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Wednesday, January 4, 2017



Wednesday, 8:30 AM.  1 degree F at the ferry dock, 0 on the back porch.  Wind NW, calm with light gusts.  The sky is overcast, there is heavy fog working its way up the bluffs from the channel and it is snowing lightly.  The humidity is 84% and the barometer is steady, presently at 30.66".  The rest of the week will be similar, then warming up some by Sunday.
   I have been longing hungrily for a real mince meat pie, such as my mother used to make, and I cannot find one in any of the bakeries.  I have found jars of so-called mince meat for pies on the shelf at the Washburn  IGA, but upon close inspection of the label I find no mention of what should be the first and foremost ingredient, meat of the American Mince, Mincus americanus.  In any case, Joan has refused to bake a mince meat pie from the contents of a jar, claiming that it would make a mockery of the real thing.
   The American Mince was once a fairly common denizen of the woods of Northern Wisconsin, but was extirpated from the state early on, before photography, so only descriptions by the first Scandinavian settlers and local Indians exist, although rumors of sightings in the pine barrens persist, even to this day. It is also rumored to be found in the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest.
   The American Mince is a close relative of the much  larger Wisconsin Hodag, Hodag wisconsinensis, of the family Hodagaceae, which was  last seen in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, in1896. Although only the size of the more western Jackalope, the Amerian Mince had all the fierce characteristics of the Hodag, which probably accounts for its rarity in pies.  It was said that in the early days in Wisconsin settlers refused even to venture to the outhouse in the winter if a Mince had been sighted, and it was below zero outside.  Among the local Indian population only the mightiest of hunters could track and kill a mince, and wear its pink pelt with blue polkadots in the Sacred Mince Dance. 
   As fearsome a beast as it was, the mince had the sweetest tasting meat for pies, and was soon hunted to the brink of extinction, until a decree by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 established the National Mince Monument, comprised of  8 million acres of prime northern Wisconsin timberland, located within the perimeter of the fabled Round River, which has no source and no outlet, but continually flows into itself.
   Sadly, even that huge preserve could not stop  the precipitous decline in the numbers of the American Mince, and biologists of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources now theorize that it was not mince meat pies that doomed the mince, but competition for its primary food source, lutefisk, which grows only under Norway pines, and was over-harvested by Scandinavian immigrants, causing a population crash from which the species never recovered (the mince, not the Scandinavians,  which remain a major component of the Northern Wisconsin ecosystem).
   So, we find that in reality the demise of the American Mince is not so much a study in biology but of sociology, and is undoubtedly destined to become a prime topic for University of Wisconsin and other doctoral theses in that scientific discipline, along with Global Warming and the melting of ice cubes in martini glasses, which will overflow and inundate cocktail parties worldwide by the year 2050, with great loss of life at lower elevations.
   All in all, the story of the American Mince and its present day absence from pies is sad but true, and it makes me wonder where Mom got the mince meat for the pies she baked when I was a child.  I like to think that Dad encountered and subdued the mince on his way home from Gruenwald's, the tavern on the corner.
    As is so often the case, the truth concerning the mince of yesterday, even if compromised today, will live on  forever in legend and myth.

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