St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow Job

Margo's Cub Cadet Snowblower

A little winter color from the geraniums, poinsettia and a petunia.  Helps with the winter.

Want to see the snowblower in action?  Try this link  Margo gets stuck


A sputzy?  Rare at our feeder if it is.  We get lots of finches. 
Margo's mom, Myrtle, always called English Sparrows, sputzies.  I think it must be from her German background.  I looked on the internet and found that the German word for sparrow is "spatz" pronounced sputz, so it makes sense as Margo's parents were 100% German background from the area north of Milwaukee.

Myrtle always had many bird feeders out on the farm near West Bend.  She enjoyed watching the birds and feeding them. They only owned 5 acres of the original farm in later years, but it had lots of trees, surrounded by fields and nearby woods -- just a short distance from the Milwaukee river (Newburg area). 

Margo takes after her mother in her enjoyment of feeding the birds, making sure a little is spilled for her fawn Fluffy, and now worrying about the 10 pheasants frequenting the orchard here on the farm, scratching for fallen apples. 

So, I wallowed out through the deep snow into the orchard and sprinkled a little cracked corn and sunflower seeds in the area where they scratch yesterday.  We are under strict rules not to feed deer in our CWD area, so I spread it out very much so deer would not have any easy pickings (they frequent the orchard to paw up fallen apples and prune the trees as high as they can reach).  

This morning, with the falling snow already a few inches, 10 pheasants came under the trees to scratch.  The 3 yesterday must have spread the news.  Guess I will pick up some shelled corn and continue--feel sorry for them this cold, deep snow winter.  

Fluffy hunts for a sunflower seed

It's always greener on the other side of the fence (the garden)

Venus and the moon at -23 a few days ago

Eight of the 10 pheasants in our orchard this morning

Early this morning -- checking if I needed to get Margo up to start shoveling yet or let her sleep a little longer. 

I take these photos with my Nikon 42x zoom camera through the windows holding the camera by hand, so some of the fuzziness is from that.  I really like the camera--coolpix p510.  Even has a gps built in, although I still get lost sometimes in the woods. It was about $300 a real splurge for me. I bought it while suffering from myasthenia gravis, looking for something to cheer me up as well as to motivate me to get out and be somewhat active. 

 My brother, Ev, as he went through chemotherapy 6 years ago, said that occasionally buying a toy for himself, helped him get through the treatment downs.  Of course, he got into the habit, and now buys a toy if he thinks it might be interesting to use.  One gets a feeling it is better to enjoy things now rather than put them off for some uncertain future when you have a brush with life-threatening illness. 

 For Margo and me, her currently in medicine-free remission from cancer and me from myasthenia gravis, doing things now, and things we want to do rather than have to do, are valuable.  We never know if or when things will turn the other way.  Even so, I had better get Margo up and outside shoveling before it gets too deep....

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Morning Ramble

A person has to test themselves a little each day--to see if they are gaining on us (Don't look back, they might be gaining on you said Satchel Page).  
Venus and the moon were bright at 6:30 am --not a cloud in the sky.  It would have been a good morning to have the telescope out, other than the -25 degrees

This morning, with no wind, the mid-minus 20s F, it seemed like a good day to test myself outside.  So, strapping on my cross-country skis I did my morning hour tour.  Shortly into the run I warmed up and other than frozen fingers, toes, cheeks and a badly frozen lung, things went fine.  (Actually the ski trip was very very very much shorter as the reality of -25 penetrated my skull in only 3 minutes)

Venus and the moon are out brightly in the crisp morning dusk.  I have been an amateur sky watcher since my youth (I built my own 6-inch reflecting telescope by my early teens) and had planned to go on to graduate school in astronomy until Uncle Sam declared me a winner in the Vietnam draft lottery for 1970.  I spent 3 years out of circulation (not in the military, but in government mandated alternate service as I refused to shoot people for any reason at all--not acceptable to becoming a soldier).  

 After that, I did go back to school, but it wasn't the same anymore--lost my enthusiasm for professors telling me what to do. So I am still an amateur.  I try to keep up a little with what is in the sky, but whether had things been different, I would have continued with this or not is hard to say. 

It was still quite dark out when these were taken but my camera held the shutter open for 1/4 second to get enough light as I tried to keep from shivering to hold it steady. 

