Random Paragraphs on Summer

This is my first full summer in Wisconsin in 30 some years. It is turning out as I remembered it, short and sweet, full of vividly colored flowers and nesting birds of all sizes. Family dinners outdoors are weekly events. There are gray, rainy days but that only makes it more amazing when the sun comes out and everything is watered and cool and green. Summer is my favorite season (as is spring, fall and winter).

We are no longer out in the trailer in the meadow. It was a tough time in some ways, but I’m going to remember all the amazing moments looking out the window at the real world. As we stayed on, the deer got used to our presence there and got back to their routines of grazing and play. I started recognizing the call of the red tail hawk and knew just where to look for him. The evening fog drifting in, the fireflies, the stillness as the birds stopped singing. Beautiful memories, all.

Play time
Leaving the meadow
Eventide

The garden. I had forgotten the satisfaction of seeing a plot of ground with nothing but stakes and strings turn into row after row of fresh green plants. All the lessons that come with a garden are coming back to mind, how everything has its time to mature and be ready for harvest, how neat edges and straight rows not only create order but are beautiful and functional, how good gardens take regular tending and lots of hours of work. A garden can be a metaphor for life itself – I always find myself thinking of that when I’m pulling weeds.

My least favorite part is “thinning”. I always end up planting small seeds, ones that are hard to see and handle, much too close together. If they germinate well and grow, I know they will have to be thinned out as they get bigger or they will not develop as they should. It’s painful to pull out perfectly good plants. It’s hard to decide which ones to leave and which to pluck. Again, I think of the many applications to life in general. There is wisdom to be learned in a garden.

Too many beet plants leave no room to grow. Which must go?

Dinner and a Show

7-3-2019

Dinner on the deck

We are still at Smith Meadow, and tonight we had our first dinner guests. The menu was my secret recipe Macaroni and Cheese with a salad, watermelon and raspberry cream cheese pie for desert. Brother Dennis and sis-in-law Mary Pat came out to join us (they brought the pie)(and it was good!). This was such a treat for Dennis because he misses out on family dinners now that he isn’t comfortable at the condos.

It’s mighty hot here, for Wisconsin anyway, and we ate outside on our deck which was cooler than in the trailer. It was early enough that the mosquitoes weren’t bad yet, the meadow was half sun and half shade, and the birds were having their final sing for the day. It was remarkably comfortable. We didn’t hurry it.

Family selfie

As we were finishing we heard a tractor approaching and, sure enough, it had a rake attached to prep the downed hay for baling. The surprise was that it was driven by a 15 year old young woman (in a dress), a Mennonite farm girl working to make hay with her dad. I didn’t get a picture of that huge rake and tractor as she ran it around the meadow – a missed opportunity for sure. We watched in awe, and clapped when she left. She acknowledged with a smile and a wave. She was one of eight children from the farm adjoining our land. My brother said he wouldn’t be surprised if she came back with the baler before it was dark.

Tractor and baler (shielded cab with AC of course…)

Sure enough, more tractor noises approached, preceded this time by an SUV driven by a mom with her four children in the back. The tractor and attached baler came next driven by the father with his one year old son on his lap. They start them young.

It didn’t take long for the family to leave the car and come sit on the deck with us. The children were such happy, farm savvy, healthy looking and enthusiastic young people that I kind of fell in love with them, quickly.

The eight year old boy saw the baler stop and immediately announced that his father had put too much hay in and had clogged the baler. He ran out and rescued the one year old while his dad crawled under the baler to fix things. He also gave his opinion on how many bales the meadow would yield and he was right. He had already been around enough hay fields to be knowledgeable.

The little guy would rather be riding the tractor with dad.

The girls sat next to me and conversed while we watched the field get processed. They were surprised when I told them many children don’t know what a farm is all about and think milk comes from a supermarket. We talked about cows, coyotes, their toy room, and how nice it was that their grandpa and grandma lived next door. Janessa, who is five, was the most talkative. She could have played Laura in Little House on the Prairie, if she had been an actress. But how much better to live the life and not have to pretend.

The baler got fixed, the field cleaned up right good with three big bales and a smaller one. The show was over. Our new friends got in their Suburban and went home. Night fell and the fireflies came out. Dinner and a show, but much more interesting and fun than the usual outing by that name… just sayin’.

Two Lives

6-28-2019

Tonight we fall asleep with the scent of newly mown hay. The meadow and the field outside by the road were cut today by a nearby farmer who rents the field. The waist high grass and clover are down and hopefully have a dry day tomorrow to prepare for baling.

I have two separate and very different lives.

