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

Fruits (and Veggies) of Love

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From Jane's World

These days I look like I’m driving a veggie- and fruit-mobile. If I were to get pulled over and have my car searched it would appear I’d robbed the produce department of a grocery store or raided a neighbor's garden. Today there’s a box of early yellow apples, a bag full of overgrown green and yellow zucchinis that could be used as bats (using an apple as a ball), and a bunch of prickly, funny shaped cucumbers.

Friends, neighbors, and clients generously share their garden rejects with me nearly every day at this time of the year. Often when I come home after a day of work, a bag of green beans will be hanging on my fire number sign. Soon tomatoes will be showing up. Some of them will be yellow with rot setting in, others misshapen with insect holes gouged out of them, and occasionally there’ll be one that I’ll set aside and cut up for my own salad.

Thanks to all these fine vegetables and fruits, Louisa, my pet pig with congestive heart failure, is looking sleeker than ever! She stopped getting corn mash and grain months ago when the vet told me those products were used to fatten pigs up for slaughter, something that will never happen to my lucky Louisa. The day after he told me Louisa was too fat for a friendly pig, I started her on a diet of two spoonfuls of nonfat plain yogurt, a cut-up banana or two, and lots of water with a few drops of olive oil.

But now that it’s garden season she’s enjoying a variety of community bounty that is contributing to her feeling spunky and looking sleek.

Louisa’s coat used to be dull and her hair was patchy in places from not feeling well. I started rubbing her plump body with coconut oil. Now when the sun shines her coat glistens. She smells like a beach in Cancun, and much to my distress (Louisa’s too), the goats have sometimes nibbled on her.

One hot day, after greasing Louisa up, I left for work. It was so warm, it occurred to me that with all that oil and heat on her Louisa might be bakin’! I finished work quickly and made it home in record time, only to find her lounging on her side, half in and half out of her pink pool. Sleek or not, there isn’t a wading pool large enough to hold all of her.

I yelled from the driveway, “Hello, Louisa!” She grunted her unique greeting and seemed perfectly fine. She wasn’t in any hurry to push herself up and exit the pool, until she saw me holding a couple of apples. Nonetheless, I’m more careful about slathering her in coconut oil on hot days.

Louisa spends her days chomping on hay or picking out her favorite blades of grass. On the weekends, if it’s in the 80s or higher, she enjoys bobbing in her pool for cut-up zucchinis. She puts half her face in the water, maneuvers her tiny mouth around a veggie, and pulls it up to gobble it down quicker than I can cut up more and throw them in.

I like to quip that “there’s always something to do in the country,” and Louisa seems to love silly games. Lately I’ve been hiding her apples all over her pen, from one corner to the next, behind the tree stumps that the goats like to jump on, and in the corner of the doghouse whose door has been enlarged twice to accommodate Louisa's body. That last apple I have to place just inside the doghouse door because once again she’s outgrown the opening and it can’t be made any bigger without the whole thing caving in!

Soon the fresh veggies and fruit bestowed upon Louisa will end. But by then, Louisa will be doing her pumpkin happy dance! My car will become the pumpkin-mobile as I pick up pumpkins from friends’ front porches, along the curbside, and even from the ground next to dumpsters. If Louisa gets lucky again, we may even find pumpkins in my pasture, from the volunteer patch, compliments of Louisa herself!

Originally Published August 30th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

The Life of a Free Agent

From Jane's World

Sitting at my desk writing, the sun just having come up, I’m enjoying the peacefulness of dawn when I hear a duck calling out. I wonder if it's Little Bitty, my independent mallard, returning home. The excitement I feel at the possibility of seeing her again makes me stop writing, slip my rubber boots on, and head outdoors.

I don’t see Bitty as I walk to the Duck Hall to let the rest of the flock out. I keep calling for her though, and I’m positive that when she hears me opening the garbage can to get food for the gang, she’ll fly over.

Louisa and the goats are awake and out of the Goat Palace, so I stop to greet them and give Louisa her morning meal: yogurt, vegetables and a banana, part of the new diet for my pig with congestive heart failure. I notice that she’s looking sleeker these days—when I look at her from above she now has an hourglass shape. Feeling pleased at her transformation from a sick girl to a healthier one, I move on.

