Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
Click on Mark Twain to jump to Troutbirders book review blog

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Men Who United the States

The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible   is a fresh, lively, and entertaining look at the way in which the United States bonded together into one nation.  There are a few clinkers in the book but then this is history and misinterpretation does happen.  Basically, Winchester’s book follows the explorers, the visionaries, and the inventors who opened the paths and built the infrastructure and the communication links that made unity possible.  Some of these people, like Lewis and Clark, Thomas Edison are well known to history buffs. Others are not.
Winchester peculiarly largely skips over the Civil War and uses the phrase “War between the States,” the euphemism favored by post-war Confederate apologists to deny that the south fought to defend slavery.  Unity based on human bondage was as Lincoln said “a house divided that could not stand.”

 "The Men Who United the States" held my attention with lots of new (to me) people and information encased in a good story. The authors theme of national good will and unity is a good one. Looking at todays headlines and hearing the rantings of today’s talk radio wingnuts I’m beginning to wonder if that theme is still true…..:(


Monday, December 16, 2013


My parents
Our beloved daughter in law Deanne
Our sons Ted and Tony checking their traps
Our friends John, Joann, Steve and Jewell
Our friends Rosie and Gary
Our friends Dick and Sharon
Our neighbors eldest daughter Shelby an all around talent in our local high school.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Life in Southeastern Minnesota's Bluff Country

This post is a retrospective from January 2009.   Actually, there isn't much life here lately.... at least outside. Upon retirement, I had vowed to myself NEVER to "age gracefully." That meant living to the max by keeping up all the outdoor activities that I loved. Well... this proved to be, shall we say, a little idealistic

Let me explain. A few misguided souls (including yours truly) have been noting, maybe even complaining, that "we haven't had a real Minnesota winter in more than a decade." Such a winter means ice storms and lakes that  freeze over in mid-October. Then howling blizzards come in from Alberta or Siberia or someplace. Roads are blocked for days. The temperature doesn't get above zero for a month. Be careful what you wish for!

We had a rain a few days ago, followed by rapidly dropping temperatures. The consequence has been that I have been chicken to go outside for some time. "Aging gracefully" has meant to protect my artificial knee and other bodily parts I only venture out rarely. I read mostly and stare out the window watching for some excitement at my bird feeders. Good grief! It was Baron who finally brought me out of my funk.

Actually he has been driving me crazy. You can't coop up a 2 year old German Shepherd for weeks without any serious exercise and expect him to remain totally passive. It was time to take him for a good hike. Due to the ice storm the local streets were basically better suited for ice skating than anything else. So I opted to check out the snowmobile trails at nearby Forestville State Park.

I expected the park to be deserted and it was. "No leash needed today boy," I said.  We drove up to the fisherman's parking lot. Mrs. T opened her door and probed the lot with her walking stick. "Forget it," I heard her say. It was pure ice….

With that I turned the truck around and headed back towards the campground. Not many campers there that day! Fortunately the icy road circling the campground was covered with a crunchy layer of snow frost. This made it walkable. We did our thing. Baron romped through the woods looking for rabbits.

Later we drove down to the old bridge and the store which has been preserved as it was in the late 19thcentury. There were no reenactors or crowds of people there this day. We had the park all to ourselves.

 So what about life on the tundra in Minnesota? It can be a challenge, especially for the "older generation." You just have to work at it a little and be willing to adjust!  Now five years after I wrote this post we’re still adjusting. I just bought a laptop to keep up with my blogging friends as we’ve decided to try becoming snowbirds flying to Florida for a bit in 2014….. J

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Book Thief

Mrs. T and I attend movies only rarely and then only when the mood strikes us and the topic seems worthwhile.   The Book Thief is a melodrama about life under Nazism as told through the eyes of an illiterate young girl adopted by a German couple. The story does celebrate literacy, family and friendship during one of the darkest times in history.
Despite the awful setting of a totalitarian nightmare  society, the film offers an uplifting story of perseverance and hope. Perhaps too much so.  It’s often sentimental and sometimes schmaltzy, but the understated performances are very well done. We not talking about the Diary of Anne Frank here and certainly not Schindler’s List. As you can probably tell I was somewhat conflicted about what I saw. I found it interesting but it made me uneasy. At first I wasn't sure why. Perhaps I knew too much of the history.

