Pull up a chair, I got a story to tell. One thing about my job is there are lots of surprises, sometimes you never know what to expect. That is frustrating at times, but it is never boring. This past week I ended up doing some things, talking to some folks, who I never dreamed I would be talking with.
Let me start by saying that I talk to a lot of people on the phone. A ton of questions about fish and fishing in Nebraska end up in my e-mail, on my desk, and on my phone. Let me digress and say that one of my pet peeves is answering my phone and hearing someone say that I am the 4th or 5th person they have been transferred to and they still have not got an answer. If I can answer their question or help them, even if it may not be my area of expertise, they ain’t gettin’ transferred any further. If I cannot help them, I will try my best to tell them exactly who they do need to talk to. As a result, I end up talking to a lot of folks on the phone and a number of them are writers or reporters. If I can answer their questions, I talk to them. I talk to enough writers and reporters that I do not remember them all. If you are one of those folks, sorry, but you probably have to talk to me several times before I will remember you.
A couple of weeks ago I remember talking to an Associated Press, AP, reporter about the drought, low water levels in the Platte River, and of course what that meant for our fish. I did not think much of it, just another reporter, but since it was an AP reporter I guess his story went out “on the wire” and got exposure on radio, TV, and in newspapers everywhere; one could even say “around the world”. Since that story was published, I have heard from acquaintances all over the country that have heard my name mentioned on the news.
Then I started getting phone calls from foreign reporters. In the past few days I have talked to or swapped e-mails with reporters from Spain, Denmark, France and China. All of them have been interested in the drought and especially rivers going dry and fish dying. Some of those reporters have even made trips to Nebraska just to see the Platte River and write a story. Phone communication with a couple of them has been a challenge, but I tried to listen really close and I believe we navigated the language barriers.
I talked several times to a Chinese gentleman working for China Central Television (CCTV). Yes, that is the official “state television” for China. CCTV has a bureau office in Chicago and they were interested in coming to Nebraska to see the drought conditions and the Platte River. I communicated with him a couple of times to give them directions to places where they could get off the interstate and see the Platte. Eventually, as they were on their way across Iowa, they called to ask if I would be able to meet them, show them around, and do an interview. I had no meetings or anything going on that afternoon, so I told them “You bet, I would love to”!
So at 3:00 one afternoon I met three employees of CCTV in the parking lot of our Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/fishing/programs/aquaticed/aquarium.asp . They drove all the way from Chicago on I-80 and I figured that was as easy as any place to give them directions to. Yudi Zhang was the gentleman I had talked on the phone with, and along with him was one of their correspondents, Li Hui, and a third gentleman who ran the camera. I apologize, the cameraman introduced himself, but he did not give me a business card so there is no way I would get his name right even if I did remember it.
From the parking lot we ventured just down the road and pulled off right there on the bank of the Platte River. We walked down the path and then spent the next half hour or so looking at the river and shooting video footage. Li interviewed me on camera for over 10 minutes. I do not know how much of that footage will get used, maybe most of it will get cut, but she asked a lot of excellent questions and I did my best to answer every one of them. I wonder what the Chinese translation of what I had to say would sound like?
Li asked a lot of questions about water quality and water quantity in the state. I believe they were having a hard time comprehending where the water in the Platte River came from and how it could just all disappear? How could the Platte River in central Nebraska be nothing but sand? I spent some time explaining to them, on camera, how Nebraska’s climate changes dramatically from southeastern Nebraska where we average close to 30 inches of precipitation annually to far northwestern Nebraska where the annual average precipitation is closer to 15 inches per year. We talked about the “rain shadow” of the Rocky Mountains and how that makes the Great Plains of North America relatively dry.
However, these were news reporters I showed around and of course what they were really hoping for was carcasses of dead fish they could get on film. I explained to them that the low water conditions had been ongoing for several weeks now and in stretches where there was water, the fish had migrated to holes or even down into the Missouri River. There were not many carcasses to see because many of the fish that died perished weeks ago and had decayed or been cleaned up by scavengers. But, they wanted footage of dead fish! So, we went downstream a ways and walked out onto the Lied Platte River Bridge, http://www.lpsnrd.org/Recreation/liedbridge.htm , to see if we could find some.
