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Sunday, November 27, 2011


I’ve usually been somewhat of an omnivorous reader. Though, for fun, I used to read mostly fiction... from classical to best sellers on into the 70's. Fantasy and science fiction & thrillers were read but only rarely. At some point, I decided that the best American writers were doing history and biography. The following book doesn’t follow my usual reading habits....
Imagine a world, our world, where every person on the planet is dead and doesn’t know it. Not zombies according to the current literary fad, but rather a planet populated by people who are but shells of what they were created to be. A people devoid of all emotion with the exception of one fear.
Bestselling author Ted Dekker and co-author Tosca Lee conjure up just such a world in Forbidden, a dystopian novel which will appeal to some and horrify others. .. Dekker’s vivid imagination and at times almost maniacal focus on darkness and light coupled with Tosca Lee’s eloquence of prose is captivating Using interesting characters, the plot slowly builds to a riveting ending. The king where even if you favorite football team is on the tube it’s impossible to put the book down in the last hundred pages.
The book begins with
"In the year 2005, geneticists discovered the human gene that controlled both innate and learned forms of fear. It was called Stathmin, or Oncoprotein 18. Within 15 years, genetic influencers for all primary emotions were similarly identified.
Nearly a decade later, in the wake of catastrophic war that destroyed much of civilization, humanity vowed to forsake all that had conspired to destroy it. Out of the ashes rose a new world in which both the advanced technologies and the passionate emotions that led to its ruin were eliminated. A world without hatred, without malice, without sorrow, without anger. The only emotion genetically allowed to survive was fear. For 480 years, perfect peace reigned. Until now."
For some reason, I can’t quite fathom, Dekkers books have been wildly popular with some of those readers who favor "Christian" books. Other in the same category roundly condemn his writing. It may have something to do with ones take on current politics. Is it really about the dangers of "big government" or even worse "world government". Perhaps. But I’ve already read Orwells 1984. I suspect the devotees of Ayn Rand will find it fulfilling. For me, it's the dangers of science and technology used in defiance of humanity that is quite enough.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lincoln And The Border States

Lincoln And The Border States - Preserving The Union by William C. Harris
Lincoln has often been quoted (whether true or not) as saying while he hoped to have God on his side in the Civil War, he must have Kentucky. And, no doubt, Missouri & Maryland as well. This book by Professor Harris (Univ. Of Kansas) is the story of how Lincoln accomplished the amazingly difficult and complex task.
Keeping the slave holding border states within the Union was the task for a great leader and in this case a masterful politician. Although that term has fallen into some disdain today, I use it in the best sense of the world now. Democracy rests, in part , on political leadership that is moral, wise, practical and inclusive above all. Lincoln had those qualities, perhaps, more than any President in the history of our country.
This book is not a history of the broader problems and events of the war. It requires some background to be fully appreciated. If political leadership is you interest though, the book is perfect. As a lesson in "how to do it" in the worst of times. That makes it well worth reading.
It’s not that much of politics today is lowbrow or even dirty. It was a bad then or even worse. Catering to the lowest common denominator and the politics of fear. Lincoln made the tough decisions, the moral decision but tempered it all with the possible and always an eye on the consequences for the future. We certainly could use a few more people like that in politics today.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


It's the story of 17 million people living in a nation not of their own choosing. A few wanting it, some accepting it, many adapting to it and other stumbling into being it's "enemies" oten without intent. Many hunkered down, more than a few tried to flee often being killed in the effort. It was an all encomposing police state. The "stasi" were the enforcers. Equality was the idea. A communist totalitarian failure was the result. Stasiland: Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall by Australin author Anna Funder reads like a novel but actually is based on investigative reporting and the author personal experiences. What is actually revealed is a brutal world of indifference to humanity. A world of people caught in a nightmare. How sad..... Funder’s careful portraits of the people she meets from “Stasiland” shine a dazzling light on one of the world’s most paranoid and secretive regimes, and its effects on contemporary German society.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Big Year

We came. To the Arizona desert for serveral weeks We saw. Our son Tony & his family: Kari, Ethan, Tensae, Leonard and new arrival Vanessa. We conquered. By surviving 100 degree days on the patio, adjacent to the golf course and swimming pool and enjoying our grandchildren. And on our return to Minnesota rushing off to see the newly released movie about birding, listing and an extreme form of competition - The Big Year.

