Some Guys Give Boating a Black Eye…VOTE!

My nephew, Pete (another out-of-towner) comes in to show up Uncle Dave. Maybe I should stop fishing and just be a guide?

An interesting thing happened over the weekend on board the Blue Gill. The Cascardo family (Sharon’s sister Linda, her husband Alex, and their children Ryan, Amy, and Peter) came on board to spend a few days playing and relaxing on Raystown Lake.  Sharon and Ariel also arrived – so the Blue Gill is fully staffed.  However, when they got here, they saw something strange: Uncle Dave had a black eye, a skinned knee, and a cut foot.

How does a guy, living alone much of the time, on a houseboat, surrounded by water, get beat up like that?  Sure, they could understand the fact that I haven’t caught many fish.  Heck, they’ve seen that often enough.  But a real shiner?  On the Blue Gill?  Who does that?  What happened?
Before I told them the real story, I asked them for their ideas as to what might have happened to result in this terrible disfigurement of my noble visage.  In an effort to share their creativity with you, the readers, I’ve decided to have another “cast your vote” contest on the blog.  Here are the stories that they’ve come up with as well as the real story.  Read them, and then you vote as to which account you think is most convincing.  You can vote by sending me an e-mail, by visiting my facebook page, or by posting a comment on this entry.  I’m also open to suggestions as to what a suitable “prize” for the person who gets the most votes for his/her story might be.

At any rate, the question is, “How did Dave get the black eye?”  The answers are:

"The Party is Here!" - night life on Raystown Lake..

  1. Dave got lonely while staying on the houseboat, and decided to invite a few other folks on board for a little get together.  Things were getting a little crazy, and at 2 a.m., Dave wanted to show off for his guests by jumping off the roof of the houseboat into the water.  However, while getting a running start, he slipped on a spilled drink and hit his head on the railing before falling helplessly into Raystown Lake.

    The competition????

  2. While on a fishing trip near the Bald Eagle’s nest, Dave spotted a nice bass swimming near the surface of the water.  Dave’s lure got to the fish just before the eagle did, and the enraged eagle then attacked the boat in an effort to feed his family.  Dave’s injuries were the result of the ensuing scuffle.  Since the eagle is a protected species, it emerged from the fracas unscathed.
  3. Dave was out fishing and thought he had hooked into a big one.  Unfortunately, it was only a snag.  He reached to clear it and yanked the pole so hard that he fell into the windshield of the small boat, resulting in his injuries.
  4. While Gene and Mary McCoy (Grammy and Clamps) stopped onto the boat earlier in the week, Grammy was particularly irritated by the plague of houseflies (boatflies?) that filled the small cabin of the Blue Gill.  She found both the flyswatter and the energy to chase these insects; however, in the tight quarters of the houseboat, she wound up smacking Dave in the face with the flyswatter, whereupon he stumbled and fell to the floor in a heap.
  5. Time alone on the houseboat has taken its toll on Dave and, well, the isolation has just gotten to him.  Day after day of fishing, hoping, being quiet, and having limited internet access has resulted in the development of an unusual alter ego (who actually looks a good deal like Brad Pitt).  In the persona of this alter ego, Dave has taken to visiting the other houseboats on the lake and starting fights with the occupants thereon, and while you can’t tell it from reading this blog, there are actually several other houseboats on the lake whose drivers are sporting black eyes, gashed cheeks, or raggedy chins as a result of this nightly violence.

    At least I'm not the only one on Raystown Lake with a black eye...

  6. Dave was enjoying a quiet meal on the front of the houseboat.  However, since he’s such an incurable fisherman, he couldn’t just eat – he had to eat and fish at the same time.  So he set his rods off the back of the boat while he ate his dinner in the front.  All of a sudden, one of the rods looked like it was ready to jump into the water.  In his mad dash to save his fishing reputation, Dave tore through the entire length of the Blue Gill; however, he slipped on the loose “welcome mat” and smashed his face against the dining room chair.
  7. When the fish aren’t biting, it’s just as easy to watch birds as it is to fish.  While out on the small boat one evening, Dave thought he saw something really amazing.  He craned his neck upwards to follow the flight of the bird (taking his attention away from driving the boat) and wound up driving right into a low-hanging tree.

Wow...How did I get from looking like this... looking like this? Yikes!

I know, none of these stories are even remotely plausible, but I assure you, one of them is true.  The question is, which one really happened?  Vote by 11:59 pm on Monday night the 16th of August.  The real story will post on Tuesday the 17th.

Careful What You Pray For!

