Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Island

In my favorite news magazine, The Week, a New York Times reporter, David Carr, writes a piece for The Last Word, the end column of this magazine called "My Private Island". The Week is not a news digest. It gives aspects of the news as written by other reporters. One recent Last Word brilliantly summarized the current political situation. David Carr of the Times writes an insightful piece about spending six days on an island in the Bahamas. As you'd expect, there are learning lessons galore, like what happens when a person is no longer connected to the media stream, has to rely on a leaky row boat to travel to the closest store for supplies, creatively dreams up gourmet dinner fare with Doritos and rigs up a coffee filter from a paper towel.

I realized I've been living on my own private island for six years. If I walk east or south, I'll dead end in the Kickapoo river or sink in a muddy swamp in less ten minutes. Across the busy state highway is a pine tree forest that extends, again to a river and swamp barrier less than a mile down West River Road. Walking west following the old narrow gauge railroad berm that once served the sawmill for the bustling turn of the century town of Kickapoo Center, I'll again dead end at this same river. Only by jumping in my nine year old Chevy which recently went feet up in the air due to a digital clock on the radio recycling the time continuously for three days, can I escape. The constant drain on the battery served to freeze the electric locks, rimed the battery posts with white powder and to beat all-the engine compartment release stuck in the closed position. Oh wow.

I have a love/hate relationship with one link to the outside world, my brontosaurus computer. Because of the high cost of high speed Internet, I'm stuck with dial-up service. I frequently abandon any and all tasks that might glue me unnecessarily to this creaky office chair downloading updates. My wife Dawn finds bolts dropping from the underside of the chair at an alarming rate and one day I'll be in the middle of a sentence and...

The other day I found myself cackling like an idiot savant when I caught my goatee in the zipper of my winter coat. For fun I sing Christmas carols to the dog. Mandy finds my warbling as annoying as speaking Mandarin Chinese in a staccato voice. I decide that in the absence of a gym and workout center within a half hour radius, I pay my bills in person, justifying that the frequent in, up and out of my Chevy is a low metabolic fitness routine. Other than my wife, the two people I see most frequently are 70 and 85 years old respectively.

When I can get a word in edgewise with the head librarian who even hums while drinking coffee and the 70 year old assistant who can't hear a word you're saying unless she sees your lips moving, I look for excuses to leave before I'm assailed with yet another story about the local farm wife mauled by pigs, or finding someones Grandma lying on the floor of her apartment tangled in bedclothes unable to answer the door. The added description of Granny soiling herself not once but three times is enough to make me want to go home and make more wine.

The nearest town has a state of the art library, two corner bars, three restaurants and two emporiums with names that explain all: Cheapo Depot and Crazy Franks. I stopped going to one of the three restaurants for lunch when the $4.95 special was white bread, butter and a single slice of deli ham. The other two restaurants speak for themselves. The bank has established a new manager for the Yummy Tummy restaurant right next door to an established bistro where one enticement is to gossip about the fortyish waitress there who recently did hard time for her sixth DWI.

Pooch, the cat spends enough time next to me on the slab of wood that serves as a counter and table for all my office equipment that he asked me to put him on Facebook. Today's list of tasks involves trying to beat last night's menu of posole and red chili beans, making my own ricotta cheese, bottling black cherry wine which I've been using as a homemade barometer watching the level of water rise and fall in the homemade airlock in conjunction with the crappy weather. If I get really desperate, I'll chase cars by the red dogwood in the front field running along the highway berm with Mandy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My morning begins with the usual routine. After a night of wrestling animals who decide that the overnight temperatures of 65 without a wood fire are frigid and require sleeping on top of me or at my side, I let the duo outside. When I go to the back door to let Mandy inside, she's curiously absent. Pooch, the cat is in the back yard. I assume he's monitoring the dog's antics. No so. No Mandy.

Searching the east, south and west property lines I find the mutt hot on the trail of venison. My neighbor hung a freshly killed deer in his shed next to the horse corral. Yesterday Mandy went into the shed with hackles raised because of the strange animal hanging from a rafter. Today, she's searching for tasty scraps. In sweats and slippers I walk through frozen grass to retrieve the dog. I know once I get close. she'll sense my presence and come out of the shed.

"Get over here. You're not supposed to be in there," I tell her. Ears flatten. "Get home." She sides away from me knowing I'm pissed to have to walk the equivalent of a city block to my neighbors half dressed. Thankfully, it's not 12 below zero. She skulks home.

The Pooch is regular as summer sunshine. He appears for breakfast, eats one half of the serving of raw chicken liver and raw ground pork. I let him out again. Mandy prefers cooked food. I mix sauteed ground pork with her dry dog food. She ignores the meal, preferring to stretch out on the couch. You see, she probably didn't get much sleep with the guy next to her tossing, turning, snoring and pushing her over to make room.

A bit later, I'm thrilled to find the cat in front of the kitchen window with that, "Aren't you going to let me in look" on his puss. Thrilled that he follows my arm motions to the deck door. Like a traffic cop at an intersection I exaggerate the arm movement with a series of crooks of my right arm motioning to the right. Patricia McConnell in her blog, The Other End of the Leash verifies that dogs follow arm motion commands. Chimps and wolves do not. I knew we'd aptly named our cat The Pooch. He's a reincarnated dog from a past life.

