Monday, February 19, 2018

Following the Bob, Go Monaco!

There has been much writing about the failures of the USA Olympic team, a team that is in many events, far too many, over hyped, and then the athletes under deliver.  There is also a TV Commercial featuring skater Ashley Wagner, who didn't event qualify for the Olympics.  Like she deserves anything after falling too much at USA Nationals and getting 4th place,  sparking a reminder of a cheer from the crazy movie Semi-Pro "Fourth place! Fourth Place!"  She is in the only commercial featuring a figure skater right now and seems to always be getting screen time on TV because she is there in Korea, and has even had at least one interview...I will say it here, who cares, who is she, really and why does she matter?

Many of the medals we have won in this Olympics are from events that were not even in many of the previous Olympics including many snowboarding and free skiing eventsevents.  Even in some of these, the international people like in Moguls have caught up and passed us.

This brings me to the Bobsled or Bobsleigh, depending on where you live.  Typically, this is an event I like watching but NBC seems to never want to show much, mostly because there are no poster children from the USA to promote so we can watch them lose.

The USA started 3 two-man teams in Bobsled, and we have 300 million plus people.  The tiny country of  Monaco, located on the shores of the Mediterranean has one team and a population of just over 30,000.  In what was a close and memorable competition (the Germans and the Canadians tied, Latvia 3rd) last night the best American sled got 16th Place, but the Monaco sled got 19th place crushing our other two sleds which because they were ranking below 20th, never were even allowed to take the final 4th run down the course.  We have some of the fastest track and field athletes in the world and if not for Usain Bolt from Jamaica, we'd have won a couple of the golds in the 100 and 200M in summer Olympics.  What has Monaco won?  Where is there past glory?

In 1924 Julien Medecin won an Olympic medal in Architecture for the Art competition of the '24 Paris Summer Olympics, and have yet to ever win a medal in anything else....Art?  The IOC doesn't even recognize these medals now.  By the way, he designed the Monte Carlo sports stadium, and the event was such a yawner that the judges refused to even award a Gold medal in 1924, because no one was worthy.  Medecin was so obscure a person, that reviewing the records, I can't even find when he died, or what even became of the 30 year old bronze medalist.

I was in Monaco in 2009, it doesn't strike me as a winter sports capital

It strikes me as a money capital and a beach mecca.  Although when the Grimaldi ancestor captured the fort of Monaco in the 13th century, they earned the family nickname "malizia" which meant cunning, and apparently, they still are.

So with all of the Athletes we have in the USA, this is the best we can do?

Unlike the USA, Monaco, does have significant governmental support.  Prince Albert II, the leader of the Grimaldi family, who rules Monaco was the driver for Team Monaco's sled for four Olympics 1992 through 2002.  although he never broke the top 20.  He is still a big supporter of the sport he started.  The prince is the son of American actress Grace Kelley (who married Prince Ranier III) Grace's father and uncle were both Olympic medalists in rowing way back in the day.

So Maybe we'd be better off if a Trump or one of the Obamas participated in the sport?  Possibly.  much of the problem is that we don't encourage outdoor sports in this country anymore, being afraid of kidnappers, shooting, and especially liability.  I grew up in a town with a ski-jump in northern Wisconsin, many of the towns in northern Wisconsin had ski-jumps and jumping clubs.  Can you imagine the liability of something like that today?

Surprisingly, In Cameron, WI, they have reestablished their ski jump in 2016 after there club closed in the 1950s.  Ski-jumping is another sport in Which America de-cells, we have been decelerating for decades.  Here are the 2018 junior jumpers from that 7 meter hill, so maybe, there is hope, but there are no liability laws for these things in Scandinavia and eastern Europe, you accept the risks when you decide to go down the things, there isn't jackpot justice there.