In one of them, I am single and living in a nice condo with my cat Shadow. I live next to my mom and close to my brother and sister-in-law. I work in the garden pulling weeds and planting vegetables. I walk the surrounding wetlands and take pictures of geese. I work twice a week at my brother’s business where I edit and sometimes write in his business blog and clean and empty trash. I grocery shop, wash clothes and all those ordinary things.

Today, in my single life, I laid out a jigsaw puzzle, turning all 1,000 pieces right side up and putting together the edges. I watered the petunias and talked with my Mom

In my other life I am married to Dennis (the husband) and I live in Smith Meadow in a travel trailer. I light candles and use flashlights to see at night since there is no electricity. I carry water from town in plastic jugs since there is no well. There isn’t an outhouse either so it’s a good thing I know how to dig holes and bury. I have a propane heater borrowed from my brother that I can fire up if it gets too cold at night. And (very important) I have another small camp stove to heat water for my morning coffee.

Our perishable food is in a cooler and I replenish the ice almost daily. I take a couple trips into town every day. I shop for things we need. I bring my husband liver and onions from the local restaurant. He isn’t well and this place is where he feels safe for the time being. Today I brought a trimmer out, cut tall grass around the trailer and tried to trim branches that were rubbing on the roof. I took a walk in the woods. And tonight I’m smelling new mown hay.

Smith Meadow

How I come to be here is another story for another time, Smith Meadow being enough of a story in itself. A clearing in the middle of a parcel of forested land has become dear to many in my family. Part of the farm my father came to the year he and my mom were married, it has had a part in my brother’s lives as they have cared for it in various ways. Lately the forest around it has been harvested leaving wide paths through the pines and hardwoods that are still plentiful. Dark, cool, and full of mosquitoes, the path winds through the forest all the way around the meadow.

Really if it were not for the forest, the meadow would not have the magic that it does. It is a surprise of openness, with a feeling of privacy. It is a secret that cannot be seen from outside. There is a grass covered road through a field of hay by which to approach the meadow. Those who don’t know it’s there, would not notice it at all. From cars on the nearby paved road all that can be seen is a tall wall of trees on the far side of an expanse of timothy grass and clover.

In the aftermath of a disturbing discussion, I stepped out into the meadow looking for some peace, looking for the path into the woods. Trees have always helped me feel sheltered, covered, and aware of their bigness and the smallness of my problems. It was fall when I last walked on the path so the trees were mostly bare and leaves covered the ground. This evening, everything was green from the floor to the ceiling overhead, an endless variety of patterns and shapes in green, green and green…

The path itself is predominantly covered with white clover and grass, almost like it has been seeded. It creates a perfect dining area for deer and I expect to see one every time I go around a bend, but no. Only once did I hear a sound and see the momentary flash of white in the woods. But the grasses were disturbed and flattened in many places all along the mile or so of my walk. The deer had been there.

I returned, along with my mosquito friends, to my abode for the night. This lonely little trailer house, on the edge of Smith Meadow, no electricity, no water – just peace (and mosquitoes).

More Wonderful Things

6-18-2019

Flowers, guys. Flowers are wonderful. There is something so special about northern flowers too, a different special than the Florida flowers I’m used to.

Here we go. Korean lilacs, late bloomers.

Iris – such fancy ladies – and they smell so good!Daisies in mom’s garden – so pretty!I love Wave Petunias.

And if flowers are too common for you to get excited about, I’d ask you to look at this ice cube I found in the fridge. It’s uncommonly wonderful. It has a stem. How does that happen?

“Up North” at Nelson Lake

6-15-2019

Nelson Lake has a large island in the middle. The dam is on the left side of the picture near where the highway jogs.

We went exploring today. It’s becoming necessary to spend as much time as possible away from the house due to what seems to be an electrical sensitivity that Dennis has developed. He wanted to go north. We went to Nelson Lake.

Nelson Lake was formed when the Totogatic River was dammed, way back when my father was a child. He told stories of how he and his dad cut trees and hauled them out of the river valley before it was flooded. When I look at the land around Nelson Lake I realize what the water covered up as it rose – forest, rock, probably a few farmsteads. The hilly terrain formed a lot of inlets and coves, a very irregular coastline, and a lot of places for fish to hide and breed. It is well known for good fishing.

We drove up S.H. 27 to Dam Road (I love that road sign) and turned in to a rather busy boat landing. Trucks and trailers were pulling boats in and out of the water – pontoon boats, jet skis and fishing boats. We spent some time on the dock talking with people then headed back to our truck where Dennis took a nap. Windows were open, soft breeze, and the real surprise, no mosquitoes.

Right in front of the parking area was the dam. A couple families with kids and fishing poles came and went, along with their strings of panfish. The dam itself is old enough to have been at risk a couple of years ago when the lake was extra high and flooding. It was reinforced and held. A lot of people were worried about it then.

Leaving the boat landing we tried to drive around the lake on the north side. Because of the crazy shoreline, there really isn’t a road that follows along the lake. There are quite a few small lodges, resorts and camping places tucked in here and there but every road we tried turned out to be a dead end eventually.

We traced our route back to the other side of the dam where we took County T along the south side of Nelson Lake and the north side of nearby Smith Lake. We stopped at Etcheyson Park, another small picnic area and boat ramp on Smith Lake. A couple teens were actually floating around in the water on tubes. It’s the middle of June here but that doesn’t mean the water is warm in any of these lakes. Last week we had a morning of 36 degrees, and a couple weeks ago there was snow falling. A cold summer so far, but very refreshing, if you’re used to June in Florida, like we are.

I’m impulsive and suddenly pizza sounded like a good supper choice. I thought of it mostly because of the many times I had passed the Outback Bar and Pizza sign on S.H. 77, only a few miles away. I had read in the local newspaper about the new owners keeping a super good and sort of secret recipe for pizza sauce. It was good! The place is small but the bar was lined with four or five couples who were really into some sports event on the tv’s. We opted for a table outside in the quiet where we could watch the trees and birds. The owner and her dog waited on our table. The dog didn’t actually do anything but she was well behaved.

The day had turned cool and cloudy and I thought to myself that it was a typical day “up north” in many ways. It’s hard to say exactly what is different up here, but I think it has to do with the preponderance of cold weather days. It creates a different landscape, with forests of a certain kind, marshes, wild looking rivers, many lakes, and much more untouched nature than in other parts of our country.

Although it seemed to me like I could have been 4 or 5 o’clock, it was actually 7 p.m. when we left. It is now almost 9 and the sun is still not down, another feature of “up north” life. And the sun will be up again tomorrow around 5 a.m. so I’m going to quit now and get some sleep.

A Much Needed Visit

Friends. Most of the time I am aware that I have some, here and there, people to smile at, speak with, do an occasional lunch or other outing with. But then there are those times when people show up, at great expense to themselves, when I am not at my loveliest or in the greatest of circumstances. They are the truest of friends who show up and do life with us, me and Dennis, when they wouldn’t have to. That is what happened last week.

It surprised me when my invitation to come “up north” was accepted not just with “sure, we’ll come someday”, but with “when is a good time – I’ll buy tickets…” Not many visitors make it up here, although it is a great place and to cool off in the summer. I also was thinking of the perfect time for them to come. My whole local family was taking a two week Alaskan cruise. I couldn’t see how we could go with them since I had just done my Grand Canyon trip. I was fairly content to stay home, watch the animals, water the plants and weed the garden. Having friends come would be the perfect thing to keep me from feeling sorry for myself.

Arlette, a.k.a. “French girl” has been one of my best friends for several years. Her husband, Dwight, and my husband, Dennis, started the American Aldes office in Sarasota way back in the 1980’s. They had heard a lot about our Wisconsin home since helping us move last July. Now I had a chance to show them some of its charms.

It started with the three hour trip from Minneapolis airport to Hayward. Then we rushed them off to eat at The River Deck, a waterfront restaurant where my nephew had just started working. It’s also the location of the National Lumberjack Championships, which had to impress them (I think). And although we didn’t visit it, I did point out the gigantic Musky (at least three stories tall) in the nearby park.

Eating out was one of the easiest things for us all to do together, and I had my list of favorite places. In addition to the River Deck, we were able to go to The Angry Minnow, and Garmisch Resort. Each of these places had its own unique vibe and I think we all enjoyed the differences.

One of our lunches was a bit different. It was on a boat, out on my favorite Round Lake. I had heard of the Jacobson’s project from my brother. Ralph Jacobson and several of his friends built the “Galilee”, designing it to host small groups on the lake, as a ministry opportunity. He and his wife Carrene, served us lunch and spent an hour showing us their part of the lake. It was a beautiful day, weather wise.

Thank you, my friends, for your supportive visit.

Dwight and Arlette, the brave ones.

Slapping mosquitoes on a hike. Photo ops were brief.

Is Moving an Adventure?

I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like an adventure, but it’s also a lot of work. Work and adventure.

