Monday, February 28, 2011



After the Amish Patriarch scares the beejeesus out of me because I'm totally focused on doorknobs in the cabinet hardware aisle, I walk over toward horse feed in the local agri-center.  The TV monitor above the shelf of Uncle Jimmy's Hangin' Balls (three flavors) shows a horse eagerly licking a basketball size ball of grain.  Next to the shelf of Uncle Jimmy fare is a cardboard display of new, antique-looking metal signs.I'm partial to old signs.

In front of the shed we call a barn there's a NO NUDE SUNBATHING IN THE PARKING AREA sign on a wood fence post and a  folk art crow atop another post in front of the garage warns visitors to BEWARE OF CROW.

I briefly consider spending $10 on a Clothing Optional After This Point sign. I quickly dismiss the sign Warning:Beer May Interfere With Your Memory or Cause Memory Loss because the reason I'm at the hardware store cruising for a doorknob is that I forgot to purchase one at the big box store in Lacrosse the previous afternoon. No need to add insult to injury when I wake up at 4 am sputtering, "Shoot, I forgot the doorknob."

Who says there isn't humor to be found at the agri-center?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Long Shadows

Howard Shupe from an old photo
It seems like a hundred years ago, I met a quiet man in the parking lot of the Village Crossing grocery store in a small Arizona town built around a golf course designed by some infamous developer/promoter in 1976.  Neighbors spoke glowingly of a man who did amazing things with local wood, carving them into statutes.  He moved from Tucson to the small town after retiring from a career in the US Forest service starting as a timber cruiser and ending as the director of fire control for a large corner of Southern Arizona.

It was he who directed the tanker planes in mid-air loaded with water and clay to release their cargo on raging forest fires. He got his start in Taos, New Mexico a frontier town as he was growing up, marrying a local sweetheart, checking on grazing land leased by the forest service and setting a record for a huge number of trees blazed in one average workday. A normal forest service worker blazed 100 trees. He could do 600.

I've never met a man so humble.  After retiring, he moved from a house he and his wife built on the south side of a rapidly expanding Tucson cutting and hauling an incredible amount of stone by hand to an adobe hacienda with a courtyard off the main road in the new golf resort town.

Out of respect for his father, Elmer, he ceased carving wood statues after an incident in 1946 in which the elder advised him that we was not a very good carver. The son knew his father well. The father was saying, "I don't want the competition." 

Elmer was a rug trader, furniture maker and  ne'er-do-well  When the supply of old santos ( carved wooden saints) dried up, he learned to carve his own.  By the son's account they were primitive things. The son possessed skill as an artist, designing and creating silver jewelery, paintings, elegant furniture and carving saints from cottonwood root. With two children at home and a love for the outdoors, he eschewed his father's profession as rug trader and went to work for the forest service.

Once he modestly said that after he retired he'd sold over $100,000 of santos to the rich, famous and collectors like me. He took me under his tutelage showing me the traditional methods along with modern techniques for carving Hispanic Catholic saints. The image above is not a usual Hispanic Catholic santo.  Howard had a repertoire of approximately 35 traditional santos to his father's half dozen max.  If asked to carve something different, he'd willingly indulge my whims.    

St.Francis Xavier
After first practicing traditional techniques on crosses, retablos, nichos and a few very primitive stick figures,I asked him for advice on carving a santo. He  assisted without hesitation, showing me how to perform complicated carving maneuvers.  Cottonwood root is in short supply since it's also the main material used in traditional Hopi kachinas. Howard described harrowing adventures with his wife lowering him on a sturdy rope down an eroded river bank to retrieve an exposed hunk of cottonwood root.  It's not something I would want to waste as a greenhorn carver, especially since my teacher gifted me several pristine samples of root.

My St.Francis Xavier

It's been years since I've worked with santos.  Two rustic carvings sit on my workbench in the garage.  In an upstairs bedroom, a St.Francis Xavier sits on the end of a Danish modern chest of drawers.  But is it St.Francis Xavier?  In Dawn's studio is an armoire with some of my favorite santos by Howard.  One is similar to Xavier, except for the leather cape, one of the few santos with additional ornamentation that is not wood.  I check my photo stock.  It appears there are three possibilities.  St. John, St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius Loyola.

I call the santero.  No answer.

In the two hours intervening I solve the mystery decoding a small label at the front bottom of a photo.  I answer my phone seeing a familiar number on the screen.  It's been six months if not longer since we've spoken. I make sure I identify myself after saying hello.  He's eighty-eight. After small talk about the weather here, I explain the solved dilemma, saving him the trouble of mentally imaging which of hundreds of santos, I'm talking about. He sounds healthy and in good spirits.  We talk about a newspaper clipping a granddaughter sends describing the sale of one of Elmer's primitive santos for $5,000.  Again, he offers me encouragement, well wishes to Dawn and signs off.     

