Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Your Strange Brewery News of the Day - Princeton Wisconsin

A while back I took a leisurely drive across the state, naturally avoiding contact with any presumably diseased human beings.  I had a long list of places to look in on.  Caves, cemeteries, roadside oddities.  But as with the best of all such wanderings I also came across some unexpected things.  Entirely by accident I ran across this sight in the little town of Princeton, Wisconsin.

An intact 19th century brewery.  Even in Wisconsin these are not common.  Here's the short version of its history.

It was started in 1857 when a certain August Weis moved to Princeton from Oshkosh Wisconsin. He left it for his wife to run when he went to fight in the Civil War.  Later the usual musical chairs partnership changes ensued.  The world of Wisconsin brewers was not that large and this enterprise seems to have been closely related in matters both fiscal and matrimonial to a family named Lutz who ran brewery in Steven's Point.  Remarkably I am not finding evidence of destructive fires that are so common in little breweries.  Perhaps this helped keep them solvent up to Prohibition....and even allowed a Post Volstead revival.  But it was not to last.  The Princeton brewery went out of the sudsy business for good in 1937.  Uses since then have been various and all of the sort we've seen before; mushroom growing, haunted house, antiques mall, warehouse, cheese factory.

Here's the impressive 1880's addition.  The tiger by the way is a nod to the mascot of Princeton University.

There was no sign of current activity so I strolled around a bit.  There was a steep bank going down to the river and it was the sort of place a brewery cave entrance might be found.  Not today though. I've gotten pretty good at interpreting various retaining walls and ramps but can't quite make this out as the approach to a cave.

I've also gotten quite good at correlating old maps, and this one shows the notation "cooling beer" at about the location seen above.  Of more import note the substantial ice houses.  While I don't doubt there could be a lagering cave from their early years somewhere it is probably not on location.  I did not see much in the way of decent rock structure in the immediate vicinity.

You could in theory poke around such places in a fashion more intrusive than peering from the property edge but I do not recommend it.  This photo actually is of the current owner.

I speak nothing but the truth here.  The brewery site is owned by the actor Michael Rooker and his wife.  I understand they have plans for a remodel that will make it an artist's community of some sort.  I wish them well.  But I'll wait for an invite to look any closer.  Mr. Rooker may well be a swell guy, and in fact from what I've read, he actually is.  But anyone who can convincingly play dangerous characters such as Yondo from Guardians of the Galaxy, Merle in the Walking Dead, and an assortment of serial killers, assassins and such over the course of a decades long career, well I'm going to respect the man's privacy!

Monday, December 28, 2020

The curious case of Captain Crunch

A while back I reported on the peculiar knock off cereal brands to be found at Aldi.  I actually took pictures of several, and one image just nagged at me.  It's this:

If you did not immediately think of Capn' Cruch then the copyright dodging generic peddlers should hire some new creative staff.  For comparison here is a genuine version.

Sure this appears to be some French Canadian variant but it highlights the question that started nagging me almost immediately.  What Navy did the Captain serve in, and was he really a Captain?

This question has been brought up before.  Back in 2013 a discussion thread arose that claimed that Capn' Crunch was a fraud.  Yes, based on his uniform he was felt to be no more than a Commander (in the modern day US Navy).  

The discussion can be found HERE.  It got picked up by various news sources including NPR.  I contend that they got it quite wrong and I'm here to stick up for the stumpy little sugar merchant.

There are plenty of images from commercials and other advertisements that agree with the image on the knock off "Krunch".  They all depict him existing in a world where the ships were powered by sail and had smooth bore cannon firing from enclosed gun decks.  That means somewhere in the century or two leading up to, roughly, the American Civil war.  After that it was steam power and Monitor style turrets.  As such, the first claim, that his three stripes indicate a lower rank, is specious.  We need to look at uniforms from the appropriate period.

When the Captain is heard to speak, at least in US commercials, he does not have a discernable accent.  So unless he was, say, a Loyalist serving in the Royal Navy after the Revolution we can focus on the early United States Navy.

The elements of the uniform that are of note are several.  Blue coat, high collar, three sleeve stripes, golden epaulets on both shoulders, and an odd period hat. to narrow this down?

In the first issued US Navy Uniform regulations (1797) epaulets were specified.  Captains wore one on each shoulder.  Lieutenants only on one.  Things got a big more complicated with the major revisions to uniform that came along in 1852 - when a matched set was allowed for lower ranked officers, but it is still a point in favor of the Capn'. In this as in many things the US Navy closely followed contemporary Royal Navy fashions.  In the US Navy by the way, epaulets were phased out in the 1930's which makes the determination of rank by modern standards just plain wrong.

In 1852 more specific regulations were codified.  These lasted with slight modifications through the Civil War period.  To summarize, an officer with the rank of Captain would wear a Navy Blue coat with two rows of large brass buttons.  A stand up collar was specified, of a height not to interfere with movement of the chin.  Cuffs were to have three bands of gold lace.  Here's an image of several officers in the 1852 version of dress uniform.  Note the Captain who is second from the right.  

Hey, it's all there.  True, Capn' Crunch is wearing his hat sideways.  Perhaps it was knocked askew by the same near miss explosion that detached both of his eyebrows and stuck them on the hat.  This would explain much including his generally daffy demenour.  Let's not be too hard on the guy.  It's really just a bit of shell shock not some poseur trying for a bit of nautical "Stolen Glory" status!  Besides, by long standing tradition the officer in command of any vessel, no matter what his actual rank, is always referred to as captain.  The word simply denotes "the head man", and is a term of respect afforded to those in charge of commissioned vessels ranging from mighty battle cruisers on down to dowdy supply ships laden with high fructose corn syrup.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

"CO, CO, CO-vid! Wary Christmas"!

