Inner Child

I am very much in touch with my inner child.  The “kid” inside loves mystery, loves playing outside, loves activity, adventure and all that stuff I used to be a part of when I was ten.  I think that’s why I love playing with kids when I get a chance.  I love it when I see them really having fun, being inventive and using their imagination. I especially enjoy when they are old enough to talk about what’s on their mind.

This last week children were visiting next door and I got to play. They were trying their hardest to enjoy the snow but they needed a sled and I had noticed one in the attic. I knew they liked animals so I introduced them to Scruffy the dog and had them join us on a walk. And on their last day to play we walked through the deep snow to see the hidden fort in the brush pile out in the wetlands. We sat inside on the carpet of dried grass and rushes and marveled at the construction, how “cool” it was. Kids love forts.

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Except for this entrance, it’s just looking like a big brush pile.

However, most kids also love playing with fire at some point in their growing up years. And it was this thought that had been bothering my brother since last fall. Knowing that quite a few people, many still school age children, were aware of the fort and its “coolness” he was always imagining the horror it would be to have the fort go up in flames with someone in it. The wood was tinder dry and the winter air had made it even more ready to burn quickly. He decided it was time to return to his original plan of burning the brush pile.

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The inner sanctum with its bed of dried grasses.

Around suppertime, I went out to say goodbye. I took pictures, crawled inside the fort and sat for a while. I took the small tin that had been left there as a souvenir. There was a little war going on in me – the inner child was having a small tantrum.

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The first match…

Later, with my brother and his wife, I watched the flames eat the brush pile nearly flat. It was a glorious fire, hot and fast. One match to the inside of the fort made quick work of the bed of dried grass and I could understand the wisdom of getting rid of a fire hazard.  It was a pretty sweet fort and it was fun just knowing it was there, while it lasted. But it was time. My adult self was glad that potential danger was going to be averted.  As an adult I’ve learned to ignore tantrums, even my own.

 

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My souvenir, all that’s left to remind me of an excellent fort.

I’m saving this little tin as inspiration. This is a rather large property with a lot of interesting wooded areas and I’m already getting ideas on where the next fort should be. Long live the inner child. Just sayin’…

The Lodge

Nothing refreshes me, body, soul and spirit, like being outside in the woods and marshes. I had a good dose of nature today.

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I have a fascination with the beavers here on our wetlands. (I feel like I’ve said this before, at least once.) Today I was dressed well enough and had no time constraints so I went off the track into the woods to make my way to the beaver lodge – not that beavers live in the woods, but the wetlands are complicated. The water flows into ponds that have fingers of marsh that spread out into all the low places in the woods. I could see the beaver lodge from the path but to go directly to it would mean crossing a bit of ice with occasional open spots. I like to stick to the wooded areas around the edges.

 

The path, and I was surprised to see that it was an obvious trail, led through the most awesomely beautiful snowy wonderland. There were a lot of animal tracks, but a person with their dog had left prints as well. It’s kind of special when I get to go someplace that I know not many people have gone. I could hardly stop taking pictures.

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Ice, followed by snow, piled high on every little twig and branch.

 

We’ve had some storms in the last few year which have taken down a lot of trees. In addition to that the high water levels have killed trees, and the beaver have chewed a few down too. The woods look like they’ve a rough time of it, but even that has a beauty, in that life and death are there, entangled with each other. The starkness of winter leaves it all visible.

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Life and death, in close proximity.

 

I found the lodge. I walked out on the ice. I even found a place that looked like it might be an entrance into the watery world below the ice – a dark hole, under a log at the edge of the marsh with open water and lots of animal tracks. Could it be where the beaver come and go? I was looking for tracks that might look like a beaver tail was dragging behind, but I couldn’t say for sure that I saw any.

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The lodge – easily as tall as I am.
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and the nearby hole into open water, that has obviously been well investigated by animals.

