Monday, October 15, 2018

Post # 30

Quote for the day: The Keweenaw Peninsula is still untamed and still resists transformation.
                               Ela Johnson, The Faces of the Great Lakes. 1977.


Harder Ground
by Joseph Heywood

Admittedly, Joseph Heywood is one of my favorite authors and I'm hopelessly addicted to his "Woods Cop" series that chronicles the adventures of  Grady Service, a Conservation Officer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  So I was surprised to find that I'd somehow missed the publication of the 2015 Heywood release Harder Ground: More Woods Cop Stories. If I missed it, it is more than likely other fans may have also failed to note its publication  --  hence this review.

This installment of the Woods Cop series is a departure from Heywood's usual UP mysteries featuring Grady Service. The book at hand is a collection of twenty-nine immensely enjoyable short stories focusing on the life and work of female conservation officers in the UP.
Most of the stories are brief literary sketches of critical moments or turning points in the women's professional careers or how they juggle both a demanding job and a family. There are a few expanded stories that cover an unusual or unique investigation or arrest. 

The stories cover a Conservation Officer's first day on the job, another's last memorable day before retirement, and the rest address how incredibly challenging, dangerous, and physically and mentally demanding the job can be. And of course, the women must prove they belong in a profession that was once open only to men. The book is cast as fiction but any reader would swear that Heywood went on dozens of ride-alongs with women Conservation Officers,  and let them tell their stories while he recorded them. The stories feel that real. They are also humorous, touching, edge-of-your-chair exciting, and support one character's reflection that: "Conservation officers were defined by so many skills it was hard to squeeze them into an application form."

In "The Roadrunner Should Make You Laugh," a conservation officer pulls her dad, a retired conservation officer suffering from Alzheimer's, out of a nursing home and manages to take care of him at home. It is mostly told through dialogue and is sad, funny, and touching all at once. "Gravy and Bear Breath" is told almost entirely through dialogue as a female cadet in the Conservation Officer's Academy is challenged to show leadership. It is an absolute gem of a story and the dialogue sparkles like a diamond. My favorite in the book is "Facings" in which a conservation officer investigates reports of monsters in the bush near L'Anse. The story carries a staggering emotional wallop.  

Like all very good authors, Heywood's writing is natural and seemingly effortless. His prose is honed to perfection and he writes with absolute economy. There isn't an unnecessary word in the book as he reveals character through snippets of dialogue or in rich but succinct descriptions of critical moments in a conservation officer's day, week or life. And it's a given, any book by Heywood brims over with odd and memorable characters. This is 246 pages of pure enjoyment.

Harder Ground: More Woods Cop Stories by Joseph Heywood. Lyons Press, 2015, $17.95 pb.

The Habits of Trout: And Other Unsolved Mysteries
Tim Schulz

The author of this book of essays on fly fishing in the UP teaches electrical engineering at Michigan Technological University. Schulz, as did this reviewer and countless others, innocently and with no warning of the consequences picked up a fly rod, waded into a cold, beautiful, fast-moving stream, and became one of the afflicted -- an incurable fly fisherman.

The afflicted represent only a small percentage of the fishing community and fly fishermen who become bamboo fly rod enthusiasts are often described as the lunatic fringe of the fishing world. At least two of the essays in this book records the author's initiation into the bamboo fly fisherman's world. When he told a friend he just got a bamboo rod his friend corrected him and, to paraphrase,  replied, "No, you just got your first bamboo rod." Schulz's addiction is best illustrated by his response to his wife's telling him he was obsessed with fly fishing. His reply? "Not at all. I only obsess about it when I'm not fishing."

So obviously, when Schulz is not teaching or fly fishing, he is ruminating, obsessing, and writing about the joys and challenges of his addiction. The author's relaxed, humorous, and finely etched descriptive prose is as good a substitute for wetting a fly as one can find after trout season closes. The author, like many fly fisherman, is a huge fan and admirer of the late John Voelker who wrote two fly fishing classics and gave up his seat on the Michigan Supreme Court because it took too much time away from his passionate pursuit of trout. In several of the best essays in the book the author, with aid of Voelker's grandson, fishes the same waters Voelker fished and wrote about. 

The book is also filled with characters Shulz meets and befriends on his fishing adventures. A chance encounter with Dave and his two grown sons grew into a lasting friendship and many fishing trips with the trio. The author asserts that their pared-down essential equipment included a bamboo rod, cheap cigars, a small bottle of 100% DEET, and a substantial bottle "of whiskey to drink in case of snakebite, and -- leaving nothing to chance -- they bring along a small snake."

This is a must-read for the lunatic fringe and a great Christmas stocking-stuffer for anyone you know who belongs to the aforementioned group.
The Habits of Trout: And Other Unsolved Mysteries by Tim Schulz. UPTROUT Press, 2018, $12.99 pb.

Little Michigan, A Nostalgic Look at Michigan's Smallest Towns
by Kathryn Houghton

To qualify for inclusion in this unique travel guide/history book the 100 Michigan small towns described and visited by the author must have a population of less than 600. Which leaves this reviewer wondering if miraculously, there were only 100 towns in the state that had fewer than 600 inhabitants and if not, how the author decided which small towns to include. A possible answer can be found in the book's format. Each small town is given two pages in the book and in more than a few cases the author has trouble filling the two pages. I suspect some small towns were dropped simply because there wasn't enough information to fill a page.

The entry for each town, village, or unincorporated community follows a standard format. The town's population and date of incorporation share the top of the page with five community photographs. Next to the photographs and set in an attention-getting font the author notes something unique or an important aspect of the town. Sometimes the author is obviously challenged to note something of interest such as her note on Turner, MI which reads, "A prime cow sold at auction in 1919 could fetch over $150." The first paragraph or two relates the history of the community, which is followed by various descriptions of famous town personalities, natural disasters, important industries, or something unique about its natural surroundings like the elk herd near Vanderbilt. Each entry always ends with a description of the present condition of the town including businesses, churches, and tourist attractions.

The author has researched and written a great book for casual browsing with pleasant surprises on many pages. It's my bet that most readers will soon pick up a pen and begin to make a list of those towns that pique their interest and they might like to visit. Among my favorites are Barton Hills where Detroit Edison built a hydroelectric dam and hired famed landscape architects, the Olmsted Brothers, to design a residential community. Today, all homes built in Barton Hills must be individually designed by an accredited architect. Allan, population 191 is built on the intersection of two great Native American trails and is known as the Antique Capital of the World. And if you want to walk in the footsteps of a young Ernst Hemingway visit Horton Bay and step into the village's 140-year-old general store that the boy often visited, included in his short stories, and married his first wife in a nearby Horton Bay house. Or in the UP you can visit the bar in which a man murdered the bartender and John Voelker was hired by the gunman as his lawyer. The ensuing trial inspired Voelker to write "Anatomy of a Murder," which became a bestseller and an Otto Preminger film starring James Stewart as John Voelker.  You can still walk into the Lumberjack Bar in Big Bay and stick your finger in the bullet holes left by the gunman.

Browse through this book of small-town Michigan and discover your own favorites or at the very least read the history of those unfamiliar places named on expressway exits signs you drive past and wonder about their history, heritage, or special attractions. You may be surprised by what you missed. 

Little Michigan: A Nostalgic Look at Michigan's Smallest Towns by Kathryn Houghton. Adventure Publications, 2018, $16.95 pb.

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