Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Of Omens, Numbers, and Booksignings

Tuesday was a strange day out on the prairie, a strange day as part of a rather weird week.  I kept finding myself saying, well that is odd, or saying "I never seen that before."  The fence posts near Summit, South Dakota were littered with dozens of common nighthawk including one of the lightest colored ones I've ever seen.

It was a very pretty bird, but even the darker ones are pretty sitting 20 feet away on a fence post.

The Wilson's snipes had to fight for a place to call.

With the rain this week, it is probably a lot drier sitting on a post than hiding down in the grass in the prairie.

Not everything one sees out in the field is a bird, in fact, todays find wasn't even warm blooded.  On the east shore of Enemy Swim Lake, I found the largest moth in North America, the dark and mysterious, Black Witch Moth.

Typically a creature of the night this foreboding and ominous insect filled with dark mythology flew in front of me and tried to hide on the side of a bush.  They say if one touches you, it can predict your death, but seeing one like I did, after a loved one recently passed is a good omen and means my grandmother's spirit is nearby.  The bad luck I had was on Friday so I wasn't having any more of that.  I blew a trailer tire on US 12 pulling my boat, destroying my fender but oddly despite 90 percent of the tread having been ejected the tire was still inflated.  This was after my motor started missing out on the lake.  My solution was that i needed a new boat.  I also hurt my back on Sunday and couldn't move much since.

Black witches are a great find.  This male is very far north for them and I have never seen one in South Dakota but I'm no expert.

Maybe burning this chair seemed like I symbolically burning a witch and the moth came to remind me that doing that is NOT a good idea?

I don't know about those things, during my big year, I got cursed by a something I had to lose in Maine at a troll village, so who knows what is real and what is fantasy in this world.  All I can say about the moth is it was a much better find than the dickcissal, which is yet another fence post bird

or a willow flycatcher is found a few hundred feet away from the huge moth

I had two book signings since my last missive.  One at DDR Books in Watertown, SD, where a woman gave me a very interesting picture of a Peoria Gateway train near Revillo SD maybe 4 miles from where I birded

and one at the very cool store Zandbroz Variety in Sioux Falls.  There I met a Volvo employee on vacation from Sweden, who just happened to be someone whom I had lunch with coincidentally in Goteberg six years before at the car factory...small world.  I also met many fishermen who apparently don't read books, but they had fun stories.

It is tough to market a book.  I just agreed to give a talk to the Prairie Lakes Audubon Club in Alexandria MN next month, which since "Confessions of a Pike Whisperer" is as much of a birding book as a fishing book, might be a better audience.  I know birders read.  I have a book signing later in Alexandria, so we'll see.  It is one book at a time.  In the end I just like telling stories and meeting people.

I did go birding near Sioux Falls on the Big Sioux River across from Iowa nabbing a bucket list item, South Dakota bird number 300, an eastern Towhee, but that bird was not photographed, a second towhee stood momentarily for a photo which showed it was not an eastern towhee but a rather eastward extreme spotted towhee, more commonly seen in the western part of the state.

I was thinking it would be a champaign moment but it made me feel cheated, as I couldn't get a decent photo of the bird I needed...oh well that is birding.  I took ibuprofen instead.

So I don't know what to make of seeing cursed moths, since all that black witch did was become the cherry of a rather strange and not very tasty cake, as they say, but my World cup team, Iceland won as did the Swedes.  That bug was the best thing I'd seen all week and I guess that was something.  300 in South Dakota?  That is just a number, not even that big of a number and all of my birding is numbers and lists and to be honest mean very little to anyone except me.  Much like selling books, each sale doesn't matter but it is the stories and the oddity of meeting the Swedish couple I'd met before that matter to me.

You know my back even feels better which is good since I'm off to the hinterland of northern Ontario to chase pike and spruce grouse....that will be my next report.

the end of a strange week.....


Monday, June 11, 2018

Happy Memories Riding the Bumblebees

Sunday was a day of mixed feelings.  Where have all the years gone?  You may also ask why did I let them go?

I was back home cleaning up my grandmother's estate and Sunday was the day that Cousin Steve came to pick up his inheritance, a pair of 1972 Ski-doo Olympique snowmobiles, and one very cool snow-tow trailer.

I can remember it like it was yesterday, those family outings and to be honest, it was only a couple of times a year that we went out on the sleds to go fishing or just joy-riding.  I feel like the guy in the movie the "Good Year."  Those times were grand...just grand..

These two sleds were the last two purchased by my grandparents.  Grandmother Lucille's sled was a 1970 Ski-doo Nordic (Was it Nordique?), a machine with twice the horsepower of these two and was heavy and fast.

Here is the model in front of an ad, it was like riding a bumblebee, it even buzzed.
personally I liked the ad for the 1969 version a little better

but somehow, it is hard to think of snow looking at that advertisement.  I just don't think Grandmother Danielson was influenced by those types of ads, but who knows?

