Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Union Cemetery

When on the back roads doing my Strange Fishing Challenge I run across other unexpected things.  Here is a small cemetery I had never been past.

Lo and behold, a Tree Shaped Tombstone.  Spaeth is a fairly common name in these parts.

Somethings slightly curious about this one.  It is clearly a "single stage" tombstone, not one of the big ones made up of two or even three segments.  Those monuments are held together with a metal rod placed in central holes of the segments.  So why is there a hole in this one?  I'm going to have to examine the tops of these things more closely.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Good Versus Evil on a Tuesday Night

It certainly has been a long campaign.  It has had ups and downs.  And now it comes down to this...on Tuesday the first of three crucial meetings.  Most people say that the first one is the most important of all, because a disaster there would be hard to overcome later.  Emotions are running hot, as this is a high stakes situation and one of the participants is widely held to have shamelessly cheated a few years ago.  Nobody likes cheaters.

I am of course talking about the baseball playoffs where "my" team the Minnesota Twins is facing off in a best of three series with the sign stealin', cheatin' Houston Astros.

What?  You thought I was referring to something else happening on Tuesday night?

Well I suppose I'll have to watch the debate instead.  If I can figure out how to watch it later and enjoy the game live I'll do so.  But lacking new technology (TiVo) or functional old tech (VCR!) I'm not sure if that's possible.

It has been an odd year in so many ways.  Both in baseball and in politics.  But there is one big difference.  Soon the baseball season will be over and I'll miss it.  Soon the 2020 election season will be over and I won't.

* To be clear I don't actually see the world of politics as being neatly divided into good and evil. Nor do I see the world of baseball that way with the obvious exception of the clearly evil New York Yankees.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Paul Bunyan's Descendants - Another Geocache's Adventure

Geocaches have odd little lives of their own.  You send them out into the world.  They meet lots of new people.  Sometimes good things happen to them;  geocaching has a system of awarding "Favorite Points".  Sometimes other things happen, as in my previous post about a cache that had fallen into the hands of "Muggles".

An early cache I placed contained photos and text relating to the early logging history of the area.  Appropriately I had placed it inside a hollow tree.  Well, one day I got a message from somebody who had found the the sawed up ruin of the tree.  It seems the entire hillside was being clear cut by modern day Paul Bunyans.  The cache had been cut clean in half.

 You can see bits of the tree in the background.

It was a good cache, well camouflaged as you can see.  But the trees on this hillside were a mix of invasive buckthorn and ash trees afflicted by invasive Emerald Ash borers.  So it was clear cut and will be replanted with native species. 

I of course went down as soon as I got the word, and was able to retrieve the various parts of the cache.  Also to have a nice chat with the guy operating the impressive machine that did all the damage.  It turns out he was a geo cacher himself.  Also a very observant fellow.  "Yah, I was wondering what that was...."

A new location and a new container.  Contents repaired or replaced.  Hopefully the cache will live on through further adventures.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Billy Possum and Supreme Court Politics

Although everyone of course knows what a Teddy Bear is, knowledge of it's "origin story" is a bit less universal.  The Teddy involved was Teddy Roosevelt.  It seems that on a hunting trip in 1902 he declined to shoot a bear.  It's a nice story and one that fits with T.R.'s worthy commitment to the environment.  In actuality the story did end badly for the bear but legends can get messy if you insist on attention to such details.  

A stuffed animal was created to play off this story, and became a huge success.  The Teddy Bear.

Everyone loved stuffed animals.  Most people loved bears and Teddy Roosevelt.  The popularity of stuffed bears and the name connecting them to our 26th President have endured for generations.  And like all surprising and original successes, there were attempts to copy it.  Which brings us to Billy Possum. 

Roosevelt considered William Taft to be his logical successor.  Although they fell out later in life there seems to have been considerable mutual respect during the time when Taft was campaigning and ultimately winning the 1908 election.  

In January of 1909 Taft as President Elect supposedly attended a dinner in Atlanta Georgia.  On the menu was a local delicacy "possum and taters".  When the famously overweight Taft had indulged his appetite by consuming, unaided, an entire opossum stuffed with sweet potatoes the event organizers then presented him with a cute little stuffed opossum to commemorate the occasion.

A brief craze ensued in which cartoons, stuffed animals, campaign buttons etc were all marketed with the name "Billy Possum".  This was an obvious homage to the Teddy Bear so popular in the previous administration.

It was a marketing flop, one that was essentially over and done by Christmas.  Perhaps the legend of a bear being spared - although it was false - just resonated more than a fried up marsupial being consumed entire by an obese man.

