Saturday, April 30, 2016

The recipe

As a native of Maryland, I naturally consider the Preakness Stakes the more important race, but as a Churchill I of course take an interest in the Kentucky Derby as well. Accordingly, I am posting (a week in advance, so that interested readers may gather ingredients) the following letter from Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. to Maj. Gen. William D. Connor. More than a recipe, it is a classic of Southern literature; Jessica says "that may well be the most beautiful thing ever written." So, without further ado, save a tip of the hat to Chris K. for sending me the text:

My Dear General Connor:

Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He said that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn't look like an elephant!

The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not a product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee! It is a heritage of the Old South; an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of a happy and congenial thought.

So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:

Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns; in a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream thru its banks of green moss and wild flowers until it broadens and trickles thru beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breeze. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age, yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.

Into a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.

Into each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outside of the goblets dry, and embellish copiously with mint.

Then comes the delicate and important operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoons, the ingredients are circulated and blended until nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of white frost; thus, harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.

When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden where the aroma of the juleps will rise heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblets to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods!

Being overcome with thirst, I can write no further.

Sincerely, Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr. VMI Class of 1906

[Photo by Ellie Churchill]

Friday, April 29, 2016



[Photos by Mark & Jessica. Click to embiggen.]

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Culturally appropriate

One sees billboards promoting exercise almost everywhere, but on a recent brief visit to Oklahoma (Fort Gibson/Muskogee area), I was enthused to see this one by Cherokee Nation Public Health.

Longtime readers may be aware of my interest in double-stick or "Southeastern" lacrosse, and it's nice to see a public-health organisation using imagery specifically relevant to the population it serves. Stickball FTW!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Purple rain

I fished this fly yesterday as a tribute:

Yes, it's a purple prince nymph, AKA "the fly formerly known as the prince nymph". The bluegills were going crazy, and even a 4-inch silver shiner decided to party like it was 1999. (I can remember when that was a decidedly future-tense proposition; I guess we're all getting older.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The uprising and the poet

The poet lay in his bed, waiting for the sleep that would not come, thinking of his friend who had been shot down and growing increasingly distraught. Eventually he tossed aside his blankets and began pacing the room. Finally, this anguished man of letters reverted to form: stopped his restless pacing, sat down to his desk, and took up pen and paper.

The poet was, by day, a professor of literature, respected by colleagues and students alike, but his own work was not widely known. He had abandoned his own university studies to travel widely through the tropics, eventually settling down to take a teaching position far from the land of his birth, but remaining in contact with friends and family and thereby maintaining an active interest in what went on back home. This morning, hearing the news of the unrest in his hometown, he had snatched the paper from the newsboy and become all but oblivious to his immediate surroundings.

To understand what had happened on that day in April, it is necessary to consider a few facts of timing and geography. To begin with, a war for independence had begun. A military installation far away from both the poet and his hometown had been besieged, then bombarded, and finally surrendered. Surprisingly, there had been no casualties, at least in actual combat. Generous terms had been offered, and when the colors were saluted prior to the evacuation of the fort, there had been an accidental explosion that killed an artilleryman and wounded several others, one mortally. Otherwise, the war had been bloodless, but everyone recognized that, after a long period of tension, a state of war now existed.

It is also important to note that one of the provinces adjacent to the capital city had just declared its independence, broken away from the established government. That action had yet to be formalized by popular vote, but no one on either side of the conflict doubted the outcome. The old government in its capital was vulnerable, and acutely aware of the fact.

It was therefore inevitable that military forces coming to the aid of the capital would have to come the other way, through a province that had not yet made up its collective mind. Certain of its leaders were unquestionably loyal to the old regime, others less so; its people were likewise divided, especially in its largest city—the poet's hometown—and careful handling was called for.

Unfortunately, it was not forthcoming.

The first reinforcements to come through the city were alternately cheered and jeered, according to the sympathies of the neighborhood, but arrived in the capital without incident. The national authorities pointedly advised their provincial counterparts that it would be in their best interest to see to it that future troop movements were likewise unhindered; perhaps even a show of welcome might be made. Unfortunately, they did not bother to inform even their loyalist allies when those troop movements might be expected.