Faithful readers will have discerned by now a certain, shall we say, paucity of fish in my boat at Raystown Lake.  Oh, I’ve known for a long time that this is a tough lake to fish.  But while I may not be the shiniest lure in the tackle box, I can pick up on a few things now and then.  And I have a lot of time to explore.  And one of the good things about Raystown Lake is the fact that there are a number of people who are available as guides – local pros who know the hot spots and are willing to take you out (for a fee, of course!) and show you their favorite honey holes and fishing strategies.

So it was with a certain degree of optimism and enthusiasm that I stepped on board Sparky’s boat on Tuesday evening.  Sparky has held the PA State record for striped bass four times.  He was raised in this area before they flooded the valleys and made the lake.  He knows it inside and out.  Everyone here told me: “You want to catch fish, call Sparky.”  And I did.

Do you remember a few postings ago I talked about having space to wonder and to wander, and about not allowing my expectations get in the way of the thing that God wants to do?  I thought it sounded pretty good, myself, as I talked about looking for God’s purposes in the midst of your own plans.

So just how funny is it that after five hours of fishing in one of the richest striped bass lakes on the continent with one of the most skillful practitioners of striped bass fishing around, ol’ Spark and Dave had exactly ZERO bites and ZERO fish?

But here’s the thing: we talked.  And we talked.  After all, we weren’t distracted by those pesky fish.  Sometimes, we talked about fishing, and I learned a lot about this lake.  And sometimes we talked about things that were a lot more important.  Because it was me and Sparky, and he’s not here with me as I write this, I won’t say what we talked about, but I will say that as he was winding in the tackle, he commented, “You know, Dave, I’m usually all about the fish.  A good night is a lot of fish.  A bad night is a couple of fish.  I can’t remember a night when we got skunked so bad, or a night when my gear got so tangled up.  By rights, I should say this has been a horrible night.  But do you know what? This has been about the funnest night I have had in a long, long time.”

And he was right.  We were two guys, both believers, both talking about looking for ways to be faithful to our calling day in and day out.  We talked about church and forgiveness and hope and faithfulness and the incredible God who made it all.

I kid you not...when I sat down to write this blog entry about how terrible the fishing was, I put my line in the water for the heck of it. This monster just about pulled me in. It doesn't look so big in the photo, I realize...

I didn’t catch any fish.  But I learned a lot.  And while I did, as he suggested I might, cringe when Sparky said “funnest”, I couldn’t agree more.    It was a good night – a Sabbatical night (after all, neither Sparky nor Dave was spending much time actually doing our “real” jobs…).  May God grant me the ability to be free and flexible in my journey to see Him wherever He leads me, and to follow His plan, not mine.

Sharon says, "Why waste time fishing when you can ride these babies?"

A meal shared with the Summers' and the Buttis...twice as delicious because of shared friendships.

Well, not everyone is getting skunked. Maybe Sparky and I should go out to see Henry's "honey hole".

For The Birds…Part 2

Last week I added some of the photos of birds that I shot while in Chile.  Today, I’d like to share some of my favorite photos of birds from Peru.  All of these were shot while in and around the Tambopata National Reserve in Madré de Dios, Peru.  While in Peru, I was able to identify (with the invaluable coaching of my guide, Fino) at least 83 species of birds, of which 72 were new to me.  All together in South America, I recorded 105 species, and at least 88 of them were additions to my “life list”.  To say that it was a thrill would be an understatement!  I hope you enjoy these photos – just click on the photo to make them a little bigger.

Blue and White Swallow

Blue and White Swallow

Red-Capped Cardinal

White Throated Toucan

Blue-Headed Parrot

Scrub Nightjar

Scrub Nightjar in flight

The Hoatzin; the local name for this bird is "Stink Bird" because it emits a foul (or is it a fowl) odor


The Green Kingfisher

Green and Rufous Kingfisher

Amazon Kingfisher

Capped Heron

A Black Vulture basks in the fifteen minutes of sunshine we saw in the rain forest

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaws in flight

A Space to Wonder and to Wander

One of the benefits of being on Sabbatical is having the opportunity to expand my reading list.  As mentioned in a previous post, I truly enjoyed having the chance to read through The Brothers Karamazov whilst in Peru.  As I prepare to travel in the Middle East, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels (Knopf, 2009) by Janet Soskice has captured my attention.