Help young skiers of the Cameron Ski Jumping Club Fly! (Cameron Ski Jumping Club) 

 I think we have a long way to go, and bobsleigh?  Now having toboggan hills in US cities is considered a risk.  Do any of you even know where the two bobsled tracks in the US even are?  Hint, think of places that hosted the winter Olympics and another hint, Squaw Valley (1960 games) got rid of their bobsled run a long, long time ago. 

Well, in the 4-man bobsled, Monaco doesn't have a team, so for the USA, maybe, there is hope, but....knowing the way this Olympics has gone, they will not take the advantage.  For team Monaco, their Olympics are now history, their best performance ever....19th place.   They will celebrate while for team USA, we are still making excuses.

I've curled but my hammer is more like a newspaper, and I can freestyle x-country ski but sometimes at the bottom of hills I end up in a tree.  alpine skiing?  If there was an award for getting your ski highest in a tree after a wipeout, well, i may be in the running for a world record.  I a sense of personal safety, I given up putting on the downhill skis.  I may go skating today, depends if it warms up a bit.

If there was an Olympic event for bird feeding I might have a chance although, I'm not in the best location..

I'd be a better competitor in ice fishing.

But that won't happen......I'm way too past my prime, maybe i can try to move to Monaco and wear the red-and white and compete for them?  I doubt that too....

I'm sending the Prince of Monaco a congratulatory letter, I'll report if I hear back from them

Go Monaco!


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Living Bohemian

It is mid-February, I needed to get my column finished and write about something.  It is cold and nasty outside most of the time.  Football season is over.  The birding migration has yet to begin, and generally I’m sitting at home thinking of places to go.  I’m getting by binge watching curling in the Olympics. Typically, I use this time to update my “bucket list”—a list of things I want to do or see before, as the saying goes, I kick the bucket. 

I first made such a list 35 years ago when I was just a kid and I’ve been forced to add to it time and again as it I have ticked off items.  Some, you’d think would be hard to accomplish, but items, 1-100 were checked off by me as “been there done that” at the end of 2016, ending my list.  

Last year I began adding more items in earnest. I ticked off 5 of them in 2017.  Including #136, making meatloaf.

I went to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and even as a kid, I remember that as being fun, but I’ve always wanted to go the Winter Olympics, and it has seemed, something has always came up.  On the second day of mixed curling, a sport, I love, I decided item #146—I want to go to China in 2020 and ring a cow bell during the Alpine skiing with the Swiss fans.  I also want to go to the Holland House to celebrate the Dutch speedskaters.  I already have an orange outfit and own the Swiss cowbell. 

What else do I want to do?  Hmm. 

Well, I quickly scribbled down #147.  I want to watch the Finnish Wife Carrying championship.  Not the one they have in Frederick, SD which is held in late June.  Yes, that would be fun, and they also compete for your wife’s weight in beer, but no the international one in  Sonkarj√§rvi, Finland.  In this race, they typically carry the woman upside down, and it includes running through a deep water feature in which the woman’s head goes under. I guess one better not hesitate in the middle of that.  It just sounds like a fun party to go to.  Besides Finland is the home of my nemesis bird, the black woodpecker and seeing one is item #115.

I like big crazy, off the wall celebrations, as #111 is go to Punxsutawney on Groundhog’s Day, something I’ve never done despite living in Pennsylvania for three years, but I always wanted to go.  Attending Minot, North Dakota’s, Nosrk Fest is also on my list, #139.

Some things on my list are easy, like going to South Carolina, #119, the only state I’ve never been to, and some, like #125, photograph a cougar, is just luck.  Biking the Mickelson Trail from end to end and finding a cool rock with a cool story numbers #134 and #137 is something that it just seems I need to schedule and finding a rock will just happen anywhere.  I like cool rocks and I know a cool one when I see one.  My sauna has many rocks in it with stories. 

