5 Sky Blue Acres

December 25, 2008

Sitting On The Dock On The Bay

That's right sports fans, I took this picture on Christmas Day 2008 while sitting on the dock on the bay on the lake behind my house. It wasn't my dock, but the dock worked fine for a spot to have a cheese stick and drink a carton of OJ. The tracks were made by my yesterday. Today was an excellent afternoon for some XC trudging around the neighborhood fields and ponds. I shot these pictures while sitting on the dock. Not sure whose dock it is, but it sure is handy for taking a break.

A blanket of at least 12-inches of loose powder snow covers the fields and lakes in this area of Western Wisconsin. The skies were clear when I started out and turned partly cloudy as the afternoon progressed. Winds were brisk in the open areas and coming from the south. The weather station says snow is coming tonight and turning to freezing drizzles tomorrow. If that comes true, my plan to go downhill skiing tomorrow might get pushed out to Saturday.

Snowmobiles were out crossing the lake on the trail that runs from somewhere south around River Falls to Superior. Traffic was light, but the trails are open. The trail groomer came through the area on Monday. My guess is that hardcore snowmobilers are spending Christmas up north -- or maybe down in southern Wisconsin where record snow blankets the hills and dales. The fewer the snowmobiles on the trails, the longer the trails will be open. The snow is really light and fluffy and won't provide much trail cushion.

Yesterday, while sitting on the same dock, I saw a small herd of deer over in Bill's Bay. I skied over there earlier, but the springs in that part of the lake leave water under the snow. Once my skis sink into the water, the water freezes and the skis don't slide until I scrape them off. Hence, today I told the field on the south side of the lake and followed the snowmobile trail down the lake. There's a trick to this XC skiing.

Anyways, it was an excellent, invigorating afternoon of XC skiing for me. When I got home, it was time for an excellent Christmas dinner with the wife.

January 9, 2008

Poetry by Sappho

The Moon

The stars about the lovely moon
Fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space.

Fragment 16, Some Say

Some say an army of horsemen or footmen or rowers
Is the most beautiful thing over the coal-black earth,
But I say it is that thing, whatever it is,
That one loves and desires.

All easy it is to make this clear to anyone,
For Helen, far surpassing all mortals in beauty,
Leaving behind the best of all men,
Departed, sailing for Troy --
And not at all did she remember
Parents, nor love of children,
But passion directed her....

Now my Anactoria too is gone, and
I would rather see her supple walk
And the bright sparkle of her face
Than all the chariots of Lydia
And foot-soldiers in arms.

Sappho was born between 630 BC and 612 BC on the small Isle of Lesbos in the town of Eresos. Although little is known about Sappho's life, educated guesses can be drawn from her writings. Sappho is said to have been the first published female poet and the first modern poet. She died in 570 BC.

Read Sappho's Biography.

January 6, 2008


The hands of Henry Brooks, an old Georgia slave

"Our small, soft hands blistered quickly at the start of each summer, but Daddy never let us wear gloves, which he considered a sign of weakness. After a few weeks of constant work, the bloody blisters gave way to hard-earned calluses that protected us from pain. Long after the fact, it occurred to me that was a metaphor for life -- blisters come before calluses, vulnerability before maturity - but not even the thickest of skins could have spared us the lash of Daddy's tongue. "I could do more with a teaspoon than you can do with a shovel," he snapped whenever we were shoveling dirt. "You worth less than a carload of dead men." He never praised us, just as he never hugged us. Whenever my grandmother urged him to tell us that we had done a good job, he replied, "That's their responsibility. Any job worth doing is worth doing right."

Clarence Thomas
My Grandfather's Son

January 5, 2008

The Immigration Question in 1891

A friend showed me a box of old area newspapers from as far backs as the 1890s -- newspapers from Hudson and River Falls, Wisconsin, the Twin Cities and a few other areas. There is some fascinating information in these papers and it is easy to see how much times have changed and how they have not changed.

For instance, immigration is huge debate in today's political debate. In 1891, the Wisconsin-Minnesota border country was a major stopping point for Scandinavian immigrants and other areas of Europe -- Germany, Ireland, Italy, France, etc.

One paper is from the May 27, 1891 edition of the North, a weekly newspaper published in Minneapolis every Wednesday and edited by Luth Jaeger, a Norwegian immigrant. According to is masthead, The North was "a weekly newspaper in the English language, devoted to the inculcation of American principles among the Scandinavian citizens of the United States." The goal of the paper was to Americanize Norwegian immigrants into the American way of life. It was published from 1889-1894.

Jaeger was a member of the Norwegian-American intelligentsia and he was nominated for Minnesota Secretary of State on the Democratic ticket on Sept. 14, 1886.

Below is photo of an ad from the newspaper that I took with my digital camera. Below the picture is a quote taken from the newspaper about the issue of immigration.

"The national life, as developed in the great port of entry - New York - is a huge crucible into which has been dumped in overwhelming masses the sweepings of European cities. The scum at the top, the dregs at the bottom, we wait with anxiety the slow process of national assimilation which shall fuse with the old Dutch and Anglo-Saxon stock, the stolid German, the mercurial Frenchman, and the fiery Celt, and, out of the compound, present the American nation of the future."

December 30, 2007

Skiing Across Double GG

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

John Ruskin

Snow conditions continue to improve, with 2-3 inches over the past two days. This is turning out to be the best winter for my variety of back-40, bushwhacking skiing in years. When I set out this afternoon, my goal was to ski over to the Willow River on the north side of county road GG. I made tracks across the pond on the snowmobile trail and started blazing my own trail, once I reached the north end of the pond. It was good to see some other fresh ski tracks that didn't belong to me. They belong to the neighbor lady and one of her daughters who we saw out skiing this morning with the dog. It was sunny then but not this afternoon.

Leaving the snowmobile trail where it crosses Paperjack Creek, I headed east up the frozen creek where it splits through the woods. This is the area where I've seen a pileated woodpecker over the years. No pileated woodpeckers this time, but I did flush out four pheasants from the edge of the woods. They must have been hunkered down under a fallen tree, because they didn't fly out all at once and had to fly up through the trees.

When I reached the east side of the tree line where the marsh is, I headed north along the tree line following a deer path. I flushed out another group of pheasants and a bit further I flushed out a couple more. This time, I saw a couple pheasants running ahead through the woods. I don't recalled scaring up so many pheasants in the past years, but this Fall I saw an abundance of pheasants while out riding my bike. Many trees blew down in the big wind last August. Most were snapped off half way up the tree. From the north side of New Richmond for 20 or miles to the southeast of New Richmond, hundreds of trees were blew down. Many barns were destroyed or damaged and one house was basically blown apart.

