Cookouts and family visits
get summer started on the right foot
June ended with everybody praying for rain. The woods were still green, but grass in places was beginning to show the strain of several weeks without moisture, and corn was just beginning to show the first signs of withering as we drove home after our end-of-June visit.
It was wonderful to have Matt around through the middle of the month, and Nate, Ani and Ethan made it up twice with their dog, Scruffy.
Our first visit was June 3, a day after Matt and his girl friend Kristi, visiting again from California, had gone up, and there were some strange happenings. The garage door opener was working, but the lights in the garage were very dim and they finally flickered and went out. I thought I would probably have to call our electrician to come out an look at the situation. It wasn't to be quite that simple in the end.
That evening we cooked burgers out on the grill, then took Kristi on a "deer drive" over toward Hustler and north of Highway A. We had success, winding up seeing 18 deer by the time we returned home at dusk.
On June 5, around noon, on a clear calm day, we lost power to the whole house. Since our main breaker wasn't tripped, we called Oakdale Electric, and they had a crew there within the hour. As they examined the situation, theories abounded. First they thought maybe the landscaper had accidentally cut a line, then they thought the problem might be with one of the splices between the house and the line at the main road. They cut the old line and strung a new temporary along the top of the ground. That got the power back on, but their meters showed something was still wrong. Finally, when we shut off the breaker to the garage and smokehouse the problem disappeared. At that point they left, because it was obvious the problem was on our side of the box and not the electric company's, although no one was ever able to explain why the main breaker never tripped.
A few days later, Brockman Electric came out and they found where the line to the garage had burned through, apparently after it was nicked while the phone company was installing some new lines. They got that repaired, after considerable digging and hard work, and within about a week the electric company had the new underground line in place. It makes you appreciate electricity, how important it is and how much we take it for granted most days.
June was a month for some routine maintenance. I changed the blades on the Cub mower and Matt and I changed the oil and replaced the oil filter. The tractor - which is the key to everything in maintaining the farm - was a little balky. Once when I had trouble starting it, brother Tom (on one of several long-distance phone consultations) suggested draining the fuel bulb and carburetor in case there was any water in there, and that worked. Later in the month, though, Matt and I could not get it to restart down in the pines. We left if there overnight and took the battery back to the house to recharge it, however, and it started right up the next morning when the battery was re-installed and worked for the rest of the month without a problem.
I had gotten Bob's Ariens mower out to give it a try, but when I filled it up with gas it all started to drain out through the leaky fuel line. I drained the gas out as much as I could and then ran the mower until it was dry, but then we noticed that it was really smoking and smelled like burning paper and grass. Sure enough, there was a mouse nest next to the engine under the engine cover. I pulled that out with needlenose pliers, and a new piece of tubing from the True Value Hardware store in New Lisbon fixed the gas line. We also lost the pin out of the tractor crank, a crucial item if you can't get the engine to turn over with the starter, but the same trip to the hardward store came up with a pressure pin that fit tightly. After a little grinding and cutting to size, we were back in business, although we never needed to crank the Cub again for the rest of the month. And we also replaced the spark plug in the Echo trimmer that Bob also bought for the farm and got running again for the season. And we probably have a few more spark plugs that could use replacing.
The battle against the invasives continued but we sort of ran out of steam on pulling garlic mustard as it changed from flowering stage to seed stage. There was still a good window for pulling it, but we turned more to clearing the underbrush - mostly buckthorn, but also box elder, honeysuckle, elderberry, elm, barberry and blackberries - out of the pines. Matt put in the most hours, I was next, and Nate helped too when he was up there. I'm still wary of chemicals, but I used several sprayers of Element on foliage and poison ivy in various places and also painted hundreds of stumps with a 4-1 Element-diesel fuel mixture. Surveys by the end of the month showed it had been very effective.
I wonder if the neighbors might be put off by the spraying, but I have become convinced it is the only way to get ahead of problems, then later you can cut back on its use or possibly eliminate it. You can’t just keep cutting buckthorn and box elder, though. They just come back even worse than the were. You can’t get in close to cut barberry bushes and you don’t want to try to deal with poison ivy any other way.
Matt had to put Kristi on a plane back to California on June 10, but we had a nice long stay June 15-18, when he was there for his last visit before he had to leave for his next Navy school in Providence, R.I. It was a very special Father's Day on June 17, as Nate celebrated his first Father's Day as a dad, and I got to spend the day with both my sons and my new grandson. And, oh, I got a lot of nice gifts, including a new trail cam.
The house and landscaping, of course, remain very much a work in progress. I'm gradually scavenging gravel and dirt from place in the driveway and filling in the ravines in the yard. We have made some paint choices and actually got the living area walls painted a "wild honey" color, which makes the white woodwork "pop" a little more than it did against white walls. Gayle has big plans for painting a lot more rooms, but I plan to be hiding in the woods at some point. We still need to get doorstops installed, something the builder was going to do, but it's such a small detail that I think it will fall to us now. And we are hoping to get some permanent window coverings in place before we have visitors in July.
On our last trip of the month, we stopped on the way up at the Aldo Leopold Center just south of the Dells. It just opened in 2007. We found that by joining, we would be eligible for the free Saturday tours they give of "The Shack," the rebult chicken house where he and his wife and five children stayed when they left Madison to spend time at their country place, and we would get a copy of the new movie about his life and legacy, "GreenFire." So we joined, toured the center, enjoyed the many wildflower plantings there, then we went down to see "The Shack" from the outside. It makes the old tree farm house look like a proper dwelling and the new house like a palace.
But times have changed since they visited there in the 1930s and 1940s, and none of his five children - as much as they loved the place - apparently still wanted to keep coming there enough to keep it in the family. And I would be willing to bet as times changed, Leopold might have enjoyed an internet connection there.
For me, though, the parallels to our situation are amazing. It was an abandoned, unsuccessful farm the Leopold got for $8 an acre. The family worked hard to reclaim the land and shared many wonderful experiences. And he loved trees, but he loved pines most of all. It sounds familiar.
On our last weekend of the month, Nate and family were up for their third visit of the season, and he was able to get some quality time on the Cub mowing. He also spent most of one day rebuilding his bench under the oak tree north of the house, which had fallen into "disrepair" over the years. And I finally captured my first two trail cam images of deer, one at 11:30 in the morning on the new trail just down below the house, and the other in the pines at night. The one shown below was coming up out of the valley and apparently headed south along the east fence line - maybe headed to the neighbors pond for a drink.
A doe coming through the pines about 1:30 a.m. is
startled as the trail cam fires.