St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sterling Old Settler's Picnic 1960

Today is the 77th annual Sterling Old Settler's picnic at the Cushing Community Center.  Back when I was a newspaper columnist, I wrote a memory of a 1960 picnic, a time when the picnic was closer to the original one, 1937, a homecoming and reunion for the folks who had pioneered the west Sterling sand barrens, farmed and moved on to better land.  The settlement out there was 1860s - 1910, and then disappeared with the wearing out of the thin prairie sand topsoil.

The picnic is a community picnic, a homecoming, and to honor the older folks in the community.  We invite every one who wants to have a picnic, as Sterling Township covered everything in NW Wisconsin back when it started in 1854 -- all the way up to Douglas county, into Barror county and Polk, Burnett, Washburn and more.  No one but loggers lived in most of the area.  As folks moved in, Sterling shrunk to the 2-township area it is today.

The annual June picnic of the Sterling Old Settlers had been going on for many years before I first remember going with my parents.  At that time it was held near Wilson hill on Trade River just next to where Cowan Creek joins the river.  The land was owned by Northern States Power Company but had been for many years a Boy Scout camp and so was somewhat like a park.

About a week or two before the picnic, people on the organizing group would start the preparations.  The 1st National Bank of Grantsburg with a branch at Cushing would be contacted as they provided the ice cream.  Big Christ Christensen and his family would start getting out the plank benches, tables, and other equipment.  They had the Wolf Creek school water cooler with bubbler attachment.

Mom was on the committee so Dad would volunteer himself and us 4 boys to help with getting the site cleaned up.  By this time the “horse people” had started camping in the area so we would bring pitchforks to clean up the hay piles and shovels for the processed hay.  We brought a scythe to cut back any brush and poison ivy that had moved in under edges of the huge white pines that formed the roof over the picnic area.

  Dad, Big Christ and his boys and others would see what they could do to repair the outdoor toilet.  Normally this meant bringing lumber to rebuild the door and other parts that had been kicked in since last year.  These were not kicked in by the horses but the dumber animals that rode the horses and others who seemed to think that the proper treatment for an outhouse was smashing it.  One year they built a cement block outhouse that stood up pretty good for several years except for the always broken door.

After pitching the hay and manure, cutting the brush and a general cleanup, we took our garden sprayer and sprayed the bushes with DDT, especially if it was a buggy year.  We used to think that the mosquitoes, gnats, and deer flies were what kept people from living on the Barrens, for at that time one could count the people west of Trade River without having to take off your shoes.  A sign was put up that said reserved for the Old Settlers picnic to keep out the weekend horse riders.

The morning of the picnic started with filling the milk cans with water from the pump.  Mom would have cooked something for the potluck dinner.  We dressed up in our good clothes(although not our Sunday clothes).  When we got there we helped set up the benches, wide planks from the Christenson’s on short sawhorses, and some makeshift tables.  As soon as this was done, we went to watch Aaron Lundquist make the coffee(he took the place of Nordstrom and later was followed by Walter Neufeldt).  A big tinned copper wash boiler was set on two stones straddling a fire and filled with water from the milk cans.  Huge amounts of coffee were put in and the whole boiler fired up early.  Aaron came from Rush City but had lived on the Barrens as had his parents in the 1880s near the Sunrise ferry area.

After our chores were through we ran through the many Boy Scout paths to the river and crossed and re-crossed their swinging bridge and if brave enough tried their cable slide across the river.  We then hiked up the east side to the spring from close to the road and a few 100 feet from the river.  A pipe came out of the ground horizontally and ran a small stream of water year round.  This was the water supply for the scouts and was a great attraction for people driving by.  Some of the adults complained that they thought the boys had taken the pipe from the Mush cemetery fence, but as many of them said it was the poor West Sterling residents who needed it in the depression that had put the gaps in the fence.

  After exploring the camp, it was time for dinner.  There was lots of food and lots of variety.  Aaron Lundquist’s  fresh strawberries were popular expecially if there were any left for the ice cream for dessert.  Sometimes the ice cream was Sterling brand, made in Dresser, WI, hand packed into the round tubs.  The tubs were put one after the other down an olive green cylindrical canvas bag and packed in dry ice to keep it cool for several hours.  Dry ice was a novelty and even warnings about burnt fingers were not enough to keep the boys from trying to get a piece.

