Friday, July 31, 2009

I'm Sorry, So Sorry

I have less than 20 minutes. It promises to be a busy day. I've got 75 pounds of cabbages to bag up and deliver. Then, there's a cheese run to Muscoda with the Amish family. I have no time to proofread or to download a photograph. If there were a picture it would be focused on my face with the Pooch standing on the console table in the kitchen, whiskers full of cat lint. I'd be singing Brenda Lee's hit song, I'm Sorry, So Sorry, Please Accept My Apology...

He's been gone since 6:30 am Thursday. In the 24 hours-a return to the novel, The Agony & Ecstasy. I've had unkind thoughts. Home for two days and then gone. I felt so used. I imagined we are some form of cat Bed and Breakfast. I went up to the neighbors and asked about the Pooch, figuring he was squirreled away in their hay mow. Almost everyone I speak to on Thursday hears a sad tale of woe about the cat's disappearance, again. After Dawn gets home from work, we travel the mile and a half to the Amish farm to look at puppies. We choose the runt of the litter, a feisty black and white female. In the evening I make plans for a dog run and a containment area between the house and garage. The pup has to be confined when I go about dangerous chores on the farm, like mowing.

At 5:00 am on Friday, I'm back whistling in the foggy dawn hoping the Pooch can hear me from the haymow. I cut cabbage, peel the outside layers and bring them back to the house for a quick rinse. After a breakfast of leftover ham and cheese omelet and potato salad, I grab my keys and head to the barn that is really just a shed. Unlocking the door, the Pooch pops out and does his mrrt noise. Oh Poochie. I'm sorry. So sorry.

After a dish of fresh chicken livers and a quick brushing, Dawn and I slather him with kisses and hugs. Dawn tells him he's in for a surprise.

I know I promised a note about the cookbook. Yesterday's post which never made it online is called the Ootensile Family. It did make it to the Amish farm where everyone had a good laugh. I'll bring it to you, soon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dallying With Servant Girls

Mornings have been cool, bordering on cold. Unusual for the end of July. Because of heavy early morning dew/fog, I have a few moments before beginning my day. Today's choices include dallying with the servant girls, riding with m'lady, canning dilly beans, running a temporary chicken wire fence around the sweet corn patch and more mowing.

Toward the end of today, I'll return to the library with Mark of the Cross. I grab two books while delivering a vegetable care package to my library angel. I always choose two in case of a dud. When Philip, the high born groom, covers Lady Beatrice's mouth with his lips and she melts into him I knew the signed, soft cover novel wasn't my style. There's a whole lot of blushing, teasing and impetuous horse racing by a woman who angers daddy with her rash actions. Oh please.

The Pooch spends most of Tuesday sleeping upside down, mouth hanging open on the back of the couch. When he comes outside, he looks furtively in all directions. He's on me like a burr if I work in the garden. In the garage repairing a Crow Magnum whose foot fell off, he jumps on the workbench watching me glue the foot back in place. For a brief moment at dusk, he meows to be allowed outside. It is some primordial instinct to roam at night. Overnight he curls up in between our legs.

The dallying with servant girls will last about 10 seconds as the only women I might dally with are up on the ridge on the Amish farm. Since Titus is six feet four and 250 pounds, I'll not be casting furtive looks at Marion or Wilma. I'm not scheduled to return there until Thursday when we make a few phone calls in advance of a cheese run. A nearby town has a gourmet cheese maker-a new trend. I've tasted hot pepper cheese made with habanero and red pepper. Rumors of garlic mushroom, tomato basil and other exotic cheeses at a phenomenally low price for cut ends grabs my attention.

My cabbage woes are solved when the Amish patriarch calls from the neighbor to order 10 cabbages for a customer. They've planted 50 cabbage for a Korean client. They planted late and the cabbages aren't ready. Eight cabbages I deliver to the neighbor include one whopper topping the scale at 7 pounds. Our cabbage patch was planted in the first week of April. The few remaining odd balls will go into fresh coleslaw or flat noodles and steamed cabbage.

Putting pieces of the puzzle back together, I recall letting the Pooch out early Sunday morning. Usually I wait until 7 when Dawn is in the shower getting ready for work. But on this Sunday morning, I want to snooze. He's pestering to be allowed outside at first light. I stumble downstairs before 6 am and show him the deck door. At this hour numerous nocturnal roamers are making their way to their bed and breakfast. I assume he has an encounter with a raccoon. The raccoon war is back. We are on high alert. I set the live trap, baited with Wal-Mart discounted chicken liver that went bad before the Pooch could eat it. In the morning the door of the trap is tripped but empty. The liver is intact.

The sweet corn is about a week away from first pick. I remove a burned out floodlight from the shed near the patch and remount the spotlights to illuminate the entire north and west side of the 40X40 space. I run an extension cord to the onion drying tent, connect the radio tuned to WPR and install a clamp light in the peak. In the front of the corn field where extra cabbages grew, I pull up landscape fabric and till the weedy area. Then I install all six solar lights in the front portion. Two large folk art crows-the Crow Magnums-I install at either end. Once the glue has dried on the foot of the third 3 foot tall crow, I place him(her?) in the middle. I'm hoping to strike terror in the heart of nighttime raiders. Both Dawn and I have seen a groundhog roaming the place in the daytime. I remember watching the Pooch trailing a groundhog as it lumbered toward the steel lawn shed and a burrow underneath. He kept a respectful distance from the woodchuck and eventually the chuck is live-trapped. My cement floor in the lawn shed/possible chicken coop is now safe from collapse from deep tunnels woodchucks love to dig under barns and sheds.

I've placed a lawn chair near the back door. My Elmer Fudd hat hangs in the entryway closet. A loaded rifle is at the inside door. As long as I get first taste of Kandy Corn, an extra sweet hybrid, I'll share a few ears with the critters of the night. Before my first taste, you don't want to be caught in the corn patch at night. Remember what happened to Peter Rabbit.*

* Beatrice Potter became wealthy from her children's books, buying up farms and donating the land to a rural preserve. At her death over 4000 acres of countryside were put in reserve forever.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bean Water

Monday passes slowly. Old songs play in my boombox head. "There's a hole in my heart..." and "To love someone you must set them free..." The best remedy: dig red potatoes. The Pontiac reds have been ready for several weeks. Directly behind them another variety of red-La Rouge which the seed catalog claims to be the most prevalent red potato on your kitchen table-is overgrown with weeds. I consult the seed catalog. La Rouge are a mid-season. Ninety days after planting puts them in the middle of July. It's the end of July. I begin by pulling weeds which uncovers bright scarlet spuds. It's partly cloudy. When the sun's out, it's hard hot work. With a breeze and a cloud cover, it proceeds nicely. I break for lunch late afternoon. There are three cardboard egg boxes full of tubers. Close to a hundred-weight.

