Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An Earth Day Song On The Kickapoo


We are approaching another anniversary of “Earth Day” here in the United States.  Pausing on or near April 22 of each year to reflect on the relationships that people have with where they live, and to conduct activities and hold events to better that relationship has been happening in this country since 1970.  One of the originators of that first Earth Day forty-four years ago was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson.
            It is said that Senator Nelson helped create that first Earth Day in reaction to a massive oil spill that ravaged the Pacific Coast near Santa Barbara, California in 1969.  With an emerging consciousness by the public about pollution dangers, Nelson sought to push environmental issues onto the national political agenda.  He persuaded Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair for the Earth Day event.  McCloskey, a conservative Republican, served as a political balance with the liberal Democrat Nelson for leadership of the young movement.
            At that first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, a national “teach-in” on the environment was held on college and university campuses across the country.  The messages that were heard that day resonated with Americans everywhere who were worried about things like air and water pollution. With the strong media blitz that accompanied the environmental teach-in, a push was made politically to enact legislation that would address some of the environmental concerns and problems.  By the end of that year, Congress had begun the process to pass landmark legislation to create the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pass the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
            At the same time as the national environmental movement was blooming, the dam project on the Kickapoo River at La Farge was moving toward the construction stage.  Land for the dam project, which was to be constructed just upriver and north of the village, was being purchased by the Corps of Engineers’ land procurement officials based out of Rock Island, Illinois.  By the spring of 1970, the Corps had purchased several family farms along the Kickapoo for the proposed dam project.  Families were moving off from those farms and the buildings on the properties were put up for sale - to be moved or demolished by the buyer.  Corps' engineers dug sample wells and took soil and rock samples on Norris Ridge, where the dam was to be constructed.
            At that particular time in history, few people would realize that a convergence was about to happen with the emerging national environmental movement and the Corps of Engineers’ project on the Kickapoo River.  Gaylord Nelson had been a strong proponent of the flood control project on the Kickapoo, first when he was governor of Wisconsin and then as a senator in Washington D.C.  In the spring of 1970 as those first properties in the La Farge area were being purchased for the dam project, Nelson and the other elected representatives of western Wisconsin were solidly behind the endeavor.  By the following spring, Senator Nelson and many other state politicians would be singing an entirely different tune.
            What changed the lyrics in this little harmonic ditty formed by the new national environmental movement and the dam project at La Farge occurred later in that year of 1970.  For it was the elections that were held in November of that year that would forever change the direction of the dam project on the Kickapoo River.
            When Patrick Lucey was elected governor of Wisconsin in the general election in November 1970, he immediately began to assemble an administration team and cabinet for his state executive department.  One of the goals of Governor-elect Lucey and his team was to stop the dam project at La Farge.  Although Lucey had not campaigned against the dam project at La Farge prior to the election (Indeed, the project had been a non-issue in the run-up to the election with neither Lucey or Jack Olson, the Republican candidate, showing anything but support for completion of the project.), there were ominous signs that opposition to the project, especially from the emerging environmental community, was gathering.
            During the summer and autumn of 1970, many articles about the Kickapoo Valley project had started to appear in the Madison and Milwaukee daily newspapers.  Many of the articles were based on canoe trips taken by the newspaper writers on that section of the Kickapoo that would eventually be covered with the waters of the lake behind the dam to be built at La Farge.  (At that time, canoeing on the Kickapoo was just beginning to take off as a recreational activity in the area.  Few local Kickapoogians were interested in canoeing on the snag and snarl infested Kickapoo at the time, but those people from away found the recreational activity alluring.)  A variety of the writers from the state’s daily newspapers, including well known outdoors writers Steve Hopkins of the Wisconsin State Journal and Bill Stokes of the Milwaukee Sentinel, penned feature articles on the Kickapoo River and the dam project.
