Will You Marry Me?

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I can tell you’re leaving again. You start moving quicker around the house and you pile up stuff on the extra bed downstairs. I can sense that your heart rate is elevated, and you give off a different smell. You smell like you’re leaving.

We’re a pack. You, me, little Finnster, Pa, and all the rest of the gang here. I’m a pack animal. I’m at my best when we’re all one big happy family—and that means you need to stay home!

Maybe you haven't noticed how I bark and chase the car, snapping at the wheels, every time you pull out of the driveway without me in the car.

Maybe you’re oblivious to how I despise thunderstorms without you home to lie on top of me.

But surely you can see how I lurk near your feet with every step you take when I can tell you’re packing up to go away.

I may be big, but I’m also a baby. I may look intimidating, but I get scared. It may sound like I’m barking but inside I’m crying. And I don’t like babysitters. I like you, Mom.

I mean, Chuck’s okay. She gives me pats and bones and tells me I’m a good girl. Erika and John take me for walks and think I’m funny when I run around the porch like my tail is on fire. But you’re my mom, and there is no one else in the whole wide world like you. I love you.

If I promise to never take Finn’s bone from him again, will you stay home?

If I promise not to sit and bark while you’re writing, will you stay home?

If I promise I won’t take myself for an extended walk anymore, once we get back to the car after our walk, will you stay home?

If the answer is yes to any of these, I’ll try my best! But I guess I can’t promise…

After all, I’m Téte, short for Zarité. I’m a solid black hunk of burning-energy dog. I can run all day long. I can leap over logs. I can chase the cats, even though I’m not supposed to.

Do you remember when you used to tell me how pretty I was and what a good girl I was, almost every second of every day? Remember what Pa said then? He got all huffy about it one night and said, “Why don’t you just marry Téte?” You laughed and laughed and accused him of being jealous.

For weeks afterwards, you’d look at me when Pa was in the room and say, “Will you marry me, Téte?” And Pa would get all crabby with you. But really, I’d marry you in a flash, Mom, especially if you promise never to go away on one of your trips again.

That dog-trainer guy I wasn’t too crazy about told you I have separation anxiety. You chuckled and said, “Please don’t be labeling my dog.” But it’s true. I hate it when you leave. I hate it when Pa leaves. And I really hate it when you go and take Finn with you and leave me home alone.

I know, you’ll say, “Téte! I’ve never left you home alone. If I need to be away I always hire a babysitter for you.” But who wants a babysitter? I. Want. You.

Mom, will you marry me? Please?

Originally Published June 14th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Safety First!

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From Jane's World

I often wonder how I survived childhood. I rode my bike without a helmet, sat in the car without being buckled into a car seat, and played on swing sets with hard asphalt below them. I was allowed to play outside without supervision, drank water from the hose, rode in the back of my dad’s pickup truck, and had sugary cereal for breakfast. And when my face got dirty, Grandpa Jake would spit on a hankie and wipe it—no antiseptic wipes for this child!

We had a small pool in the backyard with an old metal slide my dad stuck in it. Many days I climbed that slide and slid down, plunking butt first into the shallow water. Can you imagine!?

This summer Louisa, my big girl pig, Tickles and The Professor, my big-butt geese, and all thirteen of my ducklings needed a new pool. We had started the hot season two pools ahead, but Louisa managed to plop down half-in and half-out of one of them, breaking the side and causing a minor tsunami.

I’m not interested in buying more plastic crap but I do want to provide relief on hot days to my critters that desire it. The creek out back will flood in a heartbeat and do the job, but it has slowed to a trickle in the unseasonable heat wave we’re experiencing.

Much to my amusement, this year’s kiddie pool came with warnings manufactured right into the pool’s pattern. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a plastic bag attached by tape to the inside bottom of the pool. I was clueless and uninterested as to what it could possibly be. Children's hard plastic pools seem straightforward to me: get the hose, rinse out the pool, and fill it up.

I chose a pink pool (Louisa’s color preference) with a Hawaiian theme and balanced it on my cart while I went on to pick up the cat, dog, and bird food. I managed to make it to the checkout with only one mishap. A lady tried to pass me in aisle 10, causing the pool to flip off my cart and into hers, which elicited a startled yelp. Tragedy averted, I paid for the pool and headed home without a care in the world about the many catastrophes that might await me there.

Once home, I remembered the plastic package that I’d torn from the bottom of the pool. It turned out to be a four-page “Wading Pool Assembly Instructions” manual, complete with a “Water Watcher” badge on a string for the person in charge of watching the children to wear at all times. There is even a website to order a replacement if you happen to lose this essential safety necklace.