When Dawn gets home from the retirement home, dark clouds are threatening. She tells me the weather warnings are out. Severe thunderstorms, hails and possible high winds. Her first question: Still no Pooch? Glumly I reply, "No." We discuss a replacement for the cat. The Amish have puppies. In a visit in which I bring garlic for them, everyone's gathered around the table on the porch. The Patriarch refers to this area as his Amish air conditioner because of a frequent breeze blowing across the hilltop. The two youngest Amish children put puppies on the table. Most are combinations of black and white. They're Blue Heelers and a Border Collie mix. Prices are discussed and I offer to trade my Great Uncle's tackle box filled with pristine fishing gear for a puppy. The Patriarch chuckles. He likes to trade. I'd already traded two brightly colored lures in the original boxes with the price tags from 1966 still visible for a half gallon of milk. I let them get the better deal.

It's beginning to rain. Dawn and I decided to can three bean salad when she got home. The pole beans, a variety called rattlesnake beans because of blue striations on the skin, are ready. The first 10 foot row of wax beans is loaded with long, yellow beans. I don a blue and yellow slicker, my blaze orange vinyl hunting hat and walk to the bean patch. At first the rain is slight. Sweating under all that rubber and vinyl, I toss the hat on the grass. I'm watching the sky in the north. The cloud build up is very similar to the tornado clouds that ripped down the main street of Viola four years ago. Almost black at the top, charcoal gray closer to the ground and dark wisps of black trailing clouds have me worried. I pick faster. Sirens wail in Readstown. The puffy cumulus clouds appear to be passing underneath the wall of black in the north. I scrunch up my bifocals in a sneer to see which way the storm is blowing. It's coming right at us. With a plastic colander full of green beans, I trek back to the house. By now the rain is falling in drops as big as a quarter. Dawn is preparing the brine, chopping celery, opening cans of kidney beans and garbanzo beans. I think of the poor Pooch out in this mess when a particularly loud clap of thunder and lightning booms overhead.

We can eight pints of bean salad. After the deluge, the sun comes out before dusk and I take the step ladder and free clogs at the downspouts in case of heavy nighttime rain. We leave all the windows open because it's warm and humid in the house. The curtains and blinds in the bedroom are up and the windows open. Before we go upstairs both Dawn and I call the Pooch. She's calling him in a barely conversational tone. "Poochie are you out there. Time to come home now." I bellow at the back door, "C'mere Pooch. Here boy." No cat.

In a dream I walk out the back door. Pucci comes bounding across the back lawn like he always did, happy to see me. At five am I wake up. I have to pee. When I crawl back into bed, I think I hear his plaintive meow. "Probably a robin," I tell myself. Still, I haven't given up hope. I walk downstairs, open the deck door and whistle. Three times I manage a feeble tweet. On the fourth try it's a passable, shrill Tweeet. I stand there looking at the fog. The windows are covered in mist from the fog. The screens are loaded with raindrops. "Mrrrt." "Pooch? " More mrrrt. Oh Poochie, you've come back. I open the door for him. He greets me with several passes, rubbing his body on my legs. While he grabs a bite of dry cat food, I walk in the downstairs bathroom and grab a green bath towel. He's spikey wet with an oil slick down his back. I wrap him in the towel and carry him upstairs. Dawn is sound asleep. I make a mooching noise to wake her up. "He's back." Oh Poochie," she says.

The rest of the story is so smaltzy, you'd think I made it up. I brush his back fur to remove some of the oil slick. He looks at me, his mouth half open with that, "Oh, that feels really good," look. He jumps down, grabs some more food-he hasn't eaten since Saturday night and jumps back on my lap. I defrost some raw ground pork and he eats the whole dish. Then I go back to bed, thinking he'll lick and groom and nap in his favorite chair. Dozing off, I hear him calling us upstairs. Dawn says,"C'mere. Jump up." He jumps on the back of the bed and curls around her stomach with his paw draped over her leg. My arm is over Dawn's back. We're one happy family again.

Before I sit down at the computer, I lift the lid on a stainless steel pot next to the stove. "Mmm. Bean Water." My only description is that it smells like country goodness. I pick large dill heads and put them in a pink, miniature water bucket for the smell of dill in the kitchen. To keep the air circulating in the basement which remains a cool 67 dgrees, I have two window fans set to the slowest speed. The smell of fermenting cabbage wafts up the cement basement stairs. If Dawn were standing there she'd ask, "Who farted." Like the smell of manure, it's a cultivated goodness. The Pooch is sleeping in the cool basement on the laundry table. I walk past and mutter, "You little @#$%, you." I couldn't resist.

Later on we'll have a talk and he can tell me of his adventures with raccoons, possum, and as one lady at the library maintains-a mountain lion. She says pets are disappearing all over the county because of this big cat. "Oh boy," I tell myself, something more to worry about. Dawn makes a disparaging remark about her qualifications as a wildlife expert. Most afternoons you can find her at a computer in the back of the library. Her son sits adjacent to her and disapears when the school busses drops kids off in the afternoon. He has a weight problem and fears the cruel taunting from nasty urchins.

Next, the Amish cookbook. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 27, 2009

True Dawn

Thanks to the Pooch, I get to see dawn's first light this Monday morning.

Early Sunday morning, despite explicit instructions from me the night before about sleeping in, he meows at five am. Then he snoozes on the hallway carpet and occasionally moans, groans or grunts. At six thirty he soundlessly jumps on the bed and snuggles up to me. I sleep with one arm under my pillow. He uses the crook of my arm as his armrest. Then he slides one of his paws under my crooked arm and encircles my forearm with his other paw. This is his version of a cat hug. Then he licks my knuckle. The tactic works. It gets me up and he follows me downstairs. While I stop to use the bathroom, he snatches a quick bite of dry cat food and waits for me at the door. I let him out the deck door. I prop the outside storm door open with the slide on the plunger. I need a few more winks. If he wants to come in, the door will be open. The bugs are either sleeping or wet from dew and aren't a problem.

That was the last I saw of the furball. By mid morning I'm getting worried. I walk up to the neighbors to ask if they spotted the Pooch in their haymow. I tell Ron that for the past two weeks the Pooch has been punctual. Regular as a clock. He's missed his breakfast and is late for the morning nap on his favorite chair in Dawn's studio. Ron says he hasn't seen the cat. The rest of the afternoon I go about late July business in the garden. It's been almost a week and the lawn is getting shaggy. If it gets too long, I'll be making hay.