I’m working hard on this list.  Number #101, to be a member of the 300/800/850 birding lifelist club, is just hard work.  Seeing 300 lifer species in South Dakota, I’m at 290.  The 800 is for the old ABA, and I’m at 796 with a likely provisional to get me to 797.  The 850 is that including Hawaii.  I’m at 847 with the same bird to get me to 848.  I need to dig out some very getable South Dakota birds, and that is not difficult and I need to chase birds around the USA.  One of which locally I need is a barred owl which I think I know where one lives but I never get a good enough view of the bird to identify it for sure.  I was out there today, hoping and flushed the bird again without getting a perfect view, well, much of any view.  I knew it was an owl.  Later, I drove around Deuel County and I did see some interesting birds. With nothing better to do, some of my birding buddies reported some cool birds in Aberdeen, so on a whim, I headed off westward.

Up on the northside of Aberdeen, I ran into a flock of my favorite North American birds, waxwings, 
 feeding on dried fruit in trees across from a nursing home.  

Bohemian Waxwing

Cedar waxwing

There are two species of waxwings, the colorful cedar waxwings that breed here and can be commonly found at any time of the year.  My favorite bird is the aptly named Bohemian waxwing., which can be difficult to locate.

I think I like that bird because I am a Bohemian.  No, I’m not from the Czech Republic or Slovakia, I have Celt and Swedish blood in me.  I mean the other definition of the term, “informal and unconventional social habits, such as an artist or a writer.”  That describes me.  This particular waxwing gets this Bohemian name for its propensity to wander.  That is also just like me.  I have a propensity to wander, like today.  I ended up in Aberdeen just to see a bird, I’ve seen many times before.  Bohemian waxwings are not consistently found, they nest up in northwestern Canada and then they disperse and can be found anywhere in winter.  The last ones I’ve seen were flying in front of my car in Warroad, Minnesota and I’ve seen them once before in South Dakota.

I ran into some birders I knew, photographed the waxwings and since it started to snow.  I birded and ran, and drove back to Milbank.  While I was driving back, I started to formulate new bucket list items.  I started the beginnings of a novel in my head and then thought about the weather.  Winters up here are rough, and maybe it would be good to spend February south?  I don’t know about doing that just yet, but I did add item number #148 to the list today, “get daughter to choose her college.” 
Tomorrow, I drive to Minneapolis- St. Paul to tour Hamline University.  Won’t college tours ever end?  She is down to four colleges, but now she wants to revisit them, and refuses to tell us what she is thinking.  I think item #118, drive my Vespa scooter to Minneapolis, will be an easier project then getting her to pick her school.  Oh well, that is why it is a bucket list.

Keep dreaming, and start working on your own list making those dreams come true.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Too Close to See Anything

They say sometimes you can't see the forest through the trees.  Occasionally, like this pilated woodpecker, I saw in Wisconsin this past weekend you can't even get an appreciation of the nature of the bird as it was too close.  last weekend, I went to visit my beloved Grandmother Lucille Danielson now six weeks of being 93 years old.  She was feeling pretty good, she was recently placed on steroids because of an arthritic shoulder. Now she is full of energy, cleaning house and making meatballs, cocoa cake, and potato sausage, life couldn't be better.

I grew up in northwestern Wisconsin, Graduated from Grantsburg High School.  I grew up in the woods 4 miles from Falun, (our phone exchange) and 5 from Trade Lake, both towns that reached their peaks before I was even born.  It was, in my opinion, a great place to grow up, generally.  I didn't appreciate the quirkiness of it all until I moved away--like the woodpecker, I was too close.

Western Burnett and northern Polk County Wisconsin are primarily Swedish immigrant areas.  Back in the middle of the 19th century, a great religious upheaval was going on in Scandinavia and many were being persecuted and as the Civil War was ending, many Swedes came to America for religious freedom.  Generally this was called the Piest movement ("The Reading movement" in Sweden as it was taught that one should actually read the Bible, not have it told to you) and it spawned all sorts of leaders and followers, and church denominations, some not so good.

