Saturday morning presented a muffled landscape of fog. It was the kind of fog that settles in for the long haul, just begging me to to settle in on the porch with my coffee and Rainy the Cat (Mr. Hans, first-cat-in-command, is currently sequestered indoors due to recent surgery) I puzzled out what I might do while these wads of cotton pressed down around us. Cat and I, what can we do? I had an idea. Let’s go Steer Staring. It’s a great game and the steer are always eager to participate. Head to head. Eyeball to eyeball.
The game goes like this; I stand really still and stare at them. They stand really still and stare at me. The first one who turns tail and runs loses. Cats are really good at this game, I lose all the time to Gray Ghost. Not only does she stare me down to the bare bone, she adds an iciness to her stare. I can’t compete.
Anyway, this game kills a lot of time. In fact, it’s a big time waste when I should be doing more productive things. Like laundry. Dishes. Vacuuming. Things that are all so very productive, but let’s go to the steer. Game on. Contestant number one emerges stealth-like from the mist. Good strategy using the cover of the fog as an intimidating factor. I almost didn’t see him coming:
With barely a nod, he pulls in more resources. Good move. More eyeballs to wear me down. I’m still standing strong at this point. But my knees are quivering. The stakes are high. (ha, get it? Stakes? Steer? Yeah, sorry.)
He’s playing rough now. He somehow pulled in more hoofs from the left flank. I didn’t see it coming. I’m almost done in. Steer from the right, steer from the left, more in the back if needed. My cat took off. Thanks cat. I’ve got it. Don’t worry about me and the millions of eyeballs staring me down.
Just when I thought all was lost, this happened:
They took off! I win! I swear I didn’t flinch. Back into the mist they go. And you know what? Me too. Back into the mist and into the house. My winnings are modest. I get a pickle. Yay pickle! But that’s it. Because I know those steer. They are cooking something up to recoup their loss. I still haven’t forgotten when I got my hand stuck in the steer shed and they just stood there and laughed at me. So my win is a quiet and somber one. Respect the steer.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hans is getting lots of love after his surgery. Hang in there little guy, we’ll get that cone off soon:
It seemed like an inauspicious start to a spicy, hot Cajun in the Country festival.
How will folks even find the barn in a soup mix like this? How do you eat Jambalaya when you feel the icy, foreboding fingers of a Stephen King novel crawling up your spine? These are questions I pondered on the very morning of Cajun in the Country 2015 as we commenced festival prep work. I wondered if I should change the signs to read Cajun in the Mist. How that would go over?
Not to worry though, the scary mist burned off, and the heat switch turned on. By 11:30 everything was coming together. Volunteers showed up, tents popped up, cook-off entries made their delectable appearances, and ye ol’ Allis came out to preen itself by the roadside, a sure sign the gig was on and the fog was lifting.
With help from The Festival Urban Ninjas, we were ready for the second annual Cajun in the Country. If I may, I’d like to just explain for a moment who the Festival Urban Ninjas are…they are a small, non-profit group of wonderfully diverse people committed to organizing local festivals to bring our small town together in an atmosphere of fun, with proceeds going to local charities. My husband and I hooked up with them in an effort to socialize off of the farm, and we have ended up with some really great friends…with pop up tents, and mad, mad organizing skills. Don’t mess with the ninjas. Or they’ll put a pop-up tent in your yard and have a festival. Whee. And so here we are, year two of Cajun in the Country.
Let us begin…disclaimer stuff first; most interior photos of the barn were taken not by me, but by members of the FUN committee, so thank you Niki, Mary and Bethany for the use of your photos, cause I don’t know where I was, mostly upstairs printing stuff, or running around checking toilet paper status or hiding behind the blackberry bush. Ha, didn’t know I was there did you? I’m shy. Actually it was the asparagus patch which is doing well thank you.
So the fog lifted and the barn was waiting for folks to come in boots and all. Hey barn!
This year we were able to post the band line up on an old door lying around dormant (get it, door-mant?! hee.) and made it into a billboard of sorts. We had 4 bands this year and it was pretty fantastic to hear the old barn fill up with their rousing music. The Prairie Bayou Cajun Band kicked things off, followed by Mal-O-Dua, the New Riverside Ramblers and finally, Tally Miller up from Louisiana.
There wasn’t just music here, oh no. We had copious amounts of food and drink. Let’s see, where should we start? Oh yes, how about with Vintage Brewing Company who joined us in offering up 4 different brews, and Mershon’s Cider joined in on the fun as well. Hi guys, and yum!