Birder or not this movie was just plain a lot of fun. Seeing who can see the most birds in North American in one year is the basic plot as three main characters strive for this goal. They're not "nerds" but more than a little obsessed. The birding "hotspots" they visit are revealed with wonderful cinematography. All in all, this is a movie to be enjoyed by birders and non-birders alike. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lincoln and the Civil War

"Lincoln was more than the "black man’s president" or "the Great Emancipator"; he was also "the savior of the Union." But he was also more than that; by leading a successful war to preserve "government of the people, by the people and for the people," he was "the Vindicator of Democracy." He succeeded because he somehow managed to be strong-willed without being wilful, moral without being moralistic, and righteous without being self-righteous because he inspired confidence and affection; because he a preternatural understanding of public opinion; because his sense of political timing was exquisite; because he had developed and extraordinarily high level of psychological maturity and balance; because he masterfully kept the Republican party (and by extension the North itself) unified; and because he was supremely eloquent in articulating the aims of the war. Without those qualities, he wold have failed, the North would have lost the war, slavery would have long persisted, and the cause of democracy in the world would have received a severe setback."

With that concluding paragraph, author Michael Burlingame sums up his wonderful assesment of Lincoln as President. There have to be thousands of books on the Civil War and hundreds on Abraham Lincoln but this small book is one of the best. I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Empire Of Ice

The book is An Empire Of Ice: Scott, Shackleton & The Heroic Age of Antarctic Science. If you might be interested in exploration and research under the most extreme conditions imaginable... this is the book for you. If you aren't into the scientific instruments and measurement techniques of more than a hundred years ago, do as I did, skip parts of it. That said, the author Larson's true tale is quite remarkable. The book also examines the "politics" of the race to the South Pole.

The crux of the "political" matter was that it wasn't a race at all. Roald Amundson, the Norweigian, got to the Pole first by ignoring scientific reasearch entirely. That research was the raison de'tre for the polar expedition to begin with according to the British. He also used sled dogs and other Artic survival techniques he had learned from the Eskimoes. Scott expeditions "manhauled sledges" a slower and more exhausting technique, that matched the Victorian view that exploration was a manhood test of will and courage. It certainly made for an interesting and might I add well research story.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Help

We went and saw the movie The Help a couple of days ago. Mrs T. had read the book and highly recommended it. Afterwards, she said the movie was faithful to the book by Kathryn Stockett.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
Set in Mississippi one hundred years after the abolition of human slavery, Jim Crow is beginning to come under attack.
The novel is told from the point of view of three narrators: Aibileen Clark, a middle-aged African-American maid who has spent her life raising white children, and who has recently lost her only son; Minny Jackson, an African-American maid whose back-talk towards her employers results in her having to frequently change jobs, exacerbating her desperate need for work as well as her family's struggle with money; and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a young white woman and recent college graduate who, after moving back home, discovers that a maid that helped raise her since childhood has abruptly disappeared and her attempts to find her have been unsuccessful. The stories of the three women intertwine to explain how life in Jackson, Mississippi revolves around "the help", with complex relations of power, money, emotion, and intimacy tying together the white & black families of Jackson.
Skeeter is a young aspiring journalist surrounded by friends and relatives who cling determidly to the racial attitudes of the past. The murders & terrorism of that era are only mentioned briefly in the movie. The menial work of the black "help" is locked in for each succeeding generation. It isn’t exactly slavery, but it is a caste system at the core. The black maids need the jobs but their lot is to be bombarded with the pain of disrespect, condescension and abuse. Skeeter struggles to find some of these women to dare to tell their personal stories.
The most telling white character is Skeeter's mother played by Sissy Spacek. Not a raving over the top bigot as some of the portrayals, she simply goes along to get along with her racist friends. This portrayal struck me as most sad and realistic.
Besides the broad strokes to portray some of the characters, there is the come uppance humor. Some very funny but way over the top unrealistic, involving some commodes scattered across one bigot's lawn and a fecal pie. Other than that, though, I highly recommend this movie. Sometimes it’s the down-to-earth stuff rather than those things that take up chapters in the history books that cuts closest to our own experiences of the heart.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Girl In The Blue Beret.

