An Afternoon Walk at Carley State Park

A budding tree

“What should we do tomorrow afternoon,” questioned my husband on a Saturday evening in mid-April.

            “I think it is too early for bluebells to be blooming,” I answered thoughtfully, “but it might be fun to hike again at Carley State Park. We haven’t been there in a really long time.” Carley State Park is only about eight miles from where we live so it is a local activity.

            The next day dawns cloudy and cool. The temperature barely touches the low 50s. Not willing to abandon our plans, I check the weather radar on my cell phone climate app. The forecast calls for a 15% chance of rain all day, but the radar shows that green morning splash that touches the screen as sliding off the display by two p.m. Maybe there is still hope for our plans.

            Claire, our dog, barks as we both put on our jackets and then eagerly jumps into the back seat of the car. She knows something exhilarating is happening. Tiny splashes of water dash the windshield as we start towards town. Ugggh… It is still trying to rain. Well, we are going to plow ahead in spite of the windshield wipers flapping back and forth. I am hoping that we will have the trails and the park all to ourselves.

            A gently curving route leads into the entry area. We follow the right road split to the vicinity where a little DNR cabin used to sit. The cabin is gone. All that remains is a small kiosk at which to register. Apparently, it has been a lot longer than I thought since we were last here. The small parking area which I remember as usually being empty is full of cars. That’s strange. Is there a special event today, I wonder? We wind our way down the forested gravel lane to the lower-level parking area. This parking lot is full as well. I don’t think there is anything special today. I guess people have nothing else they can do in the midst of the Covid pandemic. This state park used to be pretty much empty when we visited in prior years. Since the gate is closed to the camping area, I pull up to it and park in front of it. Afterall, there is no “NO Parking” sign. My hubby, the rule follower, doesn’t say a word. Claire is excitedly prancing around – ready for a new adventure.

            We choose the path along the north branch of the Whitewater River which gurgles and loops slowly through the park. The sky still hangs heavy, but the misty rain has stopped. The trail has a dark brown firm mud underlay from the numerous footsteps that have traversed its length since the recent rain. The trees are just starting to shoot out their buds and the underfloor of the forest is covered with green. Carley SP is known for its bluebells in spring, but I think we are just a couple of weeks early. Many of the plants have purple buds peeking from their green but they have not fully opened. A few shoots display fine cone shaped white blossoms. The day is perfect for a walk such as this. Claire eagerly sniffs every new smell of this fresh unexplored place. She weaves to the right and then the left and then circles back for another snuffle. She soon puts it in 4-wheel drive and tries to drag me along.

            We leisurely mosey along the narrow trail, sometimes stopping for Dave to take pictures, sometimes stopping off to the side for others to pass. Claire, of course, wants to bark at everyone but she soon settles down and waits quietly when I cling tightly to her harness handle. Soon we come to a double river crossing where it looks like one part is only water filled when the river is high. The river crossings at this park are not bridges but huge concrete steppingstones that have been placed parallel to each other but perpendicular to the flow of the water. One needs to jump from stone to stone to traverse the river while maintaining dry feet. The absence of recent maintenance also means the riverbanks have become eroded leaving the base along the bank muddy. This calls for some ginger stone stepping attempting to miss the mud. Claire is not sure what to do so she wades out into the water for a splash around before clawing her way onto the concrete steps.

            Safely across, we continue our amble through the woods. Soon the trail turns and begins an ascent along the bluff. Hubby and I are panting with the effort. Claire decreases my effort needed as she attempts to drag me along. We climb upward for about ten minutes and then stroll along the ridge for another ¼ mile before the trail begins its decent to the river below again. This river crossing presents a much more challenging dilemma. The erosion along these banks are much more extensive on both sides of the river. Someone has dragged three separate sections of six-inch diameter trees to the riverbank and slid them into place side by side to make a slanted bridge to the first concrete step in the water. This could be hazardous for two sixty something-year-old persons. There is nothing to hang onto, the bridge is uneven, and neither of us have the balance of a younger individual. I wonder for just a moment if we should retrace our steps back the way we have come. But that is an overwhelming thought, so a different plan is needed. Claire is not in the least bit interested in stepping onto that rickety makeshift crossing either, so this also presents a problem. There is no way we can carry her.

            I finally give Claire’s leash to Dave and step out onto the round trees. I quickly realize that I will be in the drink if I try to walk across these logs with nothing to grab onto when I lose my balance on the unsteady surface. There is a larger tree at the bottom of the dip just below the makeshift bridge. Maybe I can walk on that and use the trees for balance. I lower my butt to the threesome of trees and gingerly shuffle partway across the larger tree until I can take a flying leap to the concrete step. Once safely landed, I turn to help retrieve Claire. Dave has ended up sitting on the muddy riverbank and he pushes her towards me on the rounded trees. She quickly gets the idea and comes bounding across. That just leaves Dave to traverse the dangerous crossing. At least, I can extend my hand to him for balance. Like an old pro, Claire leaps from concrete step to concrete steps and scrambles up the muddy three-foot bank on the other side. That just leaves the old people to claw their way up on hands and knees. Well so much for being clean but we are safely across! And we didn’t even fall in the river.