In the waning afternoon I turn my attention to cabbage and kimchi saurkraut. I pick five cabbages which have a total weight of 17 pounds. Turning to the Joy of Pickling, I convert the recipe for 6 3/4ths pounds of shredded cabbage to a double recipe and 13 1/2 pounds of shred.
Dawn's been making pickles. She calls me inside. I'm in the middle of a stupid project trying to clear off my work bench. The domino effect says I must move ten other things before I can move two table top compartment cabinets of screws, washers and nails off the surface of the bench. Dawn says the cookbooks call for a complicated series of steps before she can make sweet pickles. I scan the recipes and frown. " The Amish don't have ice, " I tell her. Make something else and I'll talk to them in the morning.

When the pickles are finally taken from the hot water bath, she joins me outside in the area between the house and garage where we begin the messy side of food prep. While I shred cabbage quarters, green peppers, jalapenos, seranos and garlic, Dawn dusts each of three- 4.5 pound batches with caning salt, shredded ginger and crushed red pepper. She mixes the ingredients and presses the mix into a five gallon bucket. We go about our business mindlessly keeping an eye out for the cat.

He's been gone before. A year ago, raccoons ran him off. He was gone for two days. On occasion, he wont' come in at dusk and spends the night under the deck. This is the price we pay for having an outdoor cat. He lives to hunt and roam the property. When he comes inside either to eat or for the night, he jumps in the window, afraid that he might miss something important outside. When he jumps on the couch to curl up on the back rest, he faces the window.

I get up at 11:30 pm after being awoken by the phone. Dawn's on call. If someone falls out of bed or stubs their toe, the staff at the retirement home will call her. The answering machine takes the call. I don't replay the message. I assume it wasn't important, because Dawn doesn't get up to answer the phone. I stand at the deck door and whistle for the Pooch.

In the morning, the hills to the east are shrouded in a medium dense haze. It isn't wet enough to classify it as fog, but it hides everything in the background. The highway is invisible. By 5:30 am a rosy glow appears over the hills. The solar lights in the garden pulse red, green and blue. The light at the peak of the garage is still lit. I stand at each cardinal direction in the house and look for a gray tabby. I whistle some more. It's a waiting game. I push thoughts of him hurt or lost out of my mind. I stifle childhood memories of animal trials and tribulations. The Pooch is my constant companion. Without him, this place is a huge, empty space.

I've foregone having pigs, chickens, and ducks. Been there, done that. Chickens can't carry on a conversation. I don't want to get attached to the pigs because they become chops and roasts too soon. I raised rabbits which was a lot of fun until four rabbits became a hundred and forty. When we first moved here, a beagle puppy wanders into the back yard. He's cute as a bug and friendly. I call him Scratchy because he scratches at the back door to be let inside. Taking him with me to the post office so he doesn't get into trouble in the garage, he falls asleep in my lap. We can't afford a doctor bill or extra food bills, so I give him to the neighbors across the river.

The Pooch changes everything. We spend hundreds of dollars on vet bills, Frontline, and special cat food because he's such a joy. Now he's gone.

I'm not happy. I don't know what to do to fill the void.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sitting on My Keester

I'm sitting on the front porch at the Amish farm. This is my second visit of the day.

Earlier I'd stopped by to drop off two aluminum pie pans and an empty egg carton. I place the Wal-Mart bag on the pine bench and sit down. The patriarch is drawing up simple plans for a new set of cabinets he's building. His neighbor was summoned by the son who walked the quarter mile to their farm down the road. On her cell phone he's taking and making orders for Bing and Yellow sweet, cherries. I put in an order for "half a lug" of cherries. With the $12 I made on cabbages the Patriarch's wife sold for me, I turn it around on fruit. In the summer kitchen the wife is finishing up processing 96 chickens. I show her the canning lid in my pocket. "What's that," she says. "Got any extra," I ask? Another of the many daughters in and around the farm retrieves a dozen. I'm told to return later in the afternoon for my cherries.

It's sunny and humid in the valley. On the ridge top a soft breeze stirs the air. As I pull into the driveway, noting a sign and stick arrow for "night crawlers" and the signature leaning Shady Lane Cabinets sign which appears to be ready to topple into the brush next to the road, one of the daughters stands at the mailbox. I offer a ride. She accepts noting that the stones on the road are sometimes sharp. She's barefoot and I'm surprised. Not by the bare feet, but by the comment about the stones. "I thought you were used to the rocks, " I say. My imagination says their feet are as tough as treads on an automobile tire. Not so. She has a faint wood smoke smell and I remember I'd seen a cured ham placed in the smoker grill outside.

On the wooden bench at the back wall of the porch, cardboard flats of cherries are stacked five high. Buddy, the gimp dog is sprawled in the shade of the L-shaped extension of the porch. Five or six puppies squirm in laps and on the deck boards. The mother walks away when the puppies start to pester. One follows down the three steps to the ground, a precipitous journey for a nine pound puppy. The Patriarch is working on the same set of cabinet plans, commenting that this is a nice occupation on a hot day. He calls inside for a round of coffee. Another of the daughters places my half a lug on the table. The questions begin.

How do you pit cherries? Do you pit the cherries before canning? How do you can the fruit? I honestly, in all my years of gardening and home preserving, have never canned fruit. One of the daughters pulls a hairpin and pops out a pit. The Patriarch chides her for using the hairpin. "You gonna eat that now?" The conversation spins to a similar topic when another of the five kids on the porch places one of the puppies on the scale used to weigh fruit. There's a stainless steel cup on the scale. One puppy, weighing in at only six pounds, stays perfectly still, legs draped over the edge of the stainless steel bowl. "There's a good picture, " I say. The Patriarch says they'll weigh my cherries now that the dog has broken in the scale.

Rubber boots covered with chicken feathers next a post on the deck is another perfect Kodak moment. If it weren't so intrusive and obnoxious, I'd be a prize winning photographer with all these photo opportunities. Baby geese wander around the front lawn picking up bugs and snipping at grass shoots. One of the older daughters comes out with a slice of cheese and a glass of water. I'm suspicious because of the water. The cheese is a Colby/jack mix with red pepper flakes. It has a mild bite to it. Then, she returns with a slice of cooked ham on a fork. "If I stay long enough, I'll have eaten dinner," I say with a smart-Alec smile. People pull up with to pick up cherries and my car is blocked. I savor the opportunity to relax from food preservation. "I've got all my hay put up in the barn," says the Patriarch, a verbal nudge for me to get going on the kitchen remodel. I tell him about thirteen pounds of pickled cabbage, pickled beets, and now, a batch of ripe cherries to process. At night I wake up thinking about the cabbages in the garden ready to burst. I tell Dawn as we sit at the kitchen table reviewing the work to be done before supper that it's easier to throw out a young cabbage plant than to deal with 150 pounds of head cabbage.

I grab a gallon of vinegar which Dawn points out when I return isn't vinegar but acetic acid reduced to 5% acidity. I owe them money for the vinegar, but will return it because of Dawn's insistence on real vinegar.

