Family



Windblown trees

Wind blown trees near the California coast.

“Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world. The forces change, yet the essence remains the same.”  —Rumi

We all recognize the survival instinct in the animal kingdom. This year, I discovered that the will to live is just as strong in trees. On July 19th 2019, Northern Bliss, our lake home in Wisconsin, was struck by an F2 tornado. We lost 21 trees on our acre of land and hired a tree service to clean up the mess.

One of the most painful moments during the week that followed the tornadoes of 2019 was making the decision to cut down our wise old oak. She stood beside our sidewalk, proud and tall, flanked by two other oaks. Her limbs held multiple feeders: a corn cob holder for squirrels, a small feeder for chickadees and goldfinch, and another for hummingbirds. The tree service was nearing the end of cutting down a dozen or so storm-damaged trees. One worker pointed to the wise old oak. “No, not that one too!” I cried. From my vantage point on the sidewalk, she appeared to be okay, but on the other side, her trunk had twisted so much that one could see right through. “Another storm—less powerful than a tornado—could take ‘er down. He pointed again: “She’d fall against your roof there.” My heart sank; objections would be futile.  “How far down?” the worker asked, chainsaw in hand. “We could cut ‘er right below the twist.”  

I consented. The canopy on that tree was so high that it took a crane to bring workers to the top. It was so wide that they were forced to chop it down branch by branch so that it would not disturb the surrounding buildings and gardens.

Chainsaws buzzed across White Ash Lake for the remainder of that Wisconsin summer and on into fall. No one talked further about the fate of Wise Old Oak—a dying stump three feet in diameter and thrice my height. During the spring of 2020, the tree service returned with their cranes to yank out the remaining root balls along the lakeshore.  After shoring up the bank, I focused on planting a row of young river birch there. 

It took most of the summer to get Northern Bliss back in shape, but during the dog days of August, Gunter and I finally got around to aesthetics: what should we mount on top of that massive stump? A life-size eagle would be too puny. Any mammal would have to be huge enough to honor Wise Old Oak. An animal native to Wisconsin? Aha! How about a carving of White Ash Bear, the one who frequents feeders and garbage cans all along White Ash Lane? 

Wise Old Oak must have welcomed all the attention because guess what? She decided to grow! She wasn’t dead after all.

Tree stump

The oak stump decides to grow.

How can a stump live? I went inside to search for our copy of tree-whisperer Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. I re-read the sections that might apply to Wise Old Oak. His book convinced me that trees are social, sophisticated, and even intelligent. They cooperate with each other and maintain relationships by sending out chemical, hormonal, and electrical signals. They communicate underground but also send phenomes and other scent signals through the air. 

But Wise Old Oak was now a stump. She could not communicate through the air anymore because she had no branches or leaves. I guessed that she could communicate like most trees do: through networks of symbiotic fungi—a wood wide web—to share nutrients, carbon and other information. But doesn’t a tree need leaves to sustain itself? Wise Old Oak had no leaves for almost a year. 

During photosynthesis, the experts say, plants open pores on their leaves to allow carbon dioxide to enter. Open pores also allow water the plant has not used to be released into the atmosphere. This process, called transpiration, draws water up from the roots so the plant doesn’t wilt. But a leafless stump needs another way to circulate water. During a study conducted in New Zealand, researchers reported that kauri stumps lived by sharing water with neighboring trees. They were connected through an underground plumbing system formed when their roots naturally fused, or grafted, together. 

Wise Old Oak had a neighboring oak on either side. But why would a tree support a stump that can’t reproduce or make its own food? Did she knock on the doors of the trees next door and say: “Hey, Oakey, I’m dying. Can I get a little of your carbon?” Not likely. She probably had that underground connection before she became a stump. 

It turns out that natural root grafts have been reported in some 150 tree species. Exactly how those roots fuse are buried mysteries. One tree communication expert from Tennessee thinks that trees support stumps to maintain symbiotic relationships with helpful fungi. That makes sense, because I recently read that the coveted king bolete mushroom of Russia (known as Porcini by the Italians) grow in complex symbiotic relationships with the surrounding forest trees. But I’m way off track here—back to the bear.