Friday, February 25, 2011

Clever Words

Our cat,aptly named the Pooch because of dog-like tendencies, walks across me at 2:30am.  This is not usual. Usual is snugging up to his pork chop(me) purring loudly, content to sleep on, or next to me.  Something is wrong downstairs.  Mandy is asleep in the futon room.  I can hear her toenails click on the wood steps as I walk downstairs in a fleece robe Dawn made for me.

I let the dog out, take a pee, drink some water and walk about the house looking for a dead mouse or  worse. Earlier in the day, Mandy barks loudly in the entrance-way.  Mandy rarely barks, except in warning or to annoy a bird to fall from a tree in desperation to get away from the noise.When the UPS driver delivers a package inside the breezeway door, she leaps from the couch, runs to the back door without a murmur. When I investigate her arousal, I see what looks like a dog or coyote across the river over 300 yards away. Good girl.  Nice work Mandy.

But the Pooch?  Nothing is out of order, except that I'd left the cat's food out of reach of the dog on a kitchen counter. I place it on the floor for the cat. Disappointed in my Poochie Kitty ( a name my youngest called our former dog) I go back upstairs unable to sleep.  I close the door in the east bedroom and open a new book(for me) River Horse by William Least Heat-Moon.  Unlike other books on the shelf next to the bed, I'm not lulled to sleep.  Meandering detective stories, tales of a Yorkshire veterinarian, stories of servants in England made into a PBS series and The Count de Monte Cristo original translation lead to snores at 3 am.

William Least Heat Moon writes of a journey across America by boat.

"In river travel today, perhaps nothing is finer than arrival in the center of town without having to undergo those purgatorial miles of vile sprawl, hideous billboards, and reiterated franchises where we become fugitives of the ganged chains in an endless surround of noplaceness, where the shabbiest of architectural detritus washes up against the center of a town."  *

*River Horse, Across America by Boat, William Least Heat Moon copyright 1999 Houghton Mifflin Co.

This man is an amazing writer.  I chortle at quips like, "A collision at sea can ruin your entire day."  I marvel at words wishing I had my dictionary next to me.  On every page is a quotable lesson in life or something I find humorous. Only Bill Bryson can match wits with this man.  In the basement I post a quote of Bryson's,
"You have three things to be thankful for.  You were born. You are alive. Hang a yellow ribbon 'round an old oak tree will never be number one again."
On my office desk there is a pile of short tomes I've written in the past few years.  Originally they were stored in a file cabinet, but the hanging folder grew so large the stories started to curl, the folder sagged and gave way.  Pap and Twaddle, My Dog Saw You Naked, Long Shadows, Lineman Bob's Safety Corner , Horse Stories and a Favorite of mine-Clever Words bring Forth No Buttered Turnips.
There's a point I'm getting to and it's not going to be more whining or self promotion.  Bear with me.

A few weeks ago I 'm at the end of my rope of patience with winter.Tired of rising gas prices, routine, snow, ice and cold. I decide to repaint the basement in a works progress project for me. It's not like I have nothing to do. There's nothing I feel like doing.  Winter torpor.

Then, after I start the process of removing accumulated junk and reorganizing the basement, Murphy's Law assumes monumental proportions.  The opportunity to butcher and put up a year's supply of pork arises.  Next, I realize I've let my business slide.  There's a  minimum of fifteen cases of Czech glass beads stored in the barn, leftover from our brick and mortar days of running a modern day trading post. I need to get them on our website.  The transition librarian asks me to assist the library director in culling old books from the stacks- a minimum of a month's work at three hours per day.  The freshman governor of our state makes headlines around the country.  I Google his name and find that after four years and 96 credits at Marquette University, he drops out. More research and in an October article by Steve Schultze in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel,he writes of a $30 million dollar possible hole the Milwaukee County budget under former county executive(now Governor) Scott Walker. In the article a proposal is mentioned about a possibly illegal move to cut  pensions.

Oh, so many snowbirds and so little freezer space. ( A quote on a bumper sticker in Phoenix).

But, clever words bring forth no buttered turnips.  I have less than two hours to put the final coat of paint on the basement floor.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Skippy

I read a lot of fiction. We gave up on the Toob years ago.  My local librarian follows a popular trend highlighting mass market fiction. She stocks the first two mysteries by Stieg Larrson and follows up with the third in large print for the older generation of patrons.  Although the books are best sellers of amazing proportions, I find them tedious when descriptions get bogged down in police procedure. I can hear the author talking to himself.  When the action slows down he says to himself, "I think I'll paste in a murder, a shoot out or a savage beating." You can see a visual version of the same with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise in Knight and Day.  My favorite part is of Cameron Diaz riding in front of Cruise on a motorbike.  She's facing him and shooting at bad guys following them. Ah, come on.

When I check the news, I find stuff worthy of a novel.  Guv Skippy ( a Steve Carell  lookalike) is duped into speaking candidly in a twenty minute telephone interview with a newspaperman.  The Guv thinks its a rich supporter. One of two billionaire brothers who support right wing causes and have contributed to the Guv's campaign.  Curiously the Guv feels no remorse in considering planting agitators in demonstrations against the new bill ending employees rights to negotiate.  He talks figuratively of taking a baseball bat to the knees of the  opponents.  On a more serious note, he could possibly sell Wisconsin power plants without bids which could be bought up on the cheap by the two brothers and resold at a premium raising already high energy costs.

