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Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Tuesday, 8:30 AM. 27 degrees, wind NE, gusty. About 1” of snow has already fallen and it is snowing pretty hard. There is a strong low with a blizzard coming in from the NE and it is sucking the weather in off the lake. We were chased by the weather all the way across South Dakota and Minnesota yesterday and are very lucky not to have been caught in this. We were lucky with driving weather the entire trip. It is good to be home, the plants need watering and there is a pile of mail to catch up with. Lucky is glad to be back in his own territory. I hear the wind sled making its runs again now that the ice road is closed, and there are reports of the bears waking up.
We left Denver after lunch on Saturday, and were happy to see son-in-law Doug back in town before we had to leave. We drove only to North Platte and stayed there Saturday night, we went to a local steak house which was unbelievably crowded for hours and hours; no recession in North Platte Nebraska either it looks like. We decided to drive north on US 83 rather than continue on I80 so we did not go to Grand Island to watch cranes, opting to go through the Sand Hills instead. The Sand Hills are one of my absolute favorite places, along with the Kansas Flint Hills. Almost no trees except some cottonwoods and willows in the draws, and the weedy junipers which have been planted as wind breaks and spring up on the prairie. This is tall grass prairie, clothing an undulating sea of sand. If the grass is overgrazed the sand is blown away, so it is almost obligatory not to overgraze; whereas in Texas and New Mexico overgrazing leads to the grass being replaced by mesquite and sage brush and cactus, and that is unfortunately often the case. The Sand Hills are great producers of deer and birds of all kinds, as there are pot holes filled with water which attract migrating waterfowl, and some pretty good streams (the Dismal, White River and branches of the Loupe and some others)and we saw ducks, geese, swans, hawks, turkeys and a few eagles in the several hours it takes to traverse the Sand Hills south to north. I find it difficult to take photographs of this country, as it is one hill and ridge after another, although there are longer vistas here and there. This is prime cattle country and we saw thousands of cows, almost every one with a calf, a good spring for the ranchers. I have never seen an antelope in the Sand Hills, I don’t know why. The Valentine National Wild Life Refuge is in the middle of the Hills, 71,500 acres of grass and prairie potholes. The Niobrara River is the northern boundary of the Sand Hills, which give way to the Dakota high plains to the north, and if followed to the west the Black Hills. I canoed parts of the Niobrara out of Valentine several times, and it is a nice trip. The Sand Hills are drouthy, but soak up water like a sponge, and there is a vast reservoir of water in the Ogalalla aquifer, which underlies much of Nebraska, Kansas and down into the Texas Panhandle. Valentine is a quintessential cow town, that we like a lot. The Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is here, with buffalo and elk herds one can drive through. We did so some years ago, in a little red car, and the buffalo bulls looked at us with Satanic eyes, and we thought we might be assaulted at any moment. All this is iconic Western landscape, and we love it. We continued north through the Rose Bud Indian Reservation, to I90 and headed home, the gathering blizzard behind us all the way. We stopped for the night in Owatanna Minnesota ( picked up catalogs at the huge Cabela’s outfitters there) and came home via Hwy 63. Nothing had changed much in Wisconsin since we left, except the snow had melted, momentarily.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The blizzard (for that was what it really was ) ended early this morning, and it dumped about 16" of really wet, heavy snow on Denver by the time it was over. I shoveled the drives and walks (Doug shovels for the neighbor next door, an older woman with only one good arm,and since he is still out of town, I did so as well). Nick and Katie eventually got winter clothes on and made a pretty good snowman. The sun is so strong at this altitude and latitude that the snow is melting rapidly and will soon be gone from roads and walkways. Denver does little snow removal on side streets, which with any luck melt in a day or two. Although this day it is still only in the thirties, the sun is blindingly bright and I worked outside without coat, hat or gloves. The blooming trees were all encased in icy snow and it will be interesting to see which ones still have blossoms. Daughter Eva thought that I should read Laura Ingals Wilder's The Long Winter, and it is charmingly