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover they say, but I did. It showed a rain slicked city street somewhere in Europe. Possibly Paris, I thought. The cars were 1930's vintage for sure. It was twilight with a slight fog hanging in the air. The street lights were aglow and there were few people about. Still a young woman , wearing a coat and a dark beret was crossing the street. The whole scene was somber, mysterious even a bit frightening. Something about it all made me think of Anne Frank.......
Thus, I was drawn into readomg author Bobbie Ann Mason’s new novel, The Girl In The Blue Beret,
I was so glad I judged that cover...
It is the story of a recently widowed American pilot, Marshal Stone, who is forced into mandatory retirement at the age of sixty and wondering what to do with the rest of his life. He is the same man, who as a young bomber pilot crash landed in 1944, on a mission over German occupied France.
Inspired by the experiences of her father-in-law, Mason tells a tale of war, love and survival in "The Girl in the Blue Beret" that alternates perfectly between World War II and modern Europe.
To the surprise of Marshall’s friends and family, he picks up and moves to Paris, intent on finding the ordinary people who hid him and led him safely out of France during the war after his B-17 crashed. Through his eyes, we meet members of the French Resistance who sacrificed greatly and often risked their lives to help downed airmen. We also learn about a cocksure young man slow to realize the high price of war to those who lived through it.
Mason's writing is exquisite. Not a single word is wasted or out of place, and she never drifts toward sentimentality — even in her descriptions of combat and the wreckage left behind. Her extensive knowledge of aircraft, combat and World War II is readily apparent, but isn't heavy-handed. Perhaps most impressive, though, is her ability to experience the world through a no-longer-middle-aged widower.
Filled with mystery, guilt and self doubt, courage, and romance, this book has it all. It shows people growing and changing, sometimes but not always for the better. How some stood up with courage under terrible circumstances. Not just another book about World War II, it will be the "quest" story you will never forget. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lost In Shangri-La

I love adventure/exploration/ survival stories. Needless to say, the newly published book Lost In Shangri-La fits those criterion exactly. One of the best of this genre I’ve read in a long time. From the New York Times Book Review
Picture of WAC Margaret Hastings & New Guinea Tribesmen
Published: June 3, 2011
"Adventure" these days is merely an experience that allows for a modestly elevated number of variables — renting a car without a GPS unit, for instance, or visiting a friend in East Flatbush. Not that the world is denuded of excitement. It’s just that true adventure requires something that defies an itinerary: failure. Failure is the engine of adventure.