Mounting the Bear.  Wise Old Oak grew a branch straight out of her bark near the top, complete with tiny oak leaves.  At first, she looked weird with that small, single branch. But as it grew, the branch turned upward toward the sun and spread wide so that it resembled the back of a chair. We had been imagining a standing bear but decided that the legs of the statue might not be strong enough to hold its weight. Now we envisioned the bear sitting on that stump, embraced by that branch, her feet pointing toward the lake. During a trip to Cornucopia on Lake Superior, we stopped to chat with an expert woodcarver in Shell Lake.  He set us straight. “A life-size bear made of wood would be too heavy, quite expensive, and would rot anyway within a few years. You should be able to find one made of resin with a hollow center.” After a few hours of internet searches and calls to customer services, I found what I was looking for: a sitting big black bear.

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When that bear statue arrived this fall, we were flummoxed. We had to open the box by cutting it around the bear, leaving it in place. Even at 60 pounds, it would be difficult to put atop that high stump. Our son-in-law Mike came to the rescue. First, he took Big Bear home to his workshop to build a wooden platform attached to his rump. Second, he added hinges to attach it to the stump. Third, he stood on the roof of his ATV to align with the stump so he could slide the bear onto his new home. This is one bear that won’t be hibernating this winter! 

What will happen this spring? Will the branch continue to grow? This one thing I know. Wise Old Oak will find a way to live—somehow. 

Wisconsin

The Oak Tree

A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark

But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway

But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You’ll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me

Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you
I’m stronger than I ever knew

–Johnny Ray Ryder Jr.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

Seasonal change. Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I failed to appreciate the fall season because that meant winter would follow—and I disliked cold weather. My father grumbled about how frigid weather made his arthritis act up: “As soon as I retire, I’m moving south.” His attitude must have rubbed off on me because I decided to do him one better: I would move to gentler climes before I retired!

Here in San Diego, the changing of the seasons is subtle. During October, the summer heat finally subsides; the deciduous trees droop their crinkled leaves onto parched ground; and all of nature sighs and waits for restorative winter rains. The first years after Gunter and I acquired Northern Bliss, our lake home in northern Wisconsin, we treated it as a summer place. We opened it up prior to Memorial Day and closed it after Labor Day.

That was a mistake.

This year, because of Covid, we left San Diego in March when authorities closed the beaches, bays and boardwalks. We returned in late October, just days before the first snow fell on White Ash Lake. There, we experienced all the seasons: the fickleness of April—with tulips bursting forth one day and snow flurries the next—the blush of spring in May, the flowery fullness of June and July, the dog days of August, the transitional month of September, and the magical leaf-peeping month of October.

What Einstein said is true: Everything is a miracle. But spring has been graced with poetry and prose, glorified with the promise of new beginnings. Autumn? Not so much.

Preparation. I had not realized how much nature prepares for fall. Growing up on a farm, I knew all about “harvest time.” My father and my grand-father built wagons and fixed up a rig for silo-filling, and then pulled their “train” to neighboring farms to cut and store their corn silage. My mother and grandmother were busy canning garden produce and storing root crops in the earth cellar. Consumed with our struggle for survival, we did not have time to enjoy nature back then. Nature just was.

This fall, I had the luxury of time to focus on all of nature’s activity on our one acre of land and 200 hundred feet of lakeshore. From the middle of placid White Ash Lake, a pair of loons cried during September nights. One called “Where are you?” The mate wailed, “I’m here.” The call of the loon is an evocative sound you will never forget.

Every day, bald eagles screeched overhead, dominating the scene. Sometimes they spotted a fish and swooped down to the lake’s surface while every other bird scattered. The pair will stay the winter; they need to fatten up. Our resident hummingbirds flew south, so we washed and stored their feeders. Goldfinches followed. Flocks of red-winged blackbirds disappeared from our platform feeder. Only our pair of blue jays, along with ladder-back and pileated woodpeckers, remained at the suet feeder. Below, robins pecked at the ground. Black-hatted and bibbed chickadees continued to flit through treetops searching for insects while calling chick-a-dee-dee- dee. They visited their own “private” feeder often—after the goldfinches disappeared. Undaunted, with their winning personalities, they sat in a pine tree watching me plant bulbs. After Jack Frost paid us a visit, it was time to pull up the annuals and prepare for spring. This year, I added a dash of cayenne pepper to each bulb to foil the squirrels who dug up my bulbs last spring. As I dug and planted, those squirrels dashed about in a frenzy underneath our remaining oaks, burying acorns like prized treasures. Living among nature is never boring; there is always something to observe.

