Saturday, July 18, 2015

Life is in Balance: July Report from the Northwoods

Northern Wisconsin in July is a lovely place to be.   It is this time of year that annually reminds me "Aha! THIS is why we live here!", as the blue skies and waters, the varied and beautiful greens, and the divine smells of water, pines, Earth, and summer in general overload our senses.  The sensory joys of summer offset the cold drudgery of winter and the absent conveniences of the cities that many of us miss.  This summer especially, there is an added lushness to the vegetation as we've had frequent rainfall intermixed with sunny days.  This has made my gardening efforts at Mom's easier, but added to the work in keeping the property mowed and trimmed.
My beloved vintage glider allows a great view of the Wisconsin River.  But not until trimming is complete!
Iozi dons a backpack sprayer to tackle the vegetation on the roof. 

I am happy to report the adventure of gardening here is going well. We've kept animals out, we've grown organically, we have healthy lush plants.   I likely could have planned differently, so that we could be reaping more produce in the early months, but here at about 5 weeks in we have enjoyed lettuce and green onions at least.   A good half of the corn didn't germinate, but the plants that did emerge appear healthy, and they certainly have plenty of room around them to flourish. One of the things that has insured the garden health was the installation of the new pump. Thanks Pete! 

Late additions to the garden have included sweet potatoes, peas, cabbage, dill, celery, and parsley. Late additions to the pasture include...The Sheep! Two ewes and three lambs are tenants of the small field.  One mom has already demonstrated her protective self, posturing and intimidating Milo who was let in by mistake.

Raspberries, wild and domestic, are plentiful here.  Although the berries bordering Mom's garden are a variety that are small and don't hold together well, they are delicious and sweet.  One has to work pretty hard to get many, but they are always worth the effort. I anticipate doing some serious raspberry gathering over the next couple weeks.

The Fourth of July here in Rhinelander was one of my best ever (although my memory isn't that great) and I really had a wonderful time.  We spent the day on Crescent Lake, my childhood home, enjoying the hospitality of the Knutson family.  Here are a few photos from that excellent day, which was capped by fireworks over the lake as viewed from the pontoon.  After watching the display from boat (away from a crowded shoreline of people), I'm not sure I can ever go back to another way.  It was perfect.
Crescent Lake, in all her Glory. 
Does this look like a perfect evening or what? It was!

When I was growing up here, my teen and young adult summers were spent doing one thing: training.  I pretty much worked out all the time, whether it was running, lifting at the gym, or spending hours skill building with a basketball in my hand.  I was completely happy doing that and it occupied my days beautifully. I even recall an argument with Mom, who suggested that I was going to have to endure a full day of not training due to a family reunion.  At the time, the idea was appalling, and I wish I still had a few ounces of that training fervor in me.

When I moved back to this area at 49, I learned pretty quickly that I was going to need to discover Rhinelander anew.  Midway through my second summer, I continue to uncover fun things to occupy my grown up self and really enjoy not just the natural environment but the folks who live here.

Some of the things I have uncovered include the church league softball team.  I play for my mom's church where I grew up, the UCC,  and in theory we play on Monday nights.  It has stormed every Monday now for the last 4 or 5, but I still maintain hope that we will again get a chance to up our record from 1-5.  I pitch, which is also new, and its a good time.  No swearing.

Trivia on Wednesday nights at the Northwestern Lounge is another social engagement I look forward to as I fill my summer schedule.  It involves lots of folks much smarter than me and craft beer, a completely winning combination.
I'm not sure if this is actually craft beer, but it looks cool!

Anna models the coveted Trivia Champion Belt. As of this writing, my team is the current weekly champion. 

Yoga in Minocqua is for real.  I practice with some fun and fascinating folks and it challenges me in so many areas.  I've done yoga in fitness centers before, but this is the serious kind, where we do OMs and learn about the 8 arms of Yoga and the practice is a full 90 minutes. There is even a Feng shui element (yes, I know I am mixing cultures here) where keeping mats and props tidy and neatly arranged is required. My inner voice tells me that practicing yoga with these people in that setting is one of the best things I can do for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Paddleboarding and kayaking on the many lakes and rivers here is a new part of recreational culture that didn't exist in 1980.  Having a personal watercraft that you can throw into or on your car opens up the chance to explore, without much planning, the unlimited waterways here.  I'm paddling at least twice a week and thus far, and it is something I've been doing solo.  There is a group I joined early on here that coordinates local excursions, but I have yet to actually participate with them.
My paddle board is from Menard's and I love it!

Finally, I'll note that I have made continued progress on my home upgrades. 
This railing is upcycled from a wood stained knickknack shelf the previous owner left behind on the wall up here. Yes, I did cut out and dispose of the wall that once stood here, and I removed the plaster from the bricks you see. I am smiling now, but that was a messy, smelly, extremely tiresome pain of a job that took months to complete. :)

There is work and there is play, there is social and there is solo, there is inside and outside, sun and rain.

I am feeling life in balance on this July day.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Do What Scares You

It was a nice week as I balanced my part time summer school job with afternoon work at the farm.  Nothing too extraordinary occurred, but in Nature of course, things are always moving and shaking!

In the garden, news was good! No deer found their way in, and we had plenty of rain mixed with sun and warmer temperatures.  This was enough to get almost everything sprouted that I had planted last weekend, the champions of course being the beans and the lettuces as you might expect.

The first veggie harvest of the year (not including asparagus, which doesn't count) was green onions.  Woot!

One fun find in my garden adventures was the discovery of some turtle eggs when I was working the soil.  Here near the river and pretty much everywhere in Northern Wisconsin these days, we see a lot of turtles.  I'd say that for those of us paying attention, you'll see at least one a day as you drive about.  Turtles make their way onto the road edges and hang about a while as they like the sandy soil for laying eggs.  It will be interesting to see if the turtles in my garden hatch and if so, how they will get out of my well fenced, rabbit-proof enclosure.

