Thursday, January 15, 2009


Life in Kickapoo Center

I try to remember when it's been colder. At seven am the garage thermometer reads -26. The young woman at the bakery says they closed school, but she'd have kept the kids home anyway. Her son has asthma. She tells me it reached -39 in a lowland area the name of which I quickly forget. At Wal-Mart they have the entrance doors blocked off to provide a measure of warmth for the cashiers. The elderly greeter wears gloves and a knit sweater. Poor Randy the cart guy is dressed like an Inuit hunter. The computer guy at the library offers relevancy when he says it's colder in Canada.

Way back when we had a sauna and a horse trough to jump in, someone would be chosen to break the ice on the galvanized tub before jumping in the tub. Ice can be dangerous if you didn't wear suits. The doorknobs were metal so your hand would stick to the knob as you opened the warming room door to taking a flying leap into the tub. If no one suffered a heart attack after the first plunge, the cold/hot/cold became indistinguishable.

In those days we didn't have running water or electricity. Keeping eggs cold wasn't a problem. On the south end of the platform on which we erected our temporary shelter-a Vietnam era army squad tent- eggs would stay fresh for weeks. In January they'd freeze on the floor. Most times we wore only t-shirts and sweat pants on cold days. There were two wood stoves, one for cooking and the other for heating. The heating stove was an Ashley air-tight stove which could hold heat overnight. The Monarch Malleable cookstove made the 16X33 foot shelter unbearably hot if the Ashley was filled with oak. We endured because it was a temporary fix before erecting a permanent house. We never built the house.

Late in October we drove to a small town and a lumber dealer that sold Styrofoam insulation in 4X8 sheets two inches thick. Forty years later, I know that the Styrofoam would have been lethal if it caught fire...And it did. Fortunately the chimney fire was put out before it could do more than melt a hole in the area around the metal flashing on the roof.

The sauna was both bath house, social center and church. The folks across the road were living in the same conditions as we. They were a 100 member commune with five marginal outposts and a main house which held 33 people. One of the tent outposts contained a ham radio which kept them in communication with the mother ship. None of the tents was insulated like ours. They called themselves The Farm. If you didn't mind an "Out to save the world" mission, a total vegan lifestyle and every other word punctuated with far out or that's tripping and women who mostly wore paisley skirts, you could get along fine. Often their kids would sneak across the road for a meal of some forbidden animal product, like eggs,cheese or honey. You didn't, however, want to be caught in a small confined space for any length of time because of their exclusively soybean diet which produced clouds of methane-like flatulence.

Winter wasn't so bad way back then. We had a wooden sled and a team of horses for local transportation. Early on we had to set the record straight with the hippies across the road when they'd blow a conch shell at 6 am to wake the folks in the outpost tents. Wind up alarm clocks had already been invented and our rising time was determined when the sun made it over the eastern ridge. I found an old brass bugle among my grandpa's effects and set out one freezing morning to set an example. When the first conch blew it's TA TOOO TOOO, I put the bugle to my lips and cranked out the worst gut wrenching cacophony of squeals and blapps. It was like kissing a porcelain bathtub. The conch shell greeters returned my blare with more toot toots. I blew more resounding wild blapps and blares. Then they got the message. I wasn't playing with them. I was fooling with them. They never awoke us again at 6 am.

For three weeks in spring, we had to contend with mudseason. Everything is more difficult, more trying than deep snow, when there's thick, greasy mud everywhere. One of the brothers who owned the property we so-called "farmed" said his Grandpa told him tires on cars in the old days wore out more quickly on the sidewalls than the tread from all the road ruts.

The Pooch gets busted for catching a bird slowed by the subzero temperatures. They huddle close to the ground to keep their feet warm, evidently making it more difficult to take flight from marauding cats. Tomorrow, I'll move the feeder to an area sheltered by deep snow drifts that the Pooch can't hurdle. Until then he's getting "a good talking to".

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