Letters

Letters 08-03-2015

Real Brownfields Deserve Dollars I read with interest the story on Brownfield development dollars in the July 20 issue. I applaud Dan Lathrop and other county commissioners who voted “No” on the Randolph Street project...

Hopping Mad Carlin Smith is hopping mad (“Will You Get Mad With Me?” 7-20-15). Somebody filed a fraudulent return using his identity, and he’s not alone. The AP estimates the government “pays more than $5 billion annually in fraudulent tax refunds.” Well, many of us have been hopping mad for years. This is because the number one tool Congress has used to fix this problem has been to cut the IRS budget –by $1.2 billion in the last 5 years...

Just Grumbling, No Solutions Mark Pontoni’s grumblings [recent Northern Express column] tell us much about him and virtually nothing about those he chooses to denigrate. We do learn that Pontoni may be the perfect political candidate. He’s arrogant, opinionated and obviously dimwitted...

A Racist Symbol I have to respond to Gordon Lee Dean’s letter claiming that the confederate battle flag is just a symbol of southern heritage and should not be banned from state displays. The heritage it represents was the treasonous effort to continue slavery by seceding from a democratic nation unwilling to maintain such a consummate evil...

Not So Thanks I would like to thank the individual who ran into and knocked over my Triumph motorcycle while it was parked at Lowe’s in TC on Friday the 24th. The $3,000 worth of damage was greatly appreciated. The big dent in the gas tank under the completely destroyed chrome badge was an especially nice touch...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Minnow Al: An Untypical Fish Story...
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Minnow Al: An Untypical Fish Story Captures the Spirit of the Wilderness

Robert Downes - April 15th, 2004
When it comes to literature, the lone, wild places of the north have a way of piercing the heart and illuminating the souls of men in crisis, as demonstrated by such masters of the rod, the gun and the pen as Ernest Hemingway and Jim Harrison. Rough, unadorned tales of fishing in the great north woods make up a genrè that thrums with insight into the male psyche.
Add to that list the unexpected voice of Jim McIntyre of Traverse City, who captures the lonely mythos of the north and the hurt dwelling in a man‘s soul in his new spoken-word CD, “Minnow Al - The Keeper of Small Fish.“
Well known in Northern Michigan for his many appearances on local TV and radio commercials over the past 17 years, McIntyre is the executive vice president of Knorr Marketing. His avocation, however, is that of an outdoorsman, spending much of his free time fishing or hunting in such locales as the Canadian Shield country north of Sault Ste. Marie, or Garden Island in Lake Michigan.
Between those two pursuits, McIntyre has found the inspiration to write of his love of what is literally the wild side of life. “I write a lot of radio and TV commercials, but also poetry and short stories too,“ he says. “But I was so obsessed with this trip I made each year that I‘ve been moved to write poetry about it.“

TRUE STORY
That poetry in prose form comes through in “Minnow Al,“ which is a true story of an encounter with a rough-hewn, profane character who lives at the edge of civilization, eking out a living providing minnows to fishermen passing through. Although the CD clocks in at just over 35 minutes, McIntyre builds a sense of suspense from prosaic events which gradually build into a sense of friendship over a period of years, culminating in a shocking revelation about Al‘s past.
“What happened in the story was witnessed by just me and Minnow Al,“ McIntyre notes. “He was definitely my most unforgettable character.“
In addition to McIntyre‘s skill as a writer with an ear for a good hook, the CD benefits from his many years as an announcer. He tells the story with the same sense of drama as a campfire tale, maintaining the feel of reverence mixed with unease over his encounters with Al that keeps the story from going over the top. He starts out by noting that, “He was was unpleasant -- gross, my kids would have called him, had they known him. The natives called him Frenchy, I called him Minnow Al.“
The events of “Minnow Al“ unfold at a bait outpost on Hammer Lake on Highway 17 North halfway to Wawa in Northern Ontario. Each spring over a 25-year period, McIntyre and his friend Bill traveled north to the region, following the White River to remote Pokei Lake to fish for walleye.
Going back to his early 20s, McIntyre describes his first meeting with Al, who jealously guards his minnows and claims to be selective as to the fishermen he will sell to. Al is a “minnowologist,“ watching over a huge tank filled with thousands of fish. “We watched as he carefully selected each minnow one by one, as if they were jewels,“ McIntyre says.

VERNAL ADVENTURE
But Al is also given to cussing out his customers, and although he tends to have a twinkle in his eye, McIntyre senses that the man‘s profanity and gruff attidude masks a deep wound.
The years roll by as the friends return again and again to their “vernal adventure disguised as fishermen.“ Gradually, it dawns on McIntyre that Al holds him in a special esteem not shown to other visitors. “Somewhere in between the expletives and the short sentences comes a conversation and a relationship is formed,“ he tells us in the story.
McIntyre deserves credit for remaining true to Al‘s way of speaking, since every fifth word or so out of his mouth is “fuck“ or “asshole,“ which may be too honest an approach for some listeners. It‘s not a kid‘s CD. But as he notes in an interview, Al‘s profanity is emblematic of his inner pain as well as his way of keeping the world at arm‘s length. Without the profanity, the story would lack a sense of integrity that makes Al‘s torment a mystery worth caring about.
As a counterpoint, McIntyre‘s prose is dead-on when it comes to capturing the spirit of a place where only a few nomadic Ojibwa and trappers dwelled not so many years ago. He describes the rugged, unforgiving terrain around the White River, which runs 192 kilometers to Lake Superior, tumbling 769 over 69 waterfalls before it meets the shore. He tells us of far-off Pokei Lake, a place named after a 19th century Ojibwa trapper, still brimming with fish for those who care to make the long trip to its waters. He takes us up Highway 17 North to a road winding through blasted rock outcroppings and some of North America‘s most beautiful scenery.
And while McIntyre captures the solitude and grandeur of Lake Superior‘s country, he also provides a mirror on how the land affects him. “This is the land I love,“ he tells us. “It‘s where I take my triumphs, my failures, my joys and sorrows. I have planned my future here and reflected on my past.“
On this ride, McIntyre coaxes us into caring about Minnow Al and what disturbs him. He carefully builds the suspense of his tale with the patience of a fisherman probing dark waters. There‘s a payoff as Al‘s story unravels and his fate is revealed. Like a trout pulled from cold, fast-running water, this story shimmers with vitality and the spirit of things untamed.

“Minnow Al -- The Keeper of Small Fish“ is available at Talking Book World in Traverse City.
 
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