appropriate. This late storm reminds me of Dayton, Ohio, when almost every year we lived there the magnolias would begin to bloom and as if on cue freezing weather would arrive and the magnolia flowers would end up looking like brown paper bags hanging on the surprised trees. We will be heading home to a Wisconsin winter again tomorrow or the day after, and the Denver blizzard has gotten us used to the idea. But Denver or Bayfield, Winter is on its way out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Thursday, 10:00 AM. We are not to escape winter completely on this trip, as the Rockies and the Denver area are being buffeted by the worst snow storm of the season. Having seen little snow thus far, and needing all the moisture it can get, Denver is welcomg the predicted 8" to 16" of snow. About 2" is on the ground, and it does not look to me as though predictions will be met. Anyway, after a cold night it is to warm up to the thirties tomorrow and the fifties on Saturday, so it looks like the storm will not much affect our return drive Sunday and Monday. Yesterday we all went to the Denver Children's Museum, a very hands-on, activity oriented place which the kids enjoyed. Denver has a lot of top-notch cultural institutions, located downtown and easily reached by public transportation, including the very successful metro rapid transit line which more or less follows the I25/I225 ring-route and is super convenient and efficient. That is all to the good, as Denver traffic is pretty horrific. Denver is fast-paced and dynamic, a real city with many sports, cultural and economic offerings. It has lots of parks, city and regional, and its education system is dynamic, with many charter and magnet schools and a full range of colleges, universities and business schools. It looks to me like a good place to raise a family. Too busy for this old guy, though. Lucky has gotten used to yet another dog and two cats, and all get along more or less well together, except when they get bored and then revert to type, and fight like cats and dogs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Synopsis of our trip at midpoint: I attended the Urban Forestry Council meeting in Madison on the 11th , did my “lobbying” with Senator Jauch and Representative Sherman re the DNR’s tree grants and the Forest Service stimulus grants, and we then drove to Weatherford, Texas via I35. We had good driving weather all the way, saw lots of hawks and geese and were more than happy to see son Dutch, daughter-in-law Leslie, little granddaughter Allison and Leslie’s parents. The drive south was more-or less a drive into spring, with flowering trees, shrubs and early bulbs and perennials appearing by Oklahoma City(redbud, pears, wild plum, forsythia, cherries), where we spent some time at the Cowboy National Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum, a great art museum with major Western artists, classical (Bierstadt, Catlin, etc.) and modern represented and lots of Indian art, and major outdoor Western bronzes by Remington, my favorite being "Comin' Through the Rye". This is a museum not to be missed if near Oklahoma (along with the Gilcrease Museum of Western Art in Tulsa). Northern Texas has received a lot of rain but the wildflowers still were not really blooming except for a very few bluebonnets and some yellow coreopsis and poppies. Everything we did in Weatherford was centered around dogs and horses, family, and music (our son’s profession; google Definitely Maybe to see some of what he is up to). Joan and I spent several days in the Hill Country bumming around ranch country but it was very dry and still early and there were no wildflowers at all.
On the 21st we left our Texas family and started the two day drive to Denver to visit daughter Eva and grandchildren Nickolas and Katie (son-in-law Doug is working out of town). Recession has fortunately not affected any of our families as yet, and by appearances has not greatly affected Texas or Denver. Texas has a strong, and it seems virtually independent economy, being a pro-business and low tax state, with plenty of its own energy sources. Denver is booming, as it has been for some years.
The Texas pan handle is highly agricultural, with cattle ranches, cotton, wheat, pecans, and peaches. Texas in general also has plenty of producing oil wells, ethanol production, and we saw massive new wind farms. Colorado coal is transported in mile-long trains to power plants, and the only energy sources we didn’t see were nuclear plants and solar panel farms, although we certainly weren’t everywhere. We drove throuugh the northeast corner of New Mexico enroute to I25, particularly appealing country with broad vistas of distant mountains, and extinct volcanoes everywhere. Here we saw large herds of pronghorn antellope, several with fifty or more to a herd.