And so when the next unit came through, it encountered a hostile citizenry, with no police escort or other civil authority to keep the peace between government soldiers and the independence-minded crowd. The crowd cursed the soldiers as mercenaries bent on suppressing independence but forgot, in their zeal, that this was in fact a new unit, recently recruited for expressly that purpose, and as yet lacking the discipline that might be expected of more experienced troops.

Like many uprisings, and many massacres, this one began with bricks and stones and ended with gunfire. Four soldiers and at least a dozen civilians were killed in the melee, with dozens more on both sides wounded. The violence concluded with a postscript: troops shooting an unarmed man from their transport, a prominent businessman who, unaware of the incident earlier in the day, gave voice to a pro-independence cheer. (Only hours after the first combat casualties of the war, and already a war crime had been committed, though it was never prosecuted.)

Martial law soon followed, but reports of the massacre were impossible to contain. The media already had the story, and so the professor of literature grabbed his newspaper, that night to toss and turn, and to pace, and finally to write. He would be done by dawn, and what he wrote was to become a stirring anthem.


The poet.

A history of the uprising.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What's in the box

I'm anxious to get out fly-fishing again, but it seems that the wind picks up to 30 mph and gusty every time I have a day off, so instead of photos from the stream I present a tour of my fly boxes. Most of my boxes are by Montana Fly Company and dressed in trout-skin graphics; as a bonus, every box is monogrammed at no extra charge. (MFC=Montana Fly Company and Mark Farrell-Churchill, a happy coincidence.)

The graphics remove the necessity of labeling boxes by category; I just associate a trout species with a type of fly. It's a somewhat arbitrary system, but only somewhat. Brown trout, for example, are highly piscivorous, so streamers go in the brown trout box. (Boxes, actually; this is my favourite category, so I have an overflow box.)

Likewise, I think of cutthroat, the trout of the mountain West, as eating a lot of grasshoppers, so terrestrials get the cutty box.

Dry flies are assigned to the brookie box (attractors on one side, imitators on the other), leaving the rainbow box for nymphs and wets.

My final box (actually a pair; I also made one for my daughter) is homemade, a nod to a classic of fly-fishing literature.

Besides, he's a bait fisherman. All those Montana boys on the West Coast sit around the bars at night and lie to each other about their frontier childhood when they were hunters, trappers, and fly fisherman. But when they come back home they don't even kiss their mothers on the front porch before they're in the back garden with a red Hills Bros. coffee can digging for angleworms.

—Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

He's going to show up with a coffee can full of worms. Red can. Hills Brothers. I'll lay a bet on it.

—film version of the same

What better place to keep worms, then—or flyweight worm imitations, at any rate—than a Hills Bros. can? My box is an Altoids tin with a recognizable bit of coffee can affixed to the lid.

(Don't think me a complete philistine for cutting up an antique coffee can. These things are so common throughout parts of the American West that a BLM archaeologist created a field guide to Hills Bros. cans as an aid to dating sites. This was a 1952-1963 specimen—too new to be authentic to the book, but still at least a decade before its publication.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Gretna Fish Hatchery

In 1877, 10 years after statehood, U.S. Senator Algernon Paddock of Nebraska published an article advocating the stocking of Nebraska's waters with, among other species, salmon and shad. "Fish food in abundance," wrote the senator, "would be one of the most valuable acquisitions our people could make. It is demanded by considerations of health, as well as of economy. A partial fresh fish diet is absolutely essential, everywhere, to good health. I believe this is true, particularly of a country so far inland as ours."

Two years later, the Nebraska Legislature established the Board of Fish Commissioners. One of its first actions was to contract with a privately-owned fish hatchery on the Platte River between Gretna and Louisville. Three years after that, the state purchased the hatchery outright.

The original hatchery building has been replaced twice, with this third incarnation dating to 1914. No longer an active hatchery, the building now houses a fisheries museum (with very limited hours) and is maintained by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission—successor to the Board of Fish Commissioners—as part of Schramm Park State Recreational Area.

The artificial ponds surrounding the hatchery are now home to carp, muskrats, and various tame (not to say spoiled) waterfowl.

The reason the hatchery was sited here in the first place is that there are springs in the hills overlooking the Platte. These feed the "canyon ponds" above the hatchery building, home to koi and rainbow trout.

Being fairly close to Lincoln, this makes for a nice afternoon getaway. Here are some random photos from a couple of recent visits.