Author Archives: Quill Gordon

Of Polar Bears, Elephants, and a Place to Put Your Stuff

Us outdoorsy types, especially we who fish, sure do like our stuff.

When Johnny Morris started Bass Pro Shops in his father’s Brown Derby Liquor Store I doubt he had any idea how much stuff we would buy, but by the time he was selling fully outfitted bass boats he was certainly getting the picture. As we bought more stuff, so did Mr. Morris, including that other outdoor catalog behemoth, Cabela’s, in a 2017 deal valued at a cool five billion dollars.

True

While Bass Pro may dominate an industry, it is much more than a business juggernaut. Johnny Morris has always supported research and education about conservation issues, partnering with groups like the Bass Research Foundation as far back as the 1970s and, more recently, the Audubon Society, which just awarded him one of Conservation’s highest awards, the Audubon Medal.

One can only imagine the stuff cluttering up the garage of a man like Johnny Morris. Actually, I doubt there’s much clutter in his garage at all but, while some people collect stamps or hand-tatted antimacassars, Morris comes home with race cars and taxidermy collections, and he is not the sort of person who is satisfied watching a tank full of guppies.

The Alligator on the Way from Boats to Menswear

I remember when Bass Pro wasn’t much more than an end cap in a liquor store and I remember when they built their huge (at the time) flagship Outdoor World store, but hadn’t been to Springfield, MO, in many years. On a visit last summer, I got to see how far Brown Derby and Bass Pro have both come. I also got to see where Johnny Morris keeps a lot of his stuff.

One of several.

Bass Pro and racing have gone hand in hand for years and Mr. Morris’ collection of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and trophies is impressively displayed at the Bass Pro Shop on Sunshine Street. I was more than happy to spend time admiring this particular slice of American motor sports, and I mean no disrespect to the memory of Dale Earnhardt, but I wasn’t there for the cars.

As one might imagine, taxidermy collections and fish tanks take up a lot of space and, as far as I’m concerned, the ultimate storage solution for such things is Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, a place that must be seen to be believed and it’s going to take you the better part of a day to see it all. A place where you can stand in front of a polar bear on a hot Ozarks day.

One of these men is not me.

Bass fishing nerds and trivia buffs might recognize the man on the right as the winner of the 1978 Bass Pro Shops Lunker Hunt Fishing Tounament. His name is Uncle Dwight.

That, friends, is how you rock a trucker hat!

(The tournament ran from March 25 through July 11 that year and he wasn’t sure he even wanted to fool with it, but he finally signed up on his way home from work the night before it started and hooked his 9lb, 3oz largemouth bass around noon on opening day.)

As you step on the escalator to the main floor of Wonders of Wildlife, there is no doubt that this is not an ordinary museum.

Please, No Roller Skates!

The Boone and Crockett Club has advocated for “fair chase hunting in support of habitat conservation” since it was founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt. They have also been scoring, recording, and collecting trophy animals for nearly that long. If their collection just happened to be available and happened to come into your possession, what would you do with it?

You’d put it in your museum, of course.

Antlers. Lots of antlers.

 

There’s an old saying that, if you had as many bucks in your wallet as you have on the wall, you’d have, well, six bucks. There’s a few more than that here. There’s also a lot more than deer mounts here.

 

Covering several of Earth’s major ecosystems, the displays are carefully crafted. The murals alone must have taken several years to complete. Right down to the trees, grasses, and rocks, this place sets the bar for museum sciences and art. In the Arctic area, for example the air was conspicuously cooler and the sound of wind was piped in through hidden speakers. The only reminder of the manner by which these animals had reached their present state was a sign at the feet of one polar bear, and that was only because he had been the largest one ever taken. Wolves menaced musk ox, a walrus stood at its full height, and around the next corner was a group of real, live penguins, the cold glass of their display sweating like a tumbler of iced tea.

 

According to their site, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium contains “more than 1.5 miles of immersive exhibits and experiences” and we were just getting started! The penguins were just a prelude to the live animals ahead. After winding through caves with bats and blind salamanders, across bridges spanning jungle pools with anacondas and pirhanas, and through the “Underwater Tunnels of Awe” we entered the aquarium proper, including the Great Oceans Hall, encircled by a 300,000-gallon “open ocean” habitat, and the Shipwreck Room, with its free-standing, 30-ft tall tank around a ship’s mast.

A shipwreck decoration that did not come from the pet store.

 

For some of us, one boat in the driveway gives our neighbors pause. Not content with just his own boats (he does own Ranger, after all), Johnny Morris’ collection also includes boats owned by or associated with such luminaries as Zane Grey, Ernest Hemingway, and Jimmy Buffet, which hang from the ceiling or become part of impressive, life-size dioramas.

