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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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February 2005

Read all about it

New books to while away a winter night in good company.

Kathryn A. Kahler and
David L. Sperling

A good book makes a good companion whether you're relaxing fireside in a living room, cabin or campsite. We're always pleased to share some of the interesting titles that cross our desks and encourage you to check out these offerings that strike your fancy.

Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age
Ted Kerasote
Voyageur Press
159 pages, $16.95

This is a wonderful adventure story and a quick read. Noted outdoor writer Kerasote relates the story of a canoe trip on the Horton River in Canada's Northwest Territories. It's a mix of historical exploration and modern eco-tourism and is rich with contrasts between the two.

The author and his friend Len, both skilled whitewater paddlers, decide to follow the same route as predecessors John Franklin and Vilhjalmur Stefansson who traveled the rugged land near the Arctic Circle in the early 1800s and 1900s respectively. Franklin and Stefansson's separate journeys went in search of useful knowledge about the flora, fauna and geography of the land; Kerasote and Len went in search of two weeks away from the daily grind of meetings, e-mail and cell phones. Well, one of them did anyway. Kerasote went in search of solitude, detachment and a desire to be one with nature.

Len, married with two small children, sought adventure as much as his friend but believed the benefits of GPS technology, palm pilots and satellite phones made perfect sense to fulfill his parental and marital responsibilities. The two friends reached a respectful compromise, yet Kerasote felt a kind of betrayal in being wired in the wilderness, as conveyed in this description of how he felt after talking to a friend in Wyoming on the satphone: "Overhead the sky has filled with gauzy haze, and behind us the gyrfalcon begins to cry out again. Everything is the same – the river bearing us along, rarely seen wildlife upon its banks, the empty air like some restorative tonic – but everything is not the same. In this untouched place, I have a vague sense of pollution, which makes me feel silly, overreactive, and a bit precious. Nonetheless, the tainted feeling is there: I have strung a connection to the outside world."

But Kerasote acknowledges the benefits of modern technology when they meet an older couple on the river, a couple dressed in heavy cottons, wools and boots, with gear made of wood, cotton, wool, leather and canvas. By contrast, Kerasote and Len "looked like spacemen in yellow and green Gore-Tex parkas and form-fitting PFDs," and gear made of hypalon, fleece, pile and plastic – all lightweight and designed for maximum waterproof warmth.

The book is filled with stories of the duo's sightings of wildlife – musk ox, grizzlies, caribou, gyrfalcons, eagles – and wonderful descriptions of the changeable weather and geology of the region. Kerasote relates a magical story of two friends sharing the monumental silence of the wilderness in quiet conversations of love, marriage and philosophy.

The Encyclopedia of Deer: Your guide to the world's deer species, including whitetails, mule deer, caribou, elk, moose, and more
Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III
Voyageur Press
156 pages, $35

This beautiful, hardcover reference book covers 51 species of deer from the Cervidae and Moschidae families worldwide. Write-ups for each species – from the tiny pudu of Chile and Argentina, to the massive moose of Eurasia and North America – include range, description, habits, communication, breeding, birth and young, enemies and relationship with humans. The author, who is the most published wildlife photographer in North America, took most of the stunning photos and his wife, Uschi, took the remainder.

Descriptions are full of interesting characteristics illustrating similarities among species, and also what sets a species apart from all others. For example, all deer have four toes and walk on their toenails, making them unguligrade. Some share similar characteristics, such as the Chinese water deer and the tufted deer, which have tusks, or the fallow and red deer which retain their spots throughout life. But the Tharold's deer of Tibet has a number of physical features that mark it as distinct from all others, such as a section of hair on its brisket that points forward, giving the appearance of a small hump.

Coverage among species varies but includes at least one photo of each species. Most extensive coverage is given to species that are the most widely studied, and that means a full 17 pages are devoted to the white-tailed deer. The whitetail is the most adaptable deer in the world, has the largest range and lives under the most diverse conditions. There are 38 subspecies ranging from the boreal forests of Canada to Central and South America. Other species given wide play are elk, mule deer, moose and caribou. A fine glossary finishes off this handsome volume.

