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For anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers, days afield are all too short and often, too infrequent. Work demands, the pleasures of family, the shackle of home maintenance and the joy of community activities all eat away at those golden moments outdoors. One way to steal back a bit of that time "lost" to other earthly pursuits is to make better use of the long, cold nights of winter. And might we suggest an easy chair by a warming fire as an ideal place to recapture the adventure?
Pencil in your calendar for at least a few nights per week of good reading and listening to nourish the outdoor spirit or kindle a new interest.
"Exploring Wisconsin Trout Streams: The Angler's Guide," by Steve Born, Jeff Mayers, Andy Morton and Bill Sonzogni, (The University of Wisconsin Press, $18.95) is a wonderful pick for seasoned trout stalkers and budding fishers who aspire to become well-rounded anglers.
The authors recognize that quality fishing blends many dimensions, and they help the reader appreciate the whole experience. Here, the reader meets Wisconsin writers and scientists who share an enthusiasm for trout fishing and respect for the environment. In a few short pages the authors recount Wisconsin's contributions to protect water quality, preserve public fishing grounds, remove aging dams, improve streams and experiment with artificial structures that create trout habitat.
The section, "Getting There," describes fishing techniques, tactics and resources for successful trout fishing. It's chock full of practical tips on using maps to find quality trout waters, fishing equipment trout anglers use, recognizing the trout's natural foods, fishing presentations and learning on-water entomology. Though the authors are all experienced fly-fishers, they all started out tossing worms, minnows and spoons, and they share information that is equally useful to anglers using live bait or spinners.
The book offers a sampler of fishing opportunities and seasonal variety to whet trout anglers' appetites – fishing the spring creeks of southwestern Wisconsin, hitting the mid-summer mayfly hatches that bring on trout feeding frenzies, and making time to battle strong fish on the Great Lakes tributary streams.
The regional guide portion of the book familiarizes anglers with classic Wisconsin streams and fishing holes that are large enough and productive enough to handle the crowd that such write-ups bring. Each of the regional summaries paints a verbal snapshot of the specific streams, describes best flies to use, suggests the prime time to fish, details management steps to improve the fishery, and provides maps to guide the angler to the water. We admire that the guide provides more than enough information to get anglers going without pinpointing the most productive stream reaches. We also like the "Sidetrips" write-ups that recommend lodging, eateries and other natural sites worth visiting near the trout streams.
The book does an excellent job of holding the attention of experienced anglers and helping new anglers form fishing strategies without giving away the secrets anglers should learn for themselves on Wisconsin's 10,000 miles of trout streams.
"Wisconsin Seasons," edited by Ted J. Rulseh, (The Cabin Bookshelf, $22.95), shares outdoor essays from 29 of the state's revered outdoor writers. Most of the works in this anthology were crafted by newspaper men whose features regularly appeared in daily, weekly or monthly columns. The seasonal essays introduce the reader to each author's unique writing style, pacing, humor and turn of phrase. Hopefully, it will entice the reader to search out more of the collected body of works of each of these writers.
Since the book is a series of essays, it's an ideal choice for those who may only have 20-30 minutes at a time to enjoy these stories.
Each tale is a bite-sized vacation that whisks the reader around the state from spring through winter. We particularly enjoyed Tom Davis's confession of being a walleye "piglet" and his lament that the simple pursuit of walleye has been "infected by the viruses of science and technology."
We liked Mel Ellis's reminiscence of decompressing on a Waushara County trout stream after five years in the Armed Services during World War II.
It's a shame that Sharon Hart Addy's story is the sole entry from female writers. She describes her father's epiphany in accepting her as both angler and fishing buddy after they escaped a harrowing storm while fishing a Lake Michigan breakwater.
You can almost smell the cigarette smoke and stale beer in the air as Bill Stokes unwinds a whopper of a musky story.
For those of us born after the mid-mark of the century, it was nice to be introduced to Gordon MacQuarrie's Old Duck Hunters Association stories that regularly graced the Milwaukee Journal from 1936-56. He and his father-in law, "Mister President" of the "Association" take us night fishing on the wild Namekagon in June. And Dan Small recounts a scary outing when the early ice floes broke up on Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay.
Not all the stories are fishing tales. We collect hickory nuts with R. Chris Halla on Maxwell Road. We tag along on one more duck hunt with Jay Reed and his yellow lab, Thor. Justin Isherwood spins a tale of a compassionate warden and his poaching country neighbor. We savor the pleasures of a snowy day in a simple, comfortable place with Steve Hopkins. We get sucked in by a classic "boy and his dog" story in Dion Henderson's Christmas tale.
For someone seeking a sampler of Wisconsin's outdoor writing traditions, or someone trying to spark a teen-ager's interest in nature and outdoor exploration, it's hard to imagine a better starting place than "Wisconsin Seasons."
Readers, it's time to lend an ear. Outdoor recordings have become a big business blending nature's sounds and soft music to create calming environments in our New Age, CD-filled world. Here, we will sing the praises of the technology's scientific antecedents.
The first "portable" tape recorders and the subsequent development of stereo recording opened up a whole new world for scientists. No longer would scholars and hobbyists be limited to describing sounds in phonetic spellings. Field tape recorders captured the natural calls, cries and songs of birds, mammals, frogs and insects. A companion piece of equipment, the Sona-Graph© worked like an oscilloscope creating a visual print of the duration, frequency and volume of each sound. These two tools provided a "fingerprint" that scientists could use to distinguish, compare and classify animal sounds.