County road GG can be crossed two ways. One way is through the round culvert that allows the marsh to drain into the Willow river and the other way is to just cross the road. It's years since I cross the road using the culvert. The last time I crossed through it - it is a crouched, challenging position that a 5' 10", 220 pound guy has to get into to fit through the concrete tube. When I thought about it, I realised that, if I got stuck in there, they probably wouldn't find me until I was a skeleton. Sometimes you have to create you own danger. As a nod to wisdom and old age, I walked across the road.

After crossing GG, I followed a farm rode that runs between the trees and a cornfield. Up ahead, I spotted a flock of turkeys working their way up the road. By the time I saw them, they were alert to my presence and they were starting to head into the trees. I took a side trail into the trees and worked my way around to where the turkeys were starting come out on the path. They turkeys spotted me and headed back the other way.

It had been at least five winters since I'd been over to this area and was surprised by the trail network cut through the trees. Then I remembered that a logging project had been going on the last time I was over here. Working my way through the paths I saw deer stands in the trees and found a bottle of buck scent hanging from a tree. It was obvious that this was a deer hunting zone. As I skied along a path along the Willow, I scared up a couple of deer. I couple see trees that had been rubbed by deer and I was on the lookout for antlers that had been dropped.

I found a suitable tree stump to have my carton of OJ and bar and contemplate the quite of the woods. After a good rest, it was starting to get dark so I headed back home. A couple of downy woodpecker where tapping on nearby trees. Once you quit thrashing through the woods and take time to listen to the quietness of the woods, there is much activity about the place.

I took the express route across the cornfield and was surprised to find myself working my way through some two foot drifts. After getting back to the snowmobile trail, I took that and cut across the housing development and got to ski down the big hill before climbing the hill home.

I always find it quite exhilarating to ski the big hill on cross country skis. You just push off, flex your knees and go down in a straight shush. Just like the old days skiing down Coon's Hill in Hudson. Starting out, we learned about guts before we learned how to turn.

December 25, 2007

Christmas On The Frozen Pond

"Every mile is two in winter."
George Herbert
The weather radar showed a band of snow moving our way throughout the Christmas morning. A few flakes began to fall in the afternoon around 1:30. I was debating on whether I would finally get me cross-county skis out on the pond or if I would just put the hiking boots on and trudge around the pond. By the time the wife and I had got the Christmas dinner turkey tucked safely into the often, it was too late for the skis. So I put on the hiking boots on and headed for the pond.

By the time I got going, the snow was coming down in big fluffy flakes. There would be shoveling to do later. Whether tonight or tomorrow depends on when the snow runs its course. For now, it was time for some fresh air and exercise on Christmas Day.

I first hiked on the pond in the winter of 1988. Back then, it was harder to get to it. Cows in the neighbor's field meant fences to climb over. The cows are gone and most of the fence has been removed to let snowmobiles -- what's left of them -- through. Over those 20 years, I've encountered a variety of conditions on the pond around the Christmas holidays. There's been hip-deep snow that allowed me to use my snowshoes. There's been bare ice. There's been a good base of snow that made for a perfect base for cross-county skiing. It's been near +50 degrees and near -20 wind 30 mile per hour wind. Regardless of the conditions, there is always solitude.

Having hiked around the pond a few weeks ago, I already knew the early heavy snow falls on the thin ice have made for some slushy spots that trap water between the ice and the snow. If you happened to be skiing and hit one of these spots, the slush immediately fuses to the bottom of your skis and suddenly things suck. It's times like this that you realise back-country cross-country skiing is not the same outdoor activity practiced on the trails at the local state parks. Spandex and ski wax are replaced by sticker burrs and a Vise-grip to cut away the old barbwire fences. It ain't a glamour sport.

Working my way around the southwest side of the pond, there were quite a few larger trees that had been blown over during the straight line wind storm in mid-August. I was surprise to see that many of the downed trees were larger oaks. On further investigation, these oaks where rotted out in the center and hollow. They would make nice nesting sites for the local owl population.

As I rounded a point of land jutting out on the south side, I came upon what I've always called "Bill's Bay." I names it after Ol' Bill who used to live in the farm overlooking the bay. Bill passed away in 1991 and the pine trees have grown up high enough to block the view of the old house. However, the old red barn can be seen from the pond.

A decade or so ago, this was a good spot to see owls. A family of great horned owls nested in a prominent tree along the shore. I had also seen an occasional barn owl that lurked in the old red barn. Life was good for the owls while Bill was still around. After a few years of being vacant, a new family with children moved into the house and the activity level around the lake shore picked up. After few years later, a housing development sprouted up on the north side of the pond. The owls still inhabit the area, because we can hear them at night and occasionally see them working the field at dusk.

Since my digital camera allows me to take pictures and delete them with a simple click, I have the chance to pretend I'm a skilled nature photographer. I figure you have to get snow on your knees and down you neck to get an interesting shot. I climbed under one of the trees that was snapped off in August and took an upward shot. It ended up looking like a tangle of birch branches and probably won't make it on any upcoming calendar pictures.

As I rounded the far end of the pond, I came on a large patch of cattails. In the snow, they looked rather picturesque. A took a few pictures behind the cattails looking to the east. What you don't see are the houses that now overlook the lake on the west side. Ten years ago, those houses where a cornfield. I would regularly a coyote that had a den on in the hill on the edge of the cornfield. It's still a nice spot to catch some solitude on a winter afternoon and I'm sure the people in the houses enjoy the view of the wildlife that frequent the pond and the surrounding fields during the different seasons.

I guess that's progress. It's a different kind of solitude today. A decade ago I could sit on a stump drinking my can of orange juice and eating a granola bar and not contemplate the houses with the windows that no doubt have people looking out of them contemplating the guy on the stump with the can of orange juice. But then again, ten years ago, snowmobiles blasted by on a regular basis and now the housing developments and global warming have decreased the number of snowmobiles and rerouted the tail.

I have proof that the city has encroached on the solitude of the pond. One of the early settlers in the housing development told me why they put streetlights along the development road. At first there weren't included in the plans, but then the settlers complained about how dark it was at night and the developers put the lights in.

With those thoughts in mind, I rounded the bend and headed up the hill to the house with a big appetite for a turkey dinner on Christmas Day.

December 24, 2007

from "Origins" by Meridel Le Sueur

It's interesting how life circles around. I recent checked out a DVD at the Stillwater library about Meridel Le Sueur. Born in Murray, Iowa in 1900, she died in Hudson, Wisconsin in 1996. In early 1990s at the same Stillwater library, I checked out a book titled "The Autobiography of Mother Jones." Le Sueur wrote the introduction to the book. I thought it was interesting that this woman who lived in Hudson had been involved with bringing out this book on Mother Jones. I had read the magazine "Mother Jones," but didn't really know anything about her. So I read the book.

