Thursday, October 15, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 3: Chasing European birds from Arizona

I am a lollygagger, which in 2020 just means to dawdle, but historically in the early 1900s it meant to fool around sexually, and when that changed to meaning to just be slow or dawdle, was somewhere before I was born.  One thing, I haven't been guilty of that. I'd be dead. I use this in the birding sense I use this word and it is a word that should be in the "birding" dictionary, along with words like dip, chase, armchair tick etc.  I define lollygagger in birding: as a birder who for various reasons waits unusually long to go on attempt to see a desired bird.  
    I lollygagged on going and getting the great black hawk for months but it remained, came back, and I got it.  I lollygagged on the Antillean palm swift, but if left, came back, and remained for weeks until I got around to go and get it.  I did the same on a white cheeked pintail and a crescent chested warbler.  This week I lollygagged on going and seeing my fifth of my last six straight lifer birds, only on the quetzal did I do what is supposed to be done, drop everything and go in an attempt to see the bird.  Curiously, like the rest, quetzals are still being seen in Arizona and even New Mexico.  I could have waited.
    Shorebirds don't usually stick for very long (stick is another birding term).  They are migratory, and they can stay a few days but unless there is something wrong with the bird, they won't usually stay, but yet, this one has.  I have spent three trips in Newfoundland in the spring hoping one of these would show up, none ever did.  Going to the Rock is not an easy last-minute adventure assuming the border is even ever to open again.  So, I am not sure why I was dithering.  I guess, at heart, I am a lollygagger.  
    So, when 11 days ago when a report of an European golden-plover in northern New Mexico, a place I had driven through just the day before, I dithered.  First, I did not believe the ID, then I looked at a picture of the bird a day later when it was still there, yes, I would agree with that.  Then it stayed...and stayed.   I am a retired RVer and we had parked for a while in New River, Arizona.  I had things to do: I had a birthday party to go to.  I had to pick up a package.  I had a book to edit.  I had a pickle ball tournament to see if I could repeat as being in 'last place.'  I got 4th to last!!  
     My wife kept asking me, "is that bird still there?"  I'd mutter "yes."  Part of me was hoping it would just leave.  It was 635 miles back up the road to go see, and shockingly 5 miles short of being exactly half-way home.  It would be a commitment to get there.  I asked my friend, Thor, what he was doing.  To see if anyone would share the drive, get this lollygagger off the couch and down the road.  He was in California and would not be back until this week.  I sighed and went back to doing the "nothing" I had been doing.  Lollygaggers do that.  We think about the things we need to do and don't do anything. 
    So on Sunday, the bird still there, I decided I'd leave after Monday night football.  It was Vikings-Seahawks....I had to stay.  OMG, the Vikings gave it up.  I should have left.
    During the game and not from the game (I think) my wife starting retching and vomiting.  During halftime, the Vikes had a big lead. I went to the store for illness supplies, Gatorade and the like and the Vikings gave up 21 points.  The game ended, Vikings lost, and my wife got worse.  To say she was "sicker than a dog,"  would be wrong as I've never seen a dog that sick.  I couldn't leave, and two hours later, I was dropping her off at an Emergency Room in north Phoenix.  
    It was an odd experience.  First, they allowed visitors, so preparing to nap in the car, I came in, secondly, they weren't wearing PPE, my daughter wore more PPE observing at a dental clinic in Milbank SD, thirdly, the ER doctors never even saw her skin, examining her belly through her gown and never using his stethoscope.  I was like they were scared of her. I'd have said something but we knew what was up.  We were sure she had eaten either some bad lettuce or bad potato salad so all she needed was some Zofran (anti-emetic) and IV fluids but we left at 2AM and went home.  
    By morning, Silja was eating bananas and on her way to recovering, I never got ill, even though I ate all the same things so it was all perplexing.  Tuesday, with her blessing, after the Tennessee Titans game, I took off on an all-nighter.   
    It was like a good old-fashioned bird chase.  I drove to I got sleepy, which was all the way to Las Vegas NM, when I slept in the back of my Volvo, which is why I own this model (as I fit).  A truck was in my primary spot, but I found a good secondary parking location and woke up at 0630.   I needed coffee to finished the last 100 miles, but shockingly, the McDonalds  is a good two miles off I-17 in Las Vegas, and they weren't open at 6:45, frustrated, and I don't really like Las Vegas NM, nothing good has ever happened to me in this town.  I even got food poisoning here from a Truck stop back in 1994.  
     I just took off and hoped something would be up the freeway, there is nothing between there and Maxwell.  One couldn't spend a dollar in Maxwell unless they wanted to by stamps.  At half-light, still on I-25, I saw something I have never seen on the road.  One of the classic road stories.  I have seen just about everything or so I thought.  I've seen bigfoot and UFOs, or maybe bigfoot and maybe an UFO. I'm not committing to anything.  I've seen crimes and deaths.  I've had everything come bouncing at me from loaded beer barrels to entire axels complete with wheels and tires.  I've seen naked drivers, and people doing things that lead in 9 months to more people being around.  I've had sightings of wildlife, from cougars, wolves, bobcats, moose, bears, people dressed as bears, a person dressed as a dinosaur, and well I even even seen things quite bizarre, so bizarre, it takes too much write about it.   Come to think of it, I've never seen a person dressed as bigfoot...
    So, I was trying to get the sleep out of me and I saw this old dodge pickup ahead of me.  It was doing about 70 and I was at 80 and was looking at the tailgate thinking was if it was a 1980 model or exactly when they changed that body style when something caught my attention.  I pulled up to pass it and then my mind clicked.  Stuck in the gas cap was a gas nozzle and trailing 15 feet behind and bouncing all over was the hose.  The driver had driven off while pumping gas in Las Vegas.  I started to laugh.  I pulled up along side the guy and matched his speed.
   The older driver, who reminded me of Denver Pile in "Dukes of Hazzard,"  Maybe itt was the 1980s! Uncle Jesse Duke was driving next to me!  He looked at me and gave me the "what the F%^% are you looking at?" look.  He rubbed his beard and before was looking to give me the finger or possibly the hose would hit the side of my car, I drove on, wondering if the gas station would even know they were missing something.  How many times a day in America does that happen?  I've heard about it but never seen it.  Now....I have.
    Seeing a plover was almost a secondary event.  Maxwell NWR had some Google map issues.  The direct route to the bird was blocked by a pipeline crew and then I got lost before driving 6 miles around to get to Lake 14, the site of the bird.  Someone was just leaving, said, "It is on the west shore."
      I stood up on the dike and surveyed.  The west shore was too far to even use my spotting scope.  I wasn't sure if I should circle the 40 acre lake or what.  The water level was down a lot so not knowing the rules I just walked out on the lake bottom.  I set up and began to scour the birds on the far side.  There were some dowitchers that were so far away, I couldn't ID them, I saw some killdeer, and every once in a while a flock of ducks spooked and left.  Then I saw the bird or I thought I had but a group of ducks in front spooked and I lost it.  I was about to start over when I saw a shorebirds fly right at me landing twenty yards in front of me.  I looked at it with my bins.  It was the golden plover.  Then it walked towards me.  Three other birders walked to me and asked me if I had seen it.  I pointed right in front of us.  I took pictures and the bird fed like we weren't there.