I sat down and read the manual from beginning to end. I read about swimming pool barriers and the recommendation to put a fence around my kiddie pool. The Swimming Pool Assembly section warned me of potentially sharp pool edges, cautioned me not to place the pool on an incline as it could cause the pool to collapse, and alerted me to the danger of suffocation from the plastic bag that housed the owner’s manual. There was also an entire section on Pool Maintenance: only fill it to the maximum water fill line, completely dry the pool before storing, wash with lukewarm soapy water and be sure to rinse, and only store where the temperature never goes below 32 degrees. Who knew a kiddie pool could be so complicated?

Other sections of the manual included Diving Risks, Electrocution Risk, First Aid, Special Warning, and Safety Care for Children. Item number 5 in the Safety Care for Children section left me shaking my head; it noted that when searching for a missing child, one should check the pool first, even if the child is thought to be in the house.

With trepidation, I began filling my critters’ new pool. Soon everyone sauntered over, slowly due to the day's blazing heat. I yelled for Dane to come over, handed him the hose and the “Water Watcher” necklace, and headed into the house for a cool glass of water from my faucet. I wasn’t about to risk death by water hose or leave my beloved pets unsupervised and risk losing one of them to the many dangers of their new pool. Dane was thoroughly amused. I’m thankful to report that no one was injured, went missing, or drowned.

And for the record, I draw the line at spitting on a handkerchief to wipe anyone’s face, two-legged, four-legged, or feathered.

(Author's disclaimer: Please be attentive and watch your children carefully while they swim or play in any pool, river, or lake. Accidents do happen. My pool is intended for ducks and geese that know all about swimming, and a pig that is too large to go under the water.)

Originally Published June 7th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Monkey’s Dilemma

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From Jane's World

Why must you squeeze me? You call me and I come running—isn’t that enough? Must you pick me up and hug me until I feel like I'm suffocating? What’s wrong with you humans? Can’t you just admire me from afar? A few scratches under my chin are nice, perhaps, but why the need to squish me? Worse, why the need to hold on to me when I clearly want to be four paws on the ground?

I’ll give you credit, though, for adopting me. Did you know that black cats and kittens are the ones least likely to be adopted from any Humane Society? (Black dogs too, but who cares about them?) It’s silly, I say! I guess people believe in superstitions. Did you hear the one that says crossing paths with a black cat means you’ll have nine bad lives? That’s so lame. You crossed paths with me at the shelter and you seem to be doing fairly well. Except for the hold-and-hug-too-tightly thing you do.

I love that you have a big bowl of dry food in the basement for me as well as in the house. Having water bowls in both places is helpful too. But don’t forget, I always like going down to the creek and drinking its cool water. The ducks don’t seem to mind; in fact, I think they like me.

Have you noticed where else I like to hang out? In the pig and goats' pen. They're pretty cool. That Louisa pig is mellow—I can walk right over her. The goats not so much. Peepers puts her head down and tries to butt me. Ha! As if she ever could. I’m light and fast on my feet. I float like the fuzz from a dandelion and sting like a cactus.

I especially like all the fences and fence posts around the farmstead. I can balance on them, sitting or standing, and imagine I'm the Karate Kid! I could sit on the top of a post all day if it wasn’t for you, Mom, the ultimate squeezer. You’re always in a hurry and swing the gate open without noticing me perched on top of the gatepost. Whee, what a trip! I don't mind the ride but I’m not too keen on falling off, only to have you pick me up and say, “Oh sweetie pie, Monkey Butt, baby boy, are you okay?” practically choking me all the while.

Yes, Mom, I’m fine. In fact, I’d be better if you’d put me down. But no, it’s the perfect holding opportunity for you, and then you whisper all sorts of nonsensical sweet somethings in my ear.

Last night I was sound asleep when your voice woke me up: “Monkey, oh Monkey, come here!” You were upstairs in bed and wanted me to come up there so you could lie on your right side, throw your left arm over me in a death grip, and fall asleep like that. Sometimes you’ve even pulled the covers over me. Ridiculous!

I tried ignoring your plea, but then you started begging—and getting louder: “Monkey! Oh, Monkey Butt, come up here by your mom and snuggle.”

Big dilemma: Should I hide? Should I pretend I don’t hear you calling me? Or should I go and let you cuddle me to your heart's content?

My mind began to fill with images: the spectacular cat tower, those fluffy balls I play with, the occasional can of gravy and meat, and that smelly catnip toy I love to bat around.

Slowly I stood and stealthily climbed the stairs, one step at a time. When you spied me you cried out in joy and I jumped up on the bed. My motor started purring and I rubbed my face on your arm. Soon enough I settled down with your left arm thrown over me.

I dreamt I was still back at the Humane Society in my metal cage, without you and all my friends here. I didn’t like that dream. Sometime during the night, I curled up even closer to you and with a smile on my face I slept the deep sleep of a thousand cats after a bowl of warm milk.

