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.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Deer Camp - Chapter One

If you are coming in late, this is a chronical of our first ever family deer hunting "camp".  And for me my first ever hunting age 63.  

Big City Son turned up first.  We made targets from cardboard we had sitting around.  Note the accurate, empty thought balloon from the deer on the right.

We went to a public land spot a couple of miles from our intended hunting sites and blazed away with assorted artillery.  Mostly to encouraging results but I did have a tendency to grip the gun pretty hard as it has a wicked recoil.  I had a few rounds go low until I corrected for this.  

It got to the point that I just started shouting down range:  "Maybe next time you'll pay Big Tony when you're supposed to!"

Opening day 5AM.  The breakfast table is set with firearms, ammo, Kit Kats and a Hostess Product called "Zingers", a shameless Little Debby knockoff.

The view from my tree stand shortly after dawn.  Things had been eventful already.  Before the sun rose I heard a ferocious crashing directly behind me.  I did not dare turn around on the off chance that a - hopefully - giant buck might still be standing there.  Spoiler, he wasn't.  And right as the sun came up there was a riotous chorus of coyotes!  Howling, yipping and barking, they might just be smart enough to realize that deer opener means plenty of field dressing....and that's good eatin'.  Coyote Thanksgiving.

I saw three deer without a clear shot at any.  Besides, one was a runty little thing perhaps suitable for a Wednesday deer but not a Saturday morning one.

Big City Son had better luck.  Perhaps inspired by the continuous gunfire in his neighborhood he has developed a cool, steely eyed demeanor regards firearms.  He scored this very large doe at about 9am Opening Day.

Oh, and he's unwrapping a celebratory Hostess Zinger.  Perhaps a tradition is born?

The afternoon was less exciting.  I sat in my stand for hours on end as the sun went lower and lower in the sky.  Eventually it was nearly horizontal and bright orange so I thought it was a good occasion for a photo.  Yes, there are risks to taking a selfie while holding a loaded rifle in your free hand but it can be done if you are careful.

The other risk of course is that when you get back to the warmth of the cabin and are sitting contentedly by the spy a deer hiding in the background!

Just kidding.

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Book of Deer

Under difficult circumstances we are going to attempt to launch a new family tradition in the fall of that most sour of years, 2020.  Deer Hunt.

I did not hunt growing up but raising a family of my own in Wisconsin all three boys developed an interest.  They hunt birds, deer.  Ooof, that time we had squirrel tacos.  But despite having a suitable up north place we've never made it a family affair.  Until now.

It's just time.  One son had been hunting with his in-laws but some fragile health on that side of the aisle means spending less time there is prudent.  Another son is living on the opposite side of the state and needs to get back to less civilized but far healthier climes.  And without robotics, travel and other diversions I'm frankly looking for things to do.  Time to get a hunting tradition started.  Hopefully the grand kid generation will step up in a few years, by which point I imagine I'll be relegated to camp cook or some such emeritus status.

And to record the Deer Hunting chronicles...

It's a blank book with a laminated cover.  Regular readers will recognize our trail cam photo of the most clueless deer in the world.

I expect the book will contain stand locations, reports of sightings, recipes both venison and non success vegetarian fare, and so forth.  One of the first entries will be a hand drawn map of our hunting spots as drawn by the five year old.

Updates as the hunt progresses....

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Happy Hour in the Plague Year. Six of One, Several Dozen of Another.

Many years ago the legal drinking age and I both became 18 at about the same moment.  I was in that odd in between status.  Old enough to drink but still living at home for a few summers.  I enjoyed the occasional beer.  Still do, truth be told.

So I'd put some in the fridge now and again.  A six pack seemed to be no problem.  But if I indulged in the family tendency toward frugality and bought the more economical 12 pack my dad raised an eyebrow and in fact on one occasion said "That's more than I like to see."  Fair enough, his brother, my Uncle Ben, was a skid row alcoholic.  Not that he drank beer much.  From his occasional stays with us when no other option was available there were always a few hidden bottles that turned up later.  Vile, cheap, distilled poison.  I think my general aversion to whiskey and such stems from this.