Time flies and a decade or more has passed. Le Sueur passed away in 1996 and I hadn't really spent any time learning about her or reading her works. The DVD is titled "My People Are My Home" and inspired me to check out some of her writings at the local library. The following came from a compilation titled "Ripening: Selected Works, 1927-1980."

I included some photos that I thought fit. Being Christmas Eve, I was thinking of the life I live today verses the life my parents and grandparents experience in the Great Depression and earlier back to the early 1900s.

"Walking on giant paths, and being small and frightened, the north countryman created giant myths, sang to cover fear and nostalgia for old lands and bends of rivers he would never see again.

The mechanics, lumberjacks, the lakemen, rivermen, woodcutters, plowmen, the hunkies, hanyocks, whistle-punks; the writers of constitutions, the singers in the evening along unknown rivers; the stone masons, the quarrymen, the high slingers of words, the printers and speakers in the courthouses, the lawmakers, the carpenters, joiners, journeymen -- all kept on building. Every seven years they picked up the loans, mortgages, the grasshopper-ridden fields, the lost acres, the flat bank accounts, and went on, started over, turned a new leaf, worked harder, looked over new horizons.

The heritage they give us is the belief we have in them. It is the story of their survival, the sum of adjustments, the struggle, the folk accumulation called sense and the faith we have in the collective experience. It was real and fast, and we enclose it. Many unknown people lived and were destroyed by it. What looks to us grotesque or sentimental is the humor of the embryo, the bizarreness of the unformed, and the understanding of it is a prerequisite to our survival. It was real, and created our day. Perhaps it encloses us.

It is the deep from which we emerge.

Like a lion the people leave marks of their passing, reveal that moment of strength when the radicle plunged into the soil, in the fierce struggle on a strong day, and a nation held."

See more historical photos at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

NY Times obituary on Meridel Le Sueur.

More memories of Meridel Le Sueur.

December 15, 2007

Nature Center Trail

"The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is 'look under foot.' You are always nearer the divine and the true sources of your power than you think."

John Burroughs
With a clear, blue sky, no wind and the temperature around 10 above, the afternoon was ripe for hitting the trail. Today's trail was the New Richmond Nature Center trail on the west side of town that runs along the Willow River south of old Highway 64.

I've been down this short set of trails in the spring, summer and fall, but not in the winter. Although empty today, others had made tracks of the trails. I could tell dogs had been taken for a walk. After a quarter mile hike along the Willow River, you are greeted with "No Trespassing" signs. Since I was following in the deer tracks and the deer had obviously trespassed, I kept following the tracks.

With the ice solid and a ready tree to steady myself, I slide across a frozen finger of water that marks the end of the trail during the warm weather months. After crossing the ice, the banks of the east side of the river get steep and challenging. Along a few treacherous stretches of trail, I used small saplings as support, in case I hit a patch of snow-covered ice and went sliding into the river below. What's a hike without a little danger?

When the terrain became to steep to continue violating the trespassing laws, I dusted the snow off a fallen tree, sat down and took a few pictures. I'm just starting to get the hang of my digital camera and took a few shots of the scene above. I like this picture the best.

While I sat on the log, geese few south around the river and a hawk flew up the river. I couldn't tell what type of hawk it was, but I don't think it was a red tail.

As I made my way back up the trail, I noticed the view of the picture above. There was a fallen tree in the right spot to sit and take a few pictures. After taking some pictures, I just sat and listened.

Water gurgled. Lone birds chirped from different directions. A tree popped loudly. Ice shifted. Sunlight glittering on the water through the trees. A large wasp nest dangling from a tree branch. Taking in the random sounds of nature, I'm always reminded of the musical composition Peter and the Wolf.

It felt good to breath in the fresh air and feel the cold on my cheeks.

As the sun began to sink towards the horizon, it was time to go. I made my way up the trail and headed back to my car.

December 1, 2007

The View Out Back: 120107

"The sad part about life at this point is there's no horizon; the horizon is the cemetery. You always remember the fun things you do with your family."

Ike Joles

As the picture indicates, it's starting to look like winter out the backdoor. This morning there was no snow and now the ground is starting to get covered and the wind is blowing from the east -- an "ill wind," as we say around here. I see the snowmobile markers are staked out in the nearby fields and by tomorrow morning the sound of snowmobiles may echo in the neighborhood -- it the weather forecasts are correct. That means I maybe able to get the cross-country skis out, after the shovelling and snow blowing gets done.

The picture is the first one I've actually transferred from my digital camera to my computer to this blog site. I've had the camera for about four years. I inherited it from my Dad who received it from us as a Christmas present in 2002. He died in 2003. I finally figured out how to work the thing this summer and now -- with the snow falling -- I finally moved the picture to my PC. I one point in life, I could take picture with a 35mm camera, develop them in a darkroom and print them in a processes that involved the use of chemicals and darkness and the danger of overexposure that could take and hour or two. Today it's point the camera, push the button, plug the chord from the camera to the computer and unload the picture to the blog. Takes about 5 minutes with no smudge or cleanup.
Before the snow got going this morning, I headed to town for my Saturday routine. Having breakfast at the local cafe, I came across an interesting story in The Country Today newspaper about a guy name Ike Joles. Joles now lives in Luck and spent the first few years of his life living in a tent with his family back in the 1920s. Spending his early childhood living in a tent gave him a great perspective and the realization that material possessions don't matter.

This story made me think of how times change and the lessons we get passed do to us from our fathers change with those times. Times have definitely changed and we've gained more gadgets that we know what to do with. We might know how to program a cellphone but we are clueless as to how to fix it when it breaks. But then again, why fix it when you can toss it away and get an updated version that is slimmer, more complicated and fashionably cooler for half the price of the old one. Practical knowledge has been been tossed into the ditch somewhere along the information superhighway.

At the age of 52 and an avid music fan, I've traversed through a progressive mazes of recorded music options. It started 1964 with me spending my paper route money to buy a "45" of Jan and Dean's "Dean Man's Curve." I moved into LPs with the purchase of Credence Clearwater Revival's "Green River" in 1969. Then there were 8-tracks, cassettes and reel-to-reels and now CDs. I do know there are MP3 players, but I haven't got there yet...and may never get there.

Recently while browsing for CDs at Wal-Mart, a middle aged man asked the kid working if they carried tape for reel-to-reels. The kid said, "you mean like cassettes?" A nearby manager stepped up and volunteered that he'd heard of reel-to-reels before but had never actually seen one and had no idea where you could get tape for them. It's rather humbling to think that in the late 1960s and well into the 1970s reel-to-reels where a symbol of high-tech savvy. But then again, in the late 1960s, having an actually stereo was pretty cool. Cars had AM radios and then came FM and now there's satellite radio.