 After dinner was the program.  Normally the small portable pump organ from Trade River church was brought to accompany a few songs by some of the local talents.  If someone didn’t sing in Swedish or Norwegian their would have likely been a change of the committee!.  There was always a sermon, usually from the minister from Wolf Creek, Trade River or other surrounding churches.  This of course was the most difficult part of the program for kids.  We had to sit still and listen until it was over and the final prayer over.

  The next part was the awards for oldest men, women and married couples.  Since we knew most everybody there it there wasn’t much mystery in this other than would another lady finally admit that she was old enough to claim a prize.  The visiting restarted after the program was over.  A “free will” offering was taken to cover costs.

  One year I was put in charge of the pop sales.  We had a tub filled with ice and cans of pop that sold for 10 cents each.  The glamour of being a salesman was pretty good, but not as good as being free to roam the river and surroundings.  Most of the picnic’s allure for kids was the wonderful paths, bridges, and games of hide and seek and just pure running around!

After the prayer we would walk down to the bridge and throw rocks in the river, wade in Cowan creek and see if we could stand the cold water, and them climb Wilson hill to the old cemetery and see if we could read the stones, admire the iron fence in the middle and explore the hill top.  The cemetery was overgrown with brush, fallen trees and not kept up at that time.

  In 1963, the Sterling Town board(at my Dad’s suggestion as a board member) hired my 3 brothers and I to clean it up.  The goal was to clear all of the dead trees and brush and we were to know when we were done by having pushed the mower over the whole cemetery.  This took two days of work, but the interest at uncovering a buried stone and the feeling of accomplishment at seeing the great improvement was much more satisfying than the $10.00 we charged for the work we did.  I still have my handwritten bill given to Walter Gullickson for the job.  We found that after that a short spring cleaning about picnic time and two mowing per year kept it looking good.  As we left and town boards changed, the cemetery again fell into neglect until some history minded volunteers came in and really fixed  it including the repairing and painting the fence, making new wooden markers for those missing and building a small chapel.  The only disappointing part was the removal of the iron fence in the center that added a little mystery to the place.  Who had been rich enough to fence in their plot?

   As the end of the day came and the farmers had to leave to milk cows we helped with the cleanup and re-packing of the benches.  We loaded the milk cans and totally tired out from the drove back east to civilization again.  The barrens roads were pretty much just sand with an occasional load of gravel on a hill.  If you were so foolish as to stop your car to pick a crocus on the way up a hill, you were likely to get stuck in the sand.  The joke was that if the Barrens all burned off, it would be just one big road.

In latter years the picnic moved to the Sterling Townhall on the corner of Evergreen and the Old River Road.  The years of battling horse messes and repairing toilets was given up by the second generation of Old Settlers.  Instead of the wonderful river and pines the new site at the bare road corner was pretty sad.  However the old townhall was interesting to explore, Wolf Creek was nearby with the bridge and beaver dams.  In the last few years even this had been lost as the move was made into the 1950’s Cushing School with its bare school yard, old gymnasium and kitchen.  The playground equipment had to be removed “so we won’t get sued”, a far cry from when kids ran free at the river and in the biq woods

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Solstice

To enjoy the longest day of the year, I was up at 5am and picking strawberries and taking my morning farm stroll on a dewy, fog filtered sunny morning.  

The most exciting early morning sight?  Four big rabbits were all browsing in the yard heading towards the unfenced garden.  

Father's day breakfast prepared by Father

The sunrise looking at the sky -- fog was low to the ground this morning

Dew laden volunteer dill that came from last year's seed heads I left add a pungent aroma to strawberry picking.  One bucket picked early and one to do later this morning

The fog thickened as the sun rose. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Margo at 11 weeks from back surgery -- Good!

Exactly 11 weeks ago Margo had upper back and neck surgery to repair some damaged disks that had shifted and were squeezing the spinal cord causing pain, numbness, and weakness.  

The repair was successful, but as a result, Margo lost some of her strength.  "Be patient, it will come back," counseled the surgeon, "but it may take a year for full recovery."  

The first month, Margo thought the operation caused more problems than did any good.  She did lose the pain in her legs and shoulders from the spinal stenosis (pinching) but it was replaced with the pain of the major surgical work.  