If you have a chance go to . Look up columnist Sharon Begley. She's a science editor. A July 9 article, titled, "What's in a word?" Language may shape our thoughts covers some interesting concepts about gender nouns, the difference between English and Turkish usage:Turkish verbs indicate whether an action is observed or rumored and how the Aboriginal Kuuk Thaayorre use compass directions for every spatial clue rather than "left or right".

I may give up gardening and farming and raise hybrid verbs, nouns and adjectives. Perhaps then, I'll be able to adequately describe the scent of flowers wafting through the kitchen window, sandhill cranes flying overhead so low I can see their craw expand when they croak their flying song, the old cigar smell of the peat fire underneath the tree stump that's been smoldering for a week and a half and how you can feel a rainstorm approaching from the rise in humidity.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Skid Marks

Frank McCourt died.

Dawn asks if I listened to the news. "No, why?" "Frank McCourt died." I ask the cause of his death. "Melanoma," she says, and other things. He was 79. I was hoping for a sequel to Teacher Man, Tis and Angela's Ashes. Darn. Darn. Darn.

Pucci jumps on the kitchen table. There are a dozen, clean pint jars covered with a dish towel waiting for caps. His paw snags the dish towel causing a clatter of glass jars rattling on the table. He jumps, startled by the noise. The Pooch isn't a fraidy cat. I've noticed that as he spends more time outdoors, he's more alert. He pesters to go out this morning. From 5 am until we get up, he meows and jumps on the bed. At 7:45 he jumps on the deck railing in front of the kitchen window. The window is a new, thermo-pane. Nights have been cool. Dawn says 37 degrees near Cashton. I scoff. The window is closed. I can't hear his cry as he peers in the kitchen. His mouth opens as if he's saying "wow", peeks some more and then, more "wow". I open the deck door for him.

While Dawn is clattering upstairs getting ready for work, I slip on my sandals and walk to the potato patch. Yesterday I dug up 0ne white potato, grab a red onion from the drying tent, nip a cabbage growing on the corn patch, look for an Ace green pepper and pull a medium size beet with top. All are given a bath and bagged in Wal-Mart plastic recycled and carted off to the liberry. Helen Jane looks up from the counter as I walk in. She smiles,"You brought me a cabbage." On Friday, desperate for something to read I borrow a Billie Letts sequel and promise cabbage on Monday. She's 80ish, but lately is looking her age. If I were a writer I'd say she looks drawn. She hands me a copy of Coop by Michael Perry. She's my library angel. I couldn't live here without her. There's a story about her life waiting for a good writer.

At the front of the potato patch, I remember feeling a bunch of nubs in the soil. I don't disturb the nubs because the tops of the Kennebec's are still green and healthy. I dose them for an hour with a revolving sprinkler set sideways on a ladder that sprays fine drops in the air over the potatoes. This front portion is bone dry. Carefully I stab with a trowel and remove two fine, white specimens and wash them under cold water. While a cast iron pot heats up, I slice the clean spuds with my red Kitchen Aide julienne slicer into hash browns. Next to the stove, I previously placed a pint container of pure, rendered lard from the Amish.

I'm weary of the Pomace oil I cook everything and anything. I spoon a healthy dollop of lard into the iron fry pan, grind some fresh pepper over the potatoes, sprinkle some Kosher salt and drop them in the pan. Sizzle...

Over the weekend we host the eldest daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. Saturday is non-stop food prep. Pickled beets, sauerkraut, sugar snap peas, potatoes, chickens from the Amish and more. Sunday morning is reserved for sausage. Everyone is off kilter. E.D.(eldest daughter) isn't used to the extra firm mattress in the east bedroom. Granddaughter is up early. The cat looks for shelter from a three, going on four "dynamo." Our normal Amish bedtime becomes a late night with Netflix. By Sunday morning, I've gone from Busch NA beer to drinking New Glarus specialty beers as we slide ground pork and spices into fresh casings. The beer accompanies the required tasting session of our new batch of wurst. After they leave with their car crammed full of country goodness, I ride the mower the rest of the afternoon. It's too quiet.

Two days later, I'm hoping the rain comes before I finish this epistle. The Oxford concise dictionary is open to conundrum. "Riddle involving a pun." As I work the crops, getting them ready for the canner or freezer, I'm thinking of written topics. I work twice.. First there's the harvest and associated finagling and then I work again-writing of my work. Get my drift?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hunky and Dory

Some form of record, I suppose.

Ella, if you're reading this on your lunch break over at the prison farm, you've done this 130 times. Blame it on Del. He's the culprit for suggesting I create a blog. I can't help but smile at Del's wry comment in a recent phone call. At the stock car races a few weeks back, he didn't crash, bump or sideswipe another car. Del is blind( sight impaired). He drives stock cars, skis and cuts wood with a chain saw. The wry comment is directed toward Jenna who crashed the family car. After Ella told me that Jenna got new contact lenses, I understood the basis for running two curbs and setting off the air bags on the Toyota.

I'm at the doctor's office for an $82 re-check of blood pressure. That's what it costs me to take the elevator to the fourth floor of the clinic, wait for twenty minutes in the outer office. Wait another fifteen minutes for the doctor. He asks me ,"How's things?" " Hunky dory, " I reply. I thought about telling him "swell" and wonder what century he thinks I came from. Actually, I consider, "I'm good," and "I'm well." I still don't know the correct grammatical form. Hunky dory works for me. OK, describing myself as "hunky" is pushing it but what about the "dory" part. Isn't a dory a small watercraft? Word play.

Dawn's sister-the sisty ugler-makes a disparaging comment about a cherished Christmas present from Dawn. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of English Etymology is a tool I use as often as my weeding hoe. If you're squeamish about insects you may want to skip this part. "Insect fear" is a reality for lots of folks. An M-Team (multi-disciplinary) meeting when I was a teacher gets postponed when the woman presiding spots a spider in the room. Earwicga from the Old English ear + wiggle is the derivative of a bug I spot on the paper towel dispenser in the kitchen. I know, I know. I promised not to write about bugs the other day.

I'm not afraid of earwigs, yet I despise the little buggers. I pick up the sprinkler on a wooden ladder used to water the corn and the things drop from the hidden crevices of the yellow, round pulser. In the summer kitchen they hide under appliances. On the paper towels? This is war. In the cartoon version of life here at Blackbird Farm, Uncle Bob shoots earwigs with a shotgun.
The newly remodeled cabinets are peppered full of holes. I need to move on.