 

The lodge is quite a large structure, a mound that can be seen from quite a distance away. On the way there I crawled into the fort built by the survivalists in the burn pile. There was snow in the entrance but further in it was dry and cozy looking. I imagine it could look a little like that in the beaver lodge.  I hope they are in there, safe and warm.

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Beaver tracks? I don’t know… probably not.

Winter is awfully long here. I don’t know what beavers do in the winter, but it’s probably eating and sleeping for the most part. I hope they don’t get bored…

 

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Mystery in the Meadow, conclusion

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The response to her brother’s note, left at the door of the fort, came two days later. It didn’t quite match any of the compelling situations she had imagined, but Shirley was okay with that.  It was a relief to know that there was no criminal in hiding, no homeless desperado, no Bigfoot out in her meadow. It was still a safe place to walk. And it turned out that the real situation was as interesting to her as the imaginary one.

It was a survival class being taught at the charter school whose property bordered the wetlands and meadow. The teacher called to remind Dennis that he had contacted him months ago about permission to use the property. He had been taking small groups of students there frequently to practice skills like finding shelter, finding food, and starting fire.  No one had noticed them out there.

The fort had been his idea. He had led the others out to the meadow to construct it. They had made fire probably four times for a simple meal, maybe six more times for keeping warm, preserving the fire bed for the next time. They were kids, but someone had to help them know that campfires were for more than roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Shelter and fire could mean their survival. It had been a fun class.

——————————————————

It didn’t take her long to find him on Facebook and ask for a meeting. Sitting in the local coffee shop with their hot drinks, Shirley got whole story from the teacher himself.  He was clearly passionate about the outdoors, about survival in a myriad of environments, and about teaching basic skills to anyone who needed to learn them. He had stories…

Survival was a recurring theme in his life and was extremely important. He learned that at an early age growing up in Alaska.  He learned it in the military. He learned it traveling to foreign countries. There were countless experiences that reinforced that lesson.

He would present scenarios to his students. What if the plane they were on crashed in the middle of an uninhabited area and there were 50 survivors, or 100? What would be the best course of action to save lives, to survive? What would you do for the wounded? Where might you find food and shelter until help arrived? What resources might be right there in front of you but go unnoticed? He believed everyone should have a chance to think about those things. Those were the kinds of things they talked about out in the meadow, as they built the fort.

Not everyone responded warmly to the experiences he offered, at least not at first. There were the silent ones, the thinkers, the watchers. Some had been fearful and guarded all their lives. But as young people they were flexible, they learned what he was teaching and it gave them confidence, allowed them to trust and work cooperatively. It was life changing for them and rewarding for him.

“So what comes next?” she asked him as they finished their lattes and prepared to leave the shop.

“Maybe, if the fort is still there for the next class, we’ll figure out how to keep it warm. I want to see if the kids can figure out something solar, although you would be surprised how warm it gets with a dozen kids in there…”

Thanks to John (or Scott or whoever you really are) and  Angela for the latte and a great conversation. Hope to hear more of your adventures in the future.

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The meadow and surrounding wetlands.

 

Mystery in the Meadow, cont.

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Sunrise “up north” when we’re lucky…

Shirley gave up trying to sleep, swung her legs over the side of the bed and cautiously made her way out of the room, in the dark. It was kind of early to be getting up, but that was happening a lot lately, and not just to her.

She found her glasses in the bathroom, wandered out to the kitchen and punched the button on the coffeemaker until the red light popped on and the noises started. She checked the digital thermometer, the third step in her routine, then opened the blinds on the kitchen window. Thirty-five degrees, and everything outside had that dark, wet look. Something was falling out of the sky. She could see it reflecting light from the string of Christmas lights she’d arranged on the patio, but it was hard to tell if it was rain or snow. Probably rain, but the temperature was dropping. They wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise today.