Yes, when the truth is subverted and information controlled then evil runs rampant. The scene showing books being burned says it all.   The young girls new parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) are older and far less attractive than her biological and possibly communist mother. Rosa, at first,   seems quite  cold and conservative, ensuring the little girl with the blond curls and sweet smile immediately plucks a little heartstring to set the Dickensian tone of the whole yarn.
The book, upon which this movie is apparently  based,  is of the genre now known as  Young Adult or Teen Fiction, which is something new to me.  Apparently,  that explains a lot about the movie's appeal and deficiencies.  Perhaps that’s what made me uneasy. A lot of it was more like a fairy tale with the bad stuff cut out or somewhat glossed over.  Spunky heroines are nice but really…..pluck can only carry you so far especially in the shadow of Nazism.  As to character development, except for Rosa,  who shows a caring side, there isn’t much. Each person remains unchanged, in spite of the occasional bombings,  death and destruction or picking on Jews. This all is as hokey as the lack of reality in "reality" TV. In the end,  I didn’t find anything truly redeeming in most of this.  Even though Mrs. T and I could be considered first class sentimental grandparents, when leaving the theater and asking the inevitable question, "so what did you think,"  we both shrugged and displayed our most puzzled expressions.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

River Boat Captain

Fifty Five and Alive teaches one should be at least one car length behind the car in front of you for each ten miles per hour your going.   This is safety planning ahead for an unexpected stops or evasive maneuvers.  It’s the same way on the Mississippi when your piloting one of those long river barges.  Or as I explained to granddaughter Miss. T.  who was operating a giant screen simulator at the River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa, “it takes a mile to stop this puppy so you need to plan ahead.  Let’s not hit any bridges.”
She was a natural,  with her Dad and older brother watching in the pilot house, we breezed all the way downriver to St. Louis quite safely.....

Monday, December 2, 2013

Moving On

Today was moving day for Troutbirder II.  It will be an addition to this blog. Nothing else will change. For more details click on the moving van cartoon above...

One of the genres of books I have always enjoyed might best be labeled adventure/survival stories. This can be non fiction or fiction at its best. Be it at sea, on a mountain top, in the desert or wherever the odds of making it out alive are slim at best, that's what I want to read about. I was reminded of this, strangely enough, sorting through some pictures I took on a recent "leaf tour" of New England. I had a number of pictures of some of the famous "whaling towns" of Massachusetts. Thus, I was reminded of a book I had read shortly before our trip.

It was In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whale ship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It tells the story of the Whale ship Essex from the point of view of Thomas Nickerson, who was a fourteen-year-old cabin boy on the Essex. The book is based on a notebook written by Nickerson when in his seventies which was lost until 1980. This true story was the basis of Melville's classic tale of the men and the sea - Moby Dick.

As I took Mrs. T's picture standing in from of the famous statue to those lost at sea, I couldn't help but think of those 20 men, whose ship had been smashed by an angry sperm whale. In three small lifeboats, running out of food and water, they were 3 months rowing distance away from the coast of Chile to the east.

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.”
Psalms, 107:23-30,

If you like true life adventures Heart of the Sea is far more reality than the pseudo kind found today on TV’s “reality shows.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Halloween Memories

Our home on Oak Hill was the first to be built there in 1959.  We bought it as our first home in 1970.  By that time there were about 6 houses  along the new circle drive. Within several decades another 25 woodlots were sold and new home s were built. Each morning as our two sons climbed on the school bus it was about half filled with other kids. The neighborhood slowly changed as kids grew up and moved on with their lives. 
It's 1974 and our four year old eldest son Ted is ready for his first Halloween outing....

 We built a new home, selling our old house, dividing our three acres and moving next door into the woods.  Lots of empty nesters here in the neighborhood now. This year for Halloween we had only one trick or treater.  It was James Bond…. I mean William. He’s growing up on a nearby farm.   How fast times change.            


Friday, November 22, 2013

Trout Fishing

I am occasionally asked how I got started tying trout flies. When I first came to teach in the only county in The Land of 10,000 Lakes without a lake, I wasn’t ready to give up fishing. Going after stream trout was the only solution. I did, however, have a bamboo fly rod, which I inherited from my father. I had previously used it strictly for bass and pan fishing. The lure of choice on those northern lily-pad lakes was the little cork poppers with the wiggly rubber legs.

I quickly set off to teach myself how to become a trout-fisherman. It didn’t take long to learn that I would need some real trout flies. I bought a nice selection at the local Kmart. They were gorgeous. Bright reds, yellows and greens and even purples, mixed delicately with shiny silver tinsels and golds. How could any self-respecting fish turn down such an offering? Although I rarely caught my limit of ten, I usually managed to catch a least a couple.

It might take all day but my young bride was so proud of my ability to bring home a couple for the frying pan. This, of course, was in the days before "catch and release" became the proper approach to preserve the species.