Despite USA being in Vietnam, the end of the Sixties and early Seventies, The period was the pinnacle of American life to a large degree.  The WWII generation was at peak earning power, jobs from the space race's technology boom were plentiful and we were the manufacturing center of the world.  That 1970 snowmobile cost $1059 for my grandparents who were not well off by any stretch of the imagination but a business deduction for a trapper/ logger would be worth $6300 today, and with the twin 1972 machines, they were quite an investment.

It was a time of snowmobile clubs, snowmobile trails connected all of the rural bars and every winter weekend, people did the "bar runs" or "poker runs" across the northern tier of my home state of Wisconsin and I'm sure many more.  You could get anywhere on a sled, you didn't need cars.  We drove them to school, through towns....Here is a snapshot of Williston back in the day, I can remember over 100 speds parked on my mainstreet on a Saturday in Wisconsin

My hometown still hosts the Summer National Waterskipping Event, a sport that was invented nearby and led to the development of the Jet-ski

They have long since stopped the winter event in nearby Clam lake Narrows near siren due to insurance concerns.

As a family, we watched the I-500 snowmobile race, quite a grueling affair from Winnipeg to Minneapolis through the fields and woods of the great while north.  It was for us northerners more of a spectacle than Daytona, held in the same month.  It was even televised when I was a kid.   It is still held but now due to paranoia over 9-11, it doesn't cross the border, and it is even hard to find out when it is held as the results are never published, or so it seems to me.  Not that i care much any more

Our fair grounds had winter races.  I rooted for Sno-Jets for some reason, I like the blue with white trim color.  They were fast but never seemed to win.  It was just a wonderfully fun time.  It seemed wee could not get enough snowmobiles until I guess we had.  Many always say the old times were better but I think in this case, they truly were.  Yes, drunken snowmobile crashes killed many, but drinking and driving something has always killed, they always have, even during Prohibition.  We went outdoors and enjoyed life, sadly unlike today.

In 1971, the peak year, Ski-doo sold 212,000 sleds and there were over 30 manufacturers.  I can think of 7 dealers within 10 miles of my house.  Which was easy to do since for about 1800 dollars you too, could become a dealer buying three sleds and you'd just have to guarantee purchasing $30 in parts.  It was something you could set up in your garage.  The Sno-jet dealer as in Trade River, at the Trade River Oil station, a place that you'd never figure was much of an oil company let alone a snowmobile dealership.  The ZZZ Arctic Cat dealership was in basically a garage, out in the woods a few miles west of Frederic Wisconsin.

It was a great time and even as a little kid, i can remember the fun and happiness we all had each winter, and then like a thief in the night, first two mild winters came in 1972 and 1973, followed by the Arab Oil shock of 1973 following the Arab-Israeli War of the same year threw the economy in a tail spin.  We ended the space race in that time frame and by the time Nixon resigned in 1974, the US was no longer on top.  By 1976, the number of snowmobile manufacturers were down to 6, and then after the second oil shock of 1979 due to Iran, things got even worse

In 1970 575,000 machines were made, at the end of the Seventies, sales fell off a cliff and bankruptcy was filed or threatened by everyone left, in 2005 the sales number was back up to 180,000 by just 4 manufacturers.

My grandparents bought the snowmobiles to spend time as a family but when they bought them, the family was leaving to start their own lives.  Isn't that just the way things go?

I last rode the old Ski-doo snowmobiles back in 1984 when grandpa sold off the Nordic and in helping him get it out, and I refound the the other ones in the shed, I filed them with gas, and they ran!  We got them licensed and it was a glorious revival.  I became jealous of the by-gone days before  but it was a great winter of snow, and I took the sleds out with the cool trailer fishing.  But that was it, by that fall I was in college, in a hurry to get on with my life, maybe in too much of a hurry.  Along the way, I nearly forgot my past, and what I was and where I was from.  Without a break, I was in medical school, I found a wife, and grandpa died both in 1990, and afterwards, I was too busy making my own go of it to comeback and celebrate with my grandmother that she had made it.  I hope my own kids see this as my daughter is 18 and is off registering for classes at Hamline University today and my twin sons turn 23 on Wednesday.  We are always in too much of a hurry to get somewhere that we forget to enjoy where we are.

My grandmother, as it turns out was very sentimental, and I knew she loved the old days on the snow cruising fast, and thought if she sold them, she'd lose the memory.  It makes me sad to think I never got them going.  They were there waiting for me and grandmother was waiting to go, now she can't she is in a different place, one we cAn't imagine, and can only hope

Maybe I should have kept them myself?  Although they'd just sit in my will get them fixed up and will show them some attention they long deserve.  Unlike me, just another opportunity lost and a memory cut short for reasons I just don't know...why?  Why did I let those happy times go?

I sit here with tears in my eyes thinking of what could have been, what should have been...and truly wonder if it all was worth it.


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 ...