            Beginning in late 1970, increasingly the tone of the articles in the state papers began to slant against the dam project at La Farge.  Sporting such headlines as “Mother Nature May Be Evicted” and “Virginal Valley Today, But Tomorrow?” the articles on the Kickapoo Valley dam project focused more and more on the loss of the natural scenic beauty and the “wildness” of the river.  The focus of the media coverage began to shift away from the beneficial flood control, recreational and economic aspects of the dam project and toward the protection of the natural environment of the Kickapoo Valley.  This concern with the environment being shown by many who opposed the La Farge project was emanating from that rebirth of environmental concerns in America that was introduced on that first Earth Day earlier in April.
            On Saturday, April 19th, “Kickapoo Earth Day 2014” will be held at the Visitor Center of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.  A wide variety of events and activities are planned throughout the day and evening to celebrate Earth Day.   Some of the events held at the Reserve will feature nationally known speakers on many different topics of environmental interest.  How ironic that this Earth Day event will be hosted on land that was originally purchased for the La Farge Dam & Lake Project.  Dis-harmonic convergence perhaps?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Winter of 2014


Thirty days has September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,

Except in the Winter of 2014,
When January and February
Each had two hundred and forty-two.
And March came in like a Lion,
When it was minus twenty-five on the Kickapoo!

            It has been that kind of a winter around “these parts”.  Cold, cold, cold descended on the “Valley” and hasn’t really loosened its icy fingers as March tries to go out like a lamb. 
January was one of the coldest months on record as the average temperature for the month ranked in the top five or so.  There was a week or so in the middle of the month where that little red string of mercury in the thermometer climbed up toward the freezing point, but for the most part below zero numbers were the rule.  We were introduced to the term “Polar Vortex” as temperatures plunged towards the -30 degree mark and beyond in the first week of the New Year.
They used to call them “Cold Snaps” around here.  I think that the term “Snap” was used to capture the brevity of the occurrence.  But this little “Snap” arrived on the first weekend of the month and didn’t depart until the next.  A little long for a “Snap”, don’t you think?  Besides the record-setting cold, another little “Winter Myth” was shattered during the first month of 2014.
“It can’t snow when the temperature falls below zero”.  Remember that little
 “Oldie, But A Goodie”?  By the way, or “BTW” if you’re used to reading in “Text-Speak”, as part of my exclusive contract that I signed last year with my publisher, I am required to use so many sets of quotation marks in these pithy little scribblings.  If I don’t use them up by the end of the year, I end up getting charged so much for each unused set of quotations.  My editor said that there is apparently a whole bin of the quotation marks ready for the linotype and if they are not used, it gets to be a big storage problem at the publishing house.  Last year, I was charged a “pretty penny” for those unused sets of quotation marks, so now I’m making a “conscious effort” to meet my quota.
            Anyway, back to the “It can’t snow if it’s below zero” myth.  It was totally shattered in January as it snowed all the time when the temp was in the minus category.  Mind you, not a lot of snow each day, just an inch or two – enough so that it had to be cleaned off nearly every day as well. 
It warmed up in the middle of the month and usually snowed a little each day, but by the end of January, we were ensconced in another of those damn “Polar Vortexes” and we had more days when positive numbers above zero were not visible to the frozen naked eye.  Those blasts of cold air from the Arctic covered most of the eastern half of the United States, reaching south to Georgia and Florida where frosty peaches and oranges were common.  But it seemed the “Cold Snaps” always started here in the Midwest and seemed to hang on the longest here.  On several days, the coldest temperatures in the region were centered here near the Kickapoo Valley.  Perhaps this could be another glimmer of excellence for local pride and accomplishment?  I think not!  Besides, February had to be better, didn’t it?
Again, I think not!  It took until the 12th of the month before the temperature stayed above zero for an entire day.  On Groundhog’s Day, February 2nd, the Kickapoo Valley’s groundhog – “Doonie”, which lives in a secluded hollow near the Vernon-Crawford County lines, was frozen in his burrow.  Doonie did not show on that day for the annual forecast about an early spring, but there was a notice posted in the next week’s edition of the “Soldiers Grove Surprizer” newspaper that the end of winter, kind of like Doonie, was no where to be seen.
