Bookaholic

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From Jane’s World

A couple weeks ago I woke up screaming with my hands over my ears and my heart thumping against my ribs. Both of my dogs were sitting on the bed, looking at me with concern. Lately, I’d been feeling like I was waiting for bombs to fall, a soldier to knock on the door, or a long and terrifying train ride. Time for a break from the World War II novels.

I am a certifiable reader. My preference is nonfiction. My bookshelves are a road map of my past obsessions, with multiple books on dog sledding, Bhutan, Mount Everest, Louis Leakey’s Trimates, and Shackleton's voyage on the Endurance. There are also stacks of books on dogs, elephants, chimpanzees, and various birds.

When I started writing a weekly column five years ago I had to set my reading aside for a while. But I missed being able to lose myself in a harrowing climb up Everest, the thrill of running dogs in the Iditarod, or following the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park.

Soon I discovered I can't write if I’m not reading. Reading keeps me learning. There is a connection between what we read, how it’s written, and how we develop our own writing styles. I’ve found that reading well-written books by a variety of authors is helpful, and it’s exciting to begin noticing the differences in technique.

This summer I started reading young adult (YA) books. I was interested in seeing what kids were reading nowadays. I wasn’t disappointed. I started with Wonder because of its popularity and quickly moved on through numerous others, including The Girl Who Drank the Moon Number the StarsWolf HollowUnbroken, Beyond the Bright Sea, The Thing About Jellyfish, One for the MurphysFish in a TreeAmal Unbound, The Wild Robot, The War That Saved My

Life, The War I Finally WonOut of My Mind, and Hello, Universe.

When I tired of YA books, I picked up Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. This novel was a game changer for me! I couldn’t put it down. I’d reread whole pages. There were no words wasted, and I felt like I was there in France during World War II. Doerr’s writing about a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German orphan, Werner, was captivating. When bombs were exploding I’d wrap up more tightly in my afghan. Hearing a noise outside, I’d break out in a sweat.

Once the window into World War II opened I wasn’t in a hurry to close it. The historical novel Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan, introduced me to an Italian teenager, Pino Lella, who wanted nothing to do with the war. Soon that changed as he led Jews over the Alps to help them escape.

I thought I’d had enough war to last me a lifetime but a friend suggested I read The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. Again I was hooked. The story takes place in France in 1939 and was a page turner. After that I became engrossed in We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter, inspired by a true story of a Jewish family determined to stay together during the war.

By this time I wasn’t sleeping well and had started having nightmares. I was also diligently following the current world news, worrying about which countries we were offending, afraid of potential consequences. Realizing that my obsession with the war had to stop, I moved on to read Educated, A Stranger in the WoodsDead Mountain, The Book of Emma Reyes, and Feather Thief.

Recently in my writing class a friend casually handed me Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult. I’ll never read this book, I thought. An end table in my living room was already stacked with books waiting to be read.

But I packed up Keeping Faith last weekend when Dane and I were going out of town. I read in the car, I read during a road breakfast, I read by headlamp next to the campfire. I continued reading while Dane slept beside me in the tent. Dear tolerant Dane was starting to get peeved at my incessant reading, but I couldn’t stop. Luckily, Dane reads even more than I do, so he understood. On Sunday morning, the last day of our trip, he rolled over in his sleeping bag to say good morning and I exclaimed, “I finished!”

We drove home through a light mist and colorful trees. Our conversation centered around religion, faith, miracles, motherhood, and relationships, all themes from the book I hadn’t been able to put down until I finished.

I’m glad I found my way out of the war, and someday I’d like to read something light and fluffy, but for now, I’ve already ordered the novel Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate. I’m thrilled to be on a reading roll and can only hope it helps me learn more about writing. Tonight, I plan to read myself into a peaceful slumber, the dogs by my side. 

Originally Published November 8th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Trick or Treat

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From Jane’s World

“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!”

I’m sure my parents tired of hearing me say this every October. I’ll bet the neighbors whose houses we went to didn’t appreciate it either. It was a silly greeting we all learned on the playground, and as a kid I thought it was hysterical.

My dad usually took me trick-or-treating when I was younger. He’d walk with me house to house and wait at the end of the driveway. I’d carry a brown paper bag and fill it up with everything I loved that wasn’t good for me, except the boring pennies Mrs. Mahoney would always give. I didn’t like her.

