Sunday, August 29, 2010

Muttering Incongorous Non Sequiturs


This morning I Googled Monty Roberts-the man who listens to horses, Hastings Harcourt and Cecil Adams. I had to find out if Hastings Harcourt appears in Wikipedia. This member of the book publishing family figured prominently in the Horse Whisper's first book. He was bi-polar and rich. What a great combo.

Cecil Adams writes a column that first appeared in the Chicago Reader answering arcane questions from readers. The real lyrics to the song Louie Louie. What the name Esso stands for (SO-Standard Oil) and so on. The NWS wouldn't give me the local weather for Charleston,SC. When I rechecked my spelling making sure I had the comma in the right place this afternoon, it turns out their weather is better than ours. Charleston-high of 88, low of 70 with 59% humidity. Lacrosse area weather right now is 88 with a low around 60. Humidity is 65%. It also appears that we have no weather. The map of the SW corner of the state is without hazardous weather warnings, flood watches, air quality alerts, tornado watches. Nada, nothing. No shaded colored areas marking special weather statements. Oh wow.

The picture illustrates what I've been doing lately. I dig potatoes until my back complains, haul a cardboard box ( not the ones in the picture but a larger one with handles that holds fifty pounds of spuds) in the wheelbarrow. I wear a large brimmed straw hat like the Amish wear. It's not as cooling as I would like but it saves another trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for skin cancer surgery. Three trips today, 100 pounds yesterday, 150 pounds on Friday and I still haven't dug up all the Kennebec potatoes. The heat drove me inside. Yesterday's cool breeze enabled me to cut corn stalks to decorate for fall. I'll postpone any more work until after 6 this evening.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Horse Story

I couldn't find a picture of a horse. You'll have to settle.

Cast of Characters
Johann: friend and neighbor. He lives in a one room cabin
Jorge: Former cop and city councilman
Dawn: my wife. has never seen an actual dawn
Tinny:former town chairman
Garold: former town chairman's wife

"So, how much did Tinny want for the water tank?" I ask Johann. Without hesitation or wonder how I knew he was spotted on the side of the highway looking at the large round white plastic water tank on a hay wagon, he responds, "Fifty."
"But he has a horse for sale for one hundred and fifty."

Not one to pass up a deal, I tell Johann over the phone, "Let's go take a look at the horse."
Mandy and I are sitting on the gate waiting for Johann to drive down our lane. She spots his new, used gray Nissan truck turning onto our road. Johann bought the truck for a song after the owner hit a deer. He pulled out the smashed grill, fixed various broken engine and grill parts to get it running and promptly hit another deer two weeks later. Now he's got a monster truck with clutch problems and a Nissan pickup with a mangled face. Johann starts driving his tractor to Pat's Bar or to the Quickstop. Two weeks of barn painting and window repairing nets Johann enough cash for a Toyota bumper from Miller's junkyard down the road. To fix the hood latch, which is beyond repair, he adds two chrome plated gizmos kids put on their souped up modified customized cars complete with chrome cotter pins that slip through eye bolts on the latch. Normally there's a length of cable attached to the cotter pin. The fan for the radiator is controlled by a switch connected to a length of wire coiled under the hood. If Johann is driving hills he has to manually turn the switch on. "One of these days I'll mount it on the dashboard," he says.

We switch from Johann's truck to my car. "I can move some of this junk," he says. I know he's always hurting for gas money, so I wave off the offer. Mandy jumps in back of my car. When we get to Tinny's place, I pull up in the shade. A black and white dog greets us. Garold is hauling dirt with a bicycle wheel cart. I'm surprised how much room Tinny has in the back yard. From the highway, it looks like a mobile home with an attached Amish log cabin. A two car garage blocks any further view.

Garold walks up and volunteers to get Tinny who's inside taking a nap. Johann and I walk toward a lean-to wit a Haflinger horse standing in the shade. The horse walks between an open gate and electric fence to greet us. His long face is covered with swarming flies. Both Johann and I pat his face and chase off the flies. Jake shakes his head when Johann tussles his ears. "Don't like your ears touched," Johann says to the horse. He's unshod with solid hooves. He looks a bit paunchy.

The former town chairman comes out of the mobile home dressed in bib overalls, sunglasses and a feed cap. He unwraps a stick of gum and slowly dissolves it in his mouth. We trade doctor stories to warm things up. Tinny's recovering from a bout of throat cancer and heart problems. His late night encounters with the medical staff at the local hospital are fodder for a night club comedian.

Tinny learns that calling in advance to the ER to alert them you're coming in is a bad practice. Six staff members laugh and joke outside the room while he's waiting for treatment. A staffer inside the ER room grimaces when Tinny in a fit of pure pissed-off holds down the call button and the six scofflaws rush into the room. "I've been here for ages. Am I going to see a doctor," he says. The staffer tells him that he should call 911 and be taken by ambulance to the hospital. He'll get better attention. He does this several times over the long Wisconsin winter when it looks like his heart is going to quit. On one occasion they offer to med-evacuate him via helicopter. He declines.