While I pay a steady stream of bills and call Dawn to find out what the curious mark in our checkbook indicates, I hear the patter of hoof beats upstairs. Dog and cat are playing tag. Much of the time the dog is too large and too rough for any extended play, but I notice frequently that the Pooch loves to challenge Mandy. His teasing comes in several forms.

In the house he'll utter a cat errp and race off. "Come catch me" is the ruse. Outside, if he has enough distance to escape, he'll race off toward the cover of the deck or a bush egging Mandy into a game of chase. Mandy is one smart dog, but dumber than dirt compared to our cat. She falls for the same tricks, time after time.

I don't remember if I mentioned it, but the other day Mandy learned how to climb a step ladder leaning against the open deck of Johann's cabin. She had me wound around her paw for months getting me out of bed with a whine and complaint in the middle of the night. I'd get my robe on and let her outside. Finally, disgusted with the routine I ignored the grunts. She quit after she found I wouldn't arise. Her thick headed master didn't understand the vocalizations as a form of "I miss you Dad. Can I climb in bed."

This morning I find a way to get back at her for all the interrupted sleep. Sipping the last of my coffee I sing a Christmas carol. Not the words, mind you, just nonsense vocalizations to the tune of Deck The Halls. When I reach the high pitched part of the song, she's nearly crazy with the cacophony assuming I'm hurt or in pain. Tail wagging, paws on my knee with a stop, stop, puleeze look on her face, I blow on her nose. That's it. That's all she can take. Probably the coffee fumes were the last straw. She paws at me and I get up to get away from the crazed dog to throw the dishes in the sink.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The End

I'll mark today, November 27th at 4:15 pm as the end of the 2010 gardening year.

It was a long year.

Potatoes went in this year on the Thursday before Easter which is really early. April 1st to be exact. The date corresponded with the full moon and caused me some worry. The onions were already in the ground in garden plot number one. Every year I worry about the garden. Trees fall in the middle of the the field, not once, but twice. Floods submerge my plants causing me to replant in June after an especially nice beginning. The potato worry is lessened when I discovered young plants are recharged after the tips are frosted.

The row cover you see here is frozen to the ground. The pumpkins holding the cover in plants are iced. I managed to pry up the rear portion of the row cover where I removed the wire hoops over the bed. One spinach plant remained. Not only was the spinach plant alive and well, but it loved the cold so much it was like a small bunch of romaine lettuce. We're not talking medium cold. Two nights ago the temperatures at first light were 12 degrees. The grass is brittle and crunches under foot.

Johann invited me up to visit the construction on his cabin. I told him I'd come when the outside air hit 30 degrees. It took until mid afternoon. Mountain Man Johann was working hatless in a ragged flannel shirt. His wind generator was spinning so fast that if it weren't anchored to the cabin, it would have flown to the next county. I'm wearing two heavy layers and a winter coat. Standing on the first floor of a yet to be enclosed cabin, I covered my ear flap cap with the hood of the parka. I was still cold. The view from the west window of his cabin is breathless and looks down a five mile valley.

Thanksgiving is always a let down because Dawn usually has to work. Years ago, when she worked for the post office, the holiday mail rush interfered with holiday plans. My usual routine is to work odd jobs. This year I cleaned the basement floor and did laundry. I cooked a half turkey but started it too early. The result was disappointing. To bolster my wounded chef ego, the next day I made fantastic, chewy chocolate chip cookies like my Grandmother used to bake. I also made whole wheat buns and a small loaf of whole wheat bread. Last week's oatmeal cookies turned out so well, I'm enthused about trying more complicated recipes. A sourdough bread, artisan crunchy bread with Asiago cheese and perhaps a traditional French baguette-you know the kind a Parisian would tuck under an arm while shopping at the boulangerie.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some days just turn out odd.

Starting from the end and working backwards, I thought we'd wake up to this scene on Thanksgiving morning. Mandy gives me the cold, hard stare which can mean one of two things. Since I had no cookie or pecan cake in my hand, I assumed this meant "out". All afternoon the weather is sleeting alternating with small hail. When Mandy hits the driveway, she loses traction on the ice. I've got my Redwings on and start to slide so I move over to a grassy portion. What is this stuff? I'm translating from Blue Heeler to English. She stares, walks over to the grass on the berm and spies something in the grass. Very quickly she's back to the breezeway. Inside she drops the object from her mouth on the mat in the entrance way. It's a rock. "What's with the rock, Mandy? " Puzzled, I go back to the movie on TV.

Wednesday morning has me knee deep in ground corn. With Jake's grain shovel, I'm pushing aside the stream of corn oozing out of the tube from the grinder. Jake and the Amish Patriarch are perched on top of the bin poking, prodding and hitting the sides of the round red cylinder to get the sticky mix of fine ground corn and milk powder free flowing. Once the iron wheeled wagon is full, we adjourn to the woodshop to fix the guard on my chop saw. I've waited two weeks for Johann to volunteer to fix it but he's in the process of adding a new wing to his shack on the ridgetop.