Life is good for this black cat.

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Originally Published May 31st, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Don’t Fool with Mother Superior

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From Jane's World

The ride across Lake Superior on the Voyageur II today is serene. I sit with my back against the iron wall of the boat’s bow, eyes closed, the sun warming my face. My hands are folded in my lap as if in prayer. I’m not praying though—not this time. Today the deep blue water is as smooth as glass.

There are only four ways to get to Isle Royale, five if you have your own seaworthy boat or are an experienced canoeist or kayaker. Ferries make the trip from Houghton and Copper Harbor, Michigan, while Grand Portage, Minnesota, has two boats running to and from the island, starting in May and ending in late September. Or, if you have deep pockets, you can book a seaplane.

Lake Superior is not a lake for foolhardy people, the inexperienced, or anyone prone to motion sickness.

We’ve all heard of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975 with 29 men on board, but that’s probably the only shipwreck most people are familiar with, and only because of the popular ballad written by Gordon Lightfoot. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum estimates 550 ships have been lost in Lake Superior, and more than 6,000 ships in all the Great Lakes combined, along with over 30,000 lives. Some experts believe those estimates are too low.

On Dane’s first visit to the island, we decided to take the ferry from Copper Harbor. I brought plenty of candied ginger with me to combat motion sickness. Knowing the lake could become choppy at any moment, I wanted to be prepared to help make Dane’s first trip a dream and not a nightmare.

The crossing was pleasant, with colorful Captain Ben at the helm, narrating the passage across Superior with wonderful tales of his island adventures. On the way back we weren’t so lucky. The waves were dipping and crashing, water was coming over the bow, and people were hurrying to get below deck and hoping not to get sick.

Dane asked for ginger but I had none left—I had been nibbling on it during our backpacking trip on the island. After a look of dread, we grabbed each other's hand and made our way down the stairs where, thankfully, we rode out the rest of the bumpy journey back to the mainland without feeding the fish.

That trip back to Copper Harbor remained for a long time the only crossing where I was concerned for my safety—until my return trip from Windigo several years ago on the Voyageur II after seven days of blissful backpacking.

On the dock, at the Windigo harbor, I spoke with a group of three gals who were ecstatic to have finished their first stay on the island. We exchanged tales from our trips, talked about gear and, of course, the food we would eat once we were back on the mainland.

The ferry pulled up and, still chatting, we handed our packs to the skipper and boarded the boat. Immediately we all went to the bow for the best unobstructed view. We were still talking ninety miles a minute, our adrenaline pumping with the exhilaration of our adventures. The sky was clear, the water slightly choppy. With the motion of the boat, the endless lake in front of us, and the wind and sun on our faces we settled down, each with our own thoughts.

Five, maybe ten minutes later I couldn’t hold my seat. My rump was bouncing up and down on the hard metal bench, my head occasionally slapping into the wall of the bow. Wide awake now, we picked up our conversation where we had left off, trying to ignore the rise and fall of the boat as she cut through water that was now turning white. Soon it became impossible to ignore the drop in temperature, the increasing winds, and the water being tossed up on the deck.

We couldn’t stand up without the risk of being thrown off the boat like a rag doll, never to be seen again. My heart was pounding, my brain searching for a possible solution. I grabbed the gal next to me and shouted over the crash of waves breaking on the deck, “Get down, we’ll crawl!” She yelled something back to me but I couldn’t hear her over the roar of the sea, wind, and waves.

The first mate appeared, lugging a heavy knotted rope, one end tied to the door, the middle wrapped around his waist, and the other end dangling from his hands. He motioned for the gal next to me to grab the rope, and calmly but cautiously guided her into the cabin.

I was next, and I thought, “Good lord, this could be it.” I was nearly paralyzed with worry about how steeply the boat was leaning and the power of the water coming at us.

Inside the cabin, I tried to calm myself down. Several boxes and totes of stowed gear, brought aboard by scientists who’d been doing research on the island, were straining against their loose cords as the boat heaved and rocked. It appeared the situation was going to get worse before it could get better.

The people around me looked green in the face and many were being sick. Since they couldn’t go out to the back of the boat and throw up over the rail, they were using food bags, water bottles, and even bandanas to catch their vomit. The sound and sight of people retching was enough to make us all start gagging.

By the time we could see land, the storm that had come from nowhere had gone back to where it came from.

It was my first experience with what I learned was called a squall. I’d begun praying while I was sitting at the front of the boat when the squall hit. When I finally walked down the ramp to dry land, I was soaked, cold, and weak-legged as I carried my backpack to my car to make the long trip back home.

Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, earned my respect that day. I now refer to her as Mother Superior. I don't fool around with her.

