St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Lake Opens April 29th

The First boat on the lake tonight

The lake at 6 pm

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Lake begins to open--Water everywhere but in the cabin

From the road looking north at the lake--the creek comes under the road. 

Looking south at Orr Creek as it leaves the Lake, heads south to join Wolf Creek and on into the St. Croix, Mississippi and Gulf

Far across the lake at the north end the creek comes into the lake and has an open channel where trumpeter swans do acrobatic tricks. 

My view this morning from the porch--I give the lake until May 1st to open up completely

The lake edge ice is water soaked and soon to melt

My project today is to try to get the water pump going again. This is a little insulated shed -- I took off the top and am getting ready to put the pump back in.  It is a shallow well--point 150 feet away in the spring and 1 foot deep waterline that freezes in the winter.  I think it is thawed, so I prime the pump, turn it on and with the proper incantations, water will come.   Didn't the first few times I tried--but surely today it will.   Having water makes the cabin almost civilized!

Friday, April 26, 2013

200 buckets of sap on the wall, 200 buckets of sap, if one of the buckets should fall, then 199....

200 5-gallon buckets to be cleaned as maple sap season ends. Half are done, and then we took a break and hit the Laketown Lutheran Church for a pancake supper!

With Dave helping we pulled the 200 sap buckets today and started cleaning them and putting them away for the season.  We didn't know how many were out until we brought them in.  They were still running when we pulled the taps, but we are 500 gallons of sap behind right now and need to cook it down before it spoils in the 72 degree temperature (from noon - 7 pm stayed at 72).  

Pulled off 10 gallons of syrup this morning, slightly darker and a little more maple flavor--but still quite mild.  Got the Cub Cadet stuck in a muddy low spot back in the woods even with the chains on and threw mud all over jerking it back and forth to get it out--hauling a trailer load of empty pails--made it more work to clean them up!

The frogs were croaking in the ponds by noon--really the first that every little woods pond was filled with sound.  The lake is beginning to melt in from the edges and has that blue water-soaked ice look that tells you it hasn't long to stay.  
The lake ice is getting that water-soaked look that means another day or so and it will be gone!  Latest I can remember.  

Buz Swerkstrom of downtown Atlas biked over today and dropped off a proof copy of his newest book--"Sgt. Pepper's Inner Grove" a novel about music.  I helped him with the cover and getting it into print--not very much work as he had everything ready. A little more tweaking on the cover and proofing the inside and it will go into print--probably a few weeks.   Hope to start reading it tonight.  
Buz said that there were several ice fishermen out on Long Trade Lake at Atlas--they walked out rather than drove!

Cushing Tigers "Elmo Wilson" appreciation bat --a few of the signatures.  1925-1950  Donated to the Cushing Museum by the Wilson Family. 


 Don't forget the Laketown Lutheran Church pancake supper tonight NE of Cushing and the Aebleskiver supper Sat evening at West Denmark Church.  4-7 pm I think. 
   Not only pancakes and sausage and fixins,  but a huge variety of Church Women Homemade Desserts and an excellent chance to test your Danish, Norwegian or Swedish language skills. If in doubt, you can say "Uff da" or "Yah Sure" (yaaaa uuuuhh shuuu eeerrr -- 4 sylables). By the way, the Laketowners are Pious Lutherans and the West Danish, Happy Lutherans. See if you can tell the difference! Velkommen!

Cushing History

Last night was the 2013 season opener for the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society.  Nearly a dozen members showed up to begin the planning for the season which begins with the Cushing Spring Bash and ends with the River Road Rambler

First everyone paid their 2013 $10 dues (actually due in June).  Then the informal visiting and catching up what was happening.  Member LeRoy Hedberg is ailing and staying in a care facililty after a heart attack a month ago.  We debated whether he was in St. Croix or Grantsburg, with Grantsburg winning out.  Marlys, his wife, is taking it hard, but has decided to again do the Luck Cancer Walk, and is looking for sponsors.  I think she was the highest fund raiser last year.   

Mark brought some photos of Manitou Lake school children on a parade float and Cushing students on the old merry-go-round.  The Gullickson twins and brother George date it to be about 1952-3.  

Mark also brought in a gift from the Wilson family of Cushing.  It was a bat inscribed Elmo Wilson 1925-1950 with dozens of signatures of Cushing Tiger players from that era.  We have the start of a Cushing Tigers exhibit and this will greatly enhance it.  The Tigers played in Cushing from 1904 to about 1984 and for many decades were the best town ball club around. The Cushing Bank has many trophies in a display case.  I am trying to figure out how to best photograph the bat to show the signatures.  Of course last night I forgot my camera. 

The minutes of the October meeting were read and approved as was the treasurer's report by Donna, our secretary/treasurer.  We had a little money come in from book sales as well as a contribution of $200 from the Cushing Commercial Club.  

The roof is still leaking in the east museum room in the corner.  It leaks enough to go to the room below, so we are hopeful a roof repair will be coming. 

We hope to gather information on Jim Rutsch for our veteran to honor on Memorial Day at Wolf Creek.  His sister works in St. Croix Falls at the Holiday so we will try to get information from her.  Gene Olson of Cushing may be another Vietnam veteran to honor.  We are not sure where he is buried.  

The River Road Rambler is scheduled for the last Saturday of September--the 28th.  We want to get the message out to save those fall garage sales along Hwy 87 and the River Road until that date.  We hope the 8th year will be good.  

The biggest new event we are taking on is the Red School house at the Polk County Fair.   We hosted it for the Polk Co Historical Society last in 2006.  Our goal this year is to get all of the local historical societies and organizations to contribute an exhibit and some folks to be there.  The fair is July 25-27 and we want to be open 9am to 9pm.  There are many history groups in the area and it would be great to get support from each.   We have the Polk Co Genealogical Society and the Luck Area Historical Society on board already.  

 We continue to be involved with Cushing events.  Doc Squirt day and Fun Days.  We help with the Sterling Old Settlers Picnic too.  We would like to have the Memory Rooms open more often, so will try to check for other special events in Cushing (family reunions for example) and see if they would like to have a tour.  

