Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
El Gatto sits under the bird feeder. His head moves like a bobble head on the rear ledge of an automobile. Every chickadee, nuthatch and junco that lands on or near the bird feeders causes his head to rotate up, down or sideways. In the back yard, three blue jays eat corn that sparrows have strewn from the squirrel proof feeder. Two more jays perch in the silver maples. I've tripped the latch of the live trap on the deck so Pucci will not get trapped inside. Yesterday, something ate half a bowl of birdseed, scattering it over the newly painted deck. I suspect raccoon or possum. They be will given a new home outside of town. The prospect of another day of wood cutting keeps me inside at the computer where it's warm and toasty.
Cutting wood at this time of year involves layering of clothing and advance preparation. I fill two saws with gas, check the bar oil reservoir and adjust the tension on the chain. My 26 inch Stihl isn't feeding enough oil to the bar. I check the instruction manual and discover that model 350 has an adjustment for oil consumption. I'm pleased that the problem is a simple one. The day is sunny and in the 20's. I start with a long sleeve t-shirt, a long sleeve denim work shirt and over that, an old sweatshirt. The final layer is my denim coat. No matter what foot gear I wear, I end up with a shoeful of sawdust.
I'm working against time. Wisconsin weather can be unpredictable. Two weeks ago the days were sunny and warm-in the 70's. Living in Wisconsin most of my life, I am skeptical about the balmy fall weather in November. I harvest radishes and spinach into the first week of November. I tell my Amish friend that it won't last. And, this sun won't last. Snow will fall. The logs will turn icy. It will be wet and miserable sawing wood. Oh goody, something to look forward to on days when dusk starts at a little after 4 pm. Therefore, I need to get off my butt and saw black locust cull logs. The following is an excerpt from Bert's diary.The time is a little before Thanksgiving in 2007. I was working in the dairy department of Wal-Mart.
( small farting noises of appeasement)
Even the font I use has a double meaning. Comic Sans MS.
Comic. Sans(French for without). MS ( meaning or substance)
For the past week, mornings have been a frosty white glaze on the grass trees and weeds. The chickadees flit around the cast iron bird feeder bowl bought at a small gift shop on Minneapolis’ Northeast arty side. I dole out small cottage cheese containers of special blend bird seed: peanut hearts, safflower, black oil sunflower, cracked corn and what-not. After a celebratory breakfast of hash browns and venison steak-it’s my day off- the decision making crisis begins. Work or play or e-mail?
Work involves clearing weeds from the last two garden plots and tilling the soil. I’ve already given up getting the gardens in shape before the first white wave of snow hits. My Troy-Bilt horse is full of gas. I spent nine plus dollars on a fuel stabilizer so I don’t have to think about tucking my tiller baby in for the long cold winter. I’ll pull her into the garage on a slow winter day and get her ready for 2008.
A picture of a rustic kitchen utility table from an eco-friendly catalog catches my eye. Made of barn wood, it has two drawers and a bottom shelf for storing kitchen implements. Making drawers on a table is a challenge. I’ve done only one table with drawers in the past. To my amazement they worked easily. In the same magazine, I notice a simple chalkboard. Something I can crank out a half dozen. We don’t need a kitchen utility table.
(Bert's note: you can view this utility table at sevenroadsgallery.com/furniture: shameless self promotion)
Chalkboards ? There’s a portable chalkboard in the barn for road-sign use. Next to the back door in the entrance way, one is used for daily communication. A small square note-"see chalkboard"- moves around the back door window to alert my wife that there’s a new message on the board. Sage in the paper bag on the cedar chest. Carrots in the frig. What to do. What to do? Oh my. My wife gets the message and freezes the carrots we found in the weeds at the back of garden number 7. The sage is hung in the garage to dry. Stripped of stems and twigs, it waits further refinements before being put into Ball jars. The smell is rich and oily. A full size slate chalkboard in the basement is one of the last reminders of the Kickapoo Center schoolhouse. In the garage are small, hardboard blackboards. This year’s potato harvest totals, remnants of a lecture on santos and discarded scraps of hardboard are turned into chalkboards. I do not need more chalkboards.
I need to create something/anything. On the table in my workshop is a nicho recently completed. The door used to close without additional hardware. In the few days since the final touches: (paint, cobalt blue glitter, bright blue stars, a Santa Fe cross, a silver sacred heart over the doorway, three stars hanging from the inside roof, rusted nail adornments, faux braces, a four color paint finish)and my nicho/outhouse has dried out. The door is slightly ajar. It needs a cupboard latch. Perhaps I’ll make a rustic turnbuckle. If I find a seated pig and a miniature toilet, it’ll be an outhouse. Mayhaps, I’ll make it a two-eater for company.
I meet my wife for dinner at a Mexican restuarant. The former drive-in on the outside of town, then Karen’s kitchen, has been renovated into a Ridger Café. I didn’t believe my wife when she coined the phrase. Ridgers: the people who move here from cities for the small town amenities. They isolate themselves from the locals by installing their children in the local Waldorf School, shop at the co-op and mostly hang out with a small group of new age friends. Children are numerous. They run wild. The door to the cafe, which has no protective entrance way, opens and closes frequently as they run to the parking and back to mom or dad. Outside the temperature is in the 30’s. We keep our coats on for warmth.
Two Wal-Marts in Wisconsin are fined 90 large for price gouging. Eggs in the local Wal-Mart jump an average of 50¢ a dozen in the week before Thanksgiving. The dairy manager hands me a print out from egg-central in Arkansas. The total sales of eggs for the season and all Wal-Marts is unbelievable. Wal-Mart is beefing up the bottom line by catching folk when they need eggs the most. We start feature tracking eggs. That means we constantly adjust the POS system. During the holidays egg sales will soar. The POS system will send us eggs in proportion to sales. When the holiday subsides, the POS system will send us fewer eggs when the demand recedes. We adjust. I photograph the last palett of eggs sent from the warehouse. They double stack paletts of eggs. Even the jumbo eggs on the top palette are leaking egg yolk. It takes me an hour of precious time at the end of the day to clean the mess.
The dairy manager applies and interviews for the assistant training program. He’s smart and has a young family. The starting salary is an incentive. He doesn’t care if he doesn’t have a life. If he leaves I may be approached to fill the void.
Wal-Mart, mass marketing, feature tracking, co-mac displays, price matching, comp surveys and accident free days assail my consciousness. Staying out of the fray becomes my main objective. The dairy manager gets back at “The Snake” in receiving by turning him in via the ethics hot line. An ICS supervisor, the former police commissioner of Bridgeport Massachusetts flirts and teases “Produce Girl, Jewelry Girl, Silent Girl and now Meat Lady. Fingers touch in back hallways. Small, close conferences in the freezer are noticed. The cart boy( in Wal-Mart language: code 20) and a Customer Service Manager are told to leave the premises when necking in their cars (both are married) The pretty, young overnight woman in our department tells me the dairy manager’s brother in-law, “creeps her out” when he stalks her with over-friendly offer to help. Management goes into sexual harassment frenzy & protective mode.
(small farting noises of appeasement)
Maybe Wilbur just needs new glasses
10 hours ago