Finn is sitting near the basement door waiting for his morning meal, but Téte is running back and forth, in and out of the shed. I’m not certain what’s going on with Téte. She’s a bit of a mystery, bright, sensitive, and moody.

I walk over to the shed to get the donkeys their hay. Téte rushes back inside it before me, and I stop in my tracks. There is Little Bitty—dead.

My heart plummets. It’s still dark in the shed and I don’t want to believe my eyes. Maybe she’s sitting on a nest. Maybe it isn’t my Little Bitty. Didn’t I hear her calling out just minutes ago?

But I know. I know it’s Bitty and I know I left the shed door open for her last night in case she might come home. Téte also recognizes that this is not good. She gently noses Bitty, turns to look at me, and sits down.

I pat Téte’s head and tell her, “It’s Bitty, girl—she’s dead.” Together we walk to the basement where Finn is still waiting to get his breakfast. Both dogs gobble up their food. I have no appetite.

I call Dane to tell him the sad news, and he assures me he’ll drive over to put Bitty in a burial box. He guesses Bitty’s life ended with a raccoon encounter. We agree we’ll bury her with the rest of the gang here who have gone before her.

My pet cemetery is overflowing. What started with burying Lewis, my rescue yellow lab, with his tennis ball, has turned into a huge area of departed feathered and furry friends.

I’m surprised at the sorrow I feel at never again anticipating Bitty’s return home. She was a free agent, coming and going, and I was learning to make peace with that. Bitty’s death hits me hard.

Reflecting on Bitty and all the others buried here on my property, I slowly get ready for work. I know death is a part of life that can’t be avoided. I still mourn my dad’s death from many years ago, along with my friend Pat, who recently passed on, and many other friends. I think of my sweet Riley, Lewis, Moses, Gambo, and recently Raime, all the dogs who at one time or another made my life brighter.

Tonight Dane will bring Bitty out of the shed so all the animals here can say goodbye. We’ll bury her and then carry on as usual.

Isn’t that part of life? The part that rips us in two and leaves us only with sweet memories.

Fly free, Ms. Bitty.

Originally Published August 23rd, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Trust

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From Jane's World

Diego is standing alone at the fence, waiting for his hay. But he and Carlos, my two miniature Sicilian donkeys, are like Siamese twins, always together. My heart beats quicker as I scan the pasture, looking for Carlos’s ears standing above the tall greenery.

“Carlos? Carlos!” I yell.

My shoulders start climbing toward my ears as I head to the back of the house to turn off the electric fence and grab my tall rubber boots. Fear starts seeping deep into my marrow. Carlos isn’t making a sound and he’s alone. He must be hurt. This might be an emergency!

I climb over the fence into the pasture and Diego follows me. “Where’s Carlos, buddy? Where’s your friend? Can you take me to him?” I ask Diego as we pick our way across the creek. Walking through bushes higher than my head, I follow the well-worn path made by years of my donkeys’ wandering the fence line seeking out the little bit of scrub they enjoy eating.

Will Carlos be injured? Dead?

I see his ears! “Carlos, what are you doing?!” And before I’m close enough to see his soulful brown eyes I notice he’s on the wrong side of the double-wire electric fence.

I wish Carlos could talk, but instead he’s deathly quiet. I’m perplexed as to where he got outside the fence and how to get him back in. I try pushing the top wire over him, but he’s about two feet too tall for me to get it over his oblong head.

Thrilled to see Diego and me, Carlos starts to push through the wires the wrong way, at risk of getting entangled. “No, no, little buddy. Easy now. I’m here. I’ll help,” I reassure him, as I gently block him from moving further.

My breathing deepens as I work that top wire, trying to stretch it over him. Holding it up as high as I can with my right hand, I place my left hand on top of Carlos’s head. Gently pressing down and talking sweet nothings, I get Carlo’s head inside the pasture. His legs are still on the other side.