The eldest daughter is arriving this evening from the city. The drive is three and a half hours. To complicate matters, the granddaughter gets carsick. Traveling becomes a challenge. Thirty seven, no, I'm wrong-thirty nine years ago-we traveled the country with our first born. Yikes. She's almost forty. Nynah, Nynah ( image of me sticking my tongue out at my "honey girl" ) if she's reading this. I told 'ya we'd get to this point:You are getting old, but I'm still 21 (in my mind). Am I addled? Probably due to the wacky tabacky we smoked, camping when you fit on my lap at the state park in Minnesota.

Wow! We traveled the country in our Volkswagen van. Removing the middle seat and substituting a playpen, you were a perfect traveling companion. In Illinois we camped at a rock- fest and a thunderstorm blows our tent down. My wife and I and two friends stand in the corners to keep you dry. You don't remember, but there was the infamous Arkansas trip culminating in a dog bite. Thirty nine years later and I still cringe. Trips to western Wisconsin, Lake Mary campground, Cranberry Bog Lake( I forget the name) and never a bit of car sickness. In many ways our life then was easier. I substitute the worry.

The Pooch and I take a late evening walk. The evening movie is repetitive. I can usually con the cat into coming inside before dark with the promise of a walk and a tasty treat. On the last leg of the walk, we're at the tree stump in the front field. A rabbit is grazing at the edge of the field. "Psst,Pucci. There's a varmint in your field." He turns in the opposite direction. "No, dum dum. Turn the other way!" He picks up the excitement in my voice and dashes toward the fence line. The rabbit disappears into the high grass. As we near the spot the rabbit disappeared, I point to the hole. The Pooch inspects the site, sniffs the ground and disappears into the brambles. What have I done? At this area of the front field we are ten yards below the highway and about twenty yards of six foot high marsh grass separates us from an eight foot high culvert under the bridge at the highway. Now who's dumb?

I walk away. "C'mere Pooch. Here, boy." No Pooch. You must remember that this cat has a sense of humor. I'm cutting onion tops under the tent. I walk to the new compost pile with a tub of tops. At the east entrance to the drying shelter, I install a blue tarp to protect the onions from blow-by rainfall. At the bottom of the tarp, I clamp an eight foot section of PVC pipe to weight it down in high winds. The Pooch waits until I walk by, darts out and swipes at my leg with a paw. He takes off. It's his version of gotcha. I guffaw. He plays the same game at the site of a tarp covered wood pile behind the lawn shed. There's a hole in the tarp at the ground level. I know he's hiding on the bare ground under the stacked oak planks. I get about ten yards away and he bursts out from the wood pile shelter, through the hole in the tarp which is only big enough for a cat or squirrel. I guffaw. What a cat.

Now I'm worried. I'm on the hill near the butternut squash garden. No Pooch. If he follows the rabbit through the maze of weeds, he could be disoriented and end up on the highway. I watch a red tandem wheel pick-up coming down the highway. At this point of highway 131, cars and trucks pick up speed. It's a long straight stretch after an easy coast down Freymiller's Hill. On the opposite side of the bridge is the memorial to the high school girl killed at the bridge.

You can hear the cat snickering in the weeds. A head pops out from raspberry canes. The raccoon tail flips up and he trots toward me. "Come on, " I tell him. "Do you want a treat?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Autobiography of a Fish

Savoring a piece of pineapple pie fresh from an Amish oven this morning I ran across this quote attributed to Carl Sandburg. " Only a fish can write the autobiography of a fish." I stop at the Amish farm to drop off a valance board that needs 1/2 inch trimmed from the right side. I ordered two pies last week. I'm out of eggs. One of the daughters asks me, "Do you like pineapple?" I respond, "I've never had a pineapple pie." Trust and past experience says the pie will be delicious. And it is...

Explaining to the cabinet maker that the valance board needs to be trimmed on the right side to keep it symmetrical, I don't notice his son standing before me holding a cup of coffee. I thank the ten year old for the coffee and take the proffered old office chair at the kitchen table. Coffee and a chair leads to a circuitous conversation.

First, I tally the cost of the pies, the three dozen eggs, two plastic five gallon buckets they picked up for me in Lacrosse and scan my memory for back debt. The total comes to $18.02. There's a standing joke about small change we owe each other originating from a miscalculation by the Amish. They offer to round off the figure, I give them a dime so that they'll owe me 2 cents. The real Amish humor behind the bantering over small change is that I owe them thousands of dollars for the cabinets, work installing the same and other details from design changes midway through the kitchen remodel. "(do) You have a final figure for me?" I ask the cabinet maker. Authentically humble, he says the cost of making partitions between the kitchen and living room is nominal since I furnished the lumber. He promises to get me a total. We joke about a rural legend that Amish intentionally add a mistake to their work. The English interpretation is: Only our Lord is perfect, therefore we make something imperfect. The patriarch says he's never heard that about his people.

The subject of writing comes up. It's triggered by questions I have about an Amish romance novel I borrowed from the library. I give it to one of the daughters to read. Amish are fashionable now and there are numerous serial books featuring a romantic version of the Amish lifestyle. Returning the book to me a week later, the patriarch says, "E-mail the author and ask her if she's ever met an Amish person."

I ask, "What does she say that tips you off she's writing fiction with no background in the subject matter?" He's non-specific. "You could write a better book, " he says. The offer to write about this Amish family is tantalizing, but I wouldn't want to jeopardize their anonymity. Too often good intentions lead to unfortunate results. Awhile ago, there was a story in the local paper about two thieves stalking Amish farms looking for money. They have a map of Amish in Wisconsin. Opportunists already took advantage of their trust in other ways I don't want to repeat here.

I continue to question about some people's lack of knowledge of the Amish lifestyle. There's a subtlety here I almost overlook while my ego is being massaged, telling me that I could write a better book. In the same book I found the fish quote, there's a saying- " If you never assume importance, you never lose it." I explain my dogged questioning with, " I've probably made a hundred gaffs you've overlooked." No response. That's good.

In the past I occasionally give them a copy of something I've written. I give a English neighbor the web address for my blog in case they have a desire to read what I've written about them. I dodge the topic explaining that I'd rather write about my experiences in the 70's living across the road from a 100 member commune in Trempeleau County. A few graphic details gets us away from the subject of the Amish. I leave with the usual feeling that I've taken up too much of their time "jawing".

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bugs, Nightmares and Cookies

One of the reasons for a thin trickle of posts in this blog is the surprise I get when booting up Blogger. There's no end to the creative ways it tries to foil me. This morning I pass over tricky little attempts by Yahoo into perusing inane, comical, insightful articles about the supreme court nomination, foiling a bank robber with a water pistol or the best small town in America. Then, I click on my bookmark for Blogger, enter the user information and password, not waiting for the automatic bypass. It tells me there's a problem. I circle back to the beginning to re-enter important details. Before I can do that-Voila- I'm at the dashboard Seven Roads To Home. I'm not complaining. Time is of the essence. I don't have much. Summer is the busy season here.

