Something Good in February

It’s 2021, it’s February, it’s still winter. I’m challenging myself to find something good to be celebrated every day this month, in the interest of mental health. I need help, and thinking on good, deserving things is going to do wonders. Yep.

A lot of my southern friends have felt sorry for me, having to live “up north” in the winter. I will be the first to admit that the winters are long and can get pretty cold, but there are bright spots to being here.

Entering Wisconsin from the southern border, most of what one sees are farms, lots of farms, and small cities and towns. About 2/3 of the way north, things change and when you finally reach Hayward, you find… trees, lots of trees. Real forests, that go on for a long ways.

Mosquito Brook runs through the forest. There were no mosquitoes. None.

Thirty years ago when I was living here, logging was a huge industry. I used to see the logging trucks, fully loaded, on the roads, and wonder how there could be any trees left in the forests. That was years ago and there are still as many, if not more, logs being hauled out. The forests are so well managed, and so BIG, that there is no apparent shortage of trees.

Back view of sweet machine

And now for the bright spot. Today I got to go out in the forest with my brother on his snowmobile. We rode tandem for two hours. On the way home we switched places and I got to drive. Miraculously, we did not fall off the trail. The experience is a cross between riding a boat in choppy water, riding a dirt bike on rough roads or maybe a bit like posting on a horse with a rough trot. All done out in the forest, at speeds between 0 and 30 (40) mph and at temperatures usually below freezing. We call it winter recreation.

Recreation is pretty big here in the Hayward area because there aren’t a lot of other ways to make a living. People take ice fishing, snowshoeing, skiing and snowmobiling very seriously. There are about eight snowmobile clubs in this northwest corner of Wisconsin that have found ways to get from here to there, mapped them, created apps and invited the “world” to get up here and have fun in the snow. On good weekends the motel parking lots are full of trucks and trailers from as far away as the Dakotas, and the sound of snow machines is in the air. The trails are groomed often. Some are like the “interstates” of the forest and some are “one laners” complete with mile markers and signage.

Not exactly crowded out there, but we weren’t alone either.

My brother’s new machine has heated seats, hand grips, and the throttle (for that cold thumb). Even the helmets plug in and stay warm. It’s a very comfortable, maybe even luxurious, ride. However, they haven’t yet learned how to make them quiet. We live close to a major trail into town and I hear the snow machines a lot. I can only imagine what the deer, bear, wolves and coyotes are thinking now that their forest homes have been invaded.

Groups of snowmobilers travel for hours, stopping for “refreshments” and fuel at designated resorts and bars, bringing a lot of business to our area. All this happy influx of business hinges on two requirements. There has to be snow, preferably quite a bit of snow, and it can’t be so cold that it’s no longer fun but dangerous. This winter has not been bad so far, but we have February to get through yet.

I did enjoy my ride today. The forest was wild, the trail was full of twists, turns, hills and ravines – just beautiful! Most of the time I had no idea where we were, but I was glad to be there anyway. Something good happened today, just sayin’…

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?

 

 

 

More Reasons

September 5, 2018

Here we sit, early on Wednesday evening, at the local Perkins. Hayward is not a big city. It has been a town of about 2300, give or take a few, ever since I was living here as a child. Of all the common chain restaurants, only Perkins, Subway, McDonalds and Dairy Queen have survived. Because Perkins runs a special on Wednesdays, allowing seniors half price off select meals, we have been here every week since our move. It is Lois and Wendell night.

Meet some more of my “up north” family. Mom was blessed with siblings Pearl, Donald, Olive, Ervin, Wendell and John. They were spread out over enough time that the younger ones, Wendell, Mom and John were almost like a separate family. Their brothers and sisters were out of the house and married, leaving the threesome to be companions to each other. They are the survivors in the family and strangely enough, they all three have ended up here in the communities they know and love.

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On Wednesdays, Wendell and his wife Lois drive into Hayward for shopping and appointments. They are usually done around 5 pm and give Mom a call to join them for dinner at Perkins. They have become overly familiar with everything on the senior menu. The waiter jokes with them like they are old buddies and seats them at the same table most every time. Even the husband and I have entered into the rituals. I know to close the blinds so light from the setting sun doesn’t shine in Lois’s eyes and we all know not to order the grilled asparagus and that the blue cheese dressing is homemade and really good.