While the Patriarch fumbles with the spring and the metal plate holding the spring in place, Jake uses a pliers to hold a square shafted bolt in place behind the cover shield over the washer and bolt holding the saw blade in place. I stand back offering instruction when things go awry. Then a diesel pick-up pulls in the drive with a long, bright new aluminum cattle trailer on the hitch. The owner wants to install Plexiglas over the slots near the top of the trailer to keep cattle from getting "shipping fever" in winter. The driver and his father-in-law stand next to the table saw platform where we're trying to wind the spring in place. In a few minutes the scene turns into a late night comedy routine as the cattle truck driver joins in the assemblage. We've dumped over a box of sockets and a wrench, dropped the spring several times, lost the bolt once or twice and resorted to drilling out the aluminum rivet holding one side of the access plate in place. A comment is made about the pollack changing the light bulb and after the laughter subsides, we've got the shield assembly back together. The assumption is that the manufacturer puts the guard in place much like we did with the final step of riveting the mechanism to the frame. The Patriarch searches for his rivet gun and a large rivet. I forgot to mention that when we originally came into the shop, the wind caught the door and someones elbow busted the glass. There's glass scattered over the floor and a dangerous jagged piece hanging in the window.

The confusion increases as various well wishes and ne'er do-wells come into the workshop to wish the Patriarch a happy thanksgiving. I walk back to the house and ask Mom for two of the four bags of breakfast sausage I'd brought as payment for bothering her husband with a mechanical chore. She looks at me quizzically as I explain,"I'll replace the sausage in a bit. I want to give some to Jake for helping with the saw." "You don't have to bring more,"she says. Jake is pleased with the breakfast sausage, saying you didn't have to do that. "I didn't have to but I wanted to," I add with emphasis. "I'll get you the recipe," I tell him.

Jake raised the pig we have in our freezer. I want to keep our connection open because he also raises goats. Although Dawn says she dislikes the taste of goat meat, I'm partial to goat cheese. The thought of butchering one of the friendly faced goats when I visit Jake's farm makes me shudder.

I run over the ridge top back home and grab more zip lock bags of sausage for the Patriarch and for Jake. I've refined my sausage making, cutting them like you would cut sugar cookies with the rim of a drinking glass. I can get more of the smaller patties in a quart freezer bag. It seems right to have two smaller sausage patties with my egg and pancake then one huge burger. Dawn reminds me of this later as I'm making hamburger patties, asking me to cut the size to a more manageable third pound. Copying the recipe I convert the gram weight amount of salt to teaspoons. Driving back to the Amish farm, all is quiet. Inside the warm kitchen, the patriarch is having lunch. Because they're not Norwegian, lunch is lunch, not the late afternoon snack most folks in the area refer to as lunch. To confuse all they call lunch dinner and dinner supper.

Lunch is my breakfast sausage, fresh biscuits, a tray of scalloped potatoes and apple pie. I have a hard time declining the pie, as a daughter hands me a steaming cup of fresh coffee and a plate. I leave for Jake's farm, deliver the recipe and extra bag of sausage and briefly mull the short jog to Bent and Dent groceries. I should be home loading firewood, so I make a left on highway 14 for home.

Later in the afternoon, I take Mandy for a ride to the library. With the prospect of a closed library for the holiday, I want to be sure I have enough to read. All the computers are in use with a gaggle of kids hanging out in the main room watching the seated computer users. One of the computers nearest the librarian's desk is occupied by a man you could confuse for Norm in thew TV show Cheers. He takes his spot everyday in mid afternoon wiling away the time until closing. I notice his name frequently on the cards for signing out DVD's. My library angel goes in a back room to quiet down the rowdy kids. She finds three of them sleeping on the floor in the conference room. "I told Johnny( not his real name) that he could bring a sleeping bag to the library. they don't have any heat at home," she says.

The library serves as a surrogate baby sitting service, emergency shelter, source of a pitiful income for locals selling off their DVD and video collection in desperation to buy milk at the Kwik Stop, information central for all gossip and social center for the lonely like me. It's slippery and wet outside as I ask repeatedly for the 80+ year old head librarian if she has a ride home. "Sure, sure, I do," she says. " J__ will pick me up on his way back home. He's in Sparta right now. " Mandy and I leave for home to rescue the cat who been asleep in his cardboard box on the work table for the past hour. I hit the remote control button on the garage door opener as the Pooch stands up, yawns and stretches.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The dog has never used her doghouse since we moved it from the breezeway to the back yard pen. Had we enclosed the breezeway with the doghouse inside, there wouldn't be any room for humans. El Doggo has a nice warm bed in the new enclosed breezeway. I constructed a king bed from used lumber and tossed her faux sheepskin cedar bed in the completed frame. To keep the white fur clean, I added a wool blanket. One night, tired of being woken up in the middle of the night with her grunts of unh,unh, unh I gotta pee, I closed her up in the back hall after her sortie outside. The temperatures in the breezeway were 20 degrees higher than outside but still colder than what Mandy was used to. If she got sick or chilled, I'd be sleeping in the doghouse.

I removed the dog bed from the breezeway and substituted a thick quilted moving pad folded and covered with the wool blanket. I slept soundly the rest of the night while Mandy curled up nose to toes on her cedar shaving bed in the back hall. The few times Mandy was confined to her pen in the back yard, she'd bark at itinerant 'coons or possum. It kept Dawn awake.