I reject several possible titles and subjects for this post. Bugs, a constant in rural America, nightmares-I seem to have a wealth of subconscious muck and my coon-tail cat-Pucci. I've got to be careful about The Pooch. Soon Dawn will get jealous of the attention I slather on the little devil and I'll be living in a cardboard shack down by the river and the Pooch will be sleeping on my side of the bed.

Breakfast is a time for pampering. The rest of the day I'll be driving myself to exhaustion. Yesterday, I harvested onions. There was a threat of rain. Bend, stoop, groan and fill three wheelbarrows full of yellow and red onions. In the drying shelter we've set up over an old house foundation filled with sand, I clip previously harvested onions and make several trips to the new compost pile. The ground under the compost pile continues to smolder. There's an underground vein of peat moss-like material from the rotting maple tree. It's been burning since Sunday-three days ago. The older onions are placed on screens where they'll dry until the first frost. The newer ones just harvested are laid flat on old window screens until I have more time. I rake debris from the 10X80 onion plot and go back to the garage workshop for the tiller. The tiller is set to maximum depth and I make four passes at slow speed. The last three runs are at high speed to level off the sandy brown loam. Then I plant two varieties of carrots in a forty foot furrow. All the while I've been pleading with the clouds to wait until I finish before letting a torrent of rain loose. It drizzles. I thank the powers that be for the gift of time.

I walk out to the onion shelter at ten before seven for a red onion to go with the potatoes I dug previously. It rained during the night. At 11:30 thunder wakes me. I look at the clock and moan. I've only been asleep for a couple of hours. Getting up to close the north windows, I crawl back into bed wondering if thunder scares the Pooch. The red onions don't keep. I make a note to use them first. I pour Pomace oil into a fry pan, add the potatoes because they take the longest to cook, grab a fresh Serrano pepper from the frig, chop up the onion, walk back to the garden to hunt for a few errant stalks of cilantro and slice the last vine ripened, Canadian greenhouse grown tomato I paid $1.28 / pound. In two weeks I'll be awash in red fruit. The last addition to The Mess is chopped, smoked pork shoulder. With two slices of bread, Amish butter and this summer's strawberry jam I'm set for breakfast.

I have nothing to read. Dawn left for work;I finished the novel Made in the USA by Billie Letts and will return the book about an Amish girl to the library without reading it. I gave it to the Amish last week hoping that it'd be more than some romantic, slush fantasy. Titus says I should e-mail the author to see if she's ever met an Amish person. I have two choices from the downstairs bookshelves plus a notebook of my writings dated summer of 1996. The black cover has a drawing of a cat's face. Inside I title the writings Pushy. It's a naughty play on words. I want to be entertained. I do not want to examine my own writing. I reject Memory Babe-the book about Jack Kerouac. It's too ironic for me. Kerouac, the founding father of the beat generation dies in Florida from the classic alcoholic's disease- Chronic Esophageal Varices. After 26 blood transfusions, he bleeds to death because the lining of his throat is so damaged from alcohol. Aha! I find Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. One of my top ten favorites. As I savor my mocha coffee, I read the prologue-again. Thirty years as a teacher in NYC, teacher of the year in 1976 and three best selling novels written after retiring from teaching, he's my hero. It brings me to the focus of this post.

While blanching snow and sugar snap peas I listen to the radio. The Milwaukee Public Schools fare terribly on national testing norms for black children. While the white kids score at or around national norms, black kids are consistently lower on reading and math. The Wisconsin superintendent of Public Instruction says that scores for black children are higher than previous test scores. He's disappointed with current results. I consider writing about my first four year tour of duty in the inner city.

The school I begin as an intern-teacher is on the fringe of the downtown area. I've never set foot in a public school. I have a college degree in Political Science/Pre-Law and summer graduate courses in Education. In the fall I'm placed in the classroom. I'm in a national program called the Teacher Corps. I have a master-teacher next door. His advice, " don't smile until spring and hit 'em if they misbehave". This is the fall of 1970. Now, you understand why I smile when Frank McCourt tells about almost getting fired on his first day. A student throws a sandwich at him. McCourt is surprised, perhaps stunned. Then in a move that is pure creative genius, he retrieves the sandwich and eats in front of the class. Paraphrasing his remarks, he tells the student to tell mom it was the best sandwich he's ever eaten. A tense situation is resolved. Both kid and teacher are off the hook. The kid brings more sandwiches for McCourt.

I'll spare you stories of "dusting off children", of kids who tried to bite me, incompetent instructors, new teachers struck dumb with terror, muggings, robberies, murder, principals who hid in their office, principals who kept a bottle in their desk, a principal I helped remove from school who ignored a knifing threat on the bus, my own encounter with a student who put his hand inside his coat and threatened to blow me away while I calmly walk back toward the school building hoping that I wouldn't feel the bullet if I didn't see him pull the trigger. Now, you know why I have nightmares. Memorable, happy times are equally impressive. On Valentine's Day a female student hands me a Valentine with a heart on the front. Inside it says, hand written by her:

"You are so, I don't know what." I take it as a compliment. I'm beyond description. It's true. Ask my wife. There's only one like me. I wish my children would realize that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mom's Cooking

She's six feet tall. Large for an fiftyish woman with gray hair. Her husband is shorter than she, quiet and unassuming. They're simple people with simple lives. They get up at 5 am and take a walk around the neighborhood. After a sparse breakfast of organic cereal and raw milk, they both go to work. They've lived in the same neighborhood for twenty years, renting an apartment. The first apartment was on the ground floor. The landlord lived in the upstairs flat. He was elderly and German. They nicknamed him The Kaiser for infrequent outbursts of temper over small things : leaving the front lawn grass grow too tall or not shoveling the sidewalk immediately after a snowstorm. These people need names. Let's call her, Angela. Her husband is Mick. Angela has a multitude of food allergies. This leads to a life long interest in organic food. She's worked at a variety of menial jobs but cooks organic meals on the side as a specialty for selected customers. Angela prints up a business card. She names the business, Mostly Organic Meals giving it the acronym of Mom's cooking. I've known them for years. Living three hours away limits our contact. Being frugal and unassuming, the variety of electronic gadgets available to consumers are as foreign to them as a Cuisinart to the Amish. They watch only one TV program a week, more if there is something interesting on public television. They have a phone and an answering machine which warns telemarketers to take them off their call list. They don't need a cell phone.

Sometimes, I'll be thinking of them as I work in the garden. I'll call and pretend I'm a salesperson asking for the lady of the house. That riles Angela until I identify myself. Mick has a wry sense of humor. Liberal in their politics, they support a variety of Fair Trade, Green and eco-friendly organizations. Goodness exudes from them. We first met when I ran a trading post downtown. The American Indian is one of their interests. The other is a grandchild in Minneapolis. They have no pets. Their lives are singularly focused on simplicity and purity.

