Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where the Battle Wasn't

I've been trying to catch up, working on my business interests and trying to get a handle on the affairs of my grandmother. I needed to take a day off and just go and do something else.  My travels this week took me to central South Dakota, to a town founded by 200 Civil War vets from both sides, after they were given a break on the amount of time needed to homestead.  This small town claims to be famous for where the battle wasn't, there is even a sign on the east side of town showing the distance to Gettysburg, PA, 1450 miles away.

I went with Barry the Birder (Parkin) from Aberdeen, as we had a few fresh leads on birds I needed for my state list and one for his.  Barry took a break from redoing his bathroom surviving some well earned scorn from his wife.

Like usual we stopped and smelled the roses a bit along the way.  Gettysburg is also the home of Medicine Rock, to say Medicine Rock is legendary is an overstatement as the rock is largely forgotten, even though it could be the most important rock in North America.

So two questions come to mind.  1.  Why is this huge rock in a building and 2.  Why is it important.

1.  Originally located on the Missouri River near the mouth of the Cheyenne Creek, this sacred rock to the local indigenous people who say the foot prints were made by the Great spirit was noted in the early 1800s.  It was visited by everyone famous of the period.  1879 by Gen. Custer and casts were made of the very deep foot prints.  A local woman donated 160 acres to the state historical society to care for it and save it at the turn of the century, but they forgot about why they had it and apparently sold the land.  Then as the Oahe Dam was completed 60 years ago, and the Missouri was going to be flooded and there was no money to save the rock so Gettysburg bucked up and paid for it and moved it to a park.  The rock was removed before it went under water and was put here in 1989 to protect it.  Thank you Gettysburg for saving the rock and shame on the South Dakota Historical Society for being idiots and almost letting the most important piece of ancient history in the midwest to almost be destroyed..

2.  Hand prints and foot prints

How old are these things?  What people made these, and were they pre glacier?  What people were even in this part of the world that many eons ago?  I suspect, the answer will shake the history of humanity on this planet and continent but no one cares, studying things in fly-over county is not sexy for archeo-paleontologists
Just yesterday, there was a published report about the oldest human footprints found in North America on an island off of British Columbia but I doubt they have compared to this one, because...well...again this is Gettysburg South Dakota

The Sunset Museum also has a 6 foot Auguste Moreau Bronze, which I should say is attributed to him by the Museum, which is named "Queen of the Prairie."  I am a bit of an art historian.  I'm pretty much an expert on a couple of artists of the period, but not Moreau.  There are some problems here.  One, smaller works of the same theme, are called by other names and since this was a Frenchman that died in 1917, and was not known to have visited the US, it would have never had such a name.

"Queen of the Prairie" Donated by a local business person years ago to the museum

There were also a whole slew of Moreaus, it was as much of a family business as anything. As far as authenticity goes there are many MANY reproductions around.  Since the sculptures were cast, and there were many members of the family Moreau that worked on these, there was nothing to prevent the family to produce multiple statues using these casts.  This statue might not be "fake" but it is probably "in house."  The likelihood of someone in Gettysburg having the original is quite unlikely.  Having a factory stamp "Paris" somewhere on the statue means that it was made at the factory after the Moreau members passed.  Now some of his statues command a good price but most are made of spelter and just painted,  So who knows if this is a great piece or just a very attractive period bronze piece that represents the "Allegorical woman " from the period.  I liked it.  Not everything has to worth lots of money to be appreciated.

Gettysburg is more than meets the eye but I would NOT recommend for you to visit the city's website as it has been hacked.  Although it does feature info about the rock intermixed with links to porn sites.  I think the city council needs to visit their website and maybe take care of this.  It provided a laugh between birding spots.

I drove on through Gettysburg to the Missouri River and saw and photographed badly two lifer state birds.

#291  Great Black-backed gull

A good bird for South Dakota seen once or twice a year or so.  This one showed up on Tuesday

#292  Barn Owl

A very good South Dakota breeder which only breeds in a few isolated places along the Missouri River at the very edge of the range.  We flushed one out of a hole on a river bank.

So, a good, but a long 600 mile day in a car.  I tallied 2 state lifers, one I never figured I'd see in the state (the owl), a cool rock, I will revisit, and a nice piece of art.  Yes, Gettysburg, South Dakota, it is a place where the battle wasn't BUT also a place where a lot of interesting things are.

Get off the highway and look around, you'd be shocked about what you find.


