit much of beef, it does seem to deliver a bit of an aggressive attitude to a person’s personality. This is an observation that goes to at least as far back as Dickens and Oliver Twist:

‘It’s not Madness, ma’am,’ replied Mr. Bumble, after a few moments of deep meditation. ‘It’s Meat.’

‘What?’ exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry.

‘Meat, ma’am, meat,’ replied Bumble, with stern emphasis.

‘You’ve over-fed him, ma’am. You’ve raised a artificial soul and spirit in him, ma’am unbecoming a person of his condition: as the board, Mrs. Sowerberry, who are practical philosophers, will tell you. What have paupers to do with soul or spirit? It’s quite enough that we let ’em have live bodies. If you had kept the boy on gruel, ma’am, this would never have happened.’

‘Dear, dear!’ ejaculated Mrs. Sowerberry, piously raising her eyes to the kitchen ceiling: ‘this comes of being liberal!’

Heaven forbid the peasants get fed meat!

I do notice that I too can get a little pointed in my comments and hot under the collar when I’ve eaten beef more than four or five days straight, and not had it as part of a well-balanced meal that includes some grains, vegetables and fruit. I must also add that I’ve never had any type of aggressive response with the other red meat: venison.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a great case that there’s nothing as satisfying as a well-prepared and cooked slab of meat that came from a farm animal living a good life on a farm, instead of a prison-like slaughter yard. And yet, he doesn’t shield the reader for the realities of eating-and why should he? Cellophane-wrapped meat that makes children think that our food comes neat and clean from a machine is why we’re having the drastic disconnect problem we’re in now!

The photos of slaughtering and butchering, which reminded me of police photos I’ve seen of crime scenes and scenes in the city morgue on CSI were a bit shocking…but perhaps because even with my field experiences killing and butchering wild game, even doing something as close farm animal slaughtering as killing a farm-raised goat with .22 and butchering it in a woods glen in Alaska, I’d never done my basic butchering in a slaughter house, i.e., the animal is still whole, in an antiseptic, white-walled room.

Kind of gave me the creeps, seeing that steer’s live eyes as a pneumatic piston gun is put to its head. Then, the next frame is the dead eye as he lies on his side…but, like the vegemite-sundaes like to say, if you can’t deal with the honesty of the death of the animal, can you really condone the eating of meat?

Yes, I accept the honesty of the fact that something died so that I can live. And there’s something contrary, to that which the vegemite-sundaes like to think of selectively: they don’t respect, or really are afraid to accept, that EVERYTHING lives because something dies. Is the only reason that vegetarians condone the killing of vegetables and fruits is that they can’t hear them scream—and who are they to think that all living things don’t feel their death and scream…that it’s only that humans don’t normally speak the language of carrots?

Many aboriginal societies revered and respected that fact that all living things, and in their thinking, inanimate objects are alive, and die and scream when their killing is brought about with little respect: that includes carrots that are just ripped out of the ground without first being asked to offer themselves to the upcoming meal.

Are vegemite-sundaes only vegetarians because they can’t deal with death being a fact of life in all its forms?

I leave that up for you to decide…all I know is that when I’ve dealt with strict vegetarians their avoidance of Nature’s facts are often deplorable: they come off as seeming to think that only the furry and cute creatures on this planet deserve to live, and everything else that can’t be heard to scream, or doesn’t run away when you try to eat it, is okay to eat, in other words, kill.

I don’t have time for vegemite-sundaes because everyone of them comes off as a hypocrite when you really get to know their beliefs and understandings about what the Earth so graciously provides—to them, it’s all about avoidance of that cycle of death that Nature has put all on living creatures….and it seems…nature is the very one to remind vegemite-sundaes that their diet isn’t what we’ve evolved towards over thousands of years of eating meat, with vegetarians setting themselves up for osteoporosis and B12 deficiency, making itself known through the following symptoms: confusion or change in mental status in severe or advanced cases, decreased sense of vibration, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, numbness and tingling of hands and feet, pallor, shortness of breath, sore mouth and tongue, weakness.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall still seems to offer an olive branch to the PETA folks, though I think anyone who considers themselves a “true” vegetarian will never accept that branch other than to further their agenda, as organizations like PETA and HSUS continue to do right now, saying that they just want to improve conditions for animals, when all their directors just want more money (if you’ve ever dealt with an unscrupulous animal rights ‘non-profit’ you really know where the money and how being ‘non-profit’ doesn’t mean being poor) and to stop all hunting: they’d have all native tribes in cities living on canned vegetarian foods if they had their dithers…

