Quote for the day: "This must be the North Pole." November 4, 1885, diary entry by Isle Royal lighthouse keeper John Malone.
Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal by L. David Mech
The author is a world-renowned authority on wolves. He began his life-long study of North America's iconic wilderness predator as a graduate student when he went to Isle Royale, on a newly funded three-year grant, to study, observe, and record the relationship between wolves and moose or predator and prey. The author was the first naturalist in an ongoing study that has become the longest continuous predator-prey study ever. This compelling book is the author's personal account of his three years of work on Isle Royale.
In 1958 when the grant was awarded little was known about how wolve packs were organized, w they hunted, what they ate, and how wolves affected the density and stability of a prey population. The author spent the summer of each year hiking the island's many trails and for six weeks in late winter observing from a low flying plane how wolf packs hunted and behaved. The author shares many of the early discoveries he made in his years on the island.
The glamourous part of the summer months was collecting endless samples of wolf scat and searching through it to determine the animal's diet. The author also collected jawbones from every moose killed by the wolves to determine its age and health at the time of death. The first year he was alone on the island, the second he brought his pregnant bride, and the third he arrived with a daughter and a wife pregnant with a second child. He and his wife got to know families on the island that still fished commercially and made many friends with park employees. The couple obviously relished their remote and simple existence on the least visited national park in the lower 48 states.
Visitors to Isle Royale who encounter a moose, nearly step in wolf scat when hiking, experience being out of sight of land however inland when crossing Superior, and have the beauty of the island etched in their memory will gobble this book up. Those who haven't yet visited the island will also find much to enjoy and many readers will put Isle Royale on their bucket list. The book is enjoyable, informative, fascinating and will convince readers Isle Royale is unique.
Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal by L. David Mech. University of Minnesota Press, 2020, $24.95.
West of the River, North of the Bridge: Stories from Michigan's U.P. by Richard Hill
These short stories are simply told and heartfelt. Most, but not all of the stories are set north of Big Mac and reveal how long, harsh winters, isolation, lack of jobs, and the U.P.'s rugged environment is both a blessing and a curse to its inhabitants. Whether the narrative unwinds in the first or third person the stories are plain-spoken and reflect the Yooper character. All of which helps make the stories stick with you like burrs on a dog's tail. Not often, but here and there within the stories are sparkling, grin-busting moments of humor.
One of the few recurring characters in several of the stories is a teen-ager named Jake. As with most teenage boys, he has a misplaced belief in his own immortality that is paired with the recklessness of youth. The opportunities for dangerous misadventures abound in the U.P. and Jake seems drawn to them like mosquitoes to a bug-zapper. Jake finally grows up in the book's concluding short story.
My two favorite stories probably reflect my age. One is an oral diary of an 82-year-old Great Lakes sailor who recalls his life sailing the lakes and the guilt he carries for his prolonged absences from his family. The other tells the story of a tire shop owner who loses his wife within months of his retirement. Lonely and seeking some kind of companionship he discovers that after 60 years out of circulation he has lost everything he ever knew about dating protocol.
Stories also explore what kind of future the U.P. holds for young people, hoarding, gambling addiction, the danger of being caught in a white-out, just getting by, and the nourishing beauty of the rugged peninsula. The writing is razor-sharp and wise with characters as real as a neighbor I've lived next to for a decade.
West of the River, North of the Bridge: Stories From Michigan's U.P. by Richard Hill. Gale Force Press, 2020, $19.95.
I Hope This Reaches You: An American Soldier's Account of World War 1 by Hilary Connor
In 2011 Elizabeth Field Connor helped her widowed mother clean years of clutter out of her basement and made an extraordinary discovery that resulted in this epic narrative of a Michigan man's service on the Western Front during World War I. The discovery was a footlocker containing her grandfather's diary of life at the front as an ambulance driver, over 300 letters he wrote his parents and college sweetheart during his enlistment, and two books he helped author entitled, "The History of Ambulance Company 168," and a book on the 117th Sanitary Train that included the ambulance company.
The material found in the footlocker became the four primary sources the author used to write this remarkable account of a young man's experiences from Jackson, Michigan an ambulance driver in Worl War I. Byron Fiske, a devote Methodist, was attending Albion College and studying to become a Methodist missionary when the U.S. declared war on Germany. Byron's religious beliefs against killing prevented him from joining the army. But wanting to do his part in the war to end all wars, he dropped out of college and volunteered as an ambulance driver in a Michigan National Guard unit. The unit was in boot camp at Grayling when it was nationalized and assigned to the famous Rainbow Division.
The book is a remarkable account of Byron's World War I experience because the author places Byron's story within the context of the war on the Western Front and the combat record of the Rainbow Division. The author also makes clear that throughout the war, Byron's faith and upbringing in Jackson served as a constant moral compass in the most harrowing of times. He was gassed and survived artillery bombardments as well as German snipers who targetted litter carriers. It was not uncommon for the ambulance company personnel to carry the wounded on litters through knee-deep mud from the front to dressing stations and field hospitals miles or more in the rear. It was man-killing labor. At Chateau Thiery he saw bodies by the hundreds strewn across the landscape. The smell was so bad he wore a gas mask hoping it would filter out the smell. It didn't. The wounded lay on the ground so long he saw maggots in their wounds. Byron survived the war but like most combat vets did not want to talk about it. He came home with his faith intact, enjoyed success as a businessman, and died a tragic and lonely death.
This is a moving and powerful book and a fine addition to the literature of World War I.
I Hope This Reaches You: An American Soldiers Account of World War I by Hilary Connor. Wayne State University Press, 2020, $39.99. https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/i-hope-reaches-you.
The Great Lakes Rivalry by Peter Schinkai
The first meeting between U of M and MSU (at the time called Michigan Agricultural College) on the football field occurred on October 12, 1898, at Ann Arbor. There were 228 fans in attendance and the Wolverines won 39 - 0. And so was born a passionate in-state athletic rivalry that is now well into its second century.
This book may well be considered a must by devoted football fans from both universities and should be considered for inclusion in the reference section of medium and larger Michigan libraries. A succinct chapter is devoted to every U of M/MSU football game played from 1898 through 2017. The author begins the description of every game with a summary of each team's season prior to the big game, a report on coaching changes, and new players who can be game-changers. The details of the game itself include highlights of significant plays, outstanding players, and conclude with a roundup of each team's season record for the year.
The book is filled with interesting asides and historical tidbits on college football. Readers learn the first college football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869. In 1898 five points were awarded for a touchdown or a field goal and one point was given for a successful conversion after a TD. After1898 the teams didn't play each other again until 1902, 1907, and 1908. In 1910 the two schools committed to playing yearly and that schedule was only interrupted during WWII.
Probably only the most dedicated, diehard fans will read the book cover to cover in the course of a day or two but the book makes for great browsing. Want to read about the Yost era at U of M or Duffy Dougherty's reign at MSU? Discover that MSU's first victory over U of M came in 1913, or how in 1902 season the Wolverines scored a TD on the average of every minute and 54 seconds in a 119- 0 rout. It is all here and there is plenty for fans of both schools to celebrate in this tribute to a great and enduring rivalry.
The Great Lakes Rivalry by Peter Schinkai. Independently Published, 2020, $14.