The $150 price for the Haflinger is the "kill price". It's what he'd get to have a knacker come to get the horse for dog food. Tinny says, "I'd be lying to tell you that I know how old the horse is. " I ask him to lie to us. " About seven years old." The horse hasn't been worked for over a year. We're referred to the Patriarch's brother who worked him late in the fall. If we want, there's brand new set of harnesses for sale at $300 made by an Amish man in Cashton. The Patriarch's brother warned Tinny that he didn't have the arm strength to drive the horses. That pretty well ended his dreams of working a Haflinger horse.

Johann and I drive off to the Amish farm to talk to the Patriarch. Johann says he could drive to town in a buggy. He has a friend who'll give him all the hay the horse can eat. Parts of Johann's two acres have open field he could work Jake. "The whole idea is pretty green to me, " Johann says. I can't agree more. The sound of horse hooves over the highway always catches my attention. I'll stand watching a buggy pass and wonder what it was like in the days before automobiles. Life was much slower in those times.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


A Note From Newton Ulm, an old fogey.

Since I cleared off my desktop to perform a computerectomy and replace the modem, I haven't had easy access to a dictionary or my Oxford English etymology. This morning I search the bookshelf on the east wall to find out the origin of the word fogey as in old fogey. The Oxford etymology allows the addition of the (e) but the spell checker doesn't. Screw the spell checker.

First, kids, we'll look at the etymology of cynic. The Greek philosopher Diogenes thought dogs"were extremely moral and intelligent and even adopted the nickname Cyon which means Dog.*
*How Dogs Think by Stanley Coren.

Diogenes and his followers became known by the nickname as "Cynics" or "Dog Thinkers", again both the information and the quotation marks are from Coren. I'm big on dog thinking. Mandy and I spend fair amounts of time-me talking to her and she doing some serious listening. I'm getting better at reading her body language since her only English language word is Roof.

So at the risk of being labeled an old fog(e)y I'm giving you my take on some of the newest trends (nice word for fad). I could be complaining about the weather and mosquitoes, so bear with me.

Facebook. My neighbor in Arizona rented a home in Colorado for a month to be closer to his grandkids. The woman who owned the home put him on Facebook for reasons that were puzzling to Buster(a nickname for my neighbor). When I noticed he was on Facebook, I called and asked about the startling event. After his retirement from securities fraud investigation he limits his time on computer to e-mail. His answer was something akin to, "I have no idea. Do you know how to get me off?" As far as a literary vehicle Facebook rivals Little Lulu comic books from my youth. Number one son uses Facebook to let people know which bar he's bellying up to after work. I get requests from Artie Shaw to be my friend. "Well, Artie. I thought you were dead." My local sandwich shop is on Facebook and Yahoo or some other news source says that North Korea has a Facebook page. Most of the information posted there is short, one liners that would be better served in an e-mail. I can imagine a post on the Facebook wall for North Korea,"Hey dudes, what's the word ?"

E-mail. It's like talking to my wife. She reports to me that she's going to start the potatoes. We were discussing canning tomato sauce. I'm puzzled why she wants to can potatoes. We usually store them in the basement or garage. "Oh, I meant tomatoes," she says after I grumble, "What the hell?" There is so much unsaid in e-mail. Inflection, intention and communication are severely affected. I get e-mails that I'd like to make comments about. I know I'll only get in trouble because my sentiments in e-mail will, too, be distorted and will be labeled terse or worse. Self absorbed daughter wrote this comment after I did a blog post about our new puppy," Oh no, you got a dog." Yeay? This comment makes me really happy. ...And with all the rage for texting, e-mail has gone the way of writing a letter. How R U ? I M OK. You'd better watch out or the portion of the brain designed to communicate will become shriveled and we'll be back to grunts and Oofs like prehistoric man.

YouTube, Twitter, Blogging. More literary nightmares. I've been considering giving up blogging because the venue is so compromised. It's not exactly a place to discuss deep thoughts, develop characters or explore the realms of the mind. Anything put up in a public forum is open to attack, ridicule or worse, comment.

A daily newspaper reports on a nude bike ride in the state capitol to focus awareness on using bicycles more often. I'd be the first to jump on my mountain bike if some comely nude maiden were to ride with me. The newspaper also allows comments by readers. One young lady hoping to avoid arrest paints the upper portion of her body to appear as if she's clothed. An overzealous policeman knocks her off her bike, tosses her in the back seat of the patrol car and according to the woman, oogles her repeatedly refusing her request and her boyfriend's urgings to allow her to put a shirt on. I'm amazed that the newspaper printed a pornographic comment by a reader about the event. Those words shall not pass these lips.

