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La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm) from Lena, WI
La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

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Farm Name: La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

Year Farm Established: 1946

Location: Stiles, WI

Years I’ve been farming: 68 years

Animals I raise: None, except wildlife.

Crops I grow: Vegetable gardens, flowers, rye, and pastorage.

Hobbies I enjoy: Feeding and providing habitat for wildlife.

The proudest moment on my farm: For the first time in over 60 years, bobwhite quail was sited on our land.

Pets: Just all sorts of wildlife who visit us daily.

Farm Motto: "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well." -- Blessed Julian of Norwich


Farm Blog
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  About Owls, Part III
I think that owls have always been a source of fascination for Countryfolks. Lord knows that the people of the First Nations have ascribed special powers to them and their calls. They were believed to be the harbingers of death. A famous rendering of this belief was in "I Heard the Owl Call My Name", the best-selling book by Margaret Craven in which the protagonist, an Anglican vicar who unknowingly has a terminal illness, spends the last year of his life among the Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia. Near the end of his sojourn, he does hear his name called by an owl and soon afterwards is killed in a landslide.

I think all Countryfolks know of the enmity between crows and owls. Whenever I hear a raucous gathering (murder) of crows, whether at La Ferme Sabloneuse or on my mail route in Green Bay, I immediately search for the recipient of their attention. Sometimes it's a red tailed hawk, but usually it's a Great Horned Owl. The owls prey upon crow fledglings and even crow eggs. "In fact, the great horned owl has the most diverse prey profile of any raptor in the Americas." (Wikipedia) There have been a number of times when out and about in the woods around home, I've seen the brown-gray flash of a Great Horned vaulting from its hiding place among the pines and the sudden eruption of caws and the crows following it. It's not for nothing that painted plastic decoys in the form of Great Horned Owls are used by hunters in order to attract crows for target practice and "crow crowd control". More on Owls next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/28/2015 07:44.20 PM Report This Comment  
  About Owls, Part II.
While I've seen the Barred Owl just once, I've never, ever seen a Snowy Owl, although it seems that every Winter here in N.E. Wisconsin, there's a photo in the newspaper of one that someone's seen in the area. The southern extent of their Winter range ends right about our latitude.

Now the Eastern Screech Owl is one that few people have actually seen, but many have heard it. Pa often told me of the one time he heard as he was a young man walking home in the pitch dark. He said that it scared him to death. To quote Wikipedia again: "The lugubrious nature of the eastern screech owl's call has warranted description such as "A most solemn graveyard ditty, the mutual consolation of suicide lovers remembering the pangs and delights of the supernal love in the infernal groves, Oh-o-o-o, had I never been bor-r-r-n. (James Hubbard Langille, 1884)." (Wikipedia)

Upon doing research on this topic, I've watched (and listened) to a number of recordings of Screech Owl calls. I must admit, I don't find them the least bit frightening. As a matter of fact, I find them soothing. After listening to several of these calls, I am certain that I've heard them many times throughout my life. I simply didn't know that these nighttime warbling belonged to the Screech Owl. Live and learn, they say, and as for me, I cannot wait till Spring to sit out at dusk and listen for the Screech Owl. More "On Owls" next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/25/2015 08:07.02 PM Report This Comment  
  About Owls, Part I.
As you PFRs already know, one evening, over a week ago, My Ruthie spied a large owl perched atop the chain link fence of the Home Garden. A little later, the big bird glided down the hill and lit on a tall stake halfway down our hill to the Valley Garden. It stayed there until it got too dark to see. I had told Ruthie that it was a Great Horned Owl, but much to my disgust, once we'd posted pics of the bird, a Facebook friend posted that it was a Barred Owl. I should've recognized this immediately, but I didn't, and it riled me some. Anyways, it was the first time in my life that I'd seen any owl other than the Great Horned Owl.

Now the calls of the two types are similar. As for the Barred Owl, Wikipedia states: "The usual call is a series of eight accented hoots ending in oo-aw, with a downward pitch at the end. The most common mnemonic device for remembering the call is "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all." I am amused at the last, because my muse Al Borland had mentioned that mnemonic call some 60 years ago in his writing. The call of the Great Horned Owl is usually a series of five hoots. In my experience, it's ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo. My Ruthie, being a light sleeper, has been tormented by the dead-of-night calls of these owls ever since she joined me here at La Ferme Sabloneuse. Their mating season is in late December and January and so in the still, cold nights she will hear one hooting from one of the Norway pines of the Home Property and then the answering call from a prospective mate usually in one of the ancient White pines in the County land to the South. Wikipedia states that it is the males that do the majority of the courtship calls: "While males often hoot emphatically for about a month or six weeks towards the end of the year, the period where females also hoot is usually only a week to ten days." (Wikipedia) So perhaps when Ruthie wakes me up to listen to the two sets of calls, they are actually the competing calls of two males.

The range of the Great Horned Owl extends throughout nearly all of North America, right down into Mexico. The range of the Barred Owl runs throughout most of the southern half of Canada and the eastern half of the USA. The mating season of the Barred Owl varies with the latitude. It lays its eggs earlier in the South and later in the North. More on owls next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/21/2015 07:59.21 PM Report This Comment  
  Tracks in the Snow
During this time of year, the depths of Winter, we can only hunt cottontail rabbits. While I only hunt bunnies when they are too plentiful at La Ferme Sabloneuse, my PFRs (Precious Few Readers) know how much I love my rabbits. Every night I put out some birdfeed so that they have some "flayrah" to eat. During this snowy time we can, if we are willing, follow the tracks of the wildlife that graces our property in the nocturnal hours. Patrick McManus wrote an article about following wildlife tracks in the snow. He relates how he had spent an afternoon following a rabbit's tracks all throughout his backyard and went on and on about the peripatetic wanderings of this particular cottontail. McManus came to the conclusion that this was one befuddled bunny.

Here at La Ferme Sabloneuse the cottontails have established paths from their homes in the brushpiles and their staging areas under our cedars to their feeding areas under the young shrub and tree growth at the edges of our open areas. I also put out some birdseed each morning and evening on the floor of the Garage Porch for the chickadees, sparrows, and rabbits. Almost every morning when I turn on the Garage Porch light I'll see a big whitetail munching away at the stuff. It won't move off until I'm halfway across the driveway. Each Winter I get a kick out of watching the bunny paths take form along the usual routes.

In addition to rabbit tracks, I like to check and see if there are any coyote or wolf tracks on our land. Just a few years ago, after a fresh snowfall, Eldest Brother David telephoned me in great excitement to tell me that he'd found a two sets of wolf tracks crossing the Valley Garden. I got my Ruthie to accompany us with her camera and we trailed the long-gone wolves, took photographs, and then I compared them to images on Google. Sure enough, a rather large wolf and its mate had crossed La Ferme Sabloneuse. Sad to say, we haven't seen any such tracks since then, but I keep looking.
It was last Tuesday when Ruthie glanced out the dining room window at dusk and was shocked to see what she thought at first glance was a big cat perched atop the chain link fence at the Home Garden. After a closer look, Ruthie realized that it was an enormous owl. (I've added two photos of it above.) Turns out, it was a barred owl, something that I'd never seen before during all my time living here. After awhile it took flight and glided to one of the 2x2 sticks we have posted near the fruit trees down the hill facing the Valley Garden. That barred owl stayed there until dark, its head with its opaque eyes swiveling back and forth in search of a rabbit or squirrel coming out to search for food. I am made to think that this owl, just like me, could identify the paths and trails of the furry wildlife at La Ferme Sabloneuse and was taking full advantage of that knowledge. If so, good luck to you "ma chouette", I hope to see you again. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/14/2015 06:33.10 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains n' Truckey, Final Part.
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" --Hank Williams)

Our dear friend 'berta wrote to me, "I have no idea why but the sound of a train whistle always gives me a lonesome feeling." This must be universal among us. Barren is the soul that does not feel a deep and painful yearning when hearing a train whistle or horn deep in the night. So many times while I was growing up I would be awake at night and hear the train working its way North or South on the tracks which bordered our land to the East. I would hear the four short horn blasts as the engines approached each country road in the dark. The Machikanee Road, the Old Stiles Road, Duame Road, and then the crossing on Highway 22. As the train would continue northward or southward, I would hear the horn continue to sound, diminishing gradually as it receded into the distance.
I remember those long-ago Summer nights, the air thick with the rich, verdant smells of plant growth wafting in through the open windows as the crickets re-asserted themselves after the train had passed. Just like ol' Hank says, the whippoorwill would also start up its haunting song. I felt as alone as that lonely train; but I also felt a sense of reassurance that I wasn't the only one awake at this time of night. Somewhere there were others like me who were alive and active during this darkest time of the night.