Mitchell Zuckoff’s "Lost in Shangri-La" delivers a feast of failures — of planning, of technology, of communication — that are resolved in a truly incredible adventure. Truly incredible? A cliché, yes, but Zuckoff’s tale is something a drunk stitches together from forgotten B movies and daydreams while clutching the bar. Zuckoff is no fabulist, though, and in this brisk book he narrates the tense yet peaceful five weeks during 1945 that three plane crash survivors spent immersed "in a world that time didn’t forget. Time never knew it existed." Even at the level of exposition, the book is breathless.
In the final days of World War II, 24 bored soldiers and members of the Women’s Army Corps embark on an aeronautic joy ride over a newly "discovered" landscape — known today as the Baliem Valley — in the dangerously isolated mountains of New Guinea, mountains populated by thousands of combative "cannibals," where "a lifetime of war was an inheritance every child could count on."
Perhaps owing to a lethal combination of foolishness and inexperience, the plane crashes, eventually killing all aboard but a beautiful Wac and two all-American G.I.’s. They are unreachable except by parachute — or plane crash — and surrounded by startled warrior tribes; a contingent of Filipino-American paratroopers joins the survivors to aid in their rescue. With no place to land an airplane, the mountain air too thin for heli­copters, and the threat of thousands of hostile Japanese soldiers hiding between the injured group and the sea, Army commanders decide on the most reasonable extraction: a cargo plane with a big hook. At this point, you should know if Zuckoff’s book appeals to you.
The pleasures — and values — of this story reside in admiration of fortitude in a vortex of treacherous circumstances. It is the 1940s, though, so primitive sexual politics — Margaret Hastings, the surviving Wac, is repeatedly praised for her unexpected "gumption," and the Army’s first airdrop includes food, blankets and lipstick — abounds, as does the lazy racism of "cockpit anthropoligists even after the New Guineans prove indispensable. Zuckoff doesn’t editorialize, probably because this is an adventure tale; insofar as nobody can confront ingrained gender bias or cultural chauvinism while looking across a clearing at a war-­painted, spear-wielding expeditionary force, the book’s vitality derives from a contagious sympathy with its subjects’ circumstances. But it’s a fine line.
Technicolor chivalry and cultural atavism aside, "Lost in Shangri-La" tells of the first contact between disoriented, combative cultures, one of the final first-contacts in human history. It’s a tale of bravery, loyalty, trust and silly, often frightening miscommunication. For example, white sky gods figure prominently in the local eschatology, and unbeknown to the Americans, tribal leaders greet their arrival as a prophecy fulfilled. While the Americans run swap meets, debates rage over whether to kill the whites to stall the apocalypse.
Ultimately, Zuckoff’s story is heartbreaking. From the moment the New Guineans choose to aid the stranded Americans, their culture is jerked forward into a callous, evangelizing modernity. Each day, the American forces receive an airdrop, often containing weapons and cowrie shells — used as currency — inadvertently introducing two hallmarks of the modern West: firearms and inflation. Today, Zuckoff writes, "elderly native men in penis gourds . . . charge a small fee to pose for photos, inserting boar tusks through passages in their nasal septums to look fierce. More often, they look lost." By the end of Zuckoff’s narrative, it’s clear that the Americans, however painful and anguishing the ordeal, were hardly victims. After all, they experienced the thrills of adventure. The New Guineans, by contrast, inherited a tragedy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Silent Man

I’m not a big fan of the "thriller" genre. That’s not to say though that I would never ever pick one up when I’m scanning the new novel shelf of our local public library. Alex Berenson’s thriller The Silent Man caught my eye. I read it.
The radical militants of the Middle East want to get their national, religious and personal revenge against the Americans. Their plot is obtain the elements needed to build a nuclear weapon, smuggle it into America and explode the device in Washington, D.C. How might they bring off such a scheme? How might our government's agents stop them? Alex Berenson's third John Wells thriller pits his CIA superhero against just such a plot Here is where I usually have trouble with thrillers. The super hero part is usually so hokey. On that point this book was to thrillers what reality TV is reality. Popular drivel. I'd already seen James Bond in the movies. I will say this tale is well written though in a descriptive sense. Berenson strings his plot together well and his adjectives do grab ones attention. The really intriguing part is where the author provides a realistic, detailed account of how the terrorists swipe two decommisioned nuclear "gadgets" from a Russian military base and transport them to the United States. There they are taken apart to patch together a nuclear bomb that could work. This is the part that caught my attention. I kept wondering if this kind of information should be available at Barnes and Noble.