And the day the Joles family tent caught fire and everything burned, Ike Joles said, "The old man stood there and cried like a baby." Today, he could have got a much better one on sale at Wal-Mart, charged it on the credit card and worried about paying for it some other day. And in 1930, my Grandma used to walk to job that she got paid in chickens. She couple cook from scrath, knit, sew, can everything, fish and shoot a gun. Grandpa caught a huge catfish on the st. Croix that fed the family for a couple of weeks. He built the boat he fished in and the rod he caught the fish on.

Today, people are afraid to drive from New Richmond to Hudson without a cellphone -- in case something happens. And so it goes...

Humble beginnings
Born and raised in a tent, Luck man has led adventurous life
by Heidi Clausen
LUCK - From his birth in a tent somewhere outside St. Louis, it seems Ike Joles Jr. was destined to lead an adventurous life.

Out of that humble beginning came an entrepreneuring spirit that has served him well throughout his life.

Mr. Joles, 83 and living in Luck with Florence, his wife of more than 60 years, has been known to try almost anything once.

For decades, he and his family made a living selling medicinal herbs picked from here to Florida and Christmas trees cut by hand from northern Wisconsin woods.

Over the years, he also served in two wars, worked as a landscaper, owned a bait shop, managed a hardware store, ran a youth Bible camp and worked as a newspaper printer, among other titles he's held.

But life hasn't been all work and no play.

Read more @The Country Today.

August 20, 2006

Where Have All The Grouchy Hawks Gone?

Tonight I'm An Orphan
by Esteban R. Arellano

I miss standing on the curve
of the world,
feet planted in dark earth,
moist between my toes,
and Coyote calling a shivering,
a lilting moon
dissolving in God's mouth.

Tonight I miss
the fields,
hoe in hand,
Sparrowhawk rippling the sphere,
light spinning infinite.

Tonight I miss
the terrestrial being
who understood
we were sons and daughters
of the universe
and spirit, air we breathed.

In the city of big shoulders,
the world does not curve,
my feet are uprooted,
light is finite.

Tonight I miss being your son, father.
Tonight I miss being your son, mother.
Tonight I am an orphan
in God's mouth.

I started this post over three weeks ago, got swallowed up in too much life and I'm finally getting around to finishing it. The bird pictured is a kestrel -- commonly called a sparrowhawk.

I remember the first time I saw a kestrel. It was down south of River Falls on a autumn Sunday afternoon road cruise. Earlier that morning I had been randomly flipping through a bird guide a friend gave me the previous Christmas. I happened to hit the page with the kestrel and thought it was a very beautiful bird and one that I did't remember every seeing.

Out on a road cruise with one of my college roommates, we came to a T in the road and on the fence post sat a kestrel. I said to my roommate "look a kestrel!" He said he'd never seen one before. I said I had never seen one either.

"How did I know it was a kestrel," he asked

"I saw it in my bird book just this morning."

Today I call them grouchy hawks, because they sit on the power lines along country roads and, well, look grouchy to me. However, this year was different.

I'd been looking and looking for grouchy hawks sitting on the power wires on my drives down the county and town roads between Hudson, River Falls and New Richmond. In past years, I would see these sparrow-sized birds daily on the wires. Not this year. That was the original intent of this post -- to point out the disappearance of the kestrels in my neighborhood. However, over the past few weeks, I've started to see kestrels on the wires in certain areas. This is good news, but I'm used to seeing them all over the place.

On a related note, a few weeks back, people were mentioning to me they were seeing "lots of red birds" around the house. Five or six people told me this. I said those are cardinals and added that we too were seeing numerous cardinals in our area. We tended to see them move in the fall and winter, along with blue jays, after the other song birds have flown south.

I have no idea what these observations mean in ornithological terms, but at least it's something worth noting. Maybe I usually see the kestrels in late July and into August. I can say for sure. I'll have to wait till next year to find out. I may not have a cellphone, but I am paying attention to what's up with the grouchy hawks in my neighborhood.

View more photos of birds of prey.

July 20, 2006

Motherless Children

Motherless children have a hard time
When their mother is gone
Motherless children have a hard time
When their mother is gone
Motherless children have a very hard time
All the weepin', all that cryin'
Motherless children have a hard time
When their mother is gone

These words are from a traditional blues classic that has been recorded by many contemporary artists right on back to the recording artist in the early 1900s. Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimi Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, and many more. I think the byline goes to W. C. Handy.

This morning I was listening to version by the Steve Miller Band. I dug out my copy of his Anthology 1968-1972 CD the other day and was listening to it on the way to work yesterday morning. Remembering the county was oiling and gravelling the stretch of county road E between V and Houlton, I took the new four lane from New Richmond to Stillwater.

The Anthology CD covers the Steve Miller era that I enjoy most -- before the Joker era and big time success. I supposed it would be termed his psychedelic era. Had I been taking E to work, his Fly Like An Eagle would have work well, since I see the eagles by Twin Lakes every morning...

Anyways, the song Motherless Child was playing as I drove the portion of the road that went through the back part of the old Chabre golf course. The song brings a certain sadness to me as I'm always am reminded of my own Mother who passed away nearly 23 years ago. It's a mellow, soulful song that stirs up parts of my memories that don't settle back down as easy as they get stirred up.

As I approached the east side of Landing Hill, I noticed some small animal commotion up ahead on the right shoulder of the road. As I neared the commotion, I saw a dead adult raccoon on the shoulder of the road. Standing by her lifeless side were four young raccoons looking at her. Combined with the mood of the song, the emotions rising inside of me and the true-life trauma faced by four young raccoons, the words of the song struck a deep chord that is still reverberating through me as I type this.

The sadness I felt was too deep for tears or misty eyes. It's a sadness that comes from knowing and experiencing the facts of life. It's an understanding that the life of those four raccoons have change forever.

I thought of those raccoons on and off throughout the day at work. I wondered how long the raccoons would hold their wake. I wondered how long before the crows would scavaging the fresh roadkill. On my way home heading up the east side of Landing Hill, I hoped I didn't see the raccoons there. That would have broken my heart. They weren't.

Between me and four raccoons, we know that motherless children have a hard time. I hope those raccoons have forgotten all about yesterday's trauma and are gleefully enjoying the life in the woods along the St. Croix River. They can let me have that memory, whether I want it or not.

July 4, 2006

Pine Sap, Sawdust, Sweat & the 4th of July

Yard Work
by John Birkbeck

She's hot —
she's snappish
with the yard boy,
a 51-year-old Paisan
(her very own age),
who's high on her smell,
but too blitzed
on weed and coca
to snap under the matronisation
and nervous contempt that
she summons up for him
with brittle fingers snapping;
but her edgy calm
belies her inner volcano,
for she, too, grew up in Italy —
“Do you think you can
remember to weed the hostas?”
she snaps.
His own riper smell
seeps between their class divisions,
but both write sonnets
in the same two


One thing I've learned about long weekends is that often times getting back to work means a guy can rest. This will be one of those long weekends. Before 7 AM today, I was back finishing a tree trimming project that started on Sunday.