But I want to end this series with a heartfelt memory. I therefore must beg your forgiveness for repeating a part of a post that I'd done years ago. When my Punky, Amanda, was about three years old, we took a walk down the "right-of-way" on Caldie's land. As I'd posted: "We held each other by the hand as we crossed the road and walked along an old raised railroad grade that had been laid down a century before. I pointed out anything that would be of interest to her and answered all of her questions. Then, a rain shower passed over. I went down on one knee and drew Punky close to me. I set her on my knee and covered her with my denim chore coat. We huddled together under my cloak and hood until the shower passed. Then, we resumed our walk and then returned home to lunch and then a nap. I know I'm a sentimental ol' cuss who is stuck in the past, but when I think of Punky, I think of us huddled and cuddled together, me sheltering her from the elements. It is a father's memory of a walk that will last my lifetime, if not hers. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/07/2015 08:32.36 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains
This is a great series, Gary. I loved reading all of them, and am looking forward to the next!

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

02/06/2015 05:53.04 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part IX)
Another aspect of the remaining railroads in my own time was the fires they caused. During my childhood there were three instances where trains of the North-South railroad have started grass fires at what I now call "La Ferme Sabloneuse". The first that I remembered was when I was a preschooler. Ma was the one who noticed the fires at the East end of the property. She and I were the only ones at home. Pa was at work at the mill in Oconto Falls. Ma had the good sense to call Fritz Belleau, the local fire ranger. Ol' Fritz arrived with his heavy-duty tractor and plow and made a fire-break between the Home Property and the fires along the tracks to the East. Those massive furrows remained for years and years before the enusing rains and erosion wore them down.

The second occurred in 1968. This time the flames threatened to consume the entire property. The local volunteer fire department, along with Fritz, labored long and hard to contain the fire. I remember, as a nine-year-old, that scores of curious onlookers gathered on our property to watch events unfold. Again, for years afterwards, I would see the blackened trunks of trees that had survived the flames.

The next time that the locomotives caused a fire was just a few years later. I, and my cousin Ralph, who was visiting from Southern Michigan, noticed the smoke almost immediately after the train had passed. I told my Ma about it, and the both of us boys grabbed shovels from the tractor shed and headed out to the tracks. Between the both of us we were able to beat down the flames before the fire could really get started. It was a surprise to us later that a representative from the railroad gave us each a check for about nine dollars for putting out the fire. Such an amount was a windfall for a young boy in those days. You can imagine how I must have felt as a boy to have been so rewarded for saving our property. The final post on trains next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/04/2015 09:00.31 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part VIII)
Sad to say, as "City of New Orleans" expresses so well, the railways in our area have declined as well. The line from Oconto Falls to Oconto now ends at Stiles Junction. Nowadays, the single engine pulls only five or six cars once or twice a week to be joined up with the North-South main railway. The spur that had run from the sawmills at Stiles in the first two decades of the 1900s has been just a raised grassy berm running from the Machikanee Flowage Northwards through the woods West of us for almost a century. Pa always referred to it as the "old right-of-way". Even as late as the 1970s one could find the old wooden ties rotting alongside it. The sandy rail bed proved to be a perfect location for fox to make their dens. Many a fur trapper have used the right-of-way as the route of their trap lines. It was also a key deer hunting spot for the Truckeys. Each year we would either do a deer drive along it or still-hunt while working the length of it down to Caldie's land across the road from us. Some of the greatest of Truckey hunting fiascos occurred on that right-of-way, but the hunting memory I cherish most was the time that Pa, during one of the last years deer hunting, went out by himself on Caldie's land. It was a nice, sunny afternoon, so Pa lied down in the sun with his back against the berm and took a snooze. He was awakened by a thunder of tiny hooves. He opened his eyes and saw a small herd of does standing in front of him. They had been running West and had leaped over the railroad grade and the 72 year old man reclining on the lee side of it. Pa sat up, picked up his rifle, and shot the first deer that came into his scope. A half-hour later he was dragging the deer into our yard. (Please scroll up for Part IX)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/04/2015 08:56.45 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part VII)
For his job at Oconto Junction, Pa had to show up three or four times a day to be ready to pump water from the storage tank into the steam locomotives that came by. Once the engine's reservoir was replenished, Pa was free to go; he just had to make sure he was there in time for the next train. It didn't pay much, but as there was a recession at the war's end, it was, as I said, steady work and with him and Ma living at Grandma Truckey's house, he didn't need much in order to support his young wife and baby son. There were chickens in the coop, a small vegetable garden, and farm work to do for ol' John Duame for extra income. As for meat, besides the chickens, Pa loved to hunt and there were plenty of rabbit, squirrel and partridge on Grandma's table. I like to think that it was a pleasant time for Pa and my Ma. They had enough to live on and they lived close to the land. Like all good times, it didn't last. The railroads switched to diesel engines, which eliminated Pa's job as Oconto Junction was shut down and the spur to Oconto torn up. Pa eventually found a job at a paper mill and he and Ma bought 34 acres of land that became what I now call La Ferme Sabloneuse. More on trains next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/31/2015 08:41.07 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part VI)
"Good night, America, how are you?
Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son.
I'm the train they call the City Of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done"
(Final refrain, ("City of New Orleans," --Steve Goodman)

One of the things that Carl Devereaux taught Pa was Morse Code. Carl of course, operated the telegraph at the depot. One night Pa was lying in his bed at his home, Grandma Truckey's house. He had a flashlight which had a push button on it in order to send code. Pa, on a lark, decided to send a Morse message via flashlight in the direction of Carl's bedroom at his farm house a quarter-mile away. (Needless to say, there was nothing but pasture between the two houses.) Pa messaged "Carl is a big BS'er". The next day, when Pa saw him, Carl said, "You're getting pretty good at Morse." When I told this story to my Big Brother Tommy the other day he noted that this must have been the first instance of "cyber bullying".

Just after WWII Pa got a job tending the water tower at Oconto Junction. It was probably the first steady job of his life, being as how all his previous ones were seasonal or temporary. At some points during the Depression Pa worked for just his room and board. He told me that at one time he had just the clothes on his back and he kept a piece of string in his trousers pocket; just to have something in it. He often told of the time he slept in the upstairs bedroom of a farmer's house one Winter. Like most farmhouses back then, the only heat came from the stovepipe running up from the kitchen stove below. Pa said that in this particular house, the window of his room had a broken glass pane. There was, of course, no money to replace it so Pa had to put up with a drafty room as cold as the outdoors. He slept with his coat on. (Please scroll up for Part VII)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/31/2015 08:34.54 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part V)
"Night time on the City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis Tennessee.
Halfway home - we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness, rolling down to the sea.

