Monday, November 29, 2010

Flea Market Icons: Not So Subtle Gender Messages

Dear George,

I’ve always liked flea markets. It probably goes back to childhood obsessions – collecting bottle caps, marbles, baseball cards, what have you. Going to an outdoor flea market on a sunny Sunday morning is pure bliss. You never know what you’ll find, prices are low, and it’s pleasing to roam around with other like-minded treasure-hunters.

Aside from practical things like frying pans or ping pong paddles, I’m usually drawn to kitschy decorative objects in the form of figurines, miniature statues, salt and pepper shakers, and the like. While enjoyable in their own right, these products also offer a revealing picture of life in our society. One thing that always strikes me is how gendered objects in our culture are. There are endless representations of human beings, and virtually 100% of these are immediately classifiable as female or male, usually in an exaggerated, stereotypic form. As decorative objects to be displayed in one’s home, they offer clues to our society’s values about what women and men are supposed to be like.

Lately I’ve been gathering photos of what I’ll call “women and men of the flea market”. While I label these flea market images, in fact they also come from antique malls and thrift shops. Thinking about gender stereotypes in our culture, here are a few illustrative “flea market women”:

The first thing that strikes one’s eye is the physical attractiveness of all of these representations. They have pretty faces and shapely bodies, high cheekbones and appealing smiles. Most are in static poses, functioning primarily as decorative entities. Basically, they seem to instruct us that what is to be desired about women is physical beauty and sex appeal. Depictions of flea market men, in contrast, seem to have quite different implications, as illustrated by the following objects:

Compared to statuettes of women, men are portrayed in a broader array of roles, e.g., as cowboys, warriors, sea captains, pirates. These are not mundane everyday roles, but rather those involving danger, adventure, and physical prowess. Though the male figures are good-looking enough, sex appeal seems less salient than themes of dominance, aggression, and independence. In essence, these representations reaffirm stereotypes about masculinity in our culture. Compared to the more static female objects, the male figures are doers – more agentic, more instrumental, poised to act upon the world.

So one might sum up by saying that these gendered commodities are thoroughly stereotypic and serve to reinforce gender conceptions and values that are deeply rooted in our society as a whole. This picture gets more complicated though when we look at a third subset of gendered artifacts, i.e., those depicting cross-sex couples. Here are a few examples:

Something curious happens. Portrayals of both sexes have become relatively desexualized. While the woman’s dress may reveal her figure, she is less clearly depicted as a sexual object. Likewise, aspects of power and aggression are less obvious for males (though males are almost always taller than females). These are not cowboys or pirates and wenches. Instead the two sexes are typically depicted in relatively similar terms, conveying impressions of greater equality and harmony. Sometimes these are images suggesting traditional roots in earlier times, e.g., the 18th century or ancient Rome. Many convey a sense of romantic involvement. While one rarely encounters a depiction of a solo woman or man as elderly, couples are often presented as aged, with an implication of their commitment to one another “till death do us part.”. Rather than sexy women and adventurous men, these portrayals of couples connote values of equality and communality, and sex takes a back-stage to closeness and long-term commitment.

So what might we make of all this? First and foremost, flea market women and men seem to tell us about social expectations for the sexes in our culture. Basically we’re given a message that there are two mutually exclusive, virtually opposite sub-categories of human beings on earth. The ideal feature of women is their physical and sexual attractiveness. They are objects of beauty and desire. Men, in contrast, are dominant, instrumental, and agentic. These themes are only salient, however, when women and men are considered separately and unattached. When they are viewed together in pairs, e.g., in romantic relationships or marriage, these polarized features are de-emphasized, and we’re shown a picture of greater uniformity between the sexes. Perhaps this reflects our culture’s view of marriage, or perhaps an effort to avoid blatant discrimination when direct comparison is possible. Whatever one’s take on this, flea market women and men are definitely objects of interest.



