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

My Favorite Summer Day

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From Jane's World

It was hard to stay in the top bunk while my older sister slept soundly below me. Filled with excitement for my favorite day of the year to begin, I’d throw my skinny brown legs over the side rail. When I felt the oak frame solid under my summer-toughened feet, I’d quietly climb down backwards, one rung at a time.

Out in the hallway I’d sneak past my parents’ bedroom door, then my brother’s, and head straight for the garage, looking for Dad. I knew he wouldn’t be sleeping. Not on 4th of July morning! Not on my mom’s birthday!

By the time I’d get there, Dad would have already swept the concrete floor clean with the regular straw broom, then hosed it off, back to front, and would just be starting his final pass from the back of the garage with the stiff, long-handled T-broom. He’d give that broom a long hard push, forcing the water and dirt forward, then several quicker, shorter, fast pushes to keep all the debris moving ahead. A final quick flick would move any excess water and grit out of the garage and onto the driveway. Returning to the back of the garage, he’d move a couple feet to the left and repeat this process. Push, push, flick. Push, push, flick.

My bare feet, wet from the puddles on the cement, would leave footprints where the floor had already dried out, my arches forming a circle. Soon the garage was ready for the traditional 4th of July decorating of my bicycle. Later on, my dad would use the space to set up card tables for our guests to eat at.

Dad would wheel my bike to the middle of the clean damp garage, grab the bag of holiday paraphernalia, and weave red, white and blue crepe paper in and out of my bike’s spokes. Next I’d hand him miniature flags on wooden sticks to tape to my handlebars and the back of my bike seat.

My job was to wrap crepe paper around the frame, making sure there was no slack in the roll as I went and that every rotation overlapped the previous row. Dad would help me switch out the colors and apply tape to hold it all together.

To finish off the bike, Dad attached a poster board to my bike basket on which he’d written “Don’t Clown Around with Freedom.” Soon it would be time to decorate me.

We’d sent in to Wonder Bread for my costume. It consisted of a white hat and top, both covered in primary-color polka dots like the Wonder Bread bags themselves. The top had a clownlike red ruffle sewn around it, giving it a festive look.

Into the kitchen we’d go for a fast bowl of Cheerios, an even faster change into my costume, and a super speedy job of applying my mom’s red lipstick around my mouth with a dab on each cheek. Dad would remind me to put on shoes before we headed back outside.

I’d ride my bike with my dad run-walking next to me. We’d wind our way on the blacktop path through the Hales Corners park, over the bridge, and up the hill past the baseball diamonds and pool until we’d come out on Godsall Avenue where the old brick elementary school was.

A horde of people dressed in red, white and blue would be milling about on the road in front of the school. Children and parents were everywhere, many wearing plastic flag earrings, white shorts, and either blue or red tops. Grandparents stood ready to push baby buggies decorated in holiday colors, while dogs panted at the end of their leashes attached to the handlebars of 4th of July themed tricycles.

Soon the lead parade car would turn on its flashing red light and blast out big-band patriotic music. I’d proudly pedal my bike and my dad would stride alongside. Despite the size of the crowd, before we knew it the parade would be over, our bikes tipped over on the hot blacktop, forgotten for the most part as we made a mad dash to the ice-cream line!

Little plastic vanilla ice cream cups and tiny wooden spoons were freely handed out. Dad would eat his ice cream cup with just as much relish as I would. The only difference was that none of his ice cream ended up on his shirt or face.

When we got back home, the rest of the day was spent barefoot with people coming and going, hamburgers and brats on the grills, loads of potato chips, ice cold pop, plenty of pickles, and games of badminton and jarts. After dark we watched fireworks from our front yard, where Dad had set up rows of patio chairs, folding chairs, kitchen chairs, and camp chairs for our company. Oohs and ahhs could be heard with each colorful explosion that lit up the sky.