Carlos has surrendered. He’s relaxed, calm, breathing easily, no longer pushing at the fence. Diego stands so close to me that his shoulder is leaning against my side.

After encouraging Carlos to come closer, I lift his front leg to place it over the bottom wire. Success! Head and one hoof in, three to go. As I carefully bend down to lift his other front leg I tell them both what good guys they are. Their ears cup forward and turn toward me.

It dawns on me, out there in the wild of the pasture, with sweat building from the heat of Diego pressed against my side and the painstaking precision of my calculated movements, that the donkeys trust me. Building a trusting relationship takes time, kindness, and consistency.

Leading them to safety in storms and floods, often with lightning flashing, and water and logs swiftly rushing past.

Feeding them their hay daily, taking them treats, and brushing out their winter coat.

Putting on their fly masks and knocking out the hornets’ nest in their shed.

Rubbing the inside of their ears and removing any dirt I feel in them.

Having their hooves trimmed regularly, and sitting with them on sunny days, scratching Diego's backside, with Carlos’s head in my lap.

Both of Carlos’s front legs are inside the pasture now. The horseflies have discovered us, along with the gnats and a few mosquitoes. I still need to pick up each of Carlos’s hind legs and get them over that bottom wire. If I blow this and spook him I fear he’ll get tangled up in the fence.

Diego starts to get impatient, or maybe he’s just fed up with the flies. He stops leaning on me and moves a few feet away. Perfect, now I can move more easily. Reaching back for Carlos’s nearest leg, I start talking about the hay that I’ll give him as a treat once he gets back where he belongs.

It seems to work—three legs in and one to go!

Diego comes back at a trot, most likely having been bitten on the rear end by a horsefly, but amazingly Carlos stands firm. He knows I’m helping him. He wants to be in his pasture where he feels safe.

The last leg is the easiest, and when I place it down on the correct side of the fence Diego softly hee-haws his approval and walks away. Carlos wastes no time in following him. I tag along behind.

After tossing out some hay, I stand at the fence and marvel at these two fine-looking donkeys. I feel honored and humbled to have earned their trust.

I wish it were that easy for all of us, with all of mankind. Trust takes time, kindness, and consistency.

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Originally Published August 16th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Tragedy and Triumph

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From Jane's World

My neighbor called to alert me that her flock of ducks had been wiped out the night before last. Only one duck survived the attack. She called to warn me for my own flock’s sake, but also to ask if I could take in the one young survivor, a black crested runner she had gotten from me a year ago.

When you have 15 ducks, two geese, and a Taj Mahal–like “Duckhall” the answer will always be “Yes, bring the duck over.” I also felt bad for my neighbor and her children, who I know loved the ducks and enjoyed caring for them.

Raising chickens or ducks is tough in our hills and valleys. There are many predators—weasels, raccoons, foxes, hawks, owls, and coyotes—that love a tasty poultry meal.

Donkeys are known to kick at predators, and my donks are no exception. The problem is, the coyotes and foxes are smart and they know exactly where the fence line ends. My dogs do a terrific job of guarding and barking but they are not outside 24/7. The little one, Finn, loves to spend at least part of his day couch surfing. Téte, the bigger dog, enjoys lying next to the couch (and to Finn) and gnawing on a bone. Not a perfect guard dog situation.

Luckily, I’ve never had my whole flock killed.

The sooner this poor traumatized duck could come to my place, the better, so I needed a plan. I decided I’d put her in the pen with the goats and pig for a few weeks. That way my flock could get to know the newcomer before I let her into the larger yard with them. Perhaps this would prevent unnecessary bullying and pecking. Once everyone got familiar with the newbie, I would start letting her out with the gang during the day, and eventually move her into the Duckhall at night.

Just as I’d gotten my plan figured out, the dogs started barking, the geese honking, and the donkeys braying. My neighbors had just pulled into my driveway and already had their hatchback open. In the back of their wagon was a large dog crate with one scared almost all black duck inside.

The children both started talking at once. Their genuine concern for their feathered friend was overwhelming as I struggled to grasp how cruel lessons in nature can be. Gathering my thoughts, I asked, “Does this duck have a name?”