Jim’s Cheese also pitched in with some really great pulled pork sandwiches and even Cajun-spiced cheese curds. What? Yes, cheese curds with Cajun seasoning. And it was good.
Let’s not forget the touch of wine we had there. Botham jumped in with a few varietals. Oh, and look at that, they even threw Bethany into the mix. Hi Bethany! Yes, I’ll have a glass thank you.
All in all, it was a pretty fun, festive atmosphere. Good music, food, drink and people. Yes, once again I’m going to say that this is a wonderful group of people who showed up to the barn. And I’d be happy to host them again next year for the third annual Cajun in the Country.
If you do come next year, I’ll leave you with this; don’t forget to stop by to say hello to the steer. They like to participate too!
Two weeks. In just two weeks our barn doors open and the festivities begin again! This is our second year of hosting “Cajun in the Country”. We’re getting ready for those cowboy boots to hit the floor boards. I can hardly wait!
Not that I’m tapping my toe impatiently, for there is much to do to prepare. And there is a fine group of people working behind the scenes to pull it together. As for me, I have my assignments. It looks a little like this:I got the long end of the stick, the barn broom stick that is. I sweep. 5 bays. Bay by bay. I tried to rationalize my way out of it by saying, “well isn’t it okay to leave a little straw on the floor for props? This is a barn after all. Yes?” No. It all gets swept up, and fresh straw will find its way in anyway no matter how much I sweep.
Don’t worry about me though, I’ve always got company. Whenever I slide open the barn doors no matter how quietly, a barn cat will materialize from out of cat-nowhereville. Just when I thought I was alone…cat. Ghost cat. They come and they go. Like a whisper in the wind. Or a squeak in a wheel is more like it. They squeak, they don’t meow. Whole different language. But I’m getting away from myself. The point is, the barn is being swept to make way for boots and people.
The lights will come on and the bands will play. It’s getting there. Trust me, the rafters will fill with music. If you want to know more just go to the ColumbusWIFun website for more information. Meanwhile, we sweep, prepare and all of us here on the farm eagerly await your arrival!
Once again, we left the farm in capable hands and journeyed to the northwoods for our annual get-off-the-farm vacation. Our first evening began at the family cabin deep in the heart of Chequamegon National Forest. Going there one must be prepared for total quiet save for the glorious chorus of bullfrogs at dusk. Leave the cell phone at home, that won’t work here. And forget plush accommodations. While it is comfortable, it’s still a little rough on the edges. But that’s okay. The focus is on the natural surroundings. That includes long-standing cabins that have been around the block a time or two and exhibit the wear and tear to show for it. A visit up there always includes a walk to poke around haunting hints of these past occupancies.
A little bit of history whispers here. You can kind of hear it, but can’t quite make out the words. You almost see it, but you don’t quite see it. Like trying to look directly at a nebula. You just can’t, but out of the corner of your eye, you can see something, maybe, if you hold still long enough.
Which is what led us to our journey to Bear Island.
Bear Island may not really be an island. That is in question. Marshy land connects it to terra firma from what I gather. Tall galoshes might get you there, but a canoe would be better. That being said, this pretend island doesn’t really have a name. I just call it Bear Island out of convenience. So there floats the first mystery of Bear Island. It sure looks like an island from where I sit on the back patio of the cabin. I hear it’s siren call. Which is probably not a good thing…
Island: “Come to me you dumb fool”
Me: “oh, okay”
And so we went.
But first, let’s back up a bit. My husband told me the story of one man who in the 1950s sought to write an article for National Geographic about living on an island in the northwoods during winter. It was upon this very island he chose to build a cabin and live out the winter. This was before all those off-the-grid-living-in-Alaska-struggling-to-survive reality T.V. shows. Interesting that some 50 or 60 years ago someone else was playing with that very same concept.
The cabin still exists there on the island, and no one is to step foot on there. I’m not sure why. So it only seemed logical that Pete and I decided we would step on the island. (First premonition, watch where I step) We were going to paddle there. But first we had to do a recon. In the fading light of dusk, we slipped out on our canoe to search for an inconspicuous landfall with the intent of striking out first thing in the morning. Because we must not be seen. By what…cod? Yes, well, we mapped our landing and paddled back to the cabin to prep for the coming morn. Prep included a glass of wine and popcorn. Strenuous yes I know.
The next morning we set out across a quiet lake, and pulled ashore in our appointed place. I was very disappointed no one met us with a platter of cheese, crackers and a free ticket on the gondola ride to the top. What kind of island is this?