The other 2013 event that should be celebrated is the Cushing Fire Department turning 50 years old. We are encouraging the Fire Department to commemorate 50 successful years of having a rural fire department that has grown to include a 1st Responders too.  We think Maurice Christenson is one of the few folks still around who remembers the beginning.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Signs

Although I haven't had my first woodtick or mosquito bite of 2013, spring is showing some sings of getting here eventually.  The snow in the open areas has almost all melted, and in the woods, it is thinning out quickly.  The maple sap continues to run faster than we can cook it.  

Pussy Willows in the swamp
 Scott thinks he heard a few frogs in the pond this afternoon, but until I confirm it, it isn't official.  

Finally got back to working on the 1970? Cub Cadet lawn tractor.  I had put a new battery in it, and decided that the gas was plugging up.  Bought a line filter at the auto parts store, put it in and shot a bunch of starter fluid in the carb and it started up. Had to fiddle with the needle valves to get it to run smoothly, and it did plug up a couple of times in the needle valve, but eventually got running pretty smoothly.  
  It gave me a chance to try it on the slippery hills with the "new" rear tire chains.  I cut down the pair from Dad's 1938 Chevy, hanging in the shed since he bought the 1951 Chev Powerglide DeLuxe.   The chains worked great--instead of getting stuck on the least little wet spot, now it goes through the mud holes, up the steep hills and even pulls a trailer.   Heck of a deal--a new set of chains cost $60 bucks.  Dad, a thrifty man, had hung the old but good chains on the garage wall, next to the WWII metal shell box, to await  the chance to be recycled.  

Enough sap on hand to keep us cooking 4 days, with more in the woods and probably some to run tomorrow.  I think we will collect sap tomorrow afternoon and pull the buckets too.  The warm weather means you can't store sap--it ferments.  One year I had 250 gallons in the old farm bulk tank that actually turned white and had sort of a jellylike white layer on the bottom of the tank before I got to cooking it.  It turned out almost black and had a sort of biting molasses and vinegar flavor--not really usable, but interesting.  Still have 3 cases of 12 ounce bottles waiting for that customer who prefers robust flavors!
 Got to go now, seems to be a mosquito hovering around my laptop computer screen, occasionally landing on my stockinged foot, tasting it.  Just seeing one flying around gives me the itchie-twitchies.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Myasthenia Gravis Update

As most of you are aware of to the extent of boredom of my finding out I have Myasthenia Gravis (MG) last May, I will pass on the latest news. 

After nearly a year over which I got quite weak and then, taking high doses of prednisone, much better by December, although messed up other ways by the prednisone,  since January I have been gradually reducing the amount of prednisone I take each day.  

The goal was to reduce prednisone until the MG muscle weakness came back.  The good news is that I have reduced prednisone to zero (at zero for the past 3 weeks) and so far MG has not returned and I am almost normal physically again.  I say almost, because when you take off 6 months when you can't really do much following another year or two of limited activity because of the leg and knee problems, getting back to full activity requires a lot of muscle rust removal.  

For the past 3 weeks I have been not only off prednisone, but very active doing maple syruping.  It has gone well.  I do have lots of muscle aches, but they seem to be the kind that come about from prednisone withdrawal as well as using muscles that have been idling much too long.   I figure I will make it through the last 3 days of the maple season--we pull the taps on Saturday when the weather gets in the 60s and sap spoils quickly.  

15% of people who get MG go on to a remission that can last the rest of their lives (or maybe only months) where they don't have to take drugs to lower the immune system.  Right now, it looks a little like that may be happening to me.  However, I really have to wait a few more months to know for sure.  In any case, I do know that if it comes back, I can beat it back by taking prednisone or something else to lower my immune system to stop it from making antibodies that attack my own muscles. 

 MG was bad!  The treatment, prednisone was bad!  But at the moment I am OK, at least as OK as an overweight out-of-shape 66 year old should expect to be.  

And to top it all off, my mind is tarp as a shack!

Margo--Abandoned by her Family

For the past 2 weeks, Margo has been on her own at our main home in SE MN while Scott and I are drowning in maple sap here at the WI cabin.  She insisted we should go do syrup and she would be fine on her own. 

We keep in touch by phone, email, and facebook, so after the phone visit tonight, an update on Margo's ongoing breast cancer therapy.  

When you hear a drug advertisement on TV, the healthy person who needs his droop improved is shown smiling, healthy and obviously having wonderful results with the medicine.  Then the announcer starts fast-talking and rattles off the 100 terrible side effects that might happen to some people who take it.  

Margo seems to be the kind of person who gets all the side effects!  When she went through chemo, twice things went wrong and she ended up in the hospital.   One in 500 people that have an MRI have a problem with the contrast fluid they inject into your arm.  Sure enough, Margo got that side effect and 9 months later still has to have her left hand and arm wrapped with elastic at night and a special elastic sleeve and glove during the daytime.  

Well, after her radical mastectomy the skin flap that covered the removed breast area is not cooperating in attaching to the chest wall. So, a month and a half later, she still has a drainage tube in and has to go in for a treatment to get this fixed.  It is not serious, but a real nuisance and may delay the start of radiation.  

Today was another treatment. She went in with her next door neighbor Nancy who had chemo today, both riding with another neighbor who volunteered to take them.   The treatment took a couple of hours (they inject some alcohol into the tube between the skin flap and chest wall, leave it in for 15 (?) minutes and then remove it.  That is supposed to hurry the skin attaching tightly.  Personally, I wonder if a few well placed staples might do the trick.    

She complained tonight that she was running out of ice cream and cold slaw.  Of course she can drive the 3 miles into Pine Island and get it, but over the winter with either Scott or me there to do every single thing for her, she has gotten spoiled rotten! I think she may order it UPS.  