Dad would bring out long boxes of sparklers, and we’d spell our names over and over again against the blackness of the night, with the smell of sulfur hanging thickly in the air. Mom was a stickler for making us put the burnt-out wires in a large coffee can. One year I stepped barefoot on a still-hot wire lying in the yard. Ouch!

Finally, we’d all gather and sing “Happy Birthday” to Mom and enjoy a huge piece of her red, white, and blue decorated Baskin Robbins ice cream cake.

I hated seeing the day come to an end.

Back into the top bunk bed I’d climb, the bottoms of my feet blackened from my favorite summer day well spent. My dad would say prayers with me and tuck me in for the night. Before he could even close my door, I’d be sound asleep.

Not even my sister, creeping in much later, would wake me up.

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

Island Time

From Jane's World

Shuffling barefoot into the living room, my short hair sticking out east and west, I look at the clock in disbelief: 6:15 a.m. I have 45 minutes to pack up, make my hair civilized, and catch the 7 a.m. ferry.

I start picking up my clothes and books strewn about the Washington Island cabin, but I can’t help stopping to gaze out the enormous picture window. Out on the lake, gulls dive and splash around a pair of Canada geese that are taking their four goslings for an early swim.

I feed Finn, and as I let him outside, I pause with one hand on the screen door, looking longingly at the soft colors of the morning sky hanging above the smooth, deep green water. But I’d best keep moving if I want to make that ferry!

While I pack up my dirty clothes, sweep the floor, and roll up my sleeping bag, I wonder who else is outside the cabin this morning that I’m missing by rushing.

Yesterday when I walked out of the bedroom, four deer were grazing in the front yard. A hummingbird was greedily sticking his beak into each tiny hole on the feeder, looking for his morning fix of syrup. Walking the few steps to the lake in my jammies, I noticed giant slugs clinging to a tree stump still wet from the previous day’s rains.

At 6:30 a.m. I’m in the shower; at 6:40 I’m struggling with my duffle bag and urging Finnegan not to dawdle.

The road to the ferry curves like a snake’s body in motion, hugging the lake shore. I watch for deer that are moseying around looking for breakfast. One eye is on the road, another on the digital car clock while I wonder, Should I keep pushing to get to the ferry or just give up and drive slower? It’s already 6:48 a.m.

This question keeps running through my head as the road twists back and forth. The woods on both sides are covered in white and purple trillium, tiny blue forget-me-nots, and yellow lady slippers. Lilac bushes tower over the homeowners’ properties; I open my window and catch the intoxicating scent.

  • 6:56 a.m.: Finn has his head out the back window and his tiny front paws on the sill. I watch his face in the car’s side mirror. He is squinting and smiling, his nose twitching like a bunny rabbit’s.
  • 6:59 a.m.: My face is relaxed in a half-smile as I continue driving. For the last two miles I try to straighten out the road by carefully maneuvering the car down the middle of the S-shaped yellow line.
  • 7:02 a.m.: I’m second-guessing the car clock and wondering if I’ll be able to drive right onto the ferry when I arrive.

The theme of whether to keep going or just slow down plays over and over in my mind like the earworm of a top ’70s song.

Rounding the last curve before entering the large blacktopped ferry station, I see the huge white boat just starting to pull away—not yet my best high school broad jump from the dock. Missed it!

Without even braking, I circle the pay station and continue back the way I came, that crazy half-smile still on my face. Minutes later, at the Red Cup Coffee House, I order avocado toast and a large skinny chai to go.

Back in my car, I unwrap the toast and place my chai in the cup holder. Balsamic vinegar drips down my chin and the goodness of fresh avocado is rich on my tongue. I drive more slowly, enjoying every moment of my commute back to the ferry landing. I know I have plenty of time before the 8 a.m. ferry arrives.

Spying something red on the side of the road, I ease into the bike lane and back up a short distance. Columbine, a darker red than I’ve seen at home, and a whole patch of it! Grabbing my camera from the dashboard I hop out and snap a few pictures while Finn watches from his open window.