What I've learned about tree trimming is that it's like taking a sip out of a spitoon -- once you start it's hard to stop. The four trees I spent four hours trimming today were not even on the tree-trimming radar screen, when we started trimming Sunday morning. After the regular shade trees and a couple of pine trees along the driveway were done, my wife suggested we trim a couple of branches from one of the "cove pine trees." That led to a major trim job on that tree. Then, as I sat on steps sipping my water, I got the idea to trim the other four cove trees.

On so today, in the cool morning air, I once again began to smell the pine sap, get sawdust in my face and sweat in my eyes. I jokingly mentioned to the wife that Lincoln freed the slave nearly 150 years ago. She looked at me -- sweat dripping from every pore in my body -- and said the word of the slaves being freed hadn't reached her plantation yet and I'd better get back to work.

After showering and have lunch, I called my buddy out in the timber land of Oregon to catch up on things. I told him of my tree trimming and he wanted to know what kind of chainsaw I used. I said I used a pruning shears and a hand saw. He was disappointed. I told him I do have a small electric chainsaw that I inherited from my Dad. He said the sight of me tangled in the trees with 3,000 feet of power chord wasn't a good visual.

So it goes...my 4th of July memory for 2006.

June 26, 2006

It's A New Day: Note To Readers

Today is a new day above the borderline. I've been thinking about this change for a couple months, but didn't technically know how to do it. I took the time to figure out the technicalities this weekend and did what I had to do to make this change happen. I originally started the Above The Border Line blog a little over a year ago. I did not know were the trail would lead, but I knew it would be a good learning experience -- and it has been. I wanted to learned the technical side of running a blog and also have a place to write. My original blog took on new members and headed on down the information highway. It became a collective with a multiple focus of humor, satire, political discussion, a community watchdog.ing, etc. The journey will continue at the original site, but I'm taking a different path and heading in a new direction.

That original bolg and its archives still exist and can be found at this new address: http://www.atbl1.blogspot.com/. I have turned the keys to that blog over to the exisiting members who joined over the past year. I have left that building, but I'm keeping the original address. Although I will certainly follow what is happening at www.atbl1.blogspot.com and make comments to the posts on their site, I will no longer be a posting member and will not be responsible for any content on that blog as of 6/26/2006. There are multiple members posting on that blog. I will be the only poster on this blog, i.e., I will be responsible for what is written here.

I wish my former ATBL blogging colleagues well over at the original site and will be following their exploits. They know the amount of time an indivual can spend on these blogs and, for myself, personally I want to devote my blogging time working on my own writting projects.

If you have questions, you can e-mail me at abovetheborderline@yahoo.com or leave your comments below.


June 17, 2006

Contemplating Thunderstorms On The Road To Colorado

Yesterday we returned from a week-long road trip to Denver. People often remark to me that driving across Nebraska is so boring. I don't agree with them. On this trip, we zig-zagged our way across southern Minnesota through Northfield, south on I-35 and west on I-90 were we caught US 81 west on Sioux Falls, SD and headed straight south to Columbus, NE. It was 100 in Yankton, SD and 102 in Norfolk, NE. Having driven this route intermittently a couple of times over the past 20-plus years, it is interesting to see the growing presence of wind farms along the way.

You cross the Missouri River at Yankton on a double-deck, one-lane bridge and from there to Columbus, NE the road is a straight shot over the gentle rolling hills of northeastern Nebraska. Historically, the Meridian bridge marked the first highway crossing of the Missouri River. The highway that crosses it runs from Winnipeg to Mexico City and is US 81. It was originally called the Meridian Highway. As we drove south up and down the hills past cornfield and herds of cattle, we could see the thunderheads building up to the west of us. As the dark clouds spread our way, it looked like we would get caught up in the brewing storm. As luck would have it, we skirted the southern edge of the storm with only a few drops of rain hitting our windshield. In the rear-view mirror, you could see that all hell was breaking out.

After a night in Columbus, NE, we headed west on US 30 -- also known as the Lincoln Highway -- and drove to Grand Island to meet up with I-80. In that stretch, US 30 runs side-by-side with the Union Pacific railroad line. We met trains coming from the west about every 10 minutes. Those trains we either coal trains or container trains. Despite the rumors, the engineers still do wave from the train.

Once we got on I-80, it was time to make some serious time and get on down the road to Denver. As we drove across western Nebraska and into eastern Colorado, we got to see two different storm cells building. What were small cloud formations in Nebraska were huge, ominous thunderstorms by the time we got to Sterling, CO. The roads gods were smiling on us once again, as we drove between the two storms with only a few minutes of windshield-wiper time in a sun shower. To the north and south, you could see torrential downpours and frequent ground-stabbing lightening displays.

Once we got in sight of the Denver skyline and could see the Front Range running north and south through the haze and pollution, I was reminded of the big-city mystery and innocent-eyed, urban adventure Denver offered me when I first pulled into that city to be a intern at Mountain Bell in 1983. Twenty-three years later, after exiting the rat race of the freeway to get to our hotel, I was quickly reminded it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Behind the hotel were we parked, there was a small man-made pond with a very active colony of red wing blackbirds noisily going about their business. The roar of I-70 just to north blended with the twittering of the red wing black birds and provided us with a moment of contemplation of the co-existence between the man-made and the natural world; a soft spot somewhere between where the rubber meets the road and the bird eggs crackle open with new life.

As far as a boring drive across the plains, I've yet to experience one. There's plenty of history between the Mississippi River and the west coast. Learning some of that history makes the drive more interesting.

June 12, 2006

On Surviving Without A Cellphone And Cable TV

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Occasionally I dig out my book of Robert Frost poems and read this and a couple other favorites. Myself, I have no cellphone, don't have cable TV and just got an DVD player a couple months ago. I got the DVD so I could review the edits of a community TV news program I help edit. Likewise, I finally got a PC at home and hooked up to high-speed Internet in February. I'm definitely not surfing on the leading edge of technology.

I recently attended a technology seminar in San Fransisco and, of the 500 people attending, I may have been the only one without a cellphone. I might have been the only only without an official business card also. However, in these cases I hand out one of my band business cards. They are amusing at first sight and later leave people puzzled as to what it is I actually do for a living. What would life be without amusement and confusion?

Sometimes watching ants while sitting in the shade drinking iced tea is enough to keep me occupied. I know there will be stretches of rapids ahead in the white water of my life, as there has been in the past. Likewise, I appreciate the calm parts of life's river where the current of the moment glides you through an hour of loafing.

I read an interesting commentary on staying too in touch with your everyday world. I found these very telling observations in this commentary by John Krist:
I had some appointments of my own. There were some ospreys atop a dead Douglas fir downstream that I planned to watch. I intended to rendezvous with several groves of western red cedars. There were some polished rocks on a gravel bar demanding my attention, some sandy beaches requiring inspection.