The cat finds the insulated, carpeted doghouse a great place to watch the backyard and groom his fur. The roof is an even better perch for the panorama. If the cat spends too much time in the house, you-know-who gets jealous and tries to nose El Gatto out. Makes no difference that she cares to sleep on the red chair in the garage, in the sun on the driveway, in the dog bed in the entryway or on the custom built dog bed in the breezeway. It's my house and you can't have it. So There!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shocking Discovery

Somewhere, I don't remember exactly where, I catch a glimpse of the phrase shocking discovery followed by a snippet( from the Dutch, snippen) of description. The description is not shocking. It's only a Home Alone gesture of shock with both hands placed on either side of the face mouthing a droll, "oh my." I'm supposed to be shocked that wrinkle creams don't work or that I'm paying too much for toilet paper. Exaggeration, ad nauseum.

Most of the time I find it hard to match my descriptions with reality. Reality is way, way farther out.

Dawn and I watch movies. Because we don't subscribe to satellite or cable TV, we read a lot of books and for entertainment-rent movies. Last night's movie, for example, shows a hooded stranger dumping gas around a building and setting it on fire. The building erupts in flames and the man sleeping inside gasps and coughs from smoke. He tries the door which has been locked by the hooded stranger. The next scene is of the man in flames falling backward from a second story window. He's dead before the viewer hears the thud.

Every year we accumulate a burn pile. The town dump is not a land fill. It consists of a dumpster for garbage and recycling bins. Tree branches, garden detritus, rotten lumber-whatever can't be composted or used to start a fire in the wood stove goes on a pile out in the front field. I wait for a calm day. If it's a dry year, I'll wait until there's snow covering the brittle dry grass in the fields nearby. When all the corn shocks that I piled into a cone are dry enough after weeks of rain to burn, I'll add paper feed sacks as tinder. I'll add a few squirts of charcoal lighter. Slowly the flames will advance up the pile. There are big gaps between the tree limbs I tossed on the pile. I rearrange the pile frequently to keep it going. It's a hot, dirty job that last all day. After several hours, I'll go back and rake the unburned trash from the edges into the middle of the glowing embers.

It's just a movie, I'll say to Dawn when she says,"Why doesn't the dummy open a window?" I'm thinking that I'd take one of the pieces of furniture and bash the door down. I certainly wouldn't wait until my clothes were on fire, back up to a window and fall backwards outside. Our windows wouldn't disintegrate even with my 225 pounds pushing against the frame.

My favorite is the 2 gallon tin gas can the hooded figure sloshes over the floor. The flames leap up the curtains and walls as if they are trying to escape the fire. The one time I threw gasoline on a fire, the whole ten foot (in diameter) pile of branches lifted 18 inches off the ground with an amazing whomp. After the explosion, the flames were an afterthought. I never added gasoline after that experience.

OK. I know it's all for the sake of entertainment. But does the viewer have to leave their brains behind? The second of last night's double feature was a subtitled movie called the Owl and the Sparrow. It is a delightful movie in which nary a person is killed, maimed, beaten or tortured. Set in Saigon, I'm surprised to see people wearing face masks riding motorbikes. The subtitles explain through one of the main characters that in the city of 8 million people, 20,000 die from the effects of air pollution. The brutal reality of the film is the 10 year old girl who plays Thuy. Forced to work in her Uncle's bamboo mat factory, she runs away. To support herself she buys postcards to sell to people. The postcards don't sell. She turns to selling cellophane wrapped roses to men on the streets. I won't divulge the rest in case you want to rent it, but it has a happy ending.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, an adaptation of Steig Larson's second book of the trilogy had enough brutality to last us awhile. I read the book. Like nine thousand other people, I compared the book to the movie. This morning I read a review of the third movie of the same book. The reviewer reiterates much of what I felt reading the second book. Inundated by endless tedious descriptions of police investigation, I skip to the end. "Get on with it." I mutter. The reviewer considers The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest long and drawn out like a Scandinavian winter.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Road Trip

It's hard to justify a road trip of 130 miles(round trip) for one package of Frontline for cats. The weather and a phone call from Dawn were the deciding factors. "Go have a good time," she says. The cold, dreary, damp day precluded whatever outside work I'd fall into. Jorge reminded me that a tractor with a front end loader could save me seven truck loads of shoveling. "My neighbor doesn't have a bucket on his tractor." "Doesn't have a front end loader?" Jorge adds in surprise. "What kind of farmer is he? " In defense of the neighbor, his tractor mainly hauls large round hay bales for his horse herd. He has a scraper blade and borrows another neighbor's mower attachment. Another neighbor with a front end loader comes over once a year to scrape his corrals clean of detritus. I briefly consider asking my neighbor if his buddy would haul manure with his tractor. I'm not opposed to paying him or doing a trade, it's just that rumor has it that the 70 year old guy is in his cups by noon. Alcohol plays a large part in numbing the lonely lives of people live in this area.

My library angel used to own a family bar in town. I make the distinction because they served food and had entertainment on weekends. If one drank too much, they'd see you got home safely or made other arrangements. She told me on the phone last evening as I stood in the cornfield behind our house watching Mandy run through the swamp in the river bottom, that hunting season was a busy time. After the early morning shift sitting in the woods, deer hunters would pass the time until dusk in the tavern. She said they served food which after a time became a financial burden. The food was an attempt to keep a stomach full with something other than alcohol. While the majority of hunters are an upstanding safe bunch, there are always the crazies who about shooting road signs and cows.