A few days ago when the wind was gusting to 40 mph

Pete Seeger, the singer whose purpose in life was to bring fairness and decent pay and conditions to the working man passed away at 94 years old.  Margo, Scott and I went to see him at a concert or two in the 80s when he came to the Twin Cities with Arlo Guthrie and Ronny Gilbert and others.  He was quite controversial and hated by most conservatives because of his stands, politics and so on.  What you can say about him is that he never wavered from his belief that working together people can make things better.  I particularly like his maple syrup song--he was a fellow syruper. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Auction at a County School


Red arrows tacked to trees point the way to the country school auction. Across Wood River bridge in Burnett County, northwestern Wisconsin, I turn right off the highway, drive two miles south and there the school sits on a shady, corner lot. The building is white clapboard with a belfry at the front.  It is surrounded by tall trees, and the playground is all green grass.

Just for today the school is no longer deserted; the rooms once again echo to the sound of voices, and there is activity and laughter, visiting among neighbors. Small children play in groups, sliding down the slides with shouts of, "We don‘t have these where we are now! and swinging on giant strides and pumping hands full of water for each other at the old pump near the door.

The antique hunters are here, mentally cataloging what to bid on and how high to go. The onlookers are here, too (like me) who came because an ad in the newspaper beckoned with its promise of rare treasures. It is an offer which describes not the bargains of the year but the bargains of yesteryear

The school itself is a big, two--room building with high ceilings and high windows. Although it was built in the late 1800‘s, there are signs that the people in the area have cared for and tried to maintain the property. The high ceilings are squared in embossed tin; the floors are completely tiled in red and gray vinyl, and there is a well-equipped kitchen for the hot lunch program. Two new furnaces provide heat, and each room has a piano to provide music.

Closer scrutiny however, reveals there is no running water in the building; outdoor buildings are the restroom facilities (boys in one direction, girls in another direction), old fashioned cloakrooms along one side with pipes for coat racks, and wooden steps resound to the stampede of feet.  Moss is growing on the roof, and the cedar shingles are warped and bulging.

It is no wonder that consolidation has come to a country school, and progress has moved the children to a new building on the highway, with much glass, brick and a brave display of primary colors.

But I can't help but wonder how many children have passed through grades here, how many school programs have been presented on the wooden platform erected at Christmas time, how many teachers have tried their wings teaching their children here. How many Friday nights have the lights burned for the old--time school meetings with parents making school decisions, visiting together and enjoying the lunch afterwards.

Now before the auction begins, crowds mill around as people inspect the furniture, pulling out drawers, slamming them shut, opening cupboards, peering and poking and asking themselves if this is something they could possibly use.

The auctioneer with his traditional cane (mark of his trade) taps the edge of the hay wagon and calls out, "All right, folks, let's start." He climbs up on the wagon bed and for this particular show, it becomes his sounding board, his stage. The people move closer as the auctioneer taps his cane again and they look appraisingly at the piles of articles already stacked on the platform.

Rows of teachers' desks stand to one side of the school grounds, old bookcases with the glass gone, marble topped home economics tables with little round swing out stools attached, coat racks, benches, tables; all the equipment which filled a schoolhouse in another era is out in the cool autumn light.

The auctioneer shares his platform with a clerk who writes down all purchases and names of buyers. The sale begins small, with stacks of utility dishes from the kitchen, odds and ends of silverware and glasses, dishpans, rolling pins and graters. A few people bid. Faces become more interested as Paul Bunyan--size kettles and pans are held up. They go high, we all agree.

Men who are helping at the sale carry out whole sections of blackboards and the auctioneer says, "Here you are, folks, real slate. Who'll say five dollars?" A voice in the crowd corrects, amends, names her own price and calls out, "Three!" From that bid the price goes steadily upward and stops around six. "How many do you want, lady, all of them?" She answers, "Just one." Piece after piece is sold and handed out to the buyer. A woman says, "Oh, this is heavy. Wait until I get my husband to help me." The auctioneer continues, "Just one left, folks. The best of the lot!" and he throws in a handful of felt erasers as a bonus to the buyer.

Water coolers are next.  Some are fat blue--gray cracks with bubbler attachments.  Others are enameled cabinets with a place for a pail underneath for waste water.  Several go to county historical societies.

World globes do a spinning business, and roll-up maps in their olive green cases sell well. Many who have never left their own communities take an interest in faraway places. One woman watches a man buy a whole bundle of maps for a dollar and then offers him $.50 for just the one map of South America. He sells it to her.

Folding chairs go quickly, as bidders purchase them for churches or clubs. Brown metal ones go for $2.25. "How many do you want?" The answer is "Twenty." "Give her twenty here. Still have fifteen. Who wants them at the same price?" asks the auctioneer.

The wooden folding chairs go for less.  "I should have waited and bid on them," grumbles a man who purchased twenty metal ones.