It was a beautiful June morning, when about noon, I had decided to give it up. The fishing had been especially tough that morning and I had only one ten inch brown to show for my efforts. As I came around the bend I saw another fisherman landing a very nice trout which he quickly released. He saw me approach and waved.

"Nice brown," I ventured.

"Ephermellia," was the reply.

"Say what?"

"You know. Nymphs. They’ve been hot all morning," he explained as I approached.

"How you doing?" he added.

"Well,  I lost a couple and caught a brown, but it’s been tough going."

"Whatcha been using?" he queried.

I showed him my fly box.

"Those sure are purty. Got em at Kmart didn’t you?

"I sure did. How’d you know?

"I work there. Actually, I’m the manager. I have to admit though those flies are more intended to catch fisherman than trout."

And with that he showed me several boxes of the most drab and ugly collection of brown and/or gray flies you could imagine.

"I caught maybe 50 to 75 this morning on these. Turned them all loose though. It’s just for fun. You’ll have to learn how to tie your own." He then gave me about a dozen of his sure fire flies and sent me on my way.

I later bought a "How To," book and a fly tying kit. I still shop occasionally at my long gone mentors’ store, fondly remembering his lesson. As in life, perhaps,  the most gaudy isn’t always the best.

On the Lamar River, Yellowstone National Park, 1979. And a cutthroat trout.

Yes, I had a lot to learn judging by those hip waders a volunteer fireman gave me. The rocks in the western streams were covered with algae which made them as slippery as greased bowling balls.  Eventually,  I even learned about proper chest waders with felt on the bottoms of the boots for better traction.  Today, with achy knees and less balance that I should have, I don’t fly fish as much as I used to, still the memories are all  strong as ever from those glorious days of yore…..:)

Saturday, November 16, 2013


"It's Not Just Another Meat Museum" the big billboard on I-90 going into Austin, Minnesota and Hormel's Spam Museum surely isn't.  All this turned out to be true as Gramma
T and son Tony took the kids to the iconic little canned meat mecca. Take a look.....
Yes indeed.  The letter that eldest grandson is standing in front of, from Supreme Commander and future President Dwight David Eisenhower, suggests that feeding the Allied troops with Spam played a major role in defeating the Nazis in World War II. Oh and Grandpa Troutbirder likes it too.....;)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Devils Lake

Sometimes people do strange things like climb the world’s tallest most dangerous mountains because they’re there. Well,  we recently, with our friends John and Joann, took the overnight Amtrak from Winona, Minnesota to Devils Lake, North Dakota because it’s there and we could. 

Devils Lake is a town in northeastern North Dakota and it has a lake of the same name. It’s the second largest lake in the State behind the giant reservoir Sakakawea.  It’s special because like the energizer bunny it just keep on going and growing.  It’s growing as in it was  forty thousand square acres a decade ago and now over it's 240,000 acres and in the process of drowning out hundreds of farms, roads, and even towns.   The lake, now having almost reached the maximum overflow height of its closed basin, threatens serious flooding downstream in Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. There are were and remain big legal controversies.  We checked it all out.
Another big attraction in the Devil Lake area we visited was Sullys Hill, a National Game Preserve.  Established originally in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt as a National Park, it was designated by Congress in 1914 as a big game preserve to conserve two of North America's most majestic species: American bison and elk.  The bison was almost extirpated  from its original millions and the elk range drastically reduced and entirely so from North Dakota. 
John, Joanne and Barb take a break on the steep climb to the top of Sully's Hill for a grand view of the surrounding countryside. 
And as the sun set a monster bull elk stepped out onto the road ride in front of us.  Wow!!!!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Craigs List

It was time to downsize, I thought.  Simplify really.  At a certain stage of life those thoughts cross ones mind.  Mrs. T wasn’t sold on the idea but with a garage and shed full of unused stuff, my time, at least had come. She suggested a “guys” garage sale. I wasn’t convinced there’d be a lot of interest plus I never went to garage sales myself. I already had too much junk…..

It was then that a friend suggested I try something called “craigslist.”  I didn't know Craig but the fact that it was free easily swung me over.  Now several months  and some six hundred dollars later,  in pure profit,  I’m minus  among other things, two electric trolling motors, a balky chain saw, a wall safe, a kerosene lantern, a hundred canning jars,  a Zeiss Ikon 35mm camera, a giant Christmas cactus, a set of golf clubs, Mr. Coffee Espresso etc….  And one item withdrawn from the market at the express wish of my son.  Therein lies the tale.

