Catching Walleye

Walleye are nature’s wonders, big-eyed fish torpedoes of muscle and teeth, longer and more streamlined than bass — and better tasting.  They’re found only in clear, cold water, deep and away from light. When hooked, walleye are not as frantic on the line as smallmouth bass, but they’re more determined not to give in.  I caught my first last week and it made a lasting impression, not to mention a delicious meal.

You can’t horse in a walleye.  It’s deep in the water and reluctant to be pulled in. You have to set the drag (the line resistance) on the reel and give the fish room to run until it tires and yields to the net.  If you stop the line from going out as the fish fights, it will likely snap the line and be gone, leaving you with a still rod, an empty stringer and an aching sense of disappointment. It reminded me of the attitude of many who rail against the new and declare that there can be no compromise with forces of change.

But, life is change. Holding change unacceptable and to be resisted at all cost is like stopping the reel on a walleye: you’re likely to be left alone, bitter and empty-handed. There are two options: you can wage a losing war against change. Or, you apply yourself to change, set the drag and give it some room to run.  Then, maybe, you can manage it and reach a point where you and the new are adapted to the future.

One thing is sure, change will come.  It’s just a question of where you will be at the end of the day.

“Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'”.
Bob Dylan, “The Times They are A’changing”

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-changin’ Lyrics | MetroLyrics

ed with walleye

But I digress. . .


Great Movie #13 – Murphy’s Romance

Another in a series of overlooked movies…

Hearing of James Garner’s recent death reminded me of “Murphy’s Romance”, the only role which garnered Garner an Oscar nomination.  It is the story of Emma, a down-on-her-luck single mother played by Sally Fields who meets Murphy (Garner’s character), a successful but much older druggist in a small town in the West.  It is a love story for adults but suitable for all ages. Carole King sings the theme song, “Love for the Last Time”.

Murphy, referring to a plumbing problem:  “It might be the ball cock.”
Emma: “Most problems start there.”

Here’s the trailer.

Murphy's Romance

Murphy’s Romance

Good Poem #24 – “The Song of Hiawatha” by Longfellow

“Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people. . .
Read this Song of Hiawatha”

Traveling near the Great Lakes always reminds me of Longfellow’s epic 1855 poem, “The Song of Hiawatha”. Last week we were along Lake Superior, which is celebrated in the poem by its Native American name, Gitche Gumee. Note how the rhythm matches our idea of the beat of native drums.

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
   from “The Song of Hiawatha”, Chapter III

The poem is long so I doubt many read the whole thing anymore. It has also been criticized for its edenic, condescending and inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans, but still the poem’s popularity has informed the sense of what it means to be an American. It also demonstrates what intensity and pure hard work Longfellow put into his writing as well as his New Englander’s eye for detail in the nature of the great North woods. The following excerpt is only the introduction.  The entire poem can be found at a Maine Historical Society website.

 The Song of Hiawatha

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)


Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”
Should you ask where Nawadaha
Found these songs so wild and wayward,
Found these legends and traditions,
I should answer, I should tell you,
“In the bird’s-nests of the forest,
In the lodges of the beaver,
In the hoof-prints of the bison,
In the eyry of the eagle!
“All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!”
If still further you should ask me,
Saying, “Who was Nawadaha?
Tell us of this Nawadaha,”
I should answer your inquiries
Straightway in such words as follow.
“In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley,
By the pleasant water-courses,
Dwelt the singer Nawadaha.
Round about the Indian village
Spread the meadows and the corn-fields,
And beyond them stood the forest,
Stood the groves of singing pine-trees,
Green in Summer, white in Winter,
Ever sighing, ever singing.
“And the pleasant water-courses,
You could trace them through the valley,
By the rushing in the Spring-time,
By the alders in the Summer,
By the white fog in the Autumn,
By the black line in the Winter;
And beside them dwelt the singer,
In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley.
“There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the Song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how be fasted,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!”
Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers
Through their palisades of pine-trees,
And the thunder in the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes
Flap like eagles in their eyries;–
Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people,
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause and listen,
Speak in tones so plain and childlike,
Scarcely can the ear distinguish
Whether they are sung or spoken;–
Listen to this Indian Legend,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and Nature,
Who believe that in all ages
Every human heart is human,
That in even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
That the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God’s right hand in that darkness
And are lifted up and strengthened;–
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye, who sometimes, in your rambles
Through the green lanes of the country,
Where the tangled barberry-bushes
Hang their tufts of crimson berries
Over stone walls gray with mosses,
Pause by some neglected graveyard,
For a while to muse, and ponder
On a half-effaced inscription,
Written with little skill of song-craft,
Homely phrases, but each letter
Full of hope and yet of heart-break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the Here and the Hereafter;–
Stay and read this rude inscription,
Read this Song of Hiawatha!