But, all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream,
And the steel rail still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his songs again - the passengers will please refrain.
This train got the disappearing railroad blues." ("City of New Orleans," --Steve Goodman)

During Pa's teens and twenties he was good friends with Carl Devereaux, who ran the depot at Stiles Junction. During these years Pa had plenty of free time as the only work available in the late 20's and early 30's were moonshining and some work up in the lumber camps during the Winter months. After Prohibition was repealed and the Great Depression slowed lumbering, there was even less work. Pa would hang around the depot and learn from Mr. Devereaux. Carl would give pennies to the children that he would see. (A penny for candy was something a child hardly ever saw during those days). Carl would tell Pa that these kids were future friends and neighbors and that an act of kindness toward them would be remembered by them for the rest of their lives. I suppose that Carl, being one of the only men around who had a decent, steady job, felt a need to extend some sort of kindness to at least the children he encountered.
Ma, even in her last months, would tell me how Carl would let the hobos stay in the depot until when he had to lock up for the night. Big Brother Tommy told me that Mr. Van Boven also worked at the depot and that the railroad officials would complain to him about the amount of firewood he would use. Ol' Van Boven didn't listen to them. He knew that keeping a fire going at night so that the hobos could sleep in the vacated waiting area until midnight or so probably kept them alive. After they were turned out, they probably had to walk a quarter-mile South to the hobo jungle in the woods where Devereaux' Crick ran under the North-South railroad. Pa would tell me that the trains that pulled out of the Junction going South had to climb an uphill grade to the Machikanee Forest. This meant that the train moved slow enough for the hobos to easily hop on. Even when I was a kid, there were still piles of old tin cans and refuse in the crick bed near the trestle. Grandma Truckey told us that in those days two young women, sisters, would like to visit her in the evenings after supper chores were done. Unfortunately, they had to take the road that ran past the jungle. Grandma said that the girls would take along a big pistol. Fortunately, they were never bothered. My Ma said that the hobos had their own code and if there were a number of them together, they wouldn't let one or two do anything really bad. As a kid, I'd always thought that the girls had been afraid of bears or wolves. I didn't understand the whole story till I got older. More on trains next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/28/2015 08:03.41 PM Report This Comment  
  What lovely photos! And I just love reading your posts. Looking forward to more

Come visit me, The grass is greener!.

01/28/2015 07:09.05 AM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part IV)
"Good morning, America, how are you? Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son. I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans, I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done." ." (Refrain from "City of New Orleans")

Another time my Pa was walking along the same stretch of track during the heat of another Summer's day. When he had made his way a third across the trestle over Devereaux's Crick, which ran through Younger's land, he suddenly heard the drone of the train engine and clacking of the rails. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw the train looming up on him; the engineer dozing in his seat and the engine blotting out all else in Pa's sight as it lurched its way onto the trestle.

Pa's brain must have been racing at a furious speed. He told me that he instantly calculated that if he ran away from the train, he would either be run down or would have to jump from the bridge and probably break his legs in the rocky stream bed below. So Pa ran toward the train, which was shorter in distance, and at the last second he jumped to the sloping sand at the end of the trestle. The train rumbled past; and Pa said that with the engineer asleep, no one would have ever known that he'd been killed for days. More on trains next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/24/2015 08:45.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part III)
"Dealing card games with the old man in the club car, penny a point - ain't no one keeping score.
Won't you pass the paper bag that holds the bottle, and feel the wheels rumbling 'neath the floor.
And the sons of Pullman porters, and the sons of engineers, ride their father's magic carpets made of steel,
And mothers with their babes asleep, are rocking to the gentle beat, and the rhythm of the rails is all they feel." ("City of New Orleans," --Steve Goodman)

I was talking about the railroad that ran from Oconto out West to Oconto Falls and beyond. For years and years a train ran daily in the early afternoon from the Falls to Stiles Junction and left off cars on a siding at the Junction to be picked up by the trains that ran North-South. I can only wish that I remembered the names of the railroad lines. This particular feeder line was, and is to this day, in disrepair. Since I was a small boy, it was pulled by a single small green and yellow diesel locomotive. In the youth of my father, it was a smaller steam engine. In both eras it was and is a slow train, clacking monotonously over the rippling, uneven rails, sounding a tired whistle at the few road crossings along the way. When I think of this train I think of it being the hottest part of the Summer, some airless day in August, with the cicadas whirring in the 90 degree heat and the train itself wavering in the thermals from a forty away as I watched it from Caldie road in front of my cousin Vincent Younger's farm.

With this description, you can imagine how it was if someone should be out and about anywhere near this line. My great-aunt Emma Younger, who was sister to my Grandpa Brabant, told me that back in the '40s she had a corn patch near the railroad and when the train would go past in the early afternoon the engineer would see her out working in her garden. He was moved finally to stop the train and scold her for working out in the heat and told her that if he ever saw her out there again when he went by in hot weather he would stop the train, get out of the engine, and carry her bodily back to her house! Grandma Younger was tickled by the story. (Please scroll up for Part IV--Gary)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/24/2015 08:40.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part II)
In the present day and age we forget that more people walked along the railways than they did the roads. Most roads in dry weather were incredibly dusty. If an automobile passed, you were likely to be covered in the stuff. In wet weather the roads were under a thick layer of mud. In either type of weather, one had to be step around or over the plentiful droppings from the teams of horses that every farmer still used. The railroad grade provided a clean and straight road from one village to the next. The evenly-spaced railroad ties on the bed of small rocks meant that with a little practice, a man or boy could march at a measured pace, covering long distances with less effort and what's more, usually removed from the prying eyes of perpetually nosy rural neighbors. This last was especially important as anyone who walked past down the road was an immediate topic of discussion in those days before radio and television. No one likes being talked about, and in the days of Prohibition, certain young men (like my father) simply didn't want to be noticed at all as they traveled from one place to another.

The track that ran from Oconto to Oconto Falls and on out West was especially pertinent to my father. As a teenager he helped run a moonshine still during the Prohibition Era. As I'd written in my earlier blogs about Pa's moon-shining years, the still and shack was just a short ways from this railway. When enough corn whiskey had been distilled, Tom Burdick, who owned the still, would load the jugs on a handcar that he had appropriated and transport them in the dead of night the fourteen miles or so to Oconto. There, one can only surmise, were railroad employees who augmented their income by accepting bribes to load and hide the bootleg whiskey for shipment down to Chicago. Word was that the moonshine produced in this area went to Al Capone's syndicate there.

A popular story told in my youth was the time ol' Tom was on a loaded handcar when a train unexpectedly appeared. They say Tom had to pump his handcar like a demon in order to stay ahead of the train. It made for a good story, but I suspect that like many tales from that period, it was all too good to be true. One can be assured that a smart operator like Mr. Burdick would've been apprised of any and all trains scheduling. Still, it could've occurred that an unscheduled train or at least an engine had been directed to make a run to Oconto for repairs and such the like. More about trains next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/21/2015 08:03.20 PM Report This Comment  
  Railroads
Uncle Glen and Uncle Earl were both conductors on passenger and freight trains. Wouldn't it be interesting to know if they and your Pa ever crossed paths? The C&NW was only one of the railroads they worked for - it's just the only uniform that we found. Hmmm..... next thing you know, we'll probably find out we're cousins somewhere along the way! :)

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

01/18/2015 07:33.25 AM Report This Comment  
  Trains 'n Truckeys (Part I)
"Riding on the City Of New Orleans, Illinois Central, Monday morning rail. Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders, three conductors; twenty-five sacks of mail.

