A R C H I V E S   O F
The Reluctant Blogger

2008 Henry Kisor



J U L Y,   2 0 0 7


[NOTE: Some of the links to newspaper stories may be broken, thanks to the sources archiving their articles under new links. Also, all comments from readers unfortunately have been lost.]

July 31: Life in an alternate reality

Yesterday I looked over the entries in this blog for the past few months, and was startled to realize that they have taken on an almost parochial bent — the last month or so they’ve been all about life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s as if I drove up here one day with Hogan and my lady friend and shut the door on my former existence in suburban Chicago.

But that’s not really true, thanks (in my case) mostly to the Internet. On the Web every morning the New York Times and Washington Post inform me, and the Huffington Post and Salon.com inflame me. Regularly I check on what my old colleagues at the Chicago Sun-Times are up to, and now and then drop in on my old competitors at the Chicago Tribune.

And, at last, Pat’s Foods in Ontonagon is selling the printed Sunday New York Times — on Sunday, too, not a day or two later. To an old journo that’s like finding a brand-new pair of Manolo Blahniks among the patched swampers at St. Vincent’s, the local used-goods charity outlet.

So I do know what’s going on in the real world — “real” simply meaning far away; the U.P. has its own tough reality that people who live here year-round must cope with.

But it’s getting harder and harder for me to care about what’s going on in Chicago and the Beltway and Baghdad and the Gaza Strip and Darfur — to care enough, at least, to offer opinions.

Maybe this is just a consequence of the second year of retirement. Not being involved in the daily crash and yammer of urban life perhaps gives one a certain sense of detachment. Or maybe it’s just relief. Perhaps there’s nothing more I can do to help save the world, so I might as well relax and enjoy my little part of it.

That sounds dismayingly self-centered, I know. But it could be just a healthy reaction to the deepening shadows in the late afternoon of one’s life. Shouldn’t retirement be a reward for having survived the daily combat of the workplace?

On the other hand, we’ll be closing up the cabin as the hard frosts approach and moving back to Evanston about Oct. 1. Maybe then my mind will return to the other reality.

July 30: Sunset No. 7

Pentax *ist DS, 18-55 zoom at 18mm, 1/350 f8.0, ISO 400

Most of last week’s sunsets on Lake Superior were merely glorious. The one Friday evening was extraordinary, thanks to three layers of clouds. For the full-size (6.1 megapixels, 2.4 megabytes) version, click here.

July 29: Lake Superior's woes, continued

Last January 11 this blog started Viewing with Alarm the consequences of the severe drop in the level of Lake Superior and the sharp rise in its water temperatures. Just yesterday I learned that a neighbor to the east lost his source of household water earlier this year when his cistern on the shore ran dry.

Only now does the mass media seem to be catching up. Last week USA Today had a cover article on the phenomenon, and this weekend John Flesher, an environmental writer with the Associated Press, checks in with a widely published piece:

“Something seems amiss with mighty Superior, the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, which together hold nearly 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.

“Superior’s surface area is roughly the same as South Carolina’s, the biggest of any freshwater lake on Earth. It’s deep enough to hold all the other Great Lakes plus three additional Lake Eries. Yet over the past year, its level has ebbed to the lowest point in eight decades and will set a record this fall if, as expected, it dips three more inches.

“Its average temperature has surged 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1979, significantly above the 2.7-degree rise in the region’s air temperature during the same period. That’s no small deal for a freshwater sea that was created from glacial melt as the Ice Age ended and remains chilly in all seasons.”

July 28: At last, a jacket for 'Cache'

One of the last steps in the production of a new book has occurred — the jacket has been designed. Here’s the one for my new novel, to be published November 27.

Now the publisher is collecting “blurbs” for the back of the jacket. I know, I know, blurbsmanship is nothing more than authorial backscratching, but it’s important in persuading bookstore browsers to pick up a book, leaf through the first few pages, and perhaps buy it.