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Originally Published May 24th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

One Day at a Time

From Jane's World

My legs feel like bricks, my heart is thumping out of my chest, my mind ping-pongs out of control, and a darkness begins to creep over me from within. It’s subtle at first, but it builds in intensity, like an opera singer stretching for that last dramatic high note.

I’ve come searching for bluebells and fiddleheads in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve with Dane and the pups. Due to several large, late snowfalls, followed by huge rainstorms, spring has been delayed, making this year one of the latest I’ve recorded for finding these simple treasures. I’ve worried that certain seasonal flowers might drown in the pools of stagnant floodwater along the river.

After the long months of bringing in firewood, emptying ash pans, and scraping car windows every morning, spring is welcome in Wisconsin. But amid the anticipation of coat-free days, the greening of the landscape, and dinners on the back deck, I can feel something pressing on me. Even worse than my worry arising from the abnormal storms of April and May is my growing dread of critters so tiny many people don’t even notice them.

Turning down Highway P, we drive past the "Road closed due to high water" sign but park well before what now appears to be a lake covering the road. I’m in awe, once again, of how the peaceful Kickapoo River can transform into a raging, damaging, torrent. It’s still shocking, even after witnessing numerous 100-year floods in less than ten years.

We choose the Old Highway 131 Trail where you’re guaranteed to be walking among thousands of bluebells in various stages, their green leaves setting off various shades of violet. The bonus is walking along the river where you’re sure to find bright green fiddleheads, some still curled tightly and others already unfurled.

The trail is dry, and soon we discover a hillside full of Dutchman's breeches. To photograph them I need to climb up the hill through mud, tall grasses, and brambles. “Hello, ticks!” I call out. “It’s me, your old friend.” I joke, but inside the fear is real. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have had Lyme disease or any of its many co-infections you’ll understand. But maybe you were lucky and had a telling bull’s eye, or Bell’s palsy, and received effective treatment right away.

I take my shots of the breeches but see there are more of them beyond, deeper in than I want to go. I deliberately shrug off my tick-induced hesitation, walk farther in, and crouch down to snap about twenty more pictures. Dane waits for me on the path.

We haven't gone far enough yet to find the bluebells and fiddleheads, and as we continue hiking, flashbacks bombard me:

I can’t remember which pedal is the brake and which is the gas. Driving to work in the dark I keep turning off my lights instead of turning on the wipers. The confusion overwhelms me.

I'm telling my class that I broke my thumb but have no clue how. The x-rays later show only minor arthritis. Weeks after, my thumb having caused me considerable pain, I declare, “Oh, it must have been out of its socket, it doesn’t hurt anymore!”

After I lose my bank card three times and have to order new ones, a friend gives me a small black credit card pouch. On the plastic sleeve, with brightly colored markers she has written "Jane's Magic Keeper of Bank Cards, Protect from Loss," and in smaller print, "Can't guarantee against memory loss...sorry."

I'm at the Viroqua Food Coop, frazzled, panicky, looking for my car keys. Thoughtful friends and customers are trying to assist. Jan, the store manager, helps me retrace my every move until finally she finds them, deep in one of the garbage cans, wadded up in my discarded sandwich wrapper.

On and on the memories come hurtling at me like bullets, too fast to dodge, making me want to run. But I keep going.

Soon we notice the river is out of its banks, flooding the trail, with no way for us to move ahead on our search but through the murky water.

The dogs run right in, loving the cool wetness of the water. I look down at my waterproof hiking shoes, and join the dogs in crossing. Dane sits down to remove his boots and socks until I yell back, “Don’t bother. It’s worse up here, too deep, and there’s a strong current. We won't be able to get through safely.”

As we make our way back to the car it occurs to me that when I see a storm brewing I no longer feel the excitement I once did. My property, only an acre to begin with, is gradually being eaten away by flooding. Rains have taken away a beloved pine tree, ripped out my fences, and carried away my trough and parts of my outbuildings too many times. I worry about the safety of my animals, my friends’ homes, and people trying to get home.

It’s the same now for me with ticks. If I forget someone’s name, have a splitting headache for no apparent reason, or wake up suddenly with overwhelming fatigue and joints so creaky I can barely navigate my way down the stairs, that blanket of darkness starts to engulf me.

Like that opera singer reaching for her last note, I look upward, throw open my arms, and surrender to the silent scream that has been building up inside me. The fears of getting a tick-borne illness and of floods wreaking even more havoc with my land are real. They aren’t my imagination.

But I refuse to stop exploring the woods and fields. I refuse to stop lying on my belly to take photos of flowers, plants, and mushrooms. I refuse to be ungrateful for a God-given gentle rain that the thirsty earth needs.

I want to live while I’m living. So I’ll continue to defy the darkness, one day at a time.

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Originally Published May 17th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Louisa, the Lucky Pig?