At eleven weeks, things are much better.  The pain is subsiding and now is more related to a day where she attempts to do a little more than is wise--but this pain goes away after rest.  She is walking around, sometimes without walker or cane!   She is starting to try some housework--and that goes OK.  

She continues with weekly physical therapy at Mayo Clinic in Barron, WI a pleasant hour and 15 minute drive from the farm -- made necessary to "stay in the health insurance network."  She hasn't started driving yet, so Scott or I take the trip too.  It is about as far as she feels like riding in a car, but a few trips to Rochester Mayo have gone OK too.  

Merlin, her father, was 90 years old this week.  He is in West Bend, WI.  She would have liked to do more than visit with him over the phone, but a trip of that distance is not quite doable yet.  Maybe in a month or two.  

So, if you ask her about the two back surgeries she had, December 2nd, and April 2nd, she will now tell you they were successful, necessary and look as if they will make the next 20 years something to look forward to!  Her recent cancer checkup cleared her of any returning cancer so that is good too. 

A positive report after some years of problems!   

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.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Myasthenia Gravis

I got an email this week from an acquaintance who said he had heard I have Myasthenia Gravis (MG).  He said about a year ago, he got diagnosed with it too.  He read some of my posts on this blog about myasthenia gravis when I was having problems back in 2012,2013 and sent along a log of his year and 3 months.  Very similar to my experiences.  

My MG has been in full remission without medications now for 25 months, a rare occurence for those of us with MG -- something like 10-15% get these breaks from the illness that last months to years.  I hope mine lasts longer than I do. 

Anyway, if someone should actually drop here and wonder about MG, I do have a somewhat chronological account of my illness written over the year I had it.  I had thoughts of turning it into a book, but wondered why I would do that.  

So, on the chance you are interested in MG, you can read the posts (unedited--just as they were written while on many mind altering treatments) at this link

It is 100 or more pages long and a lot of reading along with some rambling about the bushes along the way.  A few attempts at humor, but mostly the progression from symptoms, diagnosis, hospital and on to remission.  

Apple a Day

There are a few dozen old apple trees left of the big orchard my parents planted back 55 years of so as part of their farm.  Apples in the fall would supplement the milk check.  

To keep the apples from getting wormy, which they do most years, Dad had to spray them.  Over the years he experimented with different sprayers and finally settled on the one I use now. 

The B  Allis, 1951 I think, has a pto water pump connected with input hose to a water tank and sends pressurized spray out through the nozzle.  

The B was balky this spring so a new switch, starter switch, plugs, filing the points and some timing got it going after a week waiting for parts in the mail.  Then I stripped the set screw that holds the pump to the PTO shaft, so had to get a tap to make new threads.  Finally got it all working and tested and will spray the apples early tomorrow morning when it is cool.  

Mr Petersen, my high school metal shop teacher would be proud of me!  I had to buy a tap to go from 5/16 to 3/8, next size larger.  Drill it out, then run the thread cutting tap through the hole so a bolt will again tighten.  

The tap is through.  I oiled it to help make it go easily, but with aluminum, not really very hard.  
All tightened and ready for the summer.  The chain is to hold the pump from rotating.  Simple setup!

Filling the tank with water.  The 100 gallon galvanized tank came from the upstairs of an old log house.  The farmer pumped water from the pump shed by overhead pipe to the tank and then had gravity water feed in the kitchen.  Same thing on our farm when I was young. 

 I only spray Sevin insecticide every 2 weeks from June through a few weeks before picking time.   This helps with coddling moth, apple maggot, and miscellaneous other leaf and fruit bugs.  I don't use fungicides for apple scab as they are much more dangerous to spray for the sprayer.  

The tractor starts easily.  It runs smoothly on all 4 cylinders.  I bought 2 gallons of oil and a new filter so I can change the oil.  

When I was young, Dad had only 1 tractor, the Super C.  Then he bought an old Farmall F14 so we boys could pull the drag, hay wagon, and other light work -- two tractors for more drivers.  We parked it on the hill and coasted it to start as it didn't have a starter.  