We plan to pull the taps on Saturday and scrub the buckets and put everything away and then one or both of us will be back to take on our nursing roles again.  We plan to bring 20 gallons of unfinished syrup along so Margo can feel needed and productive again as she boils and bottles it all.  We really need to get her out of goofing off mode and back to feeling guilty about all the work she isn't doing!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Margo's Mother

Myrtle Ann Wilkens (nee Kirmse), 86, passed away on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at Virginia Highlands in Germantown. She was born on Dec. 20, 1926, to the late Elmer and Julia Kirmse and was raised in Fillmore. She married Merlin R. Wilkens on June 16, 1945, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Newburg. Myrtle was employed at Power Products in Grafton for 33 years.

She is survived by her husband, Merlin; daughter, Margo (Russ) Hanson; son, Larry (Judy) Wilkens; grandchildren, Scott Hanson, Ryan Thompson, Nicky (Hans Christianson) Vetter, Cassie (fiancé Danny Harris) Wilkens, Gregory (Brittany) Wilkens; great-grandchildren, Jocelyn and James Wilkens; siblings, Eugene, Jack, Robert, Jenny, and Mary Lou; in-laws, Marilyn, Carol, Loretta, Clyde, and Suzie. She is further survived by nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends. Myrtle is preceded in death by her brothers, Orville and Raymond; sisters, Ethel, Blanche, and Winnie.

A private service was held by the family at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Newburg.

The family would like to extend a special thank you to the staff members and caregivers at Virginia Highlands.

Maple Syrup Batch 4

The sap yard looks like a mess with all the activity going on.  The sap shed walls are all made from windows given to me from a neighbor remodeling his house.  The walls are doors! Notice last night's snow is almost all gone here. We wore it out!

Water boils at 210 today, so the syrup will be done at 217.  We take it off at 216 and finish it inside.  Note the door wall.  The pan sits on a cattle watering tank firebox.  We spare no expense to have a high tech modern facility!

The fire box is a cattle watering tank with a barrel stove kit door and stove pipe bracket.  We burn pine slabs.  

Scott scrubs the sugar foam off the edges of the pan between batches. 

The creosote/charcoal is scraped off the bottom of the pan to allow better heat transfer.  The pan is 60 years old, built by Clayton's Hardware in St Croix Falls and is fitted with buggy wheel iron tire rims to strengthen the sides.  We had to buy a car as the buggy wheels fell apart without the rims ;-)

What is left of 10 full cords of pine slabs from Cummings Lumber in Frederic WI.  They burn fast and hot. 

Just completed the 4th batch of maple syrup and put the 12 gallons in 5 gallon pails to wait for finishing inside.  Tastes mild, light colored and very good quality.   Have another 400 gallons of sap to cook down plus what ever is in the woods since yesterday's collection.   We will collect tomorrow after the cold night so we can throw out the ice in the buckets. 

Looks like we will pull up the taps on Saturday with the temps supposed to be in the 60s and maybe higher.  It has been a good season here this year.  We expect the sap to run several more days, so probably may get 2 more batches to cook yet. 

After each batch there is cleanup--clean the pan and scrape the creosote/charcoal buildup off the bottom.  

Rode over to Anderson Maple today with Dave and Marcie to get some bottles.  Just bought 16 oz round ones -- 120 of them, enough to bottle 15 gallons of syrup.  We have some smaller bottles on hand and a few larger ones too.  Stopped in Luck and had goulash for lunch at the Main Dish.  

I delivered 10 of my maple syruping history books to Andersons and got $60 in credit for my $100 bill for the bottles.  He had sold 9 of the 10 from last year. I wrote the book and got them printed up and make a little profit too.  

Margo doesn't know it, but we are thinking of bringing the 25 gallons of syrup we expect to have done to Pine Island so she can do the final boiling, filtering and bottling!   She needs something to do to exercise her arm and get it working good again.  

More Syrup

Gathered 100 gallons of sap yesterday and added and boiled sap again.  Have been cooking and adding to this batch since Saturday at 5 pm. We plan to finish it this afternoon, and then start another batch. Expect about 10 gallons of syrup this time--maybe a little more. 

We have about 300 gallons of sap on hand for the next batch and expect that the season will continue until about the weekend with the 60s temperatures expected, and us ready to quit!  Probably end up with about 30 gallons of syrup for the season.  

Later this week we will take the water pump, move it from the cabin where it has been stored for the winter, to the pump house (like an insulated dog house) prime it and hope water again comes out of the cabin faucets, both hot and cold.   My underground waterlines are about 1 foot deep, so everything is shut down for the winter until the frost leaves the ground in the summer.   Since the woodcock seems able to poke his long beak into the ground now, I judge the frost to be out!

Margo continues to improve. She is on her own for last week and this one as both Scott and I handle the syrup.  She still has a drain in under the flap of skin where the breast was removed, but as it is not draining anymore, it will come out tomorrow. Margo joins neighbor Nancy heading to the clinic, driven by other neighbor Dennis.  Nancy is having her chemo session, every third week for over 2 years now.  Dennis is a retired school teacher who is very nice to help out so Scott and I can finish the maple season here in WI.  

Margo is still on for radiation starting sometime in May.  She also has her regular botox shot to the vocal cords on the 30th so she can talk again--loosens them up.  Her hair is coming in slowly, but nicely and is dark--hardly any gray at all!   

Headed to Anderson Maple today to deliver another 10 of my maple syrup history books and to pick up some bottles for this year's syrup. We like 16, 12 and 8 ounce sizes to sell at the farmer's market.  Don't know if we will do it this year or not.  

Thursday night is the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society meeting--7 pm at the Cushing Community Center--around the back--upper level. Postponed from last week by the snowstorm.  Have to plan the 2013 season.  All volunteers and we are always looking for more people to get interested. 

Have had a lot of fun watching 3 woodcocks hanging around the woods this spring.  Yesterday, one spent the whole day bobbing and probing in the low spot next to the sap shed.  Their eyes are big and at the very top of their head.  Supposed to be able to see 360 degrees around without turning their head.  Not at all bothered by us 20 feet away chain sawing, tractoring, cooking and so on.  According to a bird book, they eat up to twice their weight each day in bugs, worms and small crustaceans--all found by poking their beak 2-3 inches deep in the soil. 

The lake is still frozen over--latest I can remember. Not many signs of spring yet except for the returned birds. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

More Sap!