Continuation of the Naughty/Nice theme of our last posting.

I have on the whole been quite Good regards Covid precautions.  My activities have been limited to walks and whatever indoor stuff I can amuse myself in the workshop.  I have not been to bars, nightclubs, fitness centers or other hotbeds of disease.  Why, I've not even attended any Implausibly Exempt Gatherings such as protest marches.  My contact with people outside the immediate two person household has remained the occasional masked trip to pick up essential provisions.  In general others are also compliant in such places.  In fact these days when you see someone's entire face it is jarring.  You notice it at a distance and keep it that way.

So it is quite unfair that I developed a stuffy nose and chills on the evening of 22 December.  These days you have to take such things seriously, especially when considering holiday interactions with anyone.  Testing was warranted.   

It took a few phone calls and a morning's worth of waiting, but by early afternoon I had experienced the joys of a nasal swab that, while not as bad as some claim, was by no means enjoyable.  And so began the wait.

The testing center was busy and they were moving people in and out at a good clip, and through different doors.  I've been to airports in the middle east with less security.  In passing I was given a pamphlet with instructions to go online and get results.  Alas, the first thing you had to enter was your Prestigious Clinic Number, and not being a regular customer there I did not have one.  Hmmmm, guess it is just wait for a call then.  So ends 23 December with a general promise of results in 24 to 48 hours.  I'm feeling better by now.  Thanks for wondering.

24 December.  Well it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Snow to move.  And instead of waiting for a phone to ring I actually can just check the internet.  Evidently on the basis of having worked for them long ago I DO have a Prestigious Clinic Number.  Go figure.  It makes me wonder how much addition Digital Detritus is out there.  By mid morning the moving pieces of  Christmas: people driving, scheduling zoom conferences, cookie sheets going in and out of the oven.... were underway.

I plowed a bunch of snow and shortly before 11 am got my test results.  I am a bit jaded by the medical system but not so much that I don't acknowledge good work when I see it.  This was done efficiently, in less than 24 hours and on the semi holiday Christmas Eve-Day to boot.

And the results?  When you shake and scrutinize any package this time of year you can get a fair sense of what's in it.  I predicted negative.  And was correct.

On several levels this is a nice present.  It makes seeing the Younger Generation more feasible.  My Better Half has gone back to simply regarding me with her usual suspicion rather than the Bring Out Your Dead level of the past 36 hours.  But as Christmas presents go this is in some ways in the Pair O' Socks category.

It would help my logistics for the next few months to have had reasonable confidence that I'd be immune to Covid.  And if it indeed was so mild that I shook it off with disdain then that's good.  Nobody wants to be that case on the evening news that expired in spite of vigorous health and telegenic good looks.  And I'll admit to being just a bit disappointed that I seem to have managed to catch a mild case of "something" despite, as mentioned at the onset, being well over on the Good side of the Good/Bad dial.  It is a veiled warning from the future....take better care of yourself.  So noted.

Hoping you all have an excellent Christmas.  And if you get a pair of socks, appreciate them.  I do.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Strange Holidays

Not much snow.  Not much shopping, and what little there is consists of watching the porch for Amazon boxes.  Scaled back family gatherings.  It does not feel like Christmas.

But we  have a nice tree, made nicer by virtue of having been cut on our son's property after receiving grandkid approval.

True, the number of presents under it is minimal in this week before picture.  I admit to not being totally Good.  Also, if you've been following along on recent adventures you'll recall that Prancer is not going to show up for work this year....

We won't even have the usual crew on hand to set up a bizarre Christmas Tableau in the neighbor's yard.  Ah well, we make do with the resources at hand.  Sometimes a bit of additional recon can help.  Here's our guy working the stakeout from the concealment of our garage.  He's watching those next door types.  Watching  them very closely...

The additional complexity of travel and quarantine issues means that we won't really be exchanging gifts.  Much.  I don't think.  There will be a gathering in mid January where we hope to have all the seats at the table filled.....and I hear rumors that there might even be an extra chair pulled up.   

Best wishes to you all in this odd season.  May as many of your chairs be filled as possible and may any surprises you encounter be of the pleasant sort.  And be Good.  You know we are watching.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Ireland in Winter

It's winter for sure now.  Those of us in northern climes are hunkered down for a long cold season.  Not quite hibernating, but operating at a lower level of activity.  It's a good time to dream about travels.  My annual UK archaeology trip is still in "dubious" status.  Last year it was cancelled by Covid.  As was a second trip to Ireland.  Ireland of course was once known as Hibernia.  So, is everyone over there hibernating?  And what is the connection between the two words.  Clearly there must be one.

It's thanks to some illiterate sailors. 

But the starting point is of course from Latin.  Hibernare meant to "winter, pass the winter, occupy winter quarters".  

The Classical world became aware of Ireland fairly early, with the journey of the great Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia (circa 320 BC) being the best recalled event.  Pytheas and no doubt other forgotten mariners learned that the locals called their land "Ierne".  This is from Old Celtic and gives us the alternate name Eire. Iouernia was one of several variants with the "io" sound coming through as "w".  Tacitus in 98 AD rendered this as Hibernia

So somewhere along a several centuries process of visiting the extremes of the Known World there must have been sailors on frail ships looking at a chilly coastline very far from their sunny Mediterranean homes.  When they heard that the natives called it something that sounded very much like "Winter" they said, presumably in Greek or Latin, darned right and just began calling it the land of hunkering down for a long cold time.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Castle Rock Brewery...corrected.