At each house I’d march up the drive, ring the bell and shout, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” The worst was when they’d say back, “Do a trick!” What? That’s not supposed to be part of the deal, I’d think. I didn’t like those people either.

Trick-or-treating happened at night, with all the mystery that darkness brings. Tripping over garden hoses, being startled by other trick-or-treaters cutting across the lawn, and those creepy skulls with flashing red eyes that people would leave out on a chair next to a bowl of candy were all parts of the freaky experience.

I hated getting those orange marshmallow pumpkins, but my sister Jill loved them and I’d trade her for a Kit Kat bar or a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Another thing I wasn’t too keen on was the so-called “fun size” candy. What exactly is fun about getting less than half of a real candy bar?

A kimono that my dad had bought me as a gift became one of my favorite Halloween costumes. Not long ago I came across a photo of me wearing it and doing a karate-type pose. I mailed it to my mom, who phoned and left a message on my answering machine. She was laughing so hard she could hardly talk. I was about to hit delete when she stuttered, “Oh, Janie, that picture you sent me—you were such a creepy kid!”

Hmmm, maybe she was right.

Trick-or-treating lost its appeal when we switched from going out at night to daylight. The change happened because of someone tampering with the candy. I heard my mom talking about it with my dad. After that we had to dump out our goody bags and let my mom go through every piece and make sure none of the packages had been opened. She tossed out any apples and oranges we received, worrying that something might have been put in them. Nothing like ruining a child’s happy-go-lucky holiday.

Later, as a parent, I’d accompany my daughter house to house just like my dad did with me. Somehow Jessica learned the smelly feet rhyme and loved to chant it just like I used to.

Dressing Jessica up in her costumes was great fun for both of us. My favorite was when she went as Pippi Longstocking, with her hair in a messy braid, two different socks, one up, one down, and our Great Dane, Jake, sprinkled with baby powder to make him look like Pippi’s white horse. I’m pretty sure Jessica’s favorite costume was being a nurse.

After years of dressing up for Halloween as a child, and then as an adult who worked at a club where Halloween parties were part of the job description, I’m happy to just be myself. The first year I moved to my home in the country, I had Kit Kats (full size, of course) waiting in a bowl. Not a single trick-or-treater came. More Kit Kats for me!

This Halloween will be my 18th living in this area. Sometime during the day, I’ll either pick up the phone or listen on the answering machine to my mom’s annual message to me: “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat! Do you remember that, Janie?” Yes, Mom, I sure do.

Originally Published November 1st, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Another Adventure!

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From Jane’s World

Mom’s acting all wacky-taffy again. Like a whirlwind in our tiny home, she hasn’t stopped moving since she woke up. Téte, my nutty hound dog sister, is following her around; Mom’s already tripped over her twice. I keep an eye on both of them from my perch on top of the turquoise chair.

Earlier, I spied Mom pushing plastic bags of nuts, dried fruit, and black bean flakes into her backpack. That means a babysitter will come and Mom will disappear, maybe Papa too. Téte will sulk. I’ll get lots of sleep but I’ll miss our daily hikes.

Now Mom’s bags are next to the door, and I hear Papa’s car turning into the driveway. Jumping down from the chair, I rush outside to greet him. I make whining noises until he stops petting Téte and notices me. With only a quick scratch under my chin, Papa walks into the house and over to the drawer, and—oh boy! He has my lime green backpack in his hands. Looks like I’m going on another adventure!

***

Hours ago Mom stuck me in the back of the car. I’m surrounded by backpacks, a cooler, and hiking boots and I can’t even see the front seat. It’s like my own comfy fort, but I’d rather be up in front with Papa and Mom. “Hey, yoohoo, does anyone even remember I’m here? A potty and stretch break might be nice!”

Whew, finally I have four paws on the ground. I found a few good trees to leave my scent on. Now I’m standing on my hind legs with my front ones on the seat of the picnic table. Some of that sausage and cheese Mom and Papa are eating would be nice. “Yo, here I am—see my tongue hanging out? Look how cute I am, wiggling my tail!”

Whoa, sausage hunk—yum! And even a piece of cheese. Wait a minute—not the pepper jack. Yikes, throat burning! Where’s my water dish?