When I reach the landing, mine is the first and only car in line for the ferry. I quickly shift into park, turn off the engine, and open Finn’s door for him. We start walking away toward the dog area for Finn to explore.

Finn trots along next to me, his tiny tail curled up and held high. He stops to sniff the bushes, the large rocks, and every tree he passes. He seems to be enjoying himself, without a care in his doggy world, and no sense of time. Maybe Finn is the perfect teacher for the lesson I still need to learn!

Already I see the ferry returning. Heading back to the car, I realize I never did have to hurry. There will always be more ferries.

After all, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.

I’ve made a few new lifetime friends on this trip, chilled out with lakeside porch time, my face lifted in gratitude to the sun, and I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like for discovering all the spring secrets of the plentiful woods on the island.

So I’ll be back—and next time I won’t be hurrying!

Originally Published June 28th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Little Bitty, Free Agent

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From Jane's World

Still in my jammies, I walked down to the snake shed to give the donkeys their morning hay. Diego, always the more impatient of the two, was already hee-hawing up a storm, trying to coerce me to move faster. But it was a pleasant spring morning, no need for a sweater or a rain jacket, and I wasn’t in any hurry.

I opened the door of the shed and wham! A big bird flew right at me—or right at the light from the open door I was standing in front of. I was so startled, I didn’t even have time to let out a yelp. I knew this was no robin or barn swallow. Turning quickly to see who had nearly collided with me, I jumped for joy: there was Little Bitty, waddling over to the rest of the flock.

“Bitty is home!” I yelled. “Bitty came back! Bitty was in the snake shed!” I exclaimed to no one in particular.

It’s hard not to like Little Bitty. She’s small and sleek and a great flier. She does fly-bys that would make your hair stand on end if you didn’t know that it was only Bitty.

I had been gone on a trip and when I’d called home to check on everyone’s status, Dane reported that Bitty was MIA. I was saddened by the news, but we both agreed that she had done this before and that possibly the next morning she'd be out in the yard, quacking up a storm, indignant that no one else was out of the duck hall yet and where was her food!?

But she didn’t come home. I did, six days later, and still no Little Bitty.

Little Bitty had flown the coop. She’s my only mallard duck, and when the seller asked if I wanted her wings clipped, I shouted an emphatic, “No!” It seemed such an unnatural thing to do, and with unclipped wings she’d have a better chance of getting away from a predator.

Last year Bitty surprised us with her comings and goings. Always no more than a day or two, but enough time to cause me to worry about her. This was by far the longest time she’d been gone. I’d started to lose hope that I’d ever see her again, when she surprised the daylights out of me this morning.

I threw hay to the donkeys and went over to the duck hall to watch Bitty’s homecoming. Tickles and The Professor, my two watchdog geese that rule over the flock here, seemed to be giving Bitty the cold shoulder. But Bitty had no qualms about gobbling up the grain I had thrown down. What an opportunist! Gone for almost a week and now eating faster and more than the others.

Where did Bitty go? What does Bitty do when she’s away?

I tend to think, since it happened in spring last year too, that she might be looking for a mate. But isn’t that the drake’s job?

I’d like to get one of those snazzy cameras that people attach to their cats’ collars so they can see where their kitty goes when it’s not at home. I could save them a lot of money and time by telling them their cat goes to visit the neighbors, who give them more food and more love, before coming back home to get more of the same! But Bitty going to a neighbor for treats and love? I doubt it.

Little Bitty’s disappearances are one of the many mysteries I’ll never be able to crack. For now, I’ll just rejoice in her being home and not having become Mr. Wily Coyote’s dinner.

Heading back out to put the ducks to bed tonight, I did a double take. No Bitty! I called for her, searched the creek where she likes to hang out, and even checked in the snake shed, thinking maybe she had a nest in there.

No luck. Little Bitty has flown the coop again. She was hardly home long enough to get her feet wet. Looks like Bitty is a free agent with a mind of her own, coming and going at her own will. I’d best get used to it.

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Originally Published June 21st, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

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