Jorge and I walk into the building supplies store in central Lacrosse. We chuckle as I recount one trip in which Jorge was really sick. Unknowingly, he had fluid build up in the lining around his heart. The pressure around his heart was causing him discomfort. He didn't want to stay home ailing, so he thought a road trip would relieve some of his trouble. Now, we can laugh about the woman coming up to him as he reclined on a bench outside the grocery store thinking he was a homeless person sauced up on cheap wine. "Are you all right sir?" A subtle factor in her questioning was that Jorge is black.

The Frontline for cats is two dollars cheaper than the price at Wal-Mart(which was out of stock). Jorge tells me that there's a barbecue restaurant that opened up in the renovated train station. As luck would have it, we're near the train station. After a delicious barbecue lunch in which we decide to return in the future for their rib dinners, I smuggle out a baked potato wedge for Mandy in the car. Then we head to the grocery store on the north end of town. My bill for wine was larger than the grocery bill. I explain to Jorge who decided out of the blue one day that he wasn't going to drink alcohol, that if you buy four there's a discount in the price. Besides, the other chief reason for stopping by the grocery store is their boneless pork loin ends which I grind for sausage. Pork prices are still strong and the loin ends are $1.69 per pound. I pass on the pork loin because our local grocery has a weekly special on pork shoulder at $1.39. Mandy gets a nice bone to chew.

On the way home we take a shortcut down the interstate highway. I calculate the savings on windshield washer, Frontline, wine and groceries and figure I come out just about even with gas down four cents a gallon. The chance to get away and a new restaurant are an added bonus.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tra La La

Gonna be one of them days. Shovel hard packed manure while hummin' Tra La La, Sh-Boom Sh-Boom, Boom-Shack-Lacka, Boom-Shacka-Lacka and doobie doobie doo.

Mandy's terrorized by two sounds. The sound of thunder and gunshots make her shiver and pant. Because thunder happens at night, she hides under the bed. Summer showers started the whole nervous tremor frenzy. It has to be an unseen kinda thing, like primitive peoples eons ago who were driven crazy by natural, unexplainable forces.

Take me for example. I'm paranoid about those high tension electric towers. When the neighbor went into a panic because of rumors about the electric company installing high voltage transmission towers that would run over the ridge tops, I imagined all sorts of fallout from magnetic waves to changes in the electrical charge around the darn things. I'm not convinced that all the radio waves, infra-red and micro wave technology isn't a contributing factor to death and destruction of The American Way.

Yes, I've managed to get our electric bill down to one half the kilowatts we used in 2002, so don't give me a hard time about being a hypocrite. With winter coming around, we hang our clothes in the basement. It's more work because I have to keep the wood stove going and my Amish friends hang laundry in the shelter of the wraparound deck on their house.

One thing I do know is that I read a Mother Earth News article recently that documented the widespread use of systemic insecticides by vegetable growers. Don't quote me, but if I remember correctly about 74% of conventionally grown lettuce and 70% of broccoli showed residues of imidacloprid, one of four systemic pesticides. The good news is that there's a Pesticide Action Network reviewing the results of tests conducted by the USDA. Strawberries, potatoes, sweet peppers, collard greens, canola, cereal, corn, sugar beets, cucumbers are a few examples of crops treated with systemics. Honeybees are the first to be affected by the pesticides. It's a prominent factor in the decline and death of honeybees in this country. Talk to any old timer in the country and they'll relate horrific stories of riding on the DDT wagon with Dad. One of my library buddies quoted an astounding rise in the cancer rate now versus 50 years ago. My library angel tells me about one of her six kids who did farm work applying crop sprays. Nights he'd come home drenched with the stuff. "He was sick for a whole winter after that," she related.

Mandy went to the vet yesterday for her annual shots. As I paid the bill in the reception areas, my vet calls me back in the examination room. "Mandy has fleas," she tells me. She points to red spots on the vinyl cushion of the examination table after she sprayed a disinfectant. I spend a good portion of my day washing dog and cat blankets. There's a chalkboard chart in the entryway where I keep track of all replaceable filters 'n such on a timetable. The last treatment of Frontline for the kids was October 6th. I assumed colder weather would eradicate the problem. As luck would have it, we had a back supply of dog Frontline but none for the cat. Wal-Mart assumes, as I did, that the season is over for fleas and ticks so Dawn couldn't find any there. It looks like a road trip to the big city with Jorge who bought a new car.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


November weather at last. The kind of weather that makes some people want to dig a hole, line it with balsam boughs and burrow in for a long nap. I don't frequent the local bars, but I imagine business is brisk with the shorter daylight hours and no incentive to be outside in glorious autumn smoky-sunny days like we've had in abundance. Most just work harder wearing their nose on the grindstone. The kids and I find a ton of odd jobs to while away the time. Another truck load of firewood takes me two days to unload. Seems a shame to waste 4x4 cut off blocks of oak, maple and walnut.

Yesterday dense morning fog didn't recede until late afternoon. Early on, the trees in the field just over the highway were like shrouded ghosts. A local feller stopped by asking about two dogs running loose on the state highway. Whenever anything happens on the highway, people assume we are the information booth for wandering cattle, lost dogs or free rides to the next town. The people who live around the corner on the county highway have two mutts of indistinguishable breeds who like to wander. Wayne(the guy who stopped) says he almost ran one of the pair over. Three thirty rolls around. Time for my daily visit to the library. The fog turned to drizzle. It wasn't cold enough for a wood fire, but working the last of the garden chores near noon made my nose run. Maybe I won't get rid of my old geezer beard after all.

