Saturday, August 1, 2020

Owls, ski jumps, and a butcher block...even chickadees in the shower

Its been a slow period, up here in the north.  Seems all I'm doing is waiting for regal fritillaries to go extinct, but I keep seeing them.  I guess, I'm essentially waiting for the world to go back to normal, or death, or so it seems.  There was a story of an 102 year old man marrying a young 19 year old, they went off to their honeymoon driving a late model Ford that someone painted a "Just Married!" sign on the bumper but a couple days later the new bride was seen driving the car around town and the "married" had been changed to "Buried."  

Kidding aside, we've painted the house and I dug a preemptive dog grave at our cabin, I think the one-way trip to the Vet is going to be Tuesday, poor pup, Brighid is like this summer, quickly fading away.

we went up and worked on the family house in Wisconsin, stayed in the RV, filled up a dumpster, everyone got fed up with each other and I broke a glass cupboard door, it was not a good time by the end.  Before that, I pulled out some 40 year old muskrat trapping stakes, like why didn't we do this in 1990, 2000, 2010....sigh.  They were so neat and wrapped up, it was somehow hard to even carry them up and pitch them in the dumpster.

We figured out how many people it took to get a very heavy 1930 butcher block out of the basement, and why was it put in the basement in 1974?  It was one of those auction items my grandparents could resist.....a deal too good to be true....
So now it is in the dining room, and now what?  Anybody looking for one?  It is solid!
It seems too nice to burn as campfire wood...

We went camping this weekend.  Had to make an emergency bird consultation a few sites over and found a photogenic Barred owl in the backyard.
Then that night was serenaded by between 3 and 6 of them for a long period, two either on or above our RV.  I then went and interviewed a ski jumper in Grantsburg, as back in the day, ski jumping was a thing where I was from, our first large ski jump was built in 1936, learned a little and picked up my grandfather clock.

Then back camping, spotted an Eastern Comma butterfly on a wall....lit a fire, drank a little...

We are camping "petless." This morning had to go back in to change shoes to play pickle ball and zipped in and out, apparently when Silja returned from a walk we had an intruder

A black capped chickadee in my shower

So my wife had to corral a scared little bird and get him out of "Big Bird."  I came back from pickle ball to get the look...."hey you left the door open."

Yea, me bad, I'm always bad.

Well, Olaf and Silja are still alive, and I guess so is the dog, well for a brief while I fear.  It is going to be a sad week.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Chapter 20: Exact Postage Required

to be published, 
Chapter 20:

AFTER LOOKING AT two people who overcame personal health issues to succeed in life.  We now turn to something totally different.  We go from the serious to the sublime.  We now turn to Arthur Birnstengel. 
Author Olaf Danielson of this missive once mentioned the name Birnstengel to his Grandmother Lucille and the response was an eye roll, a simple utterance, “Birnstengel,” followed by a long sigh.  Yes, that about sums it up but not in the judgmental sense of a grandmother who thinks she has seen a thing or two, but why did this lonely man living in the Barrens of Anderson Township become somewhat of a sensation? 
            It all started in July 1945.  Arthur Birnstengel, then a 44 year old farmer on 610 acres, living down near County Highway O sent a letter to Grantsburg’s congressman, Alvin O’Konski.  There is another name from the past in which I also remember my Grandmother Lucille having a reply to.  In this case it was more of head shake and a smirk and Grandmother was a rather conservative republican.  Alvin O’Konski had represented Grantsburg for 30 years from 1943 until 1972 in Wisconsin’s 10th Congressional district at the time even though he had just moved to Mercer, and seemed to live in Kewaunee. One would think that a Congressman who represented an area for 30 years would be known for something, but Representative O’Konski was something else.  It is hard to think he was known for anything except a quote:
most lawmakers "are bought, sold, signed, sealed, and delivered."
            Besides being known as a pro-Polish and staunch anti-communist member of the House of Representatives, it isn’t very clear what O’Konski accomplished in Washington.  He could have been even more anti-communist than McCarthy and he tried to replace Joe McCarthy in the Senate when McCarthy died, but he lost.  He was known for bluster and saying things that were so preposterous that even if he was caught in saying something like he had visited the Soviet Union, when he hadn’t, he say things like he had gone under a group passport and left no record, when nothing like that even existed.  The district had been redistricted out of existence in 1972 and he lost to Rep. David Obey in a wild and crazy campaign.20-4