Jack Frost Collage

Our favorite experience this autumn was watching the pair of trumpeter swans teaching their three cygnets how to fly. The swans usually hang out in the marsh at the north end of the lake, where their little ones were born. Females typically lay 4-6 eggs and keep them warm for 32-37 days until the eggs hatch, while the cob helps defend the nest from predators and intruders. Unlike most birds, female swans do not sit on their eggs; instead, they use their feet to keep the eggs warm. Their young are born precocial, with downy feathers and eyes almost open. They are ready to swim from their nest within a few days of hatching but remain close to their parents for the first year. When we crept by on our pontoon, we marveled at how fast the three cygnets had grown since spring: fully feathered and one-half the adult size in less than 10 weeks. The swans still had some pale brown feathers. Apparently, they do not develop white plumage until their second winter.

Swans about to fly

Five swans getting ready to fly.

Trumpeter Swans are the kings of waterfowl. They are North America’s largest and heaviest native waterfowl, stretching to 6 feet and weighing more than 25 pounds—almost twice as large as Tundra Swan. Their first attempt at flying occurs at 90-119 days. Getting airborne requires a lumbering takeoff along a 100-yard runway. One fine September day, Gunter and I heard a commotion on the lake and rushed to see what was happening. The parents were teaching their three children to fly! Quite a racket accompanied the flying lessons. During courtship, trumpeter swans spread their wings, bob, and trumpet together. These flying lessons, however, reminded me of a shouting match! During takeoff, the swans slapped their wings and feet against the surface of the lake. Finally, the family of five took to the air, mother in front, children in the middle, and father bringing up the rear—just like they swim across the lake. We cheered them on, clapping until they were out of sight!

The name for trumpeter swans, cygnus buccinator, comes from the Latin cygnus (swan) and buccinare (to trumpet). (We humans have buccinator muscle in our cheeks; we use it to blow out candles and to blow into trumpets.) These swans produce a variety of sounds, but they are known for their low bugle call. In addition to that call, they use head bobbing to warn the flock of impending danger or in preparation for flight. Listen to the sounds they make here. Both sexes make a flat-toned, single-syllable “hoo” call to locate each other. Younger swans make a more high-pitched sound. But when they want to keep the family together, defend territories, or sound an alarm, the make the characteristic deep trumpeting “oh, OH” call.

A few days before leaving Northern Bliss in mid-October, the trumpeter swan family—all dressed with black bills, feet, and legs—paid us a visit. They arrived in the morning and hung around during the day, heads underwater and tails bobbing in the air, foraging for underwater weeds. At night they left, presumably for their nesting grounds. But each day they returned. We liked to think they were saying goodbye. What a treat! We hope this pair survives the winter. They are truly soulmates, the symbol of true love. Did you know that if one partner dies, the other could die of a broken heart?

Nature’s Miracle: A Sense of Time

I learned so much more about trees after replanting 20 of them after the 2019 tornado.
After one of the young maples dropped its rust-red leaves this fall, I examined a stem to see what was left behind and was I surprised! Little buds were already in place, just waiting for the right time to open. How do they know when to bud? Can trees tell time?

Shedding leaves and growing news ones depends not only on the temperature but how long the days are. The folded leaves, resting peacefully in the buds, are covered with brown scales to prevent them from drying out. When those leaves start to grow in the spring, you can hold them up to the light and see that they are transparent. It probably takes only the tiniest bit of light for the buds to register day length. Tree trunks can register light as well because most species have tiny dormant buds within their bark. Amazing!

Leaf-peeping in Wisconsin.