After that all an author can do is wait for the advance reviews to appear from Kirkus Service, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. These help persuade bookstore and library buyers to order lots and lots of copies, and often quotes from glowing early notices appear with the blurbs.

This always takes me back to those nervous days as a high school senior, sweating out the arrival of college admissions acceptance (or rejection) letters.

July 24: From 'korppu' to 'lerppu'

In my 2005 novel A Venture into Murder, Deputy Sheriff Steve Martinez and State Police Detective Sgt. Alex Kolehmainen spent the night in the tight confines of a Cessna 172 cockpit after Steve executed a skillful engine-out emergency landing at night on a forest track deep in the Upper Peninsula wilderness. Their survival rations: A thermos of coffee and a paper bag of korppu.

Also called Trenary toast for a celebrated bakery in Trenary, Michigan, this Finnish delicacy is not one of the must-haves in my personal pantry. To be sure, it’s not bad at all, especially when dunked in coffee or hot chocolate, but the sugary cinnamon flavor and mouth feel of korppu just don’t titillate my taste buds all that much. To me korppu just isn’t worth the calories, although a true-blue Yooper might lay me out with a lumberman’s peavey for saying so.

(Added July 27: I take back what I said about korppu’s “sugary cinnamon flavor and mouth feel.” This morning I bought a sack of Trenary toast at Pat’s in Ontonagon and had a couple of slices. Very, very tasty, nice and crunchy without the dunking. I guess my mistake was judging the taste of Trenary toast ordered via the Internet and mailed to me in Evanston. Perhaps it doesn’t travel well; perhaps it tastes best in the Upper Peninsula. On the other hand, those calories count; if I ignore them, I’ll turn korppulent . . .)

Still, along with the Finnish pastry nisu, the Cornish pasty and Vollwerth’s wieners, korppu is one of the four basic food groups without which no native Upper Michigander can survive.

It is a form of rusk, or twice-baked bread topped with cinnamon and sugar, kin to Italian biscotti and German zwieback. Its devotees say korppu is best slathered with butter (none of that frou-frou “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” spray) and disintegrated in a thick china mug of strong coffee.

Some of those who favor Trenary toast say the bakery’s secret is to add the toppings — including an egg and milk wash — before toasting the bread. (On the Trenary Home Bakery website, however, a series of photos show the bread being “painted” after baking. If any Yooper-in-the-know has the true facts, please share them with me.)

Korppu has the added virtue of keeping for six months in its plain brown paper bag without going stale.

Finnish Fun Fact: The fine, fat and feisty Finns of Finland call those obsolete rigid 3 1/2-inch computer disks korppu, as opposed to lerppu (floppy), the nearly forgotten flexible 5 1/4- and 8-inch disks of our ancestors.

July 23: The spiritual saga of William Lobdell

Occasionally — but rarely — daily journalism can result in a piece that rocks the reader to his emotional roots. Such an article is printed today in the Los Angeles Times. It’s by the paper’s religion reporter, William Lobdell, on why he lobbied hard for the job — and why at last he asked to be relieved of it. In powerful ways it is mindful of the Confessions of St. Augustine.

(Thanks to Jim Romenesko for the heads-up.)

July 22: Snapshots from the weekend

Here is a selection of casual wildlife photos snapped over the last couple of weeks. This time, there’s no photographic data to annoy or confuse people who don’t care about shutter speeds and f-stops.

I caught this lovely doe from the car on Highway M-38 driving toward Houghton, Michigan. She very kindly posed in a field of wildflowers.

This family of mallards duck-walked along the beach in front of our cabin as I shot them from its doorway.

They either spotted me or heard the slap of the camera’s mirror and headed out to safety in Lake Superior.

Canada geese are more disdainful. This one allowed me to creep close.

Ever wondered where squirrels get their water? This gray squirrel donned black tie to drink from the lake.