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From Jane's World

One day, almost three years ago, I drove home with a tiny black piglet dozing in the passenger seat. I was singing, and occasionally she’d grunt. Her name was Louisa, and I’d adopted her from a farm near Duck Egg County Forest.

Louisa couldn’t be used for breeding because her nose was misshapen. Instead, she came to live with me on my postage-stamp-sized, flood-damaged farmstead as a beloved member of the family. She became a pet instead of pork. Some would say she got lucky, but I think I did too.

Louisa leads a simple life. She loves her food, belly rubs, and her pink pool in summer. She mostly likes her pen mates, the goats Luna and Peepers; gets along well with the ducks, geese, dogs, and cats; and loves me like no other. She is easy to care for and doesn’t ask for much, just an extra banana or two, a slice of watermelon, or garden-fresh tomatoes.

In three years Louisa has grown up—and out, and long. At approximately 250 pounds now, she resembles a black stretch limousine. Good luck getting her on a scale for her exact weight! The best part is Louisa doesn’t appear to have a mean bone in her massive body.

And that is why it is painful to stand by helplessly now when she’s ill. Louisa has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It could be a hereditary disease, but loving food as much as she does hasn’t helped any. Her body is swollen with fluids and her infection has caused her to have a 104-degree fever. She’s a listless, sullen, sick pig. How my heart breaks.

My guilt in having unknowingly fed Louisa too much “pig food” is staggering. She gets lots of fresh fruit and veggies but I was also giving her two servings a day of mash. The vet recently told me the corn mash is used by farmers to fatten their pigs up for the market. But Louisa is not going to the market—ever.

Louisa needs to stay here with me and the gang and continue making us smile until our mouths hurt and laugh until our bellies ache. “There is only one pig here,” I’ve been known to say when I’m defending the extra time I spend with her. Diego has his brother donkey, Carlos. Tickles, the goose, has her stepsister, The Professor. Luna has Peepers, her soulmate. Téte and Finn are canine buddies of the best kind, and the cats—well, the cats are a whole tribe. But Louisa has only herself. And me.

The vet came and listened to Louisa’s heart, took her temperature, looked into her eyes, nose, and mouth, and declared her a sick girl. The whole time Louisa held perfectly still. I explained to the vet that Louisa and I had played doctor a lot just in case something like this would ever happen. I wish we were still just pretending.

However, Louisa hasn’t held still for her daily injection of 7 cc of penicillin into her shoulder muscle. She needs to have this shot for 7 days in a row, and it’s been a living hell for her, the vet, her friend Dane, and our neighbor Jake. It’s nearly impossible to hold a pig down for a shot that hurts like all heck. The vet tried every trick he could think of and still he had to run alongside her, as she squealed to alert the neighbors in the next county of this horror.

I’ve asked the vet for medicine I could sprinkle on her yogurt and fruit but he feels it wouldn’t be as effective. So for now Dane tries his best, and with Jake’s help was able to inject Louisa with about 5 cc of her medicine.

Meanwhile, I’m spending my free time giving Louisa belly rubs and, I hope, a feeling of comfort. Congestive heart failure is a condition where the heart’s pump can’t meet the demands of the body's needs. In humans, although treatment has improved over the years, the life expectancy is limited.

Louisa needs to get well from this infection first, then lose some weight, exercise daily, and stick to her fruits and veggies. If all goes well, I’ll consider Louisa one lucky pig—and myself especially so.

Originally Published May 10th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Tickles: Places to Go, Things to Do

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From Jane's World

If you think I like sitting all day, you're wrong! There are things I need to do, places I’d like to go. But sit, sit, sit, 24 hours a day, day after day, is what I’ve been doing.

Ma used to think I slept all night. Hardy-har-har! She’d come out yelling, “Bedtime, everyone!” and usher us up the ramp and into the Duck Hall, closing the little door, locking us in for the night, keeping us safe from harm. Safe from Mr. Wily Coyote, that is!

The minute that door closes, the shuffling begins. And some snapping. I’ll admit when I’m as busy as I have been lately I get ornery. If any of the ducks get too close to me, why, I let them have a few nips of my sharp orange beak. Ma says, “No pecking. No snapping. No bullying.” But when that tiny door puts us in lockdown, let the games begin, I say!

Ma thought she was so darn smart by propping up pieces of plywood against the walls of our shack. She figured it would give the ducks a private place to lay their eggs in peace without The Professor and me pestering them. Oh, we still pester them alright!

We watch them and wait. The minute they lay an egg we're all over them, like Humphrey Bogart over Lauren Bacall. We waddle over, push them out of the way, and get busy rolling the eggs over to our nest. We do this with each egg laid—and let me tell you, these nine ladies keep us Busy, with a capital B. No rest for the wicked! 