Good Poem # 23 – Travel by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Speaking of trains, here is Edna Millay’s heartfelt “Travel”.

“There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
no matter where it’s going.”

I feel the same way.


By Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

Great Song #8 – Wabash Cannonball

Bob Dylan says that a song is a dream and you try to make it come true.  Here’s another in a series of songs that dream up good stories…

“Wabash Cannonball” is a infectious classic with a driving beat. It enjoyed a number of resurgences in the mid-Twentieth Century and still radiates the romance of train travel. I thought of it because we’re headed to Minnesota next week. It has been recorded many times, notably by the Carter Family and Roy Acuff, and became a favorite on the Grand Ole Opry.

One of the great things about living today is to be able to find without leaving your chair answers to questions you’ve had for years.  I always wondered if there was a Wabash Cannonball train.  It seemed strange that the song celebrates places from Minnesota to Birmingham since the Wabash Railroad served neither. There was a Wabash Cannonball train, but it was named after the song, not the other way round. Apparently it’s just a song, without any basis in fact, perhaps referencing a mythical train that carried hoboes to heaven.

“From the hills of Minnesota, where the rippling waters fall. . .”

Here’s Roy Acuff’s version.

P.S. Not long ago two friends of friends of son Jack came to visit on a driving trip.  They were New Yorkers and were headed from here to Nashville.

Me: Are you going to see the Grand Ole Opry?
Our guests: The what?

What I Saw

Simple pleasure from a simple-minded activity:

The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.
From Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mudtime”

log splitting 1A recent storm deposited a butternut hickory across one of our trails. As hickories go, it was a juvenile – about 25 feet tall, fully leafed out and heavy with nuts. We were surprised that such a tree would go over in a moderate wind. Closer inspection showed that even thought upper sections were solid, the base of the trunk was completely hollow. Nature, as usual, knew what she was doing.

log splitting 10

It was an excellent example of the proverbial ill wind that blows nobody good: The tree was perfect for firewood with a straight trunk and as big around as a basketball at its base.  On top of that, it was easy to get to. So, chain sawing began.

Under the heading that the trouble with life is one thing always leads to another, the tree had been growing at the top of a steep rise above a creek, so predictably one good log when cut rolled down the hill.  When I went for it, I found two huge highly invasive bush honeysuckles.  So, I went back up the hill and slid down with the chain saw and stump killer.  Having dispatched the honeysuckles and not wanting to waste a good slide down a steep bank, I thought I’d look around down there and found a couple of osage orange trees, known locally as hedge apples and known to me personally as the devil’s favorite tree. So, I took care of them and, bettering Sysiphus, got the log back up the hill.

But I seriously digress.

You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.
More from Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mudtime”

Having cut the tree into usable logs, I chose a big one as a chopping block, stood a smaller one on top of it and tried the maul.  The hickory split like a dream, totally different from dense osage orange wood which laughs off even a solid whack of the maul.  A blow or two with the maul split hickory logs a foot across and twenty inches long with a sound so satisfying that I can only compare it to the clatter of bowling pins that comes with a strike.

log splitting 4

log splitting 6

log splitting 7

Stacking fire wood for the winter of 2016, I recalled fondly my Aunt Gladys who died at 96.  She made wonderful gooseberry jam. When she was 92 or so, she had my ever-gracious brother-in-law Steve plant a gooseberry bush in her back yard, knowing that it would take two years to bear fruit. Optimism is necessary for longevity and makes it worthwhile.

But I digress (again). . .

Great Movie #12 – Going in Style

Another in a series of overlooked movies…

12. Going in Style  Going in Style This understated 1979 comedy stars George Burns (then 83), Art Carney (then 61) and Lee Strasburg (then 78) as three senior citizens who, out of boredom and lack of money, decide to rob a bank.  Burns’ and Carney’s characters then take the cash to Las Vegas where they grow it at the craps table.  Great ensemble piece. “No tinhorn joint like this could ever hold me.” Watch the trailer.