            It is just a short walk along this side of the stream back to the parking area where our chariot waits to ferry us home. But first, we must cap off the day with a Dairy Queen treat.

Growing and Mowing

 

Summer in Minnesota– tis the season for mowing grass. With an abundance of rain, that means that the lawnmower needs firing up every week. Since our daughter has graduated from college and moved home for the summer, Mom has stipulated that the required 4 hours of mowing each week will be her job in exchange for rent. And just last year, we bought a new – well a slightly used- green John Deere riding mower. On the farm, we always had John Deere tractors and so I am somewhat prejudiced towards this brand. My thinking is that we should be able to have trouble free mowing for at least a few years.

“MOM!” My in-depth concentration in the book I am reading is interrupted. “I can’t get the mower to go around. I was just mowing along when it stopped and it won’t restart.”

Alright, this is a new mower with less than 100 hours on it so there can’t be that much wrong with it. “I’m coming. Let’s go see what we can figure out.”

I plop in the seat and turn the key. The tractor motor snaps right off so no problem there. The brake is on, the mower up. I disengage the still silent mower and re-engage it. I do it again. Nothing. I know nothing about this tractor but I flop in the soft freshly mown grass and begin to inspect the various working components on the mower deck. The belt that drives the mower seems looser than it should be and I soon discern that the belt has come off the pulley. On our other mower, it was pretty simple to replace the belt. Certainly, we can fix this. I just need to find the place where I can loosen the tension on the belts and slip it back on. But no such place seems to exist.

The sweat has begun to pour off of me in the 90-degree heat. I guess it is time to find the owner’s manual and see what it has to say. I can’t find anything about the mower in the troubleshooting section. Frustrating would be an understatement.  Finally, I find a section that says, “disengage (tension) rod from the retaining bracket by rotating rod counterclockwise.” Nice thought. But how am I supposed to do that. There is a huge spring that I can’t begin to budge holding it securely. This is ridiculous. “It can’t be that hard,” I say to Daughter. Finally, I have a brilliant idea. Forget taking anything apart or turning it any way. I lay down on the ground and prop my right foot against the offending pulley and push with all my strength. “See if you can get the belt on now,” I instruct. And just like that it is fixed. Yahoo!!

“And so this is why I can’t depend on a man to fix things,” the insight dawns on Daughter, “because the men are never around when things need fixing.”

“You are so right.” I confirm.

Without another hitch, the lawn soon is looking prim and neat. But as I walk behind the lawn mower in the garage later in the day, a puddle of oil is enlarging drip by drip onto the concrete floor. Closer inspection reveals that the transmission oil pan is empty. Oh no!

“Will you help me hook up the trailer and load the lawnmower on Monday so I can take it to the dealer?” I implore my daughter. I don’t see any other solution to this problem.

Monday morning, dark ominous clouds grace the western sky and soon buckets of rain come pouring down. Well, I am not about to get wet hooking up the pickup to the trailer so we can haul this lawnmower. Within the hour, the clouds have parted and the sun comes peeking out. Time to hook up the trailer. I grab the truck keys off the key rack and turn to head out the door.

“Hey, I thought I was going to drive the truck,” demands Daughter.

No problem. I no longer, in this life, feel a need to prove my proficiency in these kinds of pursuits. These tasks sometimes just feel more like a struggle that needs to be done especially since my neck no longer is flexible enough to actually turn so I can see to back a vehicle. It is time to let the younger generation develop their skills and prove themselves. I have always told my daughter that there is no excuse for being a helpless woman. And today, she proves she is not helpless. With only a couple of corrections, she does a pretty efficient job of backing up that trailer with the pickup.

With the lawnmower safely deposited at the dealer for repairs, we wait while the grass grows tall and green again.

The Evening of Delays

fry wed and elgin coop high 5-25-14 181It is 6:50 p.m. I have delivered my patient to the recovery room just a few minutes early and I hear those “music to my ears” words, “You can go home.”

As I stride down the hall towards the parking ramp, I notice a young man dressed in a white doctor’s coat waiting by the stairway. He smiles at me and directs a question my way. “Do you want to make $10?”

My brain does a flip. That is a strange question. Is he propositioning me? I respond, “Doing what?”

“Will you give me a ride to Methodist Hospital?”

Briefly, I wonder if he might be an ax murderer but he looks like any young intern. In his hands, he holds a box that usually contains “loops,” a kind of glasses worn by surgeons to be able to focus better on their delicate work. I make a split-second decision.