This Green-collared Yellow Labmix obtains his designer water from Lake Superior.

A Soapy-polled Lakeshore Matron finds the lake a fine place to groom her ‘do.

A Silver-clad Greater Airbus (or Boeing; they look alike from the beach 35,000 feet below) on its way from Tokyo to New York, or so it seemed from the track of the contrail. (The picture is more dramatic when seen in full 10 megapixels.) The reason for this photograph is that it shows how clean and clear the air is above Lake Superior. Wouldn’t you really be breathing it instead of the industrial miasma that chokes the atmosphere where you live?

July 21: Why I love this place

In today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, travel writer Dennis McCann takes a trip to Ontonagon County, the Upper Michigan wilderness where I’m conducting this blog at the Writer’s Lair on the shore of Lake Superior. In the article he captures a sliver of the place’s appeal for a mystery writer: the obscure (to a 21st century city dweller) but deep and rich history of the land that once was the Northern Frontier of the United States.

“Sliver” because there is only so much a writer can say in 1,500 words — and that’s a long article for a newspaper these days. McCann has just skimmed the surface, but he’s done so in a lively, lucid and tantalizing way. His visit to the old Irish Hollow cemetery just south of Rockland reminds me that I haven’t been there yet, and next week I shall rectify that omission, camera in one hand and notebook in the other.

July 20: Monsters of the forest

I have no idea what species of caterpillar that is. Maybe it will grow up to be a Porcupine Butterfly, if there is such a thing. Both photos were taken on the shore of Lake Superior with a Raynox 250 Super Macro auxiliary close-up lens attached to the business end of a 50-200mm SMC Pentax-DA zoom on a Pentax K10D at ISO 400. The photo above was shot at 200mm, the one below at 50mm, both at 1/1000 sec. at f19.

I believe that’s a Silver-edged Fritillary below, feeding on an Indian Paintbrush blossom. It was taken with the same camera/lens combination (without the Raynox) at 180mm, 1/350 f5.6, and cropped about 50 percent.

The Raynox 250, by the way, is a remarkably inexpensive adjunct ($43.95 most places) for a nature photographer’s kitbag. It clips onto the fronts of lenses with filter thread sizes of 52mm to 67mm. I’ve used it on a couple of older lenses with 49mm filter threads with the help of a 49mm-to-52mm step-up ring. It’s an easy way to get into macrophotography without having to spend $400 or more for a specialized full-size macro lens.

July 19: Sunsets Nos. 5 and 6

Tina Davidson captured both sunsets — above, last night’s, and below, a shot of me taking a shot of the previous night’s sunset. Summer life on the shore of Lake Superior is very, very difficult, but someone has to document that fact, and I am grateful for Tina’s aid.



July 18: The best wiener of all

Let us now praise famous hot dogs, especially the ones made by a little family-owned Upper Michigan enterprise named Vollwerth.

You won’t find Vollwerth’s wieners and beef franks in the current Consumer Reports, which has finally gotten around to rating hot dogs — but only brands sold nationally. More fools they, for Vollwerth’s leads them all in the taste derby. I have never ever in my whole otherwise misspent life had a better hot dog, not even at Wrigley Field. The crisp, juicy “mouth feel” of a Vollwerth’s, in my opinion, bests that of even Hebrew National and Nathan’s Famous, the leaders in the Consumer Reports ratings.

Vollwerth’s hot dogs belong in the pantheon of Upper Michigan delicacies that includes the sweet Finnish treats called called nisu and korppu, or Trenary toast. You can mail-order all three over the Internet, but really, regional foods taste best when eaten in the places where they are made. It has to do with the ambience of the North Woods, and maybe the purity of the air and water as well.

Whenever we drive up to the U.P., my lady friend and I bring a cooler of frozen meats from Trader Joe’s for important evenings, but the first night we always grill Vollwerth’s hot dogs, the most special occasion of all. Of course, at our ages we need to watch fat and calorie intakes, so we don’t overindulge more than once every couple of weeks. But when we do . . .