The sale progresses. Small student desks go sky high as parents buy them for their children.  The larger size student desks go begging.  Perhaps due to the deep carving and scratches on their lift--up lids, or perhaps older children wouldn't care for desks at home.

Lucky bidders carry their purchases to their cars.  Some items will have to be hauled later: the furnaces and parts, gas tanks, deep well pump, kitchen range, refrigerator and lumber.

A wall clock is held up by the sale clerk.  Set in a wooden frame of oak, no glass, a key for winding still stuck into its middle, the thin pendulum swinging back and forth in the man's hand, the clock speaks of another world.  It has a paper face glued onto the surface and there are more numbers on it than the usual twelve. Antique dealers close in as the auctioneer alerts them with the words, "This is a real old--timer, folks." They already know that fact and the bidding is brisk.

A second clock is held aloft with the remark, "This one still runs, folks.  Been running since 1895.  The date is on the back."  His stamp of approval sends the bids higher.

Assorted tables are carried out, bought and carried off.  Everything is to be sold and all sales are final.  The bell in the tower is the piece de resistance and is expensive.  "It's worth that in scrap iron," the buyer says.  How many reluctant pupils has it called to school, how many recesses has it given and then recalled in 15 minutes, how many echoes has it set up across the fields.  It was a privilege indeed if the teacher allowed one to pull the bell rope.  There is no rope attached to it now, and the bell has been silenced.  What a job it will be to remove it from the lofty height it has occupied all these years.

The teachers' desks are next in line.  Spectators, who have been sitting on the desks, now rise, and the auctioneer hops on the top of the first desk and says, "All right, folks. What'll you give for it?"  A farmer in bib overalls buys that one.

I find myself caught up in the mood of the crowd and what has been a vague longing to have a desk someday is now a compelling force.  When the auctioneer says, "Who'll give me five dollars?"  I answer, "Here."  Someone raises my timid bid.  "Say six dollars," the auctioneer urges me.  "Yes," I repeat in a voice growing stronger by the second. My competitor goes higher. "Say seven," pleads the auctioneer. "Don't lose out when you've gone this far."

I look at the sturdy oak desk; I note the deep drawers; I visualize it in my house. My heart is pounding.  The crowd is waiting and suddenly it seems like the most important thing in my life to possess that battered old desk, to claim it for my own. I can‘t speak, but I nod my head.  My opponent knows I mean to have it at any price.  He drops out of the bidding, and I am the owner.

The final sale is the flagpole, set in cement in the schoolyard. It will have a new life on somebody's lawn.

The crowd has thinned out.  Evening is coming on, and the auction is over. The auctioneer looks around and asks, "Is that it?," and his helpers answer, "Yep, that's it."  The clerk is busy totaling up what people owe him, making change, and I pay for my desk.  Cars pull away from the country crossroads.

I return home in my small car and tell my husband, "I bought a desk."  He's nice about it and says, "Let's go and get it then, will it fit in the station wagon?"

"I don't know," I answer and am suddenly struck by the enormity of my deed. We drive the fifteen miles back to the school.  By now the red eye of the sun is resting on the rim of the world, and the chill of evening has come.  My desk sits alone in the grassy yard.  We manage to wedge it into the back of the station wagon.

"Do you want to see the school?" I ask my husband, and we go inside, walk through the classrooms, snap the lights on and off, come out and shut the door. Someone will probably be back to lock up.

The ground near the pump is wet; the grass is crushed from the many feet standing there throughout the afternoon.  Blank windows stare back at us as we stand there. The schoolhouse, too is going, going, gone.

  Two Januaries ago, Bernice Abrahamzon, a friend and a writer from Lewis passed away from cancer.  I am re-publishing a book from 1996 from the Northwest Wisconsin Regional Writers for the club and decided to share one of the stories with you.  

  Bernice passed along the treasurer's job for the club to me.  She was a founding member back in 1966 and active until the month before she passed away.  We miss her very much, and her weekly column in the Inter-County Leader.    (The book will be out in February if all goes well).  

By the way do you know what schoolhouse this is?  "Across the Wood River Bridge in Burnett County turn right off the highway and then drive 2 miles south and the school sits on a corner lot -- white clapboards."  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Maple Syruping

A Paint-by-Numbers masterpiece!
Planning for the Feb 27th (4th Thursday) Luck Museum program.  For many years we have been having a spring meeting to get us in the mood for tapping maple trees--usually mid March.  

Steven Anderson, of Anderson Maple between Luck and Cumberland, the maple syrup wholesaler and supplier in our area, is coming to tell us what is new in the world of syruping.  We usually have 40 or so people out, some producers, some who want to try it, and some who are just interested in the process. 

