Tag Archives: birds

Franzen blows a joke

Given the weirdly ambivalent best-friendship between Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace, it’s sort of a strange choice to invite Franzen to give this year’s Kenyon College commencement address, the 2005 edition of which seems destined to be the essay of Wallace’s that stands in the popular imagination as a portrait of the man himself.  (Not without reason.  And if you haven’t read it, then maybe do that instead of continuing on with this somewhat small-minded blog post.)

Franzen’s essay is good, but I thought he made a mistake in one place:

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).

Surely the joke is much stronger without Trump, or the parenthetical:  “You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or running for president.”  Then, instead of going for Leno-style yuks, he’s actually gently reminding the high-achieving students at a fancy liberal-arts college that an unreflective drive to achieve, and to win, is second cousin to corrosive melancholy.  That would have been a good nod to Wallace.  And it still would have gotten laughs, while gently turning the knife.

Instead, Franzen talks bird-spotting, reiterating the similar material in his much-discussed New Yorker piece on Wallace and solitude.  This part didn’t sway me.  Jonathan Franzen likes birds, we get it.  Not all enthusiasms have a lesson to teach.

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Thanksgiving’s over, it’s safe to come out

Yesterday morning CJ was delighted to see this guy wandering outside our house:

I knew wild turkeys were native to Wisconsin, but what I didn’t know was that they went extinct here in the late nineteenth century, the victims of overenthusiastic hunting and diseases contracted from domestic fowl. The state tried three times to reintroduce the species; in the 1930s and 1950s, turkey populations gathered from game farms were released into the wild, only to founder and die out. In 1974, Wisconsin arranged a daring swap: the Missouri Department of Conservation sent us 45 wild turkeys collected by trappers in exchange for 135 of our ruffed grouse. Wisconsin’s turkey population now stands at more than 200,000, concentrated most heavily in the southwestern part of the state.

For all this information and more, not to mention handsome charts, see the Wisconsin Division of Natural Resources document “History of Wild Turkeys in Wisconsin,” part I of the book Wild Turkey Ecology and Management in Wisconsin which is surely loaded with useful tips. One thing that’s notably missing is an explanation of why so much effort was made to bring the turkeys back. Was it just some general presumption that our ecosystem ought to look as much as possible like it did before we started clearing forest? Or more because people like to shoot turkeys?

The birds on the other side of the trade, by the way, had a harder go of it; the rather poignant 2000 Ruffed Grouse Status Report suggests that a grouseless Missouri is in our near future. I like to think of the wild turkey as Adam Jones, and the ruffed grouse as Erik Bedard.

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