Congressman Alvin O’Konski at his desk, possibly even responding to Birnstengel’s letter
Courtesy Library of Congress Collection

Birnstengel’s letter, which became infamous, has been lost to history but by per reports was short and sweet and asked the congressman to please get him another wife.  O’Konski responded that he was short on wives but was long on advice and told the farmer, “make sure she is honest.”20-6  For reason’s unknown, O’Konski passed the letter along to Washington newspapers in a press release dated July 21, 1945, and, despite a war going on, they printed it. Shortly afterwards, even though O’Konski didn’t release his name, Birnstengel came forward.20-5  From the Beatrice Daily Sun, Beatrice, NE July 21, 1945

Many newspapers also contacted the farmer and he began to place ads. Birnstengel began with some stipulations:20-6
1)     Be between 30 and 42 years of age
2)     Not weigh more than 195 pounds
3)     Be between 5’ and 5’8”
4)     Be truthful (O’Konski said so)
5)     Not smoke or drink
6)     Be healthy
7)     Be friendly
8)     Not be a gold-digger
9)     Have a sense of humor
10)  Be able to take good care of Arne, his six year old son
11)  Be willing to help milk 14 cows

Letters poured into his mailbox outside of Grantsburg from all corners of the America and even some from France and Canada and at times even overwhelming his mailbox.  Newspapers called and interviewed him.  Famous Time/Life Photographer Wallace Kirkland made the trek out to rural Wisconsin in the winter of 1946 and published a photo essay of Birnstengel on March 25, 1946 that was seen around the world.20-1  Even more letters poured in. The world seemingly could not get enough of the lonely farmer from Grantsburg.
Arthur Birnstengel had been divorced twice.  He reported both women had bailed on living in Anderson Township due to the loneliness of living miles from the next house, and he had gotten divorced.  Arthur was left in the care of his son, Arne, after his mother left. He had a son, lived in isolation, one needed to work hard to exist on the farm, but on a good note, Birnstengel reported to the world that he had no bad habits.20-1
Arthur Birnstengel Wallace Kirkland,  Unpublished B&W Google March 25, 1946