Back when I ran a trading post in the bowels of a city just off the main drag, I'd watch cars lining up to get the hell out of Dodge. There was an on-ramp for the freeway spur right in front of the store. The freeway was built on stilts and ran above the city streets. In the dark underbelly of the concrete jungle, various parking companies made fortunes off office workers who paid to leave their cars under the concrete roof. Wishing I were one of the people eager to head home after another mind numbing day in front of a computer screen, I made good on my promise to the inner me and fled to Arizona where the skies are not cloudy all day. It's funny though how the mind works. Week after week passes without a change in the weather. Six months later you haven't seen a rain cloud. One starts wishing for the same thing that drove you November nuts.

As a follow up to my Teddy Bear's Picnic post the other day, I thought I'd show the view from the ridge top. You might want to click on the image to get a better idea of the breathtaking view. The camera never does justice to standing next to the pick up truck at the edge of a hayfield looking down the valley. The other drawback is that unless I fiddle with the camera and stitch all three shots side by side, one still doesn't get the panoramic 270 degree view. Early morning on a summer's day, the sun's been up for several hours while the fog lies in white cotton tufts down in that valley in the upper middle of the shot. So when I describe dense fog, remember that 95% of the mornings in summer we're totally fogged in until the sun cuts the fog curtain about 9:30.

Johann's wanting to bottle wine today. I haven't stared out the kitchen long enough to figure out a plan for the day. Mandy's yodeling behind me. It's her way of talking. She sounds like she saying "out".

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Five days out of seven this shot is typical of my morning routine. "Wanna go for a ride?" In the car she jumps back and forth from front seat to rear, except when Dawn's riding shotgun. When she's in the back seat she jumps up at the back window as if she wants to nip at the miserly cars/trucks who dare to pass us on the road. Yes, it's a bad habit. Yes, if I put her leash on her, she won't jump at the cars. I just don't care if she's agitated by oncoming traffic. At least she doesn't bark annoyingly. If I could only get her to warn me of deer on the road. I prefer driving the truck. There's no back seat-no jumping at cars and trucks. She'll note each oncoming passing vehicle with a head nod. She's an odd duck.

This is the road that leads up and over the ridge to the Amish. Sing with me while we slowly mouth the first chorus of Teddy Bear's Picnic because that's exactly what comes to mind as we wind our way through the woods. " If you go into the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise." We see deer, pheasant, foxes, hawks overhead and pass by a goat farm half way up the steep hill. If I swing left, we'll pass by the barking dog's house and the elk herd. The barking dog chases cars. Mandy perks her ears when I tell her, "Get ready for the barking dog." I think she's actually disappointed when the fat little beagle mix isn't outside. She'll jump to the front seat, poke her head out the right side window and watch intently until barking dog standing in the middle of the road recedes into the distance.

In the center of the picture at left is a red tail that has followed us a number of times as we wind our way uphill. There's a panoramic view of the entire valley and two parallel ridges . The corn fields up top are empty now, just stubble and spilled corn by the side of the road. The combine spilled two large piles in the field behind us. I hustled the wheelbarrow out on the lane between field and our place to shovel up fresh corn before rain and snow turned it into a moldy mess. I felt a little sheepish, almost miserly, scooping up spilled corn until I saw a guy pull over on the state highway with a feed bag doing the same thing as I did previously. The 88 lbs of corn I shoveled and bagged were traded to the Amish for grinding a gallon ziplock of dried sweet corn into corn meal.

Although its cold and misty rainy outside it's hotter n' blazes in this office. The outside temperature hovers around 40 degrees, but it's damp and seems colder. I'm burning box elder which has to be restocked every hour. It leaves absolutely no residual coals which is the heart of the problem. With hardwood, I can go back and toss a few sticks hours later to rekindle a fire. The box elder was free and at least it chases the chill off the place with a typical gray November day.

Mandy and me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Small Blessings

The head of the library board passed away after a series of small stokes. She was in her eighties, a farm wife with lots of kids and a good friend of my library angel. Her long funeral procession passed by as I was working outside. I said a silent good by. I didn't know her really well. It's sad to think of someone here and then gone in an instant. She was a good person.

The cat gets the award for best of breed today. On our late afternoon walk he always hangs back, wary of Mandy's 100 mph dare devil chicken runs. He'll either roll in a somersault or leap in the air as she runs straight at him and tries to bowl the raccoon tail cat over. The award, however, isn't for acrobatics. The back yard has a maze of mole tunnels. Mandy digs a few holes in the tunnels until I yell at her for destroying my lawn. The Pooch stops at one of the tunnel holes and pees . Thataway boy. Piss on those gawd awful varmints.

Dawn's been home on vacation for a few days. We take day trips with the dog. The Pooch has a favorite fleece blanket in a vegetable box on a table in the garage. If it's a short trip, he'll stay in the garage and snooze in his box. In the afternoon the two kids are the picture of contentment-the Pooch curled in his box and Mandy on the red arm chair.