They were able to get some good shots of the river from the bridge. Yudi and Li and I communicated in English a lot, but when we were not talking, the three of them were conversing back and forth in Chinese. They were probably talking about this crazy fish biologist from Nebraska, I do not care. I pointed out a softshell turtle in front of a log jam, but I do not think that Li ever did realize that she was looking at a turtle’s head and not a branch. There were raccoon tracks on all the sandbars and I told them that those bandits had cleaned up all the fish that might have died. About 2/3 of the way across the bridge, Li excitedly motioned to her colleagues and pointed to a carcass of a dead fish below the bridge. Success! I have been “on the hook” before to produce fish for the camera, and have been relatively successful in getting that done, but this was the first time I was trying to show someone a dead fish.
You can see that it was one dead catfish, likely a channel cat, and that its bones were picked clean. But they had driven 8 hours from Chicago to get the story and they needed footage of that fish!
I offered to spend as much time with them as they would like, but they did not want to impose on my time. Before I left I punched the timer on my camera and got a group photo.
I left Li and the cameraman shooting more footage from the Lied Platte River Bridge and walked back to our vehicles with Yudi. You can see Yudi was wearing a White Sox ball cap. He told me that he has lived in Chicago since 1994. Yudi liked to fish. We did not swap a lot of stories, but I do know he has spent some time fishing with his dad on Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River near Dubuque, Iowa. Fishing, and family, is the international language!
I left them with some Nebraska road maps, a couple copies of NEBRASKAland magazine, and a couple copies of the Nebraska tourism guide. I also had 3 Nebraska Master Angler hat pins to leave with them, and Yudi seemed to think that was pretty neat. Oh, they thought my tricked out vehicle, “Walleye 1″ was pretty cool too ( http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2010/10/new-wheels/ ). However, the camera guy had to give me a hard time about my fish pictures on the back of my vehicle, he said the walleye I was holding was not a very big fish! I told him I usually caught walleyes much, much bigger than that, but that was a good photo. Ha.
Some might say that all this talk about the Platte and the low water levels and dead fish is nothing but bad publicity. I suppose that might be true, but it is our current reality. I believe I have been able to share with all of the reporters I have talked to, some of whom have never set foot in Nebraska before, what my home state is like. I have told them all that we live in the central Great Plains of North America and that means we live in a land of extremes. My Chinese friends commented several times that afternoon about how hot it was. I just shrugged my shoulders; it is hot every summer, maybe more so this summer, but hot nonetheless. Oh, and it gets darned cold in the winter too. Had my Chinese friends and I been standing on the banks of the Platte a year ago, in the place where we were standing, we would have been in the river! We have lived through dry cycles and wet cycles before and we will again. Yes, the dry weather and lack of water has a negative impact on our fish & wildlife resources and I don’t like it one bit! Need I say again that “Fish need water!”? But I have also told them all that in many ways that is life on the Great Plains, Nebraska rivers have dried up during droughts before, probably have done that on occasion for thousands of years. Fortunately, when the water comes back, and it will, the fish will be back too.
Our fish & wildlife are resilient, and you know what? So are us Nebraskans! Many of us come from pioneer, homesteader stock, and it was said of those folks that “the cowards never came and the weak died on the way”. I told Yudi that settlers used to say the Platte River was a mile wide and an inch deep, and that certainly is the case this year. I went on to tell him that the very origins of the word “Nebraska” comes from what the Otoe’s called the river that is the backbone of our state, and that word meant “flat water”.
I guess our governor was just on a trade and “good-will” trip to China. I am glad I got to do my part for international relations by staying here at home and having some Chinese folks come visit even if it was just a couple of hours we got to interact. I hope they enjoyed the “show-and-tell” because I always love to brag up my home state. There is NO PLACE like Nebraska.