A secret island, that’s what. No one has stepped foot here in years so the lore goes. I’m not sure I believe that but it’s fun to imagine. So after a quick climb up we came upon this cabin built in the 50s. Despite its many years, I could tell that it wasn’t just slapped up in a day. It’s main structure held fast, while decay wrinkled its brows.
The fact that it’s still standing after some 50 or 60 years is a testament to the care taken into building it. Which is saying a lot considering someone had to transport materials across the lake to build this. Including a stove and bunk beds which are still in evidence there. I wonder how long it took them to build it, and did it have running water? And really, how isolated was he? Were there not other cabins on the main shore at the time?
It was a very interesting, secretive sojourn to this island. Just paddling out in the quiet light of morning across a very still lake was in itself beautiful. Walking amidst tall pine trees on soft, piney ground to catch a glimpse of history added to the mystique.
One other little island mystery that I still can’t figure out is how I stepped on an upturned nail that went straight through the heel of my boot, but not the heel of my foot. After that little incident, I thought it best to respect the island and leave forthwith. After a little more walking around away from debris and potential nails, we set off back home for another beautiful paddle across a still lake, leaving the island and its past residents and rusty nails to its own solitude.
I tried, I really tried.
I attended the reunion of my husband’s family from the Nordic side of the tracks. This happens every three years according to family lore. This year it was held a mere half hour from our farm. This meant that after the calves were fed and the herb garden was given a fine haircut, we were able to hop in our chalopy and make out for the gathering. I wish to make it clear that this is no random gathering of souls. It was thoroughly planned with historical exhibits, a raffle drawing for family artifacts, musical entertainment, a reflective speech, and various outdoor activities. Oh, and food. Lots of food. Good food. No wonder it occurs every three years. This takes fine-tuned planning to pull off something of this scale.
Being that my husband’s family is from Norway, there is the looming possibility that Lutefisk may be on the menu. I was a little worried about that. I can eat sushi, but I finally gave up on trying to be friends with the Lutefisk. I can’t do it. But I enjoy and respect those that can. And if you like it, you really like it. And if you don’t like it, here’s what you do instead:
Paint a Lutefisk:
One of Pete’s relatives had the brilliant idea to cut fish shapes out of wood, and have a table where kids can just go crazy and paint a Lutefisk fish fisk…fish. You get the idea. Paint it, don’t eat it. Yes!! I quickly gravitated to that table, slapped on an apron and was determined to get crazy with the Lutefisk. Only to find that I was outdone by the Lutefisk children who know better how to get crazy with the fishies:
How do you do that Children of the Lutefisk??! How do you manage to integrate color, design and imagination in such a glorious way without preconceived notions! You are free to create according to your own desires. I found that I was held hostage by my own adult constraints:
I’m not unhappy or displeased with my results, but I do recognize that I wasn’t letting myself loose. I did One fish, saw how controlled I felt, and went back to do Two fish, and still felt controlled. Argh. Really!!? I still can’t throw off my adult inhibitions and get Lutefisk-crazy like this Child-of-the-Fish did?:
It’s good to realize when one needs to pull back, cut the tight rubber band and go boing!! There was a time, and there are still times when I do a drawing that comes spontaneously, and it just works. This was one good Lutefisk exercise to bring that concept of spontaneity back home. I have to keep remembering that, I have to once in a while go boing. And not worry about constraints. Just go with it. Why did it seem so easy when I was younger? I suppose as an adult I’m constantly making to-do lists and checking items off accordingly. Unfortunately it’s affecting my approach to art. I need to walk away from the lists, and walk towards the crazy Lutefisk. And just get all, Go Fish Go.
Spring graced us with yet another lush, wet, soggy Saturday;
It was a nice day to stay inside, or stand on the porch and watch the weeds grow. Weeds that I had just trimmed a few days ago. Or a week ago. Okay, a week ago. The point is…they’re fast growers and they mock me with their upward mobility:
The plants are going a little crazy now too. The Dianthus and Chives have exploded in bursts of pink and purple. It’s like watching fireworks go off at ground level;
I love watching all the greenery unfurl while under the influence of rain. Even the run-away lawn. We can try to tame it but I don’t mind seeing it run a little wild just to remind us of its true nature. There’s only so much we can control. Best to keep in mind, we are ultimately not in control. Unless I brought in professionals. But what’s the fun in that? There’s something romantic and wild about lush gardens running amok against the textured background of the farm;
Looking out from my porch that soggy Saturday, the wild garden movement of the late 19th Century Victorian time period comes to mind. I’m here to bring that trend back. It works for me, there are no crisp lines, no perfect strokes. I’ll let nature guide the design with a few little tweaks on my part. It all sounds like an excuse to save me a little time and work, and it partly is, but I notice this spring I feel a lot less harried about it all than in the past. Which means I can spend more time to simply enjoy it. A fine trade-off from my point of view.