G-Mail Comments

-JML (11-30): Nice Dad. You can take the social scientist out of the retired man, but you can never take the retired man out of the social scientist. Isn't that the old expression? Thanks for a nice week. ~ J

-Linda C (11-29): i think i like the woman and the horse in the first section, and the men and all the masculine jobs they have just reek of sexual power, the woman and horse i like because i viewed it as a way for her to get out of the century she was in. all in all they are great, did you buy any? how are the twins? love linda

--Jennifer M (11-29-10): is this this kernel of your next academic paper? i feel the discipline pulling at you! :-)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Archive: Marinette Postcards (#1)

Dear George
This posting is a cumulative archive of “Marinette Postcards” brief postings that have previously appeared in the righthand column of this blog. I’ve changed postcard images of Menominee, Mich., and her twin city, Marinette, Wis., every week since July 2009, and, because these get deleted from the blog each week, I’ve decided to store the old posts in archive files for a new viewer’s potential interest. I’ve previously done an initial archive for “Menominee Postcards”, and I’ll be adding to that in the future. A number of past Marinette postcard posts are given here in the present archive file, and I’ll add more to these in the future too. Marinette is a town of about 11,700 which is located right across the Menominee River from my hometown, Menominee, MI. My grandparents lived there, my dad and his siblings grew up there, and we kids all spent a lot of time in Marinette. Initially a French fur trading post in the 19th century, Marinette and Menominee became the site of the biggest lumbering boom in the U.S. by the turn of the century. Marinette got its name from a French and Native American woman, Marie Antoinette Chevalier, who was the common-law wife of an early fur-trader and who was known as “Queen Marinette”.

Once we turned 16 and got our driver’s licenses, we spent a lot of evening time cruising around town. Mickey-Lu’s Bar B Q, along with Pat and Rayleens, the A&W, the Dairy Whip, the Gateway Café, and Schloegel’s in Marinette were regular spots for teens to congregate and hang out. Mickey Lu’s burgers were famous. It seemed like each burger was a quarter pound of meat mixed with a quarter pound of butter, and they were greasy and delicious. Mickey-Lu’s is in its 68th year in 2010, and, with exactly the same menu and décor as in days of old, the younger generation of our family has become just as addicted as their elders were. It’s often the first place that our family members stop when they drive into Marinette from the Green Bay airport. In my college years I had a very unpleasant, embarrassing experience at Mickey-Lu’s with my friend John Y, and he never fails to remind me of it at high school reunions.

I started working as a clerk and jack-of-all-trades in 1951 at our family’s Marinette Drug Store (at left front in photo). My starting salary was 25 cents an hour, and I had worked up to 45 cents by my senior year in high school. There was a lot of boring time standing around in an oft-empty store, but then some colorful characters would stop in each day. I most enjoyed taking the daily receipts to the bank down the block because I could stop in at Lauerman’s Department Store and get a chocolate malt cone.

Menominee and Marinette had independent hospitals in my youth, though these were consolidated into a single system in the 60’s or 70’s. My mother spent her final days at the Marinette Hospital. She was frightened when all her children flew in and gathered at her bedside. In her last hours she was in a lot of pain and asked Peter and I to leave the room. We left briefly, then decided to return right away, and my mother apologized, saying, “I’m grateful.” I think those may have been her last words.

Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that began in New York State in 1874 and spread throughout rural America, with several hundred permanent facilities being established by the 1920s. Chautauqua assemblies brought speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, and preachers for the edification and entertainment of the entire community. The Marinette Chautauqua Assembly was established at Pine Beach in 1897. Programs were open to adults and youth for 25 cents per adult and 15 cents for children. 6,000 people heard William Jennings Bryan speak at Pine Beach on August 5, 1899. We had various family friends who lived at Pine Beach in the 1940’s, most notably Skipper and Ann Burke and their parents, so we spent a lot of time there swimming and playing. My aunt Martha, uncle Ralph, and grandfather V.A. Sr. moved into a Pine Beach home, so we visited regularly.

The Marinette Armory was just behind Dunlap Square in Marinette, and it was the site of Friday night teen dances in the Twin Cities in the 1950’s. It was one of the few places where Marinette and Menominee kids mingled with one another, though we stuck pretty much with our respective in-groups. In the tenth grade, the boys hung out in clumps of boys, the girls with the girls, and, when the girls wanted to dance, they often did so with one another. By eleventh grade we became more adventurous, and it actually proved pleasurable to wrap oneself around the opposite sex on the dance floor. I never learned to dance well, and, now that I look back, that’s one of numerous things I wish I’d done differently in my youth.