My L.F. now is talking about angels on horseback — Vollwerth’s wieners split down the middle, stuffed with sharp cheddar and wrapped in bacon, then grilled and finally cradled in buns and slathered with mustard and pickle relish. Cholesterol grenades, of course, but who wants to live forever?

Vollwerth’s, by the way, is based in Hancock, Mich., at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula. It was founded in 1915 and is now run by a fourth generation of Vollwerths. It has a charming website that details its history.

This is an unsolicited and unpaid testimonial. These guys don’t need me. I need them.

July 17: In praise of little niche histories

Their prose tends to be crude, their grammar shaky, their typography amateurish, their black-and-white pictures dim and grainy. They’re rarely sold in big-city bookstores (although you can find them on Amazon.com) and are available mainly in small-town gift shops and historical museums. They are usually either self-published or produced by shoestring publishers and bound in inexpensive soft covers.

They are the niche histories of people and things nobody outside the locales they celebrate cares about. But if you are at all interested in those areas, these little books can be both endearing and rewarding.

The newest one in my library is The U.P. Goes to War: Upper Michigan and Its Heroes in World War II, by Larry Chabot (North Harbor Publishing, 196 pages, $19.95).

It’s as if Tom Brokaw had clapped a Stormy Kromer on his head, slapped swampers on his feet, and written The Greatest Generation with broadaxe and maul. Chabot, who worked for an U.P. copper mining company for three decades while writing on the side, knows how to tell a story — and is a demon researcher besides.

He relates the individual adventures of hundreds of soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators who came out of the U.P. and fought in Europe and the Pacific, and if you’ve read any of the oral histories of World War II, their tales will be familiar — and both inspiring and appalling.

He treats the home fronts, too — I found these the most interesting sections of the book, including the pages about the prisoner-of-war camps that introduced German captives to the rigors of the U.P. in winter.

Manpower shortages, scrap metal drives, the black market and military boondoggles of all kinds (many installations were built but never used) are discussed in detail. So is the racism of the time; Chabot frankly treats the prejudice that greeted the all-black 100th Coast Artillery at the Soo Locks.

There are lists galore — of Merchant Marine fatalities, of families with four or more members in the services, of fatalities in POW camps, even of American ships named for U.P. towns, and a long, long list of the war dead from the Upper Peninsula.

I was both enlightened and moved.

As a mix of original interviews and library research, The U.P. Goes to War is one of many modest yet exhaustive little books that will someday be invaluable to professional historians studying the effects of World War II in a particular place on the globe.

July 16: Breakdancing at Lake Superior

When Hogan and I returned to the Writer’s Lair on Lake Superior yesterday, he leaped out of the car, plunged onto the grass and snapped off a string of airbabies and backspins, windmills and swipes, flares and other cool power moves.

I am amazed not that a dog can breakdance but that he would — and without the help of high-powered hip-hop on the blaster.

On the other hand, dogs possess a better center of gravity than do human athletes for this kind of thing. Quadrupeds have a nearly equal distribution of mass over their bodies, while humans carry much more of their weight below the waist. The kid on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive needs to practice, practice, practice — but the art just comes naturally to a dog.

Can your butterfly kick match Hogan’s?

July 13: Back home with 'back in the day'

Back in the day, I didn’t have an achin’ back. But this week I came back down to Evanston to see the guy who’s got my back, my back man, who got my back with a shot of juice that seems to be bringing back the good feeling.

While waiting with the other fidgety epidural injection patients in the radiology green room, I finished Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher thriller Bad Back and Trouble — oops, Bad Luck and Trouble. It’s all the critics say it is and I won’t pile on with the hosannas. It doesn’t need them.

But one thing in it amused me.