It was Christmas Eve 1949. My cousin Prudy and I stood proudly in front of the Christmas tree, in my grandma’s house in St. Paul, holding up our presents for all to see. Mine was a 027 gauge Lionel electric train. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thus began a lifelong interest in trains.  
When my sons were young I built a fancy layout on an old ping pong table with switches, train stations, a mountain and tunnel made out of Styrofoam, in other words it had everything. Neither son seemed  to impressed. They were too busy with the outdoor life and school activities.  I played with it myself except when a friend, the high school physics teacher, brought out his American Flyer 07 train.  More recently I mentioned my new found success and interest in Craigs List.  “You can’t sell that train Dad. It’s a family heirloom. I love playing with it….”   This all came as news to me. Needless to say the train and all the trimmings is on it's way by mail to Arizona.  Well maybe the grandchildren  will play with it....:)

Thursday, November 7, 2013


It was some 18 years ago now the phone range with a fateful call from my son in Fargo, North Dakota.
Tony:  Hey Dad! How ya doing?
Troutbirder: Hi Tony!  We're doing good. What's up?
Tony:  Well..... I forgot Mom's birthday call and present. 
Troutbirder:  Ah. No big deal I'll put her on the phone and you can talk to her. Send the present later.
Tony: Ok. But....
Troutbirder:  But what?  ( Long Pause) 
Tony:  A kitten!
Troutbirder:  "NO!  No way. I forbid it."  With Muffy  my oddly named Chesapeake Bay Retriever on hand and the fact that I didn't particularly care for cats,  this was a non starter.
Tony:  Let me talk to Mom.......

And so now 18 years later Simba, ruler of his Oak Hill domain, has gone to his Final Reward.  He was friendly and curious, calm yet brave, keeping several large dogs (Muffy and Baron) in their proper place.  Much beloved by Barb and Ray and now sadly  missed. 

Tony and Baron
Simba and two friends

Sunday, November 3, 2013

North Dakota Potatoes

We, with our friends John and Joanne, took an overnight train trip (on Amtrak) to Devils Lake North Dakota.  Mainly to take a look at the amazing expansion of that lake in the last decade. More on that in a later post. Northeastern North Dakota has long been famous for sugar beets and potatoes. It so happens Johns cousin is a former manager of a potato "house" (storage facility).  Just in time for the harvest we were invited to take a look.  To my astonishment, I as even allowed to climb aboard a giant machine where big trucks were unloading the harvest.....
French fries anyone?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Whitey: The Wandering Golden Eagle (Part 2)

He was injured, captured, rehabilitated and set free with a transmitter on board to find out from whence he came into the Mississippi Valley.  His name was Whitey and he was a Golden Eagle.....

Golden eagles were thought to be relatively rare in the hill and valley region bordering the mighty Mississippi river valley between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Most experts believed they were lost wanderers from the Rocky Mountain west. More interested birders, better equipment and knowledge of differentiating the big brown eagle from their immature Bald Eagles cousins, has  changed that opinion.

Goldens nest all the way up to the Arctic coast in Alaska and Western Canada. Their range maps in the older field guides show nothing along the western edge of Hudson Bay.

From late April to May, Whitey  flew from western Wisconsin north to Duluth Minnesota at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior. Then he crossed into Ontario, Canada. And then he kept on going and going and going. He flew past Churchill on the southern shore of Hudson Bay. Then further north along Hudson's Bays western edge. He traveled 2,382 miles, averaging 72 miles per day. His  longest one-day flight was 193 miles. From late May to early October, Whitey spent the summer wandering over an immense area of Nunavut — from the northern shore of Hudson Bay to a lake above the Arctic Circle. It had been a migration of astonishing proportions and came as a total surprise to everyone. Or as one of the experts said, “Wow!”

Then in the fall on October 7, he turned and headed back toward his winter home.  By early November, Whitey was back in southwestern Wisconsin after a 26-day, 1,750-mile migration.

Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota said the finding has conservation implications. "These birds are cool, just cool," Martell said. "Here’s this huge, predatory bird that we weren’t even aware was here on a regular basis."

Their presence raises a serious issue — how best to protect them —. But more information is needed first.  Each year in late winter now under the direction and training of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, volunteers including the Troutbirders, have participated in a Golden Eagle survey.  About a hundred have been counted each year in the  surveys for the last ten years. before they head north to breed. In more recent years other Goldens have also be tracked.
The Rocky Mountain West hosts many of these birds year around.   On a fly fishing trip to the high country in  Montana my brother Greg and I once counted over thirty Goldens along the road.   World class amateur photographer Mona (Montanagirl) graciously allowed me to use one of her many wonderful pictures. Golden eagles are truly golden.  The picture and the link to her nature blog is shown below. Take a look.....