One of the first, and he was not a good one, to make it west was Erik Janson, a man called the Jesus of the wheat fields, maybe the Pied piper of the time.  He led well over a thousand followers in 1846 to eventually make it to western Illinois, founding the Bishop Hill Colony, an utopian communist community, based on his fervent legalistic interpretations of things.  He was a "NO" man.  Many (2000?) died enroute due to bad Atlantic storms and disease.  This was no small deal.  Poor and middle class Swedish families were forced to travel to Denmark, Germany, and even England to keep children, wives, and husbands from following this man's call to go to the United States, and worship God....For no apparent reason, people would just up and disappear, and parents and husbands would board any ship they could to look for their loved ones.  The local officials eventually refused to issue travel documents, and many people stowed away.   This colony disbanded in 1861, as Janson was assassinated a decade earlier and they were plagued by bad investments and were broke.  Janson published his manifesto in Sweden after he left.  It was the rant of a madman and it became clear to those inclined to follow him previously that he was no second Jesus, but the trail to America had been made.

Letters back home indicated that western Illinois was a good place for Swedish Piests, maybe just not in Bishop's Hill.  Other leaders of breakaway sects came.  The Swedish baptists came in the 1850, led by visionary leaders like Palmquist, Soderstrom and Wiberg, and started churches in Moline, Rock Island, and Galesburg, after having mass baptisms in the Mississippi River, later establishing the Swedish Baptist Conference in America (BGC).  Others churches such as the Swedish Mission Church were also started in the same areas.

There was one thing generally in common with all of these serious Christian groups, and they were serious about their faith, really serious.  They interpreted the Bible as absolute, literally commandments from God and they felt a person could keep themselves from sin, so...they did not smoke, did not drink alcohol, did not dance, did not gamble or play cards, in fact, generally, they bordered on becoming true ascetics, in that they abstained from sex, much like the Shakers did.  They gave up having fun and enjoying life to save themselves or at least to try. It was amazing any of them had any children, and if you look at Baptist and Mission family sizes, they were many children less than of other faiths of the time.  Large families were rare, small families were common as were childless marriages.

As things took root in Illinois, even normal Swedish Lutherans came.   At the end of the Civil War in 1865, people desiring new lands to colonize wanted to move.  Five families left Illinois and on foot, followed the rails into Iowa and northward for over five hundred miles to northwestern Wisconsin and founded the first baptist church in Wisconsin.  t was located on the Wood River, and called Grace Baptist Church.  This church was 4 miles from my childhood home.  Later, Grace moved into Grantsburg, 2 miles west, which in 1865 was not even platted yet.

Coincidentally, last week, Rev. Dr. Ken Hyatt, died.  He was the husband of my grade school music teacher, and a father of a girl in my class in school.  He was a Lt Commander in the Navy in Vietnam, and was a pastor at the Historical Grace Baptist Church when I was around town.  For a BGC pastor (even though he trained in Dallas) he seemed approachable and open minded to me, probably from his days of being a chaplain and having to deal with multiple faiths in a terrible war.

The first Swedish Lutheran Church in Northern Wisconsin was built a few miles south of my house in Trade Lake.  Trade Lake was an extra quirky town (two manufactured mineral rushes --Copper and Gold, a local genius with a mysterious demise, and even a hippie commune). I'll leave that for another story.  Trade Lake was the home of our only King, "King Carl" Anderson and later, another infamous dude named "Trader" Carlson.

A man buried in a completely enclosed grave site, as the legend has it not to keep you out, but him,

Mission churches also popped up like the Wood Lake Covenant Church in 1872 (at least one of my family's places of worship historically).  In the middle of all of this, my Great-great Grandfather Henrik Vedelius arrived full of Piest fervor and although his exact origins are obscure, I think he was trained at Uppsala as a priest and then converted to something...but I can't prove it.  I can't even prove if he was Lutheran or Mission.  My ancestors are buried at both cemeteries, opposite of what they seemed to believe.  As to how everyone ended up buried where they are doesn't make a sliver of sense to me.  I guess it doesn't matter as they are dead.