…Yet again they perpetuate what the urbanization of humans has done all along: a total disconnect between humans and our origins…and no, a quick hike through the woods is really as disconnected as the average PETA true believer, stuck in an apartment with their only sense of wildlife a pet cat or their Chihuahua, heavily modified through thousands of years of breeding for Aztec and Mayan dining halls. Hikers in the woods are like sex voyeurs, titillated by what they see, but not willing, and often afraid, to get down and dirty with its realities.

We’ve gotten so far away from what enabled us to survive in a real world that I sometimes wonder if this very modern and violent cult following in PETA/HSUS-related vegetarianism isn’t just a human form of lemmings running off cliffs…

Don’t get me wrong, I respect and enjoy my greens, too—it’s just I have a problem with healthy habits that become fanatic movements trying to keep themselves aloft through unsound science and actions that actually go against their professed reasons: smaller hunter numbers have actually led to lower amounts of revenues that would have gone to the support of all animals through the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 (In contrast, if you want to know where PETA funds really go, READ HERE; they sure aren’t putting those millions of dollars into helping animal populations like hunters do…)

Whenever I come across an author that seems to be more on an even keel, and in the UK no less, the historic origins of the present PETA/HSUS madness, I jump up and down in joy that there might be hope. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is just such a man, who takes the reader through the different options for getting that organic success that leads to a healthy and great-tasting meal with meat as the centerpiece: whether a beef roast, roast chicken, or game collected in the field.

There are a number of game recipes that I’m looking forward to cooking, and will in the future with game he mentions, like pheasant, rabbit and hare. Taking to heart the axiom of using everything the animal offers, the Fearnley-Whittingstall also delivers a great chapter the use of offal gathered from a slaughtered animal. And I’d be remiss in not mention a great dissertation on the practice of aging meat: in his research he really pushed the limits of time! If you live in a warmer/drier climate like I do in California, remember that the variance in temperature, i.e. wamers, will shorten your aging times.

But, it was the roast pig that really got me excited!

…Instead of a traditional roasting spit, beautifully described in a photo story on page 390 and pages 392 to 394 in The River Cottage MEAT Book, I wanted to roast a true organic meat (If it’s been touched by human hands, or fed by humans hands, something that didn’t grow naturally, feeding on whatever it could find on its travels, without human direction or intention, how can you call it true organic?) a wild boar in a La Caja China that I had done a bang-up job with on a farm pig.

Not only that, I wanted to try a recipe I enjoyed as a child in Southeast Asia, on a trip to Indonesia, specifically Bali, called babi guling. Click on the photo of Babi Guling below to watch how we prepared him!

 RELATED LINKS

  1. La Caja China

  2. Blackhawk!

  3. Winchester

  4. Remington

  5. Native Hunt

 

COMING UP

  1. Surmounting the Cultural Conflict of Tactical Clothing and Equipment in the Outdoors

  2. Wild Lifers vs. Game Farmers

 

Click on the Roast Babi Guling to watch how to make it!

Click on the Roast Babi Guling to watch how to make it!

 

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FAT of the LAND by Langdon Cook [Book Review]

Posted on 18 January 2010 by Cork Graham

Long after I realized there were better ways of making a living than getting shot at, a few years after I had an epiphany about wildlife management being so much more than just about hunting, fishing, foraging, and sound wildlife conservation and ecology in Alaska; I entered outdoor writing through the more traditional forms of print magazines, books and newspapers, and was quickly likened by reviewers to Aldo Leopold.

Having graduated to outdoor writing in the new and burgeoning form of multimedia, I’m still leery of labeling a new author in the same manner as I had been so early in my career, not because of that boost to one’s career (Knowing how hard it is to succeed, I wish every writer the best in their career!), but because of how much it’s also an incredible weight and responsibility, and even for some, can be like a TV or film actor’s typecasting that is almost impossible to get out from under. Yet, when I read Fat of the Land by Langdon Cook, I couldn’t help but think how much, in relation to the urbanized society we’ve largely become in the United States, Cook, 42, is the Henry David Thoreau of his generation.

When I review a book, I’m in search of a number of offerings in that writing: education, entertainment and escape. Few authors can offer all that consistently and keeping it going throughout a book. When they do, it’s a great book!

corkalaskahunting

Cork Graham subsistence hunting moose and Dall sheep on the Kenai Peninsula, 1990

As someone who lived in Alaska as a subsistence hunter, angler and forager, I’m always impressed with a writer who can take me back to the only place in the world, that I’ve lived in that I can say I’m truly homesick for, much less in a book that isn’t even about Alaska. With nice touches of a personal history reaching back to the East Coast, and often simply because of his beautiful poetic form of honesty, Cook was able to transport me to all the places I love through the window of Oregon and Washington.

Through Cook’s writing, that never once takes the reader over that sickeningly sappy poetic license that amateur writers often attempt, my voyage of escape from the flu I was fighting last week, was amazingly easy. At the open of “Honey, Get the Gun”, I was back on the shores of Clam Gulch, Alaska, in the middle of December, with my then girlfriend, a longtime resident, digging up razor clams. Some would be fried. Others would end up in my favorite “Razor Scampi”. Many were smoked and canned, enjoyed later as boat lunches during commercial salmon season.

For those who may be wondering if Fat of the Land will only appeal to someone who has “gone and done it”, worry not. I was never a fungi fan (but because of his “Confessions of an Amanita Eater”, I am now), nor have I been “Fiddling Around” for fiddleheads; yet, I was still with Cook, rooting for him and his gang when they succeeded, though appalled when he did something that just made me cringe. Yet, through his eyes, I saw what’s really happening for those now starting out in the world of hunting, even underwater, and even when he brought up a controversy in the arena of wildlife conservation that at times seems clichéd: from chapter one to its end, I was still completely vested in the book!

That heart and mind investment started with the hunt for the wild dangerous creature known to many a forager who prowls the shores of Puget Sound, (my great uncle would regal us with how many there were when he was a salmon fisherman out of Seattle just after WWII). If you think I’m being factious, try going after clams with your hands, like the new-to-Alaska, Cheechako I was. All it takes is a finger or hand split to the bone on the sharp edge of the shell to appreciate the common name for siliqua patula, and the practicality of an elongated clam shovel or a tube gun.

Cook talks with authority on the subject of clams, their history, and sadly, their possible future, a topic that can easily be spread throughout other flora and fauna speared, hooked or gathered in Fat of the Land, and which has put me in a quandary as someone who not only enjoys hunting, foraging and fishing, but also teaches others how to do it for themselves—can the wild flora and fauna populations support this, especially as a a human population sees that same wild bounty as an opportunity to overcome ever-increasing prices of food, or draw an income through foraging, in this horrible economy?

Moving deeper into the water, albeit still connected to land by the deck of a pier, was a lesson not only in how to fish for squid, but also how to start learning from those more experienced, and why it behooves everyone to learn an extra language—this hit home when I was eighteen, unlucky, and under harsh interrogations in a Communist Vietnamese prison, unable to string more than three words together from the Vietnamese I spoke fluently as the result of having been an American expat’s young child trying to survive in a Vietnamese-dominated French Catholic kindergarten in Saigon.