All along the southbound odyssey - the train pulls out of Kankakee, and rolls along past houses, farms, and fields, passing trains that have no name, and freight yards full of old black men, and the graveyards of the rusted automobiles." ("City of New Orleans, --Steve Goodman)

"City of New Orleans" is my favorite song. It was written by Steve Goodman and released by Arlo Guthrie in 1972. One of the reasons that the song is so important to me is that it strikes a nostalgic chord by describing the passing of the passenger train as an integral part of American life. Another reason is that my Pa's early life was closely intertwined with the railroad and this connection was carried on down to my own time.

You don't need me to tell you the importance of the railroad 100 years ago. Roads were secondary, seldom graveled, even more rarely paved. If you wanted to travel more than a few miles, you used the railroad. In the youth of my father, Dave Truckey, there was a depot in Stiles, and another in Stiles Junction. The Junction was the link-up between the railroad that ran North-South from Green Bay to points Northwards up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the one that ran East-West between Oconto and points Westward into central Wisconsin. There was a third railroad switch located a mile South of Stiles with a water tower called Oconto Junction. This junction connected with yet another railway to Oconto which ran along the South side of the Oconto River.

Now this extensive rail system around Stiles was to serve the lumber industry. Stiles at one time was one of the largest towns North of Green Bay. A mill of over 100 saws once straddled the dam over the Oconto river there. Of course, there were also mills at Oconto Falls, five miles upriver and in Oconto, some eight miles downriver near the bay of Green Bay. In addition to all the previously mentioned lines, there was one more "secondary" railway which ran from the mill at Stiles along the dike that created a head of water for the mill and North and then West to join up with the line that ran between Oconto Falls and Oconto.

It was in this "railroad-rich" environment that my Pa spent his younger years. He told me once that he'd traveled these rails in the Prohibition years with a pistol strapped in a shoulder-harness. (This was the same time that he ran a moonshiner's still near the East-West railway.) Pa said that if he had been caught carrying a gun on a passenger train at that time, he could've been put away for quite awhile. My father had a lot to do with these rails in his early years, and I will elaborate on this for a number of ensuing blogs. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/17/2015 07:50.32 PM Report This Comment  
  Farms In Winter
Love the post. We do have a longer growing season, but there are some days I wish we had the snow. It's such a novelty around here. But trust me, a couple of days of it, and we're ready for it to disappear again. With our 'warm' winters, we have that luxury. But man, oh, man, does a nice nap sound good right now! Without the snow, that just doesn't fly around here! Stay warm, Gary! I'm sharing this post so my other Southern friends can enjoy it, too!

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01/11/2015 06:43.49 AM Report This Comment  
  Farms in Winter
It is now deep in Winter at La Ferme Sabloneuse. I enjoy reading the blog posts of "The Farmwife" by Julie Murphree and "Casa Smith-Coushatta" by Kathleen Tiberius Smith. Both live in Louisiana and write about how they, as small farmers in the Deep South, contend with the cold, rain, and ice of Winter in their neck of the woods. As "The Farmwife" has related to me, the milder weather in the South carries with it the added burden of an extended growing season. I can understand this. We here up North complain about our brutal Winters, but some of us are able to appreciate that with it comes some much-needed down time.
Old Joe, a farmer I worked for in the '70s, told me that he lived for Winter. That was when he could hunt rabbits if the mood struck him, or go snowmobiling; but what he really loved doing was ice fishing. That man could catch perch, crappie and bluegills when no one else would be getting a nibble. Another farmer, a young man in his early twenties, told me that his happiest time when he was just out of high school and worked for his father on the family farm. He told me how he and his dad would milk, eat breakfast, and then do the usual Wintertime chores: cleaning the barn, spreading manure, and putting down fresh bedding. When they were done, they had at least eight hours free before evening chores. My friend had fond memories of how he and his dad would take long naps while his mother cooked and baked.
In Nebraska, where Punky, my daughter Amanda works, this time of year is when they repair, refit, and overhaul the tractors and the various attachments that's been worked so hard during the long months of planting, cultivating, and harvesting from the Texas Gulf Coast up to North Dakota. It is also the time her man Matt goes to the John Deere plant out East to pick up new harvesting equipment for the upcoming year.
Since the earliest days of the Republic, artists and poet have celebrated the subject of the farm in winter. Currier and Ives, not to mention Redlin and many other painters, have produced idyllic images of the same. There is nothing more apealing to the sentiments of a Countryman and Countrywoman than the image of a farmstead or cottage warm and secure for the Winter.
Last Wednesday was my day off. It was a cold day with the high temperature reaching only to zero. In the late afternoon, as the sun set and it was getting dark in our living room, I turned on the Christmas tree lights, (yes, it's still up) and I stretched out on the couch. My Ruthie was in the kitchen baking cookies and it was a slice of Heaven. I dozed in the darkening room, with only the lights of the tree for illumination and the smell of warm, sweet cookies in the air. From time to time Ruthie would speak and I would answer, but mostly it was just the colored lights, the aroma of baking, and a quiet sense of contentment; the contentment of a farm in Winter. --Gary

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01/10/2015 07:24.51 PM Report This Comment  
  Explosives
At least David shot his tractor accidentally. Remind me some day to tell you the story of why Randy shot his baler - on purpose!

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01/09/2015 06:37.34 AM Report This Comment  
  Fun With Explosives, More Truckeylore (Part IV)
Rather than explosions, this final blog on the subject has to do with shooting. I had alluded to the time when Eldest Brother David shot his own garage. David's garage shop was a pleasant place to be in. He would have a fire in the Sears box stove and we'd pull up a couple of old chairs. It was in this setting that he was working with Pa's Kentucky Rifle, measuring varying amounts of gun powder into his charges in order to determine how much black powder it took to shoot the muzzle loader's ball accurately at 100 paces. Eldest would decide upon the amount of gunpowder, load the rifle and then step outside and shoot at a target set up against one of his conical woodpiles. Since my brother's property was next to mine, the afternoon would be punctuated with the unmistakable report of a muzzle loader every 20 minutes or so. This would irritate My Ruthie to no end, but as for me, it made me smile. It meant that my brother was happily engaged in a favorite hobby. I was reminded of the chorus lines from Shakespeare's "Henry V": "Now thrive the armourers, and honor’s thought reigns solely in the breast of every man."

Now as many of you know, the external hammer on many rifles have a "half-cock" position. This is where you set the hammer when you have a round (or charge) in the chamber. It's a safety mechanism which ideally, prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin or primer by accident. To fire the rifle, one needs only to thumb the hammer back to its firing position, ready to be released by pulling the trigger. The term "going off half-cocked" comes from the phenomena of the safety mechanism failing and the hammer falling forward to set off the round. The problem is that one needs to take special care in lowering the hammer so as not to have it slip from your thumb and fire off the charge. This is what Eldest failed to do one Autumn day. He fully cocked the hammer back in order to insert the percussion cap onto the "nipple" of the Kentucky rifle and when he tried to ease the hammer forward, it slipped from his thumb and ignited the charge. David must've had the rifle laying flat on his workbench with the muzzle facing toward the end of the garage that housed his tractor and lawn mowers. We never found the bullet. When he showed us the bullet hole in the shop wall, we did some amateur ballistics and it appeared that the ball must've hit his tractor and then caromed elsewhere. There was no bullet hole in the east wall of the garage and no leakage from the circa 1950 Farmall, so the bullet must've ricocheted around the eastern bay of the garage and then buried itself somewhere where it couldn't be found. Perhaps someday it may be discovered, but I prefer to think that like many such stories of Truckeylore, the mystery of it all makes the story all the more appealing. --Gary

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01/07/2015 07:42.07 PM Report This Comment  
  Fun WIth Explosives
You are hereby banned from hanging out with Randy. This is something he would just love to do! :)