A woman applying for this position was not going into the lap of luxury.  The Birnstengel farm located in the sand barrens near Highway O didn’t have power and the only water was a hand pump at the kitchen sink.  Birnstengel has some interesting quotes back in Life Magazine.  “If my wife wants electricity, she is going to have to work for it first.”20-1
A Springfield, IL widow who was 37 wrote:  “I don’t want no blue ribbons, but my friends all say I’m a good cook.”20-6
             A Toledo, Ohio woman wrote:  “I like cows and children.  But if you have any pictures of your former wives around, destroy them.  I don’t like the idea of old faces around.”  The farmer thought she was too jealous and turned her down.20-6
            An 18-year-old woman from Texas wrote: “Oh, yes Arthur!  But I need to run away to get married, so please send money.”20-6  Mr. Birnstengel had decided he wasn’t sending any train tickets either just in case the woman was trying to take advantage of him as they could be cashed in.20-1 Some women seeing his picture gave him things to do like loosing weight and furnish a financial statement.20-6
With all the responses, he was elated but shortly overwhelmed. With the response, he took stock in himself, realizing that after the war a man shortage had made him a much more important item than he thought  Early on, he even hired a private investigator to look at some likely prospects but in one case his man found out that what the woman had written him was a lie, so she got crossed off.20-6
Optimistic, he reported he’d have a prospect selected within a year, but apparently, it appears all the choices made him hyper critical,20-1 much like going to restaurant with too many choices.  He made notes on the letters.  One in which the woman sent him a risqué picture, he wrote “ankles too thin.”20-1  He also stated that he had tried to send an ad to the local newspaper in Grantsburg, but they had rejected it.20-2
The letters kept coming in via waves and in most the farmer found a flaw.  It almost seemed to many of the interviewers that he didn’t need a wife anymore.  He had thousands of letters to keep him company.  Wallace Kirkland stated, the correspondents may have defeated their own purpose.”  He also surmised that all the man-hunger, unrest, and lonesomeness of American women was startling.20-1 In fact, in looking back at it, it is still startling, and depressing. What is even more depressing is that the farmer could not ever choose anyone.
Every once in while, Birnstengel’s seemingly never-ending quest would resurface in a newspaper or two and then the story would go away. He appeared in the Lubbock, Tx  newspaper in October 22, 1960.20-7   By 1960, the 58-year old at the time reported he had received letter from 8500 women seeking his potential companionship and was still getting three or four a week over the summer.  He related at the time that he had replied to over a thousand but usually the correspondence ended after the third or fourth letter if it even got that far.  He had changed some of his requirements by then, but he was still picky, or so it seemed. He had not found the correct woman as of that time, but …he was still looking.20-7
In all, the seemingly human-interest story appeared in hundreds and hundreds of newspapers, possibly even them all from 1945-to at least 1961.  After while the plight of one man’s eternal quest for something gets too depressing.  It appears the stories are meant to be comical, but they aren’t.  Besides magazines, the Stars and Stripes, we remember him appearing on a television show in the Seventies but we could not track down the date.  

Birnstengel Farm Wallace Kirkland,  Unpublished B&W Google March 25, 1946

It is rather curious that America became so enthralled in the plight of a single farmer living on the edge. Historically, advertisements for wives and marrying people one had only met through the mail was quite common, especially out on the frontier. Letters were the only means of courtship between potential mates separated by thousands of miles. According to one bride, the Pony Express "took about four weeks to go from east to west," and letters "often came in bundles." Language was a means of persuasion. Illiterate men could dictate their letters to typists who, for a fee, would doctor their sentiments on Remington Standards. Dishonesty was a risk. Men and women could easily misrepresent their physical attributes, their station, or finances. A homesteader who sent his betrothed a train ticket might find that she had turned it in for cash. A 1911 Wahpeton Times article tells of a New York girl for whom, upon arrival in Buford, North Dakota, "the spell was immediately broken" when she saw the face of her intended.20-3
The railroad also played an important role in the western diaspora of single women. In 1882 businessman Fred Harvey sought young rural women "of good character, attractive and intelligent" as waitresses in whistle stop cafés along the AT&SF rail line. Harvey required that they remain single for a year, live in chaperoned dormitories, and entertain callers in "courting parlors." By the turn of the century, he had married off nearly 5,000 so-called Harvey Girls20-3.
Apparently by 1946, thoughts had changed.
Over the years many authors have included Mr. Birnstengel in larger issues like the forever quest or the psychological issues and how it could relate to Freud and Kierkegaard.20-2  Many have surmised as to what really were his true motives and also about his indecision.  Why did he never try to marry any?
            Arthur Birnstengel died single on January 31, 1986 in Boyceville, WI where Arnie had moved to and is buried at the cemetery at the Evangelical Free Church in Trade River.  His grave does not say husband and as far as can be told, he never found Mrs. Right.  Possibly if you are single, you could leave a letter at the tomb, but we can’t be certain that he’ll see it.  When we were there, there wasn’t any, but remember, you can’t have mail delivered to a grave, it has to be a personal visit. 
Photo property of the authors

20-1  “farmer wants a wife.” Wallace Kirkland. Life Magazine, March 25, 1946. Vol. 20 No. 12 Pg 141-144.