Fast forward to 2020.  Wisconsin is hitting a tough stretch and my Better Half has decreed that visits to the store are to be minimized.  Today she sent me to the liquor emporium with orders to only return with at least a one month supply of "essentials".

Old habits die hard.  I think this is the first time I've ever needed a shopping cart for booze, other than a few times when we were laying in stock for family reunions, weddings etc.  But I soldiered on and accomplished my mission.  It sure felt weird. 

Ready for boredom and cabin fever.  At least thirst will not be added as a further hardship.

To be clear this is for both of us.  Neither the brandy nor the wine are to my tastes.  Regards the latter I had general instructions regards Sauvignon Blanc from a certain region of New Zealand.  With my remaining discretion I bought anything that mentioned monkeys on the label.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Trail Cam - Final Photos

I've enjoyed trekking about the nearby woods these past months putting up our trail cams to suss out the best places to hunt deer.  I can see the appeal of photo only hunting,  you do get that sense of wonder every time you see something unexpected.

It has been educational as well.  You get to see deer families growing up.  By November the spotted fawns of last spring are only a bit smaller than their mothers.  We have by the way been requested to not fire on the cute little deer family that lives just across the road.

Late in the season the "deermographics" change.  Does are sighted less often.  Bucks appear.  They've been off doing guy stuff somewhere all summer and fall.  Now it's mating season.  They are out looking for action.  What the does think of this is unclear.

Well its almost Opening Day and time for decisions on where to put our stands.  So some final pictures.  Presumably next week's entries in the "Hunter Gatherer" series will be me snapping a few from the stand while waiting for something to happen.  Perhaps while considering recipes for a Tofu Thanksgiving.

Closing time at the Mating Season Disco.  "Hey, baby, I'm a feelin' pretty....antlery".

One of my sons is a very accomplished marksman.  I send him pictures like this just to confuse him.

A bewildered elderly man searching for a trail cam he had placed in a particularly sneaky location..

Friday, November 13, 2020

Another "Doughboy" with Tree, Manitowoc Wisconsin

Less than 24 hours after finding an amazing new form of "Tree Shaped Tombstone" I found another one.  This "Doughboy" is in the Evergreen Cemetery of Manitowoc.  The condition is not quite as good, but it is still magnificent.

This is the grave of Private Otto Luecke.

As you can see, the right ear and the brim of his had have had some damage.  There is also a bit more overall weathering.  This makes it hard to read the inscription on the "stump" but it indicates he died in Manchester England.  I assumed he was a victim of the "Spanish Flu".  And I was right.

It is a sobering reminder that the Four Horsemen always ride in tandem.  The 1918 influenza pandemic killed many more than the shell fire and machine gun bullets of The Great War.

With the discovery of two essentially identical monuments it is clear that we are not dealing with a one off done by some talented and dedicated craftsman.  Somebody was creating and marketing these on a larger scale.  It is difficult to track them down with a standard Google image search, you just get buried under tons of more commonplace World War monuments.  But I have found at least two other specimens from other states.  I'd love to learn out more if anyone knows anything....

The fact that this was a commodity in no way detracts from their beauty.  You could not make something like this without considerable skill and passion for your work.  I'm sure the families appreciated it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Doughboy and the Tree

Bit of a longer post today.  The subject warrants it.

If I have limited time and am passing through a city I usually try to figure out where the "society" cemetery was.  That's where you find the most ornate tombstones.  Which is not to say always the most interesting ones.  But on this occasion I was on the edge of Manitowoc Wisconsin and noticed that Calvary Cemetery, a smaller place on the outskirts, was nearby.  I drove up and saw.....this.

A life sized World War I doughboy standing at parade rest next to an ornamental tree stump.  I'd never seen one before, never even heard of one.  It's amazing.  Check out the details!

The hand holding the rifle has fingernails.

The boots have distinct lacings.  The legs have that odd cloth wrap that was intended to keep the muck of the trenches somewhat at bay.  The toes of the boots have that odd "Ronald McDonald" look that I'm sure reflected reality.

Not just a canteen, but one with a canvas cover.

Even the rifle is shown in enough detail that it can be identified by type.  It is a so called "American Enfield", a British design rechambered for American ammunition.  It was in fact the most common rifle issued to American troops.  The tell tale clue is the distinctive front sights.

(since my experience digging at Hill 80 I've developed an interest in the history of Great War firearms.  A fabulous - and non political - source for this is C&Rsenal ).

A much weathered inscription on the top of the "stump" only gives the first name, Edward.  But it is in the plot of the Gerl family.  There is also an inscription on the front which gives the details of his death:

"Lost his life in the English Channel.  May 21, 1918."

The full story is HERE.  The short version is that he was a Manitowoc lad who had been working as a teacher before enlisting.  He was in an early draft sent overseas and was one of 53 American soldiers who died when the transport Moldavia was torpedoed in the English Channel by the German submarine UB-57.

There are many remarkable things about this monument.  The details of his death.  The absence of a last name.  But mostly the incredible detail.  My first thought was that this was a privately commissioned work, and I marveled that there was no artist's signature to be found.  I stared at the face, and it stared right back.  Was it based on the actual face of Edward Gerl?

Hard to tell, isn't it?  I was still pondering the question when I discovered the answer.  More on this next time.

The hunt for history as recorded in tombstones may seem a bit morbid, but it provides plenty of occasion for reflection on Life and Death.  And less commonly for wonderful surprises such as the Doughboy and the Tree monument I found in Calvary Cemetery, on the outskirts of Manitowoc....

Monday, November 9, 2020

Tree Shaped Tombstones - A Separation in Coloma Wisconsin

When you look at a map of Wisconsin there are lots of towns and cities along obvious transportation routes.  The shores of Lakes Michigan and Superior.  Along the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers.  Then there are places sitting all by themselves in the middle of the state.  Presumably when thinly settled land got divided up into counties they just figured they needed a place for the courthouse and some little cross roads/county store got promoted.   I think that's the case with Coloma Wisconsin, although I shall state for the record that it is a nice little town.

In the cemetery I found one of those curiosities that have been bothering me.  A Tree Shaped tombstone with room for husband and wife....but with one absent.  Here it is as photographed late in the day as the first flakes of an oncoming blizzard began to swirl.

This style of "book" turns up once in a while.  It looks as if it would be easy to damage with lawn care, and it has not weathered as nicely as one would like.  The inscription says:

NEMA WIFE OF W.A. ROBLIER Died Mar 8 1894 AGED 24 years 8 months.

So where is her husband?

William Roblier is to be found many rows back, as the cemetery filled up.

He lived from 1869 to 1940.  So at the time of his death Nema had been gone for 46 years.  His second wife, Mona, is buried next to him.  She lived all the way to 1968....more than seven decades past the first Mrs. Roblier.

It's the sort of scenario that must have played out often in an era where people, especially women and children, often died young.  And where remarriage was socially expected.

I guess it made sense for W.A. to be buried where he is.  I can't imagine the second wife being on board with him being laid to rest next to a woman gone nearly half a century.  And as for Nema, well she was not entirely alone.

These little half round markers at the foot of adult graves are usually the resting places of children who died very young.  For some reason there are two here.  This one is blank.  Here's the other one.

 Born Jan (?) 1891 Died

The inscription is very worn, I could not for instance see the name Gladys that records indicate is on top.  The poor little thing died in 1891 at the age of one month.

A sad story but history contains many such.  Also a peek into the sociology of burial practices in a time when people tended to marry young and to live for highly variable spans. 

The light of her young life went down,
  As sinks behind the hill
The glory of a setting star,        15
  Clear, suddenly, and still.