We know in the end that superhero John Wells will save the world from a nuclear holocaust. What we don’t know is how plausable is the "science" behind the plot. Can a couple of amateurs build a nuclear weapon with a little luck, the right material and the internet. I think I became more and more convinced as I read this sophisticated account of the nuclear plot that it was not so far fetched as I thought. . Thrillers are supposed to be scary. It was. And that's what made it worth reading. In the real world lets hope our intelligence agencies are more prepared and aware than they were on 9/11.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Final Storm

"War is hell."

William Tecumseh Sherman

Saturday, July 30, 2011




Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tuttie Frutti

It had been a long hot day at the Minnesota Landscape and Horticultural Garden. We had gone with Mrs. T's cousin Joe and spouse Mary. Afterwards a dinner was in order at a local restaurant.

We all ordered a drink. Mrs. T: "I'll have that Hawaiian Special (or something akin to that)." Troutbirder: Beer, Leinis Honey Weisse, please." And then the song came flooding back in memory. Lil Richard singing...."A-Wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-booTutti Frutti, all over rootie,.....A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop bam booI got a gal, named Sue, She knows just what to do. .....I've been to the east, I've been to the west, but she's the gal That I love the best.Tutti Frutti, all over rootie,....A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop bam boo."
Some days I just can't help myself but on this occasion I didn't hold Mrs. T to her promise to take her turn and drive us home from the Twin Cities. :) That adult beverage must have been at least a quart.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kids & Grandkids

TEACHER: John , why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
JOHN: You told me to do it without tables.
TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'
TEACHER: No, that's wrong
GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.
TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water? DONALD: H I J K L M N O TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.
TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father didn't punish him?
LOUIS: Because George still had the axe in his hand.
TEACHER: Now, Simon, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?
SIMON: No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.
TEACHER: Charles, what happens to your body as you age?

CHARLES: When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.

TEACHER: Sally, how is dew formed?

SALLY: The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

TEACHER: Bill, how can you delay milk turning sour?

BILLY: Keep it in the cow.

First Grandchild Ethan - Born Fargo North Dakota

Second Grandchild Tensae - Born


Third Grandchild Leonard - Born Rwanda

Fourth Grandchild Vanessa - In process of adoption.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


"Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, was raised Muslim, and spent her childhood and young adulthood in Africa and Saudi Arabia. In 1992, she came to the Netherlands as a refugee, escaping a forced marriage to a distant cousin she had never met. She learned Dutch and worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and shelter for battered women. After earning her college degree in political science, she worked for the Labor Party. She denounced Islam after the September 11 terrorist attacks and now fights for the rights of Muslim women, the enlightenment of Islam, and security in the West." (From her book Infidel)
From the books introduction: "one November morning in 2004, Theo van Gogh got up to go to work at his film production company in Amsterdam. He took out his old black bicycle and headed down a main road. Waiting in a doorway was a Moroccan man with a handgun and two butcher knives.
As Theo cycled down the Linnaeusstraat, Muhammad Bouyeri approached. He pulled out his gun and shot Theo several times. Theo fell off his bike and lurched across the road, then collapsed. Bouyeri followed. Theo begged, "Can’t we talk about this?" but Bouyeri shot him four more times. Then he took out one of his butcher knives and sawed into Theo’s throat. With the other knife, he stabbed a five-page letter onto Theo’s chest.
The letter was addressed to me."
I really disliked this book. I disliked what the author had to tell about her childhood and her experiences as a young woman in a Muslim world. And yet........ I’m glad I read it. I’m glad to know some important things about Islam, the culture it creates and its implications for the non Muslim part of the world. I have no idea how typical what is told in this book is of most Islamic cultures. I met an exchange student from Indonesia (the worlds largest Muslim country) and am reasonably sure the horror of what Ayaan Hirsi Ali experienced would not be typical there. It’s all very disturbing.
How well does anyone in the west understand both traditional and radical fundamentalist Islam, and all the things it does to people? Do we really understand female genital mutilation, beaten women, arranged marriages, the compuslive need to hide the feminine, and the complete loss of individual freedom? Americans still don't have a clue. This book makes a very real effort to explain a few things. It is painful, but important reading.