Another day with lots of sap!  About 200 gallons collected today with the help of neighbors Dave and Marcie.  That  makes about 500 gallons on hand to cook!   Probably about 3-4 days of cooking plus it was dripping as we collected them early this afternoon.  

Talking to others we hear they too are having a sappy year.  After last year's total bust, it is great to be running at capacity.  We are cooking the sap to syrup and storing it in 5 gallon pails until we have time to finish it (bring it to 66.5% density, filter and bottle it).  We are busy keeping the fire going and tonight Scott and I plan to draw straws to see who gets up every 2 hours at night to fill the pan and feed the fire.   

While collecting sap back in the woods, we saw 3 woodcocks.  Two were paired off, and the other by itself.  The male is smaller and is the one that does the dancing.  Even more interesting is the evening courtship where the male picks an open spot near the woods, stands there calling "peent" every so often, then flies high in the sky and swirls around and makes a sort of whistling with his wings as he comes back to the ground.  That attracts the females and if they are suitably impressed, they retire to the brush for more intimate activities.  

   According to Wikipedia, the male is not involved in nest building, egg sitting, nor any fatherly tasks with the young.  The woodcock is a game bird, hunted for eating.  It seems much too small to bother with, and is much to fun to watch for me to want to hunt it.  Pheasants and grouse are similar in that the male does not help with the young.  Many smaller birds are dual parents as are most water birds--so not sure what the advantage is to being a single parent.  

  Deer and bear are single parents, as are cats, but wolves, otters, beaver and foxes are dual parents.  Lots of variation in nature.  The pair of owls that hoot near the cabin have their nest hidden somewhere nearby, and like the eagles, are dual parents.  

A flock of 25 or more robins swirled around the woods and nearby field this afternoon.  Dozens of small sparrows, either fox or song sparrows I think--maybe both scratched around the open area where the big wood pile and sap shed areas are--the areas I plowed free of snow.   
A lot of neighbors showed up for the Cushing Spring Bash.  Scott and I got there in time for Lasagna after having just finished cooking 12 gallons of syrup and cleaning the 8-foot pan and getting it restarted for the next batch.  We were too tired to stay for the auction to see how much the 10 bottles of syrup or the History Society books brought.  The lasagna was excellent as were the desserts and everything.  Those two Olsen girls (Betty Wilson and Margie Mattson) sure know how to feed huge crowds. Got to meet many of my neighbors all congratulating each other for nearly making it through another winter.  

The cabin is a mess with every flat surface filled with stuff.  Luckily Margo is still at Pine Island, so it will give me time to sort through the things and organize them.  Above the soft chair is my paint-by-numbers maple syruping scene.  Don't understand why that wasn't stolen when the burglar broke in last February.  Great art is really valuable --I watch the Antiques Roadshow--hardly any oil painting goes for less than $10,000!  Left, the blue painting, is an original by neighbor Ed Emerson, depicting Long Trade Lake at Atlas. 
Update: 5:30 went out to add wood and sap to the cooker.  A dozen robins picking around plowed area where there is bare ground and driveway.  Sprinking just a little as predicted to start at 5 pm.  
   We made adding sap easier.  We had been dipping it with 5 gallon buckets out of our covered tanks, but I bought a sump pump at Menards for $50 and 25 feet of garden hose.  Just drop the pump into the tank, run the power cord and hose into the sap shed and plug in the pump and in a few minutes the pan is filled--quick, no lifting, and get to stay inside during the whole process.  

    We also store enough wood inside for the firing all night. We order a 10 full cord load of white pine slabs from Cummings Lumber out of Frederic every other year and saw the slabs in half to fit in our firebox (about 6 foot deep).   The pine slabs burn fast and hot, so really should add every hour or less, but that is way too often at night!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 20, 2013 10 degrees F

Today started bright and sunny at 10 degrees F outside.  This sets a personal record for me--I can't ever  remember an April 20th at 10 degrees!   The cabin had cooled to 50.  I raked the coals, tossed in some small pine slabs, opened the draft and damper and bundled up to do the same with the sap cooker.  

Plan to finish a batch of syrup cooking today of about 8 gallons and collect in the woods.  We have been boiling and adding sap for 3 days now to this batch.   The sap pails have an inch layer of ice on the top. By noon, they will have started thawing so we collect, toss the ice (which like an iceberg in salt water) is pure water and prepare for the next batch. The wood pile is going down fast with all of the cooking.

The foot of snow is hard and crunchy; the mud frozen solid; the puddles skimmed over with the crunchy air pockets we so enjoyed stepping on as kids.   I restrained myself and only broke the ones that didn't have a big pool of water underneath.

By 6:45 am it had already warmed up 1 degree from the 10 F this morning. The sun was shining over our hill to the far side of the lake. A turkey was gobbling and a pheasant squawking--early morning Saturday, cold and yet all they had on their minds was procreation. I didn't ;-) 

 Have to get this all done in time to go to the Cushing Community Center Spring Bash, Lasagna starting at 4 pm served until 7 pm and then the auction. If you come, head upstairs to see the Cushing Memory Rooms--our local museum.

Remember April 2012? Green already! Click here to see!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Woodcock Snow Dance

Saw a woodcock on the flat below the cabin today after the 12 inches of snow trying to probe for food. His 4 inch beak wasn't working out too good. 
  I didn't have the tripod ready, so this is hand held at max zoom--couple hundred feet away.  Feel sorry for the birds with the late snow.  

Snow Day --Cooking Day

   A foot of new snow
bent the limbs low
After about 1 foot of snow last night, we plowed out here at the cabin and kept cooking sap on the last batch.   This morning we had about 250 and boiled off about 80 gallons today.  We took an afternoon break and headed for Menards to get a new digital cooking thermometer.  

This morning we finished 2 gallons.  It has set in a 5 gallon food pail for 5 days to settle. We dipped off two gallons above the sugar sand on the bottom, boiled for about it for about 30 minutes until it was 7 degrees above the boiling point of water--normally about 212 degrees + or - 1 or 2 degrees depending on the air pressure and the thermometer.   The thermometer is suspect because I had left it in the sap shed after the last batch and it had gotten steamed up in the humid environment and quit working.  I brought it in the house and hung it above the wood stove to dry it out and a day later, it started working--but registered boiling water at 207 F--meaning it was suspect.  