20-2 The Ego Is Always at the Wheel: Bagatelles Delmore Schwartz and Robert Phillips, New Directions, New York. Apr 17, 1987

20-3  "I Do!": Courtship, Love, and Marriage on the American Frontier: A Glimpse at America's Romantic Past through Photographs, Diaries, and Journals, 1715–1915. Luchetti, Cathy.  Crown Trade Paperbacks, New York: 1996. 
20-4  Raising Hell for Justice: The Washington Battles of a Heartland Progressive.  David Obey.  University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.  Sep 24, 2007
20-5 “The Farmer seeks a wife.”  John Stone.  The San Francisco Examiner.  San Francisco, CA June 30, 1946.  Pg 82-83.
20-6  “Advertising pays off.”  Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, Indiana, January 26, 1946
20-7  “Farmer would select wife.”  Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock, TX Oct 22, 1960

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The COVID Cannonball Chase

Lets start with the numbers, 3450 miles, 96 hours, 8 states, 1 virus, 2 crazy birders, 1 penguin, 2 tents, one too many rolls of toilet paper, and in the end two lifer birds, 805 total...and a big a$$ cat.  All in one great bird chase in the COVID Era...

So we went to Madison WI to celebrate our twins Allwin and Tyko's 25th birthday, and after arriving back at 11 PM I slept for 4 hours and headed out on a nutsy Cannonball style bird chase with fellow crazy-man, Don Harrington, the man with the biggest tripod in all of birding and headed south towards Arizona in search of unicorns and hopefully not COVID.

We had thought about flying, but a good portion of flights to Phoenix get cancelled and by the time one fools around, you'd be halfway there, even if the posted $415 round trip price looked okay.  Portal Arizona is not that close to Phoenix either, and are airplanes really safe?

We targeted our victim, the elusive Crescent chested warbler, but then as the weekend came around a great bird, an eared quetzal  was found in the same mountain range, my favorite sky island the Chiricahuas, it was gone, and then refound,  So we headed south with the quetzal being our primary target, leaving home at 4 AM Monday, and in Clear Lake, SD, I hooked up with Don Harrington.  We headed southwest like madmen.

We blew down Nebraska, Kansas, supplied up at Garden City, Kansas
We momentarily slowed for a photo at Guymon, Oklahoma as we cut the panhandle, cutting two counties in the Okie state, we learned Guymon has got games and it also has "stream power" even if the casino was closed and the city doesn't have a river,

We sped past Goodwell, Oklahoma, the home of one of my favorite named schools, Oklahoma Panhandle State University, the Alabama in Men's Rodeo, but shockingly the school only has a 23% graduation rate, and this is as low as it gets.  University of Oklahoma, a notorious party and football school graduates 65%, so is it being out in the middle of nowhere.  Western International University in Phoenix has a scary bad graduation rate of 2.4% but is a rather suspicious looking online school.  A raft of community colleges have between 2.5 and 10 percent, but the worst looking 4 year schools in America are Southern University of New Orleans (a historical black college and Texas College of Tyler, both around 12%.  Why Southern is so abysmal when Grambling also in Louisiana and a historical black college has a 65% rate is unknown, and Texas College....a "private" historically black college loses half of its freshman class in a year.  Lowest Freshman retention rate in the country.  There is an essay here about this problem but this is for another person.  What is that Private tuition fees getting you?  Oklahoma Panhandle may be suspect academically, but you can bring your horse to school AND you are greeted by a gun-toting cowboy on the front gate.

So we got through the former Cimarron Territory or No-Man's Land and into Texas, and then New Mexico reach Tucumcari at dark, but we still had over 500 miles to go.  We sped through the state and then at 2:00 AM in Lordsburg, we filled gas and tried a Denny's, no dice closed, so I took over the wheel and we headed on.  Closed restaurants, rest areas, stores with limited access are the norm now, travel is NOT easy, and as we would learn later, in New Mexico and Arizona especially so.