She and her husband had recently moved “up north” to the family farm in Wisconsin. Her mom was not liking being alone since dad had died. Her brother Dennis and his wife lived close but they were in a different stage of life, with younger children and an expanding business to deal with. It made sense for them to pack up and go help. It made more sense in the summer than in the winter, but oh well…

She and her mom, more often than not, found each other about this time in the morning and had the first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sun come up. Mom, especially, had a fascination with the sky and clouds and would raise the blinds on the east windows, wanting to see what would happen out there that day. They would talk, solve world problems as they jokingly called it. Shirley also had the sky watching disease and usually jumped up three or four times to step outside and snap pictures.

That’s why the photo gallery on her phone was predominately orange, red, pink, purple, with sunrises and sunsets. They were all amazing pictures, but how could they not be? It wasn’t her talent that made them amazing. She was not yet a photographer. She was also not yet an author. She was not yet a grandmother. “Not yet” was kind of like her title of nobility. She was not yet a lot of things, but most importantly she was not yet dead. She was going to make the most of that one.

A while later, breakfast out of the way, she was over at her brother’s place of business. Her brother was an entrepreneur and owned a small awards and recognition company, doing most of their business online out of a neat, up to date building only a short walk away from her mom’s condo.  The prospect of getting some employment there was part of the reason she had made the move north from Florida to live with mom.

She was in the learning phase of making plaques for a sports team. Being “not yet” a proficient worker and having just made some wrong cuts, necessitating a complete do over on a print job, she was glad to stop when her sister in law came in the shop.

“Are there some packages here for us? Dennis said they were here but I don’t see them in his office.” M.P. said as she took off her gloves and outer layer of winter armor. She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and started flipping through photos.

“Claire flew back from Duluth last night, in a small plane. A friend of hers rented the plane for a week and he needed to get in some hours for his next level. She took some great pics from the air of the Christmas lights in Bentleyville. Oh, and did you see what Dennis found back in the meadow yesterday?” She stopped her searching and held out her phone.

On it was a picture of the meadow behind the barn and the large brush pile that had been growing there for over a year. There was a rather large, rounded out hole showing in the pile.

“You wouldn’t believe,” she went on “someone made some kind of fort there. It looks like they’ve been making a fire outside too. Dennis can’t figure it out. No one has seen anyone out there. He was thinking of burning the pile, and what if someone had been hiding in there?”

Shirley Not Yet looked at the photo. “I was just out there a day ago. I didn’t see anything like that.”

“That’s what Dennis said too. It’s really hard to see if you stay on the path. The entrance is on the other side.”

“Did it look like anyone was staying there?”

“No, nothing was in it except a cup. But there had been a campfire outside, so someone had to have been there for a while.”

Shirley had made a few forts as a kid, but not usually in winter and she certainly never thought of starting fires and hanging out. It sounded like more of an adult thing. The thought of an unknown adult spending time in the meadow where she frequently walked was… unsettling, maybe.  Likely not dangerous though. She decided to go out and have a look.

——————————————————————

Incognito, that was the focus. If you blend in, don’t get noticed, make use of what’s around you, but be careful, you’ll be safer. It had only taken about three hours to build the shelter. After pulling out a bunch of debris from the pile, he had found the pallets and even a sheet of old plywood. He’d made four “lean tos” and put them together with the plywood over the top. Water would run off and it would stay dry inside. Piling the brush around the outside hid everything. It was perfect. Done close to dusk, no one had noticed. The fire was kept small and smokeless.

All of his life he’d had opportunities to practice survival. It was kind of a passion with him. Well, who wouldn’t want to survive?

 

 

 

Mystery in the Meadow

20181219_1138041622788714238647754.jpgThe pile had been growing for a couple of seasons. Downed trees from the bad storm a year ago, a  whole summer’s worth of fallen limbs, old pallets that he didn’t need – he’d hauled it all out to the meadow behind the barn. It was dry and ready to be torched. That was the one of the things on his list now that the weather was cold and the ground was wet from snow that had melted.

It wasn’t that kind of melting that meant spring. It was only December, the month of cold and early dark. He was thinking of the burn pile and other chores as he did a routine walk through the meadow and surrounding wetlands. It was a favorite winding down time near the end of his work day. He skirted the barn, crossed over the small creek and around the pond and surveyed the pile.