One of the early field researchers was Charles M. Bogert, who rose to the post of Curator, then Chairman of the Dept. of Amphibians and Reptiles at New York's American Museum of Natural History. Bogert systematically studied the ecology, habits and behavior of frogs and lizards. Between 1954 and 1957 he journeyed across the country, mainly in the South, making nighttime recordings of frogs and toads near swamps, ponds, roadside ditches and woodlands. His recordings, published as a long-playing record by Folkway Records in 1958, were a big hit.
This year, Folkways successor, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (a part of the Smithsonian Institution), has reissued "Sounds of North American Frogs, " by Charles M. Bogert ($13.99) as a compact disc. The 92-tracks include six of the 11 frog species native to Wisconsin as well as many frogs indigenous to the southern United States. In these recordings you can appreciate the almost electronic sounds of green treefrogs and the utterances of the eastern narrow-mouthed toad, which sound like small bagpipes with drones. Listeners will hear the curious clicks of cricket frogs, the bird-like chirps of the oak toad, the blip-like call of pine woods treefrogs, the carpenter frog's call that sounds like someone driving nails into soft wood, and the true grunt-like sounds from pig frogs.
The 42-page text accompanying the CD includes a blow-by-blow description of each call and Dr. Bogert's original liner notes. He explains the differences among mating or "advertisement" calls, which advertise mating species and interest; "warning" chirps and croaks to distinguish the sexes when breeding populations aggregate; "rain calls" uttered during nonbreeding times; "screams" when amphibians are startled or injured; and "territorial" calls used to announce a home range.
We found the CD entertaining for all listeners. It would be especially useful for amateurs preparing to participate in spring frog counts.
Art lovers will be pleased about the revision and reissue of Owen J. Gromme's "Birds of Wisconsin" (The University of Wisconsin Press, $75). The book includes all 89 bird portraits from his original 1963 text plus another 17 paintings from the Marshall and Ilsley Bank Collection commissioned between 1964-67.
Gromme, the former Curator of Birds and Mammals at the Milwaukee Public Museum, started professional life as a taxidermist and field collector for the museum. His skill in creating realistic, dramatic dioramas for the museum's exhibits was legendary. Those talents lead to a lifetime of wonderful paintings that captured the mood, habitat, light and movement of his wildlife subjects. Gromme credited his success to his training as a "good museum man" – a solid background as scientist, artist, carver, sculptor, lecturer, writer, photographer, bookkeeper, taxidermist and hunter. Clearly, he had great artistic gifts that led to his selection as the first "master wildlife artist" by the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum at the inaugural of its "Birds in Art" annual exhibit.
Gromme spent 20 years painting watercolor portraits of Wisconsin's native bird species in his spare time from other museum assignments. He drew every species that was known to have visited Wisconsin before the book was first published in 1963. Since then, 81 additional species have been confirmed in Wisconsin, and it's a shame they will not be captured on canvas by Gromme's skilled touch. He died in 1996.
"Birds of Wisconsin" has been out-of-print for 10 years, and the new edition has some sumptuous additions. All of his bird portraits, except the wild turkey, were composed in watercolors. Seventeen additional paintings, in the section Birds in Action and Habitat are done in oils. They add a rich, moodier texture to the original collection. In these paintings of ducks, eagles, loons, grouse, owls and songbirds, Gromme pulled back his vision to share more of the natural surroundings and seasons than we see in the close-up portraits.
To add to the painting's timeless qualities, ornithologist Samuel D. Robbins, Jr., has updated range maps for each species – yellow for summer residents, blue for winter ranges and green for year-round residents. Handy "date lines" also describe when each species is present in Wisconsin and when each bird species typically starts nesting.
For birder, art student, environmentalist and those who just like to look at pretty pictures, "Birds of Wisconsin" would be a welcome gift.
We commend for your attention "The Land, Always the Land," a collection of Mel Ellis's seasonal essays (The Cabin Bookshelf, $23.95). These short stories and musings were collected throughout his lifetime. Ellis intended to publish them in a coffee-table book accompanied by beautiful photos. The publisher went belly-up and the essays lingered.
In our house, these short reflections fit right into the bookcase in the bathroom, breakfast nook or on the reading pile near The Big Chair; a much more prestigious location than the coffee table. Each story takes about as long to digest as a doughnut hole, and each gives that same, short satisfaction – nothing big or fancy here, but all enjoyable for the moment. Whether we join the Ellis clan fishing for bullheads, listening to chipmunks drag peanuts through the wallboards, reflecting on cricket and mice noises, or drinking elderberry wine at a dance hall adjoining the "original drive-in," it's a quick trip worth taking.
Keep this book by the nightstand so you can abandon the worries of the work world at your bedpost and end the day with a quick chuckle or a sane moment puttering in the outdoors.
You can find these books and recordings by visiting online bookstores, the bookstore in your community, or by contacting the publisher.
The "Wisconsin Seasons" and "The Land, Always the Land" are published by The Cabin Bookshelf, (Ted Rulseh), 109 Riverwood Drive, Mishicot, WI 54228. Telephone:(920)755-4745; fax: (920) 755-2889; e-mail: The Cabin Bookshelf
"Exploring Wisconsin Trout Streams" and "Birds of Wisconsin" are published by The University of Wisconsin Press, 2537 Daniels Street, Madison, WI 53718-6772. Telephone:(608) 224-3888; fax:(608) 224-3897.
"Sounds of North American Frogs" CD is produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 955 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Suite 7300 MRC 953, Washington, DC 20560. Telephone: (202) 287-3251; fax: (202) 287-7266. There is also a web site where one can hear sound clips: Smithsonian Folkways
David L. Sperling edits Wisconsin Natural Resources.