The Professor plucks some feathers from all our fine, feathered friends and weaves them into a giant nest for my giant goose butt. She uses her beak and pushes all the chips into a mound on which I can set my derriere. And sit, sit, sit, I do.

When Ma comes in the morning yelping, “Rise and shine!” the ducks are the first to run out. They can’t wait to get away from The Professor and me. Such sissies. They don’t even stick around for the feed Ma puts out for them. They make a beeline for the creek and stay there all day.

Ya know, those eggs of theirs aren’t as precious as they seem to think they are, and I oughta know. I’ve been sitting on the eggs we’ve collected for three and a half weeks straight. Ma was fit to be tied and kept telling me, “Get up! Come on, Tickles girl, you can’t just keep sitting there day after day without going out, eating, or drinking. Please get up, girl.” Knowing Ma, she probably thought we were sitting on our own eggs and wondered why the ducks weren’t laying.

Yesterday she came down to the Duck Hall, all huffy-like, and after she opened the little door to let everyone out, she surprised me and came through the big person's door. Kinda scared me, actually. She marched right up to me in my nest and said, "That’s it, Tickles, you're done sitting. You get up right now and march your lardy behind down the ramp into the sunshine, and go take a bath in the creek. Now! Go!”

Well, nothing doing. I turned my beak the other way. I didn’t even look at her. So she crouched down and had the nerve to take her hands and push me!

“No pushing, no shoving, no bullying!" I squawked. But she wasn’t buying it. Her face was set in stone. She looked serious and she looked mad. She huffed, and I sat. She puffed, and I didn’t ruffle a feather. Then I faked like I was going to clap her with my beak, but she didn’t even flinch. This was a standoff, me against Ma.

Ma pleaded with me, telling me I was going to get sick if I stayed inside and sat on those eggs of mine any longer. She bribed me with lettuce, one of my favorite treats. She tried sweet-talking me. Finally, in desperation, she said, “You are the most stubborn goose in the world,” and with those words, she leaned down, put one hand on either side of me, and picked me up and carried me out the big people's door and set me down in the grass! The nerve!

But, oh, it was warm out there. That sun felt good. I flapped my wings. I shook my tail feathers. I looked up at the sun and blue sky, and took off for the creek. Splash! Oh my my, oh heck yes, there I was, taking a bath!

Meanwhile, I’m quite certain the neighbors could hear Ma swearing up a storm. “What! These aren’t goose eggs—these are duck eggs!” She picked up egg after egg from my nest. She put some in the feed bowl, filled both her jacket pockets, turned up the bottom of her shirt and filled it up, and still there were more eggs than she could hold. I could hear her counting: “One egg, two egg, white egg, blue egg," and when she got to thirty-two, out the large door she came, looking twice her normal size with all those eggs poking out of her.

Turns out that Ma can’t use those eggs for cooking. She said she can’t take a chance that they might have gotten old sitting under me like that for so many days.

Wham, crack! Wham, crack, splat! Ma broke up some of the eggs for that rat terrier—rat terror, I call him—who likes to chase me just for kicks, and for the hound dog who’s always sneaking our feed. Then she cracked more eggs on the fence post and gave them to that pudgy pig, Louisa, and her sidekicks, the two goats. Man, it looked like everyone was getting some of my hard-earned eggs.

Well, so be it. The water feels refreshing. The snow is all gone. I’m done sitting. My belly is hungry and I think it’s spring! Hallelujah, I’ve got places to go and things to do.

Honk, honk!

Originally Published May 3rd, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Sweet Saturday Escapades

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From Jane's World

Saturday mornings in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, in the rust-colored ranch home where I grew up, were full of anticipation.

I waited while my dad sat, drinking coffee, black and hot, reading the paper from front to back, his glasses resting on the edge of his nose, old stocking cap tilted back on his head. He’d reach for the coffee cup handle without even a glance. When he finished reading, he would fold the paper in such a fashion that you’d never guess it had been touched.

I’d have a bowl of Cheerios or Frosted Flakes, with a mountain of sugar from the sugar bowl forever kept on the round maple kitchen table. In those days, at least in my family’s home, sugar was one of the primary food groups. Even milk wasn’t ready to drink without the help of a squirt or two of Hershey's syrup, or a spoonful of Nestle's Quik.

The dogs would be outside, my mom, brother, and sister still fast asleep. The house would be quiet, except for the radio Dad turned on low to hear Paul Harvey tell "the rest of the story."

I'd still be in my PJs, the kind with the feet built right into them. I was a tiny child, with a big belly, knobby knees, and stick arms. My eyes would follow Dad, waiting.

Dad would soon get busy cleaning, starting in the kitchen. We had a dishwasher but Dad preferred hand-washing. He’d stand in front of the sink dumping Joy dish soap into the hot water and meticulously clean my cereal bowl, his cup, my glass, and any other dishes he could rustle up.