And then there is this. She now works for the American Enterprise Institute. A hotbed of neocon ideologues. There are many aspects to much of what is involved in her story. It might be a reason why it took me weeks to figure out what I wanted to say about this book......

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In The Garden Of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts is quite simply a great read. Written by popular historian Erik Larson it is the true and haunting story of a real American family trapped in a time and place of ultimate horror. It is also a vivid portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign. Chicago history professor William E. Dodd, who in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s regime, and his scandalously carefree daughter, Martha, along with his son and spouse are an odd fit among the extravagance and moral decadence of the Nazi elite. Dodd’s increasing concerns about Hitler’s ambitions are ignored by the State Department. His 24 year old daughter Martha, on the other hand, is hypnotized by the life style of a soon to be changed Berlin’s salon society. The rise of Nazi Germany is a oft told tale in history. For this reason, In the Garden of Beasts is simply amazing because it tells the story in a way that brings it all down to the level of the actions of real people acting in an unfamiliar situation. Each step along the way is such that we say to ourselves "oh my god someone must stop this before it’s too late."
Naive and diplomatically inexperienced, Ambassador Dodge eventually saw the darkness at the end of the road. The Nazi psychopaths had taken over a country, had begun killing people out of hand and the world did nothing.
Dodd mistakingly thought he could exercise a "moderating influence over Hitler and his government."
Martha was newly divorced from her first husband and out for a good time. This included a French diplomat, the head of the Gestapo and a Soviet spy... among others. This all amidst Jews and other "undesirables" being stripped of their livelihoods, property and basic civil rights. In one nightmarish mob scene, Martha and two male traveling companions witnessed the near-lynching of a woman who had a relationship with a Jewish man.
Hitler himself told Dodd that "If they (Jews) continue their activity, we shall make a complete end to all of them in this country." .
The Tiergarten was Berlins Central Park and zoo. The Dodds lived right adjacent to it. They took walks there. They admired the beautiful landscape. And met the animals who terrorized the world.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Henry II - Eleanor of Acquitaine - Thomas Becket

If you ever had the idea that history books (read textbooks & big thick tomes with lots of obtuse words and tons of footnotes) are invariably dull.... think again. Many of today’s great history writers, be they professional historians or amateurs write really good stuff. As in fun to read. When they pack it into an exciting story like narative you really can’t go wrong. In my view they are two versions of this trend. History and historical fiction.
Lets start with straight history and biography. This is nonfiction based on accurate and well researched background material. The best ones tell a true story and bring it alive. Think of authors like Steven Ambrose, David McCullough, William Manchester, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Shelby Foote and many others.
The other equally exciting development is the vast improvement in historical fiction writing. Here the authors knowledge of the subject combined with excellent writing/storytelling technique will surely get your attention. As long as the line between fiction and nonfiction is clear, I really don’t believe it to be a bad thing if that line narrows. That is IF the writing is honest and well done and IF it draws more interest in history from the general public.
There are more and more writers of historical fiction who are doing really great things. One of my favorites is Sharon Kay Penman. Her Eleanor of Aquitaine series is a good example of an ability to draw you into another time and place. In When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance and Devils Brood she brings the early medieval period alive as no one else ever has. In Time and Chance we learn of the tempestuous marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II in a magnificent story of love, power, ambition-and betrayal.

The book is wonderful telling of real history played out by real people where we can see: how issues of the separation of church and state bedeviled Henry II and his friend and counselor Thomas Becket upon the laters appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. The degree to which the King might have been culpable in Beckets murder.
The reasons why Henry and Eleanor's marriage drifted apart. The reasons why Henry and Eleanor were well-intended but ineffective parents. "Reality TV" pales into insignificance with books like this.......