One of my very early brewery cave posts dealt with the history of a tiny brewery south of Fountain City Wisconsin.  You can read about it HERE .  As it happens I got the location wrong.  Hey, it happens.  This is a brewery that does not seem to be on any early maps, and the landscape has changed along the river courtesy of later road and rail development.

But, thanks to one of my Underworld Contacts, I can add to and correct the story.

This is reported to be an image of the brewery circa 1950.  It fits with the description of a small place with a log upper level which served as a residence.  The brewery was below.

And the site today.

This of course fits with the account of a cave exiting the lower level of the brewery.  Probably back in the day there was a nice little clear water stream running in front.  Now it's more of a dubious looking bog, but things change.

There is a story locally that after the building was demolished an old timer - one hopes the owner - wanted to enlarge the cave.  His ill advised use of dynamite to attempt same proved fatal.

This one is on private property, hence the roadside view.  There is a very nice looking new house under construction just to the left of this image and I do intend to stop by some pleasant summer day for a chat and to ask permission for a look inside.

I think the tales of bandits, Indian anxieties and dynamite will be intriguing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Tree Shaped Tomb Stones - Captain Pruss

You find the darnedest things wandering around in cemeteries.  Evergreen Cemetery in Manitowoc had some interesting things to see.  Here's a tree shaped tomb stone.  A nicer than average specimen, sure.  But there is actually more going on here...

Here's the name, "Captain" Herman Pruss.  Anchors are reasonably common and often allegorical, but this one - coupled with the title - made me think Sea Captain; while his name suggested Prussian origins.  I was mostly right.

The anchor has a very nautical looking rope attached to it, and down at the very bottom are tiny little letters.  I never scrub or brush monuments so had to make do with what I could photograph.  With a bit of magnification it appeared to read "Kettenhoff" or something similar.

And here's the tale.

Captain Pruss was of course a German immigrant.  He was born in a coastal region, Schleswig-Holstein, and went to sea as a young man.  Rising from "ship's boy" to helmsman he presumably had a salty and adventurous life.  He came to the US in 1854.  Like most immigrants entered by New York but eventually ended up in New Orleans as he was sailing on the West Indies routes.  We tend to forget that there was a significant German community in the south as well as the north.  Herman Pruss ended up being drafted into the Confederate "military".  The source I read did not mention specifics here, the Confederate Navy was pretty small compared to land forces but I do like to imagine that his skills would be put to use as say, a blockade runner.

In any event there do not seem to have been serious hard feelings post Civil War, at least for southerners coming north.  He moved to Manitowoc in June of 1868 (marrying about two weeks later, so perhaps arranged?), and had a career on Great Lakes ships where his moniker Captain was acquired by virtue of his being the skipper of several vessels.

Later in life he ran a tavern.

The inscription on the anchor is not, alas, the name of one of his ships.  But just as delightfully it is another rare case of a monument carver signing his work.  Nicholas Kettenhofen was a "marble cutter" who worked out of the Northwestern Hotel.  A family business, the other two Kettnhofens in the city directory were the proprietor of the house and a woman who was the chief cook.

I should credit the work of others here. has much carefully researched data on 19th century cemeteries.  HERE is the write up on Captain Pruss.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Weird Shopping - More Pandemic stock ups

One of the things I'll remember from the great Covid pandemic - assuming I'm around to do so - will be the weirdness of grocery shopping.  As straying from your fortified bunker is viewed as grave peril trips to the store have been less frequent, for greater amounts of supplies, and somehow more anxiety producing.  This from someone who does not much care for shopping under the best of conditions.

Recently we made a run to Aldi.  This is an odd chain of stores.  It's a German company with 10,000 stores in 20 countries.  They are of course clean and efficient.  And the quality of their goods is pretty good....if more than a little peculiar.

Aldi typically has a mix of brand name and generic knock offs.  Also a wide selection geographically, with lots of European influences.  Maybe with a few concepts that don't translate well across oceans.  Here's a few oddities, things that caught my attention instead of being helpful to the Quartermistress General in her work.

This was in the cheese department.  Flavored Goat Log Assortment.  I wonder if this is a big deal in Germany?  Putting it through Google Translate it comes out as: "Aromatisierter Ziegenstamm".  Which actually does sound better.  Also in the cheese department was this product.  Am I the only one who saw the name and had a horrific vision?

Without even leaving the cheese and sausage cooler there was also this gem.  These are American products so I can't blame language or cultural difficulties for the oddness.  

That's a Jackalope.  And some kind of large, obese, flightless bird.  In slapping together a link I was amazed to learn that creatures akin to Jackalopes appear in natural history books as far back as the 13th century!  These were likely normal rabbits infected with a papilloma virus that caused them to grow large warty growths.  Yep, just what I want in my lunch.

The saddest find of all was in the kids cereal section.  There have always been choices between brand name cereals and generic knock offs.  Not, mind you, in the sugar content which is impressive in both.  No, it shows up more in things like how fast you have to eat it to avoid it turning into a disgusting brightly hued sludge.  Oh, and the art work is better on the real versions.

Here is brand name "Lucky Charms", a concoction that I enjoyed on occasion back in the day.  Lucky the Leprechaun has been modernized a bit.  

Manic little imp, isn't he?  This wretched stuff was launched back in 1964 when a General Mills exec experimented by adding chopped up "Circus Peanuts" to conventional sugar bomb cereal.  It has been an enduring success.

But oddly, there was an attempt in the mid 1970's to replace Lucky with an absent minded magician called Waldo the Wizard.  The concept was dutifully test marketed....weirdly being very popular in New England but in the rest of the US, not so much.