This view of the Stephenson Public Library on Dunlap Square in Marinette, circa 1910, is exactly how it looks in 2010. My aunt Martha worked as a librarian here, and Katja and I would regularly visit her and the Marinette library on our annual trips to family reunions. The “Long Bridge” of 1910 was replaced by the Interstate Bridge between Wisconsin and Michigan (Highway 41). As we kids got older we would hike across the bridge to go to Saturday matinees at the movies in Marinette. Then we’d drive across it as teenagers as we cruised around “The Loop”. That, of course, is the Menominee River in the background.

Riverside Drive runs along the Menominee River in Marinette from the southwest corner of the city to Dunlap Square. Many of the town’s handsomest homes are located on Riverside Drive, including the Lauerman’s (now a bed and breakfast that Steve and Margie liked to stay at). When I worked at the Marinette drugstore as a teenager, I crossed the Hattie Street Bridge and drove along this street each day to get to work. Late for work one day, I got my first speeding ticket on Riverside Drive for going 42 m.p.h. in a 25 m.p.h. zone. I was scheduled for a one o’clock appearance at the Mayor’s Court, but I stopped by at noon because I knew the mayor would be having lunch there.

This view of Main St., looking north, is at the heart of Marinette’s downtown business district. Lauerman’s Department Store is just around the corner, and Dunlap Square is just beyond Lauerman’s. The parking meters in the photo were installed in the early 1950’s and were viewed by many grumpy citizens as a violation of God-given human rights. My grandfather’s Marinette drug store was a block south of this photo . One of my teenage job duties was to deliver the drug store’s daily financial returns to the bank at the left of this photo. Though only a one-block walk, I was always alert to the potential danger of robbers lurking in doorways and carried out my mission in a state of high vigilance. The Main St. business district included the variety stores pictured here (Woolworth’s was the better of the two), women’s clothing shops, a couple of bars and a restaurant, Haas’ shoe store, a photo store, a record store where one could listen to demos over earphones, a movie theater, gift shops, a liquor store, and various other establishments. Marinette’s downtown was much more thriving in the 1950’s than today, mostly as a consequence of Pine Tree Mall being built on the town’s outskirts.

The Marinette County Insane Asylum was located on the northern edge of Peshtigo, set off roughly 200 yards from Highway 41. We looked it over with curiosity and a touch of apprehension on every trip to Peshtigo or Green Bay. The building was quite striking in its grove of pine trees, but we learned from early childhood on that it was filled with strange people and that losing one’s mind represented one of the most horrible outcomes in life that we should strive to avoid. So far, so good.

Menominee and Marinette had a number of good restaurants and supper clubs when we were growing up, Graby’s Steakhouse on the Menominee River several miles outside Marinette being a prime example. My parents would go out there with friends on a Saturday night, but us kids would stay home, and Steven and I would be charged with cleaning up the kitchen. Our mother was always thrilled with our efforts. Katja and I went to Graby’s on a “date” in our early married life, and we thought we’d made the big time. I had a Manhattan on the rocks (our family drink), and we judged the steaks to be great.

The Green Bay and Great Lakes fishing operations in the twin cities were based in Menekaunee in the northeast corner of Marinette, and the fishing boats are still there in the Menominee River harbor at the end of the Menekaunee bridge. Our family regularly patronized Peterson’s Fish House, where I would go with my dad to pick up fresh whitefish which my mother then cooked for special occasions. The fish was delicious, and I’ve always ordered whitefish at local restaurants when I’ve returned home. On one of my visits home when my mom had trouble standing she had me cook the whitefish at Farm while she sat on a stool and gave me instructions. It turned out surprisingly good, though that proved to be my one and only effort.

Lauerman Bros. was the main department store for Marinette and Menominee and surrounding counties. My parents brought me there to buy clothes from early childhood on. When I started working at the Marinette drugstore, I’d stop at Lauerman’s every day for a frozen malt cone (smooth, chocolate malt taste, unobtainable anywhere else in the world), then go to the basement to look at camping gear in the Boy Scout department and check the new 45s in the record department. In our early married life Lauerman’s was one of Katja’s favorite local destination. We were sad when Lauerman’s closed after the opening of Pine Tree Mall at the town outskirts in the 1970’s.

