Troutbirder II - Click pic below to view

Troutbirder II - Click pic below to view
Book reviews plus miscellaneous

Monday, October 20, 2014

Vacation Days: travels across Minnesota and farther afield

John Toren, author of the best-selling travel guide ''The Seven States of Minnesota,'' shares stories of growing up in Minnesota. Read about summers at the family cabin and excursions to obscure corners of the state and to points farther afield, including the Apostle Islands, the Rockies and Utah's remote canyon country.  Whether it’s a book or a movie it’s always fun to connect with scenes of places you love and enjoy. I surely did with Vacation Days.  This would also be a good book for those looking for new and great places to vacation. Minnesota itself has pretty much everything except mountains and desert.  Fourteen thousand lakes (that’s considerably more than the Ten Thousand our license plates advertise, an inland sea (Lake Superior),  Bluff Country (hills and valleys to rival New England), a boreal forest and wilderness canoe area, a prairie/corn growing region and the Twin Cities metro region.

Like John Toren we too have enjoyed our vacation days and travels.  For us to Western Europe, many of the fifty States and all of the Canadian Provinces.  Like for  most people  though there is no place like home. That is where we've always planted  our gardens.  Minnesota hail to thee!.......

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Quick Riposte


Some years back, I briefly reviewed Volume II of William Manchesters astonishing The Last Lion trilogy. This is biography at its very best. The life of Winston Churchill has been covered perhaps hundreds of times. Manchester brings him alive as no one else has ever done. Of course, Churchills personality and foibles were unique. Here are a tiny sample of his quick wit in action.

Isadora Duncan the famous dancer was seated next to Churchill at a dinner party

Duncan - "Just think Winston if George Bernard Shaw and I had a child. With my talent and beauty and his brains....."
Churchill -" but what if it was the other way around?"

Lady Astor was the first woman elected to the Parliament replacing her husband upon his ascension to the House of Lords. . She was known as a fierce debater. There is a famous exchange between Winston Churchill and Lady Astor when they were both staying at Blenheim Castle. The two politicians had been at each other's throat all weekend when Lady Astor said, "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee." Whereupon Winston said, "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

Churchill was a guest at the White House in 1942 planning war strategy with Roosevelt. His bedroom was in the upper family quarters where, believe it or not, there were shared baths. Never known for his modesty, political or personal, he was late to bed and late to rise. At home, he often dictated to his secretaries while immersed in a bubble bath. Returning to his room, nude from a bath, he met Roosevelt in his wheelchair coming down the hallway. The president, embarrassed for Churchill, tried to apologize. Churchill, always quick on the uptake, replied "as you can see, the Prime Minister has nothing to hide from the President."

The scene is the mens bathroom outside the chamber of the House of Commons. Churchill enters the empty facility but is followed shortly thereafter by Mr. Atlee. Upon seeing Atlee, Churchill moves to the far end of the bank of urinals.
Atlee: "Feeling rather standoffish today are we Winston?" he asks amiably.

Churchill: "Well, considering you socialists want to nationalize it, every time you see something big" was the reply.

Unfortunately, they don’t make Conservatives like that man any more.....:)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Toilet Paper City

I suppose the fall traditions of schools vary by region and size of cities and towns but then again maybe not.  In any case, I was reminded  rather graphically last week as I drove early in the morning  into town to take Lily for her  hike at the dog park.  Having been retired from the local high school for a few years I'd forgotten the late September calendar of events....

Of course, it's Homecoming Week!  How could I forget?  A little later I had to stop at the local anti-coagulation  clinic for a blood test (INR).  As usual it was packed with fellow senior citizens awaiting their turn for the blood letting and busily disparaging the youth of today for their bad behavior.  Toilet papering  the town, on this occasion, seemed to be at the top of the list.  I mostly keep my peace until finally contributing that it could be much worse things as evidenced by a few personal recollections of my own misspent youth these many years ago.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Roller Skating In A Buffalo Herd

Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd

Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd

Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd

But you can be happy if you've a mind to

All ya gotta do is put your mind to it

Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it

Lyrics by Roger Miller

Okay, so we didn't have our roller skates on but we did check out the buffalo herd at Blue Mounds State Park in the southwestern corner of Minnesota. We had taken a short camping break there while a new wood floor was being installed in our living room. Baron and I had gone for an early morning hike on one of the parks many trails.

"Follow me boss."
"Ok Baron. Lead the way."


It was sunrise and we followed the fence line for maybe a half a mile before we saw anything beyond a few field sparrows and a flock of migrating nighthawks.  Then Baron stopped and began sniffing the air. He started to run ahead and I hurried to catch up. Coming over a small rise, there they were, right along the fence line and beyond.     Baron lowered his head watching intently and I heard a low growl, almost a purring sound. A few of the buffalo began to snort. Still they were curious.


"It's okay boy," I said. He gave me that "what do I do now" look. We stood there for some time just watching. Slowly the herd, from all over the hillside approached, eventually to number at least a hundred.    The herd seemed to surround some of the young calves as if they were protecting them.