I did not, however, require a watch to keep these appointments. They would occur, or not, on a schedule determined by the current and the movement of the sun and moon across the sky. On a wild river, in the middle of one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48, a beeping wristwatch is about as useful as an anvil.

But it is so hard to sever the technological tethers that bind us to the world we have built. They grow stronger and draw tighter with each year: cellphones, pagers, laptop computers with wireless modems, e-mail, Global Positioning Systems, instant messaging, 24-hour television news, satellite radio that floods even the great empty spaces of the West with an unceasing barrage of music, news, commentary and commercials.

Read the entire commentary in the Denver Post.

John Krist's writings also appear in the High Country News.
Sometimes less is more...

June 11, 2006

Monments To Remember: The Indigo Bunting

Last Thursday, I got out of work early, took care of some business in Hudson and headed back home. From Hudson to New Richmond, there are many choices to take. Am I in a hurry? Do I need to travel on some memory lanes? Would I care for some scenic beauty? Do I want to get a pop and a candy bar in Burkhart? The list of choices isn't endless, but there are options.

That day I took the Trout Brook way which takes me on the two branches of the Willow River below the Willow River State Park. This route combines the scenic beauty and memory lanes options. A liesurely drive down this road, over the bridges and up the hill bring back countless memories that range back to when I was six or seven.

The memory that struck me on that drive was the day a spotted the indigo bunting about thirty years ago. A few of us were out for a summer morning cruise, after 11-7 in the cool of the makings of a hot summer day. A guy I knew who was working for the state park was on the bridge and we stopped to talk. He was doing some type of fish survey on that part of the river. While talking, a blue flash stopped in the trees a little ways off. "What kind of bird is that?," I asked. He said an indigo bunting.

It was a bird of the most beautiful blue. When I got home that day, I looked it up in my bird book and read up on it. Since them I have spotted the indigo bunting only a couple times. It's always been in the cool of the morning and in a well shaded place.

Then I remember that as we continued our road cruise, we came across a bum walking down the railroad tracks on the spur line south of Burkhardt. By then, I was getting warm. We stopped and asked if he wanted a beer. His eyes opened wide, as he took it, opened it and guzzled in right down. Then we gave him another and told him to have a good day. He said he would.

That became a tradition for some of us when we be on a road cruise and see some bum or hitchhiker standing in the sun. As a matter of fact, I ran a across I guy fixing his flat tire northwwest of New Richmond a couple years ago. It was very hot and I had a 12-pack I had purchased to bring to band practice -- my destination. A stopped along side the guy and ask if he need help. He said thanks, but he was just about finished. "In that case," I continued, "would you like a cold beer." "Damn right," he said. He took the can of beer, opened it and guzzled it right down. "Oh man!, that really hit the spot!," he said. "Have another," I said and handed him one more.

"Thanks man! You have made my day!"

June 8, 2006

County Road E Pole Sitter

Eagle Poem
by Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear
Can't know except in moments
Steadly growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

Up till a week ago, I took the new four lane highwayto and from work. It cuts drive time down by at least 10 minutes. You can really fly!

However, I miss taking the old route that heads west on County Road E off of 65. Since I've started taking that drive again, every morning there has been at least one mature bald eagle post sitting by Twin Lakes. This morning, there was a mature eagle with an immature eagle sitting next to him. They were crowded together. I seen these eagle on these posts regualrly for the past five years and I have not seen that before. Usually they take separate posts.

Suddenly, I had to hit the breaks to slow down for a family of Canadian geese that decided to cross the road to the lake. They were living dangerously, but everybody made it. The male had to do some serious wing flapping and honking to remind me who had the right-of-way.

On the way home from work there must have been 10 families of geese swimming in the lake a long the south edge of the road. The water was calm, the sky blue and the wakes off their rumps sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight.

It was a real parade with varying numbers of babies swimming between mom and dad. One pair had two babies and another looked like they had 10 babies. It was definately a good day to motor the family around the lake.

An adult eagle was sitting on the same post I had passed in the morning. I honk at him and told him to get a job. Must be tough hanging out on a telephone all day dodging the deadly rays of the sun.

June 4, 2006

Mischief In The Drain Pipe Down The Road

The Red Fox

Making a really deep den for their kits,

Gulping down their prey,

Sneaking up behind rabbits so they can eat,

Running away when it's hunting season,

Looking out for the family when the hunters come,

Bellowing when they get caught in traps.


By R.W.

One morning last week on my way to work, just down the road from my house, I saw a young red fox dead on the side of the road. It lay just a couple feet away from where the drain pipe goes under one of the field entrance road. I knew that meant there probably was a litter of red fox calling that pipe home.

Later that afternoon returning home from work, the dead fox was gone. As I drove by the drain pipe, I saw three young fox wrestling around. Early that evening, on a drive back to town, I saw the little fox up on the road playing. My horn hook sent them scurrying for the drain pipe hole.

It's been a few years since I'd seen fox using that hole for their den. During that summer the surrounding area was over populated with fox. At that time there were an abundance of rabbits around my pine trees and living under the shed. The rabbits rapidly disappeared and then we started seeing fox with mange. Since then, spotting a fox became a rare sight.

This year the rabbits are fat and plentiful. A few months ago the coyotes were howling at night about 20 yards from the back of the house. Now the fox are starting to be seen regularly. It's another cycle of nature that you get to see living in the country -- if you pay a small amount of attention to the wildlife in your neighborhood.

I continued to see the fox in the morning, afternoon and early evening, whenever I drove by. However, for the past few days, I have not seen them. My guess is they have moved off to a new home.

Read more about red fox.

May 29, 2006

What's That Green Bug?

Early yesterday afternoon, after cutting down a few small field trees and lopping off a few strategic yard tree branches, I sat on the front steps to cool off in the shade. The temperature was in the low 90s. By late afternoon, the thermometer hit 97 and set a new record high for the date. While I sipped my water, I noticed this shiny green bug in the river rock that borders around part of the house. About a half inch long and iridescent green, the bug was actually being chased around by much smaller ants.

The longer I watched the scene, the more it became clear as to what was happening. I often cool off in the shade and watch the ants in from the steps. Typically they are very business-like and work in straight lines hauling crumbs to and fro like a symphony. This time they were frantically scurrying about the river rock like bebop jazz. Occasionally, an ant would attack the green bug and the bug would scoot away. Less frequently, the green bug would attack and kill an ant. Believe me, the ant did go down without a fight.

As the ants drove the green bug farther away from me, the frantic scurrying of the ants closest to me slowed down and eventually the ants disappear into the river rock. However, when the green bug came back, the frantic scurrying started up again. And so went the struggle.