In-between “closing-the-cabin chores,” Gunter and I took day trips throughout Northwest Wisconsin, on leaf-peep expeditions. Wisconsin back roads are wonderfully maintained; during the summer, most of them gained another coat of smooth blacktop, making autumn road trips a pleasure. I hope you enjoy my photos below:

Fall decorated mantle

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Other blogs in the Northern Bliss and Wisconsin series are:
Wander Birds: Migrating North https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/wander-birds- migrating-north/
April is the Cruelest Month https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/april-is-the-cruelest- month/

Road Trippin’ Across Northern Wisconsin https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/09/15/road- trippin-across-northern-wisconsin/
Recovery from Natural Disasters https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/09/28/recovery-from- natural-disasters/

Tornado! Disaster at Northern Bliss https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/08/16/tornado- disaster-at-northern-bliss/
Memories of Wisconsin Tornadoes https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/memories-of- wisconsin-tornadoes/

I Never Promised You a Rain Garden https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/i-never- promised-you-a-rain-garden/
How to Drain a Wet Lot https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/how-to-drain-a-wet-lot/

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


“I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me.” Walt Whitman

Let’s go. The northwestern Wisconsin summer had succumbed to the dog days of August. Flowers continued to bloom at our happy place, Northern Bliss, but the lakeshore was beginning to look a little drab. Water lilies faded. Ferns and hostas curled and turned brown at the edges, recoiling from the heat. I felt that I might shrivel too if I hung around much longer.

I turned to Gunter, my soulmate, travel companion, and best friend. (He also happens to be my husband.) “The gardening’s all caught up—finally. The housework—well it’ll still be here. It’s not going anyplace. So let’s just take off and go.”

“Where?” Gunter asked, raising one eyebrow to show he was really listening.

“Cornucopia.”

“And what is that? Sounds like something you’d use as a Thanksgiving centerpiece.”

“It’s a town. On Lake Superior. My gardener told me about it.”

“Have you been there before?”

“No. That’s why I want to go. Adventure is out there. The freedom of the open road and all that.”

Gunter leaned forward in his recliner. That was a good sign. I pressed my advantage.

“It’s close to Bayfield, and I have been there. That town is the launching point for the Apostle Islands, where I learned to sail.

“A piece of your history I don’t know about. Hmm. Could be interesting.”

“We could take a car ferry to the largest of the Apostles, called Madeline Island,” I proposed. “I haven’t done that, because our Sailing Club rented boats and departed right from the Bayfield marina.”

Gunter warmed up to the idea, so we blocked three days off our calendar—Monday-Wednesday, August 10-12—for which we had no commitments. Basically, we would need to book a safe place to stay for two nights. Other than that, we’d play it by ear, keeping to the back roads of rural Wisconsin as much as we could, stopping at small towns along the way. Gunter and I embrace the concept of slow travel; we like to make memories instead of rushing to destinations. That way, we can expect the unexpected.

We’d be traveling across Northern Wisconsin from west to east, through counties in which COVID-19 fatalities were in the range of 0-10. (Our county, Polk, has only two fatalities since March so we’ve become accustomed to low numbers; here we have a .005% chance of dying from this disease. We didn’t want to increase our risk. My task was finding a hotel or B&B that had safe procedures in place. Through my internet search, I came across Timber Baron Inn, a secluded forest get-away that serves up to eight guests. Breakfasts would be delivered to the rooms and they maintain strict cleaning policies. Bingo!

Timber Baron Inn photo Timber Baron inn, back view.

We set out to drive the rolling hills and lush green valleys of Wisconsin under a cobalt blue sky and puffy white clouds—a perfect morning with temps in the low seventies. Our SUV was stocked with a well-balanced diet of caffeine, salt, and sugar. We would stop along the way for “real food.”

Spooner. Our first stop was the town of Spooner in Washburn County. At the River Street Family Restaurant we enjoyed a late breakfast of bacon, eggs, and homemade potato fries. There was not a mask in sight! Spooner, with a population of 2700, calls itself the Crossroads of the North, because Hwy 53 and Hwy 63 meet there. But in the past, it was a busy railroad hub. The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad still operates a historic train line centered in Trego on 26 miles of track, between Spooner and Springbrook. The Railroad Memories Museum, unfortunately, was closed due to COVID. We stopped at a wood-carving museum instead where we garnered advice about putting a bear statue atop our high oak tree stump.