Steve tells me, that he and spouse Alison, have a brand new book out for beginners--Maple Syrup Book 

My own book 350 Years of Making Maple Syrup in America continues to sell decently on Amazon ( History of Maple Syruping )
dripping in a few bucks each month with bursts Dec-April as thoughts turn to making syrup.  

My own book chronicles my 6th great grandfather's day in 1650s when the Native Americans taught folks like ggggggggrandpappy how to syrup; the changes in syrup making and so including 100 photos and illustrations as well as many old time recipes when maple syrup and maple sugar were the sweeting available.  

Thomas Jefferson pushed the use of American maple sugar over that
slave made sugar from the Caribbean (and of course I include the 1700s original essay as part of the book).  

2012 was the poorest maple season in my memory.  2013 one of the very best.  What will happen in 2014 will not be known until the season is over--there is really no way of predicting the run each year, other than to say a brief spring with a quick warmup is usually a poor year, and a long drawn out season a good one.  Last year the sap really didn't start running until mid April, the time it normally starts, and then it ran continuously for 2 weeks at wonderfully fast rates. 

So, if you are in the area, drop in on the meeting at the end of February and see if you might want to tap those 3 maple trees in your yard.  Each tap hole can give 1 quart of syrup (40 quarts of sap) in a single season.   

Popcorn Nostalgia

Back in the 50’s on a cold winter night, before TV, we four boys often enjoyed a bowl of popcorn after chores were done; the cows milked, the calves fed, and the night’s hay thrown down for the night.

We did our chores and came in to do our homework.  By the time we finished, at 8:30, Dad came in from the barn, and usually sat down to the table to do a little reading and have a snack.

“Boys,” he commanded about once a week, “go get a few ears of popcorn, and lets have some.”  

We raised Japanese hull-less, the white popcorn you see in the stores nowadays.  We planted, hoed and harvested two long rows in the garden, sacking the stubby small ears in onion sacks, hanging them high on a nail in the cold pantry to dry.  By January, they were ready to use (they shelled off the cob easily).

Shelling popcorn with the pointed kernels needed a tough hand—no soft handed girls could do it without bleeding (or so we thought). 
The chaff had to be blown out and the kernels turned over to Dad.
Dad insisted only he could pop corn “the right way.”  He took the deep big steel frying pan that had a tightly fitted lid.  He covered the bottom tightly with one layer of kernels, and turned the big burner (by then we had an electric stove), on high.  He slid the pan back and forth on the burner vigorously enough to roll the kernels on all sides and heat them evenly.  They began to swell, turning a little brown, and then one popped, often jumping out of the pan onto the floor. 

Quickly turned the burner to medium, and without stopping the shaking pan, clapped on the cover and shook even more vigorously as the scattered pops became a symphony and started to push the cover off the pan.  Waiting just long enough to pop the very kernel, he smoothly lifted it off the burner and raising the cover dumped it into the waiting metal dishpan.  Done right, every kernel had popped and none had a burned spot.

Quickly, before the heat was lost, a new batch was underway, the burner back on high and the kernels browning.  Keeping the cover off was probably not needed, but watching the kernels roll, swell, brown and then pop made the whole thing more exciting.

Three batches filled the dishpan, and then a big hunk of butter cut off the full pound of  Cushing Creamery butter (we didn’t make our own butter anymore) melted in the same frying pan and slathered over the kettle, almost all of it poured out, but a thick layer left.  Lots of salt and then we took our bowls off to listen to the radio.

Dad put his popcorn right in the frying pan so it had extra butter.  There was enough for a couple of bowls of popcorn and then it was bedtime after our favorite radio show finished at 9. 

Of course, all that butter and salt did have an effect on Dad and Mom’s health.  They both died from heart failure, Dad at 89 and Mom at 91.  I doubt they would have given up the popcorn for another year!

That’s all for tonight.  My air-popper, Land-O-Lakes butter and the Japanese Hull-less popcorn from the store are calling me. Maybe tonight I will use the frying pan…

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Making Tracks

The 40 acres of the Hanson Farm.  Red is today's X-Country ski tour and blue is yesterday's tour.  This is a "new" photo from Google showing the extended and farmed fields.  The land boundaries are the roads and the woods lines. 40 acres is 1/4 mile on each boundary, so my ski trips are probably 1/2 mile or so and took 1 hour of slowly breaking very deep snow. 
Another beautiful sunny day with temperature 34--the good day before another week of below zeros.  Took a different direction across the 40 acres and looked for tracks in the fresh snow. 
Today's ski tour:   from the buildings headed southwest (North at top)  to Dub Lake then across the lake south then NW across the openings and back to the house.  This photo is several years ago when the farm had been left idle for 15 years. On the east and west sides are big cattail swamps.