Monday, March 19, 2018

The Silliness of Anis and Olaf

In my last column I spoke about my beloved grandmother’s completion of her life journey  and an observation that I had yet to determine what, where, or when my next adventure would start.  After we laid her to rest in a snowy cemetery in Wisconsin, about 20 yards from where I’ll also end up eventually. I began to think about things.  Thoughts filled my head like “life is short,” "does it all really matter?" and “there is no time like the present.”  But to do what exactly?
          Today, I' was reading Facebook and noticed a post by a birder I know from Redding area of northern California who wanted us to name a children's book from every state.  Unsurprisingly, Laura Engels Wilder came up but somehow Kentucky got named and then corrected to North Dakota (The long winter etc was from DeSmet South Dakota, North Dakota be damned), and then comments went along that no one from South Dakota really mattered....sigh, no none of what we do matters and no one from anywhere truly matters, all this and it's soon my birthday.  Whether I go and do something means little to anyone but me, or maybe this is just my birthday thinking....
               Birthdays, for me, are always a very scary depressing thing.  Not in the “one year older, poor me, sense,” but in the “bad things happen on my birthday” sense.  Bad things have frequently happened on my birthday.  I’ve gotten food poisoning, had some pretty major travel delays, I’ve broken my ankle, and had some other surreal things happen.  The pain and tears can become a bit overwhelming, and just staying in bed hasn’t proven to be a good defense. Toasting in my 50th birthday at a beach in the Florida Keys alone (everyone forgot to show up) and then accidentally tipping over the $200 bottle of champagne all over my rental car was probably the silliest snafu of recent memory.   I’ll just leave it at that.  Typically, I prefer to spend my birthday somewhere else besides home, it helps me deal with it.  This Wednesday, will mark the 52nd anniversary of my birth and since my travel plans for 2018 have kept me in South Dakota. I suspect I’ll spend it holed up in my house and then, possibly going to eat somewhere.

               I do reflect well around this special day.  I see birds or animals and try to see omens or inspiration.  I saw a merlin falcon in my backyard and many suggested to me it was my grandmother checking up on me.  I don’t know about that but I made a decision of where I want to be for my next birthday.  I thought of the journey I’d always forsaken or felt the least likely the one I’d ever accomplish.  Over a beer, while I wallowed on a beach in Honduras last week, it came to me.

I do claim on my business card to be both a birder and an adventurer.  My interests  aren’t all about birding. I like to chase mythology and find strange archeology.  I’ve spent many, many weeks seeing the great megalithic ruins of the world and gone to places like Gozo, Carnac, Stonehenge, Menorca, Cahokia, Spiro Mound, Crete, and Jutland—places that took much effort to build and places that leaves one with more questions after visiting and few answers.  I’ve sat in a tomb on the coast of the Baltic that could very well be the burial place for the legendary Hector or Apollo from the mythical Battle of Troy, (there is a competing theory that Troy is in Finland since they had to pass through Gibraltar to get there from Greece), and I’ve mapped the mysterious Templar churches of Bornholm in Denmark.  In other words, I’ve  been to a lot of places and seen a lot of weird things.  So what great journey could possibly be missing?
When I was a young adult in the 1980s, I watched a captivating documentary on PBS.  It was a Great Journey special or something by that name, and it was a trip so magical, I never wanted the one-hour special to end.  Trisdan de Cunha, a place with an odd name, is a veritable speck of an island 1500 miles from Africa and 1700 miles from South America—the most remote settlement on earth.  Once reached only by a mail ship the HMS St Helena, a ship that for the last 20 years, I’ve received the itinerary of, but sadly no longer makes the mail run out there.  I could say this was the ultimate bucket list item, but it is an item, I never added to the list since I knew, I’d never be able to go there.  They say Trisdan is hardly a place just a “destination of the mind.”  Maybe it is a place better to travel to than actually to get there or for me, a place that one can only dream about or maybe even one should only dream about. 

The nice thing about sitting on a beach is that there is little to do except see the waves, get a tan, and ponder how many times should I go and find the locally rare flock of smooth-billed ani. 

These all all-black birds with a comically thick bill that I’ve seen twice in Florida and once before on Roatan, the bay island off mainland Honduras I was wallowing on.  A group of anis is called either an orphanage or a silliness of ani, again making me wonder who invented these names.  Why are anis silly? 

I pondered the life history of an Allison's anole I found.....but that didn't help me much, although it was a cute reptile.