Hayward. From there, we followed the Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, to Hayward, Wisconsin, 2300 population. The county seat of Sawyer County, Hayward is best known for its chain of fishing lakes. It is home to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. That facility contains a 143-foot (44 m) musky, the world’s largest fiberglass structure. It is also known for the Lumberjack World Championships, an event I attended one summer with Gunter and his sister Helga.

Ashland. Our next stop was Ashland, Wisconsin, 50 miles away on the shores of Lake Superior. This port city of 8200 is known as the Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin, where the ghosts of the past appear in living color. Strolling through Ashland’s lively business district was a treat: I loved walking past all the old brick and brownstone buildings—still open for business. Along the way, we stopped to view more than a dozen murals depicting the city’s history.

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Ashland has been a working trade town, ever since French fur traders Radisson and Chouart landed on its shores in 1659 and built a shack that became the first European dwelling in Wisconsin. Two hundred years later, Chequamegon Bay was filled with rafts of cut timber and boats ferrying locally quarried brownstone to the cities in the east. Later, when the Upper Peninsula’s Gogebic Range began producing iron ore, freighters carried it out of Ashland’s docks. Now, none of those docks remain.

Before leaving town, we filled up at a rare gas station—with a beach. Lake Superior stretched out in front of us, for as far as the eye could see. This magnificent lake is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area (31,700 square miles), and the third largest by volume. There, we sauntered along the Lake Superior shoreline, stopping occasionally to photograph sun-struck, red-iron boulders and wave-weathered driftwood. Afterward, we sat there for a while, thinking about that busy port of long ago. I turned toward Gunter. “This lake looks calm right now. But did you know that she’s dangerous? She caused about 350 shipwrecks and she’s known for keeping her dead in the deep? I had his attention. “Yes, over 10,000 lives have been lost in these waters.”

Lakeshore Superior

Lakeshore, Superior.

Lake Superior boulder

Lake Superior boulder.

During a road trip in America, one must down at least one big burger. We fulfilled that goal on the way from Ashland to Bayfield. I picked up my burger so Gunter could take the photo. I tried to take a bite, but it wouldn’t fit into my mouth!

Big Burger

Big Burger.

We drove through the town of Washburn and followed the GPS where it said to turn, three miles south of Bayfield to Ski Hill. I could understand how this road got its name! We drove up and up and up, to the foot of Mt. Ashwabay, and took a left onto a long dirt driveway. There it was—The Timber Baron Inn, our secluded forest getaway. Through the trees, one could see the waves of Lake Superior dancing under the sun.

Ski Hill

Ski Hill.

Sunrise view

Sunrise view through our window.

Tuesday morning, we could have slept in. We knew that the first departure of the Madeline Island Ferry was not until 9:30 a.m. But at 6:30, a gorgeous sunrise beamed through our sheer curtains, daring us to join the day. Gunter went for coffee in the lobby and by 7:30, our breakfast tray arrived filled with goodies: scrambled eggs, sausage, blueberry scone, and yogurt-with-granola. That could fuel us for the entire day!

Breakfast

Our breakfast platter.

Bayfield and Madeline Island. The town of Bayfield—with a population of 500 and many times that during tourist season—is a popular resort, yachting, and vacation destination. It is also known as a lumber and commercial fishing town. But to me, this town has always been the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the group of islands where I learned to sail. These islands are a national treasure, with lighthouses, sea caves, and some of the best kayaking in the world. The year 2020 marks fifty years as an official National Lakeshore. You can take a virtual tour here that includes a hike around Stockton’s Julian Bay and Raspberry Lighthouse, one of nine lighthouses within this national park.

Gunter at the wheel on the car ferry to Madeline Island.

Gunter at the wheel while on the car ferry.

View of Bayfield Old Mansions from ferry.

View of Bayfield Old Mansions from ferry.

Bayfield Yacht Club

Bayfield Yacht Club as seen from ferry.