“I will give you a ride if you are willing to walk up six flights of stairs to my car. And you don’t need to pay me $10.”

Out on the street, it is pouring from the sky so I understand now his desire for a ride. We chat amicably on the ride and I deposit him on the sidewalk just a block from his car. I have only gone a few blocks out of my way and done a good deed for someone in need.fry wed and elgin coop high 5-25-14 214

I take my normal route home through the little town where my hubby has his business with the intent to pick up the mail as is my usual practice. The problem these days is that road construction has again become the bane of our area. Last summer, the state and the county did not communicate at all resulting in only one way into town. This summer is supposed to be more of the same. Just now, the road immediately north of town that comes in from the west is torn up and closed. The county has also started to tear up the road that lies perpendicular to this road and goes directly north out of town to our house. This leaves the necessity of going 5 miles out of the way to get home. Tonight, I have a discussion with myself. I don’t want to go down the gravel road detour and get my car all dirty besides spending the extra time that it takes. Maybe, I can just sneak my way through on that short distance that is torn up and then I will be back on the blacktop. After all, it is raining and no one is working any longer. As I mosey along, I come to where the second “road closed” sign which just this morning was the end of the torn up section is situated. Now it is evident that today they tore up another mile all the way to the next intersection. Great. Just great. There is nothing to do at this point but keep going. I am beginning to regret my decision as the road is muddy and unstable. Just what I need to do is get my new car stuck. This really was not a good decision. As I am dodging puddles and swerving along, I notice a white car in the distance following me. As I watch it intermittently, the distance between us continues to shorten. Strange. Is that an antenna I see on top in the gathering twilight? My musings are soon ended by those flashing red and blue lights in my rear view mirror. I sigh and pull over.010 (2)

“Do you know why I stopped you?” asks the pleasant voice of the sheriff deputy.

“Because I am driving on this road?” I sheepishly reply.

“Yes, we have been getting quite a few complaints from the construction workers about people continuing to drive on the closed roads,” he explains.

“Well, I would not have come this way if I had known that they tore the whole road up today.” I try to exonerate myself.

“You have a spotless driving record so let’s try to keep it that way.” He says as he gives me a friendly send off.

Maybe this is enough of a lesson to sufficiently prevent me from trying to avoid those irritating detours of summer road construction for the rest of the summer. Sigh! But it is such a long way around for weeks at a time. My rule keeping husband’s response is “you should know better.” So much for getting home at a decent time.

Getting Ready for Calves

069“I’ll be bringing the calves on Friday,” said my neighbor towards the end of April. The grass was getting green and the days were warming but the pasture was covered with old dried grass from the prior fall. I decided to fire up the new John Deere lawn mower and mow off that dried grass before the arrival of our charges. I was soon zooming around the pasture on cruise. Oh yes, this tractor has cruise and power steering. I can actually turn the wheel at high speed without crashing into things. Then I discovered that the deer had torn off several poles worth of wire holding spools over the winter. Well, I will just stop and reach over and snap that first one back in the spool without getting off the tractor. As I lean over, the tractor engine gurgles to a stop. What just happened? Oh yes, this tractor has that special stop mechanism that kills the engine when one’s butt isn’t in the seat. It also stops when trying to counterbalance on a hillside. This works great – not! Every time I lean over just a little, the engine stops. No wonder everyone unhooks the safety mechanism. In due time, I do get the pasture mowed and ready.

Friday morning, the calves are dropped off into the middle pasture. By Saturday afternoon, my husband muses, “I wonder if they have found the water yet.” They do look pitiful huddled in that one corner of the pasture. I fill my bucket with grain and slowly approach the animals. The brown one in the group, Aaron – I am told his name is, is curious. He slowly takes one step after another until his nose is touching my bucket. He stands there and stares at me but he won’t eat. I turn and begin to slowly walk away. I hear pounding running feet behind me. I am not sure I should turn my back on this bucking critter. He slows and stops at a small drop off that leads into the narrowed area the ends in the water fountain. He paws the ground, gets down on his knees, and turns his head upside down in the dirt. For a small 300 pound calf, he is displaying very bullish behavior and I am not sure I trust him. Happy that everything is fine, he trots down the alley to the water. The other 3 all follow. They drink and drink and drink. It is obvious Aaron is the leader of this herd.

The Pets We Love

PetsFamilyJan2013 196Last week was a lovely warm week and I was getting spring fever. I made the decision on Wednesday to rent a carpet cleaner and clean those terrible looking carpets that haven’t been cleaned for a very long time. After a morning of very hard work, they sparkled and smelled so fresh and clean. What a great feeling!

