Troutbirder

Troutbirder
To Go To Troutbirders Nature Blog (click on above picture)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Normandy, France




It’s been more than twelve years now since I retired from teaching and two years less for Mrs. T. from the same profession. The two years difference came from her decision to go on a little longer than me to pay off the mortgage on our new house in the woods. I took on the role of “house husband” to her infinite satisfaction.  I had promised to take her to France on her retirement but that was delayed for one year as she successfully fought off a bout with ovarian cancer. The delay proved fortuitous in that our good friends Steve and Jewel could join us. It turned out Steve had taught high school French for a few years before turning to dairy farm. That allowed us more opportunities to venture further out on our own on "free" days from the tour group.

 A direct flight from the Twin Cities brought us to Paris where a quick city tour and a good night’s sleep prepared us for the trip to Normandy and the D Day invasion beaches.













I had been urged by Mrs. T's cousin Joe to be sure and sample Normandies most famous adult beverage - Calvados.  Sure enough the program included a visit to a place where the apples were converted into the famous beverage.It was all very interesting but the highlight for me was (given my perverted sense of humor) the "tasting" that followed the tour. It seems the majority of the elderly entourage had missed the part about Calvados being a rather strong applebrandy. Given the gasps and chokes that followed our group toast with the beverage, it seems the majority of people had expected to be imbibing an fruity apple cider!











Our first city stop was  Rouen which had a long and exciting history. Here the French kings had been crowned and Joan of Arc burned as a heritic by the English. Naturally, we visited the famous cathedral.













Standing in the square, looking back at the cathedral, I
recalled that the French impressionist, Claude Monet, had
spent many hours here drawing it. His studies of light and
shadow fueled much of his later work.














































We had lunch in the town center, visited a market
and walked in the garden surrounding the marker to the martyrdom of St. Joan






























The next morning found us approaching the famous bridge crossing over the Orne River - Pegasus. The significance of the bridge on D-Day was simple but key. Allied deception had persuaded to leave their major Panzer formations near Caen to the north. The allied landings were to the south. Holding the left flank bridges across the Orne against German counter attacks would vastly increase the probablity of success for the Allied landing.
That task was assigned to the 6th British Airborne Divison. On the night of 5/6 June 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, landed in six Horsa gliders to capture Pegasus Bridge, and also "Horsa Bridge", a few hundred yards to the east, over the Orne River.


It was given the permanent name of Pegasus Bridge in honour of the operation. This name derives from the shoulder emblem worn by the attacking British, which is the flying horse Pegasus.


The events around Pegasus Bridge are depicted in the movie The Longest Day. The role of Major Howard was played by Richard Todd, who actually participated in the real Allied defence of Pegasus Bridge, having been the 7th Parachute Battalion's Intelligence Officer on D-Day.





The original bridge was replaced in the 1990's. During our visit to France every day except one was sunny and warm. Our D Day visit, though, was dark and somber. The weather that day was actually perfect, setting the mood, as we visited the places where thousands died to liberate Europe from the Nazis.














































The soldiers killed in these actions are mostly buried in the cemetery at nearby Ranville. There is a commemorative plaque that was installed by the family Gondrée, whose house near Pegasus Bridge was the first to be liberated during D-Day. It still exists and nowadays contains a café and a small museum shop that sells Pegasus Bridge related material. The lady who runs this café was a small child living in the home when it was liberated. Yes, we stopped in for some postcards.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Citizen Soldiers


 
In Citizen Soldiers – The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches To The Bulge To The Surrender Of Germany author Stephen Ambrose tells the story of the American foot soldier's experience in Europe.  Ambrose, one of my favorite military historians also wrote my favorite history book. It was Undaunted Courage the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition And what a story it is,  all from the point of view of the men who did the actual fighting.  Down and dirty….

This point of view is somewhat new and fresh considering the thousands of books published on this war by and about  the leaders and politicians whose perspective was from the top down.  Mr. Hull’s review in the New York Times gives us a hint of why this is so.

By Michael D. Hull

One chilly morning in November 1944, Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, commander of the British XXX Corps, climbed into a jeep and was driven to the front to "smell this new American battlefield." The untested U.S. 84th Infantry Division had been placed under his command for the attack on Geilenkirchen, north of Aachen, on the Dutch-German border. When he reached the division area, Horrocks was halted abruptly by an American sentry, who leaped out from behind a tree, pointed his rifle menacingly at the general's stomach and shouted, "Who the hell are you?"

Horrocks got out of the jeep gingerly and replied, "I am a Britisher–and what's more, your division has just been placed under my command."

The GI looked at him incredulously and asked his rank.

"A three-star general," answered Horrocks.

"Holy Moses!" said the soldier. "We don't see many of them up here."

Horrocks reported later that he was "able to meet and chat to a number of these fine-looking young soldiers." And he soon discovered a front-line problem that reminded him all too much of his grim World War I experiences in the trenches.