The process of taking the car ferry on the 3-mile trip from Bayfield to Madeline Island, the largest of these islands, went like clockwork and soon we were driving through the quaint town of La Pointe. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but as we drove, we came upon a garden store with gnomes and fairy garden figures. These would be our souvenirs of the island. After that stop, it was time to find some nature. The island is home to Big Bay State Park and Town Park. Since we would only be there for the day, we chose the Town Park rather than buying a sticker. We were not disappointed! A conifer-lined walking path took us down over a bridge to an islet with a wonderful sandy beach and fantastic views. We sat on a log and took off our shoes. I dipped in a toe, then my entire foot, and then walked in up to the hem of my shorts. Brrr! It was then I realized that only children were in the water. The parents—those wimps—sat watching them from their portable chaise-lounges on the sandy beach! It was then that I remembered another statistic: The average temperature of Lake Superior is 36ºF, 2ºC.

Madeline Island Road Sign

Madeline Island road sign.

Lois

Testing the water.

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Back in Bayfield, we enjoyed smoked lake-trout salad for a late lunch and purchased more smoked lake fish to take home.

Smoked Lake Trout Salad

Smoked Lake Trout Salad.

“This was nice, but I look forward to Cornucopia,” Gunter said as we left Bayfield.

Washburn. We returned to The Timber Baron for a rest and then drove further south to the town of Washburn (population 2200) for dinner. We stopped for made-to-order pizzas at Dalou’s Bistro & Wood Fired Pizza Oven. Mine was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had! We preferred the laid-back, hometown feel of Washburn to tourist-filled Bayfield. After our dinner, we discovered a local city park where we watched the sun set over Lake Superior—just the two of us—along with a group of friendly seagulls.

Dalou's Bistro

Dalou’s Bistro.

Cornucopia. “I want to finally see Cornucopia!” Gunter said during our second home-cooked breakfast at The Timber Baron. He was practically jumping up and down.

I laughed. “Today’s the day.”

We plugged our destination into the GPS. It was not a straight route. We didn’t mind the scenery, even though the track took us inland from Lake Superior most of the time. But when we hit detours and then a miles-long stretch of road construction, we both grew impatient. A supposedly-27 minute drive stretched to two hours. Finally, the official green sign came into view. “Cornucopia!” we shouted in unison. A mile later, we spied another sign. This one contained a drawing of huge cornucopia right in the center—just like the Thanksgiving centerpiece Gunter had envisioned.

Cornucopia sign

Welcome to Cornucopia sign.

On our way into town, we spied at a rest stop—if you could call it that—with one picnic table under a colorful wooden pergola. We pulled off the road into a sandy parking area large enough for about five cars. We followed a nature path to a deserted sandy beach, complete with two worn Adirondack chairs. We walked the narrow beach for a while, stepping over more weathered logs and gray driftwood. As we returned to our SUV, another vehicle pulled in. A family of five poured out, each carrying his or her own container, promptly pumping the handle an artesian well. “Oh, that’s what this stop is for,” Gunter muttered. “Wish we had a container.”

We drove toward a small marina, with working fishing boats, surrounded by a few cute tourist shops. “Stop!” I demanded. “This must be where the Siskowit River meets Lake Superior. “They’re bound to have some shops there.” The harbor was quaint and picturesque, old fishing boats and quaint shops reflected in clear water. But I was disappointed to see that they were all closed with “Due to COVID” signs. We never met a soul.

Further on, we saw a commercial fish factory. That was open! We purchased smoked whitefish, all cut up and deboned for a salad, and loaded up on ice for our cooler. It felt wonderful, just to talk with someone! Outside, we found unlocked, public restrooms. Hooray!

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Expect the Unexpected. Surmising that was the town, we were more than a little disappointed. But as we drove on, we noted that the business district was off the main drag. There was more! There we found “Wisconsin’s Northern Most Post Office,” Ehlers General Store, a large brick building that could be the town hall, one café, and a few businesses fronting two sides of a wide, paved street.

Little Nikki's Restaurant

Little Nikki’s Restaurant.

Ehlers Store

Ehlers Store.

Siskowit Farmhouse

Siskowit Farmhouse.

Beyond that, the road led to the Siskowit River waterfalls my gardener had raved about. We ventured down a path to the lower falls, but it was dark, with fleeting river views between the foliage, and full of mosquitoes. The best photo op was from the gravel road that crossed the wooden bridge. There the upper falls dropped energetically from a ledge in the stream to a twelve-foot-wide sparkling pool of foam. We sat there for a while and ate one of our salty snacks.

“So this is Cornucopia.” I said. “A population of only 100 souls.”

“Pretty in its own way,” Gunter volunteered.

“Yes, it is. Just not what I expected.”

River walk alongside waterfall

River walk alongside falls.

Siskowit Falls, Cornucopia

Siskowit Falls, Cornucopia.

Road trips are the equivalent of human wings. Ask me to go on one. Anywhere. We’ll stop in every small town and learn the history and stories, feel the ground, and capture the spirit. Then we’ll turn it into our own story that will live inside our story to carry with us, always. Because stories are more important than things.

–Victoria Erickson

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji

This past weekend brought a pleasant surprise: Gunter and I reconnected with a crew we’d had on board our catamaran Pacific Bliss when sailing in the Fiji Islands during the spring of 2003, seventeen years ago. Here’s how I described this couple in my book, Sailing the South Pacific:

Denarau Marina, Viti Levu, Fiji, May 30

Lydia and Helmut Dueck are an adventurous German couple who decided to backpack around the world before they marry and have children. We first met them through our website. Helmut’s dream has always been to sail the world when he retires. He is a sailor, but Lydia, his fiancé, has never been on a sailboat. Crewing is an opportunity to find out whether his dream will work for them. Only in their twenties, they are wisely thinking ahead!

…Lydia is a pert, fun-loving blonde. Helmut is dark-haired and serious, yet I suspect that he can be fun, too.

We had arranged for a taxi to meet the couple at the Nadi airport and to take them directly to Pacific Bliss. They appear to be relieved to see a berth freshly made up for them and towels and washcloths in their own port head. Frugal backpackers, they find Pacific Bliss luxurious. We find them to be a refreshing, happy couple and look forward to spending time with them.

Lydia and Helmut Pacific Bliss

Lydia and Helmut on Pacific Bliss, Fiji

 

Sunset Denarau, Fiji

Sunset in Denarau, Fiji

Since that introduction to the cruising life, Lydia and Helmut married and succeeded in their professions, Lydia as a midwife and Helmut as a businessman and entrepreneur. They raised four children, lived in various countries—including Germany and China—all the while holding onto their dream of sailing around the world. They never forgot their adventures sailing Pacific Bliss in Fiji, where they experienced the highs and lows of the cruising life.

Here’s a taste of what they experienced:

We arrive in Vitago Bay and anchor easily with our new crew working in unison…After a delicious dinner, we all go into the cockpit to watch the stars light the sky with no city lights to interfere. Helmut and Lydia are in their element. They are truly amazed by it all…

Following that high, we’re rounding the northwest point of Viti Levu during our attempt to circumnavigate that island. This is what happens next:

We are all on lookout now as we navigate through the reefs…To make the turns, I take the nav station inside, Gunter takes the helm, Lydia takes the pulpit seat using our powerful binoculars, and Helmut takes the other pulpit seat…Strong gusts hit as we slowly approach Tomba Naloma, our anchorage. We know that this bay is full of reefs close to shore, but because it’s not low tide, we can’t see them. We motor in slowly. I take up my position at the bow, with the anchor windlass control.

“Don’t worry,” Gunter says. “I’ll bring you right to the anchor symbol we put on MaxSea. 30 feet, 28 feet, 26 feet…we should be there in five minutes.”

We creep cautiously. The wave heights gradually decrease but the wind keeps blowing.

“24 feet. Drop anchor,” Gunter commands.

I drop but the wind blows us backward rapidly. The windlass won’t release the anchor chain as fast as the wind is pushing us back. Then all of a sudden, the anchor catches and jerks the boat.

“Let out more chain,” Gunter shouts from the helm. “I’m letting it out as fast as I can,” I shout from bow back into the wind. “I’ve got 120 feet out and she’s still pulling.” Gunter comes forward. “Let’s deploy the bridle with a short leash this time. Let out some more.”

He sets the bridle, but now the entire chain has payed out. At the anchor locker, I can see the rope, all the way to the bitter end. I try to bring some back by reversing the windlass control. The rope binds and bends the chain stripper (the device that pulls the chain from the wheel and lets it fall, pulled by its own weight, into the chain locker.) Helmut helps me straighten out the mess.