America, it appears to me, has diverse and plentiful energy resources, if we choose to use them and let free markets develop them as economic conditions dictate. Our energy “crisis” reminds me of the story my mother used to tell about near starvation on a central Wisconsin sand farm a century ago; the crops and gardens were shriveled by drought, and the family went to bed hungry and the kids were dressed in flower sacks, but every night the prairie chickens went into the barn to glean seeds and to roost, and as she said, “we could have eaten wild chicken every day if we had only had the good sense to close the barn door at night.” We would have plenty of affordable energy, and clean too, in our country if we only had the common sense to close the barn door on what we already have.
We are enjoying family and good weather in Denver and will look forward to the trip home along the Platte to view the sand hill cranes. Of course I always leave my mark by pruning trees and shrubs, etc. wherever we visit family (keeps me out of trouble as well). I read that the Ice Road is closed, hopefully without the iconic advent of a pickup truck going through the ice.

In some places the robin is a harbinger of spring
In others it is when the bears wake up
In Bayfield it is when some guy
Goes through the Ice Road in his pickup.

Please pardon my doggerel; I couldn't help it, the Devil made me do it.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Monday, 9:00 AM. 20 degrees, wind W, calm. The sky is mostly clear, and the barometer predicts sunny skies. The weather forecasters are predicting a big storm for Wisconsin, and heavy rain south. We shall see.
This will be the last post for a while, as we (myself, Joan and Lucky) are off on a little excursion starting tomorrow. I have an Urban Forestry Council meeting at the capitol in Madison on Wednesday, and we will drive down tomorrow. Bad weather is predicted so it will probably take the better part of the day. One of my purposes in going to the capitol is to do some lobbying for trees and related projects. I am not enthralled with the whole stimulus thing, but regardless, one has to do the best for one’s own community, and I have proposed a $187,000 tree project for the City through the Forest Service; it was all “get the proposal in ASAP” and now it is the typical “hurry up and wait” government syndrome, and of course I am a person of little patience. In any case I will talk to our state senator and representative about that and some other environmental projects and concerns I have.
From Madison we drive south, probably dodging storms, to visit our son, daughter-in-law and year-old granddaughter in Weatherford, Texas. We will also bum about the Texas Hill Country for several days and then on to Denver for a week’s sojourn with daughter, son-in-law and grandson and granddaughter, and then on home by April 1 or so. Along the way we hope to see Texas bluebonnets (although it may be too dry for a good bloom this year), maybe get to Ladybird Johnson’s Wildflower Center again, maybe get into the Rockies for a day or two in Colorado, and stop along the Platte River n Nebraska to watch migrating Sand Hill Cranes on the way home. By the time we return the ice road will be closed I am sure, but there will still be plenty of time for maple sugarin’. If I have the opportunity to enter a few posts along the way I will do so, but that may be beyond my technological capability. The native pussy willows along the Sioux River beach are just starting to bloom, a certain sign that winter is on the wane.The thieving little red squirrel will find the bird feeder empty and will have to fend for himself.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Sunday, 9:00 AM. 19 degrees, wind N, light. Skies are partly cloudy, and the barometer predicts the same. It will be a nice day.
The ice road is beginning to show its age, particularly the approaches, which is where it usually deteriorates first, as the sun warms the shore, and the warm sand melts the near ice. It looked sloppy out there on the road yesterday as well. That did not deter the driver of a pickup truck I observed speeding directly south towards Washburn, nowhere near the ice road. A fool and his pickup truck are soon parted (if he is lucky enough to get out of it as it plunges into a hundred and sixty feet of ice water). A pickup truck through the ice is usually the first real sign of spring hereabouts.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Saturday, 8:00 AM. 27 degrees, wind W, light. The sky is clearing, and the barometer predicts partly cloudy skies.
I watched a pileated woodpecker calling and preening himself sitting on a garage roof on Manypenny this morning, saying to all, "did you ever see such a handsome bird?" And I had to admit he was that indeed.