Taft is considered an average president.  He suffered from being very much in the shadow of his mentor turned adversary the flamboyant Teddy Roosevelt.  It is also said that he was never all that keen on being President.  No, he really wanted to be Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Eventually in 1921 he got his wish, becoming the only man ever to occupy both the highest executive and highest judicial posts in America. 

In a story that resonates with the news of the day, Taft stayed on the court even in the face of declining health.  When he administered the oath of office to incoming President Hoover in 1929 he botched some of the words.  He continued to decline over the course of the year but refused to resign, out of concern over who the Democrat Hoover might nominate in his stead.  In a letter to his brother Horace, Taft wrote:

"I am older and slower and less acute and more confused. However, as long as things continue as they are, and I am able to answer to my place, I must stay on the court in order to prevent the Bolsheviki from getting control"

Eventually he was able to secure a promise from Hoover regards the next nominee to the Supreme Court.  Taft died, presumably at peace, on March 8th, 1930.

Reflecting on Supreme Court politics 90 years ago it appears that things were much the same...and also much different.  Yes, it was a time just as now, when a Justice might linger on long past the point where they could be expected to make sober, well reasoned decisions.  But it was also a time when in the face of a turbulent world, one with economic upheaval and the rise of authoritarian governments everywhere, that political rivals would sit down, reason together and compromise for the common good.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Strange Fishing Challenge Day Four

For those arriving late, this is my silly quest to catch 20 species of fish in seven days of fishing.  I started the day with 9 species accounted for after three days.....

I really had not intended to do another Fishing Challenge Day.  It was supposed to be cold and rainy and I had an appointment in the early afternoon.  But I threw the gear in the vehicle anyway, and around 2:30 tossed a line into a spot on the Chippewa River where I'd been told some weird fish could be found.

Now normally I designate a first trip to a spot as a scouting day....the Fishing Challenge Day does not start until I say it does.  But the fish were biting, and as promised, they were weird.

This is a spot below a hydro dam.  Fish tend to swim upstream until they can't go further....then sit below the dam and feed on things that wash through..  I was bottom fishing mostly, just toss a hook full of night crawlers to the right spot and see what happens.

My first catch was a substantial fish but it kicked loose just as I pulled it onto shore.  I had you see neglected to bring a landing net.  Not long after I hauled in this guy:

This is a silver redhorse.  Not a common species, it's a big help on the way to 20.  He was probably three or four pounds.  Next up...

A small mouth buffalo.  Definitely an odd one.  This time I was ready, I had on a mechanics glove to grab him and toss him on shore.  And I gently held him down for hook removal and a photo.  This may have been the same species as the one that hopped back in the drink while I was reaching for my camera.  Same piggy eyes.

I fished a bit longer with no more luck.  As the sun set I tried another spot upstream.  My son and grandson have caught catfish there.  I sat there and drank a beer as the sun set.  A train went over the bridge.  Probably fish swam by, you couldn't prove it by me. 

But since the Fishing Challenge Day runs 24 hours from the point I declare one....there was the next morning.

Next morning it rained.  I fished and fished and caught nothing.  20 species is going to be hard, but the two I got on Day Four were odd ones that I could not have bagged had I gone specifically looking for them.  Presumably further fishing days on hold until spring.  

11 species down, 9 to go.  Gonna be hard.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

When We Practice to Deceive

I've been working on a series of really tricky geocache containers.  It's a chance to experiment with various methods of camouflage.  It's about more than just color,  you need to break up outlines, especially of anything with straight edges.  And of course anything that is very different from the standard cache types is good.   Here are some "works in progress".

This might be three completed geo caches.  Or might be two crumbly bits of railroad tie and a curled up birch bark remnant.  Who knows?

I've been doing a series of containers based on these square plastic tubes.  Here's the progression from base unit to painted unit to full camo.  The moss is real.  I'm keeping this one outside for a while to age it a little more.  The square foam stopper seen with the lowest version is a new design.  It seems fully water proof.  I've tested these by submerging the entire container.  It stays dry.  That should make ground hides possible.  Cache hunters are usually not expecting these.  With a bit more refinement I hope eventually to craft an underwater cache!

Odds and ends.  A big plate fungus.  The motion sensor controlled voice box from a Halloween decoration.  A pine cone.  A rock and a brick.  Which of these are, or will become, parts of new geocaches.  Who knows?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Strange Fishing Challenge. Day Three.