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01/07/2015 07:09.43 PM Report This Comment  
  Fun With Explosives, More Truckeylore (Part III )
When it did clear, that's when I saw that the cornstalks were on fire. Pa and Clete ignored my squawks of alarm as they continued to congratulate one another and I was forced to stomp out the flames all by myself. It must've been a comical sight; two older men acting like kids while a skinny 24 year old was dancing in the corn patch like a demon-possessed scarecrow. I was able to put out the flames and then I went back to open up the supper club for the evening. I assume Pa and Clete retired to the Homestead to make coffee and tell stories. Needless to say, there was a brand new story to tell. More about this next time. -- Gary

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01/03/2015 06:54.56 PM Report This Comment  
  Fun With Explosives, More Truckeylore (Part II )
Now the trouble with black powder is that over time it becomes unstable. At least that was what I was told. The retired Oconto County judge, whom I mentioned a number of blogs past, told me a story that when he was an attorney, he agreed to handle a messy divorce for the husband. That husband brought in as evidence a can of black powder. He related that he had built the makings for a wood fire in the stove of his shop and stepped out for a moment. When he'd returned he went to light off the stove, but was prompted for some reason to open the top of the stove. Sitting atop the wood and newspaper inside the stove was a can of black powder. It would've seemed that one of his stepsons had surreptitiously placed the can in the stove on behalf of his mother. The judge went on to tell me that the divorce case proceeded relatively civilly and the tin of black powder was not needed as evidence. It wasn't until years later, upon his appointment to the bench, the judge was cleaning out his attorney's office and came across the forgotten powder. He was able to find someone to dispose of it safely. As for me, when I heard this story I gasped.

I must admit that it wasn't until I had done a little research for this post that I discovered that black powder is very stable and even when stored for over 40 years can be used safely. Of course, we didn't know that 30 years ago.

Now the reason the judge told me this story is that I had told him about my experience with Pa, Wild Bill's brother Clete Beaudin, and an old tin of black powder. This was in the Autumn of '83. I was working my way through college, Pa was in his 70s and Clete had recently moved back to Wisconsin. Cletus had an old tin of black powder and the wisdom of the time dictated that he needed to dispose of it. (Can you already perceive the necessary ingredients for a great story?) So on a bright sunny October Sunday I returned home for a few hours between working the Sunday brunch at a supper club and returning there for the evening. I came home to find Pa and Clete ready to light off Clete's can of powder in the garden. The two men had placed the tin in the Home garden amongst the dried-out cornstalks after leaving a trail of powder leading up to it. Pa had rigged up a gasoline-soaked rag at the end of a wooden pole and as I stood by to watch, Pa set a match to the rag and Clete set it to the powder trail. We all retreated to a safe distance as the flame followed the trail of powder just like in the movies, only faster, sending up volumes of white smoke. The explosion was even better than we expected, in flash, sound, and smoke. A movie-quality fireball rolled up to the sky and a cloud of white smoke hung over a blackened mini-crater in the sand. Both Pa and Clete were hooting like teen-agers as I watched the smoke clear. (Please scroll up for part III)

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01/03/2015 06:38.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Brava, Gary!
What an absolutely beautiful post! Taking today's obstacles that society faces, I think everyone should read your post, take it to heart, carry the light and celebrate one of the two most honored days of the year. And if only a few of us do this, then just imagine how many people we can touch and how much better a place the world will be to live in this time next year! God bless and be with you and yours, always.

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

12/28/2014 02:19.55 PM Report This Comment  
  Light, Darkness, Warmth, and Cold
The Germanic tribes called it Yule. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia. The Druids lit bonfires and the First Nations people had their own ceremonies for this time of year, the Winter Solstice. It was only natural that the early Church Fathers decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus at the very same time. As a Catholic Christian, I believe every part of the Nativity story. Each year at this time I watch a dvd of "The Nativity Story"; for my money, the best portrayal of the event as described by the Gospels. Now as a Countryman, I respect any ritual which instills hope and in turn, endurance, in the face of the darkest and coldest time of the year. In the face of cold , we warm-blooded mammals crave warmth. In the face of darkness, we humans desire light. As we learned to use fire, we were able to keep both at bay.

As we go through the Christmas Season, we sometimes become jaded with the overload of programs, music, and especially advertisements which secularize the Holy Day. I had almost decided that I wouldn't add to the overkill with another Christmas blog but then I read the Christmas blog post of "The Farmwife". Julie Murphree's article is as good as or better than most that I've read in quite awhile. It made me realize that the miracle of Christmas is so grand that there is always some new perspective or realization that we can glean from it. I believe that this is because each of us has our own unique and personal experience and appreciation of Christmas. Each of us has our own Christmas story to tell, indeed, our own Christmas sermon to preach.

Julie Murphree's article was a gem on how to really "live" Christmas. (Quotations are mine. It's the only way I could figure out how to emphasize it.) As for me, I relate to the hope, faith, and acceptance in and of God's holy design. In "The Nativity Story", I loved how the shaft of light from the combination of stars and comet lit up the stable and how the Holy Family was warmed by the peaceful collection of livestock surrounding them.

Fittingly, Pope Francis, in his Christmas homily stated: "Isaiah's prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds."

At this time of year we all yearn for light in the face of darkness, warmth in the face of coldness, and to add an even more important part of our human condition, love in the face of loneliness. It is my resolve to take the light, warmth, and love of Christmas and following The Farmwife's admonition, live it throughout the next year. Christmas has only just begun. --Gary

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12/27/2014 06:47.26 PM Report This Comment  
  Love it!
I just spent the last twenty minutes playing catch up and reading all your latest posts. I will probably spend the rest of the day chuckling. I can just picture you and David as children, hunkered down and trying to be so adult-like in your hunting attempts. And all I can see is Pa and Earl, covered in mud from head to toe, with more of it dripping down on top of them from the trees and power lines. Thank you, Gary, for all of these great stories!

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12/21/2014 12:49.44 PM Report This Comment  
  Fun With Explosives, More Truckeylore (Part I )
The previous thread on muzzle loaders and black powder reminded me of a few "contratemps", or mishaps with explosives that have become a part of Truckeylore.
I've already related how Pa had inadvertently seeded nitroglycerin into the soil one of the fields of La Ferme Sabloneuse through a combination of glycerin coolant leaking from a gas engine-powered wood saw and nitrate fertilizer spread over the same area. As I've written, the following Spring, as Pa dragged the field in preparation for planting, he heard a popping noise whenever he drove the drag over the spot where the saw rig had stood the previous Autumn. In spite of himself, Pa had created nitroglycerin at La Ferme Sabloneuse.

At about the same time, in the late 1940s, Pa decided to try to create a conducive habitat for wood ducks. Pa's brother Earl had come upon a stash of dynamite and so the two of them decided to deepen the seepage in county-owned land adjacent to La Ferme Sabloneuse. They planted the sticks in the mud and lit them off. The resulting explosion hung massive globs of muck on the power lines on the Truckey property next to the County park. Fortunately, this blasted earth did not upset the power flow to the residents of Oconto County and so no repercussions ensued.