A few days ago I commented on the tragedy of the football players lost in the Gulf, and went on at some length about boating on Lake Superior. It has occurred to me that as quaint as I am sure many of my readers think Bayfield to be (and it is that in many ways) I thought it would be well to emphasize that our little community is indeed a port on an inland sea, and much of its culture and economy revolves around that quintessential fact. So, the accompanying photos depict the many businesses and activities that attest to our past and present maritime activities. Boating, kayaking, fishing, marinas, museums, boat building and restoration, ferry and cruise services, government, all are depicted.
Not able to be pictured are all the folks in town who are boat captains on the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and even servicing oil rigs in the Gulf; add to that boat appraisers and insurance agents, and it is obvious that maritime activities are a considerable aspect of the Bayfield economy. One other thing; most of these activities take years of training, a high degree of skill, and many require licensing. You can't BS your way across the water, and even if one were able to, it is a good way for a lot of people to end up in Davey Jones' Locker. We are all part of the water world here, whether we realize it or not.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Friday, 6:30 AM. 34 degrees, wind W, light to calm. The sky is overcast and it has been raining lightly. The barometer predicts partly cloudy skies. It is a damp, gray day, but yet with a hint of spring.
I took the church’s lawn mower (I volunteer to mow the parsonage lawn) to Axel’s implement repair shop in Ashland yesterday afternoon to get it ready for the coming season, and pulling up with the truck a gentleman about my own age who was dropping off a snow blower offered to help me lift the heavy mower down from the back of the truck, and I readily accepted. I then told him I owed him a return favor, and we both started talking about barter in times past. He is a retired area dentist, and told me how over the years he had accepted everything from fresh whitefish to furnace repair in return for dental work. I recalled trading blue spruce trees for our wedding cake forty years ago, and bartering trees and landscaping to have our first house painted. No income taxes were paid, no money changed hands in these long-ago barter schemes, and some were a lot of fun. I also remember, in more difficult and distant times, that my grandparents’ country doctor was often paid in chickens and apples. And, he made house calls!
On the way home in the late afternoon I saw two deer browsing along the west side of Highway 13, two miles south of town, the first I have seen since deer season. By the time I stopped the truck and grabbed the camera they were gone. Also of note, the Duluth evening news had a photo of a cougar up a tree down in Spooner, Wisconsin, about two hours southwest of Bayfield, and that reminds me that we have had several cougar sightings hereabouts in the past few years along Pike’s Creek, near where I just saw the deer.
It occurs to me that all of nature, what we call the balance of nature, is just one huge barter system. So many measures of aspen shoots and acorns are bartered for a deer herd; Eighteen to twenty deer are bartered for the annual presence of an adult wolf; so many deer for that cougar down in Spooner (or padding along Pikes’s Creek) and so on, each habitat a web of interconnected bartering schemes. When there are too many deer, or the weather is poor, the aspen and oak cannot support the deer herd and they become scarce, and the deer population crashes, and the starving predators follow suit. If the predators become too numerous the deer herd is reduced below its carrying capacity for the number of predators, and a crash occurs at the top of the food chain. The so-called balance of nature is not the balance we think of when we look at a pendulum clock, tick-tocking evenly and pleasantly, on through the endless hours. It is more often like that famous economic house of cards we all are talking about at present, building up higher and higher and becoming more and more complicated until a weakness occurs somewhere in the fragile structure and it all comes crashing down, to be built up card by card all over again. Now I ask the question: does nature emulate Wall Street? Of course not, it is the other way around. So we unwitting human cards, in our fragile house of the same name, from time to time come tumbling down, and have to start all over again. Can a human economic system be devised that will be balanced to the degree that the house never collapses? We haven’t produced one yet, and being far less intelligent as a species than nature in its collective enterprise, I doubt we ever shall. So, it may be back to barter for a while.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Thursday, 7:45 AM. 33 degrees, wind W, calm. The sky is mostly overcast, and the barometer predicts precipitation.