After he wiped the counter and table clean of crumbs, Dad would rinse the cloth and wipe both surfaces again in a predictable half-swirl, leaving behind a wet trail. After sweeping the kitchen floor, he’d always make a sharp fold in a piece of paper and I’d scooch down and hold the paper flush to the dirt pile, like he showed me, while he swept the dog hairs and whatnot onto it.

When Dad started walking to the back hall closet my heart would beat a little faster. Out would come the old Hoover upright vacuum cleaner!

It was all heavy metal except for the dusty worn bag with the zipper that would catch on frayed strings whenever Dad would open it. The long straight handle was attached to a solid dome that covered the motor.

I’d climb aboard and tuck my feet under me in a low-riding cannonball, my arms grasping the sides of the dome. Dad would start the engine—flick the switch—and away we’d go!

Forward, backward, fast, and slow. Short quick sideways strokes to the right, then the left, right and left, again and again.

What a thrill! What an adventure!

The Hoover was my first horse, a bucking bronco.

I was a cowboy herding cattle. An Indian riding bareback.

It was an airplane and I was the pilot.

It was a pumpkin carriage and I was Cinderella.

I was on safari in Africa, trying to protect the big animals.

It was a sailing ship and I was a pirate with one hook arm and a patch over an eye.

It was a flying dinosaur, race car, elephant, toboggan, giant tortoise.

The deep rattling noise from the motor would eventually rouse the rest of the family, grumpy, from their beds.

Dad would automatically go into slow motion. I would hop off the vacuum with my imagination still soaring.

The vacuuming finished, my dad would put the Hoover back in the closet until the following Saturday, when everything would be possible again and my dad was always the hero.

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Originally Published April 26th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

A Picture Worth a Thousand Springs

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From Jane's World

In one corner of the living room, three cats are lounging on separate high-rise pads of a monstrous cat tower that blocks the door leading to the deck. A fourth cat is stretched out in one of the condos, his head hanging out one side and tail out the other.

In the middle of the room sits an old-fashioned wooden crib that contains a black heavy-duty plastic tub. Above the screens placed on top of this contraption hangs a red heat lamp. Inside the tub six ducklings are making a mess of their water, scrambling back and forth, and talking in rapid, high-pitched mini-quacks.

Two sluggish dogs sprawl on the couch next to the ducklings' home. I’m in my office because there is simply nowhere else to sit.

Outside, robins and juncos eagerly pick at the seed I threw out for them. Little Bitty, my only flying duck, stands in slush, dining on more seeds. The wind is whipping, blowing shingles across the yard. The donkeys' heads peek timidly out of their three-sided shelter. The goats and pig aren’t visible, telling me that they are snuggled down inside the goat palace. But the rest of the adult ducks are splashing around in the swollen creek, oblivious to the horrid weather, having a ball.

Beyond the creek is snow, and if you look carefully you’ll see the purple buds of skunk cabbage desperately trying to heat the ground around themselves, ready to pop up and see some sun.

Springtime.

The snake shed is down from a hundred bales of hay to eight. The woodshed is bare except for a few stray logs too hard to split, and a handful of misshapen ones that I can’t fit into my wood stove. The LP tank reads 15 percent.

My rubber boots lying by the door, next to my snow boots, are covered in dry mud. On the wall nearest the door hangs an assortment of jackets for rain and snow, and a lighter-weight springtime jacket. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've worn the latter one this year.

Conversations these days range from the current weather to previous weather to tomorrow's weather. People are ornery, anxious to move on from one season to the next.

Wisconsin.

Trying to get an early start on spring cleaning, I rented a dumpster last week and quickly filled it to its brim with junk from my basement. I took a load of old tires, appliances, and computer parts to the recycling center. I picked up sticks strewn about by the winter snow and winds, and gathered all the containers that Téte, the plastic-loving hound, had carried all over the yard and abandoned. Then I collected the stems from my pet pig Louisa’s autumn pumpkin-eating frenzy and took them to the compost pile along with wheelbarrows full of soiled animal bedding.

Indoors, my kitchen cabinets and drawers have been cleaned, rugs all washed, and walls sponged free of the dust from burning wood. And the hordes of Asian beetles that were overtaking my home throughout the winter and anytime the sun decided to shine have been vacuumed up, for now.

Life.

Many springs have sprung before this one of 2018 that we are all impatiently awaiting. My photographs of years past show pictures of spring beauties, bluebells, and Dutchman's breeches, none of which I would find in the woods today if I were to brave the freezing winds or dig down through the snow. It’s the time of year when we should be smelling the dampness of the earth after a light rain that will make the morels pop, but instead we are nestled in our homes, stranded due to snow-covered roads.