Then he traded the F14 in on a Ford Jubilee (1953) so he had a loader tractor.  Then he added a bigger tractor -- Farmall 450. Then he bought the B Allis.  He also used Everett's Farmall M.  Finally he bought a Farmall 350 for his retirement tractor.  I have the 350, the Ford he passed along to sister-in-law Connie after Byron died so they would have a good driveway plow.  The 450 died and was parted out.  The first tractor, Super C was used for parts for a second Super C (which I still have).   I also have a WD Allis, Ford 2n (like a 9n) and a Cletrac crawler.  A tractor for every machine!

Oh Deer

Breakfasting this morning on the farm, took some photos out of the window.  The doe who has been eating my apple trees and garden brought in some more foragers to help out.  The fog has almost burned off and the sun is out so the deer are prancing.

Picking on the Farm

Some memories are sensory.  This morning I was out picking strawberries in the very early morning fog, the plants soaked with dew -- 56F.  It brought back memories of growing up on the farm and being roused out early by Mom to pick fruit or vegetables.  Brushing aside the lush cool wet leaves trying to spot strawberries that are red to the tip and picking it into a bucket took me back 60 years on the farm.  It is a little harder to bend over now, and now I am doing it because I want to, not being driven to the patch by the slavemaster, but the feeling was the same.  Now I do it better, as I pull the occasional weed too and fling the bird eaten berry over the fence for the birds to finish off.  

Written in 2005 --my first year of newspaper columns.
As early as I can remember Mom had us boys help her picking things to eat and preserve for the winter months.   Most of the food on the farm in the 1950s and earlier came directly from our own garden and farm animals.  Things changed quickly after the shortages of World War II were over and soon farm families were pretty much moving into the grocery store age too.  I am going to reminisce a little of those earlier days when what you ate came from what your raised and picked. 