Friday morning, I was greeted with, “I think the dog made a huge puddle on the stair landing.” from my husband. From me, “N o o o o!”  I will need to deal with that later. He cleaned up the basics and sprayed the spot for me. I needed to get myself ready for work and get my breakfast eaten. I sprayed and scrubbed in short bursts of time while I went about my getting ready. Just as I was about to leave the house, the dog came running down the stairs and threw up on the carpet by the door before I could get her outside. As I was contemplating the huge second mess before me, she proceeded to throw up again behind me. I do not need this. I am supposed to be out the door. Frantically, I attempted to clean up the new messes. Twenty minutes later I gathered up my stuff, set the house alarm, locked the door, and stepped into the garage. I realized instantly that I did not have the car keys or the house key. They were still hanging on the hook in the house. Should I cry now or later? A short walk was required to retrieve the spare key outside the house and I was on my way. Needless to say, by now my stomach did not feel well either.

Later that morning, our daughter came home from college and found the fourth mess on the carpet downstairs. So much for having a clean carpet. The story came out later from my husband as to why the dog was not feeling well. He had cooked us a meal using vegetable oil and placed the can of old oil drippings in the garage to harden. Bella found it and lapped up half the can before he caught her.

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The final straw was the cat throwing up her Easter morning breakfast upstairs in two places. How is it that we can go weeks without a mess and the week after I clean, all out dear companions have to chuck it all up. Any visions of having a nice clean house can go out the window with children or animals in the house. But Oh, how we love them and they make our lives interesting.

#Spring

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Spring has sprung! At least, the weather tells me it has though the calendar still declares it to be March. The trees are brown and barren but the temperature is pushing 60 degrees. Who can walk on the treadmill for exercise when such beautiful weather beckons outdoors? And, of course, I can’t leave Bella, the dog, behind if I am going for a real walk. We start out down the drive. There are still some snow piles in the ditches and the gravel underlay of the drive seeps brown mud. I have worn my boots but it doesn’t seem too bad. Hopefully, the road will be better. As we turn left and begin our journey down the gravel road, I am beginning to have second thoughts about bringing Bella along. The frost has not gone out of the gravel road yet either so the water seeps through the layer of gravel on top instead of filtering away in spite of the fact we have had no rain for a week. Bella trots happily along. Her feet pick up small pebbles of sand and gravel and throw them up towards her sides and belly. Soon she looks like a brown speckled blob. Ugh! How am I going to get her cleaned off so she can go back in the house? Too late now so I might as well keep going and enjoy the day.

Back home 30 minutes later, I have one brown dog instead of a black German Shepherd. I call for my daughter, who is home on spring break from college, to help. Soon the hose is hooked up to the outdoor faucet but Bella has no interest in getting near a stream of water. We wrestle her over to the hose and soon she is clean and we are wet and dirty. A good scrubbing with a towel and Bella is good as new. I can’t say the same thing about me but it was a refreshing walk.

Looking forward to #Spring in Minnesota

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The wind blows over the snow at 20 miles per hour and the temperature hovers around 10 degrees F and I shiver. It is hard to think about spring in such conditions. I am so glad I don’t have any cattle or horses that need taking care of when it is so cold. When our daughter was at home, I gave in to those pleading words of, “Please, Mom, can I have a horse?” We had 2 horses for 5 years. I loved them in the summer when they grazed lazily in the pasture and I could basically ignore their ever present needs. But then came winter. I would ask myself, Why am I the one out here every morning feeding the horses and shoveling the snow away from the barn door? Oh yes,the child has to go to school. Then the child went off to college. The now young lady still pleads for Mom to own a horse. Oh no, this old lady has gotten smart. She sold the horses and now just has some of those little black fascinating calves in the pasture during the summer.

Black Angus calves

I made this change last year. My first idea was to buy the Black Angus calves in the spring, put them on pasture through the summer, and sell them in the fall. When I mentioned my plans to my kind neighbor who I was hoping would supply me with these animals, he told me what each of those fine critters would cost me and I said, “How about you just own them and I will feed them?” So we made an agreement. Four little calves kicked up their heels, pushed each other around, and grew fat over the summer. Apparently, they also learned how to open gates. One day just a week before we were to sell them, my husband came home from work to find the pasture gate wide open and no animals in sight. Oh dear. The price of beef had been running sky high and we had just lost 4 nuggets of black gold. Doing some sleuthing, my husband was able to follow little footprints through the grass outside the gate, around the barn, and headed down the driveway. At the end of the driveway, they turned right and headed up the hill to the main road. This is a farmers worst nightmare – having his cattle on the road. A call was made to the neighbor for help in finding our lost darlings. A little more tracking led the searchers to the neighbors feedlot across the road. There stood all 4 wanderers getting acquainted with the neighbor’s cattle. Soon, they were loaded onto a cattle trailer and hauled back home. This year, says my husband, we must secure our gates so that twisting curling curious tongues cannot flop those chains around.