Monday, December 22, 2008


Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the century

"It looks like we're getting some weather out there," I mention to the cat.

He's looking out the window at the juncos , chickadees and cardinals on the deck. We can't cure him of his yearning for feather sandwiches. With the thermometer plunging to -20, the birds are slower to react. The little shit takes to flying leaps at the cast iron seed dish whenever ever a junco lands on the rim. He's able to leap and swipe with a ambi- dexterous paw in a single motion. Most times he knocks over the seed bowl. A few times he hooks a bird. The picture of the Pooch at right was taken in better times. I use it as my desktop background for this computer. It helps in keeping me from going stir crazy.

There's a foot of snow on the ground. It could be twenty feet for that matter. Thursday, it snows all afternoon and night. By 10:30 am Friday morning we are still not plowed out. The retirement home at which my wife is employed is quarantined because of flu. To keep the outbreak to a minimum, the place is closed to visitors. My wife does not attempt to go to work. On Saturday morning we scheduled a trip to the city. My daughter is having a holiday party. We book a reservation at a fairly inexpensive downtown hotel for Saturday night. Since my wife's birthday is Monday, we'll do some shopping, stock up on essentials, have dinner at a sushi restaurant-something as alien as desert cactus out here in Coulee Country, and enjoy a day where I'm not feeding a wood stove every hour or thawing the cat over the radiator in the back hall every twenty minutes. I'm kidding of course. I thaw him out in the bath tub.

Curious about the weather forecast, I boot up the NWS site for Lacrosse. From the National Weather Service web site I can access weather over the state. Wisconsin DOT provides access to cameras at strategic locations on the Interstate Highway system. These two services will provide information to enable a safe trip across the state. The forecast looks bad, Snow when we leave, snow when we return. Bitter cold in between. I ask my wife if she remembers being stuck on I-17 in Arizona for 3 hours. She buries bad memories. I recall moving to Arizona in January of 1999. Three days in a Motel Six in Elk City Oklahoma because of a panhandle low that dumped a foot of snow on I-40.

I spend most of Friday afternoon with my hand glued to the keyboard mouse, checking radar, overpass cameras at Moorland Road, Madison weather, cameras on the Beltline. We must cancel the hotel reservation no later than 6 pm, Friday if we decide to stay in Kickapoo Center. I call off the trip at 3pm. "If I don't get out of this place, I'll go nuts," I tell my wife. She's perfectly content with the weather. Her family heritage is Irish, German and Norwegian. Genes that thrive on deprivation, cold and bad weather inure her to wonderful Wisconsin winter weather. Her maiden name translates from Hopperditzlmasterglug to Dawn by the lake.

When her forebears came over to this country, they shortened the name to fit on the official papers- Hopperditz. I call her Dawn. It is curious to know some one who has the same first and last name. Dawn Dawn. In Bill Bryson's book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, he writes of a nerdy friend named Milton Milton. Parents often have a fractured sense of humor. My ex-wife's parents gave each one of the kids a name staring with "J", and a middle name in ABC order. It's good they only had three kids.

Saturday morning the snow has subsided, the road is plowed and I'm antsy. We head for Lacrosse for supplies. All the kids are coming to visit in the next week. There's no sushi restaurant in Lacrosse except for the small sushi island at Festival Foods. It's a step up from the frozen sushi at Wal-Mart, but not much better. We stop at our favorite Mexican restaurant-Fiesta Mexicana, on the south end of town. It starts snowing the minute we sit down for tortillas and salsa. By the time we get back on Mormon Coulee Road for the trip to Onalaska and the grocery store, it's coming down in sheets. Dawn buys the groceries-$125 worth of essentials like eggs, chicken wings, pork loin, bacon, four pounds of butter and I buy the wine and beer. I find a nice organic wine to include in the gift baskets for the kids and stock up on jug wine for Dawn. I splurge on a twelve pack of Rolling Rock. On the way to Woodman's grocery store there are three cars off to the side of the road, stuck in deep snow. People drive as if they're invincible. No matter if you have twelve wheel drive, a car doesn't stop quickly on ice and snow. They cut in leaving no stopping space. They speed. They pull out without looking or caring. We return home by 3 pm. The state highway that runs in front of our place hasn't been plowed. It snows all Saturday night.