I've got to check my supply of paper.  This could be my big chance for a novel.  I won't have to add excitement when the going gets bogged down. I'll begin with another Scott Walker, number #24 of the Washington Capitals being arrested and hauled downtown for questioning.  As the action begins, the Feds are looking for Scotty, right wing for a hockey team, masquerading as a state governor.   As two beefy agents pull his car over and pat him down, legs spread against his Toyota Terkel under suspicion of fraud and corruption Scotty aka Skippy Walker moans in distress, "What the puck."  "I didn't have sex with her.  I was just examining her for suspicious looking moles."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Red Bird

Cardinals in the green spruce with folk art "uncommon crow"
Yes, I took this shot through the kitchen window. No,  I'm not using the "snow' setting on my digital camera. Gawd knows what that would do.  Hand held, weird light, through a dirty window.  Could be the title of a B movie. I am truly sorry for the quality. The alternative would have been to traipse outside in my carpet slippers. That would cause the cardinals to scatter. The purpose of the photograph is to document an absurd number of red birds in the spruce tree next to the feeder. It's an all time record.  Whadda do on a snow filled winter day? I add the 17 cardinals to my list of awards.  Someday, I list all the dufus awards I give myself. 

Actually there's lots and lots of work. 

Enough to make me feel guilty about being at the keyboard.  I finally got my truck running.  Dawn drives me to the bank to withdraw a wad of cash to pay for a new clutch and ball joint.  When we pull into the drive-thru  there are five cars waiting in all three lanes.  Weird for a Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 pm in a town of 4,000.  Mandy, my dog, is bummed. We usually go to the window with the drawer.  She knows the teller by sight and climbs in my lap, sticks her head out the window and does a doggie version of "Where's the biscuit?" We're in the far lane hidden by a monster red pick-up.  The mic says "hello".  Then, "Are you Laura?"  Dawn says, "No I'm Dawn."  The check is drawn on my account.  Dawn points this out to the teller.  "He writes his 'R's' in a weird way," she says.  When the pneumatic tube shoots my cash back, she gives me $680 in small bills.  "Jeez," I utter.

It's a short drive to the mechanic.   After getting Ms.Mandy into the truck , I walk into the office where my mechanic sits behind his counter.  To add insult to injury he tells me that my clutch came apart in pieces.  His son shows me the damage.  I'd been driving the truck in deep snow between the house and wood shed.  Yes, I rode the clutch too hard.  No, it wasn't my fault.  In the short span of thirty yards letting the clutch out fully means crashing into A. the maple tree B. the woodshed or C. the woodshed.  Besides, the clutch actually went out after a sixteen mile round trip to Viroqua. 

This is suspicious.  Another chapter in  Tales of Woo Woo.  Why would the clutch give out after I drove it down highway 131 and US highway 14 ?  Supposedly, I overheated the clutch( 400 degrees F) and the steam from the deep snow caused it to shatter.  When I get to the entrance of our driveway, a dead-end town road, it won't do into gear.  I coast down the slight hill and drift into a spot in front of the barn. I thank my guardians and power animals for the close call.

The truck's in the garage. I have to remove the old tonneau cover hardware so that I can install a barrier behind the rear window.  Yes, that was $227 for a new window, after an errant piece of firewood hits the right corner and turns the window into snowflakes.  The insurance covers anything above $250.  Then there was the bill for four new tires, four used rims because the old rims rusted out.  ...And the brakes. Yeah, that was another Woo Woo event.  We're hauling an empty 200 gallon oil tank to the dump at the top of Freymiller's Hill when the brakes give out.

I'm still in the basement waterproofing.  After I empty the wood bin, I can seal that wall and finish the basement floor.  In the afternoon, I work at the library culling books.  My library angel tells me that there are 24 sections to examine and discard.  We do one per afternoon.  In between helping patrons with computer problems, answering the phone, wiping up the floors from drift tracked in, my 80+ year old angel keeps up a steady stream of verbiage about each and every book. The person designated to succeed her in less than two years prints off a 27 page list of criteria.  My list is as follows. If the pages are yellow, and the book is over 30 years old, never been taken out, a steamy romance novel with a muscular man naked from the waist up holding a woman swooning with ample exposed bosom and  paperback-out it goes.

With every comment, my library angel keeps up a steady hum of no particular tune to fill in the spaces.  A month of this could be worse than Dubya's water-boarding torture. It's like driving with Jorge when he clicks his cell phone belt clip repeatedly.


Sunday, February 20, 2011


Jorge: "Hey, you want to make a ton of money real quick?"

Me: "What's the catch?  Will I end up in jail?"

Jorge: "Load up your truck with bricks."

Me: "Why bricks?"

Jorge:" We can sell 'em in Madison(the state capitol) and make a bundle."

Jorge is pulling into his pole barn when I call with a plumbing emergency.  Bob the plumber along with the Mario Brothers attempts to saw a dead copper pipe in the former girl's bathroom in the basement.  The copper pipe formerly served the toilet which was removed prior to the purchase of the old school house.  The pipe dangles on a wall where I want to place a shelf for paint cans.  It's a small room with no hazardous equipment to start a fire, not that twenty odd cans of latex paint would catch fire.

I start sawing with my hacksaw.  When I finally hear the saw cut through the pipe, water starts to spurt out. Oh crap..  That's when I notice that there's a cap at the bottom of the loose pipe and a horizontal pipe near the bottom is shortened  and crimped .  The crimp is soldered shut.   Near the floor joists, in the open part of the basement is a shut off valve.  It's corroded open and won't budge. I quickly dismiss any thought of taking a pipe wrench to the valve.  It's part of a larger network of actual galvanized water supply pipe.

After numerous attempts to solder the cut closed, I call Jorge.He is unloading his SUV after attending a protest demonstration in Madison against the new bill proposed by Scott "Skippy" Walker, the new Governor. He promises to come over with plumbers putty. In the meantime I wind thin pipe thread tape around the cut. 

Less than a month in office Skippy's behind a bill that gives $150 million in tax cuts to the rich.  The 20 million surplus the previous governor left at the end of his term is now a huge deficit. In yet another attempt to create fiscal chaos emulating his term as Milwaukee's County Exec, Skippy, (Jorge's  ridiculing nickname for the Guv) backs a bill to end collective bargaing in Wisconsin.  Our state has enjoyed a long standing reputation for progressive reform with the likes of Fightin" Bob Lafollette. But every once in awhile some nut case like former grocery store owner Joe McCarthy pops up.

The Democrats in the state legislature walked out in disgust and a recall campaign of the Guv is in the works for 2012.

Mandy can't believe the weather today!

A little before noon there's a flash of light and thunder.  Jorge says his dogs, Sam and Chase, wake from naps to the sound.  Sam being the dumber of the two starts barking.  Chase gets his name because that's what Jorge does quite often when he allows the dog to go out.  Chase manages to escape the outside pen even when he's tied to a tether line.  I'm thankful for my Blue Heeler who can be trusted to be outside on her own.  I've got two whistle versions for both animals when I want them to come inside.  Mandy loves the chance to barrel full tilt down the road when I encourage her with  "good girl" praise.  She leaves muddy paw prints on my jeans when she bounces off my leg.

I caution her to be careful today.  Early this morning it rained.  Both cars are outside and covered with ice.  Mid morning it started to hail.  By noon it was snowing large marshmallow flakes and on a short trip to the store for paint and eye drops it begins to sleet.On the bright side, on this date in 1926  the NWS says it was -40F in Richland Center.

Monday, February 14, 2011


copyright 2011 Seven Roads Gallery Inc.

In between winter and spring there's a season not known to city folks.  It's called mud season.  This year it began a bit before Valentine's Day. On Sunday last the thermometer hit 52 degrees.  Downright balmy.  Today as Mandy and I hit the road, the sun is shinning, the sky is bright blue and it's 40 degrees in the shade on the north side of the house.  I guffaw when I see the road sign above.  Some wag with foresight not only decorated the highway sign at the corner, but also marked the sign warning of the upcoming intersection.

Mud season ain't pretty.  When I splash across the one lane, narrow bridge over Elk Creek on East River Road, I leave teardrops of mud over the entire right side of my car.  In the yard on the ridge at the Amish farm, all the sins of winter appear. Horse hockey and more.  Snow turns to slick ice and small lakes form in low spots.  I'm thankful the melt is slow and protracted.  The National Weather Service says there's three to four inches of water in that snow.  Rivers are expected to crest near flood stage.  They've broken it down to per cent probabilities.  The Kickapoo which runs by our house, they say, has a 90% probability of reaching the flood stage.  Jerry's garage in Viola will be moving the used cars off his lot in the next few weeks.

Mandy's urge to disguise herself to wild animals results in rolling in manure, mud and gore.  As I write, she's sulking on her "chair".  At first I wiped her down with warm, wet terry cloth towels.  I couldn't get all the dirt off the white parts of her fur.  I put her in the bath tub downstairs and poured a pitcher of warm water over her shoulders.  Next,  I resort to a mild shampoo.  As I lather her up and reach for the pitcher she leaps out of the tub and runs into the kitchen.  I wrestle her back to the bathroom which leaves my arms and jeans soaked.  This time, I remember to close the bathroom door.  "Stay", I tell her.  Making sharp pointy motions with my index finger, she looks at me as if I'm Attila the Hun and have just ransacked her village. 

Several escapes later, I'm drying her off with a bath towel and wiping up the bathroom floor.  Looking at the bright side, I rationalize that the bathroom floor hasn't been mopped for a while. She runs to the back door as if she's got urgent business. I let her out and she finds a sunny spot in front of the shed to dry off. Later I escort her inside, afraid that she'll find more crap to roll in.

My wife and I are sensible folk.  Years of holiday experiences teach us to avoid restaurant specials on New Year's Eve, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. It doesn't always work because there are other sensible people like us out there.  This year, however, we avoided crowds and pricey meals that line the pockets of local businesses. I take her out for wood fired brick oven pizza at a local bar.  Dawn lays a card and a small white box on my pillow.  Shoot. I forgot to get her a card.

Not wanting to appear the cad or another grumpy, busy  farmer I race to the gift shop in town for a single red rose.  The place is hopping.  There are at least a half dozen people working on Valentine's Day bouquets, balloons and floral decorations.  The man next to me holding a small child in his arms picks out a an arrangement of flowers in a cooler.  I gulp at the price.  $26.50. The single red rose I pick from a selection of roses the clerk holds up, garnished with a fern, Baby's Breath, red tissue and a tiny plastic bud vase costs me $4.22.  I've got three singles and change in my pocket.  I hand the older woman assisting customers a credit card, slightly embarrassed to be charging such a paltry amount.  When she walks away with my card, I fish in my pocket.  Counting the change and the three singles, I have exactly $4.20. The owner of the gift shop tells me not to worry about the two pennies, but when the older woman returns, she's got two slips in her hand and my card.  They've gone electronic since the last time I made a purchase.  The manual "kerchunker" as we called it when I first started in business is gone and they are online.  I scrape the bills and coins off the counter, thanking the ladies profusely.

On my way back home, the low fuel icon comes on.  Another, "shoot".  Turn around, drive the two miles back to the gas station in town where the price of fuel is higher than at the BP station I usually buy gas.I'll make a homemade card, give Dawn the rose in one of many jars stashed in the summer kitchen and hope for an inspiration about dinner.     

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Amiable Keenness

photo copyright 2011 Seven Roads Gallery Inc.
Hell froze over last night.  I know. I was up at 2:15 am and heard the snap.It's still -20 at 7am.

I indulge in fantasy to pass the time. I travel with Bill Bryson in his book Notes From a Small Island.  Bryson grew up in Iowa, lived in England for a time and is a writer extraordinaire.  I first discovered Bryson when I discovered ,The Life and Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid-a humorous account of his boyhood in Iowa.  Mr. Bryson is a skilled writer with a dry wit and descriptive talent almost to the point of snottiness.  There are so many quotable phrases that I've reserved a space on the basement chalkboard for really good quips to inspire me as I slave away in the dungeon. More on that to come.

In between running to the Amish for supplies, I consider buying a tractor from a neighbor.  My knowledge of tractors is slim given that I've spent much of my adult life in a large city. The biggest farm implement I owned until I moved here was a front end roto-tiller.  I joke with the Amish Patriarch about farm machinery.  He owns and uses a horde of machines including one that is a carbon copy of my Ford pickup, sans chassis, rubber tires and all the associated get-up.  I've reached some sort of stage in our relationship that I can ask questions about their strictures against modern machinery. I see a hog scale in a Farm Tek catalog. 

"You can buy me one of those," he says, "And I'll butcher anything for free for life." The hog scale is basically a wire cage with a scale platform mounted on rubber tires on one end and a handle for portability on the other.

"You can't have it," I say, "Because it has rubber tires." 

"Hard rubber tires are OK," he tells me. 

Skirting a waltz with Amish blasphemy I retort, "Oh, in the Bible it says thou shalt not have rubber tires?"

I ask, "Has Bishop has okay-ed the use of hard rubber versus pneumatic tires?"  Not knowing when to quit I add, "Is that the 11th commandment?"

Wow, this person is incredibly patient with me, a dumb-ass English person.

Everyone except my wife is gaining weight because of a lack of exercise.  Mandy has lost her definition, the Pooch is roly-poly and I'm aghast at a recent picture of me and Mandy on the church pew in the front entry.  Upstairs Dawn stands in the hallway and asks," Do I look like I've lost weight?"

I hesitate for a split second, enough to get a kick boxing champion, leg thrust to my ample gut before I recover with, "Yeah, I really can see it."

When she points to her waist, I can see the change.  I want to add that familiarity makes me complacent.  My struggle with winter doldrums and snow and cold and snow and cold followed by cold and snow and the lack of social connections causes me to seek solace from isolation by cashing a check at the bank leaves me thick as a brick, but I keep my yap shut before I blunder into deep dookie.

Something as simple as choosing a nice restaurant for a Valentine's Day rendezvous becomes a calculus problem in how far one wants to travel divided by the amount of alcohol in the form of light beer I might imbibe in ratio to the 25% increase in the price of Valentine's Day specials over last year, prorated by determining which local bistro is supplied by Sysco food systems entrees, which one will be overrun by farmers in bib overalls or golden-agers with walkers and canes and the big question-Will my server be known locally as the Spaz, or wearing a hooded sweatshirt and according to Wisconsin law-be unable to hand me a light beer because she is underage?

Oh yeah, I forgot about the sauce pan of water on the stove. Oh, shit.

The wood furnace is growling for more wood. I'm in the 42nd consecutive day of basement reorganizing, including waterproofing areas previously ignored, vacuuming bird remains from under a shelf, removing a dessicated mouse from the floor joists, sweeping cobwebs from above the laundry lines and sweeping up mountains of cat litter from three litter boxes. The cat looks at me with that slunky look that says I want you to let me out but remain standing at at the back door so that when I discover that my ears freeze in a little over twenty seconds, you can let me back inside the breezeway. The dog yawns loudly which means, I want to go somewhere. My teeth are fuzzy.

Yeah thanks, Bryson.  I have an amiable keenness for getting the hell out of Dodge, booting up Travelocity for the best deal in airfare from MNPLS to PHX.


Sunday, February 6, 2011


Blueberry Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Cookies
If the seeds are small it's blueberries.  If they're many and large, they're huckleberries. So says the Joy of Cooking.

In my winter dementia I wonder why the cartoon character Huckleberry Hound had a southern accent?

I'm standing in the Amish bulk store reading the overdue accounts posted on a corkboard.  On a table that functions as counter there is a list of grocery items not found on the shelves. A few frozen entrees are listed next to fresh produce.  Blueberries catch my eye.  "Ach," I sputter.  "Don't need no blueberries."

Martha tells me to go to the house if I want eggs.  Inside the entire clan is sitting on wood benches eating lunch.  "Oh, I'm sorry," I mutter.  "Didn't mean to intrude."  

"That's all right,"says the Patriarch. They are used to the interruptions.  Next to our car a elderly man pulls up in a twenty year old, white Oldsmobile.  He doesn't get out.  Martha goes to the car to retrieve a grocery list.  "He has trouble getting in and out," she says.

"You need blueberries?  We got 'em," the Patriarch tells me.  They're still out of "farmer" eggs.  They make the distinction because they also raise organic eggs on a large scale.  Six hundred and seventy five layers, to be exact.  That's why the Patriarch chides me about my desire to raise chickens.  He tells me, "Just fill a bucket of water twice a day. Then walk to the fence line and pour it on the ground.  Do that 365 times and you'll have a small notion of the work involved."

Dawn comes up to the house.  Before she can come inside, I head her off. I know if she comes in, it'll be another 30 minutes before we leave.  We drive off down the lane and stop at the highway.

"Shoot, I forgot the eggs."  I make an illegal and dangerous wide turn on the highway and drive back up Shady Lane.  Another daughter has been chosen to serve yet another visitor to the bulk store.  I glance at the produce menu.  Blueberries are 40 cents a pint or $3.50 a case.  Unbelievable.  As Marion fills empty egg cartons for the first customer, she fills another for me.  She walks around to an unheated room to fetch the case of blueberries.  Twelve pints of luscious looking berries.  The label says they're from a nostalgic sounding place called North Gate Farm.  Underneath it lists the point of origin-Chile.

I'm familiar with Chilean wine.  I go to the net to look up a company that makes an exceptional Merlot. The views of the vineyard and surrounding area makes me drool with envy.  Verdant green hills and valleys, Picturesque vines gracing a gentle slope.  It makes Tuscany look like a wasteland.

My afternoon is awash with blueberries.  Suspicious of the unknown growing conditions in Chile, I wash, sort and soak the large, plump blue berries.  My first task is to make freezer jam.  A double recipe calls for 10 and 1/2 cups of sugar.  "Mandy, wanna go for a ride?"  She's off the couch in a blur as we drive back to the Amish bulk store.  I grab a ten pound bad of sugar and two pounds of rolled oats and walk to the house because nobody comes out to greet me. Inside I tell Mom,

"I knew there was something wrong when I left here with money in my pocket."

I make six or eight pints of freezer jam and grab the cookbook from the bookshelf.  Next, I'll make blueberry syrup.  While the syrup is simmering on the gas stove, I mix my oatmeal cookie extravaganzas.  Five cookie sheets later, I thumb through the basics of pies and pastries.  A blueberry cobbler sounds nice.  Blueberry pie, hmm.       

I forget the crucial underlying precept here.  Someone has to eat this stuff.  I stand with both arms outstretched holding the beaters covered with cookie batter-butter,flour, sugar, vanilla, brown sugar-as the dog laps at one and the cat discreetly licks the other.  Yes, just like kids.  They don't need those calories any more than I do. 

I fill a cereal bowl with berries for blueberry buttermilk pancakes in the morning.  There's another stainless steel bowl in the refrigerator waiting for a Sunday morning inspiration. I'm blueberried out.  Perhaps I should purchase another case and stock up? In a follow up post I'll explain the blueberry psychosis.  Even Dawn claims they are the sweetest berries she's ever eaten.   

Friday, February 4, 2011

Winter Fare

As I walk from my office to the kitchen, I see the cat laying (or is it lying?) on his back.  The dog stands next to supine pussy with a rawhide chew in her mouth.  She looks like Groucho Marx with the rawhide chew substituting for the cigar.  I'm thinking the cat has no toys of his own.  In a plastic tub between two shelves at the foot of the second floor stairs, Mandy has assembled stuffed dogs, old bones, cat toys of every description, a tennis ball and an odd collection of other debris.  A round stuffed ball with a piece of Velcro attached to one end used to be a cat toy with a chicken feather tail.  Mandy  destroyed the feathered part.  Now, if the cat wants to play with one of his toys, he needs to hurry before Mandy rushes over and swipes the toy.  The Pooch will withdraw in disgust when Mandy abandons the saliva slobbered toy a few minutes later.  And so it goes.

If I pat the cat on the head, the dog rushes over, horning in on the action.

I used to be good at multi tasking.  In my career as a teacher, I'd be standing between two children wanting to beat the tar out of each other and at the same time carrying on a conversation with a colleague.

My walk to the kitchen and the sight of the dog and cat frolicking causes me to forget the reason for getting off my office chair.  I stand there dumbly. I watch the cat biting the dog in the ass.

Of course, the first thought that comes to mind-" Oh my Lord , it's dementia."  I've cut back severely on my nightly mug o' beer because I can't afford to lose any more brain cells.  Wine makes me fall asleep watching English sitcoms rented from Netflix.  The only comfort is my wife's admonition.  She works with elders daily.  "Relax,"she'll say.  By the time you have Alzheimer's, you won't even know what's wrong.

Then I remember.  I wanted to put my phone on the charger.

In the meantime I've been thinking about composing this post.  I'm reading a book by K.C. Constantine.  In the novel he uses the phrase "Thousand yard stares."   "The inmates of the county jail are as empty behind the eyes as anybody I ever saw in Vietnam.," the Deputy Warden says.  I wish I were as good a writer as Constantine.Vacant stares.  At least my dementia has a theme. 

I Google racial profiling, another distracting thought.  The news is full of stories about a Wisconsin law requiring police officers to note the profile of individuals in the traffic stop.  The intent is to document racial profiling on the part of law enforcement.  The officer is supposed to note without asking, the racial makeup of individuals in any encounter between law enforcement and individuals.  Imagine the recent snowstorm where a sheriff deputy assists 30 to 40 people stranded because of drifting snow, closed highways and skids off the highway into the ditch.  Each encounter has to be documented- age, gender, ethnicity.

In the same book by Constantine, the Deputy Warden comments that any politician, after being sworn in, should be confined for three days "in the joint." The encounter should give the politician perspectives in reality before passing ignorant laws.

There's no connection here, but my mind strays to thoughts of my conversation with Johann yesterday.  He tells me his monster truck is stuck in the middle of a corn field.  When he and a friend go to dig the 4X4 out of the drifting snow on the ridge top, they find the wheels aren't touching the ground.  That's how deep the wind driven snowdrifts are near his cabin.  He's hauling wood after a night in which cabin temperature dipped to 30 degrees.

In a flurry of activity yesterday, I clear the basement floor of accumulated junk-lawn chairs, cardboard boxes, the 100 foot roll of row cover, a bag of kitty litter and folding tables empty after I moved the potato harvest to the summer kitchen. I need to touch up the basement waterproofing for the upcoming flood.  I'm not talking anything Biblical.  The National Weather Service issues new flood data for the Kickapoo. They lower the flood stage measurement for both towns closest to us.  In the town to the north the new flood stage is 10 feet instead of 12.  To the south and west its 12 feet instead of 14.

I should be doing taxes, also, instead of farting around here. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Crow Magnum
file photo
Seven Roads Gallery Inc.

It's after three pm and I haven't hauled any firewood.  Earlier in the morning, I call my neighbor and ask him to plow a path for the sled I use to haul firewood from the woodshed to the house.

"The moron who designed the sled," I tell him on the phone, " Didn't think about the 2X4 undercarriage of the wood box on oak runners dragging in deep snow."

The moron is moi.  "He didn't have no degree in engineering, did he?" the neighbor quips.

"Nah," I reply.  ""The BS in Political Science does me one hell of a lot of good out here."  "At least I know what a solipsism is,"

I lie.  In theory I don't know the correct spelling nor can I find any fractured version of my imaginative phrasing in my  848 page pocket Merriam Webster.

Solipsism: a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing; also : extreme egocentrism .

Now we both know the meaning of a word I'll never use.

After some hasty scribbling in blogger, I put on long johns and three layers, muck boots and heavy socks and shovel snow for an hour an a half.  At one o'clock a representative for our US Senator is holding court at the library.  Thinking that there'll be a town meeting of sorts, I grab a chair, hand Mandy some Milk-bones and a rawhide chew and introduce myself to the new Vernon County sheriff who's discussing law enforcement issues with the balding 63 year old man from Herb Kohl's office.

A geeky looking farmer walks in holding a manila folder and a copy of the Lacrosse Tribune.  He sits next to me. Without the Puritan getup, he looks like the cartoon drawings of Brom Bones from the Disney version of the Ghost of Sleepy Hollow. 

My chance to pontificate comes after the sheriff begs leave.  I tell about the need for a senior citizens center in the area.  The man listens politely as I add biographical information about myself and praise the work of my library angel who has single handedly made the library a state of the art facility far beyond what one would expect for a town of 395 people. 

He thanks me for coming, hands me a business card and I realize he's there to listen to the gripes of locals privately. 

Mandy and I head home for lunch, a quick snooze and running firewood.  Oh, the life of a country gentleman.  

I look out the kitchen window and see a crow scarfing up sunflower seed under the bird feeder.  That IS unusual for a crow to be that close to the house.  I let Mandy out. She spies the crow and gives chase.  That's when I notice the crow can't fly.  It has a broken right wing which droops as it hops over the snow.  Mandy follows at a respectful distance as the crow makes its way toward the east fence line.  I cancel any thoughts of rescue, since my previous disastrous experience of dumping the ash pan from the wood stove along the fence line.  "Poor crow", I think to myself. "You'll be dead by the next morning."

The ash pan is a long flat pan which is usually hot.  I don work gloves and carefully step over the berm created by the snowplow.  Once over the mound of snow, I step into the front field into a deep hole of snow and fall flat on my face. The snow is so deep I can't feel the ground underneath to push myself up.  Avoiding a wet pan of ashes next to me I wallow like a hog, chuckling at my stupidity, hoping no one I know comes down the highway. 

Mandy chases birds while I load the sled with oak blocks and maple salvaged from various tree trimmings. The forecast calls for minus 15 degrees Wednesday night (-20 at 7 am).  My neighbor drives down with his tractor and I give him two pork shoulder roasts for his trouble.  He says it'll be  welcome change from the elk and venison winter fare.  We chat briefly about stupid stuff.  When he's not using a blade to scrape snow, he hauls large round bales of hay for his horses.  He tells me about hauling one bale along the highway gravel strip when a pickup truck passes him, spraying the tractor and dousing him with an generous layer of slush.

"Asshole," I exclaim.  "Yeah, he could've avoided the slush row on the blacktop, but didn't," Ron says.

"Isn't it about time someone ran over your mailbox?" I toss out.  "Yeah, I guess I'm about due for that," he says.  The last time someone took out his mailbox, the young driver rolled the car, ripped across the highway, smashed the wood post for the mail box and ended up in his front yard. 



Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Oaxaca Pig
by Austin Vasquez Aguilar
photo copyright Seven Roads Gallery Inc.
"I do want to get rich, but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich."
Gertrude Stein
Images of our recent snowstorm would be like showing an accident victim pictures of car crashes .  In my quest for truth and the American way, the perfect non-visual image of the two day snow storm is this:  The window in my office and first floor bathroom are cheap inefficient models we have yet to replace.  The inner wood frame is covered by an aluminum  storm/screen combo on the outside.  For reasons only to be found in the addled dark reaches of the minds of the former owners, the windows are installed horizontally.  Thus, one has to stand to be able to look out the window.  Fifteen to twenty mile per hour winds from the north last night forced snow between the outside and inside windows.  Looking on the bright side, I decide the snow will add an amount of insulation against the bitter cold and high winds forecast for Wednesday night.  

The only thing dashing through the snow this morning is Mandy, our dog.  Snow is an elixir to her.  Last night I took her out for a short walk before bed.  She lapped up the snowflakes, actually more like ice crystals, as we walk down the town road.  

She leaps over snowbanks higher than my waist and surfs the deep unbroken snow in the front field.  Somewhere below all that white are my gardens. When I see her briefly stumble, I see the image of the uneven grassy strip between garden plots three and four where on Good Friday I'll be sowing my potatoes.  Good Friday.  Only Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog on Gobblers knob can see that far ahead. 

On a visit to the Amish for milk, eggs and flour, I try to sneak off after putting the milk and flour in the trunk of my Prism. The sound of a planer in the woodshop adds to the desolation of the wind swept ridegtop.A man with no upper teeth works a pickup truck with an attached snowplow pushing banks of snow out of the way.  He doesn't smile. He just lifts a single finger on his left hand as he winds his way around the buildings.  The Patriarch emerges from the woodshop hatless. His graying hair forms a wild fringe around the bald pate and beard.  He motions with his finger for me to roll down my window.  "Jackley's talking about pig futures going up to 90 cents," he says. "He's got hogs he wants to sell." 

I get out of the car, parking it to the side of the driveway which the Amish wisely petitioned to turn into a town road.  "Let's go into the shop where it's warmer," I tell the Patriarch. The discussion won't end at hog prices.  It will cover raising chickens, discarding books from the library, the Green Bay Packers( a friend send his neighbor an e-mail suggesting the Packer's trip to the Superbowl saves the taxpayers a ton of money because Obama won't travel to Dallas to observe the Bears.