Still pondering my future, I trolled the internet and then found a French boat leaving South America on March 3rd, 2019 heading east into the lonely South Atlantic.  I emailed a buddy of mine, Don Harrington from Northfield, Minnesota, a man almost as crazy as me, and about the only couple that would go along on such a journey.  Shockingly, he didn’t say no, then his wife came home and said yes.  I don’t want to be stuck on a boat where everyone only speaks French for a month.  I almost died of boredom on a sailboat with only French and Japanese people as passengers for a day just going to St Barths where no one talked to anyone.
I asked my wife, a woman that can get seasick just by looking at water, and even more shockingly, she said, “if we can go to Galapagos later in 2019, I’ll come along.”  As such, I just booked passage, and on my birthday next year, I plan on being near the most improbable of all destinations—Trisdan de Cunha.  Now, I’m determining if this will be the journey itself or a puzzle piece for an even longer adventure.  I have many applicable bucket list items like visiting Uruguay, see the big game of Africa, go to Easter Island, see penguins, and there is also a beach in South Africa I want to tick off.  How far is Mauritius from Africa?  Is also visiting Easter island too much?  Maybe, we’ll just sail on sail.  Can we circumnavigate the globe?  I also have an angle about finishing something I started a few years ago and that may be something I want to do.  It is just too early.
Now I’m starting the fun of any great adventure, planning the logistics and outfitting.  Where is the nearest specialist for satellite phone service, anyhow?  Ah the fun is just beginning… First, though, I’m soon off to Texas to climb a mountain just to prove to myself, I still can.  More on that next time.

silly thoughts from silly me


Monday, March 5, 2018

Journey's End

EVERY GREAT JOURNEY starts with an idea, eventually this idea begets the journey itself, and somewhere down the road, down the trail, or down the lake, the journey ends.  Occasionally, one isn’t sure when it ever even ended.  When I state that I am not sure why I did my epic big year, that was true…for a time.  When I imply that I’m not exactly sure, besides some sort of genetic predilection, of why I hunt for giant northern pike, that is also true… for a time.
            Every journey must have an ending, even my 2016 big year which although I thought it ended in December 2017, and on December 31, 2016 before that, I was wrong yet again.  Another big year birder emailed me recently that a storm-petrel, a small 2016-split seabird she had seen on a private pelagic with Debi Shearwater had been passed around for fifteen months and finally someone had said it was a Townsend’s storm-petrel, yet another bird for her and whomever else had seen it.  I emailed back “cool for you.”  That journey, it seems, is never ending.  For me, I saw two very suspicious storm-petrels and one I photographed quite well, but I need to be able to identify it within a few weeks or I won’t count the bird and I like to identify tough birds myself.  I could have sent the one storm-petrel out and even had it on my provisional list for a time, those in the boat wouldn’t commit but I pulled it in the summer because by then I realized that it wasn’t the number that mattered, it was the journey.
            I thought my big year journey officially ended on 11:15, February 28, 2018, at of all times and in the unlikely spot of Roatan, one of the Bay Islands off Honduras, but I was wrong again, it last 5 more days.  I traveled to that veritable secluded Garden of Eden to find myself at this spa and yoga retreat, literally, I needed to find myself.  Here, the Trail of Zen leads to the Beach of Bliss, and eventually walking past many Mayan totems, a center of Earth’s energy (located in a crack in the lava rock), you can find yourself beneath the Harmony Tree.  What really is bliss?  What is harmony?  What truly defines, Zen?
This false end of that journey was not due to seeing or counting (or not counting) any bird, and I did not add anything to my yearly numbers.  It didn’t end with a phone call.  In fact, no one ever called me about it except a German man from Der Speigel.  No, my year ended by me reading a book.
            Sean Prentiss is a professor at Norwich University, in Vermont, and he wrote Finding Abbey, in 2015.  This is a story of his journey to find the grave of author and environmentalist, Edward Abbey, the writer of Desert Solitaire, which, in my opinion, is one of the best 20th century pieces of outdoor literature, and along with Hemmingway, one of the most influential outdoor writers of the modern era. 
            Abbey was an enigma, and he died in 1990 from esophageal varices and bleeding.  Four friends buried him secretly in the desert and vowed to never disclose the location to anyone but his family.  Prentiss describes his journey about learning more about his literary hero and chapter by chapter retraced Abbey’s life.  By the end, at least for me, and I think him, finding the grave, was more of an afterthought.  It was the journey that made him who he was.  His journey helped Mr. Prentiss find himself.  Finding the grave was not the end of his quest, it was the finding of something as mundane as a concept of home.  From Finding Abbey:

After I have search far.  After I have ventured deep. After I have journeyed far. After I have found exactly what I searched for. After I have learned much from my travels. And once all of those lessons lead me to this new home, to this new love, to this new peace, they allow me to quit searching for something else and someone else and somewhere else.  They allow me to begin a new search, a new journey into the secrets and the mysteries of this one place.

…it is a place the author calls…home and it could surmise my big year or pike fishing, or my life.

