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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Merle's Door

Newly weds Ray & Barb with Max the Wonder Puppy
Our first dog’s name was Max. Growing up in the Twin Cities neither my spouse nor I had any experience owning a dog or any kind of pet for that matter. We both taught in a small town in southeastern Minnesota and rented a home in the country. Max was what is now known as a “designer dog” back then he was considered a “mutt”. I tried to train him for upland game hunting. The fact is he trained me. He was a natural and the best hunting dog I ever saw in action. As to his behavior, think of the book and movie Marley. Max not only looked like Marley, he was equally, shall we say, “adventuress.”  Later, he was the first of four other dogs, two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and two German Shepard’s. They were all great family pets and well trained.  But Max was the most independent, creative and intelligent by far…… which I often wondered..... why that was?  Some clues to the answer to that question, I believe, could be found in a book I just finished reading.  The title is Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote.

This book examines  the relationship between humans and dogs. How would dogs live if they were free? Would they stay with their human friends?

Using the latest in wolf research and exploring issues of animal consciousness and leadership and the origins of the human-dog relationship, Ted Kerasote takes us on the journey he and Merle shared. As much a love story as a story of independence and partnership, Merle’s Door is tender, funny, and ultimately illuminating. If you're a dog lover, as millions are, this memoir  is required reading.....  It will give you some serious hints about how to make your smart dog even smarter.  A small spoiler though is the fact that if you and your dog live in an urban environment or even worse an apartment the task is somewhat harder....:)

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@Barrie Summy

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dover Beach (Favorite Poems)

Continuing with a few of my favorite poems.  It's not a top ten list of any kind. Just a few of those poems which I remember well because at a certain point in my life they had influence and meaning to me personally.  I started with Percy Bysshe Shelly and Ozymandias. My next choice was The Testament of a Fisherman by Robert Traver. My next choice is Dover Beach by Mathew Arnold.

I don't believe I would have chosen this poem a few decades ago. History though shows us  the ebb and flow of civilizations and life.  Recent years have brought us the loss of our eldest son, five grandchildren who live far away and our 50th wedding anniversary along with serious health issues. The daily news sees numerous crises, tragic events along with a potential catastrophe unfolding at the nations center. Yes Dover Beach speaks to me these days......

The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Troutbirders Favorite Poems #2

 Continuing with a few of my favorite poems.  It's not a top ten list of any kind. Just a few of those poems which I remember well because at a certain point in my life they had influence and meaning to me personally.  I started with Percy Bysshe Shelly and Ozymandias. My next choice is The Testament of a Fisherman by Robert Traver.

John D. Voelker, also known by his pen name Robert Traver, was a noted lawyer, judge, author and fly fisherman from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He grew up in his hometown of Ishpeming. His book Anatomy of a Murder was a highly reputed best seller and made into a Academy nominated movie staring Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick.

I became a devoted fisherman at a very young age. I graduated from the University of Minnesota and took my first (and only) teaching job in southeastern Minnesota's Bluff County.  I quickly discovered I had moved into the only county in The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes without a lake.... which upon further investigation turn out to have many free flowing limestone springs and cold water creeks. Perfect for trout. I gave it a try mostly teaching myself how to flyfish.  When asked later to explain my passion for this particular form of fishing, Travers poem expressed it best....
A young Troutbirder's cutthroat trout on the Lamar River in Yellowstone

“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that men are going this way for the last time and I for one don't want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. ... And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”  
― Robert Traver
Root River Fillmore County, Minnesota

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Bogged down a bit in my reading, I thought I'd come up with a few of my favorite poems.  It's not going to be a top ten list of any kind. Just a few of those poems which I remember well because at a certain point in my life they had influence and meaning to me personally.  I'll start with Percy Bysshe Shelly and Ozymandias.

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I  met Ozymandias  accidentally at a public meeting sitting next to me in the audience. He did have a commanding voice and arrogant sneer,  particularly at the end of the meeting  when he made threats and promises  about the manner and substance of the meetings purpose. Appalled,  I chose to ignore him for several years as he took command of the empire in which I played a small part.  
Some time later as my co-workers and other community members grew increasingly unhappy and in some cases frightened, a few began to stand up. I joined them to do what I could to help.

Ozymandias is actually the ancient Greek term for Ramses II mightiest of Egypt's pharaoh's.  Perhaps his broken statue residing now in the British museum may find a kindred spirit now residing (except on weekends) in Washington D.C.  My hope remains the same now as when I first met  that spirit those many years ago ....we shall see a decayed wreck boundless and bare whose political arrogance has come  to its inevitable end :)


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thrillers v. Thinkers

There is, of course, a whole smorgasbord of fiction that ranges from "thrillers" to "who done its?" and everything in between. I've tried them all.
David Baldacci is one of my favorite authors.  He writes a tight plot with interesting characters. In Hells Corner there are some fascinating  goings on in the White House but at least you know it fiction rather than the "alternate facts" coming from Washington D.C. these days.