Tuna!

Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium is located at 500 W. Sunshine St. in Springfield, MO. Click that link to see their web site. My pictures don’t do the place justice, unfortunately, but if you find yourself in the Ozarks on a day you just can’t or don’t want to be outside, there aren’t many better places to spend a few hours.

Maybe you can take a nephew. Thanks, Uncle Dwight!

 

 

Advertisements
Categories: +Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From the Mixed Up Bookshelves (and Beer ‘Fridge) of Quill Gordon: Pamola

Moosehead Breweries Limited, in Saint John, New Brunswick, keeps a close eye on other brewers who might think of putting a moose on their label. They own multiple U.S. trademark registrations for the words “Moose” and “Moosehead” and for “moose-based” images. Their legal department carried on a long discussion about such images with the Hop’n Moose Brewing Company of Rutland, Vermont, in 2017, before voluntarily abandoning an infringement suit in 2018.

Baxter Brewing Company, of Lewiston, Maine, also features a moose of sorts on its cans but I imagine any conversation with the folks at Moosehead would have been short, due to the fact that Baxter Brewing’s moose has the body of a man, claws, and wings.

Wicked tasty, by the way.

A moose, with claws and wings?

That’s no ordinary moose. That is Pamola, a legendary spirit believed by the Algonquin people to inhabit Mt. Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. Pamola is the spirit of thunder and cold weather, and he is the protector of the mountain, always doing his level best to keep people from its summit. Even Henry David Thoreau wrote of Pamola’s determination, and I once found myself approaching Katahdin’s base, dog paddling through the flooded woods lining the rain-swollen Penobscot River, towing my backpack, which was lashed to my air mattress. The mountain was completely hidden by clouds, the rangers closed the trail, and I’ve still never been to the top of Katahdin.

Mark Leroy Dudley, known to all as Roy, was a guide on Katahdin from the 1890s until his death in 1942. Guiding during the summers and trapping in winter, Roy worked mainly north and east of Katahdin, roaming into the mountain’s Great Basin and camping at Chimney Pond. It was there he had his first of many encounters with Pamola and began sharing the tales with guests around his fire, including many prominent personalities of the times, distinguished scientists, and even Governor Percival Baxter, who bought the mountain and created Baxter Park for the people of Maine.

Roy Dudley

Roy Dudley wrote his stories in his head and told them out loud, something not many people do these days. Year after year he told his tales, not always the same way as the time before, and he entertained hundreds if not thousands of visitors with his wild yarns. In 1937 a man named Clayton Hall lugged an Edison dictation machine seven miles in to Chimney Pond, where he recorded Roy’s tales on wax cylinders, intending to turn them into a book. They would not be the same, transcribed and printed, but they would be preserved.

That book never came about but Clayton Hall’s old manuscript was found in an attic by his niece, Beth Harmon and, with help from her friend, Jane Thomas — who had heard Roy Dudley’s stories when she was a child — Chimney Pond Tales, Yarns Told by Leroy Dudley was published in 1991 (Pamola Press, ISBN 0-9631718-0-1).

Chimney Pond Tales

Characters like Roy Dudley are few and far between. He cared for anyone who found themselves on Katahdin, fixing tea and keeping them comfortable while giving advice that could save their lives should the benign spirit of the mountain give way to its moody and dangerous side. Pamola was that moody and dangerous spirt of Katahdin and Roy got to know him well in his years at Chimney Pond.

Pamola’s first attempts to evict Roy from his shelter at Chimney Pond were violent, with thunder and winds that scattered his belongings far and wide. The stones from Roy’s fire pit were stacked in his lean to so he had to excavate sleeping room, and Pamola even downed a pot of boiling tea in a single gulp while screaming at him to leave. Roy held his ground and the two of them eventually reached an uneasy truce that gradually grew into true friendship.

Roy smoked a pipe and enjoyed blowing smoke rings, which fascinated Pamola, who decided he’d like to give it a go himself and asked Roy if he could have a pipe, too. Unwilling to deny the twenty foot tall Pamola’s request, the next time he was in Millinocket, Roy searched for an empty beer barrel to use as a bowl. For some strange reason, every beer barrel in town was full so Roy procured an old tar keg and found a ten-foot length of three-inch pipe for the stem. Pamola was pleased.

Roy did not have enough tobacco to fill Pamola’s bowl so he gathered balsam boughs and birch bark, along with some tarred paper with which he’d been repairing his roof. While Pamola puffed he built a small fire in the barrel and after a while Pamola was enjoying a good smoke and blowing rings that filled the basin. He declared it to be “delightful.”

