A place in the Sun

Sandhills 1

‘The Maker, whose heart is bigger than all the Earth and the Sea and the Sky, created a thousand different lands for his creatures to live upon and cherish and love. But a man’s heart is small, so he is fated to choose only one of the thousand lands to cherish and love above the others. He deems this place the fairest, and it is here he is most content in his life and most at peace when his soul and spirit pass on.’

Although I would like to claim that quote as an original thought and intellectual property all my own, it is my poetic prose blend of wisdoms that came from the hearts and minds of men and women with much deeper experience and appreciation of the Earth and mankind’s relationship with it: Black Elk, Rudyard Kipling, Rachel Carson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold among them. Reading their words awakens my too often dormant fascination with the natural world and inspires my writing about its essential role in my life, the foundation block that supports my teetering climb toward an understanding of the world and all that is upon it.

In truth, my understanding of the Earth is limited to a few small portions of it. A man’s heart is indeed small when measured against the myriad land and sky and seascapes that The Maker created and gave to mankind. Try as I might to cherish and love many – the Pacific Northwest, the desert Southwest, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming and Montana, the High Plains of the Dakotas, the aspen forests of Northern Minnesota, and so many others — I am able to embrace only a few. Really only two: The North Country of the Upper Midwest that has been my home more than 35 years, and the Nebraska Sandhills, which for more than 45 years has been my spiritual center, my land of serenity and reverence, my place in the sun. I have immersed myself in both realms, but my knowledge of them is still limited, and my comprehension of the seasonal, changeable characteristics of these lands, unlike my passion for them, is more apparent than real.

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A View from the North Country published

“A View from the North Country,” a collection of my most recent essays, stories, and poems, is now published in paperback and eBook editions.

The paperback edition will be available Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Dragonfly Books and Luther College Book Shop in Decorah, Iowa. The paperback edition and eBook edition are both available now at amazon.com  at this link —

A View from the North Country

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Strange old man captured on trailcam

I insert the memory card of my trailcam into the laptop and click “Extra Large Icons” on the View selection. The first few photos that appear on the monitor always set me back for a moment. Who is this strange old man stalking through our woodlands? My brain comes into focus and I realize the curious old coot is me. Old? Stodgy? Plodding? When did this happen? Maybe it would be best, psychologically, to put the trailcam away and go into this bow season with the picture of a younger man in my imagination.

 

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The Summer of Our Disconnect

Restoring the exposed log wall of our 135-year-old farm house was the most challenging home maintenance project we have ever attempted.

With the final stroke of the paintbrush the project was done. The exposed log wall of our 135-year-old farmhouse was restored, renovated, rejuvenated. A rugged rustic artwork that graphically depicts a long-past era of the farm’s history, this wall on the east side of the house now looks much as it did in the 19th century we believe.

The new siding on house was an easy project: we hired it done.

The log wall re-chinking was the most challenging and difficult home maintenance project of several that we undertook from June through August, the months I call “The Summer of Our Disconnect.”

Some of those projects were the routine labors of every summer in the North Country: cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking cords of firewood, cleaning the woodstove chimney, gardening, brush cutting and grass mowing. Others were forced upon us: driveway and culvert clean-up and reconstruction after two flash floods, and re-shingling the garage roof.

The garage, home to my Workshop and Clubhouse, re-roofed and re-sided.

There were a few major projects that we have discussed the past several years and finally acted upon: selectively logging 70 hardwood trees from our woodlands, arranging for the haying of our grasslands by an organic beef and dairy farmer, re-siding the house and garage, constructing a television antenna tower, taking down a set of dog kennel runs that will never be used again, replacing a half dozen double-pane windows that have become fogged.

Some updates of electrical wiring and installation of a ceiling fan awaiting completion, but that is not in my province. I do not mess with electricity or diamondback rattlesnakes.

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Flash floods

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Flood waters wash across the base of our driveway. This photo was taken after the worst of the flash flood had abated.

Our rain gauge showed 2.6 inches of precipitation overnight. Most of it fell in a two-hour period. The National Weather Service reported 50-plus miles-per-hour winds. The strongest  gusts came during that two-hour torrential thunderstorm.

When the worst of the rain abated, I took a camera to the base of our driveway to capture some photos of the flooding I knew would be horrendous. This was the second major flash flood of the summer. More are forecast.

The culvert pipe at the end of our driveway is blocked, filled with runoff muck and debris from the previous flash flood. A day before the latest storm I foolishly climbed down into the 15-foot-deep catch pool where the “dry run” of our south draw meets the driveway’s culvert embankment. The dry run has been small creek all summer. When flood waters fill the catch pool, it overflows across the embankment and the dead end road’s cul-de-sac.

To drain the catch pool I wanted to open the culvert’s corrugated steel pipe, but its mouth is somewhere beneath two feet of mud that clings to boots like wet concrete. Using a steel rod for a probe, I search for it 20 minutes and never found it. It appears to be under a jumble of rip-rap stones that rains washed down the face of the embankment. A half hour later, I had given up any hope of opening the pipe and was feeling fortunate to have gotten out of the catch pool’s quick-muck without suffering a coronary collapse.

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Sasha

Sasha 17 months 2.

Sasha, 17 months old, her first three-rooster day. This is one of the moments I will remember when I look back on our 15 years together. Thank you for all the years we spent together, Sasha, all the hunts, all the companionship. I miss you, and I will remember you until my own end of days comes to pass.

A few months ago the light in her eyes began to dim. Some of the fog that darkened her world was the hazy veil of cataracts that obscured more and more of her vision, but most of the clouds that were blotting out the light and warmth of her sunshine were the bleak weather of life’s late winter, Her body and her mind were slipping away, day by day. There was so little she could do, Sasha, this French spaniel who could once do so much, and she was often lost and confused by her dementia.

There were moments when those dim eyes of hers flashed brightly again as I held her head in my lap. Those were the fleeting seconds of self-awareness when she asked me: “What’s happening to me? What’s wrong with me? Help me! Fix me!”

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New boots

Boots

NEW BOOTS are a pain in the foot.

Buying boots has always been a challenge, an existential battle I often lose. I dream of acquiring boots that are an extension of my corporeal and metaphysical self, boots that are a comfortable, protective sheath for my feet, that allow me to hike miles and miles over rough terrain with a deer’s sprightly tread. The nightmare boots I usually get cinch my foot in the chiropodist’s version of the iron maiden, clumsy hobnails that encumber each elephantine step, trip on every obstacle, and mock my aching soles and arches at the end of a day’s hunt.

At its core, this is a struggle between the knobs, depressions, and protrusions of my oddly shaped feet against the one-size-fits-all production techniques of the modern footwear industry. Work boots, hiking boots, hunting boots – in any of a dozen different styles – are apparently designed and manufactured for the foot of “average” shape and conformation. My feet are in no way average. Neither are yours, probably. We all have our podiatric peculiarities.

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