All winter my aunt and uncle have been living in town, very close to us, in a condo that my family owns. Because they have been here I’ve been able to help them drive to doctor appointments, and other things they’ve needed. This week they moved back to their own house, farther out in the country. That was my first moving adventure of the week.

As soon as they were situated at home, the husband and I moved into the place they vacated. Although I have been in this house a lot when my mom and dad lived here, and when one of my brothers and his family used it frequently, I’ve never considered it my home.  It’s a strange feeling.  As I look through cupboards, drawers and closets and find things that my family has left behind, I’m constantly having to decide – keep or not to keep? How do I begin to feel at home?

So, I bought flowers and started to “pretty up” the outside. We now have the husband’s lounge chair set up on the patio where we can listen to the waterfall fountain and sit in the sun.

Our own private waterfall.

Now that this second move of the week is over, I don’t have to keep my clothes in mom’s garage anymore and we have a dresser with drawers in the bedroom, big change. (Although I have to admit that the filing cabinets I was using before do make excellent storage for socks and underwear.) I have a kitchen all to myself.  More importantly, mom has her kitchen back, as well as her living room, guest room, her TV, her garage, and her sanity.

It’s all good.  We did well living together, while we had to, and time demonstrated that it was best for all of us to spread out a bit more. We are very blessed to have the space that allows us to do that.  And since it is summer here, we have even more space – the whole outdoors. Unlike Florida, where we were most comfortable going from one air-conditioned space to another, Wisconsin is remarkably cool, clean and refreshing. The woods are full of spring flowers, the brooks and ponds are full of all kinds of ducks, geese and their little broods.  We took a walk this week and came within five feet of the smallest fawn I have ever seen in the wild. The little guy/gal froze as we walked past.

newborn fawn hiding in birch forest
Can you see him?

Spring is magical here in so many ways. Spring is a recurring adventure and a gift to us from an adventurous God.

Another Day in Which I Played Piano, sort of…

I’m pretty sure there is an adventure of some kind in every ordinary day. This one was not hard to find. It involved a bit of adrenalin…

On Sunday, I got to play piano alongside a real concert pianist. What an adventure!
Huntley Brown was someone I had not met or heard of, but he was playing a worship service (actually three of them) at our church. He has played for audiences all over the world, including the Summit for the Persecuted Church. He and the pastor were alone at the front of the church when the husband and I came in and took our seats.

He came over to greet us. He had questions.
“Do you play music by ear?”

“Yes, kind of. I can pick out melodies, but perhaps not perfectly the first time. I can follow most chord structures.” I answered him without fear, without apprehension, without suspicion. After all, we were just talking music.

“Well, what hymn do you know? Tell me one.”

I’m getting just a hint of foreboding. “I don’t play any of them often without the music in front of me. I can’t really think of one I KNOW by ear, not really.”

“No, you can do one, which one? Just name one that you like…”

“You’re the one giving the concert. We came to hear you.” (Nervous laughter, greater foreboding. He’s being so nice and encouraging – if I keep refusing, I’ll look really lame.)

“What shall we play? Just pick one.”

I know pretty much any hymn in any hymn book, having played them in one church or another since I was 15. For some reason, my mind was blank and I couldn’t remember the name of a hymn, not one. Oh, wait…

“Amazing Grace.” That was a hard one to think of. Where did I come up with that?

“Okay, do you want to play the top or the bottom part?” He was leading me up on stage to the piano. Apparently this was going to happen so I was trying to get my wits about me.

There were hardly any people in the audience yet. Probably no one would notice what was going on. I took the bottom part. He was between me and the people. I could hide. We played Amazing Grace. It only has three chords but I still got some of them wrong.

“That’s good. Let’s play it again. We’re doing the prelude.” This he said to the man in the sound booth who was doubtless wondering what was going on.

I think we may have played Amazing Grace three times before he asked me to think of another one. Still couldn’t remember anything I could play.

“Do you know What A Friend We Have in Jesus?” I did know that one and we played it a couple of times.

“What else? One more…” I couldn’t get the name of the one I was thinking of but I played the first couple notes of the tune and he took over from there. We finished our prelude with that one.

There were a lot more people in the audience by this time. I could see that they were enjoying him interacting with me, one of their own. The hymns were not the point. My musical skill was not the point. The point was that someone so accomplished in their talent was not afraid to come alongside someone of lesser ability, to be humble and gracious in sharing what they could do, to start a relationship in a small but significant way, to have fun, to encourage. I actually think it was a genius way to demonstrate how a believer follows Christ’s example.

I played piano with Huntley Brown as he demonstrated how Jesus does things. It was a good adventure.