That wasn’t much of a break from all that car sitting. Now I’m back in my fort, so I’m going to circle five times and plop down for a nap. Maybe when I wake up we can get out of the car and stay out. Cars make me nervous.

**

Now Papa’s driving our car up a huge ramp. Man, this place is strange. All hard metal, benches, stairs, and rails. But at least I’m getting fresh air. Hmm—there’s lots of water down there and all around us. Wait, whaaat? This thing we're on moves? I heard Mom say something about a fairy that would take us across a place called Death's Door. I don’t see any little sprite with wings and glitter, and man, it’s windy out here. Can someone please pick me up before I blow away? I’m freezing! Where’s my winter sweater? I want to go home. Enough of the adventures.

Papa picks me up and holds me tight. He’s stumbling all over with me in his arms—has he been drinking? Mom’s crawling from bench to bench. The water’s bouncing up and down like it’s boiling, with white waves turning over on themselves. People are grabbing their kids and hats, and holding hands, trying to get to safety. Papa is holding me hard next to his chest. Thank you, Papa, I love you!

I guess we’ve made it through Death’s Door, because we get back in the car and wait for other cars in front of us to exit the boat. When we finally drive off, onto Washington Island, it feels like our car is being pushed along by the wind. The road is strewn with tree branches and the treetops are waving hard as we make our way to the campground.

**

Turns out the winds were blowing at 50 mph and some people on the island lost their power. But we don’t need electricity when we sleep in the tent. I can stay warm by worming my way into Mom’s sleeping bag. 

Dinner takes forever because the wind keeps messing with the flame on Mom’s miniature stove. Papa gives me a bowl of dry food but he must know I smell their tuna. If I sit here wagging my tail long enough I’m sure to get some.

It’s already so dark out that Mom and Papa are wearing flashlights on their foreheads. I’m just biding my time until the zipper on the tent opens, and then I’m in like Flynn. In the sleeping bag for the night, that is.

I love camping, and I usually love going on adventures. But I don’t like boats or heavy winds—and I definitely don’t like lightning and thunder, and now rain!? Good grief, no more adventures for a while!

Originally Published October 25th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Love Letter

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From Jane’s World

Dear Leaves,

Forgive me for silently screaming “Hang on,” when your one job in fall is to let go.

I worry that in this gray, wet season you will be on the ground before there is a blue sky to set off your magnificent colors. I think of rubies and garnets, emeralds and jade, amber and topaz when I see you brightening up our hillsides and valleys. Your beauty enlivens my days. I’m smitten with you.  I inhale your vividness, and when I exhale, my lips turn upward, making the skin around my eyes crinkle with delight.

Whenever I have to be indoors, away from you, anxiety arises and makes me restless. I want to be surrounded by you. To lie upon you and watch the clouds float by. To feel your crispness on my back. To let the sun warm me while resting my weary body in your embrace.

Already you’ve covered the trails in a deep carpet. I’m in over my ankles, walking down the path, kicking my feet, watching you fly out in all directions with a satisfying crunch-whoosh, crunch-whoosh. But it’s too soon for you to settle so thickly on the ground. Stay in the trees awhile longer. Please don’t let go yet.

I wait for you each year with the anticipation of an expectant mother. I watch the weather change from warm to cool. I look forward to the first maple trees turning gold. When the wind picks up and you start spiraling downward in the headlights of my car, it’s like magic. The sky is raining leaves!

I never want the fall season to end. I never get tired of seeing your colors change. I’ve grown to love the quiet stillness of winter, yet I never worry that winter won’t last long enough like I do the fall season.

I’ve been told that fall is all about letting go, that there is a lesson there for anyone willing to listen. I understand. I’ve stood back for years now and said my solemn goodbyes to spring, summer, and winter. But I feel differently about you. There is a longing, a need that makes me feel I must hurry outdoors, that I need to soak you into my pores. To paint you vividly in my mind’s eye so I can enjoy the memory when everything becomes bleak and barren.

It’s still raining. The wind is tugging and pushing you. Down you float into my gutters, on top of my roof, and over my yard, a mosaic of colored leaves. More wind, more rain, and soon I’m looking down more than up at you.

You’re letting go, doing what comes naturally. I respect that, even if it feels like just yesterday you turned brilliant with shades that make me feel good.

