Archive | August, 2009

Minnesotan Leif Enger has winner in 2nd novel, too

August 28, 2009


“So Brave, Young and Handsome,”
by Leif Enger

Come along with two delightful characters, Monte Becket and Glendon Hale, on a journey that’s a classic American tale and a wonderful, satisfying read.

Becket is the author who hit it big with his first novel but can’t seem to come up with winning story idea No. 2.

Hale — is that his real name? — is an old man building a boat on the shores of Minnesota’s Cannon River, but he’s a bit mysterious about his past.

Together they go off in search of — just what is it this unlikely pair are looking for as they head west?

What they find is an adventure every step of the way, a surprise around the corner of every chapter.

Seemingly inching their way across the country during the time of train travel and the early days of the automobile, the duo encounter amazingly unique characters, and Enger’s way with words makes a reader feel as if they can picture each one and just have to know how these folk will impact the quest of Becket and Hale.

No sophomore jinx

Enger, who lives in Minnesota, resembles his author character Becket only that they both write. After hitting a literary grand slam with his debut novel “Peace Like a River,” this second novel — now out as a Grove Press paperback — is every bit as good.

Enger is a wordsmith, plain and simple. When one of the side characters departs from this life, Enger puts it this way:

“Death arrived easy as the train; Hood just climbed aboard, like the capable traveler he was.”

Never in your life would you think of the situations Enger places his protagonists, and just when you think you’ve figured out what’s going to happen next something totally unexpected either pushes our intrepid heroes further along the trail or postpones their journey for some ungodly reason.
With choices to be made at every intersection, “So Brave, Young and Handsome” s a novel filled with moral dilemmas.

What our travelers decide in each instance makes for fulfilling reading, and a hunger for more from Mr. Enger. — bz
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From bassing to birding

August 27, 2009


I got a rare treat yesterday. I was able to fish for a few hours on Lake Calhoun with someone who probably has logged more hours on the lake than any other angler alive.

His name is Chet Meyers and he lives just a few blocks from the lake and has put in lots of time chasing walleyes, muskies and bass on the lake over the last four decades. I had fished with him about 15-20 years ago while working for the Sun-Current weekly newspaper chain in the western suburbs. I recently thought of him and decided to try and reconnect with this local fishing expert.
Turns out, he’s not fishing Calhoun and its two neighbors, Cedar and Lake of the Isles, nearly as much as he used to. That ended up being better news than I thought. Although it meant that I wouldn’t get much of a fishing report from him for this summer, it also meant that he was now willing to reveal some of his hotspots.
Normally, serious anglers guard their honey holes like mama bears guard their cubs. But, Meyers doesn’t have the same passion for fishing that he did when he got serious about it in the early 1970s. It has been supplanted by a new hobby — bird watching.
“I used to fish 180 days a year,” said Meyers, who belongs to St. Stephen in South Minneapolis. “Now, I bird 180 days a year… Birding just sort of seized me. I can’t explain why.”
As he pursued bird watching more, he joined the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis. And, he now takes his place on the shoreline of Lake Calhoun with hundreds of others every fall in search of rare seagulls that stop at the lake on their annual southern migration.
Yet, all of this fuss over birds doesn’t mean he has abandoned his fishing rods. He likes to get out when he can, which is more often now that he is retired from his teaching job at Metro State University, where he has taught, among other things, a class on fish and fishing. So, it didn’t take much arm twisting to persuade him to join me on the lake yesterday.
We fished our way around the lake, starting at the boat landing. He identified little points here and dropoffs there. We pitched jig-and-plastic-worm offerings in search of hungry bass, but found few takers. Finally, toward the end of our excursion, Meyers hooked a dandy 19 1/2-incher along the north shore. As he released the fish after a quick photo, he made me promise not to tell anyone else about this particular spot. I agreed, knowing that I would ask the same of him if the tables were turned.
But, I discovered on this day that I don’t have any spots that Meyers isn’t aware of. I shouldn’t be surprised. He started fishing this lake in 1976 and spent about 10 years trying to learn every nook and cranny. He’s a great guy to have in the boat if you’re trying to learn more about the lake.
In this regard, I considered the day a success, even if the bass proved shy. I’ll be back later to try some of the spots Meyers showed me. Meanwhile, he’ll continue to work on a research project he currently chairs involving the red-headed woodpecker. This species has declined about 50 percent in the midwest over the last 40 years, 40-80 percent nationwide, and Meyers is part of a collective effort to study the bird’s habitat so as to provide more suitable areas for nesting.
Meyers isn’t sure if he’ll get out on Calhoun again this summer — at least with fishing rod in hand. Most likely, he’ll take a position on the shoreline looking at seagulls. And, today, he begins his final fishing class at Metro State. The 25 fortunate students should realize what a privilege it is to learn about fishing from someone of Meyers’ stature.
For one memorable day, I, too, was one of his pupils.
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Run in the sun