Labor Day weekend.  I had the generations above and below me to help out and the "home field advantage" that comes with fishing your own lake.  Up at the cabin we routinely catch large mouth bass, small mouth bass and bluegills.  Pike, crappie, perch and rock bass are possible.  So, how did 24 hours of the Strange Fishing Challenge go?  If you are keeping score at home in my quest to catch 20 species of fish in seven days of fishing I started the day at 5 species in two days.....

Before we even got the boat out I had two more species.  My grandson was there to give me expert advice on dock fishing.

Yes, this is a large mouth bass.  Sorry for photo quality, when you hand the camera to a four year old you take what you get.

A dock sized blue gill.  I was feeling pretty confident after bagging two species in about five minutes.  So it was off in the boat we go...

My next target was northern pike.  The best way to catch them really is trolling.  So up and down the lake we went catching fish pretty often.  The other two members of the fishing party caught pike after pike.  I caught bass after bass, many of them of respectable size.  This despite using very similar lures.  Fishing is weird.  Finally...

Now we had a dilemma.  Having caught the main species on our little lake do we go for the minor ones?  Windy, choppy conditions had set in so we went over to another lake, one my son had fished a lot as a youngster.  Supposedly there were plentiful rock bass.  But instead I caught one after another a succession of these:

Yellow Perch.  Not exactly what I was looking for but they count as a new species.  So the tally for the expedition was four species and the running tally stands at three days, nine species.  I suppose I'm still on track to bag the twenty species in seven days, but to be honest I've already gotten the easy ones.  Further Strange Fishing Challenge Days may have to wait until spring.  I've heard of a river over on the eastern half of the state that has no fewer than 52 species present!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Help Wanted - President. 2020 Edition

In times long past the official beginning of the Presidential campaign season was Labor Day.  That is, Labor Day of the year the election was being held.  Now the 2020 campaign has been underway for almost four years, and probably sub rosa the 2024 campaign is already up and running.  As always when I venture into the "Just Politics" tag I must preface the post with the observation that I'm writing simply as an observer of the American Scene.  My own politics are my own business.  Yours likewise.  Everyone's upbringing, life experiences, dreams and fears are just a bit different and are worthy of respect.  If you are insistent on such matters I can say that I am an independent voter in a swing state, hence one of the perhaps 10% of the electorate that in theory will decide the upcoming election.  Political trolls and hacks, badger me at your own peril!  For the record I have not to date voted for either Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden.

So.  A good starting point would be my every four years "Want Ad"  Help Wanted, President.  It is partly written to help my UK friends understand the odd ways of US politics.  Not that they themselves have become more sensible since my last edition.   My point system for ranking politicians regards qualifications was and remains as follows:

Qualifications to be President of the United States of America

Have already been President once.  5 points.  Nothing like doing a job to show that you can.

Vice President.  Held the office once 3 points.  Twice 4 points.  In theory, but not always in practice, VPs are being trained for the possibility of taking over.

US Senator. Elected once 2 points.  More than once 3 points.  First timers don't generally get assigned to the real power committees.  And for good or ill, the longer you are in Washington the more connections you make to useful people.

US Congressperson.  Elected once 1 point.  More than once 2 points.  Same rationale.  But our Congressional districts are so strangely drawn that it is possible to be a frequently elected office holder that the majority of people even in your home state regard as a loony.

Governor. Elected once 2 points.  Elected more than once 3 points.  This has traditionally been the training ground for Executive experience in the US. I should really go with 3 and 4 here but to be fair some states are less impressive to run than others.  By that I mean no disrespect to tiny states. A bigger issue are states that are atypical (Alaska, Utah, California) or that are political monocultures where you never have to negotiate with other viewpoints (too many examples to list).

Military Experience.  1 point.  I used to think it would require a high rank to get a point.  But the guy or gal who is Commander in Chief has to consider sending our troops into action.  Having once been a grunt would be a solid point in my book.

Significant Business Experience.  1 point. Often maligned but I think unfairly so.

Significant Cabinet Office.  1 point. Setting aside the question of whether they were any good at their job of course.

Other. 1 point.  My place to reward those with varied life experience.  I prefer being positive when possible.  An alternative view would be penalty deductions for various things.

I think the system holds up reasonably well, although in an era when traditional political parties are marching to extinction we'll likely see every serious candidate - and all the Sillies - getting this point for something or other.  Whether this is good or bad is a debatable point.