I’m going to grab my hat, put on my boots, and walk through your richness while absorbing the last of your colorful displays. Crunch-whoosh, crunch-whoosh.

Goodbye until next year.  I‘ll miss you.

Your fan,
Jane

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Survival

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From Jane’s World

We are four women in a car, with four well-loaded backpacks, all of us over forty years old and filled with more excitement than we felt the night before Christmas when we were twelve. We’re on our way to the North Shore of Lake Superior for a backpacking trip, and there ain’t no stopping us till we get there—except for potty breaks and lunch.

We’ve planned, trained, packed, unpacked, and packed again and finally we are ready: Superior Hiking Trail or bust!

Yesterday I returned from my recertification as a Wilderness First Responder, a rigorous course designed to teach people how to respond to emergency situations in remote places. I’m sitting in the back seat behind the driver and my head is buzzing with thoughts of medical emergencies we may encounter. Somewhere between Viola and Solon Springs I decide it’s best to share the information that’s overwhelming me, in hopes of increasing our chances of survival if anything goes wrong.

“In an emergency situation in the wilderness you need to remember three triangles,” I remark, as we get back in the car after our first stop for bathrooms and coffee.

1. Don’t just do something, stand there!

The first triangle refers to “scene size-up” and it’s all about stabilizing the scene. Instead of rushing in, stop and think. Is the scene safe? (Is there still a grizzly bear nearby, or lightning still flashing, or another tree about to fall?) How many people need care? Could the temperature be the reason the person is incoherent? How can I keep myself safe? Do I have gloves and a face mask, and are they needed? If so, put them on before proceeding.

We’re making great time as we approach Eau Claire. I’m not sure if anyone is even listening but I continue my lecture.

 2. Find it, fix it, fast!

The second triangle is all about Primary Assessment. Do a quick check of the patient’s three critical body systems: circulatory, respiratory, and nervous. The purpose is to identify and correct an immediate life-threatening problem. Are they bleeding profusely? Is their airway blocked? Could they have a spinal injury?

We stop to eat, then go for a short walk to stretch our legs before getting back in the car. Before anyone starts to get sleepy from lunch, I move on to the last triangle: Secondary Assessment.

 3. Treat and complete!

Now’s the time to gather relevant health history—all the basics, including the patient's name and age and what their chief complaint is—and make a routine check from head to toe. It’s also the time to start recording their vitals and to note patterns that may appear. You’re looking for and recording anything unusual and asking them more questions about their incident, when they last ate, when they last used the bathroom, whether they take medications, and so on. Are they alert? Do they have allergies? What events led up to their injury, illness, or accident? Now is the time to splint broken bones, ease a dislocation back into place, or package the patient for evacuation.

No one asks any questions and the car is quiet except for the beeps notifying someone of a message on their smartphone. The driver is focused, and I’m smartphone-less so I continue to play out different wilderness situations in my head: drowning, insulin shock, seizure, anaphylaxis, lightning strikes, dislocations, lacerations, and altitude sickness. I wear myself out and fall asleep.

Late afternoon, we arrive in Tofte, Minnesota, and check into our hotel, then spend time going through our gear and making final decisions about what to take on our hike and what to leave behind. After dinner, we all get some much-needed sleep before our adventure begins the following day.

I decide to take a bigger, more extensive medical kit than I ever have before. All the scenarios presented in my recent retraining make me anxious to be prepared for every possible emergency.

Five days later, after hiking 43.7 miles, with countless steps over roots and rocks and across rivers, carrying all the equipment we need to survive, we arrive safely back in civilization. Except for moleskin, a couple of Smooth Move tea bags, and a few Tylenol 8-hour tablets, my medical kit is untouched. As we drive home to Wisconsin, I drift off into a deep, calm, exhausted sleep.

 We survived!

 

Originally Published October 11th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Dinosaurs of the Future

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From Jane’s World

There's a dinosaur in my house. Day and night, it sits on a tall, narrow table near my front door. When I'm engrossed in a book or taking a nap it can shriek and scare the daylights out of me. Soon it will be extinct.

Somewhere there must be a museum with antique artifacts where eventually my dinosaur will be on display. Certainly, my dinosaur’s parents and grandparents are already there.