It was decided to just make Lucky cuter.  Get rid of any implication that the leprechaun might be holding out on you with respect to that whole pot of gold thing.  Ease up on the "Oirish" accent that in a less sensitive era was code for "Aye needs a drink badly m'lad"  The Wizard vanished.

Or did he?  Here in the starkly lit aisles of Aldi have I found the otherwise worthless copyright image of Waldo the Wizard?  Or is it just a grim vision of what Lucky will look like on the day that his dipsomaniac life style, raging diabetes and true age become manifest?

Friday, December 11, 2020

Back to the Woods

It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said that there are no second acts in American Life.  I guess there are exceptions though.  In Wisconsin there is a very detailed analysis of white tail deer populations and of the annual harvest through bow and gun hunting seasons.  If there are still a lot of deer roaming about a short four day "second season" happens.

Lest you judge this heartless, the deer population is carefully managed for good reasons.  White tail deer were once much less common.  In the 19th century we logged off the northern half of Wisconsin and covered the southern half with farms.  Effectively the state became a giant feet lot for deer.  Left to their own devices there would be more deer starving in the winter.  Or smacking into cars year 'round.  Oh, no doubt the modest extra boost to the local economy is a minor factor in the extended deer season.  For what it's worth there are other little special seasons for muzzle loaders, youth hunters and so forth.

This time I'll be hunting on my own, just the Better Half back at the cabin for support staff.  Actual real life has more influence on my kids than it does on me.  In addition to employment they also have to figure in minimizing any possible Covid exposure in the lead up to Christmas gatherings...

So, back to the woods.

I started the day with a great plan.  A stand was set up overlooking a promising trail.  I had made a lightweight gun rest out of various "stuff" from the robotics stockpile.  I had the scope zeroed in on where the deer should be.

It totally did not work out.  A nearby cabin that is never occupied this time of year, was.  I suspect its a Covid telecommuting situation.  The deer were put off by this and even if I had spotted one I'd be reluctant to disturb these nice neighbors with artillery fire.

So for the evening hunt, another approach. 

Down the road a little ways is a parcel of public land that is adjacent to a former golf course.  The local gentry, actually a very prominent family of industrialists, bought the golf course and just let it revert to nature.  I think this is some combination of tax write off, laudable interest in land conservation...and an excuse for them to have some great hunting land all to themselves.  Really, there's deer eating former golf course grass right out in the open.  And overlooking it all there are several swank hunting stands.  Here's one of them.

Very deluxe, as you'd expect.  I've known people who hunt in such splendor to actually take naps, listen to podcasts.  Maybe they check their emails and run their business empires.  Well, this is just the other side of the fence dividing private and public land.  On my side I've set up this hillbilly deer stand:

Just a cheap folding chair, one my wife was encouraging me to discard.  I put a few strips of orange fabric up to help me find it in the dark.  And to show it has not been casually dumped.  

For the evening hunt I sat there in comfort.  I could see deer munching contentedly off in the distant safety of the golf course.  As light was fading I was surprised by two deer that just materialized somehow 50 yards away from me.  I never heard 'em.  But I did see them. 

I am not at this stage of my hunting experience a great marksman.  But I'm able to report that I did make a clean shot dropping my deer about 20 feet on the proper side of a large NO TRESPASSING sign.

A fun day and a fun experience overall.  With the extra effort I was able to make us 3/3.  This will be the benchmark for future hunts.  I also learned a lot and had a chance to enjoy some quality family time in a year when we all could use more of it.
1. It has been pointed out that in dim light that folding chair looks like the biggest white tail deer butt in the world.  I should have, and certainly shall, cover it with orange before its next deployment.
2. I dragged the deer out of the woods myself, the better part of a mile.  That's why I'm not wearing orange in this photo.  I was pretty warm by that point and had shed a layer.
3. This is a "nubbin buck".  That counts as antlerless.
4. The history of deer population numbers is more complicated than I made it sound.  I'm still studying past numbers.  But current numbers are robust.
5. I'll be giving a program - alas virtually - for the local Learning in Retirement group in March. I'll post a link if anyone else out there is interested in taking up deer hunting in their "over the hill" years.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Freezing for a good cause.

When your grandchild wants you to come do something with him/her it's really a no brainer.  You do it.  After all, the opportunities are finite.  So.....I got to go along ice fishing.

For my friends from civilized parts of the world this means you go out onto the frozen lake, drill holes in it, put down lines and wait for something to happen.  Or maybe not.  You typically sit on overturned five gallon pails.  This by the way is another odd little facet of Midwestern American life that few outsiders experience.

There are various ways to fish.  We were using "tip ups".  These are spring loaded lines with bright orange flags.  When a hungry pike grabs the minnow and starts running with it, the flag goes up.  You slip and slide across the ice to try and reel him in.

It's been many years since I've done this.  Truth be told I find it much less enjoyable than summer time fishing.  There's lots of sitting around.  And it's cold.  Also in the early part of the season it's a little scary.  The ice has only been forming for a couple of weeks.  It's thick enough, so I was assured, but it makes creepy groaning and grinding noises.  Also, you see way too many cracks and fissures.  And ominous sights like this:

In the end of course it was all uneventful. Both for us and for the fish.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Forgotten Brewery Caves - History, Geology and Mushrooms

No locations post today.  But I recently had a chance for a quick peek into a brewery cave that I'd known about for a while.  This was an odd one with more than the usual number of interesting features.  My main interest was to determine if it was a bat hibernation site which proved not to be the case.