Since the 2016 election Donald Trump has of course increased his on-paper qualifications.  Last time around he was a Silly candidate who got one point for his highly varied past.  I described him as "A large angry man with orange hair".   2020 - 7 Points

Joe Biden is the only one of the candidates to whom I can't grant a bonus point for varied life experiences.  He is very much a creature of party politics and has done little else besides hold office.  Still, VP twice and many years in the Senate.  2020 - 7 Points

I feel I should include Vice Presidential candidates this time around.  The odds of one taking over from an older than usual President look significant. Oddly the most on-paper qualified person here is the low key Mike Pence.  VP once, Governor of very middle America state of Indiana, a couple of terms in the House, and assorted other private sector experience.  2020 - 8 Points

Kamala Harris represents the new breed of politician.  Part of a US Senate Term.  A bonus point for various interesting life experiences.  But here difficulty relating to voters outside the very Blue ramparts of California does tend to show quite a bit.  2020 - 3 Points.  Maybe 2.5 if you pro-rate the 2/3 Senate term.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that none of these will end up as the next face on Mount Rushmore.  If in fact we ever deign to commemorate leaders with graven images in the future.  As to where the political world is going.....I'll keep my opinions mostly to myself.  But let's hear a brief comment on the issues of 2020 from the generally acknowledged Great Presidents up on the Mountain.

George Washington on Political Parties:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Thomas Jefferson on the media:  (At a time when the internet did not exist outside of fevered hallucinations)

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

Teddy Roosevelt on Civil Disorder:

“When compared with the suppression of anarchy every other question sinks into insignificance. The anarchist is the enemy of humanity, the enemy of all mankind, and his is a deeper degree of criminality than any other."

Abraham Lincoln on.....Well there's a reason Lincoln is considered the Greatest President.  He was a very thoughtful man and our most honest speaker.  He had many things to say on matters of racial justice, preservation of the Union, the nature of mankind.  But they were deeper and franker truths than the internet age can process.  No wonder the anarchists who Teddy Roosevelt rightly condemned have come surging to the base of the statues where Lincoln calmly and I  think, sadly, surveys their angry torch lit faces.


Footnote.  I searched high and low for any comment by the Four on the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918/19.  Of course only the Roosevelts were around in that era.  Both had it and got quite ill, as did then President Wilson.  None of them said anything public about a disease that killed more than covid-19 and by devastating a younger demographic in a smaller population, had far more implications for America. Whether the weakened state of Woodrow Wilson, who caught it while trying to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, contributed to the later carnage of World War Two is an interesting pub discussion.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

A Unusual Catch....

 Possibly a few followers of Detritus of Empire have been wondering when the next installment of "Strange Fishing Challenge" will appear.  Well, eventually.  I've been out a few times on a more exploratory basis.  I don't figure that fishing brand new spots is a fair challenge so those days don't count as Challenge Days.  I think this is well within the rather flexible honesty standards common to all fishermen.  So....patience.

On one such scouting trip I was exploring a ravine leading down to a (purported) trout stream.  A few paces down the path I turned and saw this:

If I didn't know better, and I assure you I do, I'd have thought this was an unreported brewery cave.  Let's have a look inside.  Of course I carry a small flood light and a camera with me at all times.

The geology looks about right for a brewery cave.  We've seen those striations of iron pigment many times before.

Configuration and dimensions are also correct, although there is a curious bend to the first 20 feet or so of the excavation.

Eventually you come to a modern wall, sadly defaced with graffiti.  This ends not in the basement of a long lost brewery, but somewhere else.  Through a small niche in the wall a sliver of light and the sound of rushing water can be perceived.

As it turns out this is not a brewery cave but a tunnel associated with an old mill.  The creek that I did not catch fish in runs through a deep ravine, and a dam and water powered mill was here in the 19th century.  Water would be sent out through this tunnel to power the water wheels of the mill.  There's still a dam here but no sign of the mill.  Oh, there's a bunch of rubble in the water but that probably came from a bridge that once crossed here.  The mill site is now a parking lot.

The mill shows on this 1888 map but does not appear on a similar map from 1878.  Although this is public land I think I'll keep the location quiet for now....this is a site that should be checked for hibernating bats this winter and if necessary, protected.

Monday, September 7, 2020

End of Summer

And beginning of other things.  No, not our puppy, belongs to one of the kids.  Pleased they named it after Hank the Cowdog.  Bed time stories are remembered even decades later.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Tales of the Omaha Depot

Technically this should be Tales of the Omaha Depots.  Confusingly there were two locations and seemingly several iterations at each.  I'll mention some of this in passing but honestly, detailed railroad history is a rather, hmmm, selective interest.