So I boiled the sap to 207 + 7 (214) and then poured it hot through the thick fiber filter and then brought it just to a boil and started bottling it.  After 3 bottles, Scott and I both decided it was too thin--and the thermometer must be wacky.   I put it back to boil and brought it to 216--boiling it for 20 minutes.  I didn't re-filter it, but just bottled it boiling hot.  

After it cooled, we compared the two bottles--one from the earlier "too thin" batch with the second extra boiled batch.  Side by side--bottle 1 was clear, bottle 2 had a fine floating cloudy look.  No idea why--but it wasn't at all what I had hoped for.  
Syrup --left is first try and is clear, right is second try and is cloudy.  Both are too thin from a bad thermometer, so will be returned to the big kettle with 2-dozen others, boiled, filtered, boiled and bottled with the hopes of having exactly 66.5 density and perfectly clear.   Note how light colored the syrup is--the first syrup of the year run while it is still cold is always light and delicately flavored.

After it cooled, I brought out the refractometer.  You put a single drop of cold syrup on the glass and then look through it like a telescope and read the syrup density.   Our second batch read 62 and it should have been 66.5 to be ideal.  Still too thin!  So with it being cloudy and thin, it all had to be put back in the big kettle, the bottles again cleaned and sterilized in boiling water and the syrup boiled, filtered again, and brought to a boil and bottled when the new thermometer said 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.  

Thus the trip to Menards to get a new thermometer as well as 3 more brand new food grade white pails to store syrup in (we have the rest on the trees and they have sap spile holes in the sides).   Scott's laptop was not charging so we also wanted to find a new charger-cord unit.    We got everything except the laptop charger cord--none were the right size.   He had to order it off the internet.

Brother Ev says that if one of the Swans in the pair on Orr Lake has a green neck collar--DNR tagging system--it is an old Swan, as they tag with light colored ones now that are more readable.  Scott got a photo of them and one does have a green tag.  Now I have to try to read the numbers on it.  

Trumpeter Swans on the Lake.  The green collar says "Sponsored by Menards."   Guess that is part of Gov Walker's commercialization policy for the DNR.  

Woodcock probing the snow for food--rather hunched up too probably trying to stay warm.  Full zoom 200 feet away.  I have a video of him too that I will put on youtube and add a link later

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Snow Bound

    Went to the Luck historical society board meeting today, got there at 11 am to work on the newsletter--no rain, no snow, cloudy, but much of the ground was bare.  When I left at 3:30 there was already 3 inches of snow, and now at 8:30 about 6 here at the cabin.  Hwy 87 was not plowed north of Cushing, and it was very bad driving with the little car that should have new tires!  Barely spun up the last big curved hill.  

The snowstorm brought down the electricity here at the cabin by Cushing. It was off about 1 and a half hours. It was very hard -- no TV, no internet, no Facebook. Of course as we have a wood stove no problem for heat. I scraped half a foot of new snow off the grill and made tube steak for supper. Came on just before I went into internet withdrawal. Didn't even have a battery radio around. Must have been rough for Grandpa and Grandma before the entertainment age--maybe why they had 8 kids!

    Scott came up from Pine Island to help with the syruping for a few days.  It has been running and I am behind with cooking and collecting.  The season is late, but most producers are finally happy that things are looking like a good year.   Our wood pile was buried under the new snow--a to-do for next year is to have a roof over the wood.

   The Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society meeting was postponed until next Thursday night due to the snow.  

    Took a few photos of the late snowstorm.  Dad's birthday was on the 18th of April 1915.  I don't ever remember having a snowstorm on his birthday, or even snow.  Normally that is about the time the lake ice goes out. 
    We won't be going to Myrtle Wilkens's funeral (Margo's mom). They are not having a funeral, just a graveside service and prayer for now, with a celebration of her life later when Margo is able to go.  

    Her Granddaughter, Cassie:  "In honor of the woman who taught me how to paint, sew, keep a garden, pull a rusty fishing hook from my leg, and steal all the jelly packets from the restaurant...I hope you finally found peace."
Photos from the cabin porch.  The flash lights up the branches in the foreground and a few snow flakes contrasting against the normal background.  Interesting effect!

Margo's Mother passed away yesterday

Myrtle Wilkens

Margo's mother passed away yesterday. She was 85. She was a great lady. She loved fishing, doing handwork, and travel. She had been gradually declining with Alzheimer's over the past several years, and her passing was expected. For 35 years she worked at Power Products in Grafton building small engines, before that lived and worked with her husband on the farm where Margo was raised, and before that was a telephone switchboard operator in Newburg WI (near West Bend). When I first met her, Margo invited me to dinner with the family when we were dating, I brought a homemade apple pie (yes I made it), and she was so impressed, that she accepted me right away. She had a good sense of humor and an easy laugh. It has been sad to see her gradually lose her personality and memory over the past 7 years. We will miss her, but her passing was for the best. She is survived by her husband, Merlin, Margo and her brother Larry and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was one of 11 children, with 2 sisters and 3 brothers surviving.
  I don't have a photo here at the cabin, so will post one later. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting Stuck in the Woods

A busy day gathering almost 300 gallons of sap!   It was slow because the ground was so slick--slid into a predicament and filmed how I got out.

Monday, April 15, 2013

4 AM --and All is Well

When maple season is over there
will be time for pancakes and
pure maple syrup--right now
way too busy!
Just came in from throwing more wood on the maple sap boiling fire.  It is 4 am, the rain and snow has stopped and it is 32 degrees outside and 50 in the cabin.   Overslept and the cabin stove and the sap cooker were both down to just coals--so had to nurse them back to a fire again.

Walking the 100 yards to the cooker with the cabin yard light on and the sap shed light on, half way of the journey is dark.   I have a $1 one-AA battery 3-LED flashlight that has used the same battery for two years now.   It is wonderfully bright compared to my regular flashlights--all with almost dead batteries after a few months of use. 

