by Kort E Patterson, Editor
The city of Nashville didn't live up to my expectations (not necessarily a bad thing), but the AGA certainly delivered on the promise of the good time I've come to expect at an Intertel AGA. I arrived in Nashville mentally braced to be deeply immersed in country music and culture. I half-way expected every street corner to be occupied by a hillbilly band drawling out their tales of life's tragedies and endless disappointments in love, to the accompaniment of a steel guitar and a washtub base.
Contrary to the popular misconception that the city is just an extension of the "Grand Ole Opry", Nashville now styles itself as the "Music City". Much to my surprise, I heard more of what I would have categorized as rock and roll than traditional country music while I was there.
For example, on an vaguely defined expedition to downtown Nashville in search of dinner and local atmosphere, our caravan of intrepid adventurers ran into a river front concert promising several major country stars. The streets in the area were closed, but we found a parking spot along the river, far enough above and upstream of the concert venue that I had to zoom my camera to its maximum just to make out individual people in the crowd. The concert may have been billed as country, but they had amps and speakers that would have been the envy of any hard rock band back when I was going to concerts. I was much closer to the stage when Jefferson Airplane gave a concert in Chicago's Grant Park, but couldn't hear the "supposed to be loud" psychedelic rock music half as well as the concert in downtown Nashville. I could feel the driving base at a guesstimated five hundred yards, and the lyrics didn't contain a single reference to pickup trucks, riding the rails, cheating hearts, or standing by your man.
I'm told what I was hearing was "country rock", but it sounded more rock than country to me. Not that I'm complaining, but I was expecting something different than what is readily available to any head-banger in Chicago or LA. Ironically, returning from our expedition, we were greeted by exactly the kind of country music I hadn't encountered in downtown Nashville, coming from the hotel's lounge. To be fair, traditional country music is easily found in Nashville, it's just that contrary to the popular outsider misconception, you have to seek it out these days.
What wasn't in short supply was good food. BBQ ribs are a local specialty, and they became a sub-theme of the AGA. Wednesday evening started the trend with a trip to a local "rib joint" where the ribs were amazingly tender, and there were an assortment of sauces offering escalating levels of "heat". Our banquet had to be catered since the hotel didn't offer/require the service. As a result, instead of the usual "rubber chicken" hotel fare, our choices were between delicious BBQ ribs or salmon. It was easy to become a BBQ ribs connoisseur over the all too few days of the AGA, and find yourself disparaging examples that would have put the best available in most areas of the country to shame.
There are a number of historical plantations in the Nashville area, and I joined the expeditions to see two of them. "Belle Meade" was a thoroughbred nursery and stud farm whose Bonnie Scotland provided the foundation blood line for such famous race horses as Secretariat. We also toured The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's plantation. The tours were both interesting and educational - and pleasantly free of the revisionist political correctness that has infested so many national historical sites. How can any valid lessons be learned from history after the discomforting aspects of reality have been twisted and distorted into manipulative lies?
One of the more unusual attractions we visited was a full scale replica of the Greek Parthenon (as it existed before gun powder the Turks were storing in it exploded during bombardment by the invading Venetians in 1687, and the "Elgin Marbles" were carted off to the British Museum). The "original replica" was built out of brick, wood lath, and plaster for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition, reflecting the city's reputation as the Athens of the South. There was such a public outcry when this "temporary" building was finally removed in 1921 that a "new replica" was built out of permanent materials. This "new replica" was finished in 1931, although the 42 foot statue of Athena wasn't installed until 1990.
Our keynote speaker continued the unofficial tradition of providing an unexpectedly interesting presentation of a topic that was outside of my usual interests. This year's topic was the restoration of native brook trout in the Smoky Mountains.
Our speaker was Steve Moore, a fishery biologist with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He described the difficulties in undoing misguided earlier efforts that had introduced non-native species into the river system.
The objective of the project he described was to eliminate the non-native species and then reintroduce the native brook trout - without doing even more damage to the rest of the environment. As with most government projects, there were major flaws in the initial concept.
The original idea was to use electro-shock. Packing heavy electrical gear miles into the wilderness was an obvious problem, although not the biggest problem. Water, electricity, and unstable footing don't mix well, and they ended up shocking more grad students than fish.
The primary result was to provide a few semi-expendable graduate students with an unexpected real world education in applied physics and electro-chemistry. (No graduate students were seriously hurt in this experiment, although a few may have had their cherished misconceptions seriously fractured.) The futility of localized efforts in a river system that allowed the undesirable species to immediately restore their populations from other areas, was well demonstrated for anyone still doubting that fish can - and will - swim.
After the debacle of the initial efforts, the project took a turn that is exceptionally uncommon in government projects - the participants stepped back and endeavored to actually learn from their mistakes. They abandoned the problematic brute force electro-shock approach, and tried a little finesse - a subtle but effective biological interference with the life-cycle of the targeted fish.
While other projects employed powerful poisons that caused widespread disruption of a broad range of species, Moore and his co-workers experimented with the use of FintrolR (antimycin). They discovered that trace amounts in the parts per billion range could effectively eliminate the non-native fish species without adversely affecting other important aspects of the environment (the bugs and bears). Best of all, when applied to physically isolated test sites, the process actually worked!
During his tenure in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Moore has served as an adviser for 18 graduate students conducting research in the Park. His work has resulted in the development of partnerships with many state and federal agencies as well as universities and angler groups. These partnerships have helped him raise about 1.8 million dollars for fisheries and aquatics projects in the Smokies. The brook trout restoration project is always in need of additional funding - although any contributions must be earmarked specifically for this project so that they don't get "diverted" into the typical government waste and corruption.
Moore's presentation was spiced with a fair amount of irreverent humor and surprising insights. Altogether a refreshing contrast to both the style of presentation, and outcomes of most government programs.
I failed once again in my objective of filling my camera's memory card, but I did manage to take 497 pictures (the card can hold around 700). To be fair, a couple of the shots with my camera were taken by other members. In a most curious phenomenon, they somehow managed to include an odd looking character with a beard and overalls, who I don't recall seeing at the AGA, and who doesn't show up in any of the pictures I took. Maybe this strange apparition was a spirit manifestation, or intrusion from another dimension. The possibilities send shivers up my spine....
In addition to my humble efforts, I'm also expecting John Maxwell (3rd) to send me his digital photos. Hans-Peter Schmidt is going to send me prints of the "real" photographs he took as soon as he gets back to Germany, which I'll then scan into digital files. So members will have the benefit of three perspectives on the AGA. I'm sure that John and Hans went places and recorded moments that I missed,
The unofficial closing act of this year's AGA was played out around a table at a nearby restaurant, as the last six stragglers waited for our flights home. Our camaraderie and sense of humor clearly hadn't been exhausted by our time together, with the two Ilians from Arizona, two from Germany, one New Yorker, and me from Oregon, enjoying a few more jokes and funny stories as our hour of departure approached.
Next year's AGA will be in Portland, Oregon. I'm already looking forward to it, and hope see all the regulars as well as many new faces there!