As soon as the ground thawed in the spring there was food to gather.  Dig the parsnips to cook and the horseradish root to grind.  The rhubarb came next, and after a flurry of fresh rhubarb pies it was picked and cut to be canned or froze.  
 We helped plant the garden and hoe it all summer long.  We sometimes had a sand garden on the River Road for melons as well as a large garden at home for everything else.  From May on we boys were rousted out at daylight so we could hoe or pick our rows “before the sun got hot”.  With four boys and Mom we could get through the large garden weekly (sometimes weakly).  
Soon the June bearing strawberries were ready to pick.  Mom had a large bed with the berries in wide rows.  We had to pick each row about every 3 days.  At first the strawberries filled our bellies almost as fast at the pails.  Mom first canned them, but when we got our IHC Freezer from Nickie Jensen, they were mostly frozen or made into strawberry jam and the surplus sold to the neighbors. After about 3 weeks the strawberries had dwindled to only nubbins so we moved on to the raspberries and then string beans and cucumbers.
Raspberries got ripe early in the summer.  Mom always had rows of them to pick too.  You could stand up picking them so it wasn’t so bad.  The wild raspberries on the fencelines and in the woods tasted better but were harder to get too and much smaller.  Some years Mom would concentrate on raspberries, others strawberries and sometimes both.  
Grandpa and Mom raised cucumbers to sell to the Gedney Pickle factory at the receiving station in Grantsburg.  Every morning we hit the pickle acre and carefully picked the small ones.  If you picked the smallest ones you got the highest price. We had to raise the prickly dew soaked vines and look carefully for the little ones.
We hauled them every few days to Grantsburg where Hector Unseth, the Pickle Man, would run them through his sorter that separated them by size and then weigh and pay us.  We never got any money directly as it was all being saved for our school clothes, but might get to stop for an ice cream cone on a hot day.  The pickles kept growing all summer long and really got to be a drag—especially when we did ours and then went to help grandpa do his too
Some of my earliest memories are picking string beans at Mac Fors’ farm on the River Road.  Local farmers would raise a few acres of beans for the Stokelys factory.  They had their neighbors come in and help pick the beans.  We would get a mesh sack and a row and then sort of crawl and pick our way down the trying to fill the sacks with beans.  It wasn’t too hard for me when I first started.  I was too young to walk then but could crawl along fine. 
Many times there were a dozen or more pickers in the field. Mac would be out there picking with us.  He talked out loud to himself.  When my row came near his I could hear him talking about fishing.  He loved to fish and had old wooden row boats on Roger, Wolf and Orr lakes that he used as often as he could get there.  He probably didn’t like picking beans anymore than I did. 
When were done for the day, each sack was labeled with the picker’s name and Mac would them to the factory to be weighed and sold and then pay us the next time for our efforts.  My money was used to pay for the Pablum I ate for breakfast as best I can remember.  
Beans lasted all summer until frost just like pickles.  Later machines were invented by the Paulsons at Clear Lake, to pick beans automatically.  Stokely’s changed to a bean plant variety that produced a lot of beans all at once and switched to machine picking.  Uncle Lloyd Hanson worked on the picking crew many years and got my brother Everett and I a job driving the Chilsolm Ryder machines.  We went 1 ¼ miles per hour back and forth on the fields with a tractor equipped with some rolling brushes picking two rows at a time for 90 hours a week or more. I liked it better than picking them by hand
In August we always picked wild blackberries.  On Grandpa’s farm on the River Road, there were acres of blackberry plants along of the edge of the woods where his cows pastured. They were smart enough to stay out of the blackberry patches.  The canes were often 10 feet long reaching up and gracefully arching over each other and loaded with big thorns making a tangled mess that only bears and farm kids dared enter.  Blackberry plants were downright mean.  You would start picking on a vine and the tip of it would reach over you and grab you from behind.   We had to wear old clothes that it didn’t hurt if they were ripped. When we had finished the day of picking often looked like we had been in a fight with a cat.  However, there is probably nothing better to eat than fresh ripe blackberries.  Blackberries only partially thawed are also a treat.   
Mom always canned sweet corn, string beans, carrots and peas, so of course we picked these.  However the seasons were short.  Shelling peas was more of a bother. In the fall we had to dig the potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips and rutabagas.  Only the beets were canned or pickled.   The rest were stored in the basement in the cool part.  Potatoes were a staple so many hundreds of pounds were stored for the winter. Of course all winter long it was our job to “go down in the cellar and bring up jars of beans, pickles and jam and put a chunk of wood in the furnace”.  Sometimes it was go out to the milk house and bring in some milk or skim some cream off the milk can.    
Dad had an orchard for as long as I can remember.  At the peak he had over 125 trees.  Some years they would yield many bushels per tree.  They all had to be picked and sold too starting in July and lasting until November.
November, when the meat would freeze without a freezer was butchering time.  We usually butchered our own steer or cow, cut it up into frying meat and hamburger and made the fat into soap.  Mom usually butchered 50 chickens or so too.  She kept some over the winter for eggs, but raised a lot just for eating.  We got cut the heads off, help pluck and gut them.  A deer or two might be added for food if we were lucky during hunting season.   We boys hunted partridges, pheasants, and squirrels and sometimes had them for fall meals. We gave up duck hunting when our younger brothers no longer would play “retriever dog” in the cold fall ponds.
This picking all went on while at the same time we were living on a dairy farm with cows to milk, crops to harvest, fences to fix, calves to feed etc.  Nowadays farmers hire migrant workers to help with the farming and picking.  In the not so far past, farmers had children to do that instead.  Working on a farm was sometimes fun,  and sometimes drudgery.  You did know that you were directly contributing to your family’s wellbeing.  

I still spend a lot of time picking my own food.  However, it is mostly in the aisles of the grocery store.  I have a hard time convincing my son and nephews and nieces of how hard we boys really did have to work on the farm.  It was a relief to us when we turned 10 years old and could get a factory job.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Information about this blog

Did you know there are 621 individual blog entries on this site?  They begin with a 3 in 2007 and increase each year from then.  

When I gave up writing the newspaper articles (the reason is at this post -- Rambling from the Newspaper ) at the end of 2011, I moved my writing to the blog and started posting regularly and adding more photos.  

Over the years, I write less and add more photos remembering my father who especially liked to read the pictures as well as my mother who liked to write and read the stories.  

You can used the search box to find out particular topics.  The blog has much local history, much local photos and some miscellaneous information -- ramblings.  

If you want to try something fun, use the translate button to turn it into Chinese or Spanish or Norwegian.  I don't know how good it is, but Google does the translation automatically.   
I used to allow commenting, but got so many spam comments that I turned it off.  It is back on, so if you have questions, comments, suggestions, or requests, try it.  It is moderated, so first the comment comes to my email address, I remove spam ones and then pass along real ones.