Now Pa's friend Wild Bill Beaudin was a kindred spirit. That man had a lot of experience with black powder, especially in regards to loading his ball-and-cap Navy Colt revolver. Bill also liked to roll his own cigarettes. He even had his own Zig-Zag rolling machine. The problem was, Bill liked to smoke regardless of what he was doing. I can still see his 6ft-4inch frame in an "Indian kneel" over whatever task he had at hand with a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth. So one time Bill was crouched over the workbench preparing cap-and-ball charges for his pistol when an ash from his ever-present cigarette fell onto some black powder. Bill ended up losing both eyebrows and half his beard. He thought the situation so funny that he refused to shave off the other half and used his facial appearance as a conservation piece. More about these adventures next time. -- Gary

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12/20/2014 06:22.38 PM Report This Comment  
  Hunting Alone, Part VII (Muzzle loaders)
So when I prepared for this muzzle loader deer season, I went through the learning process with the two aforementioned rifles. It was much the same as the post I'd made over two years ago about Eldest Brother David (09/11/2012). I found that David's Hawkens wasn't able to strike the percussion cap consistently hard enough to ignite the charge. I was finally able to fire off the existing charge and then cleaned the Hawkens and then put it away. As for Pa's Kentucky rifle, I found that the hammer would set off the cap, but the sparks wouldn't set off the charge in the barrel. I had to unscrew the nipple and then sprinkle some powder next to the touch hole. I screwed the nipple back one and then was able to bulls-eye the target. I had to laugh when I realized that a frizzen and powder pan would've worked better. As for the Hawkens, I expect that I'll have to research on how to tighten the internal spring that gives the hammer enough torque to set off the cap.

Nowadays for hunting with muzzle loaders, they use what's called an "inline system". This type of rifle breaks open between the hammer and the barrel. You still load the weapon from the muzzle, but instead of loose powder, wadding, and bullet, you drop in two Lifesaver candy-shaped rings of compressed powder and then the bullet, (no wadding). At the breech end of the barrel is a little aperture in which you insert a primer cap. You snap the rifle shut and when you pull the trigger the primer cap sends sparks through the center of the to "life savers" which ignites all the powder at once, instead of the slower, more gradual ignition that you have with loose gunpowder. This results in longer range and greater accuracy. On the Outdoor Channel you can watch hunters use such a rifle, (with an attached scope) to take deer from some 200 yards.

Finally, last Sunday eve as I climbed down from Eldest Brother David's stand at the North end of La Ferme Sabloneuse after seeing no deer..... again. The thing about muzzle loaders is that you have to unload it by firing it. So I set up the target again and sure enough, the Kentucky rifle shot sure and true, bulls eyeing the target again. I put the gun in David's shop, to be cleaned in a day or so when I had more time, and I walked down the road towards home. As I got to my driveway I saw five deer cross the road a quarter mile South of our land. Again, I had to laugh. So ends my first real muzzle loader season. --Gary

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12/13/2014 06:53.23 PM Report This Comment  
  Hunting Alone, Part VI (Muzzle loaders)
During the development of the firearm, gunsmiths found that they could greatly increase the accuracy of both muskets and cannons by "rifling" the barrels. This simply meant grinding grooves inside the barrel of the weapon. As Wikipedia states: "Rifling refers to helical grooves in the barrel of a gun or firearm, which imparts a spin to a projectile around its long axis. This spin serves to gyroscopically stabilize the projectile, improving its aerodynamic stability and accuracy." It was German craftsmen who came upon the idea. German craftsmen who'd emigrated to Pennsylvania (the "Pennsylvania Dutch), in turn, developed the Pennsylvania Rifle, which, in turn, became the "Kentucky Rifle". Both Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett achieved fame with the Kentucky rifle. During the American Revolution, frontiersmen with their rifles were used as "skirmishers" and snipers. As skirmishers, those militiamen fired two or three shots into the British ranks, targeting officers in order to disrupt the battle formation of the enemy. Because the rifling of the rifles would quickly become clogged after these few volleys, the "riflemen" would then withdraw and leave the battle to the muskets of the "rank and file" of the general soldiery.

During the Battle of the Alamo, Davey Crockett reportedly shot an enemy soldier walking across the plaza of the town of San Antonio from some 250 yards away. The marksmanship of the "Texicans" at the Alamo became legendary and this reputation was carried on through the Civil War. Such was the legacy of the Kentucky rifle and its later derivative, the Hawkens. In later times, the firing mechanism was altered so that a percussion cap was placed over an aperture (nipple) which shunted the cap spark to the charge in the barrel. This eliminated the problem of the powder in the flash pan getting wet during bad weather. More on muzzle loading next time. -- Gary

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12/10/2014 08:32.26 PM Report This Comment  
  Hunting Alone, Part V (Muzzle loaders)
So let me give you a tutorial about muzzle loaders. You know how the old rifles worked; you poured black powder down the muzzle, then wrapped a ball in a greased patched and shoved it down the barrel with a ramrod. (You can find a wonderful description of this in Laura Ingalls Wilder's first "Little House" book", "Little House in the Big Woods".) In the 17th and 18th century they used a piece of flint fastened to the hammer which struck a "flash pan" filled with fine powder which, in turn, lit off the powder in the barrel. The piece of metal covering the pan was called the "frizzen", which was ingeniously designed to provide the friction needed for the flint to create sparks. Wikipedia describes it nicely:
"The frizzen, historically called the steel, is an "L" shaped piece of steel hinged at the rear used in flintlock firearms. It is positioned over the flash pan so as to enclose a small priming charge of black powder next to the flash hole that is drilled through the barrel into where the main charge is loaded. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer or cock—which includes a shaped piece of flint held into a set of jaws by a scrap of leather or thin piece of lead—snaps forward causing the flint to scrape down the face of the frizzen (historically called the 'battery'), throwing it back to expose the black powder in the pan. The flint scraping the steel causes a shower of sparks to be thrown into the pan, igniting the black powder and sending flames through the touch hole, which in turn ignites the main charge of black powder in the breech of the barrel, shooting the projectile out the barrel."
Now the powder in the flash pan was of a higher quality than the black powder poured down the barrel. It was of utmost importance that the hammer, flint, and flash pan all operated without fail. Otherwise you would experience the "flash in the pan" which would fail to ignite the charge and result in a misfire. This, in turn, in the frontier, would, at best, cause you to miss your game and at worse, cause you to lose your life. In those days you had to carry two separate flasks, one for the black powder for the charge, and another, smaller one of fine powder, to use for the flash pan.
From the 16th to the middle of the 19th century, the armies of the European nations, and later, the Regulars of the young United States Army used smoothbore muskets. This meant that the barrels of these weapons were smooth inside, just like a modern day shotgun. The upshot (pardon the pun) was that the soldier could fire more volleys before the musket got too fouled to work. The downside was that the muskets' accuracy was limited to about 75 yards at a maximum. This was compensated for by the European armies developing tactics of massed volleys by compressed blocks of troops. They say that a well-trained infantryman could fire up to four rounds a minute, quite an accomplishment when you think of all one had to do to reload in the heat of combat. -- Gary

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12/08/2014 07:47.31 PM Report This Comment  
  Hunting Alone, Part IV (Muzzle loaders)
I've been trying to hunt during the muzzle loader season. Over two years ago I had written about Eldest Brother David having bought himself a Hawkens .50 caliber CVA rifle and spent two days test firing it and Pa's .45 cal. Kentucky rifle. Pa had gotten a kit and built both the rifle and a .45 pistol back in the '70s. When Pa knew his time had come he told me that he wanted me to have the muzzle loaders. I took the rifle once squirrel hunting, just for the fun of it and sure enough, I had a shot at a grey squirrel that was clinging to the side of an oak. I decided to "bark" it, c'est-a-dire, to hit the tree next to it and kill it with the explosion of bark from the ball. This, in theory, prevents you from tearing off half the squirrel with a .45 caliber bullet. As it turned out, I missed the tree and shot the squirrel through the head. It was weird. The ball went neatly through the critter's skull without any collateral damage. When I related this story earlier this week to the owner of the gun store in Oconto Falls, he laughed and said, "I bet you don't tell people about trying to bark it, you just tell 'em that you tried for a headshot and nailed it!"