When I die, a few of my ashes will be deposited 200 feet southwest of my Vedelius ancestors, maybe I'll have a stone, maybe it will have a bird on it.  Maybe I'd be best buried in an anonymous grave, as no one will care .  My family and me own a lot of plots in that cemetery.  Grandmother Lucille bought me some for a birthday gift 30 years ago, as they were having a special (3 for $75, she bought 6).  Despite having ancestors and I'm sure plots at the other cemetery, I'm glad to not be buried with a bunch of Mission church members, I want to have fun in the afterlife.....why?  Somehow, I became the opposite.  I like doing what people tell me not to do.  Is that what legalism does to some people?

In the middle of all of this legalism and Bible thumping, The Volstead Act appeared, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, banning alcohol. Congressman Andrew Volstead, a Norwegian, (distant cousin to the Queen of Norway at the time) was even a lawyer in Grantsburg WI for a year, but felt Grantsburg was both too Swedish and too conservative and moved to Granite Falls, MN where in 1902 he was elected to congress from Minnesota;s 7th district.  Did Grantsburg forcing him to leave cause Prohibition?  No, I don't think so as it would have just had a different name.  Wisconsin's 9th (or 10th) congressional district would have never elected a Norwegian to congress however, if he had stayed. (This is not racist, Minnesota's 7th would have never elected a Swede, having Norwegians for 100 years).

It was in a sea of post WWI anti-German behavior that state after state voted to prohibit alcohol sales, even Wisconsin, majority ethnic German, became the 40th state to approve it in 1919.  The people in my home area thought that America was becoming a Biblical nation back then with this vote, but, again, they couldn't see the trees in the forest, drinking got worse.

In a very colorful quote of the time, Frank Buckley of the federal bureau of prohibition was commissioned by the national commission in the late 1920s on law observance and enforcement to do a survey and rate Wisconsin’s enforcement of the federal prohibition laws. Buckley's report was based on information he gathered from law enforcement officials, inspection of records, and from personal observations.

“Wisconsin, to the average American unacquainted with actual conditions therein, is commonly regarded as a Gibraltar of the wets— sort of a Utopia where everybody drinks their fill and John Barleycorn still holds forth in splendor.”  

The state of Wisconsin voted in 1929 to not enforce Prohibition by state authorities by a 2/3 statewide vote. They became the 2nd state to ratify its repeal in 1932 by unanimous vote on a state convention.  Despite this seemingly regional realization of the absurdity of Prohibition and having Chicago gangsters roaming many of the towns around the Wisconsin lakes, my home area never accepted the repeal of national Prohibition as anything more than an annoyance.  It was now legal to drink in Wisconsin and a few local townships and communities voted to allow liquor sales after 1934, but not mine.  These religious zealots who felt being Dry was akin to the first step to salvation even used World War II as an opportunity.  The fact that many male residents conscripted or volunteered were dying in Africa, Europe, or the Pacific, didn't let the opportunity pass by then by.  These were churches that Sunday after Sunday, and even on most Wednesday services told us plainly we were ALL going to Hell, our only hope, and it was a slight one at that, was to live as pious a life as we could so that maybe we'd end up better off than the neighbors.  Fire and Brimstone was the future for almost everyone.  Banning alcohol was their duty to humanity, to save them from themselves.

In 1944, The townships of Daniels (including my home town of Falun) and Trade Lake and others, voted to ban alcohol and reestablish prohibition on the local level.  My grandparents were now living again in 360 square miles of alcohol free real estate.  As restaurants and dance halls typically served alcohol or beer, the one dance hall in Daniels eventually closed and despite us having lakes and resorts, I was born into a region with out even a place to go and eat out.  The only entertainment in the 40s/ 50s/ and 60s was largely shooting things or going to church.  Thank God for cars as driving to Polk County or eastern Burnett county could also be done easier.  Even card playing at home became a little clandestine.  There was a joke going around that nobody had showers back then because someone might look in the window and see you doing the dirty deed in the shower and think you were dancing.  