I’ve become attached to my dinosaur even though I sometimes cringe when it cries out. I like the security of knowing it’s there; never having to search for it is a bonus. I like carrying it outside to keep me company when I’m waiting for someone or need to start chores. And I especially like the fact that it never poops out on me when I need to have a good talk.

My parents’ dinosaur had its own cubby and the longest leash my mom could find. With a cigarette in one hand she’d carry it all over the kitchen, stopping at the stove to poke a fork in the boiling potatoes as an ash from her cigarette would fall in. My mom seemed to have a special relationship with their dinosaur and spent a lot of time dragging it around; my dad not so much.

In those days, I could often be found in my bedroom down the long narrow hallway. The ceiling was black (I begged my dad to paint it and he complied!), the carpet red-and-white shag, and the white walls were covered with poster of horses, dogs, the Beatles, and Davy Jones from the Monkees. I had a cheap record player on which I wore out 45rpm records before getting the albums I remember as a young teen—Deep Purple, Harvest, and Jesus Christ Superstar—cranking the music up for full enjoyment.

Stretching the dinosaur’s leash as far down the hall as it could go, while my dad yelped that she was ruining the paint on the corner of the walls, my mom would bark at me, “Turn that down!” But as long as she was holding the leash, I didn’t worry—she couldn’t quite reach me.

Dane’s niece recently made a request when we were at the Thompson farm. She asked Dane to show her kids his record player and records. It seems they had a conversation about records and the kids were dumbfounded: “What’s a record? Is it like a CD?”

Dane was amused and we chuckled, but we both realized (1) we’re getting older and (2) children do not own or even see records or record players anymore. Those are dinosaurs too, although thankfully not extinct.

When Dane slipped the album out of its jacket the children’s eyes widened as they exclaimed, “That’s huge!” When the music started playing, they asked, “How does it work?”

Nowadays it’s common for us to buy and listen to music digitally, so even CDs are on the endangered list; we’re also missing out on the great art of album covers. But thankfully, vinyl seems to be making a comeback. By the time Dane’s great nieces and nephews are entering high school, I bet they will own a record player.

As for my own dinosaur, a landline, I fear its time is ending. I’ll be forced into getting a Smartphone that I’ve managed to avoid till now. I dislike not being able to look in a phone book for the telephone numbers of my friends and family who have already chosen to throw out their landlines. I worry whether, in an emergency, people will be able to find their phones, not remembering if they left them in their purse, under the mail, in their cars, or even at the store. And consider how few accidents are caused by landlines compared to cell phones—although my mom once knocked over a beloved glass vase from my grandmother by pulling that cord a bit too far.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but maybe I’m not the only landline lover. Maybe I’ll treat myself to a new record player, and while spinning a record relax with a tub bath, knowing that for now my dinosaur is still sitting next to the door, waiting to ring.

 

Originally Published October 4th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Sunday Traditions

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From Jane’s World

Sundays were sacred and diverse in the Schmidt family when I was growing up. We spent many of them at Krahn’s Bar on National Avenue. Dad watched the Packers, drank Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and smoked Pall Mall straights. Mom chain-smoked and pretended to watch the game. I drank kiddy cocktails and ate chips while rolling balls around the pool table. I don’t remember what Jack and Jill, my much older brother and sister, did, but it wasn’t anything with me.

The pool table was off-limits to me and therefore extra fun to play with while Dad and others were busy yelling at the massive TV set behind the bar. I could mess with those striped and solid balls a long time before Dad would notice. Occasionally a ball would fly off the table, bounce hard, and roll. If it rolled toward the bar I’d crawl on my hands and knees through ashes and peanut shells, between four steel legs and two human legs, to retrieve it.

“Kitty” cocktails, as I thought they were called, were my favorites—not so much the cherry on the green plastic spear, but I did like the pineapple! The pockets in the corners of the pool table provided the perfect place to hide the cherries I never ate. During halftime, the tavern set out hot ham on hard rolls, gooey potato salad, small green pickles, and black olives with holes in them that slid easily over the tips of all my fingers.

On hot summer Sundays we’d often load up our green station wagon and head for Beulah Beach in Mukwonago. For a child filled with anticipation, it was a long drive. The car was loaded up with baskets of hard rolls and ham (a Sunday tradition), and a cooler full of Pabst and pop, carrot sticks, plums, and peaches. There were also bags of Corn Curls, Ruffles potato chips, and pretzel rods.