"It soon became obvious that, with the exception of the U.S. paratroop divisions, whose commanders literally lived with their forward troops (and, of course, with the exception of Patton), the normal U.S. corps and divisional commanders rarely, if ever, visited their forward troops," recalled Horrocks. "This was something I had to put right without delay, because of the appalling wintry conditions which the 84th were likely to meet in this their first experience of battle, opposed by experienced, battle-hardened German troops."

Horrocks ordered the 43rd Wessex Division, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, and artillery and specialized tank units to support the Americans. He also ensured that the U.S. troops received hot food and dry socks, in order to boost morale.

The 84th Division secured its objectives in the Battle of Geilenkirchen, one of the hardest fought actions at the battalion, company and platoon level in the European theater. General Horrocks said he was "filled with admiration for the extreme gallantry displayed by the raw GIs."

The problem of commanders being out of touch with their troops was becoming endemic throughout the U.S. Army forces in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), says Stephen Ambrose in Citizen Soldiers (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997), his compelling foxhole-level history of the soldiers' war from Normandy to the German surrender. Not even battalion commanders were going to the front. It was humiliating, Ambrose says, that a British general had to order American staff officers and their commanding officers to go check on their soldiers. The American officers' absence was costly, for tens of thousands of young Americans and Germans died that November in battles–most notably in the Hürtgen Forest–that did little to hasten the end of the war and should have been avoided.

The hardships endured by American troops in the hedgerows and foxholes of northwest Europe–and the courage, resilience and adaptability with which they faced them–are chronicled vividly in this masterpiece of historical narrative. It is a stunning account–affectionate, yet honest–of ordinary men learning to beat a stubborn, well-trained foe at his own game. From Omaha Beach to St. Lô, and from Bastogne to Cologne, they marched, shivered, fought, groused, bled, died and triumphed magnificently.

One of the most articulate and informed historians writing today, Stephen Ambrose has distilled in brilliant clarity the essence of the American character that helped to preserve global freedom. Without doubt, his book will enthrall every veteran, scholar and general reader.

When the GIs sailed for Europe, as the author points out, they were going not as conquerors but as liberators. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, told them their mission in his June 6, 1944, order of the day: "The destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world."

The U.S. troops accomplished their mission. And, in the process, they helped to liberate the peoples of France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg and the Germans living west of the Elbe River.

 

 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Apple Orchard

The recent visit of the grandchildren from Arizona took us to a local orchard for a wagon ride and some caramel  apples. What fun!!!
 
 


 











Sunday, November 10, 2013

One Summer: America 1927


For years reading friends had urged me to check out bestselling travel writer Bill Brysons  (“A Walk in the Woods”) humorous writing.  A note from our town librarian Diane that his latest book, a New York Times best seller was available sent me into town to get it.  That book One Summer: America 1927 has  the author, a now traveling through time, taking us back to perhaps a high point or maybe a  low point, depending on your point of view to  the “Roaring 20’s.  I like the book and I didn’t like the book. And on that ambiguous note, I’ll try to explain why….

This is history as you may never have read it. It’s filled with famous and infamous people and  events, amazing coincidences and trivia.  We meet the real Babe Ruth, Charles Lindberg, Al Capone, Silent Calvin Coolidge, Henry Ford   and the  “It” girl Clara Bow.  Bryson writes prose clear as crystal often makes us or shocks us into incredulity taking the heroes of the age down more than a peg.   

For instance, Bow, in addition to being the most celebrated Hollywood icon of her era, was also famously promiscuous, Bryson notes. She had a slew of boyfriends, many of them at the same time. Bryson tells of one boyfriend who arrived at her house only to realize that another man was hiding in the bathroom. The aggrieved boyfriend, Bryson tells us, demanded that the hidden man “come on out so I can knock your teeth out!” When the bathroom door opened, heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey sheepishly appeared. The aggrieved boyfriend wisely kept his fists to himself, and the hulking Dempsey

The rise of radio and tabloid provide a look back at the seed of our own  pop and celebrity culture  which I  found appallingly reminiscent of our own times.

There isn’t a whole lot of deep thinking or interesting conclusions in Bryson’s account beyond cutting remarks and characterizations (often deserved). 

All in all,  the book is a fun read about what proved to be in the authors words….. “one hell of a summer.”
A few of the cast:
 
 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Trains


It was Christmas Eve 1949. My cousin Prudy and I stood proudly in front of the Christmas tree, in my grandmas house in St. Paul, holding up our presents for all to see. Mine was an 027 gauge Lionel electric train. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thus began a lifelong interest in trains. I still have it on display in our basement.

Flash ahead a few years to the early fifties. I lived with my parents and two brothers in a new home on the East Side in St. Paul. It’s was the Daytons Bluff area. Below the bluff lay the Mississippi river and lots of railroad tracks and two "railroad yards." They belonged to the Milwaukee Road and the "Q" (Burlington & Quincy)

 
 
 
Our next door neighbor, Art, was a yard engineer for the Milwaukee Road. He didn't drive, so he walked to and from work every day, except on Saturdays. That's when my father picked him up at work. A trip to downtown St. Paul followed to cash his paycheck and pick up a case of an "adult beverage." I got to tag along.
More often than not on these Saturday afternoons, I was invited to climb up into the cab of the steam engine. Art would wave me aboard. It was a steep climb up into the cab.