G-Mail Comments
-Linda C (11-26): I want to go live there, what a beautiful photo album and stories, forwarding to my brother How are the twins? Active I am sure hello to all love to all
-Gayle CL (11-25): Happy Thanksgiving;))))

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Health Fair Heebie-Jeebies

Dear George,

They were holding a health fair at the fitness center the other day. I’d forgotten about it, but, since I was there, I went ahead and registered at the Welcome Table. They gave me a blue bag with some useful gifts (a memo pad, a ball point pen, two brochures). The fair was pretty large – at least forty tables, covering every sort of malady from athlete’s foot to hospice care. Right at the start I saw a nurse who was moving her fingers about an inch above a prone woman’s forehead, transmitting healing energy vibrations into her brain. The Welcome Woman invited me to be next, but the whole idea made me nervous. The people at the next table were offering to check your ears for waxy build up. That seemed more concrete and also appealed to me since I’ve been having trouble with the British accents on PBS. The technician stuck a camera gizmo in my right ear and showed me the image of my inner ear on a tiny TV screen. “Oh, this doesn’t look good,” she said. My entire ear canal seemed to be covered over with a big glob of shiny black stuff which she said was wax. Then she put the gizmo in my left ear, and, though I did see a little patch of pink eardrum in one corner, it wasn’t much better. She said it was 50% blocked. Then she warned me that my inner ears could fill up with water behind the wax. I told her I’d been feeling like I might have water in my left ear lately. Also, she said, my ears could become breeding grounds for bacteria, and who knows what would happen then. That sounded terrible. I asked her what to do, and she gave me a list of ear-nose-throat doctors at their hospital who would extract the wax. I could practically feel the bacteria moving around and breeding in my ears right then and there. I thought to myself that I’d better get to a doctor right away.

A little further on I came to a table where they tested your glucose level. My blood sugar had been elevated at my last physical, so I decided to check it. I told the woman that I’d been above normal recently, though not in a diabetic range. She told me that 140 was the level for diabetes and that, if I registered that high, we would discuss what the next steps will be. She pricked my finger and the meter gave off a reading of 70. At first the woman acted like that was good. But then she said my reading was really pretty low, and I’d better get something to eat right away so that I didn’t get dizzy. I thought to myself, my system has gone berserk – first I’m too high, now I’m too low. I worried about fainting during my exercise workout. Just my good luck, the very next table featured healthy diet food. They had put out little paper cups with about a tenth of an ounce of fruit cut into tiny pieces. I took a cup and gulped the contents down in one swallow, hoping it would suffice till I got lunch.

Out in the hallway there was a physical therapist table, which was actually what I was most interested in. I told the therapist that I’d incurred rotator cuff injuries to both my shoulders a year ago, but I’d had cortisone shots and was doing much better. She said it was unusual to hurt both shoulders and asked how I’d gotten injured. I said I’d done it right here at the fitness center on the Shoulder Press machine. The therapist scrunched up her nose and said she hates the Shoulder Press machine. She wished they’d get rid of it. I told her that I’ve recently begun using it again, but only using ten-pound weights. She gave me a shocked look and said, “Are you a crazy person? Why in the world would you start doing something that caused you such an injury? What kind of person are you anyway?” I felt sort of defensive and said I wanted my muscles to be able to lift things up over my shoulders. “You don’t have to lift things over your shoulders,” she said. “Just do your other exercises. You don’t have to lift upwards. Don’t do that Shoulder Press machine any more!” “O.k., that’s what I’m going to do,” I said. I actually appreciated such heartfelt advice.

I went upstairs to the workout room and started using the lower body strength machines. I didn’t even look at the Shoulder Press machine. After a few minutes, though, I thought of another question for the physical therapist. I went back downstairs, but by this time there was a new physical therapist at the table. I explained again about my rotator cuff injury, and the therapist said he hated the Shoulder Press machine and wished they’d get rid of it. I said I’d been extremely cautious about my other upper body exercises and wondered if I could increase the minimal weights I’d been using. He said that was fine, but it was most important that I use good posture when doing the exercises. Oh no, I thought to myself, he thinks my posture is terrible. That’s probably how I got injured in the first place. Bad posture. I went back upstairs and started doing my exercises again -- I had the most upright posture of anybody in the place.

In retrospect, I think that the health fair is not really so much about giving you health information as it is a marketing device to make you anxious so you patronize their hospital staff. In my case, they were very successful, though I do feel I’m lucky to have gone. As soon as I got home I made an appointment to get the wax cleared out of my ears. I’m looking forward to watching PBS. I feel more comfortable about my blood sugar which I now view as balancing itself out between too high and too low. I have quit the Shoulder Press machine forever, and I’ve improved my posture as well. Best of all, I collected eight free memo pads and five ballpoint pens from the various tables I stopped at. These will last a long time, at least until the next Health Fair.