  Still starting with The Complete Sherlock Holmes in high school I've always tended toward the "thinkers" over" the "thrillers" and then went on to all those female British authors like P.D. James who solved so many crimes.  And least we forget, it was  TV that first brought us that bumbling Colombo. Oh how those criminals underestimated his genius....:)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Coldest Winter

Author David Halberstam was one of America’s greatest journalist/historians. As a young man he made his reputation as a reporter in Vietnam. There he reported  as he saw it. That is as a quagmire in the making by a government of the “best and brightest” who were in denial of its folly. He went on to produce 20 books in 40 years on a variety of  fascinating subjects but  perhaps most importantly of our nations war machine drifting into wars of “exceptionalism” a.k.a  imperial folly. It was his Vietnam book The Best and Brightest which won him the Pulitizer Prize.

It was his last book The Coldest Winter, published five  days before his untimely death in a car accident at age 73, that I just finished reading.  I think it was his very best.  The Coldest Winter is about the Korean War of 1950-53. This was is not writ large in the collective memory of this country, except for those few remaining who fought there. It was  a war that was cruel and inconclusive and claimed the lives of 33,000 American soldiers, 415,000 South Koreans and about 1.5 million North Korean and Chinese troops. Better forgotten? I think not.

This book includes the down in the foxholes stuff of an untrained, outnumbered, ill equipped, and driven into a corner, heroic  American Army as well  the broader picture of military strategy, political and managerial bungling at the highest levels. All of this leading up to the inimical fate of three wars of hubris, dubious strategy, and imperial ineptitude.  That is Korea, Vietnam, Iraq  and now seemingly ad infinitum more yet…..:(
And now the having read William Manchester’s classic on Douglas MacArthur,  American Caesar there are fascinating heroes and villains . Halberstams MacArthur is both. He is the brilliant strategist of the island hopping campaigns in the Pacific and tactician of the Inchon landing in Korea. But here disturbingly and at length MacArthur is the self-besotted   egomaniac who wastes  the lives of his men. As a 10 year old I remember my father, the banker, arguing in defense of the General over President Trumans  firing of him, with his two Railroad Brotherhood siblings.  As  that was in the era of children “being seen but not heard” I kept my counsel though I agreed with my Uncles and President Truman.  After reading The Coldest Winter  I know they were right then and I remain convinced of it even more so to this day….:)  A fascinating book indeed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Lilac Girls

Recently out in paperback, ereader, and audio if you or your book club missed it you can easily catch up. It’s Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel Lilac Girls.

This bestseller was based on the true life of several World War II heroines.  First  New York socialite Caroline Faraday a dilettante appearing  do-gooder  who shows her true essence as Hitler’s army invades Poland in 1939 with courage, determination and a strong sense of justice.

 Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences. 
For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

 The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

Lest we never forget, this harrowing  fictional tale, based on well researched facts and real people,  not only illuminates a dark page in human history it gives us a fresh female point of view. . .  Although read either non fiction or fiction about the Holocaust is not for the faint hearted it is necessary.  Though  parts of the book,  like life in high New York society left me uninterested or unanswered questions where character develop was lacking in depth frustrated,  overall this story was riveting.  Perhaps it was the little known aspect of Ravensbruck  being the only Nazi concentration camp solely for women that made it so…..  In any case it’s been a while since I read Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See that I’ve read one so interesting….

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Monday, May 1, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

First I read and reviewed the book in  Oct. 2009
Then today we saw the opening of the movie. May 1, 2017
I had been  at the mall, taking a shortcut thru Barnes and Nobel, determined not to stop. I stop and it's an hour or two delay and more money spent on books than I should. And, of course, I stopped .....
The title that caught my passing eye intrigued me. It was The Zookeeper's Wife. Perhaps, it was a recent movie review I had done on these pages that inspired me to take a look. The movie was The Time Travelers Wife. I had written  that it was just "ok" and panned its "silly, romanticized, and confusingly trivial" plot. The kinder comments on that review were, to the effect that, if I had previously read the book, I would have better understood and appreciated the movie. Ouch! This time I read the book first and hoped that somebody makes a great movie about it. It certainly deserved it.

Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story (W. W. Norton) has been selected to receive the 2008 Orion Book Award, which is conferred annually to a book that deepens our connection to the natural world, presents new ideas about our relationship with nature, and achieves excellence in writing.
"The Zookeepers Wife is a groundbreaking work of nonfiction,"said selection committee member Mark Kurlansky, "in which the human relationship to nature is explored in an absolutely original way through looking at the Holocaust." Kathleen Dean Moore, the committee's chairperson, said: "A few years ago, 'nature' writers were asking themselves, How can a book be at the same time a work of art, an act of conscientious objection to the destruction of the world, and an affirmation of hope and human decency? The Zookeeper's Wife answers this question."
The Zookeeper’s Wife is set in the time and place of The Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto. Few readers will casually pick up a book on this topic. I never shy away. Believing that generations for all time should never never be allowed to forget what happened, when evil on a scale never imagined, ran unchecked for years. You brace yourself and then read because you must. And yet this book left me feeling good. It even inspired me at times. I hesitate to write this about a book dealing with these horrible events, but at the core it is a story about
humanity at its very best. Diane Ackerman, famous poet, essayist, and naturalist tells a wonderful tale here. And it’s a true story carefully researched and based on fact.

The book begins in the mid-1930s, when a young couple, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, were the directors of Warsaw's zoo.
The zoo was destroyed during the Nazi bombardment of Warsaw in 1939. Surviving animals were shot "for fun" by rampaging soldiers led by the director of the Berlin zoo.
Jan immediately joined the resistance. Smuggling food into the Ghetto, building bombs, sabotage and many dangerous acts were part of his daily life. The Zabinski's eventually carried cyanide pills in case they were caught by the Gestapo.

"Equally important, Jan and Antonina opened their home and the zoo to partisans and Jews, some of whom were smuggled out of the ghetto by Jan himself. The Zabinskis hid their "Guests" in closets, rooms and even the old animal cages; in the course of the Nazi occupation, they helped approximately 300 women, men and children. And Antonina insisted, throughout, on maintaining a festive, music-filled household, even as she and Jan lived with the constant threat of exposure, torture and death, not just for themselves but for their young son, too.
In Ackerman's telling, it was Antonina's connection to the animal world -- her belief that every living thing is entitled to life, respect and nurture -- that made her incapable, despite her own terrors, of turning away from suffering. Nazi ideology, obsessed with categorization, hierarchy and uniformity, was incomprehensible to Antonina, who delighted in life's messy, rambunctious diversity.
A story like this could easily devolve into Dr. Doolittle-like sentimentality. Ackerman avoids mawkishness in two ways. First, the horrors of the Holocaust seep into almost every page, just as they should. The Zabinski household may have maintained a determined joyful air, but we never forget that the Guests' time in the ghetto has transformed them from accomplished, vibrant people into broken, hunted prey: "shipwrecked souls," Antonina called them in her diary. Equally important, Ackerman refuses to romanticize nature. She knows that the animal world is full of -- in fact, depends upon -- deception and violence, and that a person's immersion in the natural world is no guarantee of goodness."

The Zookeepers Wife is a fascinating book. I highly recommend it. I also recommend the movie. Some of the movie reviewer charge it with being a Disney version of the Holocaust. This is not true. The movie clearly implies and sometimes shows what is happening. It tells the story as it pretty much happened. We don't need Schindler's List or Sophies  Choice to understand it. Incidentally Jessica Chastain as Antonina is very good.  Good and thoughtful movies are sometimes hard to come by these days. This is one....:)


Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Weapon of Mass Destruction?

As  revealed in a recent post, two of our male grandchildren from a warm State visited chilly Minnesota for a week. During one of our many outings, 4th grader Leonard revealed he was especially interested in rocks. Seems as though, I  told him, I happened to personally know an expert on the subject, my friend Gary, a.k.a. Mr. Science who taught Geology and Earth Science.
Of course, Gary was a collector of not only lots of rock but Indian artifacts as well. Walking our GSD Lily that afternoon, Leonard had found an interesting rock which he thought had a fossil embedded. Mr. Science identified it as Chert. Chert is a microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline sedimentary rock material composed of silicon dioxide (SiO2). It occurs as nodules, concretionary masses, and as layered deposits. Chert breaks with a conchoidal fracture, often producing very sharp edges. Early people took advantage of how chert breaks and used it to fashion cutting tools and weapons. The name "flint" is also used for this material. Gary presented Leonard with a genuine arrowhead from his own collection.      
A few years earlier I had taken a somewhat larger role in instructing younger family members in Indian lore.  Showing Leonard some native wildflowers in my garden, we happened upon Canadian Bloodroot.  Naturally, an inevitable question arose. The sap of this beautiful spring wildflower was indeed red. Unfortunately upon showing the evidence I daubed some on the Grandchild while sharing a few stories of the warriors of the  Lakota Nation. It seems at least one female member of the family did not appreciate me "indoctrinating innocent youth in warlike virtues".  Indeed, I was properly chastised but one must admit they are beautiful flowers....:)