Short and admittedly incomplete history.  Civil War vintage, various destructive fires and frequent changes in ownership, a shutdown for Prohibition and a modest post-Prohibition revival.  After the brewery went under for good the cave was used to grow mushrooms for a while in the 1970's.  Given the several phases of the business I was expecting to see 1860's original features, modifications for the brewery's heyday in the 1870's and 80's, maybe a little from the "lost years" when it would have likely just been storage space, then some remnants of the mushroom growing project in the 1970's.  Here we go...

Probably the original stonework arch with later brick addition.

Clearly there was some modern cement added when the cave was put back into service roughly 50 years ago.

Here is a "backwards look" view that shows the various phases well.  I do note just a few of the white dots that annoy me so much with cave photography.  I've taken to carrying a small light with a sort of gentle glow.  This seems to help a lot with photo quality.  Stirred up dust also may be a contributing factor.  This cave was damp so there was none of that going on.

Stone and brick work notwithstanding this is essentially a rock excavated cave.  Many such were expansions of existing caves and niches.  This particular cave went back 40 feet or so, then took a 90 degree turn into this room.  The ceiling has had a big chunk peel off and fall.  There is a lot of mineral dissolved in the water that drips continuously from the roof.  It is forming little stalactites and flow stone formations.  I'm not sure what is reflecting the flash off that back wall.

Another look back view.  Along the left wall are the crumbled remains of wooden shelving as well as what appear to be deteriorating bags that may have contained peat moss.  These must be remnants of the mushroom growing operation.  The orange extension cord looks a bit newer but who knows.  The asymmetry of the cave with respect to the archway is pretty odd.  I wonder if once they got the excavation underway they found harder or softer stone that influenced the direction.

An interesting cave.  The condition of the back room is a bit dubious but overall this one is in good shape.  Always fun to find a cave with odd features that make me think.

Still, it would have been nice to find another bat "hibernaculum" - that being the places they hibernate in - I think my count of new ones I've found for the DNR stands at five.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Marshfield Wisconsin

Here's a couple of Tree Shaped Tombstones from Marshfield Wisconsin.  The town by the way is mostly known for its big Clinic/Hospital.  This cemetery is conveniently across the street.

Difficult light conditions on this photo.  I can't always choose the time I pass through a distant community.

Occupational monuments are always interesting.  Any guesses on this one?

Here's a oddball.  It is made of some harder, lighter colored stone.  So not the usual limestone but some kind of granite.  And it is also a bit of an "occupational" monument.  Note the crossed cannon and ammunition?

The gentlemen reposing here was a certain Ernst Schmidt.  

Schmidt was born in Dresden and immigrated to the US in 1860.  He enlisted in the Union army specifically the 2nd Wisconsin Light Artillery.  After serving for just over a year he was transferred to reserve status in September of 1862 due to disability.

Post war he lived variously in Michigan and Wisconsin at one point running a hotel and later a "mercantile" business of some sort.  He seems to have taken lasting pride in his military service.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Snappy Times at the Hungry Mouse Cafe

I have a general live and let live attitude towards nature.  Almost all the fish I catch get released.  Bats that find their way into my home are gently escorted out.  When chipmunks become a garden nuisance I safely live trap them, take them across the river and release them.  I think they race me home.

But I do draw the line on carpenter ants and mice when either is inside my house or our up north cabin.  Ants will eventually eat your building.  Mice, well there's Hanta Virus, the fact that they harbor deer ticks that carry Lyme disease.  And all those little droppings.  Everywhere.

So it's a running battle.  One in which my grandson is a loyal foot soldier.  Mice outside:  good.  Mice inside: trap 'em.

Recently he spied the likely entry point from garage to domicile and we happily worked together to seal it off.  Since then there have been no mice caught in the house.  But they seem to still be present in the attached garage in abundance.  

We had a puppy visitor recently so had to do something other than strew traps about randomly.  We decided to modify a cardboard box as The Hungry Mouse Café.

As you can see it has two doors and considerable decoration.  The little brown ovals are drawn on mouse droppings.  We figure they'd just follow the trail right on in.

This was originally a box of "Cheesecake" frozen treats, which seems a nice bit of advertising.  Note the five star rating and the peanut butter pie.  Note also that there are three loaded mouse traps inside.

So how did it work out?  Well, I came back a few days later and found a full house.  Looks as if a very wild time was had after hours at the Hungry Mouse Café!  Ugh...what a party.

Update.  Since I wrote the above, we found a little niche that the mice must have been using to gain entry.   With that blocked the number of mice caught in the garage went to zero.  Oddly, two weeks on there was a single mouse caught in the house.  I figure he was a lone survivor who had been wandering in what must have seemed to him an empty post rodent Apocalypse.  Mice are not particularly deep thinkers but he must have wondered:  "Hey, in all the stories I've heard its us and the cockroaches who rule after the humans are all gone.  Now, they are still here and I'm the last of my kind.....what gives?"

Monday, November 30, 2020

Deer Camp 2020 Observations

I moved to small town Wisconsin in 1985, which means I've already lived here most of my life.  On arrival I was bemused by the cultural importance of Deer Hunting Season.  Guys talked about it for a month in advance.  There were many events billed as "Lonely Doe" or "Deer Hunting Widow".  Mostly craft shows but I remember there being a few that featured male dancers!

It seemed like harmless fun and a good male bonding exercise.  Oh, there were a few down sides.  Because the process of scouting, prepping the hunting shack, bow hunting, gun hunting and so forth took up several weeks you'd be well advised to not have any carpentry, plumbing or other trades oriented work that needed to happen in November.  Or maybe even late October.