I’ve resigned myself to reading, writing, playing with the ducklings, and working. Today I’m doing a lot of sitting, looking out the windows, wondering if spring will ever come.

I’m trying to imagine the flowers, straining through the hard dirt; the mushrooms’ vast networks beneath the ground, calling out to each other with hope. I’m envisioning the woodpeckers tat-a-tat-tatting on my feeder and the last of the snow and ice melting. I’m convincing myself that all the baby calves, lambs, and foals are being kept warm by their mamas.

Springtime in Wisconsin is all about life. But this year it feels like we're waiting a lifetime for spring to arrive.

Originally Published April 19th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Date Night

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From Jane's World

All day Friday I was excited about my upcoming date night with Dane. He was taking me to a concert in Viroqua and I had devised a plan. Nothing outrageous or weird—I was simply going to get all dolled up and knock his socks off.

I don’t have a knack for matching jewelry, or even matching socks, but I was going to do my best to look my best. I’ve been diligently counting my calories and taking the dogs for long hikes after my long days of work, and I felt I was looking better. 

My plan was to finish work early, take care of all the animals, treat myself to a luxurious bath with a moisturizing mask on my face, and then proceed with the dolling up.

Once home, I got busy. I scooped two cups of Epsom salt out of my 50-pound bag, threw it into the tub and added my favorite oil until the surface looked like a Gulf oil spill. I pulled on my aqua-colored terrycloth headband and smoothed the blue moisturizing mask all over my face. But I slid too quickly into the tub, causing me to come up spitting out blue gunk. The mask had gotten into both of my eyes, making them itch and burn. I jumped from the tub, grabbed a towel and wiped my eyes until the stinging subsided. Back in the tub I placed a warm washcloth on my chest, took one long deep breath, and exhaled slowly as I carefully sank back into the water up to my shoulders and closed my eyes.

Immediately Money Butt, my sleek, black, water-loving cat, hopped up onto the tub’s edge and started pawing the water and meowing. Before I could open my eyes fully, Monkey took a leap and landed on the washcloth on my chest. Uff da! This was not relaxing. I shooed Monkey away, got out of the tub, shut the bathroom door, turned off the light and slid carefully back into the oily water, catching myself before I started spewing blue again.

I awoke with my mouth hanging open, drool slipping down my chin, mixing with the blue stuff. Worried about how long I’d slept I got out of the tub, taking care not to slip on all that oil, and began to towel off.

“Hello, hello!?” Darn, Dane was already here, yelling for me. I pushed open the door a crack and answered in my fake non-crabby voice, “I’m in here. I’ll be ready in a minute.” Now the race was on. I rinsed and patted my face dry, rubbed in a mountain of face cream, combed my hair and began to blow-dry it with my head hanging down, because I once saw in a magazine at the laundromat that doing so would give my hair lift and body. 

When I finished, I needed to re-wet my hair because it was standing straight up like a troll doll’s. I applied my go-to favorite makeup—mascara—and tried out my newly learned technique of making my eyebrows great again. Then I slathered my legs, stomach, and arms with coconut oil while Finn, my rat terrier mix, tried to lick it off. 

Almost done, I put on a clean pair of evening blue underwear, my new Darn Tough hiking socks, a fresh pair of blue jeans straight from the dryer, and my one and only good top. I finished off with my boots, a pair of silver hoop earrings, and a touch of color on my lips, and exited the bathroom.

Dane was sound asleep on the couch with Téte, my black nothing-but-a-hound dog at his feet, and Finn on his chest in a coconut oil induced coma. 

“How do I look? Can you tell I’m losing weight?” 

Dane struggled to wake up, then looked at me, looked again, and looked at me some more. “No.” 

With the animals all taken care of, wood in the stove, and Dane wide awake, we headed for the car. Dane looked over at me and said, “You look nice tonight.” I smiled an honest-to-goodness smile and we headed to town.

Standing in line waiting for the doors to open, I was thrilled to see a new gal from one of my classes behind me, and another gal who works out with me behind her. After introductions, my left hand brushed my leg and felt something big and hard there. Sweet mother of pearl, a growth?! “Feel this,” I said to my workout buddy. She looked confused but I grabbed her hand and ran it over the mass on my leg. Next I grabbed Dane’s hand and gave him a feel. 

I hurried to the door with Dane following and we marched across the street to his car. I opened the car door and, standing just inside it while Dane covered for me, I unzipped my pants and pulled them down far enough to see the growth. Out popped a couple pairs of wadded up underwear. 

Back inside the theater, I showed my workout friend the undies that moments ago were a malignant growth and said loudly, “I told Dane we shouldn’t have stopped to make out on the way here!” 

Later, as we drove home after the concert, I reached for Dane’s hand and held it all the way home. I love date nights and Dane, but getting dolled up is just a little too stressful for me.

Originally Published April 12th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout