The Wisconsin Tales: A Maple Sugarin’ Legend

Maple sugar season is nearly upon us, and so here is another installment of the Wisconsin Tales. Continue reading “The Wisconsin Tales: A Maple Sugarin’ Legend”

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For The Birds

There’s only one reality show you would ever see me on (willingly; I suppose there is still a chance I might show up on Cops), and that is the original, the best, and the most cerebral: Antiques Roadshow. Antiques Roadshow is the most real of reality show television, because its just average people with old shit that make for a conversation piece. It’s like an evening at your Great Aunt’s house. You don’t need to be loud, or horny, or drunk, or an already established D-list celebrity to get in front of the camera. You just need to grab some junk from your basement and wipe off the dust.

I love Antiques Roadshow, and I have long daydreamed of one day sitting down across from some suited, middle-aged, bespectacled man with thinning hair, an old painting-or-sculpture-or-toy-or-Moroccan-doily sitting on the table between us, and my new antiquarian friend exclaiming, “My jaw just about hit the floor when I saw (insert valuable item here)!” When asked how I acquired it, I would reply, “I found it out behind the Aldi while dumpster diving for day-old bread!”

Since I don’t dumpster dive for day old bread (…yet…) I have never been able to carry out this dream. I’ve come close a few times when perusing antique stores or flea markets. I picked up a circa 1950s Pflueger for $5 while on our honeymoon in Maine. I grabbed a 1930s era silent-check fly reel for $10 at a shop in Ashland (pro tip: the best deals on fishing gear are in shops that specialize in fine china or some crap like that, because they have no idea what they’re selling when it comes to fishing gear). On one of our first forays into the Sauk Prairie community, I found a Meisselbach skeleton fly reel in the basement of a junk store for $20.

As you can see, I have a predilection for old fishing gear. However, I’m also constantly on the lookout for duck decoys and original bird prints. Stuff by guys like John Audubon, Alexander Wilson, and Mark Catesby (one of my great failures in life is losing two Catesby prints reproduced in an 18th century men’s magazine during our many moves). I’m drawn in by the brilliantly-colored engravings, the handmade neatness of it all, and the artist’s perspective on each bird that cannot be replicated by photos. It’s a window of time, through the eyes of a handful of people, on some of the earliest attempts at scientific documentation of wildlife in the Western world.

I try not to think about the number of birds that needed to be shot so the artists could carry out their work. Not all things about the past were rosy.

I wasn’t expecting any great discoveries today; this Tuesday was already pleasant enough without any surprises. I landed a nice 14-inch brown on the creek this morning, and I was preparing to make a batch of homemade chili before heading out to the Trout Unlimited board meeting in the evening. However, I decided to pull an audible and make a quick trip to the local St. Vinny’s, on the hunt for some cheap dress shirts to complement my wardrobe for our upcoming trip to Europe. I found a few shirts and was going to high-tail it to the register, but a nagging little voice in the back of my head said just take a lap around, man.

So I did. I walked back to the sporting goods area to see if there might be a Wes Jordan bamboo rod or two in the half-off bin, but no dice. To get back to the checkout you have to walk through a short hallway that is festooned with art. Or, more accurately, “art”. Not quite Dogs Playing With Poker, but the kind of stuff that you’re grandmother probably had on her kitchen walls. Since there are usually a bunch of bird prints, I glanced over them to see if any might fit into the pieces already hanging in the August Derlerth room (note: I secretly refer to our third bedroom as the “August Derlerth Room” because it has a kinda-classy feel to it, like a place ol’ Auggie might have sat around in; my wife does not know this, until she read this).

So my eyes scanned over the pieces: cardinals, cedar waxwings, another cardinal, some other bird not a cardinal or cedar waxing, yawn… whoa.

There is a piece that makes me pause. It’s a… duck, of some sort. But it’s not a painting of the Thomas Kinkade school. This is an engraving. And at first glance it looks legit.

First thing I note is that the title is in German. The name of the bird is given in its scientific form—Latin—and repeated in French. The artist’s name and name of engraver are written in English. The artist is “G Edwards”. And, upon closer inspection, it still looks legit.

Plus, its 20% off Tuesdays.

I buy it without a second thought.

So here’s what I know about it:

George Edwards was an artist, engraver, and naturalist in 18th Century England. He also happened to be a friend of Mark Catesby, the naturalist who made the first serious attempt to document the flora and fauna of the American colonies in his work Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahamas Islands. Catesby taught Edwards how to make his own engravings, and in 1743 Edwards published his first major work, A Natural History of Uncommon Birds. Like his later counterpart John James Audubon, the “Father of American Ornithology” (which makes Catesby, in my opinion, Audubon’s “grandfather”) Edwards is considered the “Father of British Ornithology.”

Enter Johann Michael Seligmann, a German artist and engraver, a naturalists in his own right, and contemporary of Edwards. In 1762 Seligmann collected various plates from both Edwards and Catesby for his publication, Sammlung verschiedener ausländischer und seltener Vögel (“Collection of Various Foreign and Rare Birds”). A later edition was printed in 1805-1806.

This print comes from Seligmann’s work after an engraving created by Edwards, as indicated by the German title and the presence of Seligmann’s name in the bottom center, and Edwards’ name in the bottom left. It shows the “Grey-Headed Duck” (given in French), as well as the scientific name Anas Canadensis.

It’s a pretty sweet little piece of birding history. It also invites a few questions:

Is this an early or later edition? The paper exhibits a ribbed texture common in chain laid papermaking, which was used until the 19th Century, so it could either be a mid-1700s first edition or the later 1800s reprint. I attempted to remove the print from the frame to see if there might be any additional information to glean from the hidden portion of the print, but I’m afraid I might damage it if I remove it from the matte.

What’s up with the scientific name? Anas Canadensis is not a currently recognized name for any species. In the 18th century most ducks were classified in the genus Anas (which today includes mallards). Based upon the engraving, and the research I’ve been able to do, it is likely that the species represented here is the King Eider. Edwards’ original description of this specimen notes it was obtained from a colleague who collected it in Hudson Bay, which accounts for the species name (“Canada”). The King Eider was classified in the Anas genus at the time this engraving would have been produced.

How did an obscure German print end up in an obscure American town? The simplest explanation is that somebody somewhere was also a fan of bird prints, and through a series of events part of their collection ended at St. Vinnys. However, when I relayed my discovery to a coworker of mine he had a helluva better theory: the print was brought home after World War II. The “liberation” of German art and other goodies by Allied soldiers is documented at the end of the war, and decades later resulted in one of the best Simpsons episodes ever produced. Who knows?

Is it real? I’m not an expert, but I think so. It is printed on period-correct paper, it shows other earmarks of proper printing technique (i.e. the outline of the printing block is clearly evident), and it represents a lesser-known work. It seems highly unlikely that someone would go through the trouble of reproducing a work (down to the original media and technique) that has far less immediate recognition than those of Audubon, Wilson, Edwards, or Catesby. Most modern reproductions are those of better known artists and images, on modern paper, using laserjet printers. But if I got duped, so be it.

So for now it hangs in Auggie’s room. Eventually I would like to find a new frame, and maybe have a professional look at removing it from the matte. So, until the next time Antiques Roadshow rolls into town…

The Best Trekisodes, Part One

While we all should be dusting off our hoppers by this time of year, it’s another rainy week in the Driftless that puts our plans on hold. On days like these the Netflix & Chill goes into full effect. It also happens to be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Netflix has all of the series episodes to run your own weekend marathon, but the difficulty is knowing which episodes are worth reclining into your own “Captain’s Chair” for. I’m not a hardcore Trekkie by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I’ve watched most of the episodes from the original series to (shudder) Enterprise. These may not be the best episodes ever, but these are the ones I enjoy watching the most, in no particular order…

“Broken Bow”, Enterprise: This is going to be the only time an episode from Enterprise makes this list. It could easily be argued that this prequel series does not have a single episode worth putting in any Top 50 Trek list. However, Broken Bow” offers a great perspective on the early years of human spaceflight within the Trek-verse, and does a nice job of showing the relationships between some of the Trek’s most famous alien species that presage the founding of the Federation. If you ignore the Suliban-time-travel-y subplot, it makes for a decent 2-hour TV movie that is still better than Insurrection.

“Timeless”, Voyager: Another series that gets a bad wrap, and for legitimate reasons—poor characterization, too many cheesy plots and subplots, turning Captain Janeway (briefly) into a space salamander—but Voyager does have more than a handful of extremely watchable episodes. You’ll begin to note here that I’m a sucker for alternate history/future plotlines and special guest cameos that link the Trek series together. “Timeless” has both, as Future Harry Kim and Future Chakotay attempt to avert a disaster that destroyed USS Voyager two decades earlier and left them as the only two survivors. Bonus points for having a cameo by Future Georgi LaForge as the captain of his own Galaxy-class starship, on a mission to stop Kim and Chakotay from changing the past.

“Author, Author”, Voyager: Like I said, not a great series overall, but Voyager produced plenty of watchable episodes. Take TNG’s “Measure of a Man” (see below) and add a Holodeck, and this pretty much sums up the episode. The Hologram Doctor writes a holonovel about his experiences aboard the Voyager, and his perspective is more than a bit skewed, painting each of Voyager’s crewmembers as holo-racists in order to comment on the rights of sentient holographic programs. Writing it out, it sounds kinda stupid—and it kinda is—but the fun comes from how the episode focuses on the Doctor’s warped sense of self-importance as his novel is experienced by the rest of the crew.

“Our Man Bashir”, Deep Space Nine: Here’s another episode that doesn’t advance the overall plot or characterization of the series, but is just damned fun. A malfunction with the station’s transporters lands our heroes—Sisko, Kira, Worf, O’Brien, and Dax—as “neural patterns” within a holographic program being run by Doctor Bashir. The program is a spoof on 60s spy-fi, and our heroes are being stored as major characters in the holoprogram’s plot. Bashir cannot end the story until the crew can be rescued, and of course the holodeck safeties are mysteriously shut off, making the situation all the more dangerous. Meanwhile, former spy/assassin/overall badass Garak barges into the program to help Bashir/point out the absurdities in Bashir’s fantasy spy world. One of the few “Holodeck episodes” that is actually enjoyable to watch.