            So here on a little-known island settled by pirates located on the western edge of the Caribbean Sea, I learned that what is important in life is not another bird nor a bigger fish. What is important is my wife, Silja, and my children: Allwin, Tyko, and Lauren Elizabeth.  It is my cats, my dog, and, in a sense, where we live that is important.  At least for me, home is not my house but where I feel most comfortable—most at peace.  I’m not sure why it took my 45 years of fishing and twelve crazy months of birding to learn that.
            Life is tenuous and fleeting.  We don’t know if the next moment will bring death or opportunity.  Suddenly, around a corner, maybe the next cast, a monster pike or a rare bird will appear, unknown to you just a moment earlier.  Sometimes, they get away, but other times…
            As I initially wrote this, my beloved Grandmother, Lucille Danielson approached, her 93rd birthday.  A tumor slowly grew in her abdomen and her heart pumped like the old leaky water pump in some forlorn cabin.  It was better, I guess, than not pumping at all.  Grandma had simple goals in her life recently.  All she wants to do, I think, was to plant another garden and see her grandson, me.  It is like the bonus time of a soccer match.  The match can’t go on forever.  She was in bonus time and at any moment, the referee will blow the whistle.  That is the curse of life, that we all must deal with.  
            When we flew back from Honduras yesterday, we drove up and visited her for a few hours, as northern Wisconsin is Grandma Nan’s home and also my mother Sue’s home.  The woods my Great-great grandfather bought and settled…is home.  Grandma was weak but talkative but she was home.
            It was a crisp March day in northern Wisconsin, the bears that plague us all were still safely tucked away for at least another month.  I walked outside, fed her birds and counted the chickadees in her spruce tree.  Somewhere above twenty, I lost count—I have always lost count.  Unfortunately, after she told me she loved me and we left for home, grandma passed from this life.  A few days later, still feeling a severe loss in my life, we will put her to rest next to my grandfather Allwin, nearby where I will eventually end up.  Her funeral will end my big year.  Afterwards, I will walk out on the ice on Big Wood Lake and just stare.  Pike fishing is now closed until May.  So, I will stare at the bleakness, the white and gray ice obscuring the hidden water, and think of the pike fishing of the future and the fishing of seasons past.  Some of it was with Grandma and some of it was with my grandfather Allwin.  Some of it was also alone, but I guess in the future they’ll always be with me.  
Grief is a thing that is both terrible and good, forcing us to remember, both the good and the bad.  She always ended her telephone calls the same, “call me sometime.”  I should have called more.  I should have not moved so far away.  We should have gone fishing more.  Should haves and could haves that will always haunt me due to my selfishness.  I miss her and I miss home.
To Edward Abbey, home was where vultures and flickers flew by.  Home had sunsets blanketing the great expanse of the American West in warm reds, oranges, and purples.  Home was cacti, and red rock deserts.  Home was benchrock, quail calling, and coyotes howling.   
For me, home is spruce trees, chickadees, and ice-covered lakes.  Home is potato sausage and Grandma’s cocoa cake—the last one I ate four weeks ago, gosh that was good.  Home is anything served with her dry wit, feistiness, and stubborn pride.  Home is also the cold crisp air of a long winter.  Home are her deer hunting stories or encounters with bears.
            I have seen many birds and caught many pike, but they are just numbers or ticks on a checklist—just a push on my fishing friend Greg’s counter or useless pieces of paper.  I would trade them all to have another fishing outing with Grandma, or time with my children, or to go back in time.  Life, however, doesn’t work that way.
          Tomorrow, I will begin another journey, another adventure, but as of today, I’m not sure what it will be, where it will take place, or how long it will take.  My heart broken, I also still have some tears to shed and memories to remember.  Whatever I do, it will, however, involve being home and sharing it with those I love.

Lucille Mae Danielson “Nan”,

born March 14, 1925, Wolf Creek, Wisconsin, died March 5, 2018, Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

Her journey is now over.
To my beloved Grandmother.  A world without you is a lonely and sad place.

The End of an Era, Farewell to a true friend

It is a very sad day here.  My heart is broken, and I'm a man, suddenly, of few words.  Taxes, yes, college tours yes, but I didn't plan on having to add "write a eulogy" to my week of activities for my beloved Grandmother Nan.   She was a proud woman, she did NOT want to go to the hospital or a nursing home and as it turned out, didn't have to.  Fiercely independent, she was a bear fighting, deer hunting, squirrel hating, outspoken, stubborn, and opinionated but lovable.  My favorite picture of her is above.  That was a dang nice pike!   She was happy yesterday her cardinals were singing at her feeder and seeing her smile yesterday looking at my son, Allwin and at her namesake, Lucy Burton (my sister's youngest daughter), melted  my heart.

I have nothing else to say right now,   I miss her so.

Lucille Danielson  March 14, 1925 - March 5, 2018

My Inspiration
We love you Grandma!

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 ...