Grantsburg was an exception, as they tried but couldn't vote to force the two existing taverns to close, and they hung on, stubbornly, knowing that if they closed, alcohol would be gone for ever. 

Nearby Polk County didn't put up with this nonsense and along the border bars and restaurants thrived.  Small hamlets like Wolf Creek, Cushing, Atlas, West Sweden, and Lewis had famous bars and West Sweden even had a dance hall with a cool Leinenkugel's sign, the biggest one I've ever seen.  They thrived and the roads to these towns a few miles south of Prohibition were dangerous places to drive on Friday nights.  Deadman's curve north of West Sweden, earned its name many times over.

Those unwilling to drive, fired up their "Stills" built in their bootlegging past.  These were hidden in the woods usually masquerading as maple syrup operations.  My Great grandfather Danielson, it was said, was never more than a few steps away from a bottle of schnapps.  It was clear, he never drove to buy it.  He'd only drink for celebrations but it seemed there was always something to celebrate.  I've uncovered gallons and gallons of stump schnapps and homemade wine out in the woods as a kid.  Even in the woods of some appearing pious individuals.  

I tasted much of it, and it was good.  My grandfather was always coy about it and how much was made.  Many of the men, church elders at the Baptist and Mission churches, had a secret passion.  I was too young, but it was clear, the women were never told and much of it was also hidden at male only hunting camps and ice fishing huts.   It took decades, but from the late sixties on these laws were overturned to at least allow off-sale beer.  Wood River's first referendum to allow off-sale, ended in a tie in the 80s and it took a second referendum two years later. to finally end 110 years of Prohibition.

Old habits are hard to change.  When I was a kid, we ate out quite a bit in West Sweden at the Skolhaus, so my parents could have a drink.  They had a burger called a Big Omar an it is six miles away in the edge of the hills in Polk County.  I haven't eaten there in 20 years and despite multiple ownership changes, it is still open.  Last weekend, I decided to go back.  I wanted to take my grandmother out but she is a product of the local rumors.  "Oh, it is too expensive.  The food isn't good, and nobody goes there." I even expected her to say, no one goes there anymore because it is too crowded, but alas no, that was Yogi Berra's quote.  We went anyhow.  I'm stubborn.  

We drove over in a snowstorm.  The place had been redone.  We had what is considered expensive, my wife a $25 prime rib, me a $22 shrimp dinner.  Burgers were under ten bucks...expensive?  I enjoyed a regular classic Leinenkugel's, paid $3 for it, the stuff you can't get outside of Wisconsin.  It was worth ten bucks!

My son Tyko is laughing at the salad bar restrictive signage (you can only make one trip!).  The beer was great and the food was good, too.  We even had deep fried green beans...

Green beans?  I had to order them, just because...I could.  West Sweden was a hamlet settled by Lutherans

I went to church on Sunday (to look for birds in the cemetery) Where the most important member of the Lutheran church in West Sweden is NOT the pastor, just the organist as he or she is the only one who gets a designated parking space.

Later, I watched birds at my Grandmother's house at her feeding station.

Red-breasted nuthatch

pileated woodpeckers

Hoary looking redpolls

Some redpolls that looked more common than hoary 
I wish they would have just lumped the two species, IMHO they are the same species.  Grandmother hasn't had redpolls for a couple of years.  She doesn't have any more exotic arctic finches this year but I got a year bird, a cardinal, which I never photographed....because it was a cardinal

It was a nice visit for me.  My wife wiped out on the ice giving herself a concussion so some of what we hoped to do, we didn't do, but she'll be okay.  It wasn't a nice visit for her.  I was not the understanding husband as I didn't understand what had happened.  I needed to learn patience and compassion.  I need to see the bigger picture and not focus on the little twigs (not even a a tree).

We also had to skip a Super Bowl party in Minnesota Sunday, but that is life,.  Again, I had to see the bigger picture and get her home to get better.  We saw the 4th quarter at home.

I guess the past is past


Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...