European golden-plover lifer #807

    I hung out for a while but there was nothing more to see and as one of the birders from Colorado Springs left, I did too.  I had 635 miles to get back to my RV and that was a long drive.  It showed us its underwing when asked.  It turned on all sides.  Now I had seen all three species of golden-plovers in North America.  I didn't have to go to Newfoundland to see this one.  I'm not sure how many lower-48 sightings of this bird there have been.  I heard of a couple in New Jersey on the coast but this was a great New Mexico bird....but...I don't keep a New Mexican list.   But a lifer bird none-the less...and those are about as rare as this bird.

My first sighting of a European Golden-plover in Iceland 2004, in summer plumage.  My only other photo of one.

This wasn't a world lifer bird so my paltry number of 1503 remains where it is, but I am drinking a beer tonight for bird #807/860 in my ABA list, which isn't so paltry.  I-40 was a traffic disaster on the way home, and the only thing of note was the Popeyes in Holbrook, where I had some great chicken.  They were almost out and I was worried a riot of truckers was going to occur, but they found another package and I left before they had used up these.....that Popeyes chicken, addictive like crack cocaine, maybe there will end up being a law against it, guess it depends on who is elected next month.  I for one, yearn for an end of the campaign, if I see one more McSally versus Kelly ad....OMG, I just want it to stop, do these two campaigns have such little good to say and this is how they think they should campaign?  Two asshole candidates, that is all I hear.  I guess anything to get elected.  I fully expect to see one with a baseball bat on a commercial beating up the other in effigy.  This is what he or she wants to do with retirees, the other party, babies, minorities, the voters....sheez. What ever happened to great Americans being above the fray?  If Arizonans are this shallow, the state is doomed...IMHO, maybe we are all doomed.  I'm glad I don't vote here, I wouldn't vote for either.  I don't care what party they are in, I can't tell what they stand for because they spend all their effort telling me their opponent is the Devil personified.  Kevorkian has better PR. 
    Popeyes chicken, now there is an ad I yearn to see.  I'll vote a straight Popeyes ticket....but who is Pro-Popeyes?

Well, back to the ranch, I will have a book out shortly and then a second, a history book on my home town, and last year's adventures so stay tuned.  