Hope you are enjoying the stories and photos here.   I also post daily photos from the farm to my facebook page that friends can see.  Facebook     If you feel in need of a daily farm report, you can request friend status or I think you can view it directly anyway. 

Although I really use both of these as my journal, diary, and especially as my memory for what has happened in our life, I share it in the hopes it will be of interest or entertainment for others.   

Every 6 months or so, I use programs that retrieve all of my posts here and automatically turn them into a book that I can print or share as an ebook.   I do the same with my facebook posts.  It is quite amazing how writing an online diary can become a decent looking book with almost no work.  Of course, I don't use the auto book making route, but rather get the book file, edit it and self publish it for print or ebook, thus cutting the cost greatly and letting me feel in control of things. 

Hope you are enjoying the posts.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rambling Evergreen Avenue

Margo and I took the 99 Hyundai for a drive on the road that links Hwy 87 with the St Croix River, Evergreen Avenue.  Mom liked to drive out to her old home area in the Sterling Barrens, and pick a few wild flowers to remind her of her own childhood.  "From spring to fall, there is always something blooming," she liked to tell us.  To brighten up the old log house and make things cheerful, fresh flowers, free for the picking were just the right price during the depression of the 1930s that drove the family off of their farm to the barrens. 
West to East Evergreen Avenue runs about 10 miles.  Back when all of the roads were to be signed with labels, Sterling chose a numbering system.  However a few roads that wandered a bit from the straight and narrow got names.  Dad and the rest of the town board agreed this should be Evergreen because it ends at the old community of Evergreen to the west.  

We live on the eastern end of Evergreen, where the "good soil" is and farm crops thrive in spite of the rolling hills. Half a mile west is the big hill where the sand barrens begin along Wolf Creek and a whole different set of plants thrive -- the remnants of the old sand prairies and jackpine - oak savannahs. 

Here are the photos taken today, June 10, 2015 along Evergreen Av with a few thrown in with a tour north and east to make a loop out and back.  The trip was spiced up by me getting in and out to take photos and in the process transferring 3 ticks to Margo including one that bit in deeply.  The Hyundai transmission was acting up and so kept having to put it in low to get it to move, sort of exciting and worrying with the trip back on the sand dune roads and no cell phone reception on the barrens.  Margo gets worried about things like bad transmissions and empty gas tanks.  She worries me more than the car ;-)

The Cushing Rifle range uses the old cookhouse from the Nevers Dam logging headquarters.  I remember when they moved it up and bought 40 acres just west of the River Road.  On a calm Tuesday night, the sound of shotguns shooting clay pigeons carries to the farm almost 2 miles away 

Spiderwort, a lovely blue plant with a stem that is full of juice.  It has to be cut and put in water quickly to preserve its upright stature. 

Yellow hoary puccoons are all over, here with some spiderworts and sumach shrubs.  20 years after the road was widened, the sand is only gradually being covered by plants.

It is hard to show the extent of the flowers--sometimes they string along in groups for 1/2 a mile or more and rarely are there stretches with no wild flowers. 

Hairy vetch grows wild.  Farmers planted it in their sandy fields as a nitrogen producing legume that the cows liked and built up the soil.  It grows in many of the old fields naturally. 

MIles of wild phlox plants all along the way 

The oaks look dead, but they got hit by a late frost.  Some of the oaks cannot stand frost, and so the early leaves all die and a new set has to grow.  Some taller trees are leafed out above 20 feet and frozen below showing the layer of cold air below.  The lower altitude and quick loss of heat of the sand make the growing season in the sand barrens a month less than at the farm.  Floyd Harris, one of the settlers who lived out there all of his life said that over the 80 years he could remember frost happening in every single month of the summer

Many tiger swallowtail butterflies and a few monarchs fluttering around

Margo spotted this somewhat rare foxglove (digitalis) plant that is not only pretty, grows in blowsand, but is the source of the heart medicine too.  

Wild columbine is quite pretty.  We always sucked the little bulbs on the end for a taste of sweetness

Fred Parker hung himself at this location (Parker's hill).  The original part of the cabin was his home. He was found hanging in his barn (no longer here).  He was despondent over his inability to stay sober. Late 1930s. Mom and my grandparents knew him well and tried to help him quit drinking. Booze was available from the bootleggers who even though liquor was legal by the 30s, continued to make it so buyers could avoid the high taxes.  The prohibition probably created as many new alcoholics by the local production of liquor as it helped. 