Before looking at the thermometer on the open cabin porch, I have already guessed it is just under freezing as I crunch through the snow, feeling a wet bottom to each step.  The driveway maple has 4 5-gallon pails on it that were emptied at 1 pm yesterday; two of them look almost full with 4 gallons of sap and two with 2 gallons.  The sap was dripping at the 10 pm when I filled the sap pan and the wood.   The other tree next to the driveway hasn't dripped at all--I think the dozen folks who tapped this year didn't remember to stay a few inches away from old tap holes.  

I haven't counted the pails out, but I think there must be about 100. The maples grown on a single long west facing hillside.  Those at the bottom have been running on and off for 10 days.  Those on the steepest hillside have barely run at all.  On the plateaus midway down the big hill have run too.   

None of them ran Sunday - Thursday last week, but started Friday and have been dribbling away so that I collected about 250 gallons of sap Friday-Sunday, with what appears to be 100 gallons run since Sunday pickup at 11am to 1pm.  

I started cooking Friday afternoon when I got about 150 gallons of sap.  I have been cooking and adding sap to the 50 gallon pan since and have cooked about 200 gallons so far.   At 4 am I decided not to add more sap, but to finish this batch today, then clean the equipment and immediately start another batch while the fire coals are still hot 

While I was adding to the fire, two cars drove by headed east to the main highway.   "Going to work I suppose. Wonder how they can stand it to get up every week day and leave at 4 am?" I thought as I crunched around rustling up more firewood from the pile for the fire.  Getting up at 4 am as part of the few weeks of maple season is tolerable because I know it will soon end.

The boiling pan is 8 feet long and 2 feet wide and about 5 inches deep--it holds about 60 gallons of sap.  This morning it is only half full from boiling--30 gallons left from 200 gallons of sap.  I think my sap is averaging about 3% sugar, or about 33 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup.  That means I have to cook it down to 6 gallons left -- just enough to cover the bottom of the pan without it scorching in the high points of the 60 year old metal cooker--that sags a little in the middle.  

As I am up now, I will just lie down on top of the bed with my snow boots off, but dressed, and rest my eyes a little while the cabin warms up, the sap comes up to boiling and at daylight begin the firing in earnest, collect what I guess will be 150 gallons of sap (3 hours of hard work) and start testing the sap-turned syrup to decide when to take it off the fire (before it is fully cooked--but not much early) and clean up and restart the next batch. 

I think it is time to call some of the helpers who put out the taps for us this year (we weren't going to do it, but my nephew and some of his relatives and our friends put out the buckets).  Dick and Jeremy did most of the work for the first batch and got the syrup from it.  Maybe some others would like syrup in trade for labor. 

I am in a remission from Myasthenia Gravis--a disease that makes the muscles weak from attacks on the nerve-muscle receptors by my own immune system.  It started last May and with lots of prednisone has been improving until November, when I started slowly tapering off of 60 mg per day until two weeks ago I stopped it altogether.  

Normally you don't stop it, you just drop it to the lowest dose that works.   However, 15% of people go into a remission that they don't need drugs again--rare, but worth trying to find out if you are one of those.   So, when Myasthenia gets under control, you taper to zero and then wait a month or two and see if it comes back.

In the meantime, I have been able to work on the maple sap OK.  The first problems I had with MG is being out of breath when I tried to work.  That was gone last February but seems to be coming back, so my hunch is that by May I probably will have to go back on medicine.  But at least I know the medicine does get me functional.  Without it, I had double vision, difficulty chewing, typing, walking etc. 

Scott went back to MN to help Margo.  She had a series of appointments to drain a seroma--pool of blood or lymph fluid that formed under the removed breast skin flap, preventing the skin from attaching to the chest wall.  It was drained, an tube left in and this week she has 3 appointments to check on it and finally remove it by the end of the week.  Otherwise she has been recovering from chemo and surgery fine.  This is a minor setback, but sometimes the overall bother of the treatments gets to her (started chemo in August last year).   I tried to remind her that her cancer is gone, and this is just the healing process going on, albeit slowly, and that the 5 weeks of radiation ahead are not because she has cancer anymore, but to prevent it from coming back.  However, it is hard to remain cheerful when you don't feel good enough to help with the maple season!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sap is running!

About 2/3 of my maple trees are dripping sap today!  I got about 150 gallons of sap when I collected early this afternoon.  I hadn't collected for 3 days, so some of it is from earlier--in fact about five 5-gallon pails were running over.  They had a lot of ice in them that I strained out.  I have about 200 gallons of sap on hand, about 5-6 gallons of syrup when it is cooked down.  Probably take me until Monday to get it cooked down. 

Behind this badly damaged maple tree is the cabin.  A huge branch broke off 3 years ago.  

Yesterday looked like lots of snow--it is melting very fast today!
Margo had a procedure Friday to drain the fluid buildup under the flap of skin where the breast was removed. It went well, but she has to have a drain tube in for this week and a few appointments to check on it.  Scott is back to Pine Island to help out.  She is doing well with radiation still expected for May. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Otters Slide, Y Not U?

For many years a pair of otters have lived  on the small lake where Margo and I spend our summers.  They, along with beavers and water fowl are what makes living near a lake so special. 

The first time we saw an otter, we mistook it for one of the beaver family that lives in the lake.  For many years, the beavers have fought a battle with the Town crew—the beavers damming the road culvert that is the lake overflow and the crew clearing away the dam.   

The lake level rose a foot, then dropped, back and forth all summer as the battle raged, until late fall the beaver’s persistence won the final round for the season. 

When a beaver swims across the lake, his head is above the surface and he heads purposefully to a distant point—an unwavering rippling vee in the water as he goes about his work.  One day, we saws a head above the water making the rippling vee of what surely must be a drunken beaver.  This way, that way, diving down, and coming up yards away, and finally after 30 minutes of aimless waterobics, he dove purposefully down, disappeared for 3 minutes and came up, floated on his back and leisurely ate a fish held firmly in his hands. 

