Monday, September 1, 2014

Dangers of Retirement - Cement Bears !

Allow me to introduce my friend Herman Rusch, seen here in self portrait.  We never met, although once or twice we came within a few hundred yards of doing so.  No, we are friends in the sense of having common experiences; common challenges.

Both hard working guys, Herman and I, and if it seems a bit unfair to compare his forty years of farming to my forty of college/med school/practice I can claim to having had to attend a lot more meetings and having done a lot more paper work.

I am thinking about retiring in a few years.  When Herman Rusch retired in 1952 he needed a hobby "To combat old-age boredom".  As I, and more urgently my wife, contemplate what I might do around the house if not working,the Herman Rusch experience is worth study.

Herman collected stuff.  Odd stuff.  Rocks, minerals, a washing machine powered by a goat on a treadmill, weird taxidermy items, that kind of stuff.  Eventually he had so much that he bought the Prairie Moon Dance Hall and converted it into his own private museum. That worked out for a while, but he noticed that the grounds outside the museum looked a little bare.  So with no formal artistic training he just started making things.  Statues, fences, planters....more odd stuff.

After twenty years of creating these folk art classics Herman decided he had done enough.  He sold off the collection and the Prairie Moon became a dog kennel.  I shudder to think of what happened to the whimsical sculptures when the dogs came by, sniffed curiously at the base, and then....

As it happens the site was acquired by the Kohler Foundation who had their work cut out for them in restoring the place to its former grandeur.  Much conservation of the sculptures was necessary. Maybe the bases needed extra attention.

There are on site several other smaller collections of similar work from the area.  Old guys needing something to do in retirement is not exactly a rare condition.  Here are a couple of views from the Fred Schlosstein collection.

I really like that moon faced Polar Bear!

Bears in fact turn up rather often here.  I wonder if they are intended by their creators as some sort of metaphor for the problem of post retirement idleness.  The master work on the site is called "Norwegian Hunter with Bear".  It is not done by Herman Rusch but by a Minnesota artist named Halvor Landsverk.  I thought at first it might be another portrait of Mr. Rusch but evidently it was created back in the 1930s.  Rusch certainly found something in it that resonated with him, enough to purchase and move this stunning piece.

The perils of post retirement boredom.  Maybe it is a question of whether you get the bear or the bear gets you?

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Classic Supper Club Says Goodbye

One place I was looking forward to visiting on our recent Iowa road trip was the White Springs Supper Club outside of McGregor.  It was one of those out of the way spots where time, while not exactly standing still, at least moved at a slow pace.


Parking lot empty.  Building shuttered.  Some kind of foreclosure notices posted.

This was the Klein Brewery back in the 1850s.  It was converted to a bar/supper club/dance hall in 1936 when Archie Fritz took it over.  It is said to be unclear whether what we see is new construction on the old foundations or in fact the original brewery building with a floor or two taken off.  What is known is that there was a connection from behind the bar to the storage caves in the hill side behind. Alas again, these were sealed off years ago.

The heydey of the White Springs was back in the 1950s.  Per this nostalgic account there were dances every Saturday night that were full house affairs.  It got awfully hot in this pre-air conditioning building so a fan system featuring an airplane propeller cooled the upstairs dance area.  The bar proper was cooled by a smaller fan that pulled cold air out of the brewery caves!

The story at the link above is worth the click.  Tales of honky tonk romance, of raccoon dinners, of the death of Shorty the owner in one of the booths....

Shorty's wife kept the place going for many years after his death but when she too passed the end was near for the Springs.  It closed its doors in 2006.

For a while things looked hopeful.  In late 2013 the space was reopened as an antique shop.  It had been renovated to some extent, at least a new roof and coat of paint to help slow down the ravages of time.

But when I drove by in August of 2014 there was no sign of life.  Apparently the ambitious plan to have "an extended estate auction" came up against harsh economic reality.

These are hard times in the antique business.  For those who are still interested in old things it is much easier to head to ebay than to seek out an obscure antique store down a poorly signed rural road.  And it seems as if interest in the world of the past, or even the real world of the modern day is lessening. People will, I am told, spend actual money to buy a Magic Jewel Hammer that gets them up to the 27th level of their smart phone based CandyQuest game.  But to go out of their way in hopes of walking across a creaking former dance floor, perhaps even to catch a glimpse of a long forgotten brewery cave system.  Eh, not so much.

Next time: the story of a dance hall with a happier ending.  And a cautionary tale involving cement.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alaska Odds and Ends - To Live and Die in Valdez

When you are in Alaska there is no question that you are living a little closer to the edge.  Crazy weather, large carnivores, just a whole lot of mountainous empty spaces.  Oh, its quite safe for sensible folks but there is a little bit of dark edge in places.

When we were in Valdez the silver salmon were....somewhere else.  The fish cleaning stations that should have been a humming center of fillet knife virtuosity looked like this:

From these tables there are stainless steel chutes for the leftover parts.  The gulls looked very despondent over the lean times.

They probably should have just flown across the bay.  One of the big local attractions is the Soloman Gulch Fish Hatchery.  Every year they release a ridiculous number of salmon fry, and those who don't end up getting netted or chomped on all try to stage a truly impressive homecoming.  The pink salmon were running when we visited.  You could almost walk across the inlet on their humpy backs.

