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Friday, November 10, 2017

Reading Books

Having a good time last night at a Mississippi riverside bar and grill with friends, I surely had my glasses with me as the photo shows. So much for finishing the book I was reading today . I can't find them. Wonder if.....?  In any case a book review was in order so I'll have to substitute Plan B.  An insight into some of the pluses and minuses of my well into 70 aging process.  
 01. Kidnappers are not very interested in you

02. In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first

03. No one expects you to run--anywhere

04. People call at 8 PM and ask, Did I wake you?

05. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac

06. There is nothing left to learn the hard way

07. Things you buy now won't wear out

08. You can eat supper at 10 PM

09. You can live without sex but not your glasses

10. You get into heated arguments about pension plans though Trump is taking over that subject.

11. You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge

12. You quit trying to hold your stomach in no matter who walks into the room

13. You sing along with elevator music

14. Your eyes and knees won't get much worse

15. Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off

16. Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather  service

17. Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either

19. You can't remember who sent you this list



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

It seems on my recent mission to return to some of the classics of English literature I may have overdone it. It wasn't the several volumes of Edward Gibbons fascinating exposition of Rome's downfall.  It was the annotated edition of that famous book which I purchased for my Nook. The notes and quotes mostly in Latin added substantially to the total volume of words.  Needless to say, I don't read Latin and each Chapter in English was followed by tons of mostly obscure references and explanations. However, my stubborn German (barbarian according to Gibbon) heritage compeled me to finish the four thousand page annotated version in only three months. :)
Edward Gibbon

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was written by the English historian Edward Gibbon in the late eighteenth century. It traces Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium. The author is often regarded as the first modern historian for style, method and substance.

I think ancient history is my favorite period to read about though I’ve often tended toward well researched historical fiction of the kind that Collen McCullough wrote.  Roman began as a republic and created an empire which eventually evolved into autocracy.  Modern historians have often debated over the many causes of it decline and fall. There is much to learn from this subject and even apply to the similarities and differences to our own country.   For reasons of length I would highly recommend an abridged unless you’re literate in the language of the Romans. On that score my wife Barb had a even simpler example in her explanation of the decline and fall….

She reminded me of her upbringing in a girls Catholic high school  Our Lady of Peace (a.k.a. Old Ladies Penitentiary).  Studying Latin she and her classmate decided that “Latin is a dead language. As dead as it can be. First it killed the Romans. And now it’s killing me


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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Women In The Castle

Another end of WW II novel but this one is particularly intriguing. German cities are mostly destroyed as the war is lost. We follow the story of three German widows of war resisters who were involved in the plot to kill Hitler.  The three women are compellingly portrayed as somewhat ordinary women surviving in extraordinary circumstances.  Those circumstances past and present have created different challenges for each widow and their children.

Good historical fiction puts you realistically into the past.  The Women in the Castle does that.  It gives you, from the perspective of ordinary German women, who were there at the beginning of the Nazi war and the end. It also can give us insights into real choices and issues people faced then and still do today.  What was it like to be swept up in extraordinary times and changes.  Or most importantly how the evil tentacles of fascism could first divide and then delude and conquer  the people of a modern nation.
It also draws some chilling parallels to things brewing in the political climate today. Jessica Shattuck has provided a wonderful addition to the list of great WWII literature.

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@Barrie Summy

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.