August 24, 2009

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It was a beautiful, sunny morning at Blackhawk Park in Eagan Saturday when I arrived there with my oldest son, Joe. We were there to participate in a special run put on by the boys and girls cross country teams of Trinity School, where Joe will be a senior starting this week.

Family members, friends and alums were invited to join the runners for a lap or two around the pond in the park. Folks were given the option of running one, two or three miles. Having trained for a few weeks and having done several three-mile runs, I chose to go the distance.
Before the run, I made my son promise he wouldn’t laugh at me when I crossed the finish line. I figured I probably would be the last person to make it across. That was fine with me. I was just happy to be out there running at all.
Sure enough, the cross country runners left me in the dust pretty quickly. I managed to pass one young boy on the course and that was it. By the time I was finished, I was sore and nearly out of breath. But, I made it just like I said I would.
I thought Joe and the other runners would be there cheering for me at the end, but they decided to go for a cool down run after they finished. Cooling down for me simply meant feasting on the free ice cream stacked in coolers near the parking lot.
That was a nice reward, but the bigger payoff was being able to be there with Joe, even though we didn’t run side by side. He’s way ahead of me in terms of training, plus he’s almost 30 years younger. I just hope to continue running, while he has far loftier goals.
I hope he’s able to keep running long after he graduates in May 2010. I talked another dad who was an avid runner for 25 years before he developed knee trouble. He now does other things like swimming and biking. He said he talked to a doctor who said most people can run for about 25 years before developing knee problems.
That means I have about 24 years and 10 months of running left!
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Peaceful getaway

August 19, 2009


I spent three days enjoying the scenic beauty of Dunrovin Retreat Center north of Stillwater. I was invited to be a guest along with my wife, Julie, and four children. The trip kicked off with a special blessing ceremony by Archbishop John Nienstedt on Sunday.

The event coincided with a youth retreat, so there were a bunch of teens present. It was neat to see their enthusiasm, along with a couple of moving testimonies by two of the people involved with the retreat.
Archbishop Nienstedt then took some time to bless the retreat center building, both inside and out. He walked around the building, then walked the halls sprinkling holy water. He moved very briskly and I had to huff and puff to keep up with him. He obviously is in very good shape, and easily could have walked the entire grounds.
I eventually did just that over the next two days. It’s a serene, beautiful place and the wildflowers are in full bloom. I was told by someone on staff that it’s one of the best blooms ever. I believe it. After taking a short walk along a winding, mowed path with Julie, I came back the next day with my camera.
As I strolled along a small pond, I saw a creature I’ve never spotted in the wild — an otter. Its face was unmistakable as it frolicked in the water and poked its head up to take a closer look at me. It froze for a moment and I caught sight of its long, slender body and tail. Then, it popped under the water and disappeared. I brought my No. 3 son, William, back for a look, but the otter never resurfaced.
I hope to get back to Dunrovin. It would be nice to go just with Julie. She seemed to really enjoy the surroundings and so did I. We also went to Taylor’s Falls and William O’Brien State Park. On our way back home, we stopped in Stillwater and took a tour of the city on a trolley. That was definitely a highlight of our trip. We all were facsinated with the history of this great river city. The trolley is a bit spendy, but it was well worth it for us.
And, the beautiful weather all three days made the trip just about perfect.
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The bass are back

August 13, 2009


For weeks, I’ve been waiting for bass in the lakes I fish to move into their summer patterns, in which they head out to the deep weedlines and feed heavily for the rest of the summer.