Xan, a sensitive, inquisitive, six-year-old curly-haired blond boy, put his hands on his slim hips and said, “Marshmallow.” His mom exchanged a glance with him, and he quickly added, “Burnt.” I started laughing, and Xan’s voice rose up a notch as he recited the full name: “Burnt Marshmallow Robertson.”

Margo, Xan’s almost three-year-old sister, quietly told me a few things she thought I ought to know about Burnt Marshmallow as we carried the bulky crate to the pen where Louisa and the goats were waiting.

We decided to leave Marshmallow in the crate for a while to get her bearings before letting her out into the pen. As the kids said goodbye to their duck friend, I told them they could visit her anytime they'd like. But first, I had to get her acquainted with her new flock.

All the critters quieted down once the family left, and I forced myself to stay busy in the house and give Marshmallow some space. An hour later I checked on her. I knew she’d be scared. Who wouldn’t be after losing her whole family and finding herself somewhere new?

Marshmallow was quacking and pacing back and forth in her crate. I decided to let her out in the pen. Once she saw the flock, she started squawking, stretching her neck through the fence, and running along the fence line, trying to get to them. It was awful to watch her mixture of fear and confusion at thinking these were her people.

Casting my best-laid plans aside, I opened the gate and urged Marshmallow out into the yard. I watched and waited. Marshmallow was disoriented and my flock was suspicious. But overall there was no pushing, shoving, or feather pulling. Did my flock sense that Marshmallow needed friends, a new family?

Every spring when I introduce new ducks I spend weeks making them comfortable and ensuring that they get accepted. But Marshmallow was being instantly welcomed by all the ducks and even the geese. Except for a few quick pecks, no one seemed upset by her presence.

At dusk, after a day of walking back and forth to the yard to check on Marshmallow, it was time to say good night. My flock knows the routine: into their pen for their last meal of the day and a fresh bowl of water, followed by walking up the ramp, through the tiny door, and into the Duckhall for a safe night's sleep.

But Marshmallow had no clue what was expected! Around and around the pen I followed her with my arms outstretched, saying, “It’s okay. Go inside. Go up the ramp!”

Raising ducks and chickens in our area is tough, but the rewards are worth it. Predators are a nuisance but they are only doing what comes naturally to them. The trick is to provide as safe an environment as possible, knowing it will never be 100 percent perfect no matter how hard you try.

Goodnight, Marshmallow. Welcome to our family. I can’t wait for Xan and Margo to come visit!

Originally Published August 9th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Precious Moments

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From Jane's World

I’m not usually the type that goes around categorizing the events in a day into zen and un-zen moments. But today is different.

My personal definition of zen is “peaceful, present and calm.” Merriam-Webster’s definition that comes closest to my own is: “A state of calm attentiveness in which one’s actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.”

Merriam-Webster offers no definitions for un-zen, but I think they should. My most recent example of un-zen is me wrestling with my brand-new hose. I pull the hose to the front of the deck to water my hanging baskets, and no water comes out. I walk back and unkink the hose, trek back to the hose nozzle, and here comes the water!

I move two feet to the left to water the next basket—again, no water. I drop the hose, unkink a different section, and go back, to have it happen again. I bought plenty of hose to get me around to the back of the deck, but all this walking back and forth plumb tires me out, and the unkinking unnerves me.

This scenario has played out daily ever since I purchased a thicker, improved, and more expensive hose. There is nothing zen about my ranting, swearing, and stomping back and forth across the wraparound deck to fix the hose that refuses to stay fixed for one precious zenlike moment.

Today, after wrestling with the hose at the end of a grueling day of working in the heat, I decided I needed to chill out for 15 minutes on the couch, preferably with my eyes closed and in a prone position.

Enter Finnegan, my mostly white dog with brown velvety ears and a black heart-shaped patch on his back. He’s small, with delicate baby paws and a delicious pink belly I’ve been known to kiss.

When I lie down, Finn jumps up. He wiggles and worms his way in between me and the couch. When he finally settles, his head is parallel to my face and all four paws are sticking straight up. He too has chosen the prone position for a snooze.

