Troutbirder II

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eblog Surprise

Eblog surprise

Instead of repeating my recent whining about eblogs complications I got a fun surprise a few day ago with an interesting comment on my newly reopened and updated Troutbirder II blog.  I reposted and updated a post from years ago on a trip we took to France focusing on a visit to the D-Day invasion beaches in Normandy.  This allowed me to use pictures from my Picasa storage bin, so far so good, though the spacing and arrangement of the new text was terrible. Just two comments (you have to click on the red van near the top of this blog to go to Troutbirder II) but the second one is very unusual.  Here is just a part of it….

La France est championne :

- du racket des biens d’autrui ; du juteux business sous couvert d’une certaine mémoire……..

- de l’information arbitraire par les médias………. .

- de la persécution à l’encontre des victimes qui résistent…………..

Now if I could read French I’d have a reply but what I do know is that

Francoise Gondree, the author of the comment, has the same family name as the owners of the house/ shop I mentioned in my post on Pegasus Bridge, which you can see here or by clicking on that little red van (top left) 
Around the world our blogs go and what fun it is....
And if any of you followers out there can translate French to English.... :)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Additions and Corrections

Ok my recent off and on difficulties with uploading pictures to eblog have uploaded my frustration level to new heights.  Numerous people offered kind suggestions for a fix but my age & technological ineptitude has led to the following:
1. Being of German  ancestry and thus inordinately stubborn I 'm not giving up blogging entirely. I will not join the billions of people Facebooking because trying to get lots of "friends" and strangers to sign up is not my style and as you may have noticed I like to make long windy posts. Facebook doesn't then itself to that..;) I was a history teacher after all....
2.  I looked into Picasa and tried to delete some pictures from the overstocked "web albums" but  that didn't help.
3. I looked for new blogging platforms, found a few, and decided they were more complicated that the mess I was already dealing with. Starting over from scratch.... Nah! I don't think so.
4. Then I found the part where Picasa wants money for me to continue adding pictures.  Now I'm not totally cheap and not an ideologue on the subject of the "free" and "universal" internet,  but providing my credit card for an automatic monthly withdrawal ranging from 12 to 60 dollars a month. Nope.
The temporary solution is -
(1) I'm going to revive Troutbirder II blog as the platform for new book reviews and the occasional revival and updating of some old posts from 5 or more years ago.  This can be easily opened by clicking on the Red Van on the top of the Troutbirder blog.
(2) Troutbirder blog will continue as I experiment perhaps with less pictures and new formats.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hawk Ridge - Minnesota’s Birds of Prey

One of the premier raptor migrations spots in North American is Hawk Ridge overlooking Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. Here in the fall thousands of humans migrate to a hillside to watch tens of thousands of eagles, hawks and falcon funnel overhead avoiding crossing Lake Superior on their journey south. Each of the twenty some species is described by author, radio personality and one of Minnesota’s top birding experts Laura Erickson.  Her book Hawk Ridge - Minnesota’s Birds of Prey includes wonderfully evocative woodcuttings and sketches by Betsy Bowen.  The book is neither a field guide nor one of those giant and expensive table top tomes.  Factual, fascinating and funny at points it’s the perfect book for planning a trip to see the wonders of raptor migration at Hawk Ridge.  I found it most enjoyable. Incidentally, I briefly met the author this year at the Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester Minnesota.  She gave a most interesting talk on her Big Year of birding in the United States.  All on a limited time and budget….:)
Some years over a hundred thousand broad winged hawks fly over the ridge.  Far rarer numbering annually in the hundreds is the beautiful red shouldered hawk much more common in the East. Actually photographed by Mrs. T. in Florida where they're easier to get close to....:)
And so on this Christmas Day 2014 another reason to be joyful..... my ability to download pictures to eblog has mysteriously reappeared. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thanks and Help!

Several weeks ago with much ado and the help of several bloggers I was able to recover my "word free verification status" which had mysteriously been taken away.  Now this week eblog won't allow me to put pictures on my posts...... Grrrrrr.   Is this a common problem and is there a fix?
Ray (Troutbirder)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lily Leads The Way

The first snowfall of the winter had already melted some when Miss Lily and I headed down to Forestville State Park for a hike. We parked by the closed 1898 bridge and walked across the Root River to the small town of Forestville and its post Civil War buildings. Maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society  it comes to life with re-enactors most the year except winter as an adjunct to the State Park.
Looking across the Root we can see the deserted picnic shelter. With miles of trails in the park we're probably alone today as we hike into the woods. There will be several feeder streams along the way. All good trout water.  As a matter of fact this is where I first learned how to cast a fly many years ago now. 
After hiking some I find a bench to sit down and rest a minute. Lily hops up along side of me. There are no dangerous critters in these woods but after having this "rescue" dog for less than a year one thing is for sure....... Miss Lily "has my back."
A couple of miles later we easily cross a low Forestville Creek on some concrete slabs. It wouldn't have been a good day to get wet...
"Lets go home Lil. Your Mistress promised us both some treats...:) "

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Plain Truth

As most of the readers of this blog know I’m pretty much into non-fiction these days tending toward history, biography and the occasional survival story.  This was not always so as I read the classics and many novels as a youth.  The recent death of the great English mystery writer P.D. James reminded me of all her wonderful books that I had so thoroughly enjoyed.  I decided it was time to find a good mystery.  Finishing up my semi-annual haircut I wandered next door into the Goodwill  store and found shelves of bargain books.  There I ran across  several by Jodi Picoult a name I was familiar with but had never read.  It was time to branch out….

Published in 2000 I started with Plain Truth.           Ellie Hathaway, a top notch defense attorney,  starts to question her work and relationships and returns to visit her Aunt Leda in the small town of Paradise, Pennsylvania.  She ends pulled into the case of Katie, an Amish girl, accused of murdering her newborn and she must find a way of working within a culture that is not her own. This plot got my attention right away as the area where I live has a number of Old Order Amish and the opportunity to learn more about their way of life seemed well worth the time.

Let’s be clear here, based on this sample of one Picoult is one heck of a story teller.  She draws you into the plot and you really want to know how it all turns out. Still by the time I finished I wondered if I’d been bamboozled.  Picoults clues that mislead are normal in a good mystery but here they are
 often factually contradictory. No thanks.  Then we toss in paranormal ringers about ghosts. Huh? The corker was a sideline of romance with gothic novel like choices like one love is bad but the other is good but she doesn’t know which is which. Spare me. Then  there is the lawyer protagonist who ends up living with the suspects Amish family because of a bail issue. Apparently believability doesn’t deter this author from jazzing things up to make a good story.  This book needed some serious editing on what should have been a good plot.  This brings me back to P.D. James.  When Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, (3 August 1920 – 27 November 2014), known as P. D. James,  rose to fame for her series of detective novels starring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh the facts and description were accurate and believable.  I had read her
first book in the early sixties while still in college. Her last novel was published in 2011. I think I'll go back and read it....


Saturday, December 13, 2014

In Remembrance: Ted & The Class of 89

This summer we were privileged to be invited to attend the 25th class reunion of Spring Valley High Schools Class of 89.  It was a special occasion for me as I was their 12 grade social studies teacher and our eldest son Ted was a member of the class. The poignancy of being asked to say a few words after the dinner was reflected in my memories of what a fine and talented class they were and their universal friendship with our son. Ted had fallen due to the effects of bi-polar disease in December 1997 a short time before Christmas and his 28th birthday.  Our beloved daughter-in-law Deanne was the organizer of the class reunion that night. With love we remember always…..
Ted third from left
The trombone section relaxes at Winnipeg Band Festival in 1986.  Ted center.
 Punk day 1988.
Senior Beach Day 1989.
The Senior Ensemble at graduation

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Strange and then stranger

It all began rather strangely and ended even more so….  It was early in the morning and Mrs. T was sleeping in while I was at the computer in the basement den.   It was then that Miss Lily came bounding down the steps and immediately tried to climb up on my lap.  Now Lily is a sweet, gentle and well behaved dog but having an eighty pound female German Shepherd sitting on your lap is not acceptable. I pushed her back and yelled NO!  She laid down whimpering quietly watching me closely. This was not normal behavior so I ventured upstairs signaling for her to follow me.  Then I heard the high pitched beep.  It took me a while to locate the source as one of our several fire alarms was signaling every few minutes a dead backup battery.  These batteries provide a backup in case the electrical power fails to the house. Getting a ladder to climb up and remove the culprit I dropped it in my pants pocket and headed into town for a replacement.

Focused on driving as I went into town, I absentmindedly scratched my leg a few times. A bit later the spot seemed more painful like a spider bite or something and I speeded up into the Dollar Store parking lot. As by then the pain verged  on excruciating, I knew I had to pull my pants down to take a look and not wanting to park by the other cars and risk potential charges of indecent exposure, I pulled over to an empty area on the edge of the lot. Ouch. And there it was a large red area on the inner thigh of my left leg with an even uglier blistered spot in the middle.  Then reaching into my pants pocket I was not EVERREADY for the very hot 9 volt battery I managed to pull out and drop quickly on the floor.  The battery hadn’t leaked and lacking much in the way of electrical engineering expertise, I returned home dumbfounded to consult Mrs. T. who was quite skeptical of my story till she saw the burn. As I said strange and then stranger…..

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stout Hearted Men


Give me some men who are stout-hearted men

 Who will fight for the right they adore.

 Start me with ten, who are stout-hearted men

 And I'll soon give you ten thousand more.

Actually I was alone as my brother Greg had headed downstream but the idea of “ten thousand more” seemed good at that moment.

I couldn’t sing a lick. So why was I loudly singing “Stout Hearted Men” while slowly moving up a small trout stream in southwestern Montana?  This is why!  And it looked wet and fresh to my fairly untrained eye.

I had tagged along with my brother who was scouting elk for the bow hunting season later that fall many years ago. It was my first trip to Montana and naturally I brought my flyrod along. I wasn’t familiar with the notion of pepper bear spray. Perhaps it hadn’t even been invented then. Someone had given me the advice that when it comes to grizzly bears an important principle is “don’t surprise them.”  My off key singing seemed to fit the bill….:)


The test of an adventure is that when you are in the middle of it, you say to yourself, "Oh, now I've got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home." And the sign that something is wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure. -Thornton Wilder

Friday, November 28, 2014

Retirement Lane

When I retired, some ten years ago now, I was given lots of advice. The key principle seemed to be that I should keep "busy." Poor man apparently would have a hard time finding things to do! Many recommended that one should volunteer, helping to benefit all mankind. Apparently forty years of teaching the youth of the nation hadn't counted for too much.

To be successful in this vast endeavor, I was advised to look for a "role model." Someone (often the one giving the advice) who could show me the retirement ropes and was successful at it. I looked.  And looked.
There he was right in front of me. His name was Simba. Mrs. T’s precious cat.  I watched him carefully for several months. Fortunately, he had a basically invariable routine. It was a pattern which I began to emulate especially during the long and harsh Minnesota winters. Basically, it was to go from room to room and follow the sun. Yup, that's it. Follow the sun. Then get comfortable.
Simba’s gone now but I have been working hard at it ever since. It takes dedication and perseverance. The results speak for themselves. Happy retirement. BTW.  We’ve elaborated on the principle a bit more recently by following it all the way to Florida….:)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Windigo Island

I’m often drawn to novels that have settings I’m familiar with.  Thus picking up Windigo Island set in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin’s Bayfield and nearby  Apostle islands was easy.

Krueger's "Windigo Island" is the latest in his series featuring northern Minnesota private investigator Cork O'Connor, who is part Ojibwe. In this thriller Cork is asked by a family who lives on a reservation to find their missing daughter. The teenager left with a friend whose body was washed up on the shore of an island in Lake Superior where old legends tell of a fearful monster called a Windigo. But a real Windigo is more horrible when he traffics in young women to service sailors who come into Duluth on big ships. Cork must turn to his wise old Anishinaabe mentor, Henry, to confront evil.

The novel has a fascinating mixture of characters and insights into native American culture. As a native Minnesotan the facts of poverty in both urban and reservation Indian communities  were somewhat well know.  The sexual exploitation of girls from reservation detailed in the authors preface came as a shock.

The following quote from the aged Anishinaabe set the theme for my understanding of the book and has stayed with me since reading it.

"In every human being, there are two wolves constantly fighting. One is fear, and the other is love. The one that wins the battle? The one you feed. Always the one you feed."

Perhaps the author might have emphasized the majesty of northern Minnesota and the Lake Superior region where I have spent some of happiest days canoeing, hunting and fishing.  But then this was a “thriller” not a travel book and it’s ok…..

Aside from the book, I've been to the Apostle Islands several times, along Minnesota & Ontario's North shore many times since childhood and into the boundary waters canoe country as well.
There you can experience where water meets land and sky, culture meets culture, and past meets present. As I said the setting of land, people and history alone can entice me into reading a book.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fall In Bluff Country

Like much of the rest of the country winter arrived way ahead of schedule this year.  The consequence has been that my daily hikes have been shortened somewhat and carried on without my camera and binoculars. Fortunately we’ve been able to extend our recent birding outings to Florida to a month and as I look out this morning at the snow piled up already… I can hardly wait. In the meantime, here are some views of a hike Lily and I took in late October this year….   Bluff Country at its very best.

We live about sixty miles west of "The Father of Waters" right on the edge of the divide between the hills and valleys stretching south along the river and the former tall and short grass prairies (now corn and soybean fields) to the west and the Rocky Mountains.  That last week of what we call "Indian Summer" Mrs. T., Miss Lily and I hiked many miles enjoying every minute of it....:)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Angel's Wild Cousins

It was a small coincidence that last week when I writing the previous post on Bald Eagles Angel and Harriet  I got a phone call from my farmer neighbor Dick reporting a flock, yes a flock, of Eagles gathered in a picked cornfield along his sons driveway not far from our house.  To say this was unusual would not be an exaggeration in the least. Here’s the story…..

Many decades ago, when Rachel Carson published the book Silent Spring, the Bald Eagle was on the verge of extinction due to the pesticide DDT, across much of the American landscape. In Minnesota, a few survivors hung on in the forested far northern regions of the State.  In the rest of the State they were gone entirely.  The banning of DDT,  the passage of the Endangered Species Act and other environmental protection laws slowly brought the eagle population back from the brink.

Here in Fillmore County, sixty miles west of The Big River eagles historically were only rarely seen migrating through the area and did not nest nor winter here. That has changed in recent years and eagles are now resident and even nesting. Thus Dicks phone call showed how great that change has been. He had deposited several dead raccoons, who had met their fate while tangling with a combine, in the picked cornfield. He suggested I come over and take a look the next day with my camera…..
From the driveway.  Some circling, others hopping and squabbling, most busy eating "raccoon ala carte."
I counted 13 eagles on the ground at the same time while others circled or took breaks in the trees around the farmstead.
And then it began to snow heavily.
The American Bald Eagle is back!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

You Are My Special Angel

She is a hard working gal who lives in the National Eagle Center in Wabasha Minnesota.  She lives there because she can’t fly anymore.  Injured and rehabilitated she does outreach work for her species in area schools and other places. I met her one day while having a picnic along the Mississippi where Angel was taking a break from her busy schedule for a walk along the beach and being watched by one of her many volunteer “handlers.” What fun!

The National Eagle Center

To see the kind of work Angel does take a brief look at her friend Harriet, a partial wing amputee on the job….  Click on link.

Indeed Angel, Harriet and friends at the National Eagle Center, “You are my Special Angels.” Sent from the heavens above.
Harriet & Angel fishing
Next:  Angels Wild  Cousins

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Mascot

An elderly Australian refuge, whose life story has never been revealed to family or friends, finally comes forth to an adult son.  Alex Kurzem describes having, at the age of 5 or 6, escaped from Nazi troops in his European village in 1941, watching from a distance the massacre of his family and many others, and fleeing blindly through the forest for days before being captured by the soldiers. Then, astonishingly, rather than being shot along with everyone else who's been rounded up, he's been adopted by the German led Latvian soldiers and turned into their mascot, their "good luck charm." Decked out in a scaled-down SS uniform they've had tailored for him, he's been taken along as the troops moved across the countryside, fighting partisans and slaughtering townsfull  of people.

Kurzem, in the book The Mascot written by his son, Mark, has extraordinary memory of some details, but also some huge blanks. He remembers no other name for himself than the one the soldiers gave him, and no name at all for the village in which he grew up.. He doesn't know what country he's from. Although he had watched the deaths of his family, he can't remember their names or faces.

One memory is particularly clear, however; that of the occasion on which the sergeant who saved him from the firing squad, pulled down his pants and underpants, and, after a quick look, warned him against ever letting anyone else see him naked. Though no more than a child, he figures out that being circumcised ,must mean that he's a Jew. So, a great anomaly: in the midst of a squad of men going around killing Jews, here is this Jewish boy, whom they hail and fuss over as one of their most beloved comrades. He's even used as the centerpiece of a German propaganda film, the theme of which is how happy and contented are the children of the Reich.

Most of the book involves detective work by the two Kurzem men, as they try to fill in the details of a forgotten life, a forgotten person. Adding to the pressure are serious threats from Latvian nationalists concerned that the Kurzems might turn up something that could be embarrassing to someone.

The reviewer for the New York Times wrote of THE MASCOT: "Part mystery, part memory puzzle, it is written in the polished style of a good thriller, and it is spellbinding.”  With that I agree but then one has to wonder to what degree a father to son authorship might have involved some adlibbing on the sons part or miscommunication. It is also important to consider the widespread national fear and hatred of the Soviets that led to the complicity of some Latvians with the Nazis.  The attempts mentioned in the book to discourage the book are somewhat validated by the following excerpt from a document published in Riga on the historical accuracy of the wartime portrayal of the Latvian/German collaboration.

“To sum up, in evaluating The Mascot as a book, we can note that it is a competently and interestingly written story about an atypical Holocaust survivor, which undoubtedly can arouse considerable interest in Western society. It would seem that this has also been the aim of the book – not only to reveal Uldis Kurzemnieks’ wartime experiences, but to do so if possible dramatically and sensationally. At the same time it must be admitted that the book’s author Mark Kurzem has often enough not at all come close to objectively understanding wartime events in Eastern Europe. Being poorly acquainted with and making little use of original Latvian historical materials, which could have at least partly altered his assumptions about events, the books’ author all too often presents a very subjective and only partially historically realistic view of his father’s wartime experiences. Unfortunately the many errors and factual mistakes not only diminish the quality of the book’s contents, but also without basis cast a shadow over Latvian society. It is paradoxical that, even though the book devotes much space to Latvians and Latvians, it has not appeared in a Latvian translation and its authors have not been motivated involve Latvian historians in the controversial questions the book touches upon.”
Manuscript from the Yearbook of the Museum of the Occupation Museum of Latvia 2006.

To sum up this book was utterly fascinating while leaving some questions unanswered.  I think it was well worth reading.....

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Goldilocks Planet


Does anybody know what the term Goldilocks planet means in scientific terms? It means not too hot and not too cold. And that's just what our planet has been in recent weeks here in southeastern Minnesota's "Bluff Country."  Bluff Country is the unglaciated corner of the State with few lakes, deep valleys filled with trout streams and limestone cliffs everywhere.  It also means the weather can be perfect for extra long hikes with Mrs. T and Miss Lily..... Come on along!
One last note: this beautiful piece of property was recently purchased by the State of Minnesota and added to our nearby Forestville Park.  More interesting is the fact that Minnesota's Legacy Amendment made the purchase possible. Several years ago the voters of our State voted for an amendment which raised their taxes for a set aside fund whose purpose was to enhance Minnesota's cultural, historical and natural resources. 
 It was in  2008, that  Minnesota's voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (Legacy Amendment) to the Minnesota Constitution to: protect drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater.  Way to go gophers!