Finally, at long last, it appears to be happening. Yesterday, I went to Lake Calhoun in the hopes of connecting with some nice bass. It only took a couple of casts to tie into a big fish. Unfortunately, just a few seconds into the battle, my line broke. I was a little bummed, but happy that there was action on one of my traditional spots.
I retied another plastic worm onto my line and kept working a long, skinny point. About 10 minutes later, I set the hook on another big fish. I can tell when it’s a big one because I feel a lot of weight on the end of the line, but not much movement. Lunker bass rarely make a run initially and they like to stay on the bottom.
That’s exactly what happened here. I felt some slow, thumping movements and I couldn’t get the fish off the bottom. Then, the line broke again!
I was beside myself with frustration. I almost never have a bass break my line. In fact, I caught four fish over 5 pounds last summer and lots of other nice fish and never broke the line once. I stopped to think about what could have caused the problem, then realized that the monofilament line on the spool had been there at least two years. Experts recommend changing monofilament line every year and I had chosen to try to get as much out of this line as I could.
Big mistake. You can do that with some things, but definitely not fishing line and I paid a big price for trying to be frugal. Line can be expensive, especially the flourocarbons, but it’s a small price to pay when it comes to being able to consistently land big fish.
Lesson learned. The good news is, I was able to land a nice bass that measured 18 1/4 inches. It was fat, too, which proves it has been eating well. About 2:30 p.m., I decided to leave Calhoun and go over to Cedar.
That, too, proved to be a mistake. There was absolutely nothing going on Cedar. I went to all of my favorite spots and struck out. I caught only one tiny bass. It’s hard to figure out. One thing I noticed is the weedgrowth has thinned quite a bit. It almost looks like fall. The thick weeds I saw several weeks ago are sparse now. That may have a lot to do with the poor bite. It’s disappointing to have done so bad on Cedar this year, after having the best year of my life on the lake last year.
Oh well. At least Calhoun is producing now. And, it should last for at least several weeks. I’ll definitely be going back.
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Be inspired to put love into action

August 13, 2009


“Love is a Verb,”
by Gary Chapman

“Love has to be more than something we feel,” Gary Chapman writes. “It has to be something we do. We have to demonstrate it concretely.”

And inspiring story after inspiring story, that’s what “Love is a Verb” reminds.

Chapman of course became somewhat of a celebrity with the publishing of “The Five Love Languages,” which sold 5 million copies.

Here he offers 40 “love stories” by a whole gamut of people who share their real-life experiences of love in action — often not what you and I — or they themselves — expected.

Many are by writers who have a vital faith life, so they not only know how to tell a story but they get — and pass along — the spiritual they find in the episode they share about.

Chapman, a Baptist pastor in North Carolina, makes each story a teachable moment by adding a “love lesson” at the end of each piece.

Read a story a day

This is not a book to read from cover to cover.
You could, of course. The brief chapters — the longest may be seven or eight pages and most are four or five — make for quick, easy reading.

Better to savor the piece and its lesson a day at a time.

In fact, don’t start at the beginning. When your — um, “loveliness”??? — needs a pick-me-up, crack open this 248-page Bethany House book and start reading a chapter wherever your fingers take you.

Let the stories soak in.

Then get to work.

Because love is a verb. — bz
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Fish and game week

August 11, 2009


Thanks to a minor mishap that occurred over the weekend, I am eating well this week.