Wolves of the World: Natural History and Conservation
Todd K. Fuller
Voyageur Press
132 pages, $29.95

Dr. Fuller is an established authority on wolves and his book combines up-to-date facts and information with stunning full-page photos by 19 nature photographers. Readers are presented with comparisons between Canis lupus and other related canid species, including how their populations are distributed worldwide. Chapters on taxonomy, morphology, distribution, communication, land use, social behavior, populations, food, species interactions, humans and conservation offer an unbiased perspective of this species that was once, next to humans, the most widespread species of mammal on earth.

The author presents both sides of contemporary human attitudes toward wolves, which he describes as ranging from "adoration to repugnancy." The final chapter on the future of wolf populations is an insightful, objective account of how human attitudes and knowledge have changed over the last 70 years. According to Fuller, an "unintended consequence of efforts to protect and restore wolves has been what some people consider the 'over-promotion' of wolves," and has led to a realization that a more balanced view of wolves is necessary for any conservation effort to succeed. He concludes, "The solution to achieving viable populations of wolves throughout their historic range is not just to 'leave them alone' in remote, unpopulated areas, but to work at figuring out how wolves and people can co-exist in ways that are mutually compatible."

Roadside Geology of Wisconsin
Robert H. Dott, Jr. and John W. Attig
Mountain Press Publishing Company
317 pages, $20

If you like to look at rock formations and dig out geologic history on your road trips, this book is a great reference to keep in your car. It opens with a condensed Geology 101 description of the common kinds of geologic formations common in Wisconsin. The rest of the book takes readers on a highway-by-highway tour across the state. The authors divide the state into distinct topographic regions and two popular tourist regions – the Wisconsin Dells-Baraboo area and Door County peninsula. Within each region, they discuss geologic highlights along highway routes, giving special attention to state and county parks, forests and recreation areas.

Excellent maps overlay highway and city locators with such geologic features as bedrock, faults, glacial deposits and outwash plains. Equally good are the illustrations and photos of geologic features. Exhaustive research and a real love of the subject matter are evident in the authors' seemingly intimate knowledge of every mile of highway covered. Geologic descriptions are seasoned with historical accounts of specific regions, like mining the iron range near Hurley and the lead and zinc ores of southwestern Wisconsin.

Getting Started in Fly Fishing
Tom Fuller
Rugged Mountain Press
180 pages, $14.95

This book is designed to get prospective fly anglers quickly "casting competently and catching fish on a fly with as little extraneous information as possible." The first two chapters cover the basic equipment, including rod, reel, line, leaders, tippets, flies, tools, waders, clothing, sunglasses and vests, all of which can be purchased for under $400, and how to use that equipment once on the stream. Tying knots, casting the line, wading into water, knowing where to fish and how the flies should look to the fish round out these basics and assure that the reader can get out on the stream within a day. The rest of the book is a learn-as-you-go guide devoted to the art and science of fly fishing, with chapters about casting problems and solutions, understanding and imitating what trout eat, and presenting flies to trout.

The author is a lifelong trout fisherman who credits this guide to his experiences teaching fly fishing in the Becoming an Outdoorswoman program where students learn the basics of casting and catching fish all in one day. The illustrations of knot tying, fly tying and casting are excellent and any novice on a budget will appreciate the honest recommendations of what's needed in a start-up kit.

Harvesting Urban Timber
Sam Sherrill
Linden Publishing
224 pages, $25.95

This paperback will provide food for thought for community officials and other public land managers who keep looking for ways to make better use of wasted resources. As an outgrowth of community recycling or urban forestry programs, the author suggests more trees in the city might be salvaged for timber that could be used in either public works projects or by wood workers. He estimates that perhaps a third of the urban timber nationwide – between three to four billion board feet of lumber – might be salvaged for public projects like benches, steps, bleachers, shelter houses or trail bridges. These choice cuts also can be sold to local wood workers to provide a local source of quality wood at below retail cost.

Sherrill talks from experience having advised several communities starting such programs. His book discusses how to judge the value of urban timber, and what to consider in felling trees and cutting timber safely in urban settings. This guidance might especially pique the interest of urban foresters, parks officials, golf course managers, cemetery administrators, waste managers and city planners who have to recoup costs for removing and replacing aged or damaged trees.

Examples show how such programs have developed in eight communities and how three states: New Jersey, Minnesota and California encourage local communities and private businesses to make better use of urban timber.