Feeling crowded and uncomfortable, I’m unable to relax into a nap. When Finn starts softly snoring, I turn my head and reposition my neck so I can see him better, because he is that close to my face.

His tiny bottom jaw is hanging open, exposing his little white teeth. They’re smaller than the tiniest kernels of corn you’ve ever seen. Four are visible and one of them is crooked.

As he inhales, his naked pink belly rises slightly, and as he exhales a soft puff of air makes a barely audible whoosh sound. I find myself staring at those minuscule pearly whites, his twitching black nose that’s no bigger than my thumbnail, and the angle of his slack jaw. He looks content. He looks to me to be in a zen-induced meditation.

Watching Finn, my eyes start to get heavy. My breathing starts to match his.

When I wake up, my mouth is hanging open and there’s pool of drool on my arm.

I recognize this as my one precious zen moment of the day. And tomorrow, I’ll wind that un-zenlike hose up and take it back to the store!

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Originally Published August 2nd, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Island Drive-by

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From Jane's World

“No, I have a book reading on Sunday,” I groan as Dr. Beth again offers to call an ambulance for me.

I arrived on Washington Island earlier today by ferry with my rat terrier mix, Finnegan. I secured us a spot at the only campground here and quickly set up our tent.

And now I’m slumped over on the edge of an examination table at the island’s medical clinic.

Dr. Beth is concerned because she isn’t able to get a blood pressure reading when I stand, and my sitting blood pressure is low. We both suspect dehydration is the cause. Finnegan and I were camping last night on Rock Island, and sometime after midnight, I crawled out of my warm sleeping bag and into the rain to be sick. I was never able to go back into the tent and by morning was completely wiped out. I tracked my pulse and respiratory rate: my pulse was going up, my breaths per minute slowing down. I knew I needed help, and I’ve used what little energy I had to get us here.

I also know I need fluids, and I’m certain I need medicine for treating people who have ingested unclean water. But Dr. Beth can’t give me drugs without a positive test. My sample is already on the ferry, on its way to Sturgeon Bay to be tested. I should be on the ferry too, but Finnegan is waiting for me in the car and I’m not going anywhere without him.

Determined to get me to the hospital, Dr. Beth offers to take care of my dog, so I go out and bring Finnegan inside. He trots into her office sporting his lime green backpack with his orange water bowl and a bag of treats and food. The rescue workers arrive with their gurney but I take one look and say, “No! I’ll drive myself.” After getting Dr. Beth’s phone number and directions, off I go to take another ferry ride and then drive myself to the nearest hospital, about an hour away.

“So you're an author?!” the new doctor greets me. I sigh and explain that I have a book reading on Sunday and I just need to get some fluids and medicine. He gets me set up with an IV and lets me rest with the lights down low for the hour it takes to replenish my fluids. When he returns he has bad news: the results of my test aren’t back yet and won’t be for another day, possibly two.

This means I’m not going to get the medicine I need. Still feeling miserable, I’m already rushing to the bathroom before I can exit the hospital and get to my car.

Since I have to stop at every gas station I pass to use the restroom, I miss the ferry and have to wait for the next one. Once on board, I stay in my car, put the seat back, and try to rest. But I’m worried about Finnegan. I call Dr. Beth’s number but she doesn’t answer.

Back on the island, I drive to the clinic, knowing it’ll be closed by now, but I don't know where else to start looking for Finn. By now I’ve left three messages.

There’s a light in the examination room I was in earlier. Without even turning my car off I put it in park, throw the door open, and stagger across the lawn toward the window.

A police car pulls up and a tall man gets out. “I’m sick,” I tell him. He responds, “Should I call 911?”

“No!” I shriek. “I’ve already had them called for me once today.”

“Oh, you're the author?” My head sags.

I tell him Dr. Beth has my dog but she hasn’t responded to my messages. He explains there was an emergency and she’s inside finishing up after doing sutures. He knocks gently on the window to let her know we’re here.