It looked different somehow. He had been out with his machine and pushed it up around the edges, but some of the larger logs looked oddly placed. He strode over and walked around the pile, trying to remember just how he’d last seen it. There was no doubt that something had changed.

20181219_1137183118489201353298995.jpgComing around the side away from the barn and out of sight from the path, he saw what was left of a small campfire about ten feet away from the pile. That was new. Someone had been here long enough to enjoy sitting around a fire.

Had he forgotten giving someone permission to use the meadow? It was his private property and although he allowed some friends and local residents to walk the paths around the wetlands it was hard to imagine any of them hanging out for any length of time, not in the weather they’d been having recently. And there was just something not quite right about that pile…

He was just about finished circling the perimeter when he noticed it. A gaping hole in the side opened into the interior of the piled up brush.  Kneeling down and peering in, he was amazed. There was enough room in there for a couple of people to roll out sleeping bags. The sides and top had been supported by pallets and piled high with tree trunks and brush. The whole pile had been re-engineered into a shelter, and a pretty cool one at that. It was empty, thank goodness.

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He couldn’t think of anyone who could have done it, and remarkably, without being seen. Maybe kids? There were lots of them out on Christmas break, probably bored and needing something to do. A vagrant? It was a bit drafty but definitely better than no shelter at all, and there was plenty of dry wood left to burn to keep warm.  What really bothered him was the thought of how he could have set the thing on fire with someone hiding inside. Not a good thought…

He sure wasn’t going to wait out there until someone showed up, so he decided to leave a note. He snapped a picture with his phone and went back to the house for paper and pen. The note went something like this:

“Hi. Whoever built this, please call me. You’re not in trouble. This is really cool but I am concerned about your safety. I was planning to burn this and add to it, and I did not know about this. Thanks. Dennis, Property Owner.”

He finished it off with a phone number and tacked it to a log inside the entrance where it couldn’t be missed. Now to wait.

 

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To be continued…

Up North: Louie’s Landing

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Meet my brother Bob!

At our recent family reunion I had the happy opportunity to see all of my four brothers. In my “book” each one of them is talented, super relational and fun but each also has one or more claims to fame.  Bob is known for his motorcycle rides. People line up for them. There is no better way to see this beautiful country full of lakes and woods than to go with Bob on a motorcycle ride.  It was my turn and off we went.

As we got off the main highways, I realized that my knowledge of the area was limited to, well, … the main highways and what was lined up on the sides of them. I have no excuse for this. There are so many otherbeautiful roads and Bob knows them all.

 

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I thought it was kind of cool that I could get a pic of me in the mirror. I am easily entertained.

Much of this area “up north” has been affected by glaciers in the past. The way I understand it, the glaciers gouged ravines and as they melted river valleys were formed. Rocks were dropped here and there. Deposits called moraines formed hills. Small lakes are everywhere, along with some of the larger spring fed ones. The trees are awesome and much of the area is National Forest. The economy is based largely on the tourists from the nearby cities who come for fishing, boating, water skiing, hiking, biking and riding their ATVs. There is room for it all.

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Fuzzy, yes. We were going fast. 

I love trees and this northwoods is covered with hardwoods and spruce and white pine. The smaller roads are winding and tree covered, perfect for motor biking. I enjoy Bob’s bike rides (and biking in general) because I can feel the air going from warm to cool as the road dips into a hollow. I can smell grass when we pass a field with cut hay. I even appreciate the smell of new asphalt on the road.  Everything is experienced differently when I’m not encased in metal and glass. It’s true that there is less protection on a bike, but the roads are not crowded up north and we do what we can to be safe riders.

We took one of Bob’s favorite routes past Spring Lake, and east of Hayward on County Highway B. I’m giving specific directions in case you want to go there some day. We eventually came upon this sign.

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Evidently, in addition to elk, there have been moose in this area, or maybe the lake is shaped like a moose, if that is possible.