Health Fair Heebie=Jeebies

G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (11-22): see , this is what is so fun about aging, young people really really care how fit we are, and of course if we have insurance, not just medicare but lapse insurance also. if this was held at the fitness center i think you can bet 90% of the people had insurance. and if they can make you a little neurotic about your illnesses that will bring you in to the health care institution that supported the fair…have a great day with our kids and the twins, i want to hear every little thing they did. i hope katja isn't cooking this year after her shoulder injury, speak to you thursday and give my love to katja.

-Donna D (11-21): david, i think this is all wonderful! when you list all the positive things that you got from it, the health fair was a huge success for you. Yay!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Picture of Katja's Arm

Dear George,

Readers who’ve been following this blog probably remember that Katja fell off a wobbly stool and fractured her right arm about eight weeks ago. That turned our lives topsy-turvy. Though we take our functioning limbs for granted, it’s been a powerful reminder of just how crucial one’s right arm is for daily living, from cutting one’s steak to getting in and out of the car. For the first two weeks Katja was in acute pain, heavily medicated, and unable to do much beyond lying in bed. By the fifth week she’d begun physical therapy over at University Hospital, and, though it hurt a lot, you could see the progress after each session. Katja was highly motivated to do her homework too, pulling her arm up and down on a pulley, stretching out across the table, swinging her arm like a pendulum, etc. Yesterday she went in for her four-week checkup with Dr. J, her orthopedist. They took X-rays first, and he put two of them up on a lighted screen (see the picture above). Dr. W smiled. He showed us where the new bone had grown in and how the fracture had almost disappeared. It had been a really bad break, and now it was doing really well. He asked Katja how her flexibility was. She lifted her arm straight upward, then outward, then to the side, all with no difficulty at all. Dr. J said, “That’s amazing!” Maybe it’s just good doctoring, but he seemed truly impressed. He wrote a note clearing Katja to return to work on Monday. He said she’s probably not ready to drive 150 miles a day, but she’ll do things as she finds herself ready for them. We both felt a little intoxicated as we walked out to the elevator. Katja drove us home, the second time she’s driven this week. A big gray cloud was lifted from above our heads. Things do work themselves out. Hooray!



G-Mail Comments

-Donna D (11-18): this is so wonderful. wish i knew how to read what is on the xray! donna

-Vicki L (11-18): Hi David, Thanks for the x-ray shot... (doesn't Katja have delicate and feminine bones?) What a relief! And how inspirational. Tell her I'm very proud of her. Love, Vicki

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

River House Creatures, Part Two

Swimming at River House, circa 1958 (VAL photo)

Dear George,

I wrote recently about some of the animals that inhabited our Menominee river property. The river, of course, contained a whole different population. As much as we relished swimming in the summertime, conditions weren’t idyllic. The bottom was mushy, there were sticks and jagged stones, and slimy seaweed clung to us as we waded from waist-high to chest-high depths. There was even an element of felt danger because of the many living beings that inhabited the river. Here are some of the wild things that lived there:


Our crayfish looked like tiny lobsters, and they lived in holes that they dug in the river floor. We’d watch out for them as we stepped off the bank to enter the water. Other times we would try to capture them by trapping them under a cup or small pail before they darted into their domiciles. Crayfish would shed their claws, and we would scoop these up and collect them.


Clamshells were still more desirable as collectible. You could peek inside when the clam still lived there, then return it to the water. Vacated clamshells were handy for various arts and crafts projects, e.g., when painted as Xmas tree ornaments.


Bloodsuckers had a mythical status in our household. The shallow water was home to hundreds of these little monsters who attached themselves in the spaces between our toes and feasted on our blood. You didn’t feel them while in the water, and we learned to inspect our feet and legs as soon as we got out. If they’d been on you for a while, they would have burrowed into your skin, so you’d have to pull them off, leaving a little indentation of oozing blood. We’d throw the bloodsuckers into the deep grass in the birch tree grove, figuring that that would be the end of them.


The water’s surface was inhabited by various insects, the most entertaining being the waterbugs. These little black beasties could scoot around practically at the speed of sound, zigging and zagging this way and that. Though they lived in big colonies, they were so quick it was nearly impossible to catch them. We didn’t mind sharing the water with the waterbugs since they seemed harmless enough.