Turtle eggs in the garden.
I managed to get a water pump that I found in the barn to run, which was a great surprise.  With some adapters, I can likely get it working to pump water from the pond into the irrigation system dad set up for the gardens and lawns.

Mom and I have talked about selling the tractor and the large collection of implements.  I have been pretty adamant that the 1952 Ford 8n tractor was simply too old, impractical, and unsafe to use.  Further, although I have used a tractor at my previous hobby farm, a newer Honda model, this one was very difficult for me to figure out. Unlabeled levers and pedals are everywhere.  They all pointed to the potential for the terrifying moment where the tractor reared up like a horse and fell on top of me, or sucked me into it's uncovered PTO system.
The Monster in the Barn
In preparation for selling the it, I began to research auction and sales websites for tractors to get a feel for what the old Ford might be worth.  I learned that there are plenty still in use, and read very little about the catastrophes they are involved in. Further, I realized that given this tractor actually can do the work needed on the farm, and that a newer one would cost, say $10,000, I needed to open my mind and find a way to do what my father, brother, and son have done. Use the tractor.  I'd say this decision is simply my thrift trumping my fear.

I watched a bunch of YouTube videos.  I told myself that driving this tractor is not anywhere near as terrifying as I was making it out to be.  Driving the antiquated tractor is not like, say, going over Niagara falls in a barrel.  Still, I had to do a good bit of self-talk as I remembered Eleanor Roosevelt's words about doing "what scares you".  Once I committed myself to doing it, it literally took 3 hours to start the tractor and keep it running long enough to get it into gear, and another full hour to connect the mower deck.  A well-timed phone call from my brother Dean helped me learn how to keep the gas flowing enough to prevent stalling and to hear some more reassurance that the tractor would not topple over on me.  

In the end, I took the monster out and got some field grass cut, riding the clutch a bit too much but accomplishing some good work and coming out alive.  I had to stop twice and tinker with the machinery to keep it going.
Over the shoulder view as I tried to keep both hands on the wheel!

I also got my hands and clothing super dirty and greasy. Now I know why farmers dress like they do. I never got this dirty back in the day with my fancy Honda tractor. 

After a nice day of farming, I ended the day with a really nice boat ride on the river where Nikki and I spotted this cool dude totally relaxed and loving life in the Northwoods.  What a great way to end the weekend.

Friday, June 12, 2015

To work the Land

It is summer, 2015.

I live in Rhinelander, Wisconsin now. It is the town I grew up in.  Much different in many ways than I recall.   I decided to begin my blog again as a way to record my first summer of really trying to get into living life here and managing my parents' land.  While I spend last summer living here, I was swirling with the task of adapting to a new home and so many adjustments. I was overwhelmed.

This summer, I can use my time and energy to garden, maintain, and get to know the beautiful property that my parents have enjoyed for 30 years now.
Wild Irises have always been my favorite.

Today I arrived before 7:30 to start a beautiful day of work, intent on finishing the work of putting in the garden. Before I got to work, I enjoyed seeing a family of Canadian geese (two adults, 6 very large kids) walk along the grass by the dock before entering the river to swim away.  I went down to get a good look. It isn't often I've seen families of geese in the Wisconsin River up here.

Today is June 12, 2015 and it was sunny and mid-70s.  Beautiful after yesterday's rain.  
The garden soil is quite sandy and easy to work.  I hauled several loads of compost from the trusty pile behind the shop (any guesses how old that pile is?) to boost the nutrients in the soil.  Today, I got in corn, beans, and several types of potatoes to compliment the onions, peppers, basil, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, and chard.  Additionally, I planted the squash and cuke plants.  I'm using landscape fabric to combat the weeds. Looks nice now and I hope it does the trick.

Pete stopped by and let me know that he and Randy would be over shortly to net fish in the ponds.  The real motive was to collect minnows, but Pete was hoping to discover trout.  He indicated that Dad had stocked trout in the pond around 2012.  The minnow gathering was entertaining.  We found no trout or any other game or panfish, just minnows that Pete called Dace, both green and yellow.  New to me.

Pete and Randy mostly collected in the big pond near the road.  It was pretty deep and Pete fell in over his waders and we all got a kick out that.  Since he has fallen through the ice twice already, I wasn't too concerned. 

Pete and Iozi decided to see if we could start a blue gill pond, and committed to adding them to the first pond as we catch them. 

Before I left for the day, I needed to get a watering system going and re-fence the garden.   Given that both pumps were broken (cracked from not being properly winterized), I used a hose from the spigot near the birdfeeders.  It worked great. 

For now, the fencing consists of a rabbit fence which is made of green plastic and 24" high.  An electric fence at eye level, and some mylar ties to hopefully scare deer.  The fence has 3 sides of actual 48 inch mesh, topped with electric.  The side facing the apple trees is the one that is suspect.
There was one set of deer tracks in there where I arrived today.  Let us hope it is the last.



What do I want to be next? I spent the last couple years taking grad classes to get a principal's license, but something happened this year that halted my interest. We hired a new principal. A really good one. He works really hard and makes our school better and deals with 100 hassles of all varieties every day. You know what? I decided that I am all about making our school better, but I don't want to be a principal. I just am not excited enough about any of it to do that. So, I will continue to put to good use all of the things I've learned about leadership to contribute any way I can and go from there.
Today I showed the movie "Fresh" in health class. When Joel Salatin worked his farm and talked about sustainability, I had a light bulb moment. "I think I would like to do that".
Could I raise chickens, connect with our Earth, be a steward, teach? Sure got me wondering.