It warmed some in the middle of February, but that also meant some snow just about every day and more shoveling.  Boy, my wife’s back was really getting sore from all that shoveling.  It warmed even more and rained on the 20th of the month.  There was thunder and lightning in that rainstorm and the first thunder of the year always means something significant in the “Old Timers Weather Calendar”.  I started checking around with some of the “Old Timers” about what that first thunder of the year meant.  But they were all sick of talking about winter weather and that I could “Go mind my own business”.
It turned really cold again by the end of February and kept snowing a little every day.  But it is a short month and when March appeared, “Hope Sprung Eternal” for spring to spring upon us.  It was minus twenty-something here on Bear Creek on that first morning of March after Groundhog Day.  “Pogo” gave it up the next day.  The “Winter of 2014” had finally got to him.
“Pogo The Possum” had been hanging around our place all winter.  We had trimmed some bushes and trees in the fall and took the trimmings and made a little brush pile to the west of the house.  I was intending to burn the pile before winter set in, but didn’t get that job done either.  Pogo found the little pile of brush and limbs pleasing to his housing needs for the winter and moved in.  He should have picked a more substantial home for this winter.
  On the few warm days of the winter, Pogo would come out of his lair and amble around the property looking for food.  He would often come up on the deck to sample the birdseed strewn around there by the “Little Missus”.  I tried to run Pogo off the deck early in the winter, mainly because he was a “Prolific Pooper”.  Interestingly, he didn’t “play possum” when I approached with a broom, but instead whirled around and flashed his yellow fangs.  I stopped my attack and Pogo scurried under the water bubbler stored on the corner of the deck.  I left him alone after that little skirmish.
After those several days of brutally cold temperatures in early March, Pogo was back on the deck again.  But things were not right as he could barely walk.  On close observation, we could see that his feet and nose had been badly frozen.  Pogo took one last portion of birdseed, deposited one last poop in front of the deck door and crawled under the water bubbler.  We could see him from our bedroom window.  After several days of non-movement, we surmised that Pogo had moved onto “Opossum Heaven in The Sky”.  Eventually, I scooped up the little critter’s remains in a snow shovel and deposited them in the swamp down by the ponds for final decomposition. 
Pogo just couldn’t make it through the “Winter of 2014”.
PS – After submitting this for publication, I was informed by the editorial supervising board that I had exceeded my “normal quotation marks usage” and would have to pay an “Excess quotation marks penalty fee”.  Oh my, will this winter never end?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Saga of Holly the Horse!


To start with, this little story isn’t really about ancient history since it just happened a couple of months ago.  It really is not my story; I’m just the one who gets to tell it.  There has been quite a bit of local interest in this story and folks thought it should be shared with the readers of this blog.  This little tale includes my wife, Carolyn, and our neighbor and a few other people, but in the end, it really is the story of a horse. 
            The horse belonged to our neighbor.  It is a seven-year old mare, a beautiful Paint.  It is broken to ride, has an interesting personality and loves to romp and run in the pastures along Highway 82, across the road from Bear Creek, just east of La Farge.  The horse’s name is Holly.  Holly used to be with two other horses in the pasture looking out over the creek, but by last winter, she was alone.  That is not a good thing for a horse as they are social animals and like to be with other horses.
  Carolyn started to help take care of Holly the horse due to the declining health of our neighbor.  Last winter, Carolyn arranged for a supply of hay to be brought in for Holly and she fed the horse grain and watered it through that cold season.  Carolyn has had an affinity for horses every since she had a horse as a girl growing up on a farm on Camp Creek east of Viola.  She likes being around horses and has a way with them.  She’s not quite a “Horse Whisperer”, but Carolyn has been able to handle some mighty skittish horses that others can’t.
 (I, on the other hand, am generally terrified of the critters.  That terror may stem from my last time on a horse over forty years ago, when while riding sideways in the saddle and perpendicular to the ground (which is really a bad position to be in), that horse misinterpreted my “WHOA” for “GO” and tried to peel me off on the nearest gate post at a high rate of speed.  Alcohol may have been a factor in that episode, but tragedy was averted and my Roy Rogers days were over.)