The problem:TIME. No one has time for retrospection, reflection and good old fashioned complete sentences. I'm the first to admit that I'm time compromised. If it weren't for the hordes of mosquitoes and dense fog on this Sunday morning at 8:30 am I'd be working outside. I realized this when my daughter e-mailed me a short HOWAREYA ? I cut and pasted an entry from a recent post and sent it off with the web address of the blog, reminding her she is still listed as a follower. I followed with a promise to write a personal note. She wrote back with an explanation that looking at a computer screen all day at work isn't much incentive to go home and do the same.

I know people who don't own a computer. Some are younger than me. The weatherman promises that the fog will burn off and we'll be having a beautiful Sunday. The Pooch just knocked a pen off the desk top and is showing Mandy a few tricks about writing without an opposable thumb. The other side of the french door for Dawn's studio is on a worktable in the garage awaiting another coat of polyurethane. Maybe Prairie Home Companion will have a live program on the repeat broadcast Sunday mornings. Maybe I'll go for a nude bike ride. Mandy wants me to play with her bunny. Wow, so much to do. So little time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mares At Night

My early morning reverie is disturbed by a nightmare. I know what it means and I don't like the information any more than when I lived the nightmare with my first wife and her ugly, alcoholic parents. I didn't realize how deeeply affected I was by the short and fat Lt.Col(retired) and his schoolteacher, cigarette smoking martini drinking wife.

So I get up despite the darkness and early hour. I'm puzzled that the puppyis very quiet tonight. The cat paid his visit, curling up next to my calves and vigorously washing his ears. After padding around the first floor, turning off the TV that my wife forgot to shut down and looking out the kitchen window, Mandy appears on the stairs. She'd been sleeping in the "futon" room and I didn't know it.

After answering several e-mails to my daughter whom I'd neglected by copying an earlier post to this blog and sending it off as a reply with a short note whining how busy I am, I walk outside in the early morning light. Except for a few buzzing crickets the silence is deadening. On a Saturday at 5:30 am no one is speeding down the highway to get to work. The fog would put an end to any speeding, anyway. It shrouds everything but the foreground.

The cat quickly ducks down under the garbage can platform next to the garage. A single bat flies back and forth in the backyard. The bat finds a perch at the top of the shutter on the bathroom window and slips behind the hollow shutter back. Something's not right and the bat reemerges from the shutter dipping and swooping through the back yard. The flight pattern above the grass tops gets the cat's attention.

To protect myself from mosquitoes I slip on a yellow plastic rain slicker. The plastic is cold against my bare back. I know they'll not bite through the fabric. Still, they hover around my face. A few slip inside the house when I hold the door open for a meandering cat and a distracted dog. Pouring coffee over the sink, I set down my cup to swat.

Yesterday, Mandy and I are trapped in the car. We're parked in front of the library. I roll down the window to wave at Diane inside the building. In the short time the window is at half mast, the armrest and Mandy are wet with rain. The dog stares out the front window until condensation fogs the glass. An occasional rumble of thunder makes her ears stand straight up. The library is closed over the weekend. I'm returning movies and a book, hoping to replace it with the real life story of Monty Roberts. In Nicholas Evans fictional book, The Horse Whisperer, Monty was one of the horse resource persons. The gist of the book is that for 6000 years horses have been misunderstood and often mistreated. Roberts has a gift for reading horse body language from hours, days and weeks of observing them.

I'm intrigued because of the correlation I make with dogs. As another misunderstood animal, dogs are frequently cooped up, tied up, chained, beaten and ignored by people who treat them as dumb animals.

When the rain subsides, I hurry Mandy inside. She runs over to various people at the computers who reflexively reach down to pat her on the head. Before I can say hello, I'm handed a book. "It fell off the shelf and we took it as an omen." The title of the book is How Dogs Think. Mandy continues to greet people several of which she regards as friends by putting her paws on the knees and slurping them behind the ear. The head librarian offers her a Fig Newton. "Where's my Fig Newton," I whine. "The dog gets better treatment than me," I say.

Friday, August 20, 2010

When the early morning fog predicts another muggy humid day, it's hard to get going. The dog is lying on the carpet behind me groaning. When Dawn left for work, Mandy sat at the top of the short flight of steps to the back entrance moping. She's tired and logy. El Gatto, who's lying on the cutting board table that serves as my computer work table, keeps Mandy up nights. I take a moment to sit on a step and talk to my buddy. Her eyes droop. I avoid the promise of a R*I*D*E because she doesn't understand the concept of later. The rustle of my keys, the clink of her rabies shot tag when I grab her collar and other movements I make, like swooping up the milk jug or an snatching an empty carton of eggs is all the information she needs.

The hill to the east looks like a huge dark thunderhead as I walk down the steps early this morning. The sun behind the hill, fog and patchy puffs of white cumulus clouds add to the surreal effect. The LED clocks on the stove, coffee maker and microwave read 6:21. "O'Migosh it's 7:27," Dawn says as I rub sleep out of my eyes and walk to the north windows. She sets her alarm clock 5 minutes fast in a delusional way and misreads the time.

