Saturday, May 31, 2014

Winnipeg, the Dummies, and a place of the mind

I first heard about the Crash Test Dummies through a friend from drum and bugle corps days, Andy, who let me borrow a copy of their bestselling sophomore album God Shuffled His Feet, which has their only major hit song,  "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm". I heard this some time in early 1998, a good five years after the release of this album. I always associate my interest in the Dummies to my time spent in Antigo, WI, from 1998-2000, and my growing interest in hiking and backpacking.

A song from that album, "In the Days of the Caveman," even mentions camping.

"When you go on camping trips you're stuck right out in nature"

Often, in the many nights camping in the rain, I sing a later stanza from the same song:

"Sometimes when I lie awake I hear the rainfall on my tent fly
I think of all the insects that are sleeping
And wonder if the animals are dreaming"

God Shuffled His Feet deals with issues of mortality, humanity's connection to nature, the artistic journey, childhood memory, and is full of quirky lines and characters. There is a mix of offbeat humor and wistfulness. Every time I listen to the album in its entirety I am transported in my mind to a sparse room in the piney north woods, and it is a rainy and timeless sort of day in midsummer. There is a buzz of bugs outside and the threat of the unknown somewhere out there in the deep and seemingly never ending woods.

According to the AllMusic, the album's Moods are:

I particularly agree with Reflective, Sad, Searching, and Autumnal. Damn the Internet for so neatly pinning down such a personal experience.

My interest in the Crash Test Dummies has inspired me to someday take a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, from which they came. A few years ago I met a fellow English teacher at Elgin High School who lived in Winnipeg during the Dummies' heyday and said he actually partied with members of the band in the early 90s.

The Winnipeg connection also got me interested in the comic book, Alpha Flight, published by Marvel Comics and featuring, in its first 28 issues, the art work of John Byrne, one of my favorite comic artists. His work on the X-Men in the 70s and The Fantastic Four in the 80s are considered some of the best eras for those venerable series. The expense of the back issues is a testament to their popularity. Alas, Alpha Flight never quite achieved that level of acclaim, even though the fictional superheroes hailed from Winnipeg.

Another Winnipeg connection involves the films of auteur filmmaker Guy Maddin, including his 2007 documentary of his hometown,  My Winnipeg. When I watched this film, a lot of the same emotions evoked by God Shuffled His Feet came back, including a sense of loneliness, the great north woods, catharsis, and memory. Director Maddin explores Winnipeg through the lens of childhood memory, and often recreates scenes from his childhood. It is a quirky film, but definitely worth the effort. It is not as fact-centered as one would expect from a documentary. It is done in the style of films from the silent era, even though there is voiceover dialogue.

Read some Alpha Flight, listen to God Shuffled His Feet, and then watch My Winnipeg. Wrap yourself in a blanket and prepare to be transported to a cool, harsh landscape.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gone fishing

Jonny and I have gone fishing the last two weekends, and he's really taken a liking to it. He wants to catch a big catfish, but we've got to work out some fundamentals before he takes on a monster fish. It took him almost an hour to tie his first hook. I showed him how to do it a bunch of times as he worked on his hook. And then he got it, putting the end of his line through the loop near the eye of the hook. High fives all around for Jonny's first clinch knot.

I'm proud of Jonny. He stuck to it, even after he got frustrated, and showed a lot of maturity for a boy his age. When it comes to fishing, to truly catch a fish, he must tie his own line and handle all tackle himself, bait, cast, hook, net, and land the fish himself. Each task has a certain learning curve and, because much of fishing deals with sharp things - hooks, knives, fins, teeth - the penalty for failure can be quite high. We've spent a lot of time talking and practicing safety.

Last Sunday, we arrived at Lake Sule in Rochelle, IL, about half an hour before dawn. We had four poles, two closed cast reels for Jonny, and two open cast for me. One pole each was baited with chicken liver dough catfish balls and weighted with split shot, the others worm bait and bobbers. We fished off the dock near the parking lot and didn't get nary a nibble. Neither did a couple old timers fishing nearby on the shore. But Jonny said he had a great time. He's so caught up in the novelty and adventure of the experience, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Ive been a fisherman since about age 9, but never serious, never treating it more than a passing fancy, a chance to hang out outside, never too sporting about it. Though I've had many great catches and fished many waters, fishing has and will always be a means to an end, whether that be eating fresh panfish or spending a beautiful day in nature. But when I was a little older than Jonny, I spent a lot of time fishing at Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park, a bike ride from my Loves Park home. Despite the heavily urbanized environment, there are many lakes and rivers in greater Chicagoland, many of them stocked with game fish. And, of course, there's Lake Michigan. I've never been on a charter trip. That's on the father son to-do list.

Last night at dusk we fished the Kishwaukee River on a roadside pullout off Hwy 64 just west of Sycamore. We each had just one pole. Jonny his treasured Spiderman and me with an open cast. It was a warmer evening and the fish kept us busy. Jonny landed his first fish, a small carp, but the biggest of the five we caught. Jonny also caught a small striped bass. He handled each fish himself. I extracted the hooks this time. I caught a striped bass, catfish, and bullhead. We released them all. They were too small. We'll save the gore of cleaning for another day.