Before Mom and Dad could even set down the blanket, Jack, Jill, and I would race into the water. Whoever could run out into the water the farthest without falling down won. The beach leading into the lake was all smooth sand as far as I could touch. It wasn’t until I was on my tippy toes in water up to my neck that I’d feel a few stones sticking out. Farther out there was seaweed, or so said Jack and Jill, who were much taller.

The lake was full of heads bobbing up and down, beach balls flying, air mattresses floating, and inflatable plastic turtles with babies in them, being pulled through the water by smiling parents. Mom was a worry wart and was always watching over us, shouting and waving like a lunatic if we went out too far. Eventually she’d call us in for lunch, followed by the dreaded one-hour wait before we could go back into the water. For years I thought I’d drown from cramps if I skipped that waiting period. Now I recognize it for what it was—parent relaxation time.

When I was older, we often spent Sundays watching polo games on Good Hope Road in Milwaukee. You could sit in the bleachers or enjoy a picnic alongside the playing field. Mom would bring a huge plaid blanket, the picnic basket, and our old Coleman cooler—more pop and Pabst!

Although they’re referred to as ponies, polo horses are full grown, muscular, and sleek. The games moved fast, the ponies glistened with sweat, and the players’ faces were filled with intensity. The field was a whirlwind of pounding hoofs, swinging mallets, and flying balls. You were forced to pay attention and often had to move quickly to avoid being trampled!

Dressed in denim pedal pushers and tennis shoes, I would race to the end of the field, hoping to snag a dented wooden ball rolling out of bounds or one that had just scored a point. Jack ran faster though, and usually beat me to it.

The games consisted of six periods called chukkers. During halftime the announcer would invite the crowd out onto the field for the traditional “divot stomp.” We’d run around and push clumps of grass and dirt back into holes caused by mallets striking the ground or a horse’s hoof digging in on a turn. For a while all we could hear was the sound of laughter and the stomp, stomp, stomp of many feet.

After the divot stomping, while some of the younger crowd used the field for throwing Frisbees, Dad would take me over to where the players parked their trailers and kept their strings of ponies. He never failed to mention that he and my mom had met while exercising polo ponies.

Krahn’s Tavern was sold many moons ago, and Beulah Beach became private when condos were built along the shore. Polo games are still played in Milwaukee but not where we went; that field is now a 7,000-seat indoor soccer stadium.

I no longer follow the tradition of Sunday hard rolls and ham, nor do I indulge in Pabst or pop. Now I spend my sacred Sundays hiking with my pups, brushing the donkeys, or playing with my pet pig. Before work on Monday, chores need to be done, a column written, and clothes washed. Times and habits have changed, but with any luck, my memories will last forever.

Originally Published September 27th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Albatross or Bust!

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From Jane’s World

While the deer are waking up and looking for nibbles, our day begins with breakfast at Findley’s. My partner, Dane, loves their homemade cake donuts adorned with anything from chocolate sprinkles to cream frosting and shredded coconut. He also loves their homemade raspberry jam! We order scrambled eggs, hash browns and toast. Looking out toward the lake we take our time eating, admiring the blue skies and the maple leaves dancing a slow waltz in the breeze. This huge breakfast will fuel our day of exploring Washington Island on bikes.

Our bellies full, biking is easy on the mix of straight and winding roads, with their gentle dips and slight inclines. The few cars we encounter slow down and give us a wide berth. We take several side trips on our circuit of the island. We walk through lavender fields, visit museums, clamber over round white stones on a beach, and sink into sand dunes along the southern lakeshore. We admire local art, pick out a few new books, and hold a garter snake. We even refuel with killer mocha shakes!

But after twelve hours of touring the island we’re famished again. Our last stop is at the Mountain Park Lookout Tower. Scrambling down the stairs and hopping back on our bikes, we talk nonstop above the roar of our growling stomachs about the urgency of getting to the Albatross before it closes. We need to hurry!

Pedaling down Hemlock Lane, we see the sign announcing our turn: Sunrise Cabins. I signal with my left arm while glancing over my shoulder for cars. Crossing the street, Dane and I glide onto the two-track driveway and coast to our cabin’s deck.