Surprisingly, or maybe it’s not, because of the multitude of immigrants who now ply the waters, streams and mountains for game and fish; being fluent in Spanish, French and Korean and having the ability to at least ask someone how and where to do something in Russian, Mandarin, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese, have offered me new techniques and secret places for putting meat, fish and forage on the table. It’s also kept me from getting a bullet in my head as I quickly removed myself from a illegal and dangerous farming venture, because I heard and understood them before they had a chance to know I was there while deer hunting: the amount of wild game that the pot growers (most often kidnapped and coerced by the murderous Mexican drug cartel to sneak illegally into this country) slaughtered and left to rot that was later found by CAMP, was atrocious—Is it any wonder how hypocritical it appears when someone staunchly says they’re environmentalists and ecologists, and yet they light up a joint or bong loaded with marijuana likely grown on illegal pot farms in the national forests and other public lands, turning them into free-fire zones where every living thing is killed through boobytraps and shooting to protect those fields?

The multinational flavor of the foraging community described in Fat of the Land carried to a chapter on shad fishing, notorious for its numbers and fight. If you haven’t caught them before, by the time you’re at that moment in your life where a flyrod and the meditative quality of flycasting calls out to you, you quickly realize it’s time to use “Shad Darts at Dawn”. The stringers become long and heavy with the American shad, immigrants from the waterways of the East Coast, and a boon to those who like to fill their larder, yet not impact the indigenous; but for my tastes, the much better fight on the line and fare for the table, lower-numbered steelhead and salmon.

lang_filephoto4

Langdon Cook and a full stringer of American shad.

When I cringed it wasn’t the Christmas tree formed of a number of shad on a stringer; nor was it the catching and releasing of steelhead. Hatchery or wild, it really doesn’t matter to me as fish is good to eat from either and money aside (made from an industry that thrives only because of catch and release) when more and more research says that practice of catch and release leads to up to 63 percent accidental kill, and it becomes more and more as salmon farming increases and  the wild strains follow the way of the California condor.

No. It was when Cook and his mentor were becoming “The Inhuman”. I know a bit of what I talk about when it comes to spearfishing. I’ve been a spearo since the early-1980s spearing great seafood meals in the Caribbean, and Pacific. Repeatedly did so until my buddy, Randy Fry, lost his life to a great white shark at Kibbesillah Rock, just off Fort Bragg. The event put a stop to my spearfishing and ab-diving, until right after I returned from a teaching sabbatical in South Korea: I’ve seen people killed in combat, in some very horrific ways, but let me tell you, just imagining a good friend diving into a shark’s mouth and being bit clean through from shoulder to shoulder bring the mind back to its most primordial fears of teeth and claws—It led to a four year hiatus from entering the waters off Northern California as a freediver.

As one who tries my best to make as quick and efficient a kill as possible, and with the least amount of waste, when I read how not only Cook had gone after a lingcod with a traditional pole spear (Though Cooks calls his setup a Hawaiian Sling, a Hawaiian sling is actually a set up with a handle system, that has a hole through which a free-shooting spear is shot, almost like a slingshot), but that his “mentor” Dave, the professor, often hunted lingcod with not just a pole spear, but with the tri-pronged spearhead that pole spears normally come with—I found that atrocious!

It’s one thing, to not know. When someone who is a teacher, a professor no less, doesn’t investigate further, it’s a shame . The problem wasn’t the use of a pole spear: Master Spearo “Shark Man” Manny Puig, is well-known for his environmental work and being a spearfisherman, and especially for efficiently using a pole spear for putting fish on the table—it’s actually more efficient than a speargun, as you don’t lose time reeling in line to get your fish off your spear and on the stringer. The difference is that Puig uses a Hawaiian style barb, which flips open to hold the fish on the spear: for halibut and lingcod, even this isn’t enough.

Lingcod and halibut rank up there as the most easy to lose with a pole spear or a speargun. That’s why those who go after them use either the detachable spear tip, or 5-prong Trident spear. Mentor Dave knew about the best wetsuits to use, and Cook detailed well how it’s more comfortable and efficient to use a 4 mm suit, as compared to 5 mm, to descend, but when he didn’t tell Cook to replace a speartip infamous for losing fish, that just brought me back to how important is for this new generation of hunters, anglers and foragers to get the right tutelage, or else yet another generation will needlessly become fodder for the “antis” movement.

If this new generation does “do the job right”, the benefits to the ecosystem will be multitude: waste will be kept down; populations of hunters and anglers will increase enough that the funds collected through fishing and hunting licensing will once again provide more habitat to support and improve numbers of game and fish on public land.

