Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
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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…..:(


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Big River, A Book and Me

In Old Man River, Paul Schneider tells the story of the river at the center of America’s rich history—the Mississippi. Some fifteen thousand years ago, the majestic river provided Paleolithic humans with the routes by which early man began to explore the continent’s interior. Since then, the river has been the site of historical significance, from the arrival of Spanish and French explorers in the 16th century to the Civil War. George Washington fought his first battle near the river, and Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman both came to President Lincoln’s attention after their spectacular victories on the lower Mississippi.
In the 19th century, home-grown folk heroes such as Daniel Boone and the half-alligator, half-horse, Mike Fink, were creatures of the river. Mark Twain and Herman Melville led their characters down its stream in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Confidence-Man. A conduit of real-life American prowess, the Mississippi is also a river of stories and myth.

As a boy I played and fished along the Mississippi River as it wandered through St. Paul below our home on the Bluffs above the river. Later, I even took my fiancĂ©e on a date, a canoe outing near Pigs Eye downstream.  I was  bow and arrow fishing for carp (how romantic and she even married me). Later,  when we moved downstream to teach and raise a family, I still took a boat out into the backwaters. As for the nation,  the Big River has been an important thread running through Americas history and my life as well.  Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating retrospective of the Mississippi and its history… Old Man River.
Addendum:  The really cool thing about the Mississippi as it winds its way between Minnesota and Wisconsin is you never know what your going to catch.  One this day,  I caught Mrs. T. who agreed to come along to read a book and work on her tan. And incidentally Minnesota's State Fish the delicious walleyed pike....:)


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.....

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Those were the days my friends…..
When I was growing up in St. Paul in the 1950's: A little house with three bedrooms, one bathroom and one car on the street. A mower that you had to push to make the grass look neat.

In the kitchen we only had one phone, And no need for recording things, someone was always home.

We only had a living room where we would congregate, Unless it was at mealtime in the kitchen where we ate. We had no need for family rooms or extra rooms to dine, When meeting as a family those two rooms would work out fine.

We were the last kids in our neighborhood to have a TV. We only had one set, and channels maybe two or three, But always there was one of them with something worth the view. My dad thought he got a bargain from "Mad Man" Muntz you see. It was a giant 17 inches and black and white indeed.

For snacks we had potato chips that tasted like a chip, And if you wanted flavor there was Lipton's onion dip. Store-bought snacks were rare because my mother liked to cook, And nothing can compare to snacks in Betty Crocker's book.

Weekends were for family trips or staying home to play, We all did things together -- even go to church to pray. We all loved to go camping then, here my mom and I are packing the stuff and to this very day, Mrs. T and I like still like the woods as long as we can stay.

 Sometimes we would separate to do things on our own, But we knew where the others were without our own cell phone.

Then there were the movies with your favorite movie star, And nothing can compare to watching movies in your car.

Then there were the picnics at the peak of summer season, Pack a lunch and find some trees and never need a reason. Get a baseball game together with all the friends you know, Have real action playing ball -- and no game video. Now they speak of the Boyz In The Hood. Well, here we all were then. Boys and girls together playing Robin Hood. That's me, lower right hand corner, getting ready to shoot. The game never tired for us as it always was a hoot.

Remember going to the store and shopping casually, And when you went to pay for it you used your own money? Nothing that you had to swipe or punch in some amount, Remember when the cashier person had to really count? The milkman used to go from door to door, And it was just a few cents more than going to the store. There was a time when mailed letters came right to your door, Without a lot of junk mail ads sent out by every store. The mailman knew each house by name and knew where it was sent; There were not loads of mail addressed to "present occupant." There was a time when just one glance was all that it would take, And you would know the kind of car, the model and the make. One time the music that you played whenever you would jive, Was from a vinyl, big-holed record called a forty-five. The record player had a post to keep them all in line, And then the records would drop down and play one at a time.

Oh sure, we had our problems then, just like we do today, And always we were striving, trying for a better way. Oh, the simple life we lived still seems like so much fun, How can you explain a game, just kick the can and run?

This life seemed so much easier and slower in some ways, I love the new technology but I sure miss those days. So time moves on and so do we, and nothing stays the same, But I sure love to reminisce and walk down memory lane.


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.”