Most of Sterling's roads are open to 4 wheelers this year.  Some can't resist going off road and running up and down the ditches even though the town tries to stop it as it messes up the road ditches.  Many horse riders use the barrens trails too, they mostly have off -road trails.

All along the sandy ditches, big mounds of sand are dug out by badgers trying to dig out pocket gopher tunnels.  They seem to be successful as they keep at it.  

Evergreen is paved all the way to the end -- just short of the St Croix River where a steep bank drops down to the water. In spring and fall folks take hikes and walk down, but June and July are so bug laden with mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, deer flies, horse flies etc, that most of the time it is better to avoid the woods. 

The Evergreen school has been purchased and refurbished.  Looks about the same as when Mom attended back in the 1930s.  There was a horse shed where Mom could park her horse for the day with hay to munch on. 

Orange hawkweed in the school yard --first of the orange flowers.   Next will be the butterfly weeds-- spectacular types of milkweeds. 

We turned north at the Evergreen School house.  On the west is one of the few remaining old fields out there.  It is slowly being colonized by the original prairie plants and jackpines and oaks.  Pioneers said it was mostly open prairie from fires when they first came in the 1850s.  Just drop your plow and break it--not trees to cut like out east on our farm.  The thin veneer of good topsoil on the sand was soon worn out from crops of wheat that at first were excellent and then dwindled.  The dry 1890s with bare ground and the sand began to blow and blew the settlers on east where better land was available.   A few came back during the depression when they lost their new farms.  

Probably 2/3 or more of the land is publicly owned -- County, State and even 4000 acres by the Town of Sterling.  With fire control and tree planting the prairie turned fields became forests and now are harvested in great amounts for oak firewood, aspen paper pulp and pine logs.  We see double trailer trucks hauling load after load from sunup to sundown all year long except for a brief spring period when road weight limits are imposed.  

Most of the sand barrens roads are just sand leveled openings on square miles (with various routes to avoid streams).  No gravel and difficult to drive on -- if you stop someplaces you sink into sand just like on the beach and need to jack up your car and put brush under the tires to get going.  So unless you have high clearance and 4-wheel drive it is safer to stay on the paved and graveled roads. 

We turned east to drive by the Sterling Fire tower (still used spring and fall dry seasons) that was my summer vacation home days 1970--45 years ago.  My summer job was to sit up there and look for the smoke of a forest fire.  On an exceptionally clear day I could see 25 miles, but my control area was bounded on the south by the town of Wolf Creek, north to Grantsburg, west to the River and east Hwy 87.  No fires the summer I was there -- so I must have done an excellent job 

A ladder 100 feet up the side on top of Fox Ridge, another 100 feet above the river -- a birds eye view of the countryside.

A great deal of logging going on.  Many oaks are dying from oak wilt and cut for firewood, some pulp for paper, some logs for lumber and I imagine other uses too. 

Low growing prairie roses are ubiquitous

Lupines thrive in the sand.  As legumes they take nitrogen from the air for their own use and build up the soil too.  They have a very deep taproot and so are almost impossible to move.  The seed pods spring open when dry flinging the seeds about.  

An odd sight for the sand barrens, a road puddle.  There are many swamps including the vast Maidment meadows north and east of the Sterling Tower that drain in Cowan and Cole (Cold) creek to join Trade River and then the St Croix.  Beavers made these huge ponds before trapping days and now often do again. 

Mom lived with her family on the barrens during the 1930s.  Dad spent a few winters trapping there in the later 30s.  Grandpa Carnes and two brothers homestead 160 acres each out there long ago and tried farming but moved on.  Great Uncle Clarence Carnes and his girls took over the Sunrise Ferry and ran that from about 1909(when Grandma and her brother Elza Carnes ran it) until it floated away in the early 40s and never ran again.  

So when I go out there, I still hear the stories from Mom, from Dad, from my grandparents and great grandparents and the several dozen of the family who tried living there but gave it up.  

  It is a large area and I don't know most of it. It probably is time to do one more search for the yet undiscovered John Maidment treasure within a mile of the Sterling Tower (mostly gold and jewels from his noble family in England...)   Or to see if there really is a car with two internal revenuer's buried pointed nose firs a mile from Evergreen....