We've assembled at our house for a trip. Angela brings along five pounds of bananas and an assortment of other fruit. "You have a problem with constipation?" I ask. Our cat comes in from hunting outdoors. She grabs him roughly and begins to clean his paws. He struggles. Normally, he doesn't allow anyone to touch his feet. As she continues to wipe at his rear paws with a paper towel, I feel anger welling up inside. "Leave my cat alone," I tell her. Then I start yelling. "Never touch my cat." That's when I wake up.

The bedroom clock, which is 7 minutes fast, says it's after six. The Pooch has been quiet all night. He came in early without any coaching or yelling. I feed him raw hamburger which he ignores. As we watch an episode of Burn Notice, he jumps on the back of the couch. He buries his nose in the cover over the couch. Dawn says he's favoring his right eye. I don't see anything obvious in his eye. I walk in the bathroom and prepare a warm compress. He won't allow me to keep the compress over his eye and tolerates only gentle smoothing of the eye with the wet, warm towel. The confrontation with Angela in the dream says I'm touchy about my cat.

Worried about him all night, I get up and find him sitting in the north window overlooking the garden. He issues a short high mew, his way of saying "Hi" and jumps down. As I walk back to the bedroom he follows me and jumps on the bed. I sit there dumbly waiting to wake up. He moves over into my lap and I pet his head and the back of his neck. He knows how to purr but if he's really happy, he grunts. I walk downstairs and make mooching noises for him to follow. He begins his morning routine.

First he goes to his bowl of dry food. If he could talk he say, "I might as well eat something before I go outside. Might be a long time before the next meal." I hear him in his litter box in the basement as I make coffee. The windows are open and it's chilly inside the house. I grab a sweatshirt, open the back door and The Pooch follows me outside. We both stand on the driveway taking note of early morning in the country. Crows are upset. They are cawing and arguing down at the portion of the river a mile away. In a willow tree by the segment of the Kickapoo which is 100 yards from the east fence line, a swarm of blackbirds is nosily roosting. When they take off their wings make a sudden flutter of wind. A woodpecker, probably a large one, works at dead bugs in the remaining silver maple in the front field. A good portion of the leaves on the south side are dry and brown. 30 foot high flames from the burn pile underneath singed them. I cleared the area of weeds around the stump of the evil maple tree that fell in our garden and lit the pile of pine branches, old lumber and cardboard. Now we have an excellent cleared area for another compost pile. The one in the rear yard is too far away from the garden and completely overgrown with pumpkin vines.

The Pooch sits patiently at my feet. His nose twitches occasionally. His ears rotate at each distinct morning sound. The yard light over the garage glows since the cloud cover is dense this morning. Two solar lights in the garden, gifts from Ella and Del, pulse red and green. I'm thinking of cilantro on eggs for breakfast, but when I reach the herb garden, the plants have been cut back. Dawn cut and froze fresh cilantro on Sunday. The Pooch digs a hole in the soft soil between the sweet corn rows, while I walk to the red potato patch for the short pitch fork we use in digging potatoes. I dig at the front of the Kennebec patch. The vines are tall and healthy. Supposedly 90 days until maturity, these spuds are well past that mark. I'm concerned that I over fertilised the plot causing extensive vine growth and small potatoes. There is no indication that the vines are dying off. My first stab with the pitch fork is well clear of the base of the vines. In the past, eagerness on my part leads to speared potatoes which are difficult to clean. The second stab near the base of the vines with the fork almost vertical yields six potatoes. Three are small, two the size of a baseball and one tiny ping pong.

The Pooch follows me back toward the house as I walk along the deck, checking the live trap. Dawn tells me she hears high pitched trilling at night, which I interpret as a female raccoon with pups. The trap is empty. I tell the Pooch I'm going in for breakfast. He glances back at me two or three times. When I reach the back door, he lopes towards the house, He 's ready for breakfast.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Scoffing , Pickled Onions & Wet Feet

Six days is a long time to be off. I wasn't really off, just busy. Chop wood, carry water.

Summertime and the livin' is easy... The person who wrote that is the same dude who rides a motorcycle down highway 131 on weekends. "Where do they get all that free time?" I wanted a motorcycle at one time. I didn't have thousands of dollars to squirrel away on a bike. Then, a friend told me what it was like to slide down the pavement in a motorcycle accident and first watch the leather and then your skin get eaten away by concrete. The image stayed with me. I settled for a Puch mini bike. It didn't add to my macho image.

Number two son( birth designation, not importance) drives three hours to work like a dog over the fourth of July. We set another endurance record: most splitting wood- 7 hours straight. The wood shed is full. I add an old door lying on its side at the front to keep the split oak, hickory and black locust from spilling out. He also helps mow, pick snow and sugar snap peas and too many other tasks to enumerate. We fed him steak, fresh potato salad, organic veggies, homemade sausage and scrambled eggs with Amish buttermilk.

I'm waiting on the canner. I've got four quarts of small onions due for a 20 minute water bath. The Pooch is taking an afternoon nap in Dawn's studio. He's been busy also. In three days he catches two rats and the an assortment of mice. I forgive him for an occasional bird he drops off in the garage. He's really pumped up about being outside and hunting. I bring him inside early one evening because Dawn says she hears grunting noises from nocturnal carousers outside the bedroom window on hot nights when the windows are propped open. Here's where the scoffing(on my part) comes in. Dawn teaches the Pooch to open the door by himself. He can barely reach the storm door handle when he's fully stretched. I scoff. Then, watching a movie, we hear the Pooch running at the door and jumping at the handle. He performs this twice. I get up and close the inside door. I no longer scoff. The little bugger is too smart for his britches.

Snow peas and sugar snap peas will bury us in a green avalanche. I eat the sugar snaps raw while I'm working the field. The pickled onions are the result of last minute weeding in the 10X80 foot onion patch. A few get caught while pulling up weeds. The small guys are saved for pickling and the bigger ones go in the drying tent. Approximately 25% have fallen over. In a week I'll pull the entire patch. Otherwise, critters in the soil take a liking to a sweet onion. The first of the cabbages are ready. Dawn and I will make Kim Chee later today. Dawn grimaces when I say we need to pick cabbage, "because they're bigger than your head." Red potatoes are resting before the big dig. The Kennebec's-the Maine staple- have been out there since Good Friday. That's over 90 days. They keep pumping up. Nightly rains and rainfall last Wednesday are a Godsend.

When it rains, I work in the kitchen on a slow remodeling project. It's the only time the Amish cabinet maker can take off from work around the farm. We install an island and the last of two cabinets that had to be reworked. Drywall finishing is next. Then, the next time it rains all day, Titus and I will be nailing trim and molding. His young son comes along as a gopher. The kid enjoys my Gary Larson cartoon books especially The Chickens Are Restless.