Contrary to popular perception, winter, when all but evergreens have shed their leaves, is actually as good a time to identify trees as any other. Bark, branch, dormant buds, bud scars, persisting fruit, and even shape of the tree are all good identification characteristics. Unfortunately, most botanical keys, if written by professional botanists, use flower characteristics to “key” out one species from another. This method of identification is unerringly scientific and thorough, but often not practical, especially in the field at all times of the year, and certainly not for the uninitiated. A “dichotomous (cutting in two) key” is a method of separating one thing from another by either/or questions, and is a fine logic tool. A dichotomous key can be established for very practical answering of questions, and here is a basic “key” question which one might use for winter identification of trees: look at the branches of a tree, especially the smaller branches, and ask yourself whether they are opposite each other on the stem they are growing on, or whether they are attached alternately. This is an either/or question that separates one kind of thing from another. If the branches are exactly opposite each other on the stem the tree is a maple, an ash, a dogwood or a horse chestnut/buckeye. If the branches are alternate on the stem, it is something else. Now the next either/or question can be asked, to further “key out” the trees. Are you in the north around the Great Lakes, or further south. In the north, one will seldom encounter dogwood, buckeye or horse chestnut trees, especially in the wild, so out in the woods an opposite branched tree is a maple or an ash, and alternate branches are something else. Then the question may be asked, are the opposite branchlets thick and heavy, with some seeds still attached, or relatively thin and delicate, without seeds? Answer that question “thin and delicate” and you are ready to go out into the woods and select maple trees to tap for maple sugaring, and thus are already a woodsman in the eyes of your friends and neighbors. Remember "Mad Horse”(Maple Ash Dogwood Horse chestnut) and you will be on your way to being an expert. If my maple-sugaring pal Andy Larsen reads this he will again accuse me of tapping a Basswood last winter but I swear it was not me.
Anyway, the accompanying photos are of a maple, an ash, and a poplar. Can you "key them out"?. A pretty comprehensive layman’s tree key has just been published by the National Arbor Day foundation, and is available on their web site at $14,95, and I recommend it for the homeowner and for general tree I.D. There are of course many other practical tree keys available, of one degree of complexity or another. An old timer that I like is Michigan Trees by Charles Herbert Otis, I think still in print, published by University of Michigan Press, it also has a good winter key.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Wednesday, 8:00 AM. 21 degrees, wind W, calm. The skies are overcast but turning blue, and the barometer predicts precipitation. I guess this is our promised thaw.
The tragedy of the football players evidently lost at sea in the Gulf reminds a lot of us here in Bayfield of the hazards of small boats in big water, which is what we live with here all the time. The boat that capsized was 21’, way too small for seas of 7’to 15’, and the manufacturer’s web site (Everglades Boats) characterizes it as an “inshore and shallow water boat.” It was probably simply out of its element in very high and rough seas. And, young guys think they are immortal; they evidently didn’t have life jackets on at the time the boat flipped over, and it must have been chaotically difficult to retrieve the life jackets and put them on in the water in heavy seas. The latest news indicates to me that they became hypothermic and delusional, which I know from personal experience can happen. Although the boat in question is “unsinkable,” due to its construction, an overturned boat and people in the water presents a perilous situation. All in all it didn’t look like a boat one would feel particularly comfortable in on Lake Superior out beyond the shelter of the Islands. Tragic, as these were fine young men, and all friends.
The Coast Guard is a real presence in Bayfield, the officers are mature and very experienced seamen, and the youngsters, both men and women, are highly trained and motivated.