Soon I’m driving behind Dr. Beth, up and down a few country roads, till we end up at her house. Finn is thrilled to see me. I thank her, not nearly enough, and drive back to our campsite. After a hundred trips to the outhouse I settle into my sleeping bag for a long, miserable night.

In the morning I feel worse, and it’s a struggle to take of myself and Finn. Around noon I decide to call home, but first I check my messages. One is from Dr. Beth: my giardia test was positive and I need medication.

Her message also says she’s trying to find me at the campsite but no one is in the office to tell her which site I’m in. When I call her back, she’s out giving a driving lesson, and in between asking where I am, she’s saying things like “Slow down. Turn here. Not yet. Be careful!”

While I’m still on the phone with her, a car pulls up. The young driver rolls his window down and gives me a big grin and a thumbs-up. Dr. Beth steps out of the passenger side, carrying a small plastic bag of meds!

I’m familiar with drive-through pharmacies but never dreamed I’d be the lucky recipient of a campsite drive-by!

One day later I’m at Faire Island Books, sharing this story, and in walk Dr. Beth, ferryman Tony with his wife, Grace, and one of the ambulance crew. All of them are wondering if the “author” is still on the island and feeling better!

You betcha, thanks to Dr. Beth and all the good people on Washington Island.

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

One-person Home Run

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From Jane's World

This week marks the beginning of my sixth year of sitting at my desk with my two index fingers flying across the computer keyboard to type a story. Often, when asked about being a columnist, I remark, “You can’t hit a home run every week.” I doubt there are any professional ball players who hit the ball out of the park every time they bat. But when they do, I bet it makes them more motivated to keep playing!

Having completed around 260 essays, I’ve learned that some readers will rave about a particular column while others boo it. I have readers who love it when my animals pipe in and tell a story and others who cringe when they do. One column might leave some people feeling uplifted and others disappointed.

A column Dane disliked from the get-go, titled “One Day at a Time,” about the panic I feel regarding flooding and ticks, moved a reader to write me a thoughtful note, thanking me for putting into words how she, too, feels. My favorite part was when Cathy said that after her husband read the column he was better able to understand her worries and concerns. To me, this was a one-person home run!

Topics usually come to me while I’m walking in the woods. Taking the pups out on a trail, walking slowly along the creek in my backyard, or enjoying a backpacking trip frees me from the everyday stress of trying to make a living. Then ideas for essays float easily into my mind. The trick is capturing them! I’ve successfully used a hand-held recorder, a tiny notebook and pencil, and my camera. Snapping a quick picture of a situation, critter, or place reminds me of a story idea later.

My desk is a solid oak library table, a great find at Crazy Frank’s. It sits in the corner of my office, with two matching windows like bookends on either side. Out the window to the right stands an enormous crabapple tree that sees a lot of activity. My cats like to climb in it; Louisa, my pet pig, loves to have me shake it so she can devour the fallen apples; and last year it held a bee swarm that Dane was able to capture. Through the window to my left I can watch my donkeys, Diego and Carlos. If I stretch I can see my flock of ducks and geese dipping into one of their pools, sleeping under a lounge chair, or wandering the yard looking for anything edible.

Ninety percent of my columns are written in the morning when everything seems possible. I wake with the words, “This is the day the Lord has given me. I’ll rejoice and be happy in it.” I turn on my salt lamp, except when the summer heat has caused it to sweat. And I start typing, always hopeful that I’ll come up with a home run.

Writing weekly demands discipline and commitment, along with the exhausting work of trying to improve. How can I tell my story with fewer words? How can I show my readers what I’m seeing? How can I make a difference by sharing a personal story? I wasn’t given a word limit but I aim for 800 to 900 words. Over the years, trimming a too-long essay down has become a creative challenge and not the drudgery it once was.

I start to write without a beginning or end in mind and keep going until I finish. Then I put myself in reverse and go back to the beginning. I check my spelling and punctuation, then move on to content. None of these are my favorite things!

My writing coach, Tamara, who is well-published, talented, and has the patience of a saint, will have me focus one week on showing and not telling, another on varying sentence structure and length, all the while reminding me of the importance of reading each story out loud a zillion times. She taught me early on that nothing should go to print without an editor looking it over first. For years I was blessed to have my good friends Pat and Roger reading every column to catch errors. Now I have Loma, who’s a stickler for punctuation, fact checking, and flow. She has learned my voice and style and I have learned from her edits. Together we make a great team!