Sigh....Olaf couldn't have done a sequel, could he?  

COVID, well, I think we'll stay isolated due to being in the hospital but staying out IN the sun and hopefully, staying healthy, just avoiding potato salad.

Lollygagging?  Don't do it, get up to New Mexico and see this bird, it is a lot easier than going to Newfoundland.
One wonders, did Olaf like his Popeyes so much, that maybe, just maybe, he too drove off with this gas nozzle in his Volvo, the hose trailing behind him on I-40?  No!  No? ...

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 2: Some serious wood

So, we took off from Oklahoma, cruised down Route 66 into Edmund, swung through OKC and then headed west  on I-40.  We avoided pitfalls like stopping in Clinton, Oklahoma to visit the hometown of Toby Keith, my favorite C&W singer just as we had earlier avoided Checotah, the home of Carrie Underwood, because "She ain't in Checotah no more."  We sang Toby Keith's lyrics as we drove past

I ain't as good as I once was,
I got a few years on me now,
But there was a time,
Back in my prime,
When I could really lay it down,
If you need some love tonight,
Then I might have just enough,
I ain't as good once was,
But I'm as good once, as I ever was.

Which is so true, I'm 54 and on the downhill side of is short....

we then drove past the Punjabi truck stop in Sayre, avoiding RV damage and crazy Indian food, zipped past the leaning water tower in Britten Texas, avoiding road construction in Amarillo and camped in Tucumcari New Mexico

Pearl crescent in Tucumcari

The next day we got up early and crossed New Mexico ending near Holbrook Arizona, camping at a place that probably wasn't open and some squatters charged as a camping fee that they strangely took to the local truck stop and returned with beer.  It was a bit strange.  We stayed there last year. They only wanted cash.  No one else camped there, despite a huge volume of campers on the road.  The amount of people living on the road in RVs is staggering.  I think we'll try a new spot next time.  We should have been concerned when we dropped the car to go to Petrified Wood National Park. We haven't been here since 1991.  Back then I tried to trade an entrance ticket to someone in Utah for a Zion Park Ticket and well, it was like giving away a cow pie.

But it is a beautiful place, and a park organized in 1906.  It is well worth the $25.00 entrance fee.  It is a barren place and there are COVID paranoid people.  Many from California drove with masks on in their cars, which as a doctor, I am at lengths to think of what they are protecting themselves from.  You are more likely to get Coccidiomycosis from mold spores in the air on this desert than COVID on a sunny hot day, but whatever, if it makes them is the AC buildings that I hate to even go in, masked, PPE'd or whatever.  At least most everyone masked there....

Common Raven

We got to New River Arizona on the weekend, and I expected the place to be somewhat empty due to no Canadians but it was stuffed full.  

There are no masks here, but no cases ever in this community, either....maybe the heavy sun and outdoors, a lot of vitamin D in this community, maybe the highest in America. IDK.  Coincidence?  Not sure.

We got the spot right next to the pool so I can't photograph my rig here, but oh well.  It is still quite hot in the Phoenix area.  We made it and will be stopping here for a month before we decide our next movement.

I will finish off two books.  I got the proof for my spring and summer project delivered here, very proud of this effort.  Pictures turned out very nice.
quite a nice book and finishing the proof for my other 2019 adventure missive. Brown boobies, hairy peckers, and great tits.....yes, a sequel.....I was busy in 2019.

So, we're still healthy and hanging in there....many here in New River have stories for the year, and COVID fatigue is high here....maybe denial, and maybe they have figured out a protective activity, too.  It is not like they are being careful.  Maybe it is the sun exposure?  I may be putting on my MD hat and looking at the numbers....maybe worth a scientific study.  I'm not sure anyone wants to know....I know six such communities, and no cases.....makes me wonder.

So we'll get out and start hiking, I have Gamble's quail on my roof and a female Anna's hummer at my feeder as I write this, what could be better?

I got to go try to get a rock out of a wheel on my car

stay safe, get out in the sun, another Toby Keith song surmises the ranch where we now are, maybe do karaoke with word changes this weekend?  we've parked next to that too

We got winners, we got losers,
Chain smokers and boozers.
An' we got yuppies, we got bikers,
An' we got , thirsty hitchhikers.
And the girls next door dress up like movie stars.
Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, I love this bar.
We got cowboys, we got truckers,
Broken hearted fools and suckers.
An' we got hustlers, we got fighters,
Early birds and all nighters.
And the veterans talk about their battle scars:
Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, I love this bar.....(Ranch) 
I love this bar (Ranch),
It's my kind of place.
Just walk in through the front door,
Puts a big smile on my face.
It ain't too far, come as you are.
Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, I love this bar (Ranch).