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fire Season

"I was expected to sit still and watch mountains and long for company and something to do, like playing cribbage, I suppose. I was going to have to watch mountains for sure that was my job, but I would not be without company. I already knew that mountains live and move." -Norman Maclean, "USFS 1919

Many other famous American writers and poets, going back to Henry David Thoreau, Leopold, Dillard & my favorite Sigurd Olson have spent time in fire watch towers or others wilderness venues. Thus I was anxious to read Fire Season Field Notes From A Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors.

Combination memoir, essay & history, written from the experience of eight summers in the Gila wilderness of New Mexico, it draws us into a place of solitude, fire & nature. Connors left an office cubical job with The Wall Street Journal to spend a summer in the wild. How fortunate very for us that he did. I think this book could well be considered a classic someday. As regular readers of my Troutbirder nature blog might suspect, while basically not an antisocial person, I often have an innate impulse toward solitary moments on the trout stream, in my dreams and hiking forest trails with my GSD Baron. Books about these kinds of experiences naturally appeal to me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Shortage Of Good Days

I think I’ve read all of author John Gierach’s previous books including among other Trout Bum, At the Grave of the Unknown Fisherman and Standing in a River Waving a Stick. They make me laugh. They remind me of my own idiosyncracies. I couldn’t pass up his latest which appeared last week at out public library. It’s titled No Shortage of Good Days.
With a title taken from an Annie Dillard quote ("There is no shortage of good days; it’s good lives that are hard to come by"), the book is a collection of fondly remembered fishing trips and random fishing-related topics, along with miscellaneous other narrative odds and ends thrown in the mix. Gierach has for years set the standard for down home wit and wisdom in the genre of fly fishing "literature."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Last Full Measure by Richard Moe

The Last Full Measure - The Life and Death Of The first Minnesota Volunteers

"As the first troops offered to President Abraham Lincoln after the fall of Fort Sumter, the brave men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment fought in virtually every major battle of the eastern theater during the first three years of the Civil War. From Bull Run to Antietam to Fredericksburg to their famed suicide charge at Gettysburg, these stalwart soldiers defended the Union and helped change the course of the war and their country's history." (from the book jacket)
The brand new state of Minnesota sent 11 regiments into the firestorm to defend the nation against the insurrectionists and traitors. The First Minnesota was the only one to travel east and fight with the Army of the Potomac. The other ten fought and made their mark in the West.
My state had grown twenty fold from ten thousand to two hundred thousand in the 50's. It was then on the far end of what was called the Northwest Frontier. The rallying point for the regiment was at Fort Snelling, situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. From here they traveled by steamboat down the Mississippi, picking up more volunteer militia companies at towns like Red Wing, Lake City, Wabasha and Winona. They disembarked at the rail terminuses of LaCrosse and Prairie Du Chen Wisconsin. Here at the end of the line (there were no bridges yet across the Great River) they embarked for Washington D.C. The route east was filled with thousands of people, all along the way, who cheered them on and provided treats.
They were young, naive and no doubt filled with the thought of a great adventure as well as of duty.
Their story drawn from personal letters, diaries and recollections is told by author Richard Moe.It is the real Civil War told from the ground up. That’s what makes this book very special. And brings it to life. We meet the men up close and personal. They fit into the grand pattern of events and circumstance but the focus always remains on who they were, what they did from day to day and most important what they were thinking. It all makes for wonderful reading.
The lasting fame of this particular group of heroes came at the tide turning Battle of Gettysburg.
Arriving on the battlefield after the first days battle, on July 1st, the Minnesotans were placed on Cemetery Ridge as part of the strong defensive alignment set by General Winfield Scott Hancock. Unfortunately, the adjacent III Corps was then ineptly moved forward by political General Dan Sickles, leaving a large gap in the Union lines. It was through this gap that Confederate general Longstreets forces attacked, threatening the whole position. General Hancock seeing disaster in the making quickly ordered some of his II Corps to move a quarter of a mile to the left but they were some minutes away. The first to arrive on the scene, overlooking the valley and the Peach Orchard below were 262 Minnesotans. They could see Longstreets forces overwhelming Sickles III Corps and pour thru the gap. Should they reach the ridge, the Union army would be split in half and the balance of the war would be at issue. Hancock, who was on the scene needed but a few minutes for the reserves to fill the gap. To gain those minutes he ordered the First Minnesota to charge the two brigades, over a thousand men strong, of Confederate Generals Wilcox and Barksdale. They did and at the cost of their lives stopped the attack long enough to save the day.