2020 was the year when our tribe started hunting together.  It just seemed like it was time.  This is a year when so many other traditions are under siege.  Family reunions, Trick or Treating, Thanksgiving and soon, Christmas....all cancelled or under shadow.

I enjoyed spending time with my sons.  I with the Big City lad could have stayed longer.  Contrary to my expectations that Deer Camp would be raucous and sodden, we all imbibed in moderation and went to bed early.  Mostly we just talked about hunting and general trivialities.  Occasionally more profound matters snuck in around the fringes.

There's two basic modes to hunting in Northern Wisconsin.

Morning Hunt.  You are up in the dark.  With a goal of being in your stand a half hour before official sun rise this involves creeping through pitch black woods.  You have a small flashlight and where necessary a few marker flags have been placed.  Its eerie, and you sense you are being watched.  Nature does not seem entirely conquered when it is just you, one lone human quietly sneaking through the dense forest.   

The first moments of daylight are crucial.  You squint out at vague shapes wondering which are bushes and which might be crouching deer.  When official hunting hours start you usually can tell, as distant booms roll across the woods.  Somebody is having better luck.

After a few hours it is too light for the deer to be casually out strolling, so you climb down and head back for lunch.

Evening hunt is the mirror image.  The walk in is sunny and the paths easy to follow.  There's no particular need for haste or stealth, its a good time to ponder over tracks or maybe just to sit on a stump a while and enjoy.  But eventually you climb up into the stand.  As the sun dips below the tree tops and under the crest of the hill the woods grow dark and mysterious again.  I found this a difficult time to hunt.  You know the deer are going to creep out just as the light fails.  But that's also the hardest time to see for a clean shot.   The walk out at the end of an evening hunt can be tricky.  Once I had to power up the GPS to find my way home.

Several things did surprise us.  There were a lot more people hunting in our immediate area than we had expected.  Perhaps we are not the only family feeling a loss of community.  Both hunting and fishing license sales were up in this crummy Covid year.  Taking off a mask and breathing fresh pine scented air was delightful.

I'm hoping this is just the first of many deer camps.  There's another generation that wants in as soon as possible.  We also might consider inviting a few guests in the future....any of my UK pals who want to REALLY see a different part of American life, come on over in late November.

And specifically to my UK friend Anthea.....I'm guessing we could still find one of those Lonely Doe exotic dancer nights around somewhere!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Hunting "Over the Hill"

A few posts back a commenter indicated interest in what it would be like to start hunting in one's mid 60's.  There are to this question both pragmatic and whimsical answers.   

Overall it's not too bad.  Some of the things you'd expect to be problematic were not.  Get up at 5AM? Heck, I do that all the time.  Aches and pains?  Sure a few, climbing up and down from tree stands and tromping considerable distances through the woods and all.  But again, heck, at my age there's aches and pains all the time.  I did not take a single Advil.  As to staying up in the tree without needful Calls of Nature, well just cut back the morning coffee from an enjoyable four cups to a neurologically necessary two.  No problem.

I'd like to think that my patience was above average.  The young lads got their deer respectively on Opening Day and Day Two of the season.  I kept hunting another five days past that.  That's a lot of hours sitting quietly surveying woods that were increasingly devoid of deer.  (As the season progresses in its Darwinian fashion the dim witted deer are harvested and the clever ones change their habits and haunts radically).

In the end I really only had a reasonable shot at two deer.  One I missed....various excuses are possible but I won't bore you with them.  One I needed another two or three seconds to get a confident aim, and the deer just kept walking.

This points to the major problem with being a first time deer hunter born in the 1950's.  You don't target things as quickly.

My eyesight is pretty good.  Oh, I wear reading glasses and have had both eyes "done" for cataracts.  But most of the visual aspects of picking up a target are just being the equivalent of a good motion detector.  You need a few seconds to know where the deer is in order to know where it will be when you have a clear shot.

It's my hearing that is the problem.

My sons tell me that they generally hear the critters before they see them.  Well, other than the deer that must have nearly crashed into my tree ten minutes before shooting hours started on the Opener (and Lordy that musta been one big, clumsy deer) I pretty much never heard the deer coming.

Now, I do have hearing aides.  These were grudgingly accepted a couple of years back when my Better Half put forth the unanswerable argument that I did not want to miss anything the grand children said.  They are really sophisticated, I can adjust setting from my phone for instance.  But they are also:  A: expensive and B: designed to pick up higher frequency sounds.  Small, delightful child's voices.  Also spousal voices, as it's best not to wait until things are repeated at a volume or in a tone of voice that cannot be missed.

I tried hunting without them, worried that anything lost in the woods would never be found.  I tried hunting with them.  I even tweaked the settings.  There's an outdoor mode.  There are options for volume...crank that up.  And for speech discrimination....crank that down.  But I still can't say I reliably heard the deer. Oh, one or two times I had a dim perception of "something", but that was usually about two seconds before I saw the insolent white tail flashing as the deer ran off.  Really, it's like a stylish middle finger.  

Mostly I heard everything else.  Leaves rustling.  Squirrels and small mice cavorting.  A scratchy noise every time my jacket moved against the tree bark.  And at my age every pivot of my neck beyond about 30 degrees causes a crackling noise that sounds like several large deer rolling around in a pile of dry sticks.

Well that's how it is.  This aspect of deer hunting is not going to get better in subsequent deer camps.