Arriving at Moose Lake, I discovered that one of Bob’s favorite places was Louie’s Landing, and that he was in the habit of stopping there for nourishment. We got off the bike and went inside to have lunch.

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It is a beautiful lake. This one is formed by damming a river, creating a flowage through a valley.
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The landing has been here on Moose Lake for years. Pictures inside show the original building and its additions.

We were slightly early for lunch so while the grill was heating up we had milkshakes and talked with the waitress and a customer. The hamburger I had was perfect, one of the best I’ve eaten. Sorry, no picture. But I did take a picture of the wall behind the bar and all the entertaining signs, typical of an area where people come to hunt, fish and get back to outdoor living.

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For me, the whole experience of getting time with my brother, seeing his favorite places, and having a new perspective on my home area made this a super enjoyable morning. You probably aren’t going to be able to duplicate my experience but if you are ever visiting Hayward, Wisconsin you might want to stop in and have a hamburger at Louie’s Landing. The milkshake was good too.

Three Day Story – Conclusion

Day Three

Florida in the rain. Darker than usual with the clouds. Everything green, almost fluorescent. Humidity almost like being underwater. Frogs coming alive, tropical croaking sounds from all quarters. Smells of  damp leaves and rotting vegetation. Hello Open House Day.

It was pretty much a bust. Four people went through the house. One was the next-door neighbor (the one under the tree branch) and the other three were friends of the realtor’s son who came to see him more than the house. We did get a lot of talking time with the realtor though. He came up with a couple of things he thought would be simple improvements in the rental house which he thought Joe could take care of for me. When he left at 2 pm, I couldn’t quit thinking about them so I texted Joe and he called back, then came over.

It was still raining off and on, but the work was inside so we spent a couple hours doing that. I could tell he was thinking about “the branch” because he kept looking out at the tree and the ladder. Sure enough, a break in the rain and that’s what he wanted to do.

Joe is Mexican and his “English as a second language” is adequate for his work but not always understandable to the average person. Even though I have developed an ear for it, I often put on a knowing look and nod while trying to figure out what on earth he is saying. He does have a phrase which I understand perfectly because he uses it often and it describes a common action which we use a lot when he pressure washes the house. It’s the “jumping over” method. He jumps (throws) the rope over the roof and hangs ladders to reach the high places.

The plan for the branch was to set the ladder as close to it as he could and jump the rope over it, hoping it would catch so he could pull it down. The thing that was troubling him was where to put the ladder. The trunk of the tree was too far from the dangling branch, and the ladder wasn’t high enough to reach outlying branches. Joe credits me with the idea we went with, although I had moments of being sorry I suggested it. I drove the truck under the tree and we put the ladder in the bed, making it almost four feet higher. It touched a nearby branch, just barely.

I sat at the base of the ladder, hoping to hold it in case it slipped, while Joe climbed slowly to the top and strapped the top rung to the branch with a bungee cord. He came part way down and I passed him the end of his rope. Going back up, he straddled the branch, got himself stable, and hauled the rope up into coils. His “jumping over” procedure worked after the third toss. The rope was caught in the branch and wasn’t coming down unless the branch did too. All the commotion was bringing down other dead twigs on me and the truck, along with a lot of water. It was getting dark and starting to rain again, but Joe was excited, having roped his branch at last.

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Our big dead branch, no longer dangling above our heads.

He came down out of the tree and we took the ladder off the truck. I have to admit I gave a sigh of relief as I got myself and the truck out of the way because Joe was pulling and the branch was making some serious cracking noises. It finally came free and fell. We have quite a pile of wood now, which Joe wants to come and load in his friend’s truck. I don’t know what he does with all the things he gets rid of for me, but he and his community find value in everything. Wouldn’t surprise me if he sells it.

I think the most fun part for me was taking Joe home and hearing how excited and satisfied he was that he had conquered that branch. He talked about it all the way there. I think there are other workmen who would have said no to the job, unless they had more equipment or more money – the job itself wouldn’t have drawn them like it did for Joe.