We had only seen Disney TV otters before.   Here was a real live one in our lake!   We came to the cabin weekends and soon saw two of them and then a third smaller one, their cub.  They followed the same pattern, swimming around playfully for an hour or more just off the shore from our porch, ending with lunch.  

Studying otters in the encyclopedia, we found that they are wonderfully adapted to water, live in tunnels along the bank, and are remarkably able at catching fish, finding clams, and other food.  This gives them hours of leisure each day, winter or summer.

On a trip as Scout leader for 15 scouts to the boundary waters of MN, we met an otter next to our primitive canoe camp.  The boys caught several fish, attached them to a stringer and tied it to a log just around the corner from camp.  When supper time came, they went for the fish, disturbing an otter sitting on the log, eating the last of the fish.  The stringer had only fish heads left. The otter had learned that when campers were nearby, a free lunch was likely.  

As we watched throughout the year, the beaver busily cut trees, worked on the dam and their brush house and drug vast amounts of brush to the bottom of the lake for winter foo.  We never saw them but they were working, sharing the lake with the otters who were never at work.  Each evening  mother, father and cub swam completely around the lake, barking, playing tag, and hassling the swans, loons and ducks along the way.  The beavers and otters ignored each other—workmen ignoring the idlers.    

Last week, with the ice still thick on the lake, we watched this otter pop out onto the wet ice from a series of small holes.  He looked around, and then made a run for it and slid on his belly back and forth for half an hour.  He was purely at play.    

Meanwhile, the beaver came ashore at the open spring, looked around,  and went directly to the tag alder and willow brush and began gnawing them off, and eating the bark.  Filling up, he swam under the ice, undoubtedly in a straight line to the open water at the road culvert and came ashore and contemplated the escaping water, obviously annoyed, likely having a touch of Midwestern Lutheran guilt, eager to begin the skirmish with the town crew anew.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Maple Sugar Candy

Stalling yet this morning with the snow almost stopped, the cabin warm, and not really ready to work on the Old Settler's book, decided I needed something sweet to go with my coffee.  Nothing at all on hand, and everything takes too long to cook to satisfy an immediate craving, looking around I spied the quart jar of syrup I kept from the first batch of 2013 syrup.  The rest of the 3 gallons went to Dick and Jeremy, who did most all of the work up to that point.

Maple sugar!  An instant answer.  The process is illustrated here.

Ingredients:  1/4 cup maple syrup, butter or margarine to smear the inside rim of the bowl to keep it from boiling over and a microwave

Zap on high for about 4 minutes (depends on your microwave). My low power cabin microwave was set for 6 minutes.  At home it is 3 minutes in the heavy duty one.  Cabin takes 2 minutes to heat a cup of coffee, at home 1 minute.  

Take it out and stir rapidly as it cools.  If you don't stir, it will either be gummy (too little heating) or turn into a rock-sucker (too much cooking).  The air needs to be stirred in to make it grainy--maple sugar.  If you do it on the stove, bring it to about 236 degrees.

Starts turning whiter as it cools and the stirring crystalizes it

Suddenly, while still hot its starts to harden.  Means I cooked it a little too much.  Rush to pour it into the platter before it hardens. 

Got it too hot.  It is still pretty good--wonderful maple flavor and slightly hard, but not really too bad--based on cooking can range from too soft to quite hard, but stirring makes it OK.  I quickly cut it into pieces.  One piece saturates the sugar craving, so as soon as finish licking the spoon and cleaning the out the dish I will get to working on the book.   Back where there were 4 boys, it was a scramble.  Mom had to stir with two spoons so Ev and I each got one, Byron the fudge kettle, and Marvin, who couldn't stand sweet things, just wondered why the rest of us were so silly fighting who got the spoon to lick!
Now the coffee is cold--have to zap that too.  

Spring Snow

Did you know the Norwegians have 3 different names for snow?   The names translate into:  Snow, Uffda Snow and Uffda Snow yah sure ya betcha!  
Well this morning at 6:30 I heard rain or snow pelting the roof just above me in the sleeping loft.  It brought me back from a pleasant dream of sitting in the maple shack cooking maple syrup, basking in the warmth of the wood fire.  Actually, the electric blanket was turned up, and the cabin was cold, the fire having gone out. 
  When Margo isn't here, I fire a little a night, and let it go out when the temps are freezing or above, and then start a pine slab fire in the morning to warm it up.  No need to go down and throw in wood in the middle of the night with the electric blanket still not turned all the way up.  
   It was 34 outside and 42 inside.  The ground was bare, except for a little sugar snow on the toilet walk, the scenic stroll from cabin to bathroom.  
Sugar snow at 6:30 this morning at the cabin
Looking out over the lake, the ice was still wet looking, the woods still brown.  
Most of the snow is gone at the cabin, the lake is still frozen over, but is open where the creek comes in and leaves.  A hint of white in the brown grass at 6:40 am from the sugar snow and a touch of rain. 
By 7:40, the snow had started coming down.  
By 8 am the ground was getting white
By 9 am it was snowing hard with about an inch on the ground
and by 9:30 the snow was easing off, bigger flakes though.  Temp had dropped to 29 degrees.

  Yesterday and the day before, I collected about 15 gallons of sap off of about 100 buckets. Most of the hillside trees haven't run at all yet.  I have about 50 gallons of sap on hand, but don't start cooking until I have 150 gallons.  I need that much so when it boils down the whole bottom of the 8 foot x 2 foot pan is covered.  Less sap, and I can't cook it all the way down.  

