Friday, July 3, 2009


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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.

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