The tomato sauce in the 12 quart stainless steel pot is ready to be canned. It's been simmering for three days, off and on, when I run errands or work outside. My wooden spoon test-putting the spoon in the sauce to determine if it stands straight up without falling over-says it's ready. Last night I diced a small bulb of Johann's garlic and added kosher salt to finish it off. This morning at breakfast I put the sauce to the taste test. Amish noodles, fresh Italian sausage and a heavy blanket of Parmesan cheese form the base of which I ladle large plastic spoonfuls across the pasta and meat. It's a nice respite from the 19 ways to cook potatoes at breakfast. Mind you, I'm not complaining. It's just the way things work here on Blackbird farm. Two weeks ago, it was sweet corn . I'm jumping between harvests. Jalapenos are deep fried, sliced and chopped fine for mealtime. I slice a huge Pink Girl tomato, cutting away oozing parts and insect damage to make one nice slice on a ham and cheese sandwich. Turnips, fresh carrots, small round potatoes, red onions form the blanket around a shoulder roast in the slow cooker. Dawn checks the sauerkraut daily in the cool basement. I turned the humidifier in the basement down to 3, hoping to increase the humidity for the new potatoes stored on and under the laundry drying table. I'm half way through restacking firewood in the wood bin so that I can shovel out wood middlings from past woodpiles that are damp from seepage after the record rain and resultant near flood. The Air Wick deodorizers help ward off the musty smell.

Yesterday's workload was a self imposed sentence of brutality. I've been watching an invasive vine slowly form an impenetrable mass over the tops of the red dogwood planted along the north fence line when we first moved in this place. Initially the dogwood began as a hundred feet row of 12-18 inch sticks. There was ample room between the barbed wire fence and the mulched dogwood plants to allow me to mow grass between barb wire fence and bush. With double the normal rainfall this year, the grass disappeared and nine foot tall spiky weeds shut the door on mowing between fence and bushes. The dogwood grew to over 8 feet. Weeds grow tall and lush on the hill between the barb wire fence leading up to the state highway, an area I first took a brush hog and clear cut. I found our chimney cap blown off in a windstorm and other debris and kept it mowed for three years until the cost of time and gas grew unworkable. The varmint vines climbed the tall weeds and leaped the gap between highway berm and fence, forming a canopy over the dogwood.

I use a garden rake to pull off bunches of the vines from the tops of the dogwood. Eight piles like miniature haystacks lay on the grass on the garden side of the dogwood. Armed with my Colombian jungle machete, I swing wildly at the base of the brittle weeds. Starting at 10 am I finish clear cutting weeds and removing vines after noon. Several times I don't see the iron fence posts holding the barbed wire and dent the machete. Going back to the garage workshop, I resharpen the blade and guzzle any liquid I can find that's not going to give me brain freeze. The dog spends her time digging for moles in the grass. The cat inspects the cleared area for mice and rodents until I shoo him away. The last task is to spear the vines with my pitch fork and like the Amish stacking hay in the field, I walk to the low area at the east fence line and toss the vines into the marshy area. There are branches, compost and garden waste forming a large pile on the low spot of the berm. Rocks I found in the area that is now the garden, I piled around the silver maples near the shed. Once the weather has worn down the trash, I'll move the rock pile to form another protective shield between us and the treacherous river.

The decision after lunch is "to shower or not to take a shower". I'm dirty, sweating and smelly from insect repellent and vanilla. I eye the woodpile next to our driveway. Weeds have grown up around the box elder I cut up after the tree fell on the driveway during a rainstorm in July. The kids inspect the area daily, which leads me to believe there are varmints living in the wood pile. Carefully, I stack small limbs on the gate of the truck. I roll bigger logs onto the driveway. A small grass snake slithers under one log. Since I'll be mowing the area with the push mower, I warn the snake that it'd be safer to live elsewhere. He doesn't listen and crawls into tall grass when I've moved all the logs off the bare patch of lawn.

Any mowing I perform lately involves keeping an eye out for leopard frogs, toads and snakes. All are important insect predators. The sight of a mangled animal after a pass of the riding mower, saddens me. When I hand mow the weeds next to the wood pile, I move slowly to give the baby snake ample time to get away. My last task is to test a large log. I want to see how dry the wood has become in the course of a month. I have three wedges, a 16 pound maul and another sixteen pound splitting axe. The splitting axe barely makes a dent into the log. I slowly tap a small wedge into the wood and wail on it with the sixteen pound sledge hammer. It sinks to the top of the triangle shaped wedge. The wood doesn't budge. I add another small wedge and perform the same operation, It goes in half way without any splitting or cracking of wood. I call in the monster wedge. It, too, sinks half way in the wood before it refuses to budge. I take full swinging arcs with the sledge hammer, using all the force I can muster. Nothing, but drops of water seeping from the side of the wedge. Now I have a dilemma. Three wedges stuck. I turn the log sideways off the flat side and roll it back to the pile hoping no one will see the mess I've made. Tomorrow, I'll get the chainsaw and delicately try to free the imprisoned wedges.