Yesterday, at an event I attended, Sharon and Louise told me they subscribe to the Crawford County Independent. Both live in Vernon County, and said it’s the best paper around. They read it from cover to cover. And this is far from the first time I’ve heard that comment!

At the same event, I was delighted to meet Olga, who told me she reads my column. Of course, her excitement about it made my day. But more importantly, it was a reminder to keep writing, to put my words down, and not let myself be defeated, discouraged, or too tired to write. If an essay makes it even to first base, there’s a chance it’ll help someone else steal home.

On July 18, 2013, I was fortunate to have my first column appear in this paper. Thank you, Charley and company, for reporting real news, for keeping it fresh and interesting, and for years of dedication and hard work. And thank you to anyone who reads my column weekly. I'll see you here next week—and maybe I’ll hit one out of the park!

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

Envy!

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From Jane's World

The whole wide world, as far as I can see from my wraparound deck, is green! I’m surrounded by trees of all kinds in my valley and am loving the greenness of summertime. Green seems to bring out the best in me—unless it’s the green of envy.

That whole “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife” thing seems silly to have to mention. You can adore her and admire her, but coveting seems a bit pushy. Not nice. But when it comes to Sally’s green car, I’m green with envy! I covet it.

You can be faster than me (even turtles are), smarter than me, or more determined, and I’ll be pleased and ready to cheer you on. But for some reason, I find myself envious because of a car.

All my cars have been “previously owned.” In over forty years of car ownership, I’ve never had the privilege of picking out the color or even the type of automobile I’m going to buy. I usually come limping onto a car dealer’s lot looking for the cheapest and most dependable vehicle available.

I’ve been known to say enthusiastically, “All that matters is that it gets me safely from point A to point B!” But then one day, I noticed Sally’s car.

It’s compact. It’s cute. It’s green! I’ll bet it gets great mileage.

I’ve never been a car person. I can’t even tell the difference between a Porsche and a Volkswagen. My favorite boss once asked me if I had seen his new car in the parking lot. Of course I had. For years I’d parked my car every day next to his car and the one belonging to my other boss. The three of us shared that designated parking area.

“Well, what did you think?” he persisted.

I wasn’t sure what he was looking for but felt safe saying, “Oh, it’s beautiful!”

However, he didn’t stop: “It’s a [insert some year here; I can’t remember useless information] Porsche! Come on, I’ll give you a ride!”

Oh brother, I was thinking, just what I don’t need. But he was enthusiastic, and I wanted to be supportive. So back outside we went, where I walked right over to my other boss’s car, a Volkswagen. Hey, they were both black!

Needless to say, I burst my favorite boss’s bubble of pride and joy.

I sure wish he could see Sally’s car!

My most expensive car came from Clucker’s in Westby, where I have bought a string of cars, insisting to no avail that the tenth one should be free. I couldn’t tell you the make or the model, but it was a shiny cranberry color with no rust or dings. The day I purchased it, I drove all over town looking for someone I knew to show it off to, with no luck. Only weeks later, three thousand dollars poorer, my newest set of wheels came to rest in Sheldon’s junkyard. I had discovered, the hard way, the dangers of black ice.

Now my silver Kia is dying. It needs…well, everything fixed. The back wiper doesn’t work, so I’m rendered helpless in rain or snow. The hood won’t open, making it difficult to do any repairs. The brakes need to be replaced (again), the undercarriage realigned, and the darn CD player chews up but won’t spit out my CDs. This is only the short list.

Sally’s car is pretty and perfect. When I see it parked at the co-op where she works I want to lick it. Or at least kiss it, or even just touch it. As usual, I don’t know the make or model, but it’s my favorite color, and that color is synonymous with envy!

Being envious takes up too much energy.

I’m going to go back out on my deck, relish all the green surrounding my tiny home, and be thankful if my Kia can last another few years!

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