Wendell has been a schoolteacher for much of his life, which would explain his love for books. As he neared retirement he went into the paperback bookstore business and actually built a store next to his retirement home in the nearby town of Stone Lake. Stone Lake is even smaller than Hayward – you can drive through it in less than 30 seconds.

However, I have always thought of my Uncle Wendell as having a secret love for farming.  I remember him coming to help my mom and dad on their farm when I was a child. I think he would have sought this line of work had it provided enough for a living. As evidence of this secret love, my uncle of 80+ years still has a tractor, which he enjoys driving, that is, up until a couple of months ago.

Thin, wiry, agile for his age and indomitable of spirit, Uncle Wendell was out with the tractor one day when his daughter and granddaughter were visiting. I have heard them say they felt guilty for what happened since it was because they were there that the tractor was being demonstrated. On the other hand, had they not been there, it might have happened anyway and the outcome could have been much worse.

Although I have seen semi-demonstrations of what happened, it’s difficult to visualize and has an aura of the near miraculous about it. Standing on the tractor, near the one who was operating it, my uncle reached forward for one of the levers, lost balance and tumbled off – under the moving machine. He was, however, on the roll and managed to somersault through and out the other side. He got up, dusted himself off and with help, walked to his brother’s house where he was whisked off to the Emergency Room. Consensus was that it was better not to give details to Lois, who did not witness the event.

Of course, she eventually got filled in since it was hard to hide the broken shoulder, bruised ribs and back brace that he wore for weeks. He was not allowed to drive during this convalescence which was quite an irritation to him, and when the brace was no longer needed he joked about being released from prison. Now that he is better, he is again driving the 20 miles into Hayward for our Wednesday rituals. Did I mention that he is indomitable?

Nevertheless, Uncle Wendell does not drive long distances and even last winter when I visited I was “hired” to drive them to a doctor appointment in Ashland. Aunt Lois is a good match for him in spirit but she has vision problems and relies on him in many ways. The two of them are looking ahead at what difficulties winter might give them and asking God for wisdom.

Well, it seems perfectly clear to me that I am “up north” to help mom, but also to help the whole family in whatever way I can. God puts us in family groups because there is safety in numbers and how wonderful it is when we can help each other in practical ways. And because it is the way God works, there is benefit for both the helpee and the helper. I get a bit protective of the elderly people I love and don’t mind sounding bossy. I’m encouraging them to move closer for the winter and let me drive for them on the longer trips. We will see what they decide.

Concluding, this seems like one more good reason why I am supposed to be where I am. It seems wonderful to me and I’m glad to I have a part to play, just sayin’…

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Another reason for being here, someone has to use all these coupons we’re collecting.

 

 

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?

#4: Smith Lake

wp-1470693279926.jpgI’ve often wondered why people who name lakes can’t come up with something a little more creative than Round Lake or Smith Lake.  They probably weren’t thinking long range.  Since Smith is my maiden name I’ve asked if Smith Lake had any connection with our family  but there doesn’t seem to be, in spite of it being so close to my grandfather’s farm, just outside Hayward.  It’s a small, but beautiful lake that seems to be lined up with other small marshes, creeks and ponds.

Mom and I were due for a trip to the library and Smith Lake was in the same direction.  We made it our outing for the day’s challenge.  We drove to the small park with a boat landing and I took off the shoes, once again unprepared to actually swim.  I quickly waded in while my photographer snapped a few pics. Walking out, I  noticed a not so great smell which led me to examine the drifts of weed that had washed up on shore.  Large, black snails in great numbers were decomposing among the detritus, looking a little like a plague of some sort. We didn’t stay long.  (I’m thinking this was a temporary, seasonal thing and it wasn’t keeping others from enjoying the lake in their kayaks.)

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The snails didn’t make it into the picture.  Well, maybe a few of them did, in the foreground.

On our way home we drove by one of the marshy areas that has been a cranberry farm for years.  This area has several cranberry marshes and a neighboring town is even known for its Cranberry Festival in the fall.  Not many things grow well enough in this part of Wisconsin to provide a financially reasonable crop but cranberries come close.