I grab a beer from the mini refrigerator in the summer kitchen and cool off in the house slurping cold gulps of Milwaukee Special Reserve. I can't wait until winter.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gaggle, Herd or Flock?

Mowing the backyard last Friday evening, a bunch of dragonflies swarmed over the area. They floated, swooped and soared across the area that used to be our original garden. Thanks to loads of manure and organic fertilizer the grass is lush and long. "Bunch"is a poor descriptive term. There were hundreds of the insects. I hoped they were gobbling mosquito's and flies as they moved over the area. Downloading the photo of the flock, I notice the dragonflies look like spots on the sunset shot of the south fence line. I tell myself this is the reason I don't stop during the work day to take a picture of an unusual event. They never translate well in a digital image.

Each day is a different harvest. The cooler weather allows for longer work periods. This third day of a russet spud dig, I'll be dumping another 100 lbs of potatoes on a table in the garage workshop for sorting and inspecting. The wheelbarrow is full with culls that I hope to slice, dice, quarter and blanch before freezing. Bordering on obsessiveness, I won't throw out potatoes that can be salvaged in spite of a four hundred pound russet harvest, a hundred pounds of reds and Yukon golds and an awaiting Kennebec harvest that may top last year's five hundred pound record. Dawn wants me to hang a for sale sign at the entrance of our lane. Mostly I look for people who'd appreciate some good organic potatoes like my friends at the library.

The cooler weather and earlier sunsets foretell the close of summer. Last Sunday's flood waters have receded leaving behind muddy fields. Unable to mow portions of the front field yesterday because the ground is still saturated, I concentrate on spot mowing high grass and blowing dried grass off to the edges. For the past two days, the Amish patriarch's brother and two helpers drive by in an open carriage. The click clack of horse hooves on the highway is a reminder of simpler times.

Occasionally, I'll pick up the Pooch, our cat, to remind him that he's just as special as the attention grabbing dog. We listen for the rustle in the shutters at dusk and he's wide eyed in wonder when a bat escapes from behind the bathroom window shutter. I think he knows he occupies top cat position in the family. I wonder if the dog and cat operate as a team when Mandy jumps up on the bed at 5:30 am and he waits outside the bedroom door. Before I can grab a pair of shorts and a shirt the two race down the stairs heading for the back door.

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Champion

The judges have decided to amend their earlier decision and have awarded the Potato Head trophy to this fellow recently unearthed after a Monday morning dig. In a statement released to the Kickapoo Free Press, Spud told reporter Uneeda B. Friendly that after the award ceremony and the presentation of the $100,000 check for best of breed, he was planning a trip to Disneyland.

Kickapoo Beach

This morning the kids follow behind me while I make a tour of the front field. In a break between potato harvest/weed removal, I'd mowed part of that 2 acre parcel. Mandy doesn't seem to mind the high, wet unmown grass, but the Pooch keeps to short grass. A crow caws off in the west. One happy cardinal whistles in the green willows by the farm lane to the river. We make the full circle stopping to check the water level on the road that leads into the 5 acre field adjacent to the river. The farmer who planted soybeans in that field will be lucky to harvest any crop now that it's under water. In a shallow depression in the far corner closest to the road, the bridge and a head high culvert under the front edge of the bridge, water collects in a miniature pond. Over the course of the summer, I've been filling the gap between the high end of the berm that separates our land from the river bottom with yard waste. The smart thing to do would be to hire the local hauler to dump back fill, that is if we had the money.In the photo above left during the 2008 flood, the demarcation between our east fence line and the lane going to the field in what was once Kickapoo Center is a white metal box that is the new telephone interface for the fiber optic system. Saturday night the river crests well over the banks toward 14.25 feet. That's 2 feet above flood stage. Measure twenty yards to the back of the picture from the telephone pole at right and you have the water level at 9 pm.

Mandy and I take advantage of a break in the thunderstorm Friday morning. Ominous black clouds morph into sheet gray. Heavy downpour subsides to mist. We make a run to the Amish farm and then to Bent and Dent for discount coffee. On the way to town for propane the torrent unleashes for another twenty minutes. Being somewhat single minded, I think nothing of the 4.5 inches of rain when I dump the rain gauge. Rain here means rain elsewhere, Dum Dum. Up stream of our narrow, treacherous twisting Kickapoo River at the town of Ontario which serves as the headquarters for the canoe outfitters for weekenders to paddle the scenic Kickapoo Reserve, the weather service records record rainfall over the course of a weather service summer(June 1 to August 31). Normal rainfall is 14 inches for Ontario. This summer it measures 24+ inches. Westby, closer to home, lands the number three spot for record rains at 21 inches.

The local service station in Viola begins evacuating cars from the parking lot and trucking away used tires stored next to the building late Friday afternoon. Johann reports that the main street of LaFarge is closed to vehicular traffic. He and a friend with a high ground clearance Toyota truck are allowed to pass through town.