Four times in the first 21 pages, Child drops the nonce phrase “back in the day.” That’s a lot. In fact, I thought it had become an authorial tic, but after Page 21 it didn’t crop up again. No harm, no foul, to quote another popular saying.

Still it reminded me that the copy editor who vetted the manuscript of my last book, A Venture into Murder, not so gently pointed out that five times during the narrative, I used almost the same chilly metaphor for “fear” — ice in the gut. “Once is enough,” she growled, “and lose that ‘an iceberg of dread coursed through my intestines.’ Icebergs don’t do that.” And so each time, a red tide of shame flooding my perineal cavity, I made the fix.

I guess writers often come across a captivating word, phrase, simile or metaphor, perhaps an idea, that causes them unconsciously to overuse the term for a while. When I was a young man-about-words a new one to me, “sanctimonious,” so perfectly described many people I knew that for a number of weeks it dripped out of my conversations and annoyed my friends. I finally got the point when one said, “Maybe your word applies here, but . . . ”

Now it’s back to the North Woods and the sunsets.

July 8: Sunsets No. 2, 3 and 4

Up here on the shore of Lake Superior, it seems, every sunset is markedly different from that of the evening before. Here they are for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 5, 6 and 7:

Pentax *ist DS, 20mm SMC Pentax, 1/125 f11, ISO 400

Pentax *ist DS, 50-200mm SMC Pentax-DA at 200mm, 1/180 f11, ISO 400

Pentax K10D, 18-55mm SMC Pentax-DA at 18mm, 1/180 f8, ISO 100

The first one is what Yoopers call a “naked sunset,” one with few clouds or none to add visual interest.

These likely will be the last sunset shots I’ll post for the next few days, perhaps a week, for blackfly season arrived yesterday and in the 13.2 seconds it took me to rush out of the cabin and grab that last shot, the little bastards must have chewed on me two dozen times. There are only one or two blackfly hatches up here each year and they last just seven to ten days, but the malevolent creatures swarm in like armies of nanovelociraptors and any intelligent Yooper makes plans to be somewhere else for the duration.

July 7: In praise of the country weekly

More than a decade ago, when I was working on Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, I fell in love with small-town newspapers. The occasion was probably a story in a little weekly in a Colorado mountain town whose name I’ve forgotten. It went something like: “Police responded to a call from residents of Durango Road about loud screams coming from a neighboring house. It turned out to be small boys upset with their mother’s cooking.”

You never read items like this in sophisticated metropolitan dailies. There wouldn’t be room for them, of course, but country weeklies thrive on such irresistible little stories. Small-town papers have always focused on the local, and that is how they survive while their big-city cousins fall one by one by the wayside. (It also helps that such ad-sucking magnets as Craigslist haven’t yet filtered down to the boonies. The local weekly, the local shopper and the local radio station are about all the advertising vehicles available to rural dwellers.)

Except for comic gems, a small-town weekly might hold little of interest to the ordinary metropolitan news consumer, but if that reader has any connections — any at all — to the rural burg the paper serves, he’ll read it. In my case it’s the Ontonagon Herald (circ. 3700), because its marketing area of Ontonagon County in Upper Michigan is where I spend my summers and set my mystery novels. It is endlessly absorbing, even though there’s no news from such places as Baghdad-by-the-Beltway, except for occasional (and usually pertinent) press releases from the local congressman and the military.

I’m personally acquainted with many of the people whose lives the paper chronicles. Some of them are salt-of-the-earthers often featured in “Employee of the Week” photos. Others get pinched for speeding and their fines are listed in the “Long Arm of the Law” column, which sometimes occupies half a mainsheet page. (Can you spell s-c-h-a-d-e-n-f-r-e-u-d-e?) Nothing is left out; every deer-car accident and domestic disturbance the sheriff’s department catches ends up in the column.