This actually seems really cruel.  The stream they are trying to run up into to spawn is a stumpy little thing that pretty much ends at the Hatchery.  And even so it is blocked by the barrier you can see above.  A few real over achievers manage to leap up and die on the flat surface of the barrier.  Almost all the others just mill about getting weaker and more frustrated.  If they go against their nature and swim back out there is a gang of seal lions feeding on them.  If they keep churning forward the go up on the rocks and sea gulls peck at them.

But there is a small chute that a few lucky fish make it into.  They still have to go upstream through an obstacle course of baffles and barriers.  A very, very few of the lucky, smart and strong ones make it into the Hatchery.  Their reward is to have their juices squeezed out by fisheries workers.  Then they get made into dog food and fertilizer.  The life story of salmon is just plain tragic no matter how you look at it.  A few years of freedom of the seas, a frantic hormone fueled rush towards a real or imagined home.  Then they are food for somebody. Sobering.

Back in Valdez some other exuberant mating behaviour was on display.  It was Gold Rush Days and the local festivities seemed to prominently feature comely lasses done up in costumes that recalled dance hall floozies.  I had turned in for the night so missed some rather drunken sales pitches in which garters were sold to tourists to benefit scholarships for local kids.  Next morning the Klondike Kates seemed none the worse for wear.  Unless this was the second shift.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Alaska Odds and Ends - The Boneyard

Sure, visiting cemeteries when you travel is morbid.  But when one is in nice morning walk range I sometimes can't resist.  I did not, alas, find any examples of Tree Shaped Tombstones to add some far north specimen to my collection.  But there are always a few little historical teasers to be encountered.

For a major city Anchorage got a very late start.  It was a sprawling bunch of tents in 1915, pretty much on the same disgusting mud flats where we had our Last Chance Fishing success.  Soon they moved up the hill to a more sensible spot.  But they were still on their first Police Chief in 1921 when said individual a John "Black Jack" Sturgis was killed in the line of duty.  The internet has little to say on the matter, he seems to have been shot in the back with his own gun in an Anchorage hotel. Some claim he still haunts the place.

Something tragic happened here.  Two brothers aged 16 and 17 died on September 1st 1925.  The little lambs that top so many children's tombstones have been weathered off in less than a century.

A boneyard in a literal sense.  Whale ribs I think, marking the resting place of a fairly recently deceased Anchorage citizen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Alaska Odds and Ends - Catching the Light

For the Alaska trip I got a new camera, one specifically designed to take abuse.  In this it succeeded well.  Kayaking and rafting got it a bit wet without issues.  I did not have to test bear chewing resistance, the only bruin we saw was at a distance and moving the other direction.

But my experience with the new toy was mixed.  I ended up taking a lot of snaps and the quality was mixed.

Partly I think it was the unusual conditions in Alaska.  Those long, long days come with some odd sun angles.  If what you want to photograph happens to be looking into that low riding but very powerful sun, good luck.

The intensity and the angle sometimes did weird things to colors also.  I took a half dozen pics of this kelp and mussels covered rock.  This was about the best I could do.

But sometimes by dumb luck everything lines up just right.  The harbor at Valdez, colorful kayaks waiting to be loaded.

So I am happy with the new camera, and it may become my primary one for travels.  I suppose it is just barely possible that things might go better if I actually take the time to read the manual.  Like all new gadgets it has a lot of functions and tricks.  For instance at the Anchorage airport getting ready to fly home I remembered that there was a "take photo through glass" option.  Just in time, as I was walking past one of my all time favorite bits of taxidermy...bear pounces on deer!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Last Chance Fishing

Our trip to Alaska had great luck regards weather, less so with fishing.  Hey, what ya gonna do? Salmon runs can be predicted but not down to the day.  We were a little late for the sockeye and a little early for the silver (coho).  So we made our return journey to Anchorage with but a single box of frozen fillets.  We had at least gotten some nice King salmon.

But my eldest son is not easily deterred.  He has invariably caught fish even when doing so seemed implausible.  We checked into our downtown Anchorage hotel the night before our flight out and he immediately went down to a small creek a block away.  He had to wander through an industrial park and along some railroad tracks but eventually he found a spot where salmon were running....and fishermen were catching them next to a pile of steel cargo containers.

Behold, the scenic beauty of Ship Creek, downtown Anchorage.  A little less majestic than Prince William Sound had been the day before.

The silver salmon were running well and the fishermen were lined up.

My son and his wife waded out through slimy tidal mud to try their luck.  She stuck it out for an hour and a half, showing impressive devotion to her spouse.  My son kept slogging away until he had his limit of silvers which he cleaned on the spot and brought back to the hotel.  Our other fish were in cold storage at the airport so we "McGyvered" some improvised transport with ziplocks, freezer bags, water bottles full of crushed hotel ice and an insulating layer of clothes!

The determined fisherman, muddy but successful.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On The Shelf

At our local Target store, Hillary Clinton's writing and political careers in an inadvertent juxtaposition.

Thirty percent off your book is a little hard to take, but she at least can get shelf space.  Most authors never get a shot.  It helps to have friends.

As to the presumption that she is "The One and Only" option for the Democratic nomination and subsequent Presidency....that notion was even more widely accepted in the lead up to the 2004 election.  It turned out not to be true.

An interesting figure politically.  She will of course have to make her case based on her merits and accomplishments.  As to the notion that we should support her because it is "time" we had a female Commander in Chief.  I think it will happen in the next decade.  I am just not sure if it will be Kelly Ayotte or Susana Martinez.  Or heck, maybe Elizabeth Warren.  Political prognostication is a mug's game.