Dawn notices at dusk Saturday that the marshland below our east fence line is now a muddy brown lake. It looks a bit like this picture with the exception that this is our backyard in 2008. Preparations for dinner are interrupted when Dawn comes up from the basement reporting that water is seeping up from the abandoned floor drain. After the 2008 fiasco, I installed a check valve to drain off water from the A/C system and dehumidifier while blocking any and all back flow. Dirt clogs the valve from closing completely. Armed with hoses, a sump pump and a wet/dry vac, the leaking valve is repaired. An hour later, we finish dinner and toss and turn through the night expecting the worse come morning.

The weather service forecasts that Saturday night the river will crest at 1:00 am and begin a slow downward spiral. My visual inspection on Sunday morning finds the water level forty yards closer to our fence line. In the east and north it appears that we are now lakefront property. I breathe a sigh of relief that the flood waters haven't inundated my russet potato patch. While Dawn cans jalapenos, I slather myself with sunblock/insect repellent. The russet potato potatoes were planted in a single row in an 85 foot patch. Harvesting includes removing low growing weeds that cover the dead vines. I spend two hours digging a wheelbarrow full of tubers. The bathroom scale I bring out to the garden records two boxes weighing 35 and 65 pounds respectively. There's another 300 pounds waiting for me, but lawn mowing takes priority.

Here are the 2010 award winning gnarly russet potatoes.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The masthead photo taken somewhere after 2006 shows a neat, tidy fall scene here in Kickapoo Center. Such is not the case this year. Weather is the topic of conversation wherever one goes. At the grocery store a clerk comments,"I turned the fan on in June and have never shut it off." Checking the weather map last evening, the area is under a tornado alert, a flood watch and a severe weather alert. The prospect of heavy rain during the night was a guaranteed 90%. Thankfully, the rain didn't happen.

I can't get my potatoes out. The senescent vines expose surface tubers which will turn green when the sun hits their skin. I don't see any russet vines. They are buried beneath weeds. The compost pile begun next to the silver maple stump is overgrown with eight foot tall weeds. Amazingly, an old gourd tossed on the heap sprouted. Now, the gourd vines travel over the tops of the spiky weeds. A second compost pile in the middle of the squash/pumpkin patch has disappeared under a jungle of heavy vines.

Frequent heavy rain continues. Yesterday, the morning started out pale at dawn light turning to gray black thunderclouds. At 8 AM I turn the kitchen lights on to be able to read at breakfast. I nab the cat before an impending black mass of clouds from the northeast with swirling puffs of misty clouds flowing beneath the treacherous looking mass hits us. The cat complains and heads for his cool basement bed on the laundry folding table. An hour and a half later the torrent subsides and Mandy and I jump in the car to get propane and caraway seed. In the interim I watch the downspouts for signs of clogged gutters.

On the Amish farm a new shed/carriage house is under construction. The entire family takes advantage of the break in rain to rake leaves and debris off the lawn while Dad and a hired Amish crew work under the newly completed green metal roof. A neighbor is grading one side of the earthen floor for the yet-to-be sided building. I ask about caraway seed and get puzzled looks. "You know rye bread, sauerkraut," I add. "Never heard of it," says the eldest daughter. I'm amazed.

Off to the southwest the gray,overcast sky turns black. I hope that it holds off as I drive to town to the propane dealer. Two miles down the highway, the sky opens up and unloads a torrent. When trucks pass, the windshield is flooded with wash and rain. I can't see a thing. I drop my speed to below 40 MPH. In the twenty minutes it takes to get to town the downpour trickles down to mist. Mandy is able to run the grassy strip outside the grocery store after I shop for caraway seed. On the return trip, Reads Creek on the right side of the US highway is a raging torrent. In the 2008 flood this 12 inch deep rocky creek washed away a culvert eight feet in diameter under a bridge at the sewing shop.

Later, when I check the rain gauge, I dump out four and one half inches of rainfall.

My lawn mower guy shows me three lawn tractor transmissions he's replaced because of wet, heavy grass. To the tune of $1000, I take this as a warning. Our old lawn mower with 500 hours will need coddling while the newer Husquavarna with the Kawasaki engine will sit in the shed until the last possible moment while I wait for the grass to dry. My days are filled with canning and freezing and a few stolen moments mowing 5 acres in short spurts. Mandy sits on the berm following my movements. The cat lies under the truck waiting for the noise to subside.
Bats swarm, swallows swoop low over the garden and the hummingbirds are bulking up for the flight south.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yes ?
What do you want ?
Blink of the right eye.
Do you want to go out ?
Another blink.
Are you hungry ?
Wooden railing which I'm holding onto creaks,
Mandy looks at the door.

Then, the stare continues.

I walk back into the house through the entryway door. The little shit trots back to a prominent place on the couch where she can keep an eye on me. My constant companion.