Right now, because the wealthy pay great fees for prime hunting, the only place with abundant game and fish are  lands that are privately owned. It wasn’t always this way. Before, there were more than enough people who went fishing and hunting, so much so that the departments of fish and game catered more to this group, by improving habitat and stocking. In the process, all other non-game creatures also benefited. If there’s enough good habitat, and stewarding of the land, game and fish populations can be prolific on their own.

It’s for this very reason that I’m in favor of having all coastal dams removed from Baja California to Canada. There are so many other forms of electrical power, and would free up the waterways so that the salmon and steelhead would come back on the their own. Not many know that the largest salmon run in the world was not some river up in Alaska, like the Kenai: the Sacramento River held the largest run, with salmon up to 100 pound netted on the McCloud River. In the 1856, Hutching’s California Magazine actually complained that you couldn’t navigate across the upper Delta and lower Sacramento without being overcome by the stench of hundreds of thousands of spawned out salmon carcasses. Lake Shasta and all the later dammed up rivers, like the Mokelumme and Stanislaus to name a few, ended that.

A wild, healthy salmon on the Rogue River for Langdon Cook

A wild, healthy salmon on the Rogue River for Langdon Cook

Aside from the ill-advised suggestion to use inadequate equipment, what are my thoughts? As I mentioned earlier, I’m in a quandary. When I started hunting, I was a thirteen-year-old, fresh from a previous life as an American expat in Southeast Asia. The hunting and fishing opportunities my father enjoyed at that same age in Spokane, Seattle, and the Midwest, during the early 1940s and the glory days of great opportunity resulting from hunters and anglers going off to WWII that provided a six-year break for game and fish populations, were long gone by the time I blindly searched for the guidance of those who knew what they were talking about and weren’t arrogantly talking through the romance of hunting and fishing were few.

When I found them, I cherished and kept in good friendship with them even as they aged and died. That generation that had to hunt and fish to provide for the table, and had not been barraged by divisive advertising campaigns to separate the hunter from the environmentalist, is quickly disappearing.

Chantarelle success!

Chantarelle success!

Cook has the writing skills, that’re beyond evident. And, he’s honest. He shows what life and death is about in nature, and how humankind was never meant to be removed and simply an observer in the most intimate of all settings: the cycle of life. Where his honesty comes from, is where I hope as he ventures into hunting on land, as he has mentioned on his Fat of the Land (FATL) blog, will spur him to search out the most experienced, and not just rely on those most easily accessible, wrong, and frankly lazy in their own edification (or worse, just disrespectful to the very prey that gives them nourishment), in the assessment of efficiency, as Professor Dave: 200 hundred days a year in the water, according to Cook, but evidently not interacting with those who could have taught him better.

In a nutshell, Fat of the Land is a great telling of a newbie’s entry into the world of West Coast spearfishing, fishing and foraging. It’s unlike so many books that try to romanticize the wilds, something that almost seems a crime, especially when I remember Christopher McCandless’ stupidity in Alaska, only a year after I came back to California. That honesty about Cook’s activities and those around him is what informs, educates and entertains (the humorous anecdotes are priceless and many of you who have ventured forth in your own rite, might easily recognize similar funny experiences). Through this writing, readers don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Through his writing, readers have an opportunity see if the world of living off the fat of the land is feasible or desired.

If you were stuck in bed like me last two week, you’ll feel fortunate to enjoy the escape to the wilds that a writer of Langdon Cook’s artistic ability brings to the page, making it so easy to “be there”, keeping your attention even through the blurred fog of a flu. Once I regain my sense of smell and taste, I can’t wait to try the recipes at the end of each chapter, related to the subject of that chapter, one of which I’ve enjoyed greatly in the past: oyster po’boys! Cook is so on the money, making sandwiches with those big as steaks North Pacific oysters.

As I said at the beginning, I see a new Thoreau in Langdon Cook, and with that amazing skill of capturing natures beauty like a photo, I look forward to him coming easily to the challenge of those ensuing responsibilities in his future books.

For you to enjoy your own copy of Fat of the Land!

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