We had both land turtles and water turtles at river house. The turtles that lived in the river were larger and scarier. You would see them at dusk swimming along with only their snouts above water. Or sometimes they would be sunning themselves, perched atop a deadhead. Rightly or wrongly we imagined some of them to be snapping turtles, and we would frighten one another by making up scary fantasies as we entered the water. One year Steven shot a huge turtle in the neck with his bow and arrow from the rowboat, then had to drag it ashore to put it out of its misery. We all, including Steve, found the experience terrible.


Steve was the family fisherman, though he only became fully serious about it when he and Margie moved to Seattle. We’d do a little fishing on the Menominee, catching an occasional perch or crappie. We’d always see schools of minnows near the shore, and sometimes we’d gather them up in a big pail. Since those early days the Menominee River has been cleaned up and has become a popular destination for serious fishermen. According to Internet accounts, it’s an excellent location for smallmouth bass, as well as northern pike, walleyes, and brown trout. Below the dam you can catch lake sturgeon, whitefish, steelheads, and salmon.


A totally mysterious and remarkable event occurred every August on the river’s bank. We’d come out one day and the tall grass along the shore would be covered with the exterior shells of cicadas who had shed their skins and flown off to enjoy a new life phase. The shells were perfect, hollow replicas of the original bugs, and we would carefully pick them off the weeds and put them in a box to keep for eternity.


I know we have mudpuppies in the river because I saw one once. Katja came to visit for the first time over Xmas vacation in 1957. The river was frozen solid, and we walked across to Pig Island. About halfway across we looked down through the crystal clear ice, and we could see a mud puppy lying motionless on the river floor. It looked like a prehistoric being. Katja thought it was just one more amazing thing about Menominee.


There were bugs everywhere you went at river house, but the grandest of all were the dragonflies. You would see them most frequently soaring along a foot or two above the water in the river. We knew that they wouldn’t bite, and we’d let them land and rest on our heads or forearms when we were out in the rowboat.


The river was home to many bird species – ducks, geese, even seagulls. The most majestic of all, though, were the herons. We would see them most frequently when we rowed across the river and entered the channel between Pig Island and its adjacent neighbor. This was a quiet, isolated spot filled with water lilies and ancient tree stumps. The herons nested there, and we would virtually always see one when we entered this secret space.

So what do I think about this some sixty years later? I don’t think we children fully appreciated the remarkable place in which we lived. It was not only beautiful, but it was a constant source of education and entertainment. We were lucky kids to have lived there.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (11-18): Hi David, I had lots of feelings followed by some epiphanies after reading your account of the creatures of the riverbank and of the river. This was partly because the pictures and remembrances brought to life so many rich, vibrant memories. Thank you for that. Sometimes I dub your blog "The Function of Language and Narrative In The Development of Affect Regulation". I won't bore you with the details.....just to say how lovely and important your reminiscences have been for me. Love, Vicki

-Donna D (11-16): david, i''ll bet that river water and its creatures are why you're so healthy today! donna

Saturday, November 13, 2010

River House Creatures

Our house on Riverside Boulevard (VAL photo)

Dear George,

Growing up on the Menominee River out in the country, we were a lot closer to nature than we’ve ever been since. Our family property was home to numerous animals, birds, reptiles, and insects who were significant parts of our lives. Here are a few of them:


Our mother kept a hanging bird-feeding station outside our dining room window which she restocked regularly. Because the birds would spill lots of the seeds on the ground, the feeding station was also of great interest to the chipmunks who lived under our house. They would scurry back and forth and gather up their food stocks. They reminded us of characters in Walt Disney’s Bambi.


Our yard had a bunch of hardwood and evergeen trees, and squirrel families built their nests high in the maples and oaks. Like the chipmunks, they enjoyed the bird-feeding station, as well as the plentiful supply of acorns that fell to the ground in the fall. My parents welcomed the grey squirrels, but the red squirrels, for reasons I no longer remember, were considered an undesirable nuisance. When we became teenagers, we were allowed to go out and shoot them with the .22 rifle (or, more accurately, shoot at them).


Country homes are privy to wild visitors, and bats were common guests in our house. Steve and I were given the job of disposing of them. The living room had a high arched ceiling, but when the bats swooped low enough we would swing at them with a broom. They were fast and guided by radar, so it would take numerous passes, but eventually we would knock the bats out of the air. Later we discovered that a frying pan was a more lethal instrument, and, though harder to hit the flying bats, it effectively disposed of them when we finally were successful.