            Just to the east of Holly’s little pasture and across the driveway, four other horses are on pasture.  Being alone, Holly yearned to be with the other horses.  During this past summer, she started getting out of her pen on a regular basis to go over and see the other horses.  Holly would stand at the pasture fence and some of the other horses would come over to visit.  They would talk horse talk, nuzzle each other and just hang out together like horses do.  Unfortunately, sometimes Holly wandered out onto the highway, which became a problem.  Eventually at the end of September, she was moved over to our pasture east of the house, which had more secure fences.  It was a move that was not popular with Holly.   She was further away from the other horses and would pace along the fence and gaze longingly at her erstwhile horse pals. 
As time went on, our neighbor’s health continued to be an issue and it was decided that Holly should have another home.  So her owner and Carolyn started to look for a buyer.
            Many people driving by on the nearby highway had admired the Paint horse in our pasture and when the word got out that the horse was for sale, people started calling and dropping in to make an offer.  In mid-October, Carolyn made some calls and a family stopped by to look Holly over.  They walked her around and even got her to cross the drainage ditch in the lower end of the pasture that nobody else could get her to cross. They talked with Holly’s owner and a deal was made for them to purchase Holly for their teenage girl to ride.  No money changed hands, but the family assured Holly’s owner that they would be back in a week or so with a check and to pick up the horse.
            In the meantime, Carolyn continued to care for Holly.  She supplemented the sparse pasture grass of the fall season with horse treats for Holly – 12% Sweet Feed, which the horse came to relish on a daily basis.  As October turned to November and then December, Carolyn brought over hay from the neighbors to feed her horse.  Eventually after weeks of waiting, the family who had intended to buy Holly had to back out of the deal.   This was on December 5th.  Carolyn and our neighbor had a couple of back-up buyers, but all of those potential buyers fell through as well.
Winter was coming fast and Carolyn seemed to have a horse to care for if it could not be sold.  She made many more calls and finally a lady from La Farge bought Holly.  This was on December 15th.  Money changed hands and on December 22nd, Holly was walked into town and over to a pasture on the north side of La Farge located in old Seelyburg.  There, Holly had the companionship of two other horses and come the spring season, another teenage girl would be riding her.
It snowed most of the day here in the Kickapoo Valley on Sunday, December 23rd.  It was after eight o’clock that night when there was a knock on our front door.  A pickup was parked in the driveway and when I answered the door, the man said, “Your horses are out”.  I said, “I don’t have any horses”.  Another man standing in the driveway said, “We were driving out from town following these two horses up the highway and they turned into your driveway”.
Thinking they were two of the four horses on pasture to the east, I told the guys they belonged at the next place down the road.  The men said OK and started back down the snowy driveway.  Down by the barn, we could see two horses running around in the dark, but they soon got in behind the pickup and headed out to the highway and over to the neighbor’s place.
Carolyn got on the phone to contact the people who rented the pasture and owned the other horses.  Soon after, our neighbor called to say that Holly had returned and had brought a friend with her!  It was a Christmas miracle or perhaps a Christmas headache or maybe something in between!  By this time the owner of the other horses, who were in their pasture, came and put Holly and friend into our pasture.  Carolyn called the lady who owned the horses – the second one was a buckskin gelding that went by the name of Buck – and she went up to Seelyburg to check on her third horse.  She found the hole in the fence where Holly and Buck made their escape, fixed the fence and then followed their trail in the snow down Mill Street.  The horses had checked out the sheds at Nuzum’s but found nothing open, so then headed up La Farge’s Main Street and followed Highway 82 out to our place on Bear Creek.  The next morning Holly was at the pasture fence, noodling with Carolyn for some of that 12% Sweet Feed.  Buck the tagalong gelding, a true annoyance to Holly by this time, lined up at the food trough as well.
The horses spent the week of Christmas at our place.  Carolyn had to make another hay run to keep the two horses fed properly.  On December 27th, Holly and a very reluctant Buck made the walk back into La Farge and over to their digs at Seelyburg, where, I am happy to say, they still reside.
I drive by that Seelyburg pasture occasionally to make sure that Holly is staying put.  My pickup putts a little loud due to a needed muffler and I think Holly might recognize the truck.  There is still a bale of hay in the back of the pickup and as I drove away, it seemed that Holly the horse was paying serious attention to my departure route.