A few years later, David wanted to try hunting during the muzzle loader season. He borrowed the Kentucky rifle and a year or so later asked if he could have it. Since I was just happy that Pa's gun was being used, I said okay. A year or two later, David asked to have the pistol as well. For the same reason I agreed. During those seasons, David would load both rifle and pistol and take them to one of his towers. He figured that if he shot a deer with the rifle, he'd be able to deliver a coup de grace with the pistol. Unfortunately, David never did see a deer during those seasons.

So two years ago Eldest bought himself that Hawkens. He spent time shooting them both and announced to me that both of us would be able to hunt that muzzle loader season. As I wrote back then: "I suspect that he needs a native load-bearer and as I was the closest thing to one living in the immediate area he figures that I needed the enticement of my own muzzle loader in order ensure my participation." I don't remember, actually, if we had the chance to hunt together that year. I'd probably had to work 50 plus hours as is the norm for early December with the USPS and David probably chose not to hunt the last Sunday. More about Muzzle loaders next time. -- Gary

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12/06/2014 05:28.53 PM Report This Comment  
  Hunting Alone, Part III (Eldest Brother David)
"Hunting alone means you are on your own time-line. You don't have to worry about others, and taking their needs into consideration." A perceptive observation by "The Farmwife's" husband Randy. This definitely holds true for me. But for me, For these past many years, I've been dutifully loyal and supporting to Eldest Brother David. I've already told you how one of my greatest experiences of hunting was being there for Eldest as he was recovering from his heart surgery and had dropped a deer with a great long shot from his stand. As I'd written before, being there to field-dress David's deer for him and then drive him to have his deer registered, all the while listening to him elate about his accomplishment was better than if I'd shot one myself.

After all this, in the last few years David had become so limited in his physical capabilities that my hunting consisted of doing drives for him as he sat in one or another of his stands. I didn't mind that. I've already stated how much I enjoyed helping him. In spite of everything, my brother engendered loyalty. I basically gave up hunting for myself in order to be there for him. Last year, the first in decades that neither of us hunted, grieved us both. We both knew down deep in our hearts, that an era had ended.

How I looked up to him! I remember when I was a small child, I was sitting in the living room of the "new house" watching "The Twilight Zone" with my brother Wayne at around five pm on a November evening during deer season. We heard a muffled sound outside the bay window and Wayne screamed as we both looked up and saw David grinning at us from outside. He had returned from deer hunting on our land and couldn't resist the opportunity to terrorize two of his kid brothers. My memory is faulty, but I believe Eldest was about 22, Wayne about 16 and I about 10. I can still see him, young, dark and thin; looking every bit the part of a young Indian hunter as was his (our) heritage. You must understand, my brother David held a position that was almost sacrosanct in our family's French-Canadian tradition, that of the oldest brother. To be honest, I worshipped him. Whatever Eldest said was law.

I had a dream one night after David died. I was a kid again, in a blind sitting on the ground alongside of my brother. Both of us had the old single-shot 20 gauge shotguns we'd hunted with back then, hunkered down in the old red coats we wore at that time. It was a child's dream; one that hungered for something that had never really existed, but like all such dreams, it was of the "ideal"; a happy place that exists only in our imagining. Regardless, it expressed my love and admiration for my eldest brother. --Gary

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12/03/2014 07:09.41 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Winter 2014, Part III
How many of you love Winter? So far, only our friend Suzanne Snyder freely admits to this. The rest of us range from being ambivalent to being downright hateful towards the season. My dear Belle Soeur Susie, who last year broke in Winter by breaking her wrist and fracturing her pelvis, is renowned for her "I Hate Winter!" yell, shouted out at each and every forecast of approaching snowfall and/or subzero temperatures. Of course, this last Winter she'd had to shout it endlessly.
This time of year I always think of Ezra Pound's parody of the old poem "Sumer Is Icumen In". Written in the Wessex dialect of Middle English, even in its original form it conveys the joy and relief of a new season of life.

"Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med,
And springþ þe wde nu,

(Summer has come in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow
blooms,
And the wood springs anew,)"

That was only the first stanza. You'll have to go on Wikipedia to read the entire original poem. As for Pound's "Winter Song":

"Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM."

While I certainly try to find things about Winter to enjoy, this poem describes how I feel much of the time. -- Gary

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11/29/2014 07:59.45 PM Report This Comment  
  Thanksgiving, 2014
So what are you thankful for?

"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'thank you', it is sufficient." --Meister Eckhart

I've always loved this quote. For me it emphasizes what we tend to forget; that there is much in our lives that we should be thankful for. When I feel down (and in this day and age, this is an everyday event) I remind myself of the gifts I've been given. Instead of looking down, I look up, and even in the cloudiest of days I can see beauty in the sky and see God's creation all around me.

So, again, what are you thankful for? I won't bore you with my list, I would much rather hear yours. All I can wish for you is that you are able to recognize and appreciate what is good in your lives and how you can use these gifts to help others.

I've posted the following saying before: "You cannot always have happiness, but you can always give happiness." This is what I try to remember everyday. If I can help other people; if I can ease their suffering and increase their joy in this life, then I too, have reason to be thankful. --Gary

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11/26/2014 08:18.52 PM Report This Comment  
  Hunting Alone, Part II
Didn't see a darn thing today but I went to the Hunters Mass tonight in Oconto and I'll be out there tomorrow. I found that I was actually looking forward to hunting for the first time in decades. Lord knows that my Pa had had to hunt by himself for many a year before his sons grew old enough to accompany him. In short, I am made to believe that if you don't like to hunt alone, then you are not a true hunter. Our American (and French Canadian) predecessors certainly had to hunt alone and in addition, had to make sure that they weren't in turn being hunted by unfriendly First Nation warriors. I try to remember that when I'm bummed out about not seeing any game. As for my Pa, I had written some two years back how it must've allowed him an escape from his worries as a husband and father to go hunting.

"One time he came home from work around midnight right after a fresh snow under a full moon. He saw fresh rabbit tracks in the snow. While the rest of us slept, he took his little single shot .22 and followed the rabbit tracks. I imagine it must've been pleasant for him; being alone in the quiet moonlight, enjoying a chance to provide for his family in an older, more traditional way instead of sweating in the noise and stress of the paper mill. After trudging the length of his forty, Pa spied the rabbit huddled in the lee of a fence post. One crack of the .22 and he had yet another rabbit for the freezer, (much to the joy of my Ma, to be sure)."

So what is it about hunting? As I'd written a year before: "For us humans, as I'd described a year ago, we feel the need at this time of year to hunt for or slaughter the proteins and fat that we will need from wild game or domestic animals. It is cold enough to store meat and also cold enough for our bodies to sense the need for added fat. It is not for nothing that Thanksgiving has become a feast day for us to overeat and grow fat at the threshold of Winter. We will need it during the months to come."

And again, to quote a Facebook friend: "Fall comes and we are drawn to the cozy warmth of the hearth fire and heavy meats." More on hunting alone to come. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

11/22/2014 07:49.04 PM Report This Comment  
  Hunting Alone, Part I
For the first time in my life, I am hunting alone. Eldest Brother David has passed, Pa's been gone for almost 30 years, and Wild Bill Beaudin for 37. Big Brother Tommy hasn't hunted for many years and despite my urgings, has refused to take it up again. Too bad, Tommy was a decent shot. My nephew Dave is not able to hunt this year as well so I am all alone.