But all is not lost.  I've become a lot more comfortable with firearms.  Honestly the past week has increased my amount of total "holding a rifle" time by several orders of magnitude.  I know how to quietly disengage the safety.....having learned this the hard way when a deer snuck into my peripheral vision one morning.  I can perch in a tree stand for three hours or so at a time, shifting positions such that the rifle is safe and generally pointed in useful directions.  I've learned to sight in on plausible shooting lanes.  Of course the deer usually turn up somewhere entirely different.

We've also learned a lot about the behaviour of deer in our specific location.  I expect next year we will benefit from this, with the caveat being that 2020 had near ideal hunting conditions regards temp, snow cover etc.  If 2021 has some combination of bare ground, rain, bitter cold etc we may consider our haul this year - two very nice deer for three hunters - a high water mark.

Going forward I need my own rifle.  A borrowed unit is never as comfortable.  I think if I shop carefully, get something that feels comfortable and then put a hundred rounds or so through it, I'll be able to get the cross hairs on the target in three or four seconds.  Because five or six is often too late.

I'll have a few philosophical musings on the hunting tradition in a few days.

Addendum.  I've just learned that there is a short "second chance" season coming up in December for those with unfilled tags.  Look out deer, I'll be back....

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A Thanksgiving Fable

2020. It's an odd year for Thanksgiving.  Everyone's situation is different but our family has a lot to be thankful for....and yet, will not be gathering in official celebration of same.  It got me to thinking of Thanksgivings when I was growing up.  And a story came to me.  It's a mixture of truth and fiction, with of course all the trimmings.  Maybe a little stuffing here and there.

My grandma Hanson was a heroic cook.  The Thanksgiving feast went on for hours, and always featured the biggest damn turkeys I'd ever seen.  Some things get smaller as you grow up and see them with more mature eyes.  My grandparent's house for example.  But paradoxically the turkeys kept getting bigger with each passing year.  I recently got to wondering how this could be.  Here's what I came up with.

My grandpa Hanson ran a little grocery in Hawley Minnesota.  I remember it having tall shelves such that items on the upper tiers had to be grabbed with a special pole.  He kept the cash till in the freezer at night to deter thieves.  Well one year a brand spankin' new grocery store opened up one block down Main street.  This "Red Owl" was clearly going to put the Hanson grocery out of business.  I figure that the manager felt terrible about this and came to my grandmother one day:

"Mrs. Hanson, I'm just the manager and don't make these decisions.  But I want you to know that I really feel badly about this and if there is anything, anything at all I can do for you...just ask."

At which point my granny fixed him with a surprisingly steely glare and said:  "We'll talk in November".

My grandmother always wanted the biggest turkey available.  This was an inflexible demand that was not influenced by how many family would be present to eat it.  So when November came around, so did my grandmother.  Giving a slight disdainful shake of her head at the puny 12 and 14 pound turkeys in the display case she asked for the manager and said these were not sufficient. He went to the back of the store and came forth with a frosty 20 pounder.  Grandma looked it over and said:  " will do.  But next year I'll need a bigger one."

A year passed.  The outside world changed.  The grandsons expected on Turkey Day were becoming gangly youths with, one assumes, bigger appetites.  So when Mrs. Hanson showed up at the Red Owl the manager was ready.  And rather pleased with himself.

"Mrs. Hanson.  This is the biggest turkey available anywhere in the Red Owl system".  Casting an appraising eye on the 25 pound behemoth she tersely said:  "I suppose it will do.  But next year I'll need a bigger one."

Another year passed and in her visits to the Red Owl grandma - a keen observer - noted that the manager appeared more confident than usual.  In fact, he asked her if it would be convenient for her to come on a specific date to pick up this year's "big bird".  

Grandma Hanson was a wise individual, but her world was the insular one of a small town.  She knew all about the mildly scandalous doings over in "Little Finland", the community of outsiders that was literally across the tracks.  And of course she kept secret the prank she played on the makers of the Hawley Lutheran Cookbook that would not be revealed until a full generation after her passing.  The affairs of the wider world simply did not come to her attention.  And that was our very good fortune.

Otherwise she might have learned that a Heaviest Turkey Competition had been ongoing in Great Britain since 1955.  It began impressively with an initial 42 pound entrant.  Exactly what sorts of radiation, genetic manipulation and hormone injections were ultimately involved remains shrouded in mystery, but that it was clearly out in Crimes Against Nature territory cannot be doubted.  The contest was abruptly ended in 1989 after "Tyson" an 86 pound monster claimed the title.  His fate and that of his grower Phillip Cook of Peterborough UK are never spoken of.

But that lay in the future.  As it happens there was an active turkey growing industry in Western Minnesota at that time and no doubt pulling a few strings the Manager had, well, managed to obtain one of their research subjects, a failed attempt to match the English turkey growers.  While no "Tyson" the local entrant "Big Tom" was an impressive 47 pounds.  

It did not fit into the normal freezers at the supermarket and had to be unloaded directly from a refrigerated trailer.  Viewing its frosty magnificence grandma faced an existential crisis.  But she was made of stern stuff indeed this daughter of hungry Depression years.  She nodded in homage and said, with perhaps just a touch of hesitation in her voice: "It will do.  But next year.........I want something bigger".

A couple of side notes here.  I suspect the bird was carried into the house with the assistance of neighbors.  How she cooked it I can't say.  A few years later by the way, the Big Tom Project was terminated and as a cover story the Big Tom Statue I've written about on a previous holiday post was placed on a hill overlooking Frazee Minnesota.

I want to credit the manager in this story.  Few promises made in good faith can ever have been tested so severely or fulfilled with such difficulty.  