Joe is definitely part of what we will miss about Florida. The husband says we should pack him up and move him to Wisconsin with us, but frankly, I’m having enough trouble getting us there. Just sayin’…

Three Day Story continued…

Day Two

We have lived in Florida for thirty years now and the husband mentioned a while back that he had never been to our closest state park, only twenty some miles away. I have been there numerous times on family outings and could hardly believe he had missed them all. Since we are soon to leave Florida, we had planned a visit to the park with some dear friends on Day Two of this story. We had to leave early, which is why I had asked Joe to come the night before to get instructions on work to be done in our absence. We left, knowing that he would come and get things done. He is that dependable.

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A long boardwalk out into the marsh along the Myakka River is an excellent place for bird watching.
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The husband watching birds. Well, maybe not birds, watching something. I don’t know.

We returned around noon and found Joe busy setting posts around our parking area, paying attention to spacing and leveling, like he always does. I was glad to see that he had already mowed the lawn because it was starting to cloud up. Our realtor had scheduled an open house for Saturday (Day Three of this story) and I wanted the yard to look as good as it could. We are getting into the time of year when rain often comes in the afternoon and getting grass cut around all the wetness becomes a little summer game. In addition to that normal weather pattern, we had a tropical disturbance bearing down on our coast making it even more rainy than usual.

I had asked Joe not to go up on the ladder when there was no one around to call 911, but now that we were back, it was the first thing he wanted to do. He fully extended the ladder and set it against the trunk of the large oak and went up, armed with his heavy black rope. His plan was to throw the rope into the lower dead branch and pull it free.

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My special friend, the ladder, that has it’s own spot at my house and spends a good deal of time here.

It started to rain, but just enough to make the ladder and the tree slippery, not enough to make Joe quit. My job, as I mentioned, is to be ready to call 911, and occasionally to steady the ladder. A couple tosses put the rope where he wanted it and a good jerk brought the smaller limb down with a thud. I say “smaller” but it amazes me how something that looks little way up in a tree looks a lot bigger when it lands on the ground a few feet away from you. Joe was pleased.

If it were not for the approaching roar of serious rain, he would have continued with the job, but no. I think Joe is well aware of the dangers of lightning in Florida since he’s often up on a roof, having to get down quickly. He came down the ladder and we did our best to pile up the debris where it wouldn’t be visible to the hordes of people coming to the Open House the next day. We left the ladder where it was, up against the tree, and ran for shelter.  Joe comes and goes by bicycle or rides from friends, so Day Two ended early with me taking him home in the truck, in the rain.

It’s a three day story and tomorrow is the last day!

Three Day Story: Day One

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Chris’s house and the offending tree

Chris is incidental to the story, but it started with him. Chris is the new neighbor to the south of the oneacrewoods. He appeared at the door a week ago to introduce himself and, “oh by the way, you have a large dead branch hanging in your tree right by my house and I’m afraid it might fall on my roof.” I’m all for preventing things like that, especially since hurricane Irma last year. A large branch from that same tree did fall on that house and poked a hole into the attic. The previous owner and I split the repair costs.

Living in this grove of old live oak trees requires regular tree maintenance because they are always growing, limbs get heavy or diseased and weakened, they rot and fall off. Some owners prune heavily and leave only the clean canopy. We have followed the more natural path and let the trees self-prune, except the ones that could damage our buildings. You have to understand that it costs a lot of money to hire people willing to climb up in your trees with saws or bring in their machinery (cherry pickers). I’m talking thousands here.

I did check around with neighbors to see if anyone was planning to bring in an arborist, thinking we could add our little problem to his “to do” list, but nothing was scheduled.  So, I told Joe, who is the main character in this story. I’ve written about him before, (here: A to Z: Selling Our House (Letter H)) but I have never explained his devotion to the DIY lifestyle. I suppose it is the reason Joe can do so many things because he just never thinks of hiring someone else for a task. If he can’t do it himself, he doesn’t have it done. It is an interesting philosophy. I’m a little bit that way myself which is why I like Joe’s work. We are a dangerous combination.

He immediately began thinking, planning how he could get the branch down. The challenge had a hold on him and we walked around the tree, looking at the height of the dead, dangling debris. There were two branches, one completely detached and caught in another that was larger and higher but still partially attached. Joe started talking options. He always says “if you want, we could…”, and even if I reject some of his options because I don’t want him to kill himself, I do want the branch down, of course I do.

All the options involved his ladder, so we went in the truck to get it.

Joe’s tools are all over the place because he doesn’t have a home of his own. He stays with one friend after another and has a large community of people who evidently like to host him. The ladder was in the yard at his present abode. It’s a large aluminum extension ladder which has spent a lot of time at our house actually, and I treat it like a friend. We put it in the back of the truck and weighted it down with a huge stump. Since it was now dark and starting to rain, Joe stayed and promised to be at the house the next morning to work on several things I had asked him to do.

I drove the ladder home and took it out. I left the stump in the bed of the truck, primarily because it weighed a ton, but also because I already had a couple of other things in the yard that we have used to weight the ladder in the past. I didn’t want to add this one to the collection. So ended Day One of the story.

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The husband made me take the stump out of the truck. Another yard ornament, oh well…

 

Battling Winter, post #1

Thinking back over the past few weeks, and the stories I have not told about them, makes me glad to be in my present circumstances where it is actually possible to catch up. I am with Mom, in beautiful northern Wisconsin, in my original hometown. No, there isn’t a medical emergency. No, I’m not escaping from the husband or any peril in Florida. I am here helping Mom battle winter.

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The loveliness of winter

Winter is a force to be reckoned with here. This area is a special part of the North American continent where the temperature maps show a peculiar dip in the cold zone. A finger of it comes south from Canada and curls around our river valley, making it slightly less habitable, particularly for anyone who is not fond of winter. The cold comes early and stays for months and leaves late in the spring. Some places much farther north, Anchorage Alaska for instance, have a warmer climate than this part of northwest Wisconsin.

It, winter, is a significant part of everyone’s experience in this small town. They all have wardrobes of jackets, mittens, hats and special suits, special boots, and special underwear – if they go outside at all. Those who don’t have to go outside, pretty much don’t.  The weather makes a lot of difference in how they go about their day.  Will the car start? Are the roads plowed yet? There are times when workers have to evaluate whether their job is important enough to risk 60 degrees F. below zero wind chill. That’s the cold, but there’s also the darkness. The sun goes down about 4 pm these days in December and it is still dark now at 7 am while I write. All this to say that winter can be tough, especially for our elders.

A lot of my family lives here because this is the land they know best. We started out here, are no longer too surprised by its harshness, and have learned to get along with winter. My Mom’s side of the family can point out the farm where they lived as children and many of her siblings came back after living elsewhere to make their home here. Some never left.

My dad’s side of the family also owned farmland and woodland, which my brothers now own and care for.  Mom lives in a fairly new, energy efficient condo, built by my brother on the farm where Dad grew up.  My brother’s house is within sight. The property used to be rural but now is on the edge of town. I could throw a rock and hit the local Walmart. We can walk to Pizza Hut in less than 5 minutes. My grandmother, long deceased, would not believe how things have changed outside her now renovated farmhouse. I’m not saying that this is bad. I’m just saying that it’s a lot of change in what seems like a short amount of time – but maybe it’s no so short. Time is funny like that.

So, winter has set in. I was able to fly to Minneapolis and catch the shuttle van going north. It was snowing as we approached Hayward, in the dark, last Wednesday. I was the last passenger to get delivered. The people before me had a home on one of the many local lakes. We tried three times to get up their driveway, but even though the plow had been through, the new dusting of snow made it too slippery to crest the hill. We went to a nearby boat landing that adjoined their property and they hiked/climbed, with their suitcases, in the dark, through the trees and the snow, to their house. They had done it before. I’m just saying, it’s winter and I’m in Hayward.

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Homecoming. Would you like to go through this to get to your front door?