In 1892 a pair of identical twin sisters from Scotland, middle-aged widows, with no university degree or formal training, undertook a pilgrimage to the Sinai Peninsula looking for ancient manuscripts.  As they combed the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery, they found a sheaf that contained a set of biographies of notable women of early Christianity.  When they examined the writing, however, they noticed shadows underneath, and determined that the “Lives of the Saints” had been overwritten on a previously used vellum (who says recycling is new?).  Underneath the mundane stories of the saints was a copy – the copy – of the earliest known version of the Gospels, written in ancient Syriac (the language presumably spoken by Jesus).  These incredible women uncovered the ancient text and translated it, bringing a remarkable religious treasure to the world.

The story of Agnes and Margaret Smith is at once a travelogue, as it narrates the adventures of Westerners to a strange & mysterious land; a pilgrimage of faith, as the sisters face challenges to assumptions long held by people of faith in an era of scientific and archaeological discovery; and an intellectual sojourn as these women continued to educate themselves and their world in the linguistic and historical tradition.

One of the things that occurred to me as I read this was that these women have shown me a prime purpose of Sabbatical – freeing oneself for new challenges and for the opportunity to wander and to wonder in new and amazing places (whether those places be geographical locales or ideas or conversations.

The quote from the book that has resonated within my heart for a few days deals with the sisters’ ability to integrate new thoughts and ideas into their own lives.  At first, as they left their staunch Presbyterianism and encountered the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the sisters sneered with religious elitism.  However, as they came to know the men and women with whom they interacted, they began to see things differently:

“For all their confidence in the superiority of their own forms of worship, Agnes and Margaret were touched by what they had found at Sinai.  For Victorian Protestants, to hear the Word of God was to be called to proclaim, preach, and convert.  This meant missions, Sunday School, and the handing out of Bibles and religious tracts.  For the monks [at St. Catherine’s]  to hear the Word of God was to be called to a way of perfection – prayer and thanksgiving, fasting and abstinence.  The brethren, it is true, did not fan out to convert the Bedouin, but made their presence a center of hospitality on the understanding that God brings whom He will to Sinai and God speaks to each one as He wills.” [page 132]

Already on this journey I have had my eyes filled with astonishing sights, my heart and my head challenged with new ideas, and my spirit refreshed with new insights.  All of this comes, of course, at a time in my life when I am free to be anchored in the time to reflect on the ways that God has spoken to me in the past.

When we first went to Malawi in 1995, Sharon and I were blessed by the hospitality and graciousness of  our African hosts.  I could identify with the joy shared by the Smith sisters as they received that hospitality from the monks at Sinai; my hope is that my life might be more and more shaped by the ability to offer similar hospitality, whether that is on Cumberland St., on the trail, on a houseboat, or wherever I may be.

Praying For Fish

Thanks to Linda Piper for passing this along...

Years ago I was fishing with my friend Peter, who was serving as an officer in the church in New York where I began in the pastorate.  As we talked about life, the universe, and everything, our conversation turned to prayer.  He said, “Dave, do you ever pray about catching fish?”

Uh-oh.  He had me there.  You see, when you ask your pastor what he prays about, my sense is that the “right answer” ought to be something more, I don’t know, spiritual than “sure, I pray that I catch a lot of fish.”  So I didn’t want to say, “You betcha, Peter!  I pray about fish a lot.”  I didn’t want to look shallow.

But the thing is, well, I didn’t want to lie, either.  And the fact of the matter is that from time to time I have been known to utter a prayer beseeching the Lord of all creation to steer a trout or a bass my way (this doesn’t happen all the time… it’s usually only when I’m holding a fishing rod).

So as Peter looked at me expectantly, I took the Preacher’s dodge and said, “Well, you know, Peter, I guess I would have to say that I pray about most everything.”  Wow!  That has the advantage of being not only essentially true, but sounding super spiritual!  I got to not lie (of course I pray for fish!) and seem wise in the process.

I thought of that conversation Friday morning as I drifted along the banks of Raystown Lake (a.k.a. “The Dead Sea”) holding my rod.  I was doing a lot more bird-watching than fishing, I can tell you that.  And while I say that Raystown is “the Dead Sea”, in reality the place is teeming with life.  There are all sorts of fish here – I’m just not so great at catching them in this environment.  And so as the fifth or six bass of the morning jumped ten feet from my boat and six inches from my line, I uttered an irritated prayer:

Lord, you know, it wouldn’t kill you to put a fish on the end of this line!

And almost immediately I got a response – I’m pretty sure it was not audible, but I heard it loud and clear nevertheless.  The Lord, in all of his grandeur and glory, spoke to me and he said,

Fishing and hoping...

Dave, you know, it wouldn’t kill you to learn how to fish this lake!