What was that green bug? With a little googlling, I found the bug was a six spotted tiger beetle. I learned this on an interesting web site called What's That Bug? There were all kinds of other bugs identified on this site. I also found a site that gave even more detail on the lives of the six spotted tiger beetle or Cicindela sexguttata, as the bug is known scientifically. The ants I was seeing in this life and death territorial struggle are officially knows as little black ants and scientifically knows as Monomorium minimum.

I wonder if the concept of "leisure time" exists in the world's of anything on the planet other than humans? Maybe that's just the calm between the next storm...Whatever the answer, from little black ants to six spotted tiger beetles to the big guy sitting on the front steps cooling off, life seems to be about survival, sheltering, protection and defending, belonging, dignity, and making the world a better place. Of maybe, humans are the only ones able to reach the upper levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: 1. Physiological; 2. Safety; 3. Love/Belonging; 4. Esteem; 5. Actualization.

After finishing up my outside chores, I went in the house, showered and watched the last 25 laps of the Indy 500. While the cars were hitting average lap speeds of 214 mph, I wondered how fast do ants travel...

May 28, 2006

Solitude: Now More Than Ever

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.

John Muir
A Sierra Club profile.
The picture above is titled Solitude and painted by Loretta Kasper.
I have a bench in a shady spot that over looks the pond in the back. The hills sweep down to the shore of the pond in a little valley that provides a contemplative vista. It's no Grand Canyon, but you get to overlooks a piece of Mother Nature that offers quiet beauty, a chance to see various forms of bird and animal. Most of all, it gives the opportunity to sit, sip on a glass of water and appreciate the world around me.

John Muir had it right over a century ago. He was a true visionary and I first encountered his ideas in high school. His book, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, provides a good look at what drove the "Father of Our National Parks" and gives a good taste of the hardships and struggles of growing up on a Wisconsin farm in the mid-1800s.

May 25, 2006

Birds Of A Feather

Whistles and a flurry of crimson wings
signals he watches when she looks for him;
skyward, eyes where he sways on cedar, sings,
flinging bursts of flattering hymns at whim.

from Cardinal Designs
by Helga Ross

Today was our 22nd wedding anniversary. My wife called me at work this morning and told me she had the best wedding present she could ask for -- a male cardinal perched on the backyard fence. She said she had an prefect view of it from the kitchen window. She said later the male and female cardinals were hunting up worms in the backyard.

With the exception of our pet canary, the cardinal is the official bird of our house. One of the presents I gave my wife for our first Christmas was a framed picture of a cardinal. More cardinal pictures have followed.

Maybe it's the pine trees that have grown up around the five acres over the past 17 years that provide the reason for the influx of cardinals in our yard? We've always seen them in the trees at the edge of the field, but now there are a number of pairs in the yard around the house. The hang out with the robins. I think the cardinals use the robins as an early warning system. Robins spoke easier than cardinals and make a distinct chirping call as they fly off.

It will be interesting to see if the blue birds continue to do their twice-daily invasion of our front and back bird baths: front in the morning; back in the afternoon. It is quite a pool party to behold. The bluebirds hangout with the purple finches and an occasional gold finch.

As the hayfield we built our house on has filled our with pines and shade tress over the last 18 years, the bird population has shifted noticeably. The meadowlarks can now only be heard off in the distance. Killdeers are rarely seen or heard. But mockingbirds have made an appearance as have catbirds.

Likewise, many things have changed in our 22 years of marriage. We've buried all our parents, my wife's brother and her niece. We've had our ups and downs and have learned, as my Mom used to say, "life's not bed of roses." Long ago, when she told me that, I said that it is a bed of roses -- it's a mix of the softness, beauty, and attractiveness mixed with the thorns that go with them.

May 24, 2006

Quite Enough

"Rather than searching everywhere, search more deeply within and within togetherness. Once the beginning is found, the mystery in each man and woman is quite enough."

From the The Tao of Relationships by Ray Grigg

There's some days when, if silence was golden, we'd be living a life of poverty. There are other days when the spare change from a friend's conversation is worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. Tonight you can fill in your own blanks...

May 23, 2006

Blue Collar Bird

O great blue heron, now
That the summer house has burned
So many rockets ago,
So many smokes and fires
And beach-lights and water-glow
Reflecting pinwheel and flare:
The old logs hauled away,
The pines and driftwood cleared
From that bare strip of shore
Where dozens of children play;
Now there is only you
Heavy upon my eye.

Taken from the poem The Great Blue Heron

Read the entire poem: by Carolyn Kizer and learn more about the author.
Sunday was a yard-work day. In between weed-whacking, edge trimming, fence fixing and lawn mower adjustments, I watched and listened to the birds.

A red trail hawk, circling effortlessly overhead, minding its own business, enjoying the day and doing what it does best, was suddenly under attack from a couple of crows. They flew up from below and made a couple of cheap-shot lunges at the hawk. Obviously, they weren't going to do any damage to the hawk, but the hawk was taken off his game and definitely look uncool. He or she -- it's hard to tell from a 100 yards below -- straighten out its glide path, pointed its nose down and to the north and headed to a less popular fly zone.

A hour or so later, the same crows where being chased by a couple of black birds. They too were escorted out of the neighborhood. At this time of the year, the pine trees are loaded with baby birds and it can turn into a rather active feeding zone for the hawks and crows.

Later in the afternoon, a great blue heron flew over on his way to the lake out back. To me, the great blue heron is the ultimate blue collar bird. Storks are pictured bringing babies and herons should be pictured carrying a lunch bucket. They are a no-frills flying machine.

Some days, in the morning, when the herons leave the lake and fly west, I imaging their flight is a straight line to the marsh land around 10-Mile creek. Every wing flap is for a purpose. When the herons later return to the lake, as soon as they reach the point where the hill slopes down to the lake, they quit flapping and lock into their landing approach. No need to waste any energy. That would require catching an additional frog to compensate.

As I watched the heron return Sunday afternoon, I thought about how I'd never seen any birds bother a heron. Not a hawk or a crow or a red-wing blackbird. Obviously, the bird world understands who their enemies are. Right...

Wrong! On Monday morning I drove to work on County Road E past the Twin Lakes area. High-wire power line parallel the south side of the road. It is great for hawk and eagle watching. This time of the year, there is usually one or two eagles sitting on top of the power line posts by Twin Lakes. They are there on the way to and from work. Once I saw two adults and one immature eagle, each with their own poll. Between Highway 65 and County Road A, I have counted up to eight red-tail hawks on a given morning or afternoon. I hook at each one...got to keep them on their talons.

On Monday morning, I saw a heron flapping its way to the east lake from the north. Suddenly, the three red-wing blackbirds rose up from the weeds and started harassing the heron. The heron made an awkward adjustment, set its wings and glided toward the lake probably to get that extra frog it was going to need for that interruption in its blue collar efficiency.