So my strategy this morning: build up the cabin woodstove fire to bring the cabin up to 60 degrees. slice and fry some baked potatoes left over from last night with mushrooms and tube steak sliced, add some toast and coffee and read the morning newspapers (I subscribe to the Star Tribune and New York Times online).  The rest of the morning is to work on the Sterling Settler's picnic 75th anniversary book.  I am stalling working on that right now;-)

I cleaned out the 1987 Ford F150 4x4 truck yesterday.  If it passes the "frame not in terrible shape" check, plan to have neighbor Chuck take it to his garage in Coon Rapids and put in a new clutch.  Chuck farms our cropland, and some of rent is by barter.  A 1987 vehicle driven in WI and MN during the winters, gets the full salt effect, so even though the engine works fine, the body looks about like a 1946 model person feels.   Parked it right by the driveway entrance so if the snow gets deep, can put it in 4-wheel drive and slip out to Cushing for emergency supplies.  The clutch only slips in 4th gear going up a hill or flooring the gas pedal--so lower gears are OK.  I think oil is leaking from the rear bearing onto the clutch causing the problem.  
   My myasthenia gravis has been in remission for a few months, so I  am able to do most anything I need to with maple syruping.  Am finally fully off of prednisone waiting for either the MG to come back, or find out I am in a true drug-free remission (15% chance). In the meantime it is good to feel mostly normal again.  My 1 year old new knee is working pretty good too.  Now if my memory would kick in that would be helpful.  Keep meeting folks I should know and I can't remember them or their names until they remind me. I always had a problem with names and faces anyway, and it has gotten worse, at least according to my friends.   Last one I forgot was a lovely lady who seemed very familiar--her name was Margo, but just couldn't place her.  Must have been the new short hair style she has. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Update on Margo

Margo had cancer surgery March 12, and has been recovering well.  However, this week, at her checkup, the doctor said that there is still some fluid buildup under the flap of skin covering the removed breast.  They put in a drainage tube, and drained it out, and decided to leave it in for a few days.
 Friday, she goes in for a minor surgery to inject something into the area where the skin flap is loose that will make it so the lymph leakage or bleeding into the area will stop, and the skin will grow fast.  She goes in early and will be home later in the day. This happens to something like 1/3 of women who have Margo's type of surgery.   It is a nuisance, but needs to be done to allow radiation to work in May.

Otherwise she has been doing good.  She has to work on raising her left arm high to stretch out the muscle where the lymph nodes were removed.  She also continues to have her arm and hand wrapped 24 hours a day. It hasn't gotten worse, but doesn't improve either. However, she can use the arm and hand OK with the elastic glove and sleeve she has during the day.  At night it is a bulkier and tighter wrapping of elastic and padding.

Scott is back to Pine Island to help with the Friday appointment and surgery.  I am still up at the cabin watching for maple sap to drip.  Not really running much yet--half of the trees on the west slopes have not run at all--late to thaw out I guess.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wildlife at the Cabin

Sap hasn't been running since Saturday, so been doing some odd jobs.  Our son Scott is up for the maple season to help out.  He has been taking some highly zoomed photos on the frozen lake.  
The pictures here are highly compressed, so the originals are better.  This is at 42 optical zoom plus some digital zoom --the birds are at least 1/8 mile away.  

Pair of Trumpeter Swans have been doing their head bobbing spring dance.  Brother Everett says if the collar is green, then it is a very old bird.  Couldn't quite tell the color at the distance and with the overcast day. 

An otter popped up through a hole in the ice and did some sliding around.  He (or she) made a short run and then slid on his belly for his own entertainment and ours too.  Scott is going to try a video next time.

Two pairs of sandhill cranes were screeching around the lake.  I think it must be mating, although the call was not the mating version where one chimes in after the other.
Generally speaking, I am pleased with the camera.  However, it is a little grainy at the max zoom and max resolution.  Have to see if I am using the right settings.  There are about 2 million different settings I can use--but so far I have done the automatic where the camera makes its own decision as to what it thinks I want.  
   Not pictured yet, the black squirrel who gnaws son the porch each day; the owl that hoots in the evening; the deer that I spook up as I walk over the hill to check the pails; the ducks in the small open ponds throughout my woods and fields; and the woodcock who entertains us in the evening with his mating rituals.  
   Although the robins showed up in Pine Island 2 weeks ago, not a one has appeared at the cabin.  Sunday at Mom's place, the big pople tree had a cluster of singing redwing blackbirds (a cluster, a cloud, or a merie are also names for a flock of blackbirds).  Brother Marv claims to have seen a single robin about Easter.  Pine Island is about 125 miles south of Cushing.  
   The rain and frost coming out of the ground has made the woods muddy and the footing poor.  I expect the otter to some out on the shore and watch Scott and I slide through the woods for his entertainment. 
  Today looks like a no-sap day too.  So it is off to the laundraumat to catch up on clothes; over to Mom's to deliver some yeast from the Luck Natural Alternatives Co-op (Mom, age 91, says their yeast is the freshest when you want to bake bread) and to fill the water containers (can't start the shallow pipe water system until the frost goes out of the ground), and maybe to the Library to do some research for the Sterling 75th Old Settler's Picnic Book (need grocery advertisements from each decade 1930s-2010s).   We are doing part of the book by decades, and part by family histories contributed by the families (not enough in yet!)
    Have been reading up on property mineral rights to explain it to the Polk Men's group a week from Wednesday.  It appears you can sell off different rights to your land--including the right to mine the minerals, conservation easements, and so on.  I am thinking about selling the pocket gopher rights to our sand land along the River Road.  With conservation, the 50 acres there should produce 100 gophers worth $300 per year.  Probably sell the rights to trap for $100 a year or maybe $10000 in perpetuity!
   When I sold 10 acres to my nephew, I added a right to the deed that says "Everett and Russell Hanson have the right to access and use the sawmill on this land."   It turns out that not only allowed us to run the sawmill when we wanted to, but obligated us to keep it in running condition according to my nephew;-)  Last time I worked on it, fell off the roof and broke my leg ending up with a 2 year problem that needed a new knee.  Not that I am back OK, have to tackle it again this year.  I miss those fresh boards from our own trees. So Ev and Bryce, we better take another expedition over there and see if we can't get it going, or we may never get the ambition and crew again!
   Margo is resting up before radiation next month.  She is feeling good, working on stretching her arm to reach straight up--something that is difficult after the surgery.  She sent Scott and me up to the cabin so she can have a break from us for a couple of weeks.  Today she and her neighbor, Nancy, are headed to town for medical appointments, lunch and shopping.  Both have been fighting cancer, Margo since last August, and Nancy for nearly 3 years (chemo every three weeks).   Both are doing well.