I also found the attitude of these men on the issue of slavery most interesting. Duty, honor and country seemed to be their concern. They were more curious than anything else about blacks. It was not a defining issue for them. As the "contrabands" poured into their lines they clearly were appaled at the condition of these "niggers". They had never seen anyone looking this miserable back in Minnesota. Battles too were hardening their attitudes toward the "seccesh" and opening them to the notion that these "slaves" had a humanity which did not deserve the treatment the had been living under.

It has been somewhat fashionable in certain circles of late to deny that the practice of human bondage was the root cause of this tragic war. That other factors were equally or even more important. That the slave owning class were really early Reaganites defending human liberty in the cause of "less government is better for everyone and everything." This is delusionary at best and a deliberate lie in fact. I rate it on the same level with the "holocaust deniers" who like to portray WWII as a well meaning effort to defend against Godless communism.

Gettysburg was the last battle for the First Minnesota as only a handful returned unscathed. They knew what they were doing. Why they did it makes this book well worth reading. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spring Visitors

It's always great when friends and family show up to visit as spring makes an appearance in Bluff Country. I was reminded of that this morning over pancakes covered in homemade maple syrup.

Don and Sandy K had stayed over for a few days visit and left some fond memories of the many good times we've spent together. Included was some of their maple syrup, produced at their home Kerkwood, along the Maple River. I did a previous post on that abode a few years back. It's quite the homestead. Take a look at

For Easter, Mrs T's brother and spouse Candy came to visit. Easter dinner was followed by Bill and I hiking the dogs through Forestville State Park. Working off a few calories is always a good idea.

Bill doesn't seem too intimidated by the large size and fierce demeanor of Baron the GSD.
The parks famous 1898 "general store" is closed due to it being Easter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dark Hood

I was never much of a fan of cowboy stories as a young boy. Now Robin Hood, that was another matter. The neighborhood gang played it often as this picture demonstrates. That's Robin (aka Troutbirder) lower right on picture, Little John behind him, Mary Anne (aka Maid Marion) front row left, etc.

So when I picked up Outlaw, by Angus Donald, I was surprised to see a new version of my hero. This was not the happy go lucky band of sweet misfits, clad in green, who made robbing the greedy rich and giving to the needy poor their thrilling lifestyle. It the earlier 12th century version.... it was all down and dirty. Later eras, like the Victorians and Disney spiffered up Robin's image. Perhaps Donals version was really Robin as a druid, playing a Mafia boss, Godfather style . Here the violence is very graphic. R rated actually. The darkness of this tale is present in descriptions of limbs sliced, tongues diced and eyes put out with gimlets. The narrator is Alan A Dale and most of the other familiar characters show up as well.

I think it might have been the good Robin, who fought for the little people against the evil oppressors, in a highly class structured society that first set me on the path to a liberal/socialist view of the world. Where a honest democratic system preserves the golden goose of capitalism while controlling its excesses and tendencies toward monopolistic oligarchy.

Now we see Robin, in this story, as a complicated hero. Who does or orders terrible things. Not to help the poor but to use them for his goal of regaining his upper class position. Of course, this is all done by touting the notion of justice for all. Good plan. Questionable movtives.
What to make of all this? Well it's a fun story, whose interesting characters, familiar, yet different, keep moving the story along in surprising ways. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to see a newer, shall we say more historically realistic version , of a very old tale. Which gets me to what I didn’t like about it. I like my childhood heroes to be good and heroic. Not good and bad. I’ll leave the conflicted ones to the psychiatrists .