Good Poem #22 – “The Parson’s Son” by Robert Service

Robert Service was a nineteenth-century Englishman who fell in love with the Yukon in its gold rush days and celebrated it in poetry.  Most famous are his “The Cremation of SamMcGee” and “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”.  Here’s a lesser known poem, sentimental but heartfelt. Service’s poetry was successful in his time and widely recited, so he was accused of writing “popular” poetry and dismissed by many critics.  Still, he captures the sense of the time and place very well. One of  the things I like about Service’s poetry is that his rhymes are fun to recite.

“Money was just like dirt there, easy to get and to spend.
I was all caked in on a dance-hall jade, but she shook me in the end.”

The Parson’s Son

By Robert Service (1874 – 1958)

Robert Service

This is the song of the parson’s son, as he squats in his shack alone,
On the wild, weird nights, when the Northern Lights shoot up from the frozen zone,
And it’s sixty below, and couched in the snow the hungry huskies moan:

I’m one of the Arctic brotherhood, I’m an old-time pioneer.
I came with the first — O God! how I’ve cursed this Yukon — but still I’m here.
I’ve sweated athirst in its summer heat, I’ve frozen and starved in its cold;
I’ve followed my dreams by its thousand streams, I’ve toiled and moiled for its gold.

Look at my eyes — been snow-blind twice; look where my foot’s half gone;
And that gruesome scar on my left cheek, where the frost-fiend bit to the bone.
Each one a brand of this devil’s land, where I’ve played and I’ve lost the game,
A broken wreck with a craze for `hooch’, and never a cent to my name.

This mining is only a gamble; the worst is as good as the best;
I was in with the bunch and I might have come out right on top with the rest;
With Cormack, Ladue and Macdonald — O God! but it’s hell to think
Of the thousands and thousands I’ve squandered on cards and women and drink.

“In the early days we were just a few, and we hunted and fished around,
Nor dreamt by our lonely camp-fires of the wealth that lay under the ground.
We traded in skins and whiskey, and I’ve often slept under the shade
Of that lone birch tree on Bonanza, where the first big find was made.

We were just like a great big family, and every man had his squaw,
And we lived such a wild, free, fearless life beyond the pale of the law;
Till sudden there came a whisper, and it maddened us every man,
And I got in on Bonanza before the big rush began.

Oh, those Dawson days, and the sin and the blaze, and the town all open wide!
(If God made me in His likeness, sure He let the devil inside.)
But we all were mad, both the good and the bad, and as for the women, well —
No spot on the map in so short a space has hustled more souls to hell.

Money was just like dirt there, easy to get and to spend.
I was all caked in on a dance-hall jade, but she shook me in the end.
It put me queer, and for near a year I never drew sober breath,
Till I found myself in the bughouse ward with a claim staked out on death.

Twenty years in the Yukon, struggling along its creeks;
Roaming its giant valleys, scaling its god-like peaks;
Bathed in its fiery sunsets, fighting its fiendish cold —
Twenty years in the Yukon . . . twenty years — and I’m old.

Old and weak, but no matter, there’s `hooch’ in the bottle still.
I’ll hitch up the dogs to-morrow, and mush down the trail to Bill.
It’s so long dark, and I’m lonesome — I’ll just lay down on the bed;
To-morrow I’ll go . . . to-morrow . . . I guess I’ll play on the red.

. . . Come, Kit, your pony is saddled. I’m waiting, dear, in the court . . .
. . . Minnie, you devil, I’ll kill you if you skip with that flossy sport . . .
. . . How much does it go to the pan, Bill? . . . play up, School, and play the game . . .
. . . Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name . . .”

This was the song of the parson’s son, as he lay in his bunk alone,
Ere the fire went out and the cold crept in, and his blue lips ceased to moan,
And the hunger-maddened malamutes had torn him flesh from bone.

Good Song #7 – And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Bob Dylan says that a song is a dream and you try to make it come true.  Here’s another in a series of songs that dream up good stories –

“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is s a different take on patriotism. It references Australia’s unofficial national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda”, to skewer flag-waving and jingoism. Written by Eric Bogle in 1971, it tells the story of a young Australian at the disastrous (for the Australians) Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey in World War I. The song resonates strongly in Australia where they still resent the misuse of and lack of concern for colonial troops by the British general staff. Thanks, Jack, for sending it to me.

“Waltzing” refers to traveling around as a “swagman”, an itinerant worker. “Matilda” refers to the swagman’s bundle of belongings.

“The young people ask, ‘What are they marching for?’
and I ask myself the same question.”

Here’s the Clancy Brothers’ version.