May 21, 2006

Sunday Promenade

As through this life you travel, you'll meet some funny men,
Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.
As through this life you travel, as through this life you roam,
You'll never see an outlaw drive a family from its home.

Woody Guthrie
Song: Pretty Boy Floyd

It was cool at the cabin this morning. The wife said she checked the thermometer around 6:30 and it was around the freezing mark. Hey, this is Wisconsin in May.

Gramma used to say "You don't plant your tomatoes until after Memorial Day." Of course, she was talking about the old, inconvenient Memorial Day of May 31 -- the one where people understood why the day was set aside. Not to be confused with the three-day-weekend convenient Memorial Day we've had for the past 30 or so years. A cellar for of her canned fruits and vegetables and a large, successful garden every year stamped her in my mind as an authority on the subject.

I took a little road cruise into town mid-morning a pickup a Sunday paper and swung by the hardware store for a couple of screws to fix my lawnmower. I took the round-about way home going passed a couple little lakes and crossing over the Willow River. Where the town road cuts between to small ponds, I could see a pair of Canadian Geese on the road. Slowing to a stop, I could see the geese herding their babies into the danger mode. I creeped my car up along side them, as they scurried down the bank into the water. The male was first in the water, he turned and faced me with a honk that meant business should I challenge the group. Mother goose and the babies scrambled somewhat orderly into the pond and swam determinedly away. Father goose held his ground -- rather water -- and kept on quacking.

I don't see many geese flying this time of year, but I do see pairs of them with babies in tow down by the lake out back. Recently, a large male fox hanging around. If this year is like past years, a bald eagle will soon be hanging out in the big tree down by the lake. Baby geese draw a crowd of others with their own babies to feed. Over the past 18 years on these five acres, I've learned to appreciated the annual patterns and notice the cycles and trends that happen over time: coyotes come and they go; foxes do to; rabbits are everywhere and then disappear; gophers invade and badgers follow.

May 20, 2006

You Can See The Future Through The Trees

A poem by Gary Snyder

Old Bones

Out there walking round, looking out for food,
a rootstock, a birdcall, a seed that you can crack
plucking, digging, snaring, snagging,
barely getting by,

no food out there on dusty slopes of scree—
carry some—look for some,
go for a hungry dream.
Deer bone, Dall sheep,
bones hunger home.

Out there somewhere
a shrine for the old ones,
the dust of the old bones,
old songs and tales.

What we ate—who ate what—
how we all prevailed.

from Mountains and Rivers Without End, published by Counterpoint Press, 1996.

That cabin pictured on the top of this blog has its start, because of a scene of the vast timber stands that blanketed Wisconsin in the mid-1800s. My great grandfather worked his way down from Canada to be a lumberjack in the white pine forest of northern Wisconsin. Since he was descended from Tories who crossed over to Canada during the Revolutionary War era, I'm not sure he would be classified an illegal alien in today's raging debate.

Lumber jacking led to friendships that still interact today. Swedes, Norwegians, Danes...there was a whole mix of immigrant labor clearing the land for the farms that would follow. Without calling my aunt, I don't know my great grandfather Phillips first name. He eventually built a log cabin southeast of Clear Lake in the 1860s that was still standing a few years ago when I last drove up that way. It was a small homestead farm where my Gramma grew up. Where she and my great Gramma who would stay up all night when the lambs were being born and fend off the wolves with a lantern and guns. Her dad and big brothers were up working in the woods. She once told me, after here dad and brothers returned from the logger camp, they would have to be thoroughly scrubbed and deloused before even getting close to the cabin.

It was rusty living at the turn of the century and it wasn't then "good old days." Back in the late 1970s, when my cousin and his wife brought the cabin back to life and an attempt to get back to nature, my Gramma used to say, "they can have the go old days, I'll take my stove and refrigerator." I believe the "back to nature" experiment lasted until the first baby came.

From the log house, there would be many treks to the lake that cabin overlooks. The mode of transportation would include horseback, buckboard, Model A's and T', 1954 Studebaker, Ford Fairlanes, Firebirds and dodge trucks. There were fish to catch and stores to tell around the campfire on the corner of the universe where Fox Creek flows out of Bone Lake in Polk County, Wisconsin.

May 14, 2006

Sunshine, goldfinches, dandelions and Mother's Day

How many days was it raining? This morning the sun broke through and the dandelions opened up in yellow brilliance and shown like stars in the backyard. With cup of coffee close by and my guitar in hand, I worked through my song book and took into the morning warming up and springing to life just beyond the patio door.

Mother Nature's, with her paint pallet of infinite shades of green, had been busy over the past week. The grass would be cut later in the afternoon and the dandelions would be getting their "haircut." Until it warmed up and dried out, my morning agenda consisted of coffee and folk songs.

The other day I mentioned seeing my first oriole of the season. That's definitely a good sign. This morning I was treated to a visit from a male goldfinch in all his splendor. Hopping around around the dandelions, picking at them and nabbing an occasional bug, the goldfinch provided me with another reminder of one of the joys of spring and early summer.

At my place, we have the variety of lawn -- as my wife learned the other day on the Wisconsin Public Radio garden show -- call "freedom lawn." There's no pesticides, fertilizers or sprinklers used at our place. The lawn does what it does and for the next few weeks the dandelions will be turning from yellow to gray. When the gray hits, the backyard becomes a seed buffet for a variety of birds that include goldfinches, purple finches, bluebirds and a few others stopping by for a snack. It's quite a sight to see those birds just outside the patio door devouring the seeds of a ripe dandelion. It reminds me of how I work my way through a big bowl of ice cream.

My Mother past away 23 years ago and the goldfinch reminded me that the Mother's Day gifts I used to give to my Mom were usually pictures of birds like hawks and owls. For some reason, she liked owls the best. They were usually small pen and ink drawings that were framed and eventually hung on the wall. Even though it's days like today that tend to re-open the wound of sadness that never really heals after the death of one so close as your Mother, I was comforted by the warmth, hope and glory my Mother Nature offered me as I sang "Will The Circle Be Unbroken."

May 10, 2006

Summer Has Been Spotted

As a lazy -- but alert -- bird watcher, I know the the robin's arrival means that spring is just around the bend. But there's an old saying that spring won't come until it snows three times on the robins. Then I see blue birds, meadowlarks, killdeers, herons, red wing black birds. Then you know the spring and winter are definately at the tipping point.

But I'm not convinced till I actually see a Baltimore oriole. On my walk the past few days I knew I hear an oriole. However, catbirds can fool you -- especially if the singing is coming from the mid-section of the trees. I look for the orioles on the top of the trees. Yesterday, I looked out my window at work and there was my first official oriole sighting of the season. When you get a chance, take a walk an listen -- really listen -- to the bird song symphony. It's amazing!

Then I remembered that I had to stop at Fleet Farm and pick up a part to fix my lawnmower deck...