Then one of the "big guys" came right up to me at the fence.  I looked at him in my best nonthreatening smile and asked quietly, "You wouldn't mind if we did some roller skating here, would you, Sir?" I got, in return, kind of a wild look, as if I were crazy. We decided to move on......              and a little bit further on I saw the warning sign. 


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Shadow Divers

Once in a while I jump off my usual track of reading history and biography.  It could be a novel, a memoir, even science fiction.  Or  underdogs.  Laura Hillenbrand’s  wonderful Seabiscuit and Unbroken come to mind.  Last week it was scuba diving of which I knew absolutely nothing about….

In 1991, a group of divers, including Richie Kohler and John Chatterton, set out to explore an unknown object lying 230 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean and discover an apparent historical impossibility: a World War II German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. Consulting both the United States Navy and the German Navy both lead to complete denials of the possibility of a World War II-era U-boat wreck in that area. Historical records claim the closest U-boat wreck to be hundreds of miles away.

 Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson  chronicles the seven year quest to learn the identity of the mysterious wreck, dubbed "U-Who" by the dive team, the identities of the men aboard her, and how she came to rest on the ocean floor near New Jersey.

Shadow Divers is a quest story, and, as those often are, a story of obsession.  The techniques for deep sea diving were new and catch as catch can. For lots of reasons it was very very dangerous.

John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, the two heroes of the story transform what started as an artifact-hunting expedition into a life-consuming obsession that busted both their marriages, nearly killed them, actually killed three of their fellow divers, caused fights and broken friendships, and cost them a great deal of money before they finally succeeded.  In spite of the authors best efforts to explain what would drive these men to do what they did it all still comes off as a mystery.  Perhaps obsessions are mysteries like that.  In the end, common sense and rationality have nothing to do with it.  It was an interesting if ultimately unsatisfying exploration of the human mind. 

Shadow Divers is, however,  real-life action/adventure, a portrait of near-insanity, and an exploration of what our inner demons can drive us to. If you enjoy or appreciate ships, history, or discovery stories, or can’t get enough Krakauer you should consider this book.  For myself,  I don’t believe I’ll be trying deep wreck scuba diving anytime soon…..

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mystery Plant on Steroids

Between our small porch and the sidewalk lies a tiny plot ground. Here, in the spring, I clean out the little pond and drop in the goldfish. Then I may plant a few coleus or petunias to go along with the yellow iris and hang up the hummingbird feeder and a large ugly thing, that possibly looks like a Christmas Cactus on steroids.  It's huge.

A few weeks later the overgrown patch of yellow iris spring into bloom. About that time I surgically remove all the half dried up arms of "The Thing" . It has been hiding in the basement all winter, away from the critical eyes of Mrs. T, who cares for it naught.

By early July it looks much greener and begins to sprout little buds which quickly grow and begin to open by mid July.

Even Mrs. T admits it’s gorgeous (albeit for "only 2 weeks out of the year”.) Neighbors and strangers stop by on the street and "ask what is it?" "Well, I say, it was a gift years ago from Mary Ann, but I've forgotten the name. I just call it my giant Christmas Cactus." Then I shrug my shoulders.

Maybe you know???  I got more comments that ever before on my question and finally someone had the answer.
"This is an Epiphyllum or orchid cactus."  

Then I recieved an email from the original source, who now lives far away in retirement, in the North Country.

"Your information and photos were of great interest. The mystery plant is an orchid cactus. I have two -one has pink flowers and the other has red. They are gorgeous flowers and I have used photos on cards."

Mystery solved! Thanks Mary Ann.

There is an interesting follow-up to this story which begins with the fact that I began to successfully take cuttings and propagate this gorgeous plant to hang on the porch.  Eventually in a clearing out downsizing mood I began to learn how to sell items on Craigs List. This included one large extra Orchid Cactus. Having no idea as to its value I put $30 on the item.  To my utter and complete surprise  a woman from nearby Rochester came to purchase it. Even more surprising was when she  told me she had one for years from her mother, had left it in the care of her daughter while wintering in Arizona and came back to Minnesota to find it dead.  “I’ve never been able to find another one” she said and then began to cry…..

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Baseball Statistics

I received the following email this morning from a friend and fellow Minnesota Twins fan.  He is a statistics guru. I prefer the longer view
Sent: Thursday, October 02, 2014 8:32 AM
To: Troutbirder
Subject: Baseball

I thought I would pass on an interesting statistic from this season to you.
The starting pitcher for the Giants last nite (Bumgartner sp?) had 4 home
runs this year (78 at bats).  A player for the Twins (Mauer) matched that
total (450 at bats).  Unfortunately, Mauer did not match Bumgartner's ERA.
Troutbirder sez:
I don't know anything about the Giants but I do know that the Twins have had 4 miserable losing seasons in a row and my fellow St. Paulite former All-Star Joe Mauer is one of the highest paid players in major league baseball.

Troutbirder replies to his friend:
"When my father criticized the effeminate nature of the great pianist and
entertainer Liberaces style, a great fan of his, my mother, would say, and I
quote, "he is no doubt laughing all the way to the bank."