Friday, June 24, 2011

The View From The Bridge

March 2007   Normal Kickapoo River Width-25 Feet
When I dumped 5.5 inches of rain collected in the rain gauge a few days ago, I assumed I forgot to empty the thin plastic tube with magnified numbers that hangs on the east fence.

This morning I read a front page article in the Vernon Broadcaster.  The headline, Cub Scouts Ride Out Lightning / Rain . Calm prevails as youth are led to dry, safe ground. The campout which started Saturday night near the Bad Axe River, which Vernon County Sheriff, John Spears reported is usually 10-12 inches deep, ended Sunday at 7 am when emergency personnel led the scouts to safety across a dam.  Water rose eight feet where the scouts and Cubmaster were "creek stomping" in a near-by branch of the river.

The same newspaper reports that the local restaurant owned by a former  truck driver and his wife who rent canoes and cabins near-by is up for auction sale.  Dawn reports the daily special last week was grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Mandy's visit to the vet is highlighted by her attempt to leap off the examining table and a chagrined owner having to pick  her up and carry the struggling  48 pound pooch to the scale.  The vet didn't have time to read the lab report sent in two days previously. She reads the numbers aloud, diagnosing on the run, pointing to the first page as if the information is dramatic and inspiring.  Repeating the numbers again, there appears to be nothing wrong with my girl.  I mutter to myself about the vet's assuming I am intellectually challenged and do not understand labspeak. 

But, alas, there is a second page which if the vet had read the report and summarized the findings would have saved me the trouble of trying to hold a wild eyed blue heeler on a vinyl cushion four feet off the tile floor.  The UA sample has a PH of 8.0 which is labeled "high".  Taking the dog's temperature, I'm informed that the reading is 103.7.  A long pause follows when it appears that dumb me doesn't know the basal temperature taken rectally on a female dog. 

Thus and such is another day dealing with sub par medical personnel in rural areas.  Jorge tells me that his "city" vet recommended having his dogs, Sam and Chase, vaccinated against Lyme disease. Dawn tells me that no one in the area ever heard of such thing, including my vet.  She hands me an envelope for seven days of pills, two per day at 12 hour intervals of an antibiotic.  I groan.  Can I open the capsules and pour is on food?  Nope.  ...And they taste bad.

I wait until the 12 hour interval is reasonable so that I'm not giving her the medication in the wee hours of the morning.  Disguised in thin sliced flank steak from a Chinese meal I made the other night, I tease Mandy Mae into thinking it's a treat. "Speak," I tell her.  Several attempts at pathetic grunts are culminated with a loud "ruff".  She wolfs the horse sized pill down.  This morning I walk outside with thin sliced, fresh made mozzarella cheese and feed strips to the cat.  He rips a piece from my hand and looks up at me with the, "Is that all?" look in his eyes.  Mandy knows I'm hiding a pill in my hand and runs toward the corner of the garage, eyeing me cautiously. 

Jorge tells me that on the Dr.Oz show on TV, a handler shows how to give a dog a pill. Inserting the pill in the back of the animal's throat, he holds the snout closed and blows softly on the dog's nose.  In an instant the pill is gone-swallowed.

I miss the back of Mandy's throat, so when I hold her snout closed to force her the swallow, she gums the medication and it oozes out the side of her lips.  I don't want to imagine what it would look like, me in my bathrobe, holding the dog's mouth closed blowing on her nose. In the end I get her to swallow.  Rubbing her side, I lavish praise and Mandy prances with relief.  Six more days and 12 pills later, I'll be bringing another sample to the vet, which like the first will be free of bacteria.  This time the vet instructs me to refrigerate the sample.  The office tech forgot that information, even though I asked about the length of time that would elapse from taking the sample to running it to the vet-about two and a half hours.  Dawn tells me that icing a urine sample is routine in her line of work.

I think we'll need a special shelf in the Frigidaire.  Right next to the salted hog intestines for sausage casing and behind the can of refried beans we opened last month that have sprouted green fuzz, we'll keep dog pee.   

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Is it the fulfillment of a Biblical prophesy, a result of global warming, an eleven year cycle of gyrating storm patterns or part of the theme I hum evenings, a popular song here, In heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here ? It's the question I debate frequently with my alter ego, also my pseudonym   Is there a heaven or hell?  Is this life really a hell on earth?

After a leisurely breakfast in which I allow myself a full thirty minutes to read The Shopping News and a few articles from the Christian Science Monitor,  I skip a shower, grab a laundry basket and limp shirtless downstairs. I tell Mandy, "soon"  when she yawns and does her extended ooouuut groan  The bare chested routine is to slather insect repellent and sun screen over my neck, shoulders and arms  for the full farmer tan effect. Even I don't want to see me naked on a beach.

"Oh shit."  Glancing out the north windows of the second floor, I see the ominous gray clouds let go with a fine shower of rain. My plans change instantly from outdoor work to inside chores. 

Half of the wire towers I hauled to the front field are adjacent to the tomato patch.  When I was able to get out to the field to tie up tomato plants, they'd changed from teenagers to full grown blossoming giants.  I snip and trim and use a leftover piece of muslin originally slated as a sun-dried tomato covering for cloth tomato ties. I'm driven inside by heat and humidity at mid-day.  