My neighbor drives down the town road that is our driveway late Sunday afternoon. His Massey-Ferguson has a road scraper attached to the back. He clears the road and the other part of the drive where my F-150 is buried in snow. Out of gratitude, I hand him a zip lock bag of venison/beef jerky and some holiday nut mix. He cut off his pony tail awhile back, but has grown a large flourishing mustache. Ice and water vapor freezes to his mustache. It looks like Niagara Falls in winter. Ten minutes later the town plow comes through. I shovel paths to the site where I dump wood ashes, a path for the cat to patrol the perimeter of the house and paths to the bird feeders. In the afternoon, I look out the kitchen window and see the black and white feral cat sitting on my cleared walk. When I go out to the deck to chase it away, The Pooch shoots out from under the deck. In two seconds there's a whirling, writhing mass of cat bodies and yowling. "Get outta here ya bum, " I yell at the black and white Tabby. Afraid that I'm going to attack him too, the tom cat dives into the deep snow in the front yard. Like a porpoise on the ocean, I see the cat leaping up in the air to clear the 15 inches of snow on the ground. I know better than to approach The Pooch. He's pissed. I grab a box of Katty Shack treats and shake the box. He hesitates for a minute, but retreats into the house. I scan his fur for signs of blood and see that he's unharmed. He's put on extra weight since he arrived here last February, therefore, he outweighed the hungry intruder. Dawn says he's pretty ballsy even without them.

I could qualify as a weather expert for all the time I spend analyzing charts, forecasts and data. It doesn't look good for Tuesday and Tuesday night. My son would be driving back in poor weather and limited visibility. I call him to explain that it's not worth the trouble and danger to spend 24 hours "on the farm'. We're both disappointed. I looked forward to some help with a dwindling wood supply. It's so cold that I had to adjust the plungers on the storm doors to close quicker. If I forget and go from the house to the garage after washing dishes, my hands freeze to the metal doorknobs.

I'm worried about the effect of the weather on the gnomes. In a brief moment when the temperature rises to a balmy 21 degrees and it isn't snowing cats and dogs, I catch one taking a leak outside the Norway pine by the east fence. "Who are you?" I ask. It's the solstice. He looks startled first being caught with his fly open and second because the Big Book Of Gnome Rules requires gnomes to identify themselves on the solstice. I'm gleeful for the help around this place. The first thing I'll have him do is attach skis to the runners of the wood sled. Nap O'Yarby's the name he says. He pronounces the last name Oiy Yarby. He talks like a Jewish gnome with an Irish Cockney accent. "What kind of name is Nap ? I ask. It's a nickname, he says. Under this red cap my hair's a mess o' nappy nits. Kinda like me eyebrows, only worse. I ask him about his three buddies. Ain't tellin', he says. Ya can't make me, neither, no how. Nickname, nappy nits, neither, no how. I'm wondering if his speech patterns are like the African language which is composed of a series of tongue clicks and clucks.

By now my hands are freezing and he's none too happy with his Johnson hanging out. I go back to the house to make dinner. We're having pork cutlets and a rice and orzo dish. Dawn insists on having peas. As we're pouring a glass of jug wine and settling down to The Christmas Story movie on TV- the one about Ralphie and the Red Ryder B-B Gun- I hear an awful racket at the back door. There, dressed in raccoon fur coats are all four gnomes. They're wearing mukluks on their feet and fuzzy fur mittens. One of them is holding a bottle of scotch whiskey. They're singing old English Christmas Carols. Should I invite them in?

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