It's a verse from a long, mournful poem by John Greenleaf Whittier 

Friday, November 6, 2020

End of an Era. Also the Beginning of one.

Last robotics related post was "Moving Day" and it left some loose ends.  There was a lot of wood to deal with.  Mostly this was a big wobbly storage shelf that some kids slapped together in the early days of the team.  Also some very much better built "field elements" wooden practice analogs of things on the playing fields of more recent games.  They all had to go.

There was a real memory lane aspect to this.  Once again in covid times I was working by myself.  I continued to find fun little artifacts from the early, crazy days.  And I got to deploy a tool that had not been seen for several years now.  Behold, the mighty Hammer of Persuasion.

And yes, obviously I do feel a bit like Thor wielding this.  Our first year robot was rather crudely designed and built and often needed taps with this to get shafts through bearings and so forth.  In recent years everything has been computer designed and precision fabricated, so The Hammer has not been needed.  But it sure came in handy knocking apart wooden structures.

And then for my last official duty I got out another tool, one I have used often in recent seasons.  The team is building things way beyond my skill level so I mostly order and sort supplies....and sweep up.

As of mid day 10/26/2020 the robotics stuff had been, as was necessary, reduced in bulk by 50% or more, packed into somewhat findable containers and moved to a new temporary home.  We hope to transition into the school's STEM center in the near future.

And so of course by 5pm came the word that an increase in covid in the community meant that school was going virtual until at least the end of November.

Sigh.  Well, we are at least ready and in good order when - and may it be soon - the world starts making sense again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Election Day - The Morning After

Writing about the near future is hard.  I'm at the keyboard on 25 October.  I of course have no foreknowledge of who will win the Presidential election.  Indeed, auto-posting at 12:30 am perhaps nobody yet knows.  But here's a rare promise that in an election season will be kept, I won't go back and edit.  

My default setting is optimism.  I have faith in the people and institutions of our country.  The leaders of various political factions....ah, not so much.  We'll be OK, but a look ahead suggests there will be a rough patch.

The best case scenario is that somebody wins with enough margin that this mess does not swirl into, and taint, the judicial system.  But perhaps if we are really going for ideal, not by so big a margin that it is considered a Mandate to just go do any damned thing.  We have two badly flawed men running.  One of them will be President.  He's not going to have an easy nor a pleasant time of it.  

I've been around for what my UK friends call "Donkey Years".  My memories of politics stretch back so far they lightly touch upon the Kennedy era.  I can't recall any election that has featured such a bleak tone, although Reagan versus Carter came close.  This "Dark Winter" that is foretold....not something I am excited about after a half a year of semi-lockdown and moderate disruption of my life.  (With of course due sympathy and respect to those who have suffered more, and there are many such).

The undertone of course is caused by Covid-19.  Absent that we'd presumably be looking at an ongoing strong economy, at least nominal peace in assorted foreign trouble spots and a much needed re-assessment on the part of both political parties.  Instead we stay huddled in our bunkers, wearing DIY biohazard masks, wondering if a slightly scratchy throat is something ominous not only for ourselves but for an extended group of people we care about.  It's horrid.  But one advantage to being a grizzled veteran is perspective.  The world is always about to End.

1957 - I'm born.  The "Asian Flu" kills 1-2 million world wide.*   By comparison Covid-19 has killed roughly 1.15 million world wide.  And counting.  But also in a population that is almost three times larger and considerably older than 1957. 

1962 - My parents having packed me off to kindergarten at age 4, I'm now in First Grade at Lowell Elementary school.  I remember civil defense drills in the school basement concurrent with the Cuban missile crisis where we came fairly close to nuclear Armageddon. 

1963 - I remember - oddly it was in the same school basement - lining up for one of the first doses of oral polio vaccine.  It was pink and tasted good.  It came in a little white paper cup.  For a parent/grandparent polio is scarier than Covid.  It hit young children and potentially crippled them for life.  Covid usually only makes them mildly ill.  It's worse for us grown ups of course, but given a choice we'd all prefer that we be the ones at risk.