There are a lot of fish here.  Other guys are catching them.  The thing is, the structure of this lake, the depth, the ecosystem that’s here – it’s all a lot different than the rivers that I’m used to.  I’m using the wrong lures, the wrong bait, at the wrong time and in the wrong places.  And my solution to that, rather than watching the locals, or talking it up at the tackle shop, or reading about it…is to ask God to overcome my lack of preparation and education by miraculous means.

I know I’m not alone in this.  How many of us have taken exams and uttered the frantic prayer, “Lord, please don’t give me the grade I deserve here!”?  How many of us have gone into meetings or conversations simply ignorant of things that we need to know, yet rely on the Lord to bail us out of our jams?

For now, I have a couple of weeks on the lake.  I’m watching the water.  I’m going to ask a guide to show me around and teach me.  And I’m going to be all right with a learning curve – realizing that I probably won’t set any records here.

And I’m also going to use this time to continue to prepare myself for the things that really count.  I’m going to work on being true to the statement that I made to Peter almost twenty years ago, and talk with God about everything.  As I walk more deeply into this time of Sabbatical, I hope and pray that I will come out of it not only as a better fisherman, but more importantly as a better disciple and a better person.

"Sometimes, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn." Ariel and I had fish sandwiches for lunch - a delicious meal after reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma"

For The Birds…Part 1

White-Tufted Grebe

I have been able to go through the photos of our trip to Chile, and thought that some of you might enjoy some of the photos I was able to take of the bird life there.  If you think I’ve misidentified a species, please let me know.  To see a larger image, just click on the smaller one.  I hope that you enjoy looking at them nearly as much as I did seeing them…I’m sure that you will enjoy looking at them more than I enjoyed figuring out how to edit them and put them in the blog!

Spot-Flanked Gallinule

Rufous-Collared Sparrow

Green-Backed Firecrown (Hummingbird)

Green-Backed Firecrown (Hummingbird)

Monk Parakeets in the nest

Monk Parakeet

Southern Lapwing

Chimango Caracara

White Backed Stilt

Bristle-Thighed Curlew

Tufted Tit Tyrant - looks like he got up on the wrong side of the nest!

Great Grebe

All Aboard!

“I don’t know if I have ever seen you smile that broadly!”

That’s what my friend Dan Merry said to me as he helped me into the boat following an exhilarating session of tubing on Raystown Lake.  I didn’t say anything, and he said, “I am serious – you really like that, don’t you?”

Sharon said, “You know, I think that he comes out on the water and takes risks and gets a little crazy and that helps him take risks with the rest of his life.”

That's me on waterskis. The Blue Gill is in the background.

Sharon gets into the action...she feels the need for speed!

I respect these folks, and I sure am not going to argue psychology with my wife.  There are a lot of things that make me happy – but riding in a boat is surely one of them (although I’m not entirely sure that the “smile” you see in the photo is really a grin of pleasure, or simply how it looks when you’re holding onto a flimsy piece of canvas held together with duct tape while your so-called “friend” is spinning you across the lake at 50 miles per hour…).  In fact, when the people at the Lilly Endowments asked the question, “What Makes Your Heart Sing?”, my short answer was “time on the water”.   I’ve been smiling and singing a lot since Monday afternoon.

The Skipper of the Blue Gill (note the dashboard accessory)

The second phase of the Sabbatical Experience has begun, and I am now the captain of Houseboat #3, the “Blue Gill” (evidently, they assign boats on the basis of fishing expertise…they didn’t give me one called the “Lake Trout” or the “Humongous Bass”…).  This little RV on the water is a 44 ft. long 8 sleeper that comes complete with large living dining area, fully equipped galley, bathroom with full size shower. There’s a front deck with table, chairs, and gas grill, and the entire top deck is a sunroof.  In fact, on Monday night, the sky was clear and there was no moon, and I saw the best shooting star I have ever, ever seen.  It was truly a WOW moment.

The first two nights on the boat I had some company: Pastor Dan Merry and his wife, Beth, joined Sharon and me. Ariel brought a few friends up from Chambersburg for an afternoon, and we really had a good time.  We had a scare yesterday when Beth took a tumble on the waterskis and injured her leg, but she seemed to feel a lot better after we spotted a juvenile Bald Eagle off the starboard bow!

The next couple of days should be quiet (so far, I’m saving a TON of time by not having any fish to clean), and I expect to be alone on the water.  This is the first time on the entire Sabbatical that I’ve been truly alone, and I think it will be good for me.  I hope to work on some photos from South America, so maybe later this week you’ll see some good bird shots from that part of the trip.

A juvenile Bald Eagle heading back to the nest.

A young bald eagle perches above its aerie.