On Saturday evening, just as the wicked thunderstorms were rolling through the metro area, I made a shocking discovery — the freezer door in my garage was ajar. Several inches may not seem like much, but it was enough to thaw some of the wild game and fish stored inside the freezer.
Fortunately, I caught it early enough so that nothing spoiled. In fact, only a few items were completely thawed. Others were only thawed on the edges and still frozen in the middle. As a precaution, I took the stuff that was completely thawed out and also pulled out a few partially thawed items.
The hardest hit by the thaw was the meat from the axis deer my son, Joe, shot in Texas during his trip in July. Because the stuff we had tried previously had tasted so good, I wanted  to preserve all of the remaining meat as well as I could. So, I put several packages in the refrigerator and decided to cook them all this week.
Problem was, my son and his two younger brothers were going to leave on Sunday for a week of camp that they go to every year. Not wanting to miss out altogether, he got up early Sunday morning and got the charcoal grill going. I grilled three steaks for him and let him have a nice meal before driving him down to camp.
That night, I did the same thing for my wife, daughter and parents. It was delicious. Yesterday afternoon, I brought in wild turkey/wild rice casserole to my fellow employees at The Catholic Spirit. Then, last night, I fried several walleye fillets for my wife and I. Tonight, it’s more grilled axis deer steaks, plus a few beef tenderloins. Later in the week, I’m going to make axis deer stew and venison cheeseburger on a stick.
It’s a lot of cooking, but I don’t mind. The results are worth it. I’m just glad I didn’t have to throw anything out. It’s probably not a bad idea to empty out the freezer a little bit. I will be hunting wild turkeys in the fall, plus my two oldest boys and I each have tags for deer in both Minnesota and Montana. And, the boys each have a youth elk tag for Montana.
If we are even reasonably successful, we could fill the freezer fast. Could be a great fall ahead!
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Baseball-lovers novel hits a home run

August 9, 2009


“Battle Creek,”
by Scott Lasser

Baseball — my first love — is the setting that attracted me to this 10-year-old novel, but it’s the people on the team — their dreams, their lives, their loves and their losses — that make “Battle Creek” a winner in the field — the field of literature.

Author Lasser has the inside stuff of the diamond down pat — the thinking of pitchers and hitters, the managerial strategy, the nuts and bolts of the game. But he’s even better at the inside stuff of life, the moral dilemmas that real people face off the field, the decisions that we all have to make and the impact that they have on us and others.

“Battle Creek” walks us through a season in the lives of amateur players and their coaches, a group of once-weres, coulda-beens and wannabees, and a talented group at that. Can they capture that elusive national championship? Can they do it without resorting to spitballs? Can they do it while finding satisfying relationships off the field?

What are they willing to do to get where they want to go — both on the field and off?

It’s a guy’s book, to be sure, a baseball-loving guy’s book. And, if you ever played the game beyond tee-ball, there’s an interesting insight into just why it is we love this game. — bz
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Great progress

August 3, 2009


I had breakfast this morning with my friend, John Nesheim, who lost his feet after falling into a ravine in January and suffering severe frostbite. It has been seven months since that happened and I am happy to report that he is in good spirits and making great progress with his artificial feet.

He is walking on his own and driving. In fact, he picked me up at my house and we drove to the restaurant together. Doctors had told him back in January that he would get fitted for his prosthetic feet in July or August and would begin learning how to use them shortly thereafter. But, he has surpassed their expectations.
He believes the prayers of many have supplied the grace to accelerate the learning curve. He said he felt ready from the start and has progressed quickly. It’s great to see him moving around so well. I asked him if he could climb into a fishing boat and he replied that he would like to try. So, I hope to take him out yet this summer.
Also, he has started learning to shoot with a crossbow to get ready for a special deer hunt for disabled archers in Park Rapids the first weekend in October. It is put on by an organization called the United Foundation For Disabled Archers (UFFDA). John is excited and so am I. He’ll have four days to try for a whitetail. It will be a guided hunt on private land — a premium opportunity.
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