As a general education, there are also slews of exploded diagrams showing different ways to cut logs to get the maximum amount of usable timber.

A Naturalist's Journey
Kenneth I. Lange
New Past Press
224 pages, $20

These essays took us on an unexpected journey. We met Ken Lange several times during his 30-year career as the first permanent naturalist at Devil's Lake State Park (1966-96). His hikes and talks breathed life into mixed discussions of the park's nature life and geology. We thought this would be another visit to the region's natural history, and certainly nature is interspersed in these pages where Lange shares insights drawn from more than 30 years of field notes. Through his eyes we appreciate turkey vultures, white pines and monarch butterflies. We learn that skunk cabbage is the first plant up each spring and witch-hazel is the last fall bloomer.

But Lange fills a much broader niche here by sharing the human nature and life stories of friends, colleagues and neighbors who filled his world during his first 30 years in Sauk County. These stories are only touched with the sadness that all those profiled have passed on. Still, the author gives us a strong sense of human character that shaped the region and the region that shaped the character of his acquaintances who lived from Sauk City to Baraboo from the 1920s through the early 90s. Lange eschews labels, and he shares profiles of multi-dimensional people who had happy moments and suffered personal tragedies, who loved people, but often lived out their lives without spouses or family. All had an abiding love of the land.

Here we meet Harold Kruse, an organic farmer and naturalist. We see Harvey Weidman in his WWI uniform and learn of his worldwide travels as a mining engineer and survivor of the Bataan Death March in WWII. We meet families of country fiddlers and hear the story of Chuck Naidl, the Sauk County "Snake Man," whose fascination and respect for snakes led to nationwide school presentations to share dignity and respect for these reptiles. We meet photographers, writers, historians and artists. We share a table with the gang at John's Coffee Shop where Lange took dinner for many years with a group of regulars. Through black and white photos sprinkled throughout the text, we get to see the faces and everyday garb of the people dignified in these remembrances.

It's an especially good read for people from rural southwestern Wisconsin who set roots in the hilly, forested farmsteads and towns shaped by this beautiful region.

The Man From Clear Lake
Bill Christofferson
The University of Wisconsin Press
403 pages, $30

This authorized biography of revered Wisconsin legislator and conservationist Gaylord Nelson traces the roots and path of his political career as two-term governor, senator and chairman of the Wilderness Society. We learn of Nelson's Progressive roots, and the supportive nature of the Clear Lake community in Polk County. Nelson, now 88, grew up in the era before paved roads in the northern half of Wisconsin to see the full spectrum of land use changes including rural recovery, suburban sprawl, Interstate highway development and the rural home building boom.

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Gaylord Nelson forged meaningful policies
and compromises to protect the public interest
in such areas as groundwater and drinking water protection.

It is instructive today to view the changes in Wisconsin through Nelson's eyes as the political climate shifted from 13 years of Progressive rule to 20 years of Republican leadership followed by the rebirth of the Democratic Party in the late 1940s. Reading about political battles in the 50s and 60s on deficit spending, state sales tax, highway construction and school aid formulas provides perspectives for current debate on these same issues and the health care battle to come. Despite a political front that resembles today's challenges where one party controls the Legislature and the other the Executive Branch, Nelson forged partnerships and compromise that created the Outdoor Action Recreation Plan that used a one-cent cigarette tax to pay for a 10-year, $50 million fund to buy public lands for outdoor recreation. The program was the progenitor of today's Stewardship Fund that is likewise preserving outstanding outdoor resources for public enjoyment.

We follow Nelson's career to the U.S. Senate and get a taste of what it was like to legislate during the Cold War, civil rights movement, and Vietnam years as well as learning some of the politics behind environmental battles to establish the Appalachian Trail, protect Wild and Scenic Rivers, preserve the Apostle Islands and ban DDT as well as his renowned work to establish Earth Day.

Nelson's story provides a model for current and future legislative leaders to forge meaningful policies and compromises that protect the public interest in such areas as groundwater and drinking water protection, Great Lakes protection, the explosion of a tourism economy, home development in forests and lakeshores, and the conglomeration of family farms to agribusiness.

Kathryn A. Kahler is production and circulation manager for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine and David L. Sperling edits the publication.