The history of American communities is often based on transportation.  With so much space there have to be reasons to put a town at a given location.  As with many early communities Chippewa Falls was founded on a spot with good water power and at least some prospects for river travel.  But the latter never really panned out, so there was much interest in railroads arriving as soon as possible.

The first line came to Chippewa Falls from Eau Claire in 1875.  Note this 1874 Birds Eye view that already has a train chugging into town!  It was pretty common for early illustrations to take a few liberties in the interest of civic boosterism.

Assuming this at least reflected planned development this depot appears to have been on the South Side of town right near the end of the Main Street Bridge.  Early depots generally seem to have been on the South Side - otherwise rather inconvenient as the main town was across the river - as this avoided the need to deal with the two big hills that loomed over the town to the east and west.  

The Omaha Line, or if you are being pedantic the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad, came to town in 1883, with their first depot being on the South Side just a bit upstream from the earlier depot.  One year later in the fall of 1884 they also built a spur line to a depot on the East (or Catholic) Hill across the river.  This seems rather redundant.  An 1886 Birds Eye view shows us both Omaha Depots.

East Hill:

The adjacent W.O. Lamb company sold wholesale "Lime, Coal, Oil, Salt, Sash, Doors and Blinds".

South Side:

Rail depots always have people coming and going.  So the local papers report various tales of pickpockets, derailments, fishing expeditions and so forth.  In October of 1894  William McKinley gave a whistle stop speech at the East Hill station.  In 1918 a contingent of local boys marched off to The Great War at the South Side station, accompanied by a marching band, a crowd of thousands, bonfires lighting their way and skyrockets launched overhead.

It's hard to fathom why the Omaha line actually had two depots in town.  From what I can gather, they were trying to induce the locals to pay for expensive improvements including a new bridge over the Chippewa River in exchange for building a single first rate depot.  When that was not forthcoming operations were just moved to the South Side for good in 1896.  

The South Side depot was never a grand place.  In fact an anonymous writer in the Chippewa Herald describes it as an embarrassment.  On one occasion when there was a fire in the neighborhood disappointment was expressed that it was only a freight car and not the depot proper that had gone up in flames.

Eventually another form of transportation, automobiles and trucks, largely supplanted rail service.  Certainly for passenger service, and with the decline of lumbering after the early 20th century there was much less need for freight as well.  The Omaha depots were converted to other purposes.  On the East Hill a Farmers coop took over the building.  I recall one associated structure, a grain elevator, being there until circa 1990.

The South Side depot faded to obscurity and was also converted to storage.  The State Historical Society preserves this photo of the site:

It is felt that this structure was the freight depot, and that it dates to about 1897, approximately the time of the move of operations to the South Side.  Today there is nothing there but a tangle of brush next to tracks that are still in use.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

On the Hunt.....

Although technically I suppose I have never grown up, when I was a young person I lived in the big city.  We had no family hunting tradition and other than a few trips to the rifle range at Boy Scout camp I have had minimal contact with fire arms.

But I moved to Wisconsin and raised my boys here.  They all hunt.  So this year we will have our first ever family deer hunt.  If you are not from here let me tell ya, deer hunting is a very big deal.  Schools either close or lower expectations significantly.  Factories use the week to shut down for maintenance.  Wives, called "deer widows" go to sales.  Or in some instances also go hunting.

But this is all new to me so perhaps chronicling the journey will be of some interest.

You have to start somewhere, and in this case you start with an online lottery for deer tags.  This is what I saw on a Monday morning recently:

Note the 12,208 people in line ahead of me.  My two sons were also logged in.  One was at the 16,000 mark, the other - the best shot in the family - around 8,000.  But it worked out.  As it happens there are a myriad of options.  Permits are set aside for each county, for public and private land, for antlered and antlerless deer.  Not everyone is aiming to hunt the same little area near our cabin.  As it turns out, very few people were, and we succeeded in getting our permits without difficulty.  Most years there are over 400,000 licences sold, so my fretting was not warranted.  It actually turned out being easier than the  rush for Vindolanda excavation slots.

I of course have no deer hunting "stuff".  You have to wear blaze orange clothes.  They are pretty easy to spot at thrift sales!

Hat, gloves, two pairs of mittens with open up space on the front for trigger finger.  The big orange thing could be used either as a double hand warmer or a seat cushion.

Stay tuned for updates between now and deer season in November.  And possibly for some nice vegetarian recipes to follow!