2:51 am by the LED clock on the gas stove. She wakes me out of a dream where I probably was selling a car that wouldn't start or walking naked down the sidewalk. Unh, unh she whines. I grab my glasses from the bookshelf and walk downstairs. The routine is very precise. She waits on the stairs until I flick the switch on the back hall/entryway light. The noise of the back door lock release , signals "go". I quickly open the storm door and she runs out. I watch for a moment and see her stop momentarily, look right down the sidewalk to the front yard. I have to pee so I do not continue to monitor her behavior. When I return from the bathroom, she sitting in the same place. It's unusual that the cat isn't anywhere to be seen. Usually, he lies on the top stair watching the action. Mandy comes in. Then the cat appears from the bowels of the basement.

In my sleep induced stupor I don't connect the stain on the carpet with Mandy. I'd left the bedroom door ajar. Mandy slips down the stairs to leave her mark. Hence, there's no need to pee at 2:51 am. The little shit is faking. I throw a terry towel over the stain and press down with my foot. In the morning I'll be cleaning carpet. I'm disturbed that she's created yet more work. Work that never seems to end. When I tell my wife about the episode, she immediately starts upon a solution. I interrupt before she can begin. It's 7:30. She has to drive the twenty minutes to work. We don't have time for this discussion. Besides, I've already run over the scenario in my mind. It's 4 am before I get back to sleep. Determined that the event does not replay. I close the bedroom door and tell myself that no amount of fake whining will move me. The dog stirs frequently. The cat is on patrol. In the morning we find a fresh mouse kill under the kitchen table. One of those loud meows is the announcement to anyone who'll listen, "I caught a mouse in the basement."

I love my animals. They're driving me up a wall. I treat them as much as possible as equals. They run free. The proximity of the highway, wild animals and door construction details doesn't allow them to come and go as they please through a swinging dog/cat door. I'm chef, doorman and parent. I watch Mandy beating up on the cat, biting his ears. It doesn't matter that two minutes ago, the cat was crouched behind the tire of the truck, wiggling in a pounce crouch, leaping out at the dog. The cat won't take a healthy swipe at the dog's face warning her, "You're hurting my ears." I slide the kitchen window open. "Mandy, stop that." She knows the drill. She looks up and trots away from the cat. She'll lie on the grass for a prescribed amount of time until she determines that the old man has forgotten about her and will annoy the cat, again.

They're the best of friends and the worst of enemies. The cat finds the butt sniffing and nose licking annoying. If he finds a fresh kill, the dog will interfere causing him to lose the thing in high grass. If I pet the cat, the dog demands attention.

I catch myself reinforcing another bad behavior ( NO, Dawn it's not the biting routine). At breakfast the dog sits next to the table. Her silent but intent stare for food from the table. This morning, in response to a comment from the vet when Mandy had her spay surgery. "Some dogs prefer meat." Mandy eats dry dog food only as a last measure. Then, it's almost before bedtime. Bad food eating habits. I reinforce more bad habits by feeding her part of my bagel. This morning I fry some fresh ground pork in a bit of bacon fat. She comes over to me as I eat my breakfast reading a novel. I place the plate of fresh ground pork on my left where the dog usually sits, staring at me. She ignores the plate and moves to the other side of my chair.

The little shit.

That's it. Time to crack down. No more table scraps.

And those other solutions? I know what you're thinking. Johann and I are going to Johnson's One Stop for lumber. Time to finish the breezeway. There'll be no mosquito excuse for not keeping her in her dog house at night.

Speaking of skeeters, I notice that none of the two most recent books I read ever make mention of mosquitoes. Both take place in the South. It's like the movies where New York appears to be a fun loving exciting place of lights, glamor and wonderful loft apartments. No body ever goes to the bathroom.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bats, Dragonflies,Ear Worms and Mosquitoes

I've been trying to sneak a picture of the Pooch sleeping in his box, on his back, feet up in the air. It's a visual image of total relaxation. Carefully I walk to the worktable in the garage. If I don't have a camera in my paws, he'll be sound asleep. I peer over the edge of the cardboard, put my nose close to his fur and snurfle him. "Oh, it's you," he says, not bothering to move. Repeat the same movement with a camera in hand and he'll roll on his side.

I walk quietly to the basement where he's fled to escape possibly the hottest day of the year. The only sound in the dark basement is the whir of the dehumidifier. Ditso the dog lies in the yard opposite the kitchen window. Her black fur is hot to the touch. I order her inside out of what the weather service calls a heat advisory. The dog lies sprawled on the hardwood floor, occasionally lifting her head to watch my movements. I'm guessing that sitting in the sun outside the kitchen window allows her to keep an eye on me as I wash dishes.

Today's run for raw milk is preceded by a visit to Crazy Franks, the overstock emporium. We've run out of toilet paper and there's no trip to the big city in the offing. Franks sells TP by the large double roll. I crunch the numbers. Number of sheets per roll, price times 12 equals slightly less than the 1000 sheet double rolls in the big city grocery store. I rationalize that the dish washing liquid at $1.29 is a bargain because we use dish detergent by the healthy squirt. It doesn't matter that the green goo is watered down. I check the off-brand canned goods. Too expensive compared with the Amish discount grocery called Bent and Dent. Everything at Franks is suspect because the merchandise bought in truckloads from bankruptcy sales or discontinued merchandise is off-brand and of poor quality. The store is empty save for myself. The competition from the Amish may be the reason the store is up for sale.