Each and every time the excitement built. There was a cord hanging down, which when you pulled it, the steam whistle sounded so loud they must have been able to hear it miles away. A bin of coal was behind the engineers seat. I usually got to take a few shovels full, after opening the boiler door, and pitch it into the flames. It’s was very hot.



The biggest thrill of all was to back the train onto the "turntable." This was a revolving platform which turned to align each train into its own stall. I was ten or eleven years old and pretending to be Casey Jones. The neighborhood kids played in Indian Mounds Park high on the bluffs above the river. I can still picture that river, the airport beyond it and the railroad tracks far below. There were passenger trains like the orange and yellow Hiawatha of the Milwaukee and the silver bulleted Zephyr of the Burlington Road speeding by on their way to faraway places.

The steam engines are  long gone now except for a few touristy amusement rides. The sound of the diesel and later electric engines wasn’t nearly as exciting as the huff and puff of the steamers. Still, I’m left with fond memories of my Dad, Art the engineer, and those Saturday afternoons of boyhood enchantment.

 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Hindenberg disaster

These photographs are truly amazing. So is the newsreel!   (frame 22) It's been 75 years......

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Rose For A Crown


AN UNFORGETTABLE HEROINE,

A KING MISUNDERSTOOD BY HISTORY,

A LOVE STORY THAT HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD

Well, that’s what the blurb said.  And some thirty plus female reviewers on a historical novel web site mostly agreed.  Apparently, of late, I’ve been reading the book equivalents of “chick flicks.”  I can live with that….

I just finished  A Rose for the Crown, by Anne Easter Smith. She take to task  the Tudor Dynasty’s well known hack Shakespeare, who is  roundly rebutted for trashing Richard The Thirds reputation. Seen through the eyes of the woman who was the mother of his illegitimate children, a woman who loved him for who he really was, he comes off as not such a bad fellow As the mistress,  Kate Haute,  moves from her peasant roots to the luxurious palaces of England,  a remarkable story ensues.

The bare bones of this novel is historically accurate but our heroine is fictional because though the King had  three illegitimate children,  history is doesn’t tell us who their mother was. Thus Katherine Haute is fictional, but the world she lives in is not. The story is set in the time of the War of the Roses.  As any good story the reader is drawn into interactions of the main characters and the time and place they lived in. For my part I found the tale quite fascinating. Another book quite well done on this era is   is Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour.  Actually,  I think I may have become addicted to it….

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who Is It?


You were born in a small town in what was then the Austrian Empire, now part of Croatia. You are a brilliant inventor, physicist, mechanical and electrical engineer. You are well aware of your own genius, and you are driven to do whatever it takes to realize your dreams. You will redefine the term "mad scientist"; your home country will honor you and an exciting high-end consumer product will be named after you 150 years after your birth.   WHO ARE YOU?

 
 
 
 

You are Nikola Tesla, founder of the Tesla Electric Company. You will go on to patent a brushless alternating current induction motor based on a rotating magnetic field principle. The invention will attract the attention of the Westinghouse company, and your investors will sell it to them for $60,000 in cash and stock and generous royalties. Westinghouse will also hire you as an independent consultant at their Pittsburgh laboratories.

 The year 1891 will be a banner year for you. You will demonstrate wireless energy transmission, which will become known as "the Tesla Effect"; you will patent the Tesla Coil; and you will become a naturalized citizen of the United States shortly after your 35th birthday.

You will go on to do groundbreaking work on atmospheric electricity, telegraphy and new types of engines including a steam-powered device dubbed "Tesla’s oscillator." Some of your wilder theories, coupled with your personal behaviors, will lead to your being categorized as a "mad scientist"—but in 1931 you will appear on the cover of Time Magazine.

 In 2003, sixty years after your death, a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will set out to prove that "electric vehicles can be awesome." They will name their company Tesla Motors in your honor.
And for 2014  The Tesla Model S........
 
 
 




Monday, October 14, 2013

Top Ten Historical Fiction

Historical fiction are novels that re-create a period or event in history and often use historical figures as some of its characters. To be deemed historical, a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described.
Most of us read fiction for pleasure, but some of us gravitate especially to works about the past. People have enjoyed historical fiction since 800 BC when Homer wrote about the Trojan War in the Iliad. The worlds to which historical fiction carries us may seem utterly different from our own - but they really existed. A deep understanding of the past can help us understand our own time and our own motivations better. And by blending history and fiction, a novel lets us do more than simply read history: it lets us participate in the hopes, fears, passions, mistakes and triumphs of the people who lived it. It’s not history as such but a great writer. who has done meticulous research, can truly bring the past alive.
The following listed books are some of my favorite novels of historical fiction. I’ve read them all, some more than once.

Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas
 
 Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman in the Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine series

 Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield


Shogun by James Clavell   
 

First Man in Rome (and following books) by Colleen McCullough 
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon  

 Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follet
   Killer Angels....Michael Shaara   
War & Peace by Tolstoy 

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
Now what are some of your favorites?