Our skin bronzed by the sun, legs heavy from a day of riding, and bellies complaining of hunger, we hurry into our cabin to splash water on our faces and grab the car keys. “Albatross or bust!” I shout.

Eleven minutes before closing, I get in line to place our order while Dane rolls through the song choices on the outdoor jukebox. About the time I’m balancing baskets, malts, and mounds of onion rings, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” starts playing.

The two gals at the next table start singing along, their heads bobbing in rhythm while they scrape up the last of their malts with plastic spoons. A young man, his foot gaily tapping, is holding a vanilla cone for his white bull-terrier mix to lick. I notice that Dane and I are subconsciously chewing to the rhythm of the music.

The sun has gone down and I don’t have a jacket, but there’s really no need. The spontaneous community singalong, the glow from all the lights shining now that it’s dark, and our bellies filling up again create all the warmth I need on this island that has provided us with the perfect day.

This essay won second place in the 2018 Washington Island Observer Writer’s Contest.

Originally Published September 20th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Hard Day in History

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From Jane’s World

This week brings the anniversary of a date forever stamped in our minds and hearts. No doubt we’ll hear people urging us, “Remember 9/11!” How could we forget?

I was 42 years old that Tuesday in 2001, and nearing the end of my first year of living off-grid in a tiny, reclaimed-wood cabin on Pa’s Road, with Riley, the world’s mellowest yellow lab. My closest neighbors on that peaceful road, who were Amish, were always busy. Not being a mom of young schoolchildren, I didn’t have an easy way to meet people and I hadn’t made any friends yet. With no electricity or running water, and without a TV, phone, or computer I sometimes felt isolated from the larger world. 

That morning, I’d had a haircut in town and was driving mindlessly over the winding country roads, heading for home, listening to music on the radio. It was late morning when, as I neared my cabin, the music suddenly stopped and an announcer’s wavering voice caught my attention. Riley, my co-pilot, sensed the change in my mood and stood up on the seat. I turned up the radio and strained to catch what the man was saying. I felt my body go rigid as he repeated, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center. A terrorist attack.”

Riley pitched backward as I pressed the gas pedal and navigated the steep gravel road, my elbows locked,  my hands clutching the wheel. I jerked to a stop on the well-worn patch above the cabin, my heart racing.

I had no way to reach my family, I felt too anxious to go inside, and soon I found myself walking up the road till I came to the bend where Melvin and Sara and their children lived. Riley tagged close behind.

My head hanging, not even sure why I was there, I knocked on their door. When Sara answered, I mumbled to her that I wasn’t sure if she knew or even cared but something really bad had just happened: a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and many people had died. Without hesitation, Sara quietly invited me into her home. As I stood there numbly, she removed her apron and turned off the gas on the stove, then gestured for me to follow her.

I was in shock, and it’s unclear to me even now why I went to their house. I followed behind Sara’s bare feet the way Riley followed me, except that Riley was interested in everything and I was on autopilot. Remembering it later, I thought of it as an out-of-body experience. The whole situation was unreal and unimaginable. Were bombs falling? Were we at war?

Sara gave me a grand tour of the barn in which they built sheds and outbuildings to sell; a smaller building with woodworking tools; their garden; and a newer building where they would eventually make and sell baked goods and candy. She never asked, nor did I say another word, about the devastation that had taken place elsewhere in the country, but somehow I began to feel calmer.

I think about this a lot. Sara knew I was upset and she simply did what she could do, what she knew how to do: be kind and make me feel welcomed.

Eventually I trudged back to my cabin, where I tried reading, then writing, and ended up pacing, before getting back into my car to access my only form of communication, the radio. I couldn’t afford to waste gas by driving anywhere, but Riley and I sat in the car and listened to the ongoing news reports. From what I could gather, there had been three more attacks after the initial one. It was still unclear to me whether this was a beginning or the end.

With nowhere to go, and no way to call my daughter, I spent a long day and night filled with dread and worry. In the morning I started down Pa’s Road with a heavy heart, afraid of what I would discover about yesterday’s news. Riley, my best friend, sat upright and alert next to me.

We were beginning the drive up Highway P to Westby when I stopped the car and stared. A horse standing alone in its pasture was chewing on an American flag. Only half of the flag remained on the line attached to the pole. My mind reeled in awe and confusion.