With the smell of balsam, birch bark, and tar filling the evening air, Pamola puffed harder and harder until a “mean little piece of birch bark, no bigger’n your hand” caught ablaze and Pamola’s head was engulfed in flame! Off he shot, from the peak of the mountain to Chimney Pond, followed by a trail of fire a hundred feet long.

Pamola Has A Smoke, Illustration by Jane Thomas

The water in the pond boiled as Pamola plunged in, and was undrinkable for quite some time afterward. Worse, Pamola’s tremendous beard had been burned and he was so embarrassed that he retreated to his cave in shame. The flames, as it turns out, had been spotted from miles away and a crew of men came into camp the next morning looking for a fire to fight. Roy convinced them it must have just been a group of college boys building a bonfire and, after a cup of tea, the men left, none the wiser.

Of Roy’s tea, it was said you could pour a yard of it and stand it in the corner.

Tall tales and fantastic yarns like the ones told by Leroy Dudley were part of an oral tradition that goes back as far as language itself. Without a book like Chimney Pond Tales, these stories would have died out with their teller. While Pamola figures prominently, this collection includes other pieces about porcupines, prune whip, and more, including why fifteen frying pans hung on Roy’s wall.

Fifteen Frying Pans, Illustration by Jane Thomas

Chimney Pond Tales has a special spot in my collection of folklore and tales of the outdoors. The hunting, trapping, and fishing abilities of Maine guides are legendary, as are their story-telling skills, and Leroy Dudley was one of the best.

Categories: Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fishing Indoors with Cocktails

There are those among us who believe they are not properly admired when they catch a fish, nor are they showered with proper adulation. No crowd goes wild and no drums are beaten when they bring a fish to net.

Nimrods who release their catch might get a photo or two, nearly identical to the thousands of others floating by on social media, and can spend the rest of the weekend hounding their friends for “likes” and their friends can spend the rest of the weekend avoiding them.

Under some circumstances, fish may be kept and consumed. One of the most iconic images associated with fly fishing is that of fresh fish, fried over a streamside fire. Brookies for breakfast beneath pines dripping dew.

Sometimes, where it is allowed, larger fish are brought back to camp and laid out on a table for all to see before being prepared in such a way that they become unrecognizeable. Pieces of skin adhering to the hard crust of burned corn meal stuck to a cast iron pan are sometimes the only clues remaining as to why the pan was in the trash. Continue reading

Categories: Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From the Mixed Up Bookshelves of Quill Gordon: The Flying Fisherman

“The Flying Fisherman”

Roscoe Vernon Gaddis was born in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1896. When he was thirteen, his family moved to Great Falls, Montana, which is where, among other things, he caught his first rainbow trout and met Buffalo Bill. In 1915, he missed his chance to play professional baseball when he skipped a try-out with the St. Louis Cardinals because he heard the bass were running on the White River in Arkansas. Having passed up a career opportunity like that to go fishing, it is fitting that fishing eventually became his career.

Everywhere he went, whether working as a gandy dancer on a railroad gang in Iowa, selling vacuum cleaners in Minnesota, or driving mules in Louisiana, he fished. When the United States declared war on Germany, in 1917, he enlisted in the Army, signing up for the Signal Corps because that’s where the airplanes were and he had wanted to fly ever since he’d seen his first plane several years before. Shipped to San Antonio for basic training, while waiting for his air cadet application to be approved, he fished for bass in the Little Medina River. Continue reading

Categories: +Uncategorized, Fly Fishing | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Cremation of MMXVIII

We’ve used fire in the past, as a symbolic cleansing of the year gone by, and also as a welcome to the year ahead. A good fire also provides entertainment, along with the possibility of excitement.

MMX. Don’t worry, the excited-looking man in the foreground had no hair to begin with!

Continue reading

Categories: +Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Book Suggestion: The Feather Thief

“I don’t think you want to write that story… Because we’re a tight-knit community, fly-tiers, and you do not want to piss us off.” — Roger Plourde, quoted in The Feather Thief

“…The Feather Thief proves that the most obscure, “candy-ass” activities can be made interesting for the general reader.” — The Times of London review of The Feather Thief

Kirk Wallace Johnson served with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq, first in Baghdad and then in Fallujah, where he was the agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction. He has also worked extensively on behalf of Iraqi refugees and is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. If anyone ever could benefit from fly fishing, it was him, and it was while fishing that he heard a story that made him want to know more. The Feather Thief is the result of his investigation, which took more than six years.

Risking the wrath of fly-tiers and their tiny scissors, Mr. Johnson has taken a deep dive into the “feather underground” which, in this true story, consists mostly of people who tie Victorian salmon flies using authentic materials called for in the original recipes. Unfortunately, many of the feathers in those recipes are rare and expensive, heavily regulated by international treaties and acts intended to protect the endangered birds who possessed those feathers in the first place. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Lapse

Time flies whether you’re having fun or not but, for a frog, time’s fun when you’re having flies. And never forget that, while time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

The subject of time attracts hyperbole, as when things take “forever” or when someone is “always” doing something, which you and I both know is impossible (reflexive, unconscious activities like breathing excluded).

I spent more hours fishing this year than in any of the past several, which is interesting, having spent those years living less than 200 feet from a lovely lake stocked with trout. No matter how much I did or did not fish, I could never have spent as much time fishing as the legends suggest (all of it), especially considering how much time some tellers of tales spent on the same lake themselves (hardly any).

It has been said that the time one spends fishing is not deducted from the time one is allotted on this earthly plane so, if the legends are true, some of us must be nearly immortal. Time spent in the company of cigarettes and whisky and wild, wild women* may be another matter entirely, so some of us will probably have to just call it a wash. Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Visit to Mossy Creek Fly Fishing

One of the most important things to remember when booking a guide for a fishing trip is to make your reservation early, especially for popular guides on popular water at popular times of year. Still, it never hurts to ask, and the folks at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing couldn’t have been nicer while explaining to me, in mid-April, why a guided float down the Shenandoah for smallmouth bass in early May was out of the question, though they still had spots open for May of 2019.

A self-guided float down a nearby stretch of the Shenandoah, however, was more within the realm of possibility so, when rain chased us off the lake on Saturday afternoon, five damp-ish, possibly smelly, smart alecs mounted an expedition to Mossy Creek’s shop in Harrisonburg, VA, for advice and flies to use on Monday’s river run. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Castwell’s Curse is Lifted

In the short story “Mr. Theodore Castwell”, by G.E.M. Skues, the aforementioned and deceased Mr. Castwell approaches the Pearly Gates and presents himself as a fly fisher. Escorted to a perfectly lovely cottage next to a perfectly lovely piece of water, he catches fish after fish from the same spot, over and over again. When he decides to move along to another spot, he is told he may not, and it slowly dawns on him that he won’t, after all, be spending eternity in the place he thought he’d be spending it.

Halcyon Days

After eleven years fishing the same small watershed and lake in Vermont, Quill Gordon could relate. Same water, same fish, same “fellow” anglers — not all of whom treated him well — year after year. It was a classic case of Castwell’s Curse, exacerbated by the fact that there is some stuff up with which he will not put, and so it came to pass that Quill Gordon broke down his rods, packed up his gear and, unlike Castwell, got the hell out of there, making his way to a cozy hibernaculum at the top of the hill in which to pass the winter while waiting for the sap runs of spring.

“F*ck trout, those dainty, speckled beauties, always delicately sipping in their cold, limpid pools,” he thought to himself. “And f*ck those who are obsessed with them, too.”

Quill Gordon was in a serious f*nk. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Stepping Out in Style (plus a little music)

Regular readers of these pages know how dedicated I am to style, as well as the dignity and respect with which I treat the subject. In fact, in 2013, an entire Flashback Friday post was dedicated to style — the appropriately titled Style Issue. Since then, we’ve covered style from head to toe, with posts about hats, men’s outfits, and even shoes, all with the seriousness such subjects deserve and the gravitas readers have come to expect from me.

The inspiration for today’s post comes from the pages of The New Yorker‘s recent Spring Style Issue — specifically, the third page in.

Occasionally bumps into things.

I have grown used to not being in a target demographic when it comes to such ad campaigns, and it’s probably just as well. The handsome young man in that Armani ad is wearing lovely shoes but I am struck by several things when I look at it. First, there is a smudge on the right side of the page. It’s barbecue sauce and, for that, I apologize. Second, that man’s britches seem a little short to me and, around here, anyone with pants that short and not wearing socks is bound to pick up ticks. Third, those shoes look expensive and I shudder to think what even a mild case of plantar hyperhidrosis might do to the silk linings. Talk about smelly dogs!

Things might be different if I lived in Rome, but those are definitely not the shoes for me or, for that matter, anyone else I know. I live in Vermont and, curious to see what kinds of fashionistas I’ve been consorting with, I set out with my camera last Saturday to record some of the fancy footwear I came across. Okay, I didn’t set out anywhere; I spent half the day and all damn night in a sugarhouse and took pictures of people’s shoes as they came through. Continue reading

Categories: +Uncategorized, Humor, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.