Sunday, September 27, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 1: Sooner or later

1938 Cotton field in Oklahoma from my family collection

My Grandmother went to Oklahoma most every summer as a young woman to visit her kinfolk, an aunt and her cousins.  She told stories for decades about the Dust Bowl, rattlesnakes, the red clay, and well, some oddities and quirks about the local laws. 

We have taken off with Big Bird  our RV and are back to our lives on the road.  I've been busily writing two books over the summer and now they are in proof stage so we winterized our lives and headed south to find warmth.  After a scheduled repair in Lincoln, two nights in Kansas south of Topeka, we made it to our annual spot off of Route 66 between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Our temporary Kansas home

For nearly a decade now, we've been making an annual trek into the Sooner state, not to see relatives, as sadly, these cousins had children, and they had children and all were eventually lost to us northern folk.  We come down now for the warmth of late September.  The butterflies are out. It is fun seeing some remaining scissortail flycatchers and we like to hike in the oaks.  I own some property around Gypsy in Creek County and west of Stroud in western Lincoln Counties and I like to see what is going on.  

To be honest, there is little going on in Creek County.  Depew's main street is pretty much vacant save for this sign.  Except for a rather outdated looking convenience store out on old Route 66, it would be hard to spend a $50 bill in this town of 562 people.  The school is fairly nice but the houses, everything have seen better decades.

Gypsy?  Their elementary school is still there but otherwise just a ghost town.  What was going on down there?  Spiders, large Oklahoma brown tarantulas crossing the road.  Nothing more, but tarantulas were cool. 
About as much excitement as they get down here.

While driving around, I was reminded of a little obscure Sooner history. In 1976, Oklahoma's most bizarre Alcohol law, was reviewed in what became a famous Supreme Court case, Craig versus Deebo.  With Justice Ginsberg's death it is a solid reminder of her past. There are long lists of odd laws in the "Sooner State," I even violated one yesterday, as I made an ugly face at a dog, a small mixed breed thing, and I could have been fined or put in jail (per the law). They finally allowed tattoos in the state in 2006, not that I have one, but just saying.

Craig v. Deebo?  Well, since statehood, Oklahoma had a rather interesting drinking age (except during prohibition), men had to be 21 years old to buy 3.2% beer while women could buy it at age 18.  It was not illegal for 19 year olds of either sex to drink it, however, just buy it. It became quite common for young men to have your 18 year old girlfriend or a sister go and buy your beer.  My grandmother even told me about this law.  I'm not sure if she did it for her cousins or her brother.  It was the only state to have gender different drinking ages.

The law was challenged by a Oklahoma State Univ student and a drive through convenience store in Stillwater called the Honk and Holler, as you drove in the front door and honked and then hollered what you wanted.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an amicus brief on it and was actually questioned about this case during open arguments about a second case which she was actually representing later the same day before the high court.  She was trying to say even though women were the beneficiaries, they were being discriminated against just by having a separate law just for them. The High Court threw out the old law. So, from 1976 until 1983, 18 year olds of both sexes could drink.  It was a racy and rowdy time in Oklahoma, as oil boomed. The drinking age was 18, the strip clubs could be all-nude during this period, and well, cash flowed.  When 1983 came about, the drinking age went up to 21, oil prices collapsed, and dancers were covered up. Oklahoma became the buckle of the Bible Belt again.  You still couldn't get a tattoo in the state nor own more than two cats in Bartlesville.

Well, despite COVID, I enjoyed Octoberfest down here yesterday, drinking strong beer and I didn't see any one under 21 drinking.  We ate our brats outside.  Masks are plus and minus here.  At a grocery store today they were strongly encouraged.  about 2/3 had them on.  A woman without a mask swiped her discount card so we could get the specials at the store.  We went to see Spiro Mounds near the Arkansas border.  Everyone had one there.  

We saw some butterflies, emperors were all over, and some birds but nothing was photographable.

Hackberry emperor
Sadly the Spiro mounds had been looted back in the Thirties, and so the mounds are just piles of dirt, disturbed and what is there is speculated about and it is mostly conjecture and opinions and not fact.  We hiked two miles and it was good to get out.

It is easy to see how the Okies had to pull up stakes as the Dust Bowl came.  Trying to till this sandy soil looks tough in a good year and even now, much of the state looks like Depew and Gypsy.  

It is hard to even see where all the old fields were, like this 1940 picture from my grandmother, where undoubtedly oaks have now grown up.

But interestingly, we like Oklahoma and Kansas, it isn't what you expect, the hills, the ridges, and the trees...

We had a front come through today and it will cool off 20 degrees and but I think 75 is in the offering for Tuesday and we have four more nights here.

The Packers even won so everything is Okay in OK...


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....

RVing in the time of COVID 3: Chasing European birds from Arizona

I am a lollygagger, which in 2020 just means to dawdle, but historically in the early 1900s it meant to fool around sexually, and when that ...