The next year he just said he'd have the truck bring the turkey directly to her house.  It arrived earlier than usual, about November 8th.  Grandma had been advised that it might take a little longer than usual to defrost this one.  At the appointed time the big Red Owl truck backed into her driveway.  And when the rear door was thrown open a chilling, in more than one sense, sight was beheld.

On a pallet tied down with wire cables and slapped with stickers indicating it had been shipped from New Zealand, was a massive bird carcass.  Easily 200 pounds it sat there with a cold malice defying anyone to figure out a way to cook it by methods short of a flamethrower and/or a Big Tom Level conflagration.

My grandmother knew when she had been bested.  She smiled at the Manager, who frankly was grey and shaking by this point, and said that perhaps that one was a little much for this year's Thanksgiving.

She was up in years by then and it was time for smaller scale festivities held at one of her daughter's houses.  

Only years later did I learn the true origins of The Biggest Damn Bird Ever.

It was in fact not a turkey but a Giant Moa.  These enormous birds strolled about in contentment until the first humans, the Maori, turned up circa 1300 AD.  In short order the moa were hunted to extinction.  Now you many not know it but New Zealand has lots of glaciers.  And they have been receding since about 1890.  The monstrous bird that ended up in my grandmother's driveway evidently was the carcass of one of the last Giant Moas, retrieved from a glacier and delivered - by means I cannot imagine - to her doorstep.  It is estimated that they sometimes topped 500 pounds, so this one was likely a mere teenager.

Well for what it's worth that is my Thanksgiving fable.  We'll be a small gathering this year and feasting on smaller fare.  But grandma Hanson will be with us in spirit, encouraging us to tuck away that second or third helping.  Anyway, here's a picture of her from late in life holding her first great grandchild.  I'm sure she's thinking:  "Well, it will do.... but I was expecting something bigger".

Monday, November 23, 2020

Deer Camp Chapter Three

It snowed over night.  This made everything pretty and also in theory made it easier to see the deer. It certainly made it easier to see their tracks.

Oddly the deer seem to have been wandering on and near the roads on day three of Hunting Season.  Maybe they've figured out that the hunters are all back in the woods.  Clever.

Here's my tree stand. In case you are unfamiliar with the concept you strap them onto the side of a tree in a spot where you hope deer will meander by.  This is to some extent a matter of guesswork.

Of course with a tree behind you there is an unavoidable blind spot of about 45 degrees.  One of my exciting events today happened when a deer snuck up behind me in just this fashion.  When I picked him up in my peripheral vision he was only 40 yards away.  So, an easy shot....if the rifle had not been pointing 180 degrees away!  I figured my best chance was to sit very still and hope he came to an area I could possibly hit without doing yoga positions with a loaded 30-06.  But when I clicked the safety off he must have heard it and was in short order just a dancing white tail disappearing into the brush.  This actually is the origins of the term "high tailing it".

The afternoon session was just a squirrel watching interlude, no deer.

My other exciting event of the day?  Well the Department of Natural Resources is doing a study on a chronic neurological disease in deer.  They want you to submit the heads, and just the heads, of deer you harvest.  So I've now added to my demonstrated skills list the ability to efficiently sever heads.  It's probably a bit of impractical knowledge I'll not use again, but some of my friends out there in the wilds - not of the north woods but of the internet - are probably now wondering....

There's actually six more days of deer season remaining but Deer Camp has quieted down.  Big City Lad had to go back to the real world and left this morning...with a huge cooler full of venison.  The other son also has decamped but will probably return in a day or two.

Better Half and I have the place to ourselves.  If I'm up before dawn, and that's pretty common, I might head out in the morning.  Or possibly wait a few days and give the deer a chance.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Deer Camp Chapter Two

Vile weather was forecast, so deer, hunters of same and spirits generally were all projected to be dampened. 

But it was actually a delightful morning.  Warmer than yesterday and with gentle snow starting around 9am.  Now, to stay in strict chronology I should begin with a quick look at the trail cam we set up to overlook the, er, leftover parts after we field dressed the deer from yesterday.  Of course we were expecting a wild Coyote Thanksgiving.  But instead we got fifteen pictures that all looked like this:

This of course is the little doe that the neighbors have been feeding all summer.  We've agreed that it is not to be targeted, and in fact I've seen it more than once right across the road from us.  I was a bit surprised that deer seem to have no qualms whatsoever about being near the dismembered parts of other deer.  Humans would be creeped out for sure.  But one must recall that lots of deer get clobbered by cars every day in Wisconsin.  Deer likely get accustomed to it.  "Hmmmm, wonder if that's Blanche?  Oh well."  Despite our benevolent attitude I don't think her loitering around the Open All Night Predator Buffet bodes well.

I sat in my stand for a pleasant three hour morning session and saw nothing.  I heard several reports from the general direction that Small Town Son was hunting and indeed he got a nice doe about an hour after sunrise.   I'll be moving my location over that way this afternoon, as the smarter deer -  and this does not include our pal above - are moving deeper into the woods.

For the historical record here's Small Town Son standing next to his deer.

For those of the non hunting persuasion I should mention that there are two kinds of hunters.  Some want only to bag bucks with large antlers.  Others, and we are of this class, want venison.  That being the case these big does - they're forest cows really - are what we are looking for.  I fear when I finally manage to shoot something it will be puny in comparison.  Well, at least I'll be able to brag about hitting a smaller target.....

PM update.  New stand has better visibility and lots of little squirrels to hold my interest.  30 minutes before the official end of shooting hours two deer sprinted past me.  I had the safety off and a deer in the sights for the first time....but it was not a shot that a novice should be taking. 

On the way back out of the woods we saw three more, all insolently aware that the failing light gave them a reprieve.  For at least another day.