In my experience the guys at least are all what we used to call “gear heads,” into anything motorized, like big pickup trucks, ATV’s and snowmobiles, which is helpful in the very mechanically oriented work that they do. They rescue scores of people here every year, people in trouble in small boats, kayaks and even on land if fallen off the sandstone cliffs or washed up onto the beach. The Coast Guard Station is located on First and Wilson. They have several patrol boats of various sizes, and can call a helicopter from another station if needed. During winter they are on call for ice rescue. There are coast guard residences scattered about town, similar to the house next to ours on South Tenth Street. These accommodations are usually allocated to young married couples with small children (the latter scarce in Bayfield) and these young families are pleasant neighbors. The Guard takes very good care of its properties, everything being “ship shape.” When you see photos of the Coast Guard at work rescuing folks during accidents at sea, from rooftops during floods and hurricanes, or patrolling our coastal waters, know that they are highly trained and motivated, and very good at what they do. But, old time fishermen and sailors in Bayfield have a saying, "the Lake is the boss," and that applies to the Gulf as well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Tuesday, 7:15 AM. 2 degrees, wind WSW, calm, sky mostly overcast. The barometer predicts snow.
As winter progresses, damage to roadside evergreens from road salt becomes obvious. These pines, both red and white, along Hwy. 13 at the southerly approach to Bayfield, are obviously badly damaged or dying. Salt desiccates leaf tissues, and needles being green and absorbing salt all winter , conifers are very susceptible. There are many salt tolerant species, including many that have evolved in a seashore habitat where salt ocean spray is prevalent, or were there are naturally saline soil conditions, such as desert-like areas where there is little rainfall to leach out soil salts. Salt damage is pretty obvious along roadsides, but salt spray lifted from roads by speeding cars and carried by the wind can damage conifers quite a distance from the road. Deciduous conifers such as tamarack and bald cypress are also more tolerant. There is considerable difference in salt tolerance among deciduous trees and shrubs as well, the damage obvious after the trees leaf out, the salt being taken up out of the soil by the roots. Sugar maples are notoriously intolerant to salt. Salt tolerance is a factor to be considered when planting trees along roadsides, and information is easily obtainable these days, as are most of the salt tolerant plants. Less use of road salt, and use of salt mixtures that cause less damage to plants are hopeful trends, but safety always must come first, and plantings will have to adapt.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Monday, 8:15 AM. –2 degrees, up from –6 earlier. Wind W, very light. Skies are mostly blue, and the barometer predicts precipitation.
I’m getting low on bird seed and have been rationing it, resulting in the birds eating every seed and wasting little. Sounds like a plan for the rest of us.
Actually nature’s cupboard, unlike Old Mrs. Hubbard’s is seldom empty. The photos give a hint at what is still there in nature for the critters if they get hungry enough. All kinds of buds, fat poplar and hazel buds being favorites, all kinds of less desirable seeds and fruits which are still available in an emergency, like rose hips, old frozen apples, crab apples, Viburnum and mountain ash fruits, sumac, and even exotics like buckthorn and barberry. And of course a favorite deer browse, white cedar, in abundance, and the ubiquitous birch seeds., “He (God or Nature, take your pick) gives them all their meat in due season.”
I went to the cupboard and there was still a Beggin’ Strip for the Lucky Dog, so he is satisfied as well.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Sunday, 8:00 AM. 0 degrees, wind W, brisk at times. The sky is blue with some haze, and the barometer predicts partly cloudy weather.
The wind was biting at times this morning, but it redeemed itself by bestirring numerous wind chimes on porches and decks along our way, which tinkled, clanged and clunked, providing us with quite a concert, particularly when mixed with the songs of chickadees. As far as I can tell, dogs have no appreciation for music or other esthetic concerns. But, that is O.K., as I have known musicians and artists who have no appreciation whatever for the concerns of dogdom, so it all evens out, I guess.
Yesterday was Manypenny Madness, our little Bayfield carnival, so-named because most of the silliness centers on Mannypenny Avenue. There were a lot of things going on at the Rec Center and the restaurants and shops, but the main events were the Run on Water, a walk-run-ski-slip-slide from Bayfield to Madeline Island and back, and a large number of hardy souls did so; then there was the Polar Bear Plunge, with many nutty people in various stages of costume and undress jumping into a big hole in the ice off of Reiten Park. No thanks.
Small northern towns have to do something at this time of year to let off stream and stimulate business, and this seemed to do the trick. Morty’s Tavern and the bar at the Inn were quite crowded afterward.