St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Browsing the Cows to Pasture

   This was one of my 2005 newspaper columns. 
Evergreen Avenue 1960 when Bass Lake overflowed regularly onto the road, looking south to V. R. Hanson field.  His cattle walked to the north ½ mile back and forth every summer day for 40 years to go to pasture. When the four Hanson boys weren’t playing with the Jubiliee Ford they helped with the farming.  The low road was raised much higher through the old cranberry swamp when the road was rebuilt and black topped. Dad gave (free) the top of the hay field hill in the distance as fill to bring it up out of the swamp and the flooding we boys enjoyed so much.  Minnows from Bass Lake, to the east over a knoll, swam freely in the roadbed! 
Our original farm was in two pieces 60 acres ½ mile north of the 40 acres where the buildings are.   The home 40 was mostly fields with about 15 acres of swamps and pastureland.  Since cows were pastured all summer, we had to drive the cattle ½ mile up the road every morning and then bring them back in the evening to pasture on the wooded hilly 60 acres.

Much of the time this fell to one or more of we 4 boys.  We would walk along behind the cows or maybe take the tractor or our bicycle. If it was raining usually Dad would take the car.  
The cows knew the way back and forth.  For most of the time the farmers on each side of the road had fences along the road so unless a gate was open, the cows couldn’t wander off.   The road was gravel and was at the level of the surrounding land.  The cows would walk along slowly eating grass in the ditches—especially along the swamp on the south end.   There was one hill, short but steep. 
The road was graveled with gravel from a local pit.  It was not crushed gravel so had a variety of stones in it.  The north end of the road was along a few small gravel pits on Gullicksons farm.  We could almost always find a few small agates each trip, especially after a rain. 
The fences were overgrown with brush, trees and grapevines—a nice shady lane.  From early in the season until late there were wild berries and fruit to eat. Heading from home to the pasture, first came the pin cherry bushes and trees.  Pin cherries are red and very tart.  They were early.  We pruned the trees by breaking off branches loaded with the berries to eat as we went on up the hill.  Choke cherries and goose berries were July treats.  Choke cherries are good when very ripe and goose berries are good while still green covered with prickles. Dad liked the black cherries, but they seemed to have an off taste to me until they were over ripe.  In July the raspberries were ripe.  Wild raspberries are much better flavored than the tame ones.  June had tiny wild strawberries along the edge of the road. Their flavor was exquisite, but they were so small they were hard to get enough.
Grapes ripened when the blackberries were finishing in August.  Wild blackberries and black cap raspberries grew on the edge of the woods or fields.  The vines were long and particularly vicious as they reached over the top of you to grab you from behind.  When we found a big patch of blackberries in the woods, we would tell mom and we all picked them for days and mom canned them for winter sauce.  While eating wild blackberries it is easy to eat one of the foul flavored bugs on the berries. You would spit out that handful and try to look a little more carefully for the next one.
Hazel nuts got ripe in late August.  Picking them when the husks were still green meant purple fingers.  It seems odd how a green plant can turn your skin purple.  I think these were used as natural dye.  Along the north field at the pasture grew some wild filberts—sort of a fancy hazelnut.  They had a better flavor and were fun to pick.
At the corner where the cows went into the pasture on the 60 was a brushy area made up of wild plums.  They were quite good to eat if they were ripe enough.  The bugs had often ruined most of them, but if plum looked reasonably good we popped them in our mouth and spit out the pit.  What you didn’t know didn’t hurt you!
We usually took a trip down the river road each fall to pick Butternuts.  They grow along the St Croix River.  Butternuts are really good on chocolate fudge candy.   Although we didn’t have black walnuts growing in our area at that time, we usually made a trip to Uncle Zen Carnes in Iowa each fall and brought back a bushel or two.  They were especially good on divinity candy with wintergreen flavor.   During deer hunting on the barrens in November, we often saw little green wintergreen plants and berries.  We picked them for mom to make flavoring for divinity candy.
The "sixty" was bordered on the west by Wolf Creek and Lily lake and the east by the old road -- the before Hwy 87 main road that went north through the woods, fields, pastures, forded Wolf Creek, squirted the swamp and came out at Granquist lake (along Hwy 87 where Wolf Creek comes out of Wolf Lake). 

Brother Ev bought the sixty from Dad and Mom.  There are two very rolling fields on it, cut for hay each year.   Grass and red clover. The hills are steeper than they look. I remember pulling the hay wagon followed by the hay loader up the hill to the left with Grandpa's B Farmall. One time it just started spinning (I was probably 9 years) and so I managed to reach the foot break and stop it and get the other turning and proceed up the hill. Another time, the big hay loader following the hay wagon came unhooked and rolled backwards all the way down the hill, making a graceful arc and gently ending at the bottom. Lucky -- no damage so we circled hooked on better and went back to haying. I was drying tractors at 8 on the level, and 9 on the hills.

The now dead end road comes out to a modern blacktop road -- the 1/2 mile that twice per day we ambled behind the cows who grazed their way to pasture. 

A cattail swamp at the pasture entrance from the road.  When we were kids, it was a small pond.  The cows, over 50 years, kept tromping it in and turned it into a shallow swamp with no standing water.  I always wished one of the bombs that were being dropped in the rice paddies in Vietnam could be dropped in the center of this to hollow out a pond again.