Pine snakes lived under our house, perhaps drawn to the Norway pines in the front yard. These were huge snakes, four to six feet in length, and it was always exciting and scary when we discovered one that had ventured from its den onto the front lawn. One evil thing I did as a child was to take the carcass of a huge dead pine snake that I’d found and put it under the sheets on Steven’s bed. Justice was served when I got into bed the next night and suddenly felt the snake lying next to me.


Porcupines lived on our property, though we rarely saw them. The exceptions occurred when our Irish setter Mike would trap one in the corner of our house near Vicki’s bedroom door. We regarded Mike as a highly intelligent dog, but porcupines were his Achille’s heel, and he would wind up with a snoutful of quills most every year. My father would get him in the car, and we would rush off to Dr. Seidl to have the quills extracted. Dr. Seidl always remarked that porcupine quills were the worst thing that happened to dogs in Menominee. Porcupines were much more common and visible at Jean Worth’s hunting camp at Cedar River. Katja was shocked on an early visit to Menominee when one of my cronies shot a porcupine high up in a pine tree. A suburban Philadelphian, she concluded that we were savages. But such is life in the north woods.


Menominee County was deer country, but we would only see a white-tailed deer on our property once a year or less. The most dramatic occasion was when an adult deer fell through the soft ice in mid-river in front of our house one spring afternoon. My dad, Dick Sawyer, and Mike O’Hara tried to rescue it by pushing our rowboat over the ice to reach the flailing animal. However, the deer sank below the water before the rescuers could reach it. Everyone was very sad.


We discovered in our teen years that otter families made their homes in the river bank along our property. A man in town paid for their skins, and Steven became a dedicated trapper, employing our younger brother Peter as an assistant. I don’t think Steve got rich from the otter skins, but he did supplement his weekly earnings from the drugstore. Our sister Vicki was totally disgusted.

The river, of course, was home to its own bestiary. I’ll say something about that on another occasion.



G-Mail Comments

-Phyllis SS (11-13): Dave. I love, love otters. How could that man buy them. What on earth would he do with their skins (a rhetorical question only - I don't want to know). I am in total agreement with your sister. Phyllis

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dead Leaves, Almost-Dead Self

Dear George

I took our sheepdogs Mike and Duffy to Parker Woods in Northside the other day to take some photos of dead leaves in the November forest. The dogs were enthusiastic about being out on a sunny cool day, but they do get puzzled by the constant stops and starts of photo-taking. Duffy stays right at my heels when I step off the path to take a picture, but Mike just sits down and waits for me. Sometimes he winds up so far back that I lose sight of him altogether which is scary. As I moved in to take a shot of a picturesque fallen tree, I walked straight into a broken branch that had a pointed end as sharp as a dagger. The jagged end of the branch struck me right in the front of my neck where I fancied my jugular vein to be. The sudden sharp pricking hurt and shocked me. I put my hand up to my throat to see if blood was pouring forth (it wasn’t), then fantasized about how I would need to run for help to try to save my life. I felt my neck again – still no blood. After four or five more checks, I decided I wasn’t going to die after all. So I went back to taking photos of dead leaves. Dead leaves, I concluded, a lot more enjoyable than dead humans. Here are some of the photos I wound up with.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (11-17): david , that is horrible and now when katya really needs you to help her. i too would have been sure my jugular vein was punctured, and how do you tie that off, just press your hand to it and run, or cell phone. i am so glad that you were able to soothe yourself into thinking the most important vein in your body was ok. i however, would have wondered if perhaps a little tiny prick was still in there filled in by the tree needle and soon it would come out and the bleeding might start. i would have taken my self right down to the er to get an mri immediately, after all, what is my insurance for. well , hope that didn't start you to worry again, i am sure you are just fine, what if a tiny particle of wood got into the vein, what would happen then. how long do you think you would live then. bad things happen when you take those dogs out to the woods. as K says i know that bad things happen to good people but i hate it when good things happen to bad people

-Phyllis SS (11-12): Dave, I don't know - I think I disagree about leaves being more interesting than dead humans. Have you never seen the photos from the 19th century of people in their caskets? pss

-Ami G (11-10): You are getting awfully good at picture taking. These are pretty amazing!