In the morning we're fogged in because cold moist air settles in the valleys. On a trip to the Amish across the ridge tops, the valley bottoms are white with fog. It looks like the fake snow you put around a Christmas tree. The Pooch and walk walk barefoot before nine a.m.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A purple finch family visits the half orange filled with grape jelly adjacent to the hummingbird feeder. First Dad and the kid, then Mom and kid and finally the finchlette boldly sneaks up to the orange for a sweet taste of grape. At eight in the morning we're fogged in, typical for a July 5th. Cold air settles in the coulees. As the sun rises higher in the east, it'll clear. Today is my mother's birthday. She would have been 100. Everyone save for serial killers thinks their mother is special. Mine was a saint.

She first learned to drive when she was forty something. She had two masters degrees and taught high school for 43 years. After retirement she went back as a substitute. Substitute teaching for one who taught in a working class neighborhood of Milwaukee's south side was an awakening. Fires in the classroom, unruly students who cursed her under their breath-this only a sample from the east side high school designated as university prep in Milwaukee's feeble attempt to bring up the standards of public education in a highly segregated city.

She raised me as a single mother. In her days she could have been burned at the stake and tortured for being a single parent. To keep her status as a teacher, she boarded me with a Polish family on Milwaukee's west side at $50 a month. She kept her maiden name, yet lived a double identity teaching English literature and visiting me weekly. She made sure I visited the dentist, kept routine doctor appointments and provided me with everything I needed.

When I was older I asked her to tell me about my father and the circumstances surrounding my birth. I knew it was a painful time in her life. My grandparents didn't approve of my father. I asked her to put it in a letter if she felt more comfortable than a face to face, emotionally draining
experience. The letter went on for 44 pages. I was aghast. Rather than read it, I did one of the most regrettable things in my life. I asked her to condense the original document. She did. Two handwritten pages on lined school paper. Forty four pages of her life and my early beginning are somewhere in a landfill.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Friday, July 3, 2009


click on image for larger view

The focus for this blog: life in a rural area of the Driftless region of Wisconsin. Our house is a refurbished schoolhouse, originally just two rooms, if you count the basement classroom with a "boys" and "girls" toilet and the upstairs. It is all that's left of the town of Kickapoo Center. To the north, just under two miles, is a small town known for an annual horse and colt show. My first visit to this burg was an impression of a ghost town. There's the post office, a co-op that's usually closed, a branch bank and a tiny convenience store/gas station. There were other businesses that moved away or were demolished in a tornado in 2005. Oh yes, there's the required tavern. This one, called a saloon, is located in a building damaged but not demolished by the tornado.

To the south, six miles away-another town of 300+ residents. There are two bars. When the owner of one of the bars dies from muriatic acid fumes he was using to clean a toilet, a new owner comes in and remodels the decrepit building. I have yet to stop in the place which advertises burgers and beer and "Welcome Bikers!" Late one night two men get into an argument outside the place. One dies from the savage beating he received. The killer beat his opponent's head on the concrete into unconsciousness. Across the street is another bar, seldom open. It is remodeled from the proceeds of a lawsuit in which the owner sued and won a lawsuit for malpractice. The town librarian owned the bar years ago after her husband retired from dairy farming. It was a family place. Food and music were featured. It wasn't uncommon for the owners to escort a patron home after drinking too much. The now eighty-two year old librarian raised six children working late into the night at the bar. Recently headlines in the local paper tell of one of the residents who drowns in the Kickapoo. At first foul play is suspected. Then it is determined that a high level of alcohol in his bloodstream led him to fall or swim in the Kickapoo. His lungs were filled with water.
I write of the antics of a gray tabby cat who wandered onto our place on a sub-zero February night. He's my best friend. He's my only friend, not counting my wife. Without him, my life would be even more isolated. My wife and I are artists, farmers and caregivers. I gave up a life of teaching and went on to a ten year stint as a peddler, then to furniture maker, truck farmer, poet, writer, dreamer, traveler, sausage maker and chief cook and bottle washer-all in my spare time.

There are three levels of community in the area. Dawn picks up a local free paper that highlights activities and businesses of one. Green building, homeopathic medicine, natural foods and enlightened activities. I've had frequent association with this level of community and identify strongly with many of their principles and philosophy. We practice organic farming techniques. Preserving the natural beauty and pure environment is important to us. Too often, I find a certain air of aloofness from these people. The local townsfolk, strong family-centered individuals who have lived here a lifetime label these folks as Ridgers. It's an abbreviation of the name of the local Waldorf school.

The locals-farmers with a parochial, conservative lifestyle, emigres from large cities, people who work local businesses and retirees make up the second level. My neighbors and Dawn and I fit into this category. They're nice people, aloof for the most part. I'm not aloof.

The Amish are a third component. I identify and have the most interaction with them. They are hard working and honest. They have taught me how to be more self sufficient, something imbued in my character by second generation Polish foster parents and my own personal make-up. I grew carrots in hard-scrabble soil in suburban Milwaukee when I was twelve. At age 29 I moved my wife and one child into a tent in rural Trempeleau County. We had no running water or electricity. It was a grand experiment, fleeing from inner city Milwaukee. Like the four year stint at the downtown elementary school, I burned out on too much sameness. After a year, we moved back to the city. It took me 30 years to find Kickapoo Center.

I almost burned out here, too. I go on stretches of frenetic activity outdoors, keeping five acres mowed, cultivated,watered, repaired and pleasant to my eye. Winter, especially the winter of 2008, seems to be a constant struggle against the elements. Please don't write me of changing my attitude. I have a plan for this winter, thanks to my Amish friends. Daily I freeze, can and dehydrate the goodness of the summer into glass canning jars and plastic freezer bags. I learn new things everyday.

A cartoon in a free paper distributed in the large town eight miles away features an editorial cartoon. The cartoonist shows an Amish family scooping up horse apples in the shadow of a huge, patched, leaking liquid manure slurry vat. The title: Nutty But True. The caption: "... officials take Amish to task for horse apples on streets while county board ignores call for environmental impact study of factory farms." CAFO's, an acronym for a proposed huge ( 3000+) cattle containment farm just outside Viroqua poses a real threat to the community in many ways. The least of which is the odor. Just east of highway 14 is a small Christian Academy. Gossip says that the owner of the proposed CAFO owns the land for the Christian Academy. Image recess time when a damp west wind blows across the playground. Rent the HBO DVD version of a NPR series of the same name-"This American Life" which has a segment on pig farms, genetic engineering and pork production on a macro scale. It'll change your attitude about pork, food processing,and mass marketing of food.

I have been too isolated, too long.