“I look to wild places for solitude and contentment,” explains Lake Meyer Naturalist and author Larry Reis. The Calmar native is talking about the enjoyment of fly fishing in Montana and the excitement of working with his oldest son Dan on their first book together about trout fishing.
“I’ve been fortunate to be a naturalist for the Winneshiek County Conservation Board for over thirty years now. I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned about nature through the years with others and give either outdoor or indoor programs about birds or wildflowers or trees to interested audiences.”
His hobbies revolve around the outdoors, from hunting, fishing, fly-tying, bird watching, nature photography, rock hounding, canoeing and collecting delectable mushrooms when he isn’t journaling about nature. He also has done well with his watercolor paintings that he creates by making his own natural paint, though he confesses that it’s been awhile since he picked up a paintbrush.
"Outdoor outings are extra special when I can share them with my dad or my sons. I continue to write in my spare time and am working on a third book that will be collaboration with my oldest son Dan who’s a crack naturalist in his own right,” says Larry.
Larry grew up in Lime Springs and graduated with a degree in biology from Luther College in Decorah. He gained a graduate degree in environmental science from UNI in Cedar Falls. After a short stint as a park manager along the Missouri River near Little Sioux, Iowa, he’s been a naturalist for the Winneshiek County Conservation Board ever since.
“I decided to write my first book Noting Nature which was published in 2010, in order to share more than thirty years of personal nature journaling with others. I kept daily records of what I saw happening outdoors, such as when the bluebirds came back to Winneshiek County in the spring and when the morel mushrooms popped up, and then compiled all those yearly records into some simplified sense. Phenology is the term often used to describe this practice of studying nature’s seasonal changes. Noting Nature has this information about our natural areas, birds and animals condensed for every week throughout the year, starting January 1 and ending December 31. Additionally, I’ve included essays that accompany each week’s nature notes. In these stories, I try to capture the essence of that week as channeled through my personal experience. My goal is to get readers excited about going outside and finding these special wild treasures for themselves.”
Here’s a passage from an essay about goldenrod galls that accompanies the third week of January. This paragraph is part of a larger piece about ice fishing.
“The weather was mild for winter under an effusive afternoon overcast when we drove out to the closest deep creek coursing through the country. Parking the panel truck beside a small wood bridge, Dad and I took off hiking through boot-high snow across redundant summertime pasture for a quarter-mile to reach one particularly sharp stream bend where that far bank cornered the current into carving a deep hole. Dad produced a hatchet from his parka’s roomy cargo pocket, dropped to his knees, and started hacking away at that protected pool’s frozen heart. Glassy chips sprayed everywhere. With each resonant blow, the blade bit deeper; down through white ice, then blue ice, then black ice. The sweaty work got even wetter at the end after swelling water began seeping and then streaming into the welling soccer-ball-sized cavity, brewing up a cold, churlish, sloppy slush. Luckily, I was granted the wimpy white-collar job best described as being grateful-glasses-holder. After mopping the chilly water from his face with a faded red and white checked handkerchief, but before putting his glasses back on, Dad managed a wry grin and then winked, ‘Your turn next time’.
In Larry’s second book published in 2013, Once a Trapper, describes his father’s life growing up on a farm here in northeast Iowa when they still farmed with horses, and how he learned to love the land and wildlife around him. “Hunting, fishing, foraging and trapping were second nature for rural folks back then, and I put some of his stories that would otherwise be lost into prose. Back then, before electric lights and central heat helped modernize the house, farm kitchens were the main ‘living’ room. This snippet from Once a Trapper recalls Dad’s tale about coming in from the cold.”
“Dad said they once had a nifty new Aladdin lamp that besides looking like a real genie might materialize after rubbing its fancy figured font really threw out a lot of light. He walked inside the house one stormy winter evening after chores, covered with snow. Grandma was just setting their steaming supper dishes down on the kitchen table, illuminated by that grand glowing Aladdin lamp. When Dad, standing over by the door, shook that cold blanketing snow from his shoulders, a couple fugitive flakes flew onto that fueling lantern’s super-heated chimney, straightaway shattering it into a hundred scattering shards. They had a very late silent supper that somber night, and never ever owned another Aladdin lamp.”
You can purchase his books at Dragonfly Books and Oneota Community Food Cooperative in Decorah.
Larry would like to remind you to get out there and enjoy nature by coming out to Lake Meyer to the Annual Lake Meyer Ice Fishing Derby Saturday, February 8, and mark your calendar and bring your hammer to the Bluebird House Building event at the Lake Meyer shop by the campground March 23.