He came to a fork in the road and took it -- Yogi Berra

Bird wing tracks?

Abominable snowman?

The old beaver dam that backs up Dub Lake.  Low spot is where the ash tree grows.  If I filled it in, probably could raise the pond 2 feet!  I need to hire a beaver. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

X-Country Views

With all the snow, a beautiful sunny day and no wind, the driveway plowed, the sidewalk shoveled, and my cross country skis dug out, it was just too tempting to resist heading out for a tour of the 40 acres here on the Hanson Farm. 

Margo and I took lessons at the "Trees for Tomorrow" center in Eagle River back in the mid 1970s when we lived in nearby Goodman, WI and I was teaching there.  We had never tried it, but the Goodman area had all sorts of snowmobile and ski trails and our friends extolled the fun of heading out for a day of touring the woods.  

The training was a full weekend--Friday night through Sunday evening, cabins, food, and equipment provided and education, rest, plus some environmental speakers etc.   Very nice weekend.  Of course, it happened to be -25 below in the morning rising to -15 by afternoon, but being young and vigorous, we were quickly overheated on the trail anyway without stripping some of the outer clothes.  

We bought our own narrow skis with 3-pin shoes and did a bunch of skiing over the years until my big downhill ski crash about 1989 where my ACL (one of the big stabilizing ligaments) got torn off and the knee unstable.  After that a little skiing at Pine island, the rare times when there was enough snow to get out down there -- yes it is in a different zone and even this year has a couple inches cover only. 

Well, with Myasthenia in remission, my breathing back to normal and muscles working and a wonderful replacement knee 2 springs ago, it seemed like a good time to test out the skiing again. 

The snow here in rural Cushing, on the back side of Bass Lake ranges from 15 inches to 25 inches based on the drifts.  It is very soft--no crust to hold you up.  My narrow skis especially fitted for a much lighter version of me sunk a foot deep.  So, no gliding, just trail breaking, but also no sliding, slipping --just pushing along.  Probably next trip will be easier with the trail broke. 

I headed south west from the house, across the field to Dub Lake and then up Bass Lake Creek to the swamp along Evergreen and then up the hill to the barn and back.  Probably just 1/2 mile.  By taking immense numbers of photo-stops, I never tired at all.  It was cold enough not to melt snow into my shoes (really should have boots for this deep of snow), and it was really quite fun.   

With a couple of inches of new sparkling snow, I was looking for any fresh tracks of animals or birds.  Nothing since this morning's snow, but one deer track across the pond and a few deer tracks up the valley.  

By the way, as a math/physics grad, I decided to calculate the size of ski's needed to handle my current slightly more substantial size:  two 12 foot 1"x16" skis might be just about right!   The old ones up in the granary are about 3 times as wide and much longer--ones from Great Uncle Andrew who came from Norway and said that is what they used over there to ski across country.  For a few years in the 1920s he held the longest ski jump record over at Rice Lake, so I think he knew what he was talking about. 

Dub lake is the result of a dozer cleaning out a cattail swamp in 1970.  "Dub" was my dad's nickname growing up.  Maybe a couple of acres, on the drainage route from Bass Lake to Deer Lake to Wolf Creek and then the St Croix.  So have to maintain a good grassland boundary around to keep field runoff to a minimum. 

A deer has dug down to a green cattail and nibbled it. 

The deer have trimmed the juniper.  They eat our apple tree branches as high as they can reach too!

Nest of sticks and snow -- Maybe a robin?

Bittersweet -- birds will eat it too

Black Haws left for the birds

Skeleton of a paleolithic corn binder 

Hay loader could provide cover for birds or animals--no tracks around it

The back side of the barn -- needs some clean out.  Cows were sold 25 years ago and things have grown up since including a birch in the near silo!
Came back after an hour on the skis with only cold feet.  My ski shoes are a little too small for extra socks.  Very pretty out there, even though nothing stirring.  Probably after a few days will start to see some signs of life.   

Pretty good feeling to be in Myasthenia remission with a sound knee, and 40 acres to play one with enough snow to last into April!

5:30 this evening, 6 deer showed up in the yard all appear to have stumbled on my long trail through the snow and followed it into the orchard where they are busy chomping apple tree branches and eating the yard pine lower branches.  Guess my trail in the deep snow was just too inviting.  I think I will break trail over to the neighbor's farm where they can eat hay bales ;-)  Before I made the trail today, two deer only have been staying in the farm building area and cleaning up the feeders at night--for 2 months.  Now I have a herd!