I align the box so that the cat can peer out of the hand holds of the short side of the box. Lately he's been sleeping with us at night. The king size bed has room for a small army, yet the little blighter has to bump up next to you. He's dead weight trying to move him over and one risks a bite of annoyance. I get the bright idea to bring his box upstairs. As I read in bed he plays with the blanket in the box. The box has small circular holes on the side for ventilation. He hooks the blanket with a claw and tries to pull the fleece through the pint size hole until I nix the annoying game and return to my book.

Unbelievably fair weather for the second week of November has me hustling. I mark off winterizing projects from a list. On a visit to the Heartland Co-op I spend $65 on fuel, oil and air filters for all our equipment. This afternoon I opened up Uncle Bob's service station, changed oil on two mowers and Dawns aging Chevy Prism. After a visit to a cattle auction in Richland Center, I'll finish up the truck and Fred the riding mower. The rototiller is the last piece of machinery on the list. I need it to turn over the tomato garden which is loaded with weeds, stakes and wire cages. I saved the fun for last.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Buck Fever

Oh why do I do this ?

The self deprecation, the whining and worst of all, undisguised sarcasm. "So many snowbirds, so little freezer space," the bumper sticker on a car in Phoenix read. I reword it to, "So many blogs, so little room for trash."

A circuitous route from one cutesy blog with a catchy title to another. Minute investigation of the narrow roads of cyberspace that people travel leads to a dead end in upper New York, a picture of a person driving a car without a door and erotica. Following the next blog tag is a puzzling journey from Michigan and an invitation to a pot luck to the island of the stars. In the end it's not just the dog that moans on the carpet.

The fall photo of Kickapoo Center seems lack luster compared to the dozens of awards some garner. A Sunday afternoon spent reading about Aunt Emily and writing pithy comments would bolster my thin list of readers and expand my data profile to extend beyond the US. What for? I'm just waiting on a Kundalini Snap and the outline for the novel. In the meantime I'll enjoy the word play and clever writers who comment about gubernatorial sounding too much like the character in the Andy Griffith Show with the resultant comment from five ignorant readers that the character's correct name is Gomer. ...And the Brazilian Reverend writes the woman who jogs that he'll pray for her soul. Oh, please.

Score one more for the weatherman. Our dinner salad contains five different greens, fresh radishes and accumulated tidbits. "Do ya wanna cover the garden?" Dawn asks. "Check the weather," I tell her. The local weather forecast is for lows in the high 30's. The eighty foot row in garden number one has survived temperatures as low as 20 degrees with a white row cover draped over bent wire to resemble a miniature hothouse.

In the morning I check the thermometer in the breezeway. Forty four degrees. Wow, that's pretty warm. The thermometers next to the kitchen window report a different story. Twenty two degrees. I let the dog outside via the deck door and traipse out behind her in sweats. There's a fine accumulation of frost on my meticulously manicured front lawn. The combination of low temperatures and dryness allow me to fine comb the grass. The radishes are wilted. The buttercrunch lettuce falls over from shock.

Mandy stares at the highway. Something's has attracted her attention. On the hill leading up to the highway an eight or nine point buck wanders through the high weeds. She barks once in recognition and runs to the barb wire fence line. The buck stands still in an alert posture. Mandy barks again, deep throaty -I'm watching you-barks. The buck would have crossed the highway just before the bridge. Oncoming morning traffic is heavier than the quiet day yesterday. Deciding to avoid the barking menace between him and the highway, the buck trots back down the abutment, leaps over a depression in front of the ten foot high culvert and bounds off for protection of trees lining the river. Mandy has saved his life. In another three weeks he'll be hounded by orange clad hunters who'll cut off his head and display it on a wall in the hardware store.

The only thing that the Hunchback of Notre Dame and I don't have in common is a bell to ring. I get up with a groan and walk like an eighty year old. Wood gathering has extended two more days of bending, tossing, stacking and dumping down a chute to the basement. Avoiding the outside with the excuse of installing a french door, I use the extra hour afforded by the time change to perform one thousand minute tasks that thankfully I didn't enumerate here on a previous post. I would have, though, if time hadn't interceded. In my advanced state of dementia brought on by overwork, I thought my list humorous at best. Who wouldn't find dusting the blades of the ceiling fans and vacuuming Japanese beetles in Dawn's studio noteworthy.

In the afternoon with temperatures outside in the 60's, I load corn shocks and pumpkins in the back of the truck. The corn shocks go on a burn pile. The pumpkins I pretend to be part of an Olympic shot put competition. They are too fresh and don't splatter when they hit the cement debris previously dumped to make a barrier against spring floods in the north forty. To make matters worse, they bounce and roll back toward the truck.

Today we'll screw off royally. I've one garden plot to clear of stakes and weeds. Hopefully, the weather man will wait for another day before forgetting to forecast ground freezing fronts moving in from the west. We're gonna hit the big city for supplies. We'll buy a months worth of butter, wine, cat food from an employee owned grocery chain that beats Wal-Mart's high prices. I briefly imagine picketing the Wal-Mart in our town which takes advantage of the 65 miles to the larger metropolitan area to charge exorbitant prices but succumb to "why bother". The This Week news magazine I read every week reports that most grocery stores now stock garlic imported from China, supplanting California growers. Briefly, I imagine 10,000 square feet of organic garlic growing in our 11 garden plots. I should quit this mind theater.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We'll go outside-later.

Teaching a dog the concept of later could be compared to putting up wood for the winter. The former is a futile task. The latter is never ending. I'm on day five of cutting, splitting, throwing and stacking soft maple, box elder and fresh Chinese elm. Mandy looks at me with an empty expression when I say,"in a minute."

I glance out the kitchen window looking at the sidewalk which is stained with tannic acid and the outline of wet autumn leaves. "I wonder what those spots are?" It's raining. Yet the eastern sky is partially alive with the same golden light that filters down our valley in late afternoon. At the river bottom where our house is situated, it's overcast and somewhat dark. The hill to the north is illuminated in a wide swath of sunlight. As I continue staring, a rainbow appears across the white house on the ridge top which overlooks a sloping hill crowded with unharvested corn.

Shoot. There goes one spur of the minute task. Sawdust from the recent tree cutting covers one half of the corn plot. If I get dressed quickly, skip a shower and stack the breakfast dishes I can till the sawdust under. My hope is that during the winter it'll decompose and make for a softer, looser soil. Our front field is prime topsoil. Over the years I've beefed it up the soil with organic components-fine chopped leaves, horse manure, organic composted poultry manure, wood ashes and now fine wood chips. The already sandy soil is like brown gold. Since it's a corn plot, I'll add more nutrients. Corn sucks up more than it replaces in nutrients. The farmers of the area will pay the price for single cropping year after year, similar to the 1800's when the Wisconsin soil was so depleted that a subsistence crop of the time-wheat-disappeared.

In the west the sky is bright blue. The temperature at 7 am is in the 40's. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to till the corn patch and run the gas out of the Troy- Bilt Horse. It's a moot point since any gas I've used in the past month has an additive to stabilize the remaining gas in the tank. I'm ultra-conservative looking at the investment I've got in machinery. For five months the machinery will be at rest in the shed near the highway. The recent warmer weather gives me respite to complete more work before snow. My neighbor comes over with a log splitter. Half way through splitting monster chunks of the main trunk of the silver maple felled last Friday, he's down to a sleeveless t-shirt. I'm down to a single long sleeve shirt. Mother Nature has been especially kind of late.

Monday, November 1, 2010


On the back cover of the magazine is a large green rectangle. I won't mention the product or magazine to save me a peevish comment from either of the two. The green rectangle proclaims in large bold print yellow " Save Up To $5000 . In smaller print underneath the bold statement the advertisement qualifies the savings with the word "annually". In even smaller print below the large banner is an endorsement from John Doe, abbreviated John D. ,New Mexico. "With the ...I saved $5000 last year." I mention the ad to my wife. "Can you believe this?" I growl peevishly. They make an undocumented claim and back it up with an endorsement equally without proof. Unless there's some federal agency reading the back pages of magazines like this one, the claims might as well be tooting Dr.Feelgood's Tonic and Elixir. Sorry Dr. Feelgood, but at least your product sold from the back of a wagon made people feel good since the old time swindlers laced their concoction with alcohol. Madison Avenue. A coverall term I use to describe the advertising tricks and gimmicks used to sell a product.

Yahoo news this morning warns people to beware of the 50% off deals. There is more to the claim than meets the eye.

Of course I look inward for answers. Am I peevish because the coffee this morning was leftover from Sunday. "Are you cranky because you've another day of hard labor hauling firewood?" Oh wow. Peeve. Cranky. Get out the Oxford Etymology. I learn that "peeved" is a past participle formed upon a supposed verb stem. Does that mean the English language is a fake, too. There is no verb to peeve. The closest thing is what we did behind the barn as kids. I am really peevish now, because I lost my cursor. "Where the heck did it go?"

Cranky? The Oxford dictionary says it's obsolete , a fanciful turn of speech of US origin.

My sister sends me a cookbook she helped to publish. In the evening my phone rings. I see her name on the display. I don't pick up. For reasons that are too involved to explain here, such as: 1. I look at the telephone as an intrusion. 2. After a phone call from the other sister, I usually have to pour a glass of wine to calm myself. 3. My oldest sister is most like my crazy step mother. The next day I e-mail her a thank you note. I include a few details about life here in Kickapoo Center. When I retrieve her voice mail message, I get a detailed summary of the next five days of her travel plans. There's no way I can remember when she's home and when she's on the road. I call several times, leaving no message on her home phone. Finally we connect.

"Did you get my cookbook?" she asks. I counter with, "You didn't read my e-mail, did you." "No I never got one," she says. I tell her to get another ISP if she's losing mail. "Oh, they told me they couldn't fix the problem until they lay another cable next spring. I start gnashing my teeth. Further in the conversation I mention the new windows we've been busy installing before the cold winds of winter lash this old schoolhouse. "Oh. I remember a thing someone wrote about windows. No it wasn't you. It was somebody else."

A day or two later I get an e-mail telling me she finally got my e-mail.

Krikey. The ends that people go to save face. My premise. People are so used to deception, they employ many of these same tactics of omission, half truths, coyote yarns(exaggeration) , lies and distortions that they see and hear on the media.

Yes. I looked up harping, too. There wasn't an entry in the Oxford etymology. My dictionary gave two definitions: to play the harp and to dwell on a subject tiresomely.