Weeks later, I was working at my part-time job at the Heart Center in Vernon Memorial Hospital, teaching a client how to use one of the new treadmills. I glanced up and saw for the first time a television image of the World Trade Center moments after it was hit. People on fire were leaping out of the windows.

As we approach the anniversary of this ugly event I’m again feeling afraid, fearful of what is to come. Yet I carry a glimmer of hope that upcoming elections will bring about some much-needed change. I carry, too, the memories of my Amish neighbor’s act of kindness, of a horse eating our flag (which only later I realized had been at half-mast and therefore within reach), and of a gruesome TV video I wish I’d never seen, along with my sorrow for the almost 3,000 people killed and over 6,000 injured, and all of us whose lives were forever changed on September 11.

 How could we ever forget?

 Originally Published September 13th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Aftermath

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From Jane's World

Driving up and down hills with my windows open on a storybook late-summer day—wind blowing, maple leaves starting to yellow, and the air beginning to cool—I’m suddenly forced to brake as my tires start spinning on the thick river sludge covering the road that leads into town.

I know this town well. For over a decade I’ve lived on its outskirts, in a deep valley next to a lazy, trickle of a creek. But today the town looks different—ghostly, yet with more activity than during its annual Horse and Colt Show parade.

The sidewalks and yards are overflowing with filth and piled high with water-damaged sofas,dressers, appliances both large and small, and personal belongings. Rusty trucks that look too ancient to run are loaded with the goods of entire households. Two people in tall rubber boots, their hands gloved and masks over their mouth and nose, are carrying a huge trunk down their driveway to the curb as if it were a coffin. Other folks, slouching and bone tired, their pants and shirts full of dried mud, stand with plates held like a prayer, in a hot-food line in front of the newly hosed-out firehouse. Bulldozers, front-end loaders, and fire trucks swarm the streets, while cars are parked haphazardly, many with their trunks and doors wide open as if the occupants were hurrying out and simply forgot to close them.

It’s a scene that the people of Vernon and Crawford Counties have known all too intimately in recent years: the day after yet another 100-year flood.

A long-haired, gray-bearded man in well-worn colorless clothes sits in front of his tattered home, his eyes windows of pain. He refuses my help but seems to want to talk. I can almost smell his despair, mingled with the stench of the gunk left by receding floodwaters, as he tells me that this is the tenth time his home has been flooded.

The tenth time he has taken pictures for the insurance company before even thinking of cleaning up. The tenth time he has mucked out his house like you would a barn after a hard, cold winter. The tenth time he’s spent a sleepless night on the second floor, listening to the raging river tearing through his home as the rain pounded his roof, with lightning and thunder crashing and booming around him.

Now he sits waiting for his home to be condemned, like a man in a courtroom waiting to be sentenced. Will they buy it out for its appraised value so he can start from scratch, at well past seventy years of age? Or will they say it merely needs to be hosed down, sanitized and bleached, and put back together again to await the eleventh flood?

During the flooding, he stood at the second-story window and watched a boat making its way along his road—by then a lake—to rescue people who lived outside of town. I can barely imagine watching a boat power down my street as I look out a window that's being pounded by torrential rains and winds. And I can't imagine the hopelessness I'd feel in hauling out my waterlogged treasures and cleaning up the slime left behind after torrents of murky water had raged through my home.

I listen quietly until the front-end loader arrives across the street to start removing the sandbags in front of the library. Telling him I’ll be back to check in, I excuse myself to begin the arduous task there of cleaning up, starting with emptying the bathrooms and entryway, squeegeeing out the mud, and mopping the floors. Later, I make a point of saying good-bye to this man. When I return the next day he finally accepts my offer of help.

Getting back in my car I keep wondering, what next? Where do these displaced people go? How many houses will be condemned? How many times can people have their lives torn out from under them and be able to bounce back? How many people are still unaware firsthand of the destructive power of water?

By the time I crest the hill leading to my road, which has just today been reopened to traffic, I feel amazed at what I’ve witnessed, all the people coming together to help each other. How lucky we are to live in a place where community and caring matter.

I pull into my driveway, looking at the gouged-out gully in my yard that days ago was only a lazy creek, and I’m grateful to be home. But I know all the good work is nowhere near done yet. Many people still need our help—and more rain is coming.

 

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Originally Published September 6th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout