Troutbirder II

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

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!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Devils Brood


This week I’m into historical fiction. My current reading is a book titled Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman. It is the third in the authors Eleanor of Aquitaine series. It is the story of King Henry II and his family. This family is tearing itself apart as his three sons reach adulthood. Henry sees Eleanor first as his wife and Queen. Then as the Duchess of Aquitaine. She sees herself as the Duchess first and then as his Queen and wife. Their sons Hal, Richard, Geoffrey and John each have their own ambitions and desires. For those not familiar with this great King, Queen and their dysfunctional family. Henry built the mighty Angevin Empire and locked his beautiful and dynamic Queen in a castle for decades when she joined or led her sons in a rebellion against their father.  I highlighted Geoffreys love of jousting in my previous post.  Richard, of course is the famous "Lionheart" and John the evil King of the Robin Hood stories and signer of the Magna Carta. It is a family tragedy  writ large around marriage, child-parent relationships, sibling rivalries, ambition, betrayal and just plain greed. The historical facts and descriptions of the 12th century ring true to me. Even more compelling is the authors psychological fine tuning of the main characters motivations. The dialogue is often riveting.

Years ago I had enjoyed watching Katherine Hepburn win her third Oscar as Eleanor in the film The Lion In Winter. This book exceeded my expectations in bringing that story once again to life. I loved Devils Brood and must say the first two in the series were just as good….

Saturday, November 1, 2014

St. Malo! St. Malo!

St. Malo! St. Malo!

Thus, screaming the battle cry of their patron saint did the knights of Brittany charge to the rescue of Count Geoffrey. It's a small scene in Sharon Kay Penman's historical novel Devil's Brood.
The excitement surrounded tournament time. Without a major war going on and boys being boys, the knights fought for glory and the occasional ransom of a defeated opponent. Killing was not allowed but fatal accidents did happen. Various groups followed individual leaders from different kingdoms and principalities. Mass charges, individual combat and melees everywhere were commonplace. What fun! If you lost you and your group could run away to escape or if surrounded yield and pay a ransom to be determined later.

Count Geoffrey of Brittany, fourth son of Henry II (King of England, England, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou) and Eleanor (Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine) had been unhorsed by an illegal blow. Injured and without a weapon he refused to surrender. Like sharks drawn to blood in the water, more opponents thinking ransom money, were drawn to the scene. It was then that he heard from all over the field the cry of "Saint Malo" as Bretons fought their way to his rescue. His wife Constance, who had been the sole heir of her father's rule of Brittany, also rushed to his side.
St. Malo today is a major seaport connecting France and Great Britain. Brittany lies in the northwest of the Republic adjacent to Normandy. It was here in the fall of 2006 that I traveled with my bride and friends Steve and Jewell. The trip to France was the fulfillment of a promise I had made to her upon her retirement.

Reading the novel brought back fond memories of some of the places we visited in France. Normandy, Tours, Angier’s, Rheims, Rouen, St. Denis, Chenonceau , Paris and, of course, St. Malo.

Today it is a major tourist attraction not too far from another - the famous island monastery of Mon St. Michel. Much of the city was destroyed by American bombs in World War II. Why? Because the Nazis converted the beautiful harbor into a major submarine base to challenge allied shipping in the English Channel. It has been lovingly restored. I would also be remiss not to mention in some detail the world class French cuisine. Crepes! Crepes! Crepes! But that's a story for another time.  St. Malo! St. Malo!
Next Post -  A review of Sharon Kay Penman's Devil's Brood