Spring is here, and along with the onset of blooming flowers and invasive weeds, tractor training has thus begun. Let’s give a warm welcome to the Allis Chalmers WD-45, or the new Allis as we refer to it:
It is this new Allis upon which I will be learning to drive a tractor. The old Allis is the tractor that Pete has been driving since God created man. Or close to it anyway. He purchased the new Allis to supplement tractor duties when needed. This is where I step in, or hide according to mood. Ha, no really, I do want to learn to drive a tractor. Partly because as a farmer’s wife, I think it’s a good skill set to have, and also I just like the sound of the engine and build up of power as the tractor leaps into life. It’s a rush.
Both of our Allis tractors are from the late 40’s to early 50’s. The new Allis was rebuilt prior to our purchase, so its origins are a little mixed. Sort of like that mixed breed puppy that we all gush over. I’m trying very hard not to gush over this one because in all seriousness, this is a machine and that means safety first. So I must pay attention and resist the urge to just stroll over and turn the key and take it for a spin.
Fortunately I have enough healthy fear and respect for this machine to not do anything as foolhardy as that. Plus, I have a patient driving instructor in Pete “The Clutch” Farm Guy:
So for my first lesson, Pete drove the tractor out and cleared a 5-mile radius of buildings, animals, people and productive crop. I kid, he didn’t really clear the vicinity but he did drive the tractor out to an area giving me enough radius within which to practice. I did notice however that the barn cats steered clear of the area during this time. Smart cats. Good cats. Very much alive cats.
Some of you who have grown up on farms must find driving a tractor second nature. Not so with me. I wish it were so, but holy crap, this is not like driving my car. Sure there’s that key to start it, but there’s this wire that one pulls to really get it going. Once pulled, the engine roars to life and my heart leaps with excitement, fear and anticipation. My car doesn’t have that little trip wire.
Understand that Pete “The Clutch” Farm Guy made sure to walk me through the mechanics before I even sat in the seat. But it’s one thing to walk through the process and see him do it, and another thing to plop my butt down on the seat and commence engines on…and realize that 1) I can barely engage the clutch entirely, and 2) THERE’S TWO FREAKIN’ CLUTCHES! My car is a stick shift and I prefer that mode, so I’m good with clutches and shifting. But this was a challenge reaching the clutch and engaging the gears. That’s going to take more practice. And muscle. And longer legs!
You know how people say they can feel muscles ache that they’ve never used before after doing something new? I felt muscles ache that had no business aching after clutch and shift exercises on this tractor! This is embarrassing but I was breaking into a sweat just trying to shift gears. I need more arm muscle. Or the tractor simply needs to get more use. Cue me. This has left me with an incredible and invigorating feeling, and with more practice hopefully I will become more confident in taking the helm. But before this first session closed, I had to learn to reverse, back up, turn, and ultimately, drive the tractor into the garage whose doors seemed unusually close together upon my approach. I questioned Pete about whether the doors should be pushed wider apart but he said that they were fine. Fine. Just fine. And this is where I realize I have to just go for it. Be scared but go for it. My god is Pete a trusting fellow. I could’ve very well driven the tractor straight through the garage into the calf pen next door. But either that guy has a tractor remote tucked in his pocket, or he has great confidence in me.
Either way, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that I got that tractor in the garage without tearing down the property. And now, I have a hint of that bond one must feel for a tractor he or she utilizes on a regular basis. Just getting to know the nuances and particularities of Allis on this one day has already drawn me closer to it. I can’t wait for more Allis days!
Whitewashed, glass-tiled, cool in the summer, cold in the winter. That is the milkhouse that has become my studio where I hope to get back to my basic roots of drawing, painting, and at some point, printmaking.
And just in case you think this is all about my artwork, I'll be posting about daily life on a small, working farm as well. And since I didn't grow up on a farm, and have no idea what to do in many cases, you may find a few amusing anecdotes as I grow accustomed to life here.
This will be an evolving, and in all probability, ever-changing site as I figure things out. So stick around and let's see what happens!