Now I had a lucky break, as after Albuquerque, I couldn't sleep in the car, so I tried using my phone as a hotspot to check on intel for the quetzal.  It was not seen, then a birder I know found it somewhat miraculously, 10 miles away on the other side of the range, in the Pinery Canyon, no doubt he had found it so I demurred...should I go there?  The computer struggled for bandwidth, as to why in America we want 5G and we can't even get 3G on a major interstate is beyond me.  Then I saw one post before my power died, quetzal seen back in Cave Creek area near dark, really?  the bird is flying that much?   Wow.  It sounded like they had put the bird to bed so since an easier place to go we continued on as scheduled.

As I crept into the Cave Creek area we noticed all the National Forest Campgrounds were closed, I'd heard the bit on no bathrooms but didn't check on the ones at trailheads I've seen before as they were out of our way.  We turned up the road where the quetzal was last seen, patrolled the road in the dark, deciding that the campground was too tight to arrive in the night so I found a wide place and we parked the Jeep.

It took 30 minutes for the birds to wake up and then I swore I heard a quetzal, and a robin, I listened closely as anticipation stirred me, and even Don came too, then as the sky lightened up, I could see a guy parked near the entrance of the campground in a old black pickup stir, using my bins I could see he was readying a tripod.  We started to get organized too.  I needed boots and a sweat shirt the only warm items I brought with.

Don was taking forever getting his tripod, camera, etc organized and so I wandered down to the campground and soon learned a concerted coordinated effort was being hatched to check on the roost tree when it was possible to see the birds, Don was still not ready so....I followed and then there it first eared quetzal, it was too dark to photo the bird, I had to tell Don and flew twenty yards and behold the bird landed in the tree next to our Jeep and as Don would later say, "the birds come to me."  It had and so, leaning against a fortuitously parked Jeep we watched the unicorn ghost bird of the the Southwest for 30 minutes snapping pictures.

I got some really great shots despite the early morning light
Eared quetzal

It was a nice bird, people were coming and well, there was another good bird to find, the crescent chested warbler.  We'd both seen a berylline hummingbird before so that didn't interest us, so off we went to climb up and over Onion Saddle and make our way to the Turkey Creek area on the other side, some 35 miles away.

As it looked we missed the warbler by a few minutes, the warblers had mixed into a feeding flock, and were all over the valley and despite being at the stakeout the rest of the day and seeing a good portion of the flock, we never saw the crescent chested warbler, but we saw some olive warblers and Grace's and red-faced warblers are not commonly seen birds by me so it was fun.
Arizona woodpecker
Grace's warbler
Mexican Chickadee

Northern pygmy owl my first ever photo of this bird, it had just taken a junco

Painted redstart

Red-faced warbler
So it was a long day and then, we went back to the campsite to set up for the evening
first I had a little problem with the tent

and then a little problem with the lifer beer

The next morning I woke up refreshed, made cowboy coffee and then realized I had a French press with and then, it was off to the birding stakeout
This was when Don had a toilet paper moment, proving YES, YOU CAN HAVE TOO MUCH TOILET PAPER he decided that as we were walking up the trail, maybe he should bring some with...just in case.  being prepared can be a good thing, but alas, not this time.... So off he went to the car, I walked around the corner another thirty feet and then to my left, there was a warbler in a bush.  I looked at it thinking it was a Grace's and wing bars, and it stopped and looked at me, S$%%t!!!
Crescent chested warbler..........."Don!"  I yelled.
then remembering my camera, I tried to get it into the view finder but I was not set for the light so I adjusted that and then could not find it in the view finder as it flit.  "DON!"  I yelled again, then three more times before, unable to get it photographed, i got blurry leaves, it flew off, just as Don skipped around the corner all TPed up.  I just looked at him
"So you thought you needed toilet paper....."  I said and then told him what had happened.

So we worked the area and about 20 minutes later a couple came through and as they were leaving a red-faced warbler and another bird came into a oak above us, I looked at the one in the leaves and then....there it was again, I yelled for the couple and they ca,me back, but it flew out the back one else saw it, Don just saw yellow in leaves and of course he had a good supply of toilet paper in his pocket that he never used.  I never got a photo but I got a bird, and sometimes that is all you get

I did get some butterfly photos
Arizona sister

Mourning cloak

Nabakov's satyr

We bugged out at noon...I had lifers 804 and 805, a double, and that was a good thing, and seeing a pygmy owl is a good thing as I've seen more other species of pygmy owls than the most common one, the northern.  ..needing to drive hard, we took the Fort Bowie shortcut, saving us an hour, and were surprised that this road wasn't that bad.  Here was where Leroy wanted to go look for relatives because he thought that there was a good water here, meant that there was beach front property in Arizona, I had to rescue him...again....that dang penguin

We made camp at Jemez Falls Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest, it had just opened and was quite cautious about no water, no fires, no touching, and the campground host had some serious issues with signs, hazard tape, and closed roads.  This was better than the Jemez Pueblo below which is where I got my last speeding ticket in 2016, which was closed, all the roads were blocked by earthworks and concrete barriers and signs told us to keep out!  It was like a dystopian scene.
our goal.....daybreak black swifts, but alas, up at 5 am and on stakeout at 0530, in shorts no jacket in Crocs in 40 degree morning left us dipping of swifts.
Don on stakeout before frostbite set in
 we did see a dipper
so were we late, had they not arrived yet?  I don't know, I hope they weren't all destroyed down south in the winter.
We waited too long to find them and then headed off to home
it was 1100 mile day, and despite having to show IDs in Los Alamos, and run the COVID gauntlet at rest areas and McDonald's for coffee we got through New Mexico, it shouldn't take a mile of hazard tape to go to the bathroom
Colorado gave way to Kansas, I got a nice burrowing owl photo in Kansas
Kansas gave way to Nebraska and then at 1 am I saw the creature of the trip, 25 miles north of Norfolk, a cougar, an impressive beast stood on the side of the road looking at me, but it didn't register for a moment of the importance of what i was looking at before it was gone and Don was asleep....sigh....I am the worst guide, but at least I saw it, and the warbler and we both saw the quetzal a great ABA bird in anyone's list
but it was a long and fast trip a 10 day trip, we did in 4, and that quetzal disappeared two days after we saw it so, good thing I hustled down there

Birding in COVID days?
Brave brave thing.
most of the birders had masks on even on the trails, I learned it is hard to push it up hill with a mask a Dollar Store, seems like a good idea, out on the trail.....I don't know.....closed bathroom across the state?  Well you got to go somewhere, and a bathroom is a better place than behind a tree...I think some people aren't thinking........I think being outside is always good, closing all the restaurants, well, one can make food on the road, and by the looks of it, people are desperate to get outside and do beats an apartment building

stay safe wherever you are....

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Late Spring on the Ranch

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is 100 words and a lot of pictures.  Nice day on the prairie today out at Urland Ranch, in Summit South Dakota this morning, dead calm, some views from around and a couple shots up at Sica Hollow State park looking for veeries.....enjoy what i got to see today!

An otter sees his first Olaf, and Olaf sees his first otter on the ranch

American bittern

Black tern

Holy Hawk!


sharp-tailed grouse

Wilson's snipe

Sica Hollow Veery and yellow lady slippers
yellow lady slipper


Common ringlet

Silvery blue
orange mint moths
Silvery checkerspot

Owls, ski jumps, and a butcher block...even chickadees in the shower

Its been a slow period, up here in the north.  Seems all I'm doing is waiting for regal fritillaries to go extinct, but I keep seeing th...