At Dent and Bent I find $14.65 worth of canned beans, black olives, major market dented merchandise and slightly out of date items like whole bean coffee. A two liter bottle of diet cola sells for 75 cents. I've previously taken a chance and sampled the soda. "Not bad" taste wise in my estimation. At the Kwikstop the new fountain soda machine is doing a brisk business selling 32 oz. soda for 99 cents. As I belly up to the counter with a 30 pack of light beer going for a ridiculously low price of $9.97, a woman tells the cashier there are no lids for the 32 ouncers. She uses a cappuccino coffee lid instead.

Up on the hilltop at the Amish farm, Mandy races to the wraparound deck to greet her momma. The matriarch is sitting on a deck chair cooling off. It's strange that there's no breeze compared to the usual brisk winds that'll rip the hat off your head. I ask for an additional quart of milk. A half gallon costs seventy five cents. I make a joke out of the cost of an additional quart-37 1/2 cents-and toss a dollar bill and a dime on the kitchen table. I try to get my milk early since the Amish keep the ice cream pail of milk they get daily in a back room without refrigeration. Things that need serious refrigeration are kept in an ice house with a used truck condenser refrigeration unit run off a gasoline engine. In winter I marvel at the practice of filling a twelve by twelve area lined with heavy plastic with water during below zero days. Like the old days, the ice is cut into blocks and stored with sawdust insulation for the hot months.

By one thirty in the afternoon, I've washed the breakfast dishes and any leftover pots from dinner, put away canning items, thrown three loads of laundry in the washer and hung it in the backyard to dry, made my milk, grocery and cleaning supplies run, stopped at the bank to make a deposit, helped a slightly addled old man driving a red van I notice running a stop sign find Main St.(Main Street is not the main street of town) and delivered a quart of milk to my library angel.

Toward dusk I call the cat in for dinner. He comes running across the front lawn leaping in the air at a swarm of circling dragonflies hunting mosquitoes. As dusk turns to a rouge studded sky of puffy cumulus clouds, I hear scuffling behind shutters on the bathroom and hallway window. I scoot the dog inside to get away from the swarm and watch bats emerge from behind the hollow red metal shutters. After a few take flight and circle the area that is the run for our dog, I start counting. Six, seven, then twelve. I stop at seventeen because the mosquitoes just won't quit. The backyard is filled with circling bats. "Way to go you guys," I think to myself. I promise them that I won't bang my fist on their hideout in the afternoon to determine which shutters house the colony.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yow. Into August. I pick ripe and near ripe tomatoes enough to fill a blue plastic tub. The white potato vines are dying back. In a few weeks after the skins are set, they'll be stored for the winter. Light years ago in garden time, actually last Saturday, I pulled six foot tall weeds in the russet potato patch. My back still aches from bending over, grabbing tough fibrous stems with root hairs and pulling with all my might. I'd pound the clump of dirt that came with the feisty weed, covering some of the russets I'd disturbed with fresh dirt. Others that popped to the surface are tossed to the grassy strip between garden plots. Four wheel barrow loads and a pile up near the road that I put off hauling for later fill a low spot in the far end of the front field. A cardboard egg crate filled with brown russets weighs in at 16 lbs. Along with a mound of corn, they'll go to my friends at the library.

While I cut, chop and peel for salsa and fresh pressure-canned tomatoes I listen to the radio. Dog and cat alternate shady spots beneath my truck, in the garage, under the table in the breezeway. The cat curls up in a box on a work table and lies on his back-feet up in the air. I sneak in to snap a photo. He catches me sneaking up on him and rolls over. Stalking in the summer has sharpened his wits. If he walks into the house, he eyes wet dish towels lying on the basement steps. Wary of the sandals at the foot of the entryway, he skirts them carefully. He's probably run into a fair number of snakes and surprises. Mandy has her spot on the red chair looking out at the highway. Sometimes it's cooler to lie stretched out on a concrete slab.

The radio program running now interviews people discussing food and trendy life styles. A couple moves into a rural location. There's a good deal of oohing and ahing about moving from the city to the country. They're off the grid, they say. The house is run down. The land pristine. They eschew a clothes dryer and hang laundry outside. When I was a teacher in the inner city, fellow teachers loved nothing better than to amplify on the dangers and stress of ghetto fighting. In reality I'd stand on the playground like a cat having its fur brushed in the wrong direction. The rural, back to the land couple describe hanging laundry in ten below zero weather. Idiots, I mutter. Next time find a place with a wood stove and a basement.

They label themselves. Put themselves into tidy boxes. Ultra liberals. Liberal with lots of L's .
Off the grid and out of their mind. There's a fine line between insanity and common sense. They're eco-somethings. Beyond ecologically minded.