The way the Herald handles reports from public meetings is interesting. They are rambling gavel-to-gavel narratives distilled from official transcripts, not crisp news stories shaped by reporters. This makes for long and occasionally boring pieces shot through with triviality, but it also allows readers to form their own opinions, unencumbered by editorial bias, about the jobs their elected officials are doing. This is government business conducted out in the open, and it is also journalism conducted the same way, so to speak.

My favorite feature in the Herald is the letters column, which sometimes occupies all of Page 2. People up here in the semiwilderness have few venues in which to express their opinions, and they make the most of this one. Ontonagon County is conservative and religious, so expectably many of the letters express Biblical solutions for all the world’s ills. (There are plenty of left-wing letters, too, and they often blame Bush for all the world’s ills.) Frequently someone will be so offended by a letter that he writes a counter-letter, which in turn elicits a fiery response from the original correspondent, and the ongoing weekly donnybrook can be livelier than “American Idol.”

Of late an issue that has consumed many letter-writers is a commercial plan to develop a beautiful wilderness area formerly owned by the local electric company. Ontonagon County loses ten per cent of its population every decade, yet many — perhaps most — of its residents would rather forego the development’s benefits to the county’s dwindling tax rolls than allow outsiders to despoil its virgin lands. The people who would buy the new homes, they also growl, are the wealthy from Wisconsin and Illinois — the locals couldn’t afford them. This is a NIMBY issue that can be as complex and many-sided as any urban gentrification controversy.

Some of these letters seem to be printed as they arrive, without the touch of a kindly editor’s pen. This can be unfortunate, for some semiliterate folks have very good ideas and just need a little help expressing them. On the other hand, nothing is more revealing than an all but unreadable letter from a mean-spirited, small-minded yahoo with an ax to grind.

There used to be an old lady of antediluvian opinions and a shaky grasp of logic who appeared almost weekly in the Herald’s letters column. In each letter she would ramble from subject to subject, from the Taliban to her driveway, without much connective tissue and often pausing for nasty little asides about “the homosexuals” and “the coloreds,” much like Rush Limbaugh on speed. Like him, she really had very little of substance to say, but the way she said it was often jaw-dropping. She gave me the idea for a character in A Venture into Murder.

All this is just one reason I love this place and its newspaper.

July 6: Lake Superior at 8 a.m. Thursday

Yesterday when I stepped out on the beach at about 8 a.m., the spectacular sky over Lake Superior, marked by a dark storm rolling in from the northeast and slipping under high cumulus, reminded me of the lush skies in the sun-struck landscapes of John Constable. 

Here is the view to the west:

Here’s the view directly across the lake to the north:

And to the east:

There’s something about that eastern sky that portends the Book of Revelation. A pilot would call the opening in the clouds a “sucker hole” for unwary aviators, and sure enough, within fifteen minutes the oncoming storm had snuffed it out. (For the full 6.1 megapixel shot, click here.)

All three photos were taken with a two-year-old Pentax *ist DS, but the lens aboard it was at least 35 years old — a manual 20mm f4 SMC Pentax super-wide-angle that I’ve had since about 1975. In the digital format it’s the film equivalent of a 30mm lens. That’s not so wide, but the beautiful glass in this heavy old classic (it weighs as much as a hand grenade) gives great edge-to-edge sharpness. Using it on a modern digital SLR takes some fiddling, but the results speak for themselves. (All photos at 1/350, f11, ISO 400).

July 5: Gull No. 2

Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis, July 4, 2007. (Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax-DA 50-200mm at 200mm, 1/750 f11, ISO 400, cropped 60%).

I’m pleased with this shot, taken early in the morning as a hazy sun began its climb above a calm Lake Superior. It also shows how the lake level has dropped since last August. At that time the top of that rock, just off our beach, was a good six inches below the surface of the water, which has fallen more than a foot and bids fair to tie the all-time record for July.

So far, the Army Corps of Engineers reports, the mean of Lake Superior’s surface level for the month is running 600.3 feet above sea level. The lowest monthly average for July ever recorded was also 600.3 feet, set in 1926.