I'm torn. In the distant past of my youth the whole point of hunting was to have fun spending time with Pa, Eldest, Big Brother Tommy, and whoever was dumb enough to hunt with us all. A part of that, certainly, was a boy trying to win the respect of his elders. This, of course, harkens back to humanity at its earliest; we are descended from hunters and gatherers. Looking back, I have to smile ruefully. Hunting with Pa in order to have fun and earn respect was, often an exercise in futility; oft times you got neither. Pa was difficult to hunt with; it's as simple as that. He would send Tommy and me out to make elaborately-designed drives and then rail at us when we got mis-directed in the thick woods. If you spotted a deer, no matter if it was just a flash of white disappearing into the underbrush, Pa would demand of us why hadn't we shot at it. And Lord, if you missed a shot.... it was better that you said nothing and hoped that he hadn't heard your rifle. I think what I miss about Pa was his enthusiasm. He was the only man I ever knew who in his sixties and seventies, still loved to hunt. Of course, if you actually got a deer, then you earned his praise. For us "sons of Dave", it was gratifying indeed.

As it turned out, both Big Brother Tommy and myself got our very first deer within seconds of each other on a warm opening day of 1982. We were all sitting at various points in Caldie's woods when I heard the Youngers shoot in the next "forty". Sure enough, I saw some does and a buck heading towards Tommy on the old railroad grade. They checked when they saw Tommy and then I heard him shoot. The deer broke from the "right-of-way" and headed past me. For one of the few times in my life I did everything right and dropped the eight-point buck with a running shot right through the heart. I heard Tommy yell, "I gotta deer!" To be totally honest, I was as happy for him as I was for me. I can tell you that it was a joy to find Pa and tell him that the both of us had gotten deer. Pa was so pleased that even at the age of 73, he field dressed both those deer for his sons. Later that Winter, Pa took it upon himself to buy a mounting kit and spent a few days putting my eight-pointer on a velvet-covered plaque. I had earned my Pa's approval as a hunter. He was well pleased with me, and regardless of all the baggage that went with this father-son relationship, I was pleased as well. More about Hunting Alone to come. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

11/21/2014 08:08.41 PM Report This Comment  
  Eary Winter 2014, Part I
While not record-setting, it's been cold here this week at La Ferme Sabloneuse. The ground is undeniably frozen now and ice is covering every pond and lake here in Oconto County. No katydids rasping these nights. Last Friday I noticed a large flock of Sandhill cranes croaking, and circling, gathering together for their migration South. They are the last of the migrants to leave, save for the robins, which will stay as long as there's enough bare ground on which to scavenge. The cold weather hadn't started the rut season; it was going on full bore even before this cold snap, but I am made to wonder if this snap will actually lengthen the rut because the early cold might interfere with normal white tail activity. (This is a question I'll have to ask a "real" deer hunter. I'll get back to you all about this.)

While the early arrival of Winter, 2014 means at least a temporary end to Autumn chores (e.g. the last raking of the oak leaves from around the Bear Garden, digging up the cornstalks, and hauling and spreading a final load of manure) it also allows me to get an early start on Winter tasks. (A Countryman must be a "glass half-full" kind of man or else he won't remain a Countryman) I was able to start pruning the old apple trees. It was so cold that I could only work out there for a half-hour or less. I will continue to keep at it another day or so until I'm finished. Sadly, the first tree, what we call the "Winter Apple", is almost dead. The trunk is hollowed out and only one limb remains alive. I can only hope from year to year that it continues to survive. Today there was a light snow falling most of the day as I accompanied dear Belle Soeur Susie on an errand she had to do for her son. She and I, in my little old pickup went slowly on the slippery back roads to her family's homestead in order to pick up some bales of hay. We then hauled them all the way down past Green Bay to her son's property so he could cover his septic tank before the frost sank down too deep into his lawn. It's just one of the many preparations we have to make for each Winter. More on Early Winter 2014 next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

11/19/2014 04:47.58 PM Report This Comment  
  Late Autumn, 2014, Part III
How long is Autumn? Over two years ago in these blogs, (8-24-2012) I'd done a blog entitled "Autumn is Here". At this latitude Autumn starts in late August. It is a long season. It starts at this time and runs until Thanksgiving. This year we've had our first taste of Winter with a slushy snow event around Veterans Day and a so-called "Polar Vortex" predicted to bring 20 degrees below normal temps for the next week or more. The ground will freeze around La Ferme Sabloneuse, making it impossible for me to dig up the cornstalk roots or spade over the raised beds in the Home Garden. I can only hope that early December will bring the aforementioned "Squaw Winter" so I can catch up on my end-of-season gardening. Early Winters are nothing new around here. I've written before how I've finished up disking a field for a neighboring farmer during an October 28th snowstorm in 1981, having his Ford tractor sliding around the snowy-sandy hilltop of his sandy field. The disk assembly was too heavy for the little Ford and as a result every time I used the hydraulic to lift the disk, the front of the tractor rose up as well and I was balancing everything on two wheels as I skittered along the crest of the hill.

This Late Autumn reminds me of 1985. It's been too wet for many farmers to get out and bring in their corn, just like it was back in that year. By the start of Deer season that year we had some permanent snow in the woods, the ground froze up, and the ice was thick enough to walk on in the swamps and marshes. The cornfields were finally able to be harvested. Now most farmers held off harvesting so they could hunt deer but two of my cousins on my Ma's side, Russ and Dewey, who shared the Shallow home farm, decided that work came before pleasure, and spent most of that late November week bringing in their corn. As it turned out, the second weekend of Deer season, November 31 and December 1st, saw the "Blizzard of '85", dropping some fourteen inches of snow on NE Wisconsin. (This was the weekend of the semi-famous "Snow Bowl" of the Green Bay Packers versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) Of all the farmers around our neck of the woods, only my cousins had a corn crop. All the rest saw their corn sit throughout Winter in deep snow, a Providential source of food for the deer population during a truly hard time.

This Winter has already started at La Ferme Sabloneuse (so much for the "Late Autumn" moniker). More about this next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

11/15/2014 09:21.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Late Autumn, 2014, Part II
My literary muse, Hal Borland, once wrote a whimsical article about a personified Autumn descended down Tom's Mountain in upstate Connecticut a few weeks early in order to announce his eminent and inevitable arrival and then return up the mountain. The same could be said about Winter here. On the last day of October I drove My Ruthie out to the breakwater at Oconto which juts out into Green Bay. As my latest posted photo shows, the northeasterly gales were driving the waves right over the causeway. Even though the Sun was shining intermittently, the scudding cumulus clouds were spitting snowflakes on us two from two miles away. We stood out in the freezing wind while Ruthie took her photos. Those few flakes were the harbingers of things to come. This is what I love about Late Autumn; we have our days of Indian Summer and Squaw Winter. Indian Summer is what are called the warm Autumn days after the first killing frost. Squaw Winter refers to the mild days after the first real snowfall. Please don't lecture me about those racially-loaded terms. As for me, a Countryman who identifies himself as a "metis", I use those terms with respect for the First Nations people.

Comme d'habitude, at this time of year we get things ready for Winter. On the second day of November I raked leaves, both at the Homestead and at the Home Property. As the trees get bigger, the amount of leaves get larger. A person on my mail route asked me, "Have you noticed how many leaves we've got this year?" I knew the answer, but I just smiled and nodded and kept on shuffling through leaves.

At the Home Property, my Ruthie had ordered a load of black dirt that was dumped next to our back door. As the year progressed, I noticed that weeds had grown on the dirt pile and needed to be hoed out. I had put it off until I noticed this last weekend that the tops of these weeds had been chewed off. Sure enough, the deer had come up to within a few yards of the house and had consumed them. There's a lot of deer around here this fall, despite the previous harsh Winter. I look forward to the coming Deer Hunting Season, which is the highlight of Late Autumn here at La Ferme Sabloneuse. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

11/08/2014 08:23.51 PM Report This Comment  
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