1968 - I'm 11 years old.  There was enough weird stuff going on in a mixed up world, and plenty in a mixed up family, that I have no memory of the "Hong Kong Flu" that killed 1-4 million world wide.

1976 - I'm in college.  There was great alarm regards a revival of the 1918 "Spanish Influenza".  A crash program to find a vaccine was undertaken and must be considered a success.  But for reasons inscrutable the "Swine Flu" never took off.  And Gerald Ford, perhaps our last truly admirable President, was pilloried for getting us worked up over nothing.  And for the possible side effects of the vaccine.  I got the vaccine in the Student Commons.  I did fine.

1981 - First reports of AIDS.  I was in Med school but by that point mostly on clinical rotations.  So it was not until Residency a year or two later when anything like a clear picture started to emerge from the bewildering wave of odd infections and cancers that had been puzzling my instructors.  Death toll world wide: 25 million and counting.

And so it goes.  Our leaders and many of those they would presume to lead are not as resolute as we were a generation or two back.... and never you mind comparing them with further back still.  My great grandparents had a whole batch of kids.  Only two survived a diptheria epidemic in the late 1800s.  They sent those two off to live with relatives while the others died one after another at home. That's how things were.

And this morning, hopefully with some clarity, we have put the 2020 election campaign with its diseased undertones behind us.  We have a new reality.  And that's how things are.**


* I'm calling things by their historic names.  I'm more concerned about the editing of history than I am about offending random geographic areas.

** I'll say in advance that I accept the results of the election.  You should too, whatever the outcome.  If you are among those unhappy with how things turned out, get back to work electing better people next time around.  But could you, please, just take a break for a couple of months?  I don't want the 2024 election campaign to begin until - Lord help us all - sometime in 2021.


With much searching about I found a picture of Lowell Elementary school in 1963.  It nudged other memories that I'll bore you with some day...

Monday, November 2, 2020

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Very Rural Wisconsin

No location on this one.  It's on private property.  

There were many small breweries in early Wisconsin.  Some farmer brewing up a few barrels of beer and tucking them into a little cave or cellar.  The market for these enterprises was also small,  likely just the taverns and farmsteads for ten miles or so around.  They were in no position to compete with the mega breweries when the combination of mechanical refrigeration, national marketing and expanded rail networks came along in the 1880s.  The notion that Prohibition killed off the small breweries is nonsense.  From a peak in the early 1870's, half of them were gone a decade later.  Very few were still around to be finished off by the Volstead Act.

This little venture got going around 1867.  The picture of who owned and/or ran it is obscure, a gentleman named Kobes seems to have been first, then a man named Adam Warm.  When he died circa 1874 his wife ran it a few more years.  With a production of 30 to 50 barrels a year this was one of the smallest breweries in the state.  It was out of business by 1880.

I usually consult period maps to narrow down a location, but in this case despite a good general sense of where it should be I saw nothing useful on the maps.  Google Earth can sometimes also help, but in this case not even the modern day Eye of Sauron could see anything.

So it took an in person trip.  Several passes up and down the road were fruitless.  I'm no slouch at this kind of hunt, and can usually zero in on the combination of road access, hillside, and water source that would make a "good site" for a little brewery.  But this time nothing fit.  No old buildings.  No creek.  Nothing.

Finally, as the hour was getting  late, the low angle of the sun showed me something I had missed....

Tucked in among scrub and weeds there was a cute little brewery cave.

Note the metal door frame.  I doubt this is original, the cave was probably used later for storage.

I did not enter, a couple of quick photos from the side of the road are enough.  I was able to see that there is a small opening in the back that an earlier source identifies as an ice slide.  This won't help the stability of the structure.  That and the scant amount of soil on top makes it a marvel that this one has survived for over 150 years.  Longer in fact than the brewery building which presumably stood where a particularly dense patch of weeds now grows nearby.