At this time last year the level was 601.4 feet.

The all-time high-water mark for July is 603.1 feet, set in 1950 — that’s almost three feet higher than it is now.

July 4: Poor Farm No. 1

Ontonagon County Poor Farm, July 3, 2007. (Pentax *ist DS, SMC Pentax-DA 50-200mm at 160mm, 1/180 sec. f13, ISO 400.)

Those who read this blog’s December 2, 2006 entry about the old Upper Michigan institution called the Ontonagon County Poor Farm, which provided a setting for the opening chapter of my upcoming Cache of Corpses, may have wondered what it looks like in reality. I took this photograph of the Poor Farm in a semi-overcast yesterday afternoon while returning from a shopping trip to Houghton/Hancock an hour east of the Writer’s Lair. If I can get permission from the owner to take interior shots, I’ll post them here.

July 3: Sunset No. 1

Sunset at Lake Superior, June 30, 2007. (Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax-DA 18-55mm at 33mm, 1/250 sec. at f11, ISO 400.)

Life is dull and grueling in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as suggested by this first of many sunset photos you will see here this summer. (The dark vignetting in the corners characteristic of a kit zoom lens does not seem quite so objectionable when the lens is racked out halfway. Compare it with the sunrise photo posted June 30.)

July 2: Hogan No. 1

Hogan the Yellow Wonder Dog strikes a noble pose on the beach at Lake Superior. (Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax-DA 50-200mm at 94 mm, 1/500 f4.5, ISO 100).

I’m posting this photo for two reasons: first, it’s my favorite picture of Hogan, who is a singular dog, and second, it shows the capability of my new zoom lens.

To my eye it has lots of pleasing bokeh, a Japanese word meaning a smooth, soft out-of-focus background that sets off a sharp subject in the foreground. (I came across this word only yesterday and just had to inflict it on you.)

Cropped and downsized for the Web, the picture seems sharp enough, but if you want to see the fine detail inherent in the original 10-megapixel photo, click here.

July 1: Gulls don't get no respect

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis (Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax-DA 50-200mm at 200mm, 1/350 f16, ISO 400).

A very good friend of mine up here on the Lake Superior shore keeps a daily list of birds she’s seen. Loons, mergansers, geese, shorebirds of every variety, hummingbirds, hawks, woodpeckers, eagles — a long roster, for avian species are more than plentiful in these parts. But not, I noticed, crows and gulls, probably the most populous. Why the omission? On the lake shore gulls are the first birds we see at dawn and the last ones at dusk.

“They’re garbage birds,” my friend said with a haughty sniff. “They eat horrible things.”

Well, so do eagles. They contest with vultures for well-rotted roadkill, and what’s more, they are lazy hunters and love to snatch freshly caught fish from smaller ospreys. The bald eagle may be a symbol of American freedom, but it’s also a bully and an indiscriminating crap-eater.

The gull, on the other hand, might favor garbage dumps and handouts, but it is also one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures of the air. From beak to tail it has the aerodynamic lines of a Spitfire, and when I’m sitting in a chair on the beach with my Pentax and a long lens, I marvel at its nimble maneuvers, wheeling and swinging through clouds of lumbering Canada geese.

Gulls not only soar gracefully but also can turn on a dime. Yesterday I saw a gull swoop toward the beach, then stop suddenly in the air a few feet above the sand and spiral downward twice within its own wingspan, alighting gently as if stepping out of a car. Is it any wonder that pilots like to watch them?

And there are so many. A photographer doesn’t have to wait for one to come along. I simply seat myself in a plastic lawn chair, rack the 50-200mm zoom lens out to the limit and start shooting at the swarms of birds doing snap rolls and split Ss along the beach. Out of about 25 shots yesterday afternoon I got four good pictures, one of which you see above.

Gulls are good. Go take a look.