Much of my morning involved getting a urine sample from Mandy, the dog and transporting it to the vet in the largest town 20 minutes away.  After a few minutes on the phone with the vet's assistant, I explain that she'd probably not want to eat cereal at our house anytime in the future.  A ceramic bowl I use exclusively for the dog and cat, is pressed into service as a collector.  Following closely behind my girl, I wait until she squats and slip the bowl underneath her hindquarters.  Success! I transfer the contents to a plastic Tupperware salad dressing mini. 

Mandy's been slurping water and peeing even more frequently.  The connection between hot weather or other plausible causes is ruled out when she has an inside "accident" overnight.  Taking a sample to the vet for laboratory analysis will rule out any doubt. 

Over three weeks of drought changes overnight to frequent drenching rain-the kind that turns gardens into mud banks.  There's a race between weeds and vegetable plants to reach the sun.  In the spinach plot, the lambs quarter won.  I push aside weeds to get at rangy spinach in the middle of the 20 foot row.  Washing mud and sand from the leaves and separating out grass and weeds takes most of an afternoon.  The easy part is blanching, bagging and freezing the crop.  While the water is heating, I reorganize the freezers and make new notes on the map hanging above the chest freezer.  The chest freezer holds four cardboard orange juice boxes with  cut off lids on each layer.  Without the map, I'd never know where to find jalapenos and green peppers, snow peas or broccoli.

Outdoor work follows a routine.  Properly attired and sprayed for black flies, I arrange three sheets of Bounce fabric softener under my straw hat.  I grab a used chicken liver container half full of water and dish soap to drown Colorado potato beetles.  There are for plots to pass by looking for striped adults and red larvae.  Next, I scan for tasks and order them into a mental list for 1. immediate attention, 2. later and 3. when I can get around to it.  

Cabbages are three fourths grown, so I haul five gallon buckets from the back addition to the garage workshop we call the summer kitchen, to the entrance way of the house.  After shredding twenty or so pounds of cabbage, it is salted and covered with cheese cloth, a dinner plate and a gallon jug of clean water to ferment into sauerkraut.  It takes two weeks before Dawn adds caraway and processes it into pint jars.  The broccoli still hasn't headed.  Potatoes are in full bloom and onions are taking advantage of the long daylight of the summer solstice to bulk up.  Cucumbers for pickles are inching up their wire trellis having grown two new sets of leaves in the last week.  The pole beans are the Secretariat of the vegetable race.  I'll add three foot extensions to the five foot high trellis before they are full grown. Called rattlesnake beans because of the purple striations of the pods, they are the best tasting of the green bean family.  Besides freezing them as is, we can them as "dilly" beans and add them to four bean salad.  Dried, the bean seeds are nutritious and tasty as barbecue beans. 

When the winds are strong  and the grass dries in the late afternoon, Mandy finds a quiet spot to watch me sail over the lawn on yellow Ted or orange Fred, my riding mowers.  Ted's short and squat and hugs hills.  Fred is tall and fast and runs like the deer Mandy scared from the backyard late the other night.  He's powered by a Kawasaki motor. 

On Monday I got two gallons of raw milk from my Amish friends to make into mozzarella cheese.  The recipe comes from pig farmer Jake, also Amish.  The title of the recipe is 30 minute cheese,

Pooch the cat is restless lying behind my useless printer, snoring away.  Mandy gave up on hopes of chasing a solitary rabbit hanging out down the lane toward the corn field which will soon turn to lake if the rains continue.

If the skies clear, I'll be able to hang wash.  The time consumed running the basement stairs is well worth the savings in dollars on the electric bill.  Substituting a fan on medium high for the dehumidifier and hanging wash has saved us on average of thirty dollars a month.  The electric utility foiled our quest to reduce the bill ,shown as a line graph, to "lowest ever" when they raised the rates.    

Monday, June 20, 2011


Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.
Lao Tsu
Tao Te Ching

Once a year, I get out my yellowed copy of the Tao.   Mostly I'm puzzled by the message repeated in a hundred different ways. Yes, I understand that striving leads to trouble.  

Each potato plot is a study in "gorgeous".  The Kennebecs are planted in three rows down an eighty foot patch.  One row, sown on Good Friday looks exactly like the two adjacent which were planted a few weeks later.  They're bushy and fill in all bare areas in between the rows. This works well in two ways for me.  It crowds out weeds and there's a gutter beside the long row where I can step to pick adult and larval stage potato beetles.  I run the tiller down each side of the plot. With a garden rake I push loose sandy, loam up at the base of the plants for future spuds. It ensures that bare shoulders of large potatoes aren't exposed to sun.  The green shoulders are inedible and slightly poisonous.

Two other plots, the russets and left-over Pontiacs and white potatoes are slightly rangy from an excessive amount of nutrient leftover from previous years.  All are in blossom stage.

Friday night a thunderstorm, in two waves with just enough time in between boomers to drive Mandy out of her bed to shiver on the upstairs steps, dumps five inches of rain in less than two hours.  The potato vines are beaten down in scattered areas, sort of like angels walked around dumping buckets of water here and there.
Western Great Lakes Anishnabe (Ojibwa) told a traditional tale that people who were bad in this life were reincarnated as a strawberry.I'm summarizing, so give me the benefit of doubt caused by a need for brevity. One of my teachers, an elder from the St.Mary's band of Ojibwa, said that we are born into this life to bring about balance.  If one doesn't learn, they are doomed to repeat until they get it right.  For the really bad, being turned into a strawberry is the ultimate in teaching / learning. Passing through the intestines of an animal is a sure cure for egotism and pomposity.

Life in the country means driving longer distances using up expensive fuel to perform routine tasks.  Pooch, the cat is out of Frontline.  He's especially susceptible to insects, since he lives outdoor from sun-up to sun-down.  I make an unsuccessful search for Frontline that doesn't cost  forty five dollars for a three months supply.  The coupon I hoarded expired at the end of May, so Jorge, Dawn and I set off to the co-op in Westby.  Supposedly they have Frontline on sale.  Jorge gets his sale bananas at the Kwik-Trip and we stop at Premier Meats for quality ground beef.  We're forced to purchase dry cat food at Wal-Mart, the only store that carries the variety of Purina One.  After dropping off Jorge, our last stop is at the Amish farm.

Mandy races out of the car to nuzzle her mother's snout.  On Saturdays, the bulk store carries fresh baked goods.  I pick up a lopsided loaf of seven grain bread and three pounds of dark chocolate chips.  The bread is reasonably price at $1.80 and weighs upwards of two pounds. Forty quarts of boxed strawberries are crowded on a six foot folding table.  I ask if the one box separated from the group is for sale.  The youngest daughter is bouncing a two gallon jug of cream on her lap.  In a half hour it will separate into whey and butter.Mom is on a neighbor's cell phone calling strawberry customers.  Dad is behind the workshop cultivating a garden plot with a two horse hitch.  The wind is strong, pushing away the black flies.  Dad strolls up, removes his straw hat to savor the cool breeze.  The youngest son shows Dawn a magic trick with two magnets that look like hematite. He tosses them in the air which startles Dawn because of the buzzing sound they make.  The wrap around porch is a festival of colorful hanging baskets. Mandy goes in search of a chicken head to gnaw on.  Her mother likes to hide treats like this after fryers are butchered during the week.Because it is Saturday, several other daughters are inside washing their long tresses.

Our shopping spree complete, we take the lone quart of strawberries for a spinach and strawberry salad at dinner. Mandy says good by to her Mom with a muzzle nuzzle. I've got more beet greens to wash and sort.  With a wind and some sun, the grass will dry by late afternoon.  Lightning storms add nitrogen to the rainfall, giving the grass an added boost. I'll be riding the mowers.      


Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's A Race

Mr. Bean, in the remake of Around the World in Eighty Days, says with a mocking foreign accent  "eetz a race" as the participants run off in every direction.

After yesterday's day long soaker totaling about 3/4ths of an inch of rain, garden plants grow faster than I can keep up.  For dinner I pull clumps of young, tender beets, hardly making a dent in the row.  I snip off a slender red thread root and steam the stems and leaves of the thinned young beets.  Thinning will be a daily activity, along with offering young spinach for sale at $2.95 a zip lock bag.

Bean plants, both pole beans and yellow, bush beans emerge with first leaves, pushing back clumps of dirt in the challenge to reach for the sun.  An eighty foot row of arugula, lettuce, curled leaf spinach, turnips, mescal greens, Chinese radishes and more is a thin line of green in the soil.  Tomatoes are twice tied to stakes, trimmed of suckers and ready for wire cages. Potatoes are beginning to bloom.  I'll be going around trimming blossom tops of onions to promote bulb expansion.

If it rains, I get a day off.  Yesterday's rain gave me time to run to Amish-land for a new thermo-pane window.  Rolling down Irish Ridge in Jorge's SUV, I see fields that are carefully tended with black plastic row covers to prevent weeds. Young plants pop through cut outs in the plastic.  At the end of the ridge road, just before we turn off to Optic Road for the Amish Wal-Mart,  three hundred foot rows of tomatoes carefully staked with  red, white or blue poles, held back with two lines of rope on either side of the stalks is an amazing spectacle.

My Amish friends tell me that they have advance orders for 1000 quarts of strawberries.  This year the berries are late.  I sit in the kitchen talking with the elders as a truck pulls up and the driver honks his horn.I consider it a rude English gesture, but the comment is made that perhaps the driver is unable to get out of the truck easily.  The youngest boy is sent to investigate. I mention late October to begin a greenhouse attachment to a chicken coop, knowing that life for the Patriarch is full of summer toil.

 After a short hiatus, the hummingbirds fight for space on three feeders.  Dawn counts five as she heats a cup of coffee.  It seems strange to think of the time differences between the summer solstice and the dark days of winter.  It's still light when Mandy and I venture out at nine pm for a final check of the grounds.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Free At Last

I turned off the heat because the sun's coming through the living room curtains.  Both kids are on the deck enjoying a quiet Sunday morning.  I wish you could see the swallows flitting across the road, wings folded in prayer, dipping their beaks at the gravel.  At first light when my Blue Heeler jumped on the bed to wish me a good morning, it was foggy-hazy.  Sounds crazy, but the next thing she did was to say hello, after licking my face, her usual greeting.  I guffawed.

Mandy Mae yawns frequently.  I only pay attention to check her teeth and see if she needs more beef bones to gnaw on to keep 'em clean and white.  This time the yawn was stifled, brief and a definite vocalization, "Out," she said.

Trapped in a dog's body, she communicates to me in hundreds of ways.  I listen.  Ears, facial expression, posture and yes, she speaks.  My wife's an expert on dementia and is 10 years younger than me.  She'd be the first to recommend the old folks home if she saw signs of a depreciation of synapses. I ain't crazy.

A while ago, I noticed if  I asked Mandy a question , "Do you want to come in the house?"  she'd turn her head to the right side.  Do this frequently enough with controls on the side stuff -the divertisements-and she responds the same way. The side-ways glance I took to mean NO. Mid day when she's happy being outside, "You you want to come in?" gets me the side-ways glance.  Ask her at 7:30 pm after her dinner and she'll trot briskly in the house.

We're inside watching another flick on TV.  Mandy jumps down from an armchair.  If she's changing position or too warm from the overstuffed side chair, she'll jump down and flop on her side on the varnished wood floor.  Sometimes, she'll get off the chair and walk toward me and stare.  If I ignore her stare, she may decide it isn't worth the effort and go back to slurping the cat's ears, getting a drink of water or jumping back on the chair.

To keep her honest, I know for a fact she tells little white lies, I'll ask her,"Do you really want to go out?"

The stare intensifies.  "Are you sure?"  She shakes shakes her head very briefly, just her head, with no all body wiggling that signifies: I got an itch; I just rolled in poo and want to share it; or I hate being wet. I interpret this short head shake as a yes.  Dawn didn't believe it at first and was inches from her phone ringing for the gurney. Mandy does the same thing if I ask, "Do you want to go for a ride."

I pointed out each time the circumstances were controlled and confined confirming that she wasn't shaking off fluff, but rather responding with an action that means:

"Yes, you got it. Good for you!  Do you know how hard I work to get you to listen?" 

Imagine the frustration if you are a dog.  The cat has it worse because he's a dog trapped in a cat's body.  I heard him bark the other day, but that's 'nuther story.

How weird it is to have free time.  We spend all day in Lacrosse shopping.  One major stop is at the campaign headquarters for Jennifer Shilling

who is running against the Republican wiener Dan Kapanke a marionette in the Skippy Walker-Wisconsin Governor's show. We've been seeing six foot long signs of cut out letters which just say SHILLING.  Posted in our front field, the hundreds that pass by on the state highway would clearly get the message.

Jorge is on a vegan diet. He's the driver.  We stop at the Flying Carp Cafe, a downtown bistro that serves Cajun food under the alternate moniker of Buzzard Billys.  He orders the veggie Po' Boy without the cheese.  The cook thinks that slathering it in olive oil makes up for the lack of cheese or meat.  My catfish Po' Boy is pretty good. 

I pick up a 24 pack of good beer for Mountain Man Johann.  It's the last part of the deal in our window trade.  He gives me sixteen , one hundred year old windows from a church and I give him a small amount of cash and the promise of good beer.  I call him when we get home. He's unloading firewood.  I toss the case in the chest freezer because he says he'' come over shortly.  Johann is off the grid.  Having a cold one is a bit more complicated.  He shows up 45 minutes later beat to a pulp after putting in another hard day.  I ask, "How was it painting a barn in 96 degree heat?"  I get an understated, "The paint dried real quick?"

We stand there exchanging gab.  The night before a 'coon ate all his laying hens, killed his rooster and gulped down three chicks for dessert.  The goose hid by the cabin door.  Eating blueberry yogurt, Johann pours a trail leading to the live trap.  Next morning, Johann says, "There was the biggest, raggedly looking 'coon in that trap." He holds his arms out to show me the size.  Trial and sentence were brief.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Steak For Dinner

Mandy Mae catches a mole!
After I skin the critter and nail his hide to the barn door, I'll find the backstrapp, dip it in flour and fry it briefly.
I'm just fooling with you. 

I told Mandy I'd give her steak for dinner if she ever caught a mole.  At the end of plot #8 I see her pawing at something.  She can smell moles digging in the dirt and if she steps on a tunnel, she has Carte Blanche to dig to China if she feels a need. The pawing means she caught something.  This dumbass was trying to dig across the gravel road.  He was inches from the surface, finding the way under a former state highway a bit tough.

Think I'm getting a little jiggy with the three days of 95+ degree temps, a 3 week drought and today 50 degrees at 5 am?  No way.  Around each and every plant I put in 9,250 sq. ft of garden plots I have to surround it with wooden stakes to prevent moles from tunneling under the plants.  Once they tunnel below a plant, it wilts and dies.  Do you know how many wooden stakes I make in a given year. Plenty hundreds.  My table saw motor is on the fritz because of all the ripping of pine boards.  I not only have three tubs, 36 inches in diameter filled with stakes but I grade them by size.  Then there are the bundled stakes in the tool shed. Any old board  I find, I'll examine to put into service for mole barriers. 

I use cardboard and kraft paper feed sacks for mulch.  Moles love the cool soil and feed on worms under the mulch.  Sometimes the stakes I surround  plants break off or become hidden in the dirt. Plays havoc with my tiller.  
Still having trouble with the camera-pink edge, poor focus.
Those paddle like hands make quick work of lawn and garden.  After a heavy rain I've got sinkholes in my potato patch.  I draw the line when critters affect my livelihood.  Long ago, when working in the worst part of the ghetto, I conditioned my brain to react without hesitation whenever danger threatened either of my children.  They attended the same school in which I taught.  Threaten me is one thing but threaten to hurt my children-you're dead. The same holds true for animals who would and have caused harm to my "kids", the animals you'd call pets but I call them members of my family.

I over plant to cover the vagaries of weather and insects.When rabbits overran the place, I first threw water balloons at them.  They snickered at this big dummy.  Then, I got a dog, not to thwart rabbits, but for the companionship.  This morning I point down the road to the corn field.  Rabbit, I tell Mandy.  She understands the difference between rabbit and squirrel.  Rabbit races into the undergrowth which is wet and tangley with stickers. Mandy follows.  A minute later she comes out full of stick-tight round green balls, soaked to the skin.  She examines the spot where the rabbit sat on the road.  In her dog brain she 'll remember this. I give her a "good girl" hug. No rabbit will be feeding on young cucumber, tender spinach, snow pea plants or young pole bean plants-not if it wants to see the end of summer.

 So, I'll be pressure cooking beans, rolling out a pie crust for apple pie, baking a chicken and Mandy will dine on Flat Iron steak sauteed in butter.  It's cool today, I look on the bright side and even thought the rain is light, I'm caught up and can take the day off.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Holy Moley

Or, should I have written Holey Moley.  I don't even know what a moley is.  Each time I use the word moley, I get the curly underline telling me to change it to Morley or Molly.

Really weird stuff going on.  Yes, besides the frickin' weather.  I follow a few blogs.  The writers are clever, insightful and make me feel good whenever I get two seconds off from my life diggin' in the dirt to read their remarks.  Yesterday, I'm surfing during a break from working behind hell's door.  I want to make a comment-something general-as to how much I appreciate the information and thoughts of one writer.  The computer freezes me out.  It's just as well because I would have sounded like I was kissing up.  

Then today, I'm reading another blog and the same thing happens.  Again, I wanted to voice admiration for the poignant thoughts of the writer. At one point I hit-God only knows what key-and a screen I've never seen pops up.  It makes me paranoid thinking of big brother out there in cyberspace looking over my shoulder telling me to quit farting around on the net.  Like Googling websites dealing with the difference between naked and nude. Oh come on.

I spend way too much time researching a recent smart-alec remark Jorge makes about my sign at the entrance to our road.

He asks," Shouldn't your sign say "organically grown vegetables" instead of "organically raised?"  I tell him in a nice way he's being an ass.  There's a running joke about the former town clerk who goes ballistic every time she sees a sign along the road  reading "farm fresh eggs."  She prided herself on her ability to sever jugular veins and humble giants with her pen and with the written word. Her distaste for the expression regarded using the word farm as an adjective.  I don't know. Maybe it was a reaction to redundant language since eggs usually come from a farm, even if it's one of those monster corporate ventures. Whatever.

In the dictionary it says that raised and grown can be used as equivalents, but I spend minutes I don't have finding out what the funny looking symbol used in place of equivalent to means .

Thanks to the weather, I'm have not completed planting.  The NWS says "rain likely" yesterday.  They lied, the bastards.  When the air temperature is 96 degrees, the soil will be too hot for some seeds to germinate.  I've lost entire spinach crops and last year my organic soybeans ( Edamame) didn't germinate. Most of one plot is reserved for Shirofumi edible soybeans.  Steamed and salted, they are better than popcorn. The package of soybean inoculant-N,Dure cost me $4.50 .

In the bathroom I assemble all the insect repellents and sun block to compare which is the most effective.  Then I head outside for battle.  The small gnats that have invaded Kickapoo Center are briefly stunned by four sheets of Bounce under my hat. Some fly up my nose.  I breathe in a small black fly and choke when the varmint hits my windpipe. Not a pretty sight, me in my straw hat with the bounce ear flaps, spitting and hacking like Bill the cat on the gravel road. When the black flies get behind my glasses I have to stop and take off my glasses.  That accounts for wild watering patterns in the dirt.  The stress on our water system is considerable, therefore  I manually precision water many of the eighty foot long plots.  There'll be a dark soil trail from the hose and all of a sudden one will see circles, ovals and wild gyrations made with the trigger nozzle as I fight off the 'effing flies.

To sit in a lawn chair, I place terry cloth towels on the armrest so my elbows don't slip off.  I look at the garage floor and there's a pool of water from sweat dripping off my arms.  Dog and cat find a cool spot to collapse.

Back in the field, I see that I've lost one broccoli plant and others are going into shock.  People laugh about my extravagant planting. "What do you do with all those vegetables? " they question.  "Well, I respond. Last year I harvested 700 pounds of potatoes. The year before-50 pounds.Different years, different weather."  This year I bought just enough broccoli plants to give us a year's supply in our freezer.  I look at my dwindling harvest and shake my fist at the sun.

I've played around enough and need to go back and plant kale, lettuce, arugula, chard-all the leafy greens that we use in salads.  The forecast for tonight is100 % rain. Yeah, sure.  To insure it rains, I'll leave my car windows open, leave tools in the field, hang wash and sleep with an open window.      

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I can't remember the last time it rained. A tad before Memorial day the nighttime temperatures dipped to 35. The previous week the rain gauge filled up over the 2 inch mark.  The grass along the edge of the road is tan instead of green.  New seed I planted in divots made by  the township plow is puce green.

Days begin at 5 or 5:30 if I'm lazy.  This morning, I suit up in black sweat pants and a black hooded sweatshirt.  The kitchen thermometer says 70. I don't bother with insect repellent.  Tiny gnats feast on my forehead at the line where I pulled the drawstring for the hood tight.  I look like a teenager with a bad case of acne.

The garden plots lie in a front field across the road from the house.  There are two water spigots on the front and side of the house with specially rigged valves to siphon water out in case of a sudden cold snap here in the sub-arctic.  That means running water lines across the road, coiling and uncoiling expensive, high quality hose so that  farmers rolling down our lane don't trash the hose.  An older, tougher hose, non-bendable in cool weather lies on old carpet I spread on the gravel after sweeping the road free of sharp rocks that tractor tires, corn planters, high draw spray wagons and spring toothed plows can't cut.    

An hour and a half of precision watering, a trip to the next town for an appointment and back to  follow up with sips for thirsty planters, baby herb plants and newly seeded plots takes me past noon. I skipped breakfast and gulp 44 ounces of heavily iced diet Mountain Dew between moving drip lines further into the largest potato patch.  The caffeine gets me moving around the front field pulling stakes, rolling up twine, performing small weeding tasks, crushing eggs shells for pepper plants which I neglected when first planted.  It's an experiment. The tomato plants have told me they like the calcium and other trace minerals. 

Ninety six on the north side of the house drives me inside.  I practice ways of cussing without swearing.  Jesus, Joseph and Mary.  Lord have mercy.  What the Sam Hill.  Sweat stains on my shirt look like the spray bottle marks they use on actors in action movies who haven't broken a sweat in years.  After lunch, my clothes are still damp.  I ponder calling it a day and having a light beer and reading a new detective novel.  Instead I get out a half gallon box of Bunny Tracks and even up the edges of the cardboard container.  My wife, the big dipper, scoops out the center. I'll catch hell for that remark.  "Honey, it's part of my poetic license."  In the doctor's office I tell the assistant who takes my blood pressure that in business I take my wife along as a body guard.  I reel off stats about her past life as a kick boxing teacher and use my hand as a visual.

Holding up my hand like a cop stopping traffic, I say,"Large target".   Then I turn the palm sideways and repeat, "Thin target."  It's one of the things she taught me, besides "Keep your cotton picking mouth shut, you fool."  I tend to get mouthy.

In the extreme heat two robins find energy to fight right in front of the kitchen window giving more credence to their Latin name turdis migratorius. Dawn uses the same epithet leaving out the migratorius when I tickle her feet or reach over the shower door when she's washing her hair.  After the shriek, "You turd"  booms off the small bathroom ceiling.

The dog follows me every where.  She has established vantage points to keep an eye on me from under my truck, in the shade of a forty foot Norway pine, on the cool garage slab and when these aren't available she'll run along my side, tongue lolling.  The cat spends most of his time lurking unless I'm sitting on a lawn chair playing porch monkey in the garage.  Migratory chipping sparrows play chicken with him on the gravel apron, pretending not to care as they hop along looking for seeds and treats in the stones.

The electric utility builds a new facility in Westby, a sprawling one story office complex. When the electricity to the barn goes off, I discover a previous knob ran above-ground Romex from the box on the pole to a breaker panel on the right side of the storm door in the barn. I call an electrician who contacts the electric company.  I learn that it'll cost me close to $300 bucks to have them come out and install a new pedestal and box for breakers and connections. That's the charge for the empty equipment.  The electrician opens the old panel on the pole and shows me where water seeps in and wasps nest behind old fashioned cardboard tube fuses. I decide to forgo the cost and live without lights in the barn.

I do not want to fund another sprawling building complex for the utility.  I set the thermostat for 78 and hear the central air kick in frequently. It reminds me of a taxi meter. At night we run a ceiling fan in the bedroom to stir the air and create a gentle breeze.

Mulched broccoli plants collapse their leaves on the dirt in the heat, russet potatoes start to wilt at the top, the sky is a slate blue gray color and the peonies that line the drive are ready to burst into color and then be smashed to the ground in a June storm.  It happens every year.          

Monday, June 6, 2011

Whoops,Here We Go Again

I'm waiting for my dark roast with steamed milk cup o' coffee to cool down.  I have a short break before heading out the door this morning having started my morning routine extra early at 5:18.  Pooch the cat was stretched out on his back on the bed. Mandy still dozed in the futon bedroom. Her birthday ride to the Amish farm was a resounding success.  Her birthday coincides with the Amish patriarch's birthday.  We deliberately set that date after thinking back to the possible moment that Mandy Mom could have encountered her soul-mate. The Amish patriarch was in a back room separating cream in preparation for making butter in the rear of the house.

"You're working on your birthday?" I ask.  His wife chimes in with, "He had the morning off."  Last year he wanted to go fishing but this time of year is crazy busy with work. Me: "You aren't going fishing?" Pa: "Nah."
I mention the cost of Canadian walleye at the local grocery chain.  $5 more per pound than in Lacrosse.

Pa:"they're hard to catch."  Me: "But they taste great."   A short visit turns into an hour in which grain prices, commodity speculating and a few teases from the Amish Matriarch spice up the conversation.  "Got a baby pickle coming up?"  "You're kidding," I sputter.  "I just planted the my "Cross Country" Pickling cucumbers from Fedco Seeds.  She admits that the pickle is from a vine in a hanging basket someone gifted her.  Cucumbers in a hanging basket?

Mandy and I depart for home knowing I'll get a few choice comments about the "short visit". Mandy was able to scrounge up a chicken head left over from recent chicken plucking.  The dog also makes me the fool when the youngest Amish girl gives Mandy Mom a handful of Beneful from a bag I bought weeks ago. Mandy wouldn't touch the stuff at home but gobbles it down on their wraparound porch.   I'd brought Pa the kibble as a mirthful comment about their low key birthday celebrations.

Open close, open close.  Recent weather events have me running around the house opening windows and later, closing them when a 60 degree morning turns up toward 80 in the afternoon.  Shade, sun, shade, sun.The same routine applies for drapes and curtains. Dawn and I take time for lunch at the "Corners"  restaurant-a former Dog and Suds with decent food and a newly remodeled building.  The previous owners, the Larsons,  sold out after everyone in the family put their heart and soul into the drive-in eatery.  Dad did the cooking. Mom was waitstaff and the kids were back up. Dawn says they retired and moved to Florida.

On our way home a car flashes it's lights at me half way from the elk farm.  I'm puzzled at the warning.  There are only a couple of sheriff vehicles that cruise the state highway. They do little to keep the the heavily loaded gravel trucks from speeding.  I hear them hitting their engine brakes rolling down the hill and straightaway to the Viola Curve, fearful that they'll crash at the bridge or into cars turning from the county highways merging just beyond the bridge.

Dawn guffaws as we crest the top of the hill.  An annual event becomes a standing joke whenever I stop my riding mower to talk with my neighbor.  "Hey why dontcha knock over your mailbox and get it over with?"  We laugh.  Last year a young couple riding a borrowed, fancy new car, manage to roll the car when the young man driving loses control after a tire catches the edge of the highway between the pavement and gravel shoulder.  Skidding across the highway on it's top, the car wipes out my neighbor's mailbox and comes to rest in their driveway. No one is hurt.

Dawn's guffaw changes to a gasp. The mailbox is gone.  On the north side of the highway just off the pavement a car with smashed windows leans precariously toward the ditch.  My neighbor's van sits in the driveway-the right side rear panel completely caved in.  No one seems to be hurt, thank God.  I make a mental note to be even more cautious when I pull off of our lane onto the highway.       

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Dawn gave me one of those talking birthday cards recently.  Marveling at the  technology of miniaturization, I open the card trying to figure out where the on/off switch is located.  How does the card know when to shut down the recording and begin at the start point?  Remember, I am technically challenged.  This afternoon I spent two and a half hours replacing a pipe from the engine to the muffler on Ted, my riding mower.

I laughed when Mountain Man Johann took a hammer to the previous pipe after the Amish patriarch re-welded the break.  Johann is a motor head who got kicked out of eight grade.  His teacher gave him the answers to the proficiency test so he could graduate. He can fix anything, especially if there a promise of of nooky with a girl friend or beer or both.

The basics of the repair scenario are that the two bolts from the engine holding the exhaust pipe in place didn't match up with the flange on the exhaust pipe.  I walk back and forth from my garage workshop to the barn where Ted is looking forlorn and in pieces.  First, I try to re-bore the holes on the pipe flange. Next I whack the pipe with a hammer to flatten a bend that comes in contact with the frame. When all else fails, I bring the hammer out to the barn and low and behold, a swift tap on the pipe sets it in place. Zowee.

Most of the time, my blue heeler puppy lays in the dirt on the concrete floor watching me.  Tomorrow is her birthday. The talking card Dawn gave me for my birthday last week excites her.  She's puzzled by the voices and when I show her the Hoops and Yo-Yo "surprise" card, she chews on the the outside edge.

We'll go for a ride on this day for which she hasn't a clue.  She'll hang her head out the car window, feet propped on the armrest.  I'll tell her how much I love her( I do this daily to Dawn's chagrin) and spoil her with cat treats. I'll wrassle with her on the lawn and she'll nip at my feet right before she races behind me and leaps up at me, catching me by surprise,when she slobbers on my arm.

Happy birthday babe.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Too Long Gone

I stand in the front field composing.  
Put Some Bounce In Your Step.* see below
That'd be a great title.  Yeah, and look at the sight of those geese just above the treetops. I need my camera, but it's in my office. Isn't the sight of that circling hawk amazing?  Did you hear it scream? 

Lately, the work I do gets really messy.  I leave my phone on the kitchen table. Dirt and sweat kinda mess up the 'lectronics.  Notebook?  I'd have to peel wet pages apart.  Lunch is twenty minutes and a quick read of O Pioneers. I nuke last night's leftovers.  I do this willingly. In the early part of summer, I dance the hustle for ten hours straight before I collapse at dusk.  Short term pain for long term benefit.  If you had my baby spinach steamed for lunch with a garlic bread stick you'd know why I do the dance.  The spinach is fork tender and nothing like the canned crap. It makes me strong to the finish, old fart that I is.

When I pull back the tarp over a pile of oak planks and used decking behind a shed, there's three writhing baby bull snakes, maybe three feet long at most, on one side of the pile and a fat mother deer mouse in a fluffy nest on the opposite side.  When I toss the nest aside, beet-red mouse babies fall out. I call Dawn over to view the spectacle. "I wonder why the bull snakes didn't eat the mice?" I ask my wife.  "Too little," she says.  "They'd never get their mouths open that wide."

Spaced evenly around the house are jars of water.  Dual purpose water. 

Today's 93 degree weather worries me.  I spend most of the day, when I'm not promising the counter girl in Cashton farm implement store white potatoes, watering the garden plots. I move in a rotational way, from west to east saving the tomatoes and peppers for last because I have mulched these new plants with cardboard.  The tomatoes thank me for the the attention and cool soil.  The peppers prefer warmer soil, so I hold off with heavy mulch until a drought sets in or worse.The jars of water are for the cat and dog. Keeping them hydrated is important, especially the blue heeler who ignores the sun and heat following me incessantly.  She'll sit in the scorching sun beside some tool I've laid aside giving me that, "Don't worry Dad, I'm watching over your tools."  When I jump on a riding mower, she indicates displeasure by attempting to bite the tires.  I used to think it was a hold off from her early days of living on an Amish farm.  Rubber tires are verboten in Amishland.

Tired of chasing after Pucci, the cat, who has honed his bird catching skills dramatically, I place the water jars in strategic locations to paste him with water.  It's the only way I can get him to release the usually live bird in his jaws.  To him, it's some live cat toy. I don't approve.  The bank swallows fly low over the lawn and road picking up nesting materials.  When I cornered the cat in the breezeway, the terrified swallow was able to fly away. An eastern blue bird wasn't so lucky.

Last week I had to cancel an early morning appointment with Dawn's physician.  My previous doctor and I didn't see eye to eye on homeopathic applications.  His idea of treatment is to throw a medication at the symptom.  I ask about side effects.  "Even water has a side effect," he says.  So I switch to a woman who quit the rat race in the larger town to the north for a saner routine that doesn't involve a revolving door of treatment and patients. This is no easy decision to cancel the appointment.  It is important to me, but the threat of frost on the 26th of May gives me no choice.  I'd never be able to get the gardens uncovered by a nine a.m. scheduled physical.

 Actually it takes me from 4 to 8 pm to cover all plants susceptible to predicted 35 degree over night weather.  In our lowland by the river, frost is a certainty.  The next morning I work from 6 a.m. until 11 repeating the opposite, including folding ground covers and storing plastic jugs and card board boxes in the proper locations. My new doctor is wise enough to reschedule a short visit later at 2:30 to "meet and greet" and check the basics. I think I've chosen a winner.

This warm weather is a freak thing. Tomorrow it'll be back to normal. I 'll go back to the second cycle of planting now that we're in a new moon going on first quarter.  Knock on wood, with the threat of frost over I can complete the process sowing cucumbers, soybeans(edamame) , pole beans, salad greens, dry beans, tender herbs like oregano and tomatillos. 

If we get a day filled with rain, perhaps I can organize my thoughts without rushing out the door.

*Every year we get a hatch of small biting flies. The repellent of choice is real vanilla, but at over $10 a bottle I settle for 40 sheets of Bounce fabric softener under my straw hat.  My manly image suffers greatly wearing an Amish straw hat with Goofy ears of fabric softener. The full beard is not of my choice, rather, six hours of skin cancer surgery at Mayo convinced me that my fair skin cannot be exposed without slathering spf 70 and looking like an Alaskan miner when one is in the sun for extended periods.

I'll be back soon.