“Yesteryear”, The Animated Series: It’s debatable whether the animated series is considered an “official” part of the Trek-verse, but the fact is that many elements of the show eventually worked their way into Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, the remastered Original series, and even the JJ Abrams-verse. “Yesteryear” is the only episode, however, that Gene Roddenberry considered canon, and it’s well worth watching. History is altered when a Federation experiment with the Guardian of Forever (from “City on the Edge of Forever” fame) erases Spock from existence. Spock then has to travel back to his childhood to save his younger self from an accident, and then helps the young Spock make the first important step toward accepting his Vulcan heritage. Written by D.C. Fontana and featuring the voices of the original cast, including Mark Lenard, “Yesteryear” more than cements The Animated Series as an official part of Trek in my mind.

“Amok Time”, Original Series: Alongside “Journey to Babel”, “Amok Time” is the only episode that ventures into the psyche and culture of the Vulcans, and does it through the lens of the most Trekkian fight sequence ever filmed. Spock has to return to his homeworld to participate in a betrothal ceremony known as pon farr. Kirk inadvertantly gets caught up in the ceremony when Spock’s betrothed challenges the Vulcan and his captain in a duel to the death as part of the festivities. Features the only time we see the planet Vulcan during the Original series, as well as a shirtless Kirk for the umpteenth time.

“In the Pale Moonlight”, Deep Space Nine: The use of the larger Dominion story arc within DS9 can sometimes make series’ episodes difficult to pick up in media res, but the plot here is straightforward: in the middle of a war in which the Federation is losing, Sisko has to make some hard choices to try and change the fate of the entire Alpha Quadrant. This episode is great for showing how Federation ideals often contrast with political and military realities, and the slow ethical descent Sisko takes in order to accomplish his goals. Of course the episode couldn’t be complete without Sisko enlisting the help of Garak, who relishes the moral turn of the Federation’s finest as he demonstrates how the ends sometimes justify the means. Also notable for the meme-worthy line, “It’s a FaaaaaAAAAKE!”

Yesterday’s Enterprise”, The Next Generation: The USS Enterprise-D comes across a temporal anomaly, only to find the long-destroyed Enterprise-C emerge from it, creating an alternate future where the Federation is losing a war to the Klingon Empire. The only choice in restoring the timeline is to the send the Enterprise-C back through the anomaly and certain death. The episode is interesting for showing the subtle differences on an Enterprise-D designed for military duty (Picard scoffs at the idea that the Enterprise would harbor entire families onboard) and for giving some insights into the timeframe between the Original and TNG series. The Enterprise-C may be the best looking ship since the original, too. Finally, it sets up a minor-major villain later on down the road in the half human, half Romulan commander Sela.

“The Doomsday Machine”, Original Series: I love Trek episode that give us glimpses of an universe that is much older, larger, and more complex than just “Federation versus Klingons and Romulans.” An ancient, planet-destroying weapon has appeared in Federation space en route to the most populous part of the galaxy, and the Enterprise must find a way to destroy this nigh-indestructible Doomsday Machine. Who built it? Why? What happened to them? While these questions never receive definitive answers, it speaks to the ancient history of the galaxy in which the Federation is still in its infancy. Also gotta give props to William Holden Windom for playing the Ahab-esque Commodore Decker, whose sole focus is destroying the Machine that killed his crew and crippled his starship (and was father to Will Decker, of The Motion Picture infamy).

“Measure of a Man”, The Next Generation: At it’s heart Trek has always been about discussing social and political issues through the mask of science fiction, and this episode is a textbook How-To Trek. The Federation has decided that the android Data should be deactivated in order to study how he functions—that is, he should be killed and experimented upon. Data obviously is not down with this, but the otherwise-idyllic Federation says tough beans, because you’re not a sentient being. Enter the lawyers. Trek has had its fair share of “courtroom drama” episodes, but “Measure of a Man” is certainly the best as it explores what it is to be human. The connected subplot involves Riker’s difficulty in carrying out his duties as the assigned prosecutor to the case, forcing himself to argue against his fellow crewman and friend in Data. For an episode that isn’t much about space or trekking, it is quintessential Star Trek.

Old Tyme Dittys, Remixed: “Traders on the Prairie”

I love what I call “story songs”, those that have a cohesive narrative, a clear good guy and a bad guy, and some sort of conclusion to the action. None of that “let me sing about my feelings” stuff. One of the best-known story song is Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”, and it was produced at what was probably the height of story song popularity, which was firmly entrench in the Country/Western genre. Continue reading “Old Tyme Dittys, Remixed: “Traders on the Prairie””

Camp

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I believe in things. I believe in cold, clear water. I believe in the healing power of fly fishing for military veterans. I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I also believe kids need to get their lazy video-game-playing asses off the couch and off to camp.

Continue reading “Camp”