Now we have a “broken boat” again. Until it’s fixed, we’ll have to haul anchor hand over hand, which is not only physically strenuous but can also be dangerous when timing is critical. We brainstorm the next port where it can be fixed—Tonga?

We could have scrapped this daring venture and headed back to Denarau but to our crew’s credit, they agreed to continue on with our plans. We set anchor alarms that night and took turns standing watch as 25-30 knot winds howled through the rigging.

Trevella

Helmut catches a huge Trevella along the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji

This was only the beginning of this couple’s adventures on Pacific Bliss. We took a launch from Ellington’s Wharf and hitchhiked to a colorful village market to provision; we snorkeled in Leleuvia while our yacht decided to pull anchor and go snorkeling the reefs herself; we visited Levuka, Fiji’s amazing ancient capital; we viewed the largest clams in the world at Makogai Island; and we sailed on to Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, where the couple departed to continue their backpacking trip. I’ll share more of those stories in future blogs.

Here is the letter Lydia sent to me last week for inclusion in this blog:

After sailing with Lois and Gunter in 2003, my husband Helmut couldn’t stop thinking of doing this one day in the future. We never stopped traveling but cruising on a yacht seemed very unrealistic to us. Living in China for five years and in Mexico for two, our feeling got stronger that if there’s anything we’d like to do in our lives it’ll be sailing!

Here we are—17 years and four children later, we will start our own journey on a Lagoon 45 Catamaran from Croatia. Not sure where the wind will carry us but for sure we will go back to Fiji where it all began.

Feel warmly hugged,

Lydia

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I strongly urge you, my readers, despite all the obstacles that may be in your paths, do not give up on your own dreams. Continue to pursue your passions, and those dreams will come to pass!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

 

 


It’s been a year since the tornadoes touched down on July 19, 2019. I still shiver when I think of that day when everything changed at Northern Bliss. From that day until October 15th, when we left our lake home for the winter, I heard the grating buzz of chainsaws from sun-up until sundown. See my blogs about that terrible tornado and recovery efforts at https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/08/16/tornado-disaster-at-northern-bliss/ and https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/09/28/recovery-from-natural-disasters/.

One year later, a pontoon ride around White Ash Lake shows that residents have done an awesome job of clean-up but still more work remains. So many have planted new trees that will never reach maturity during their lifetimes. Indeed, “to plant a tree is to believe in tomorrow.”

Tornado

Last night, the National Weather Service issued warning for many counties in Wisconsin, including Polk. “This time, we will be spared,” I muttered, “for the simple reason that one should not have to endure a tornado for the third time.” I remembered the tornado of 1955, all of us on our knees praying in the kitchen of our farm home in Eureka township. (The house didn’t have a basement to run to for shelter.) I’d never written a story about that experience, but my brother Dave did. Here is his story:

From the Memoirs of Dave Glassel:

The Polk County Wisconsin Tornadoes of 1953

I was watching the weather channel the other morning and it brought to mind the tornadoes of 1953 in the St. Croix Falls, Polk County, Wisconsin area. I was about eight years old and it was my job to go get the cows at milking time. My sister Lois, three years older than I, used to go get them, but as she grew older, that became my chore. She was relegated to house chores by then.

Our small dairy farm was at its best in 1953. Dad was milking about 18 cows and we were filling about 5 or 6 milk cans per milking. The milk house was quite a way from the barn and Dad built a two-wheel cart that would hold 2 cans. It had big wheels he’d taken off an old horse-driven hay rake. I would help Mom push on the cart uphill on the last leg of the journey to the pump house where we put the cans into the stock tank to cool the milk. We had two tanks. Mom and I were able to lift the cans into the low tank. It was not easy because when the can went into the water it settled to the bottom slowly because of the buoyancy, subsequently one needed to keep it upright all the way to the bottom. I guess that is why my knees and back are bad. Too many hay bales and milk cans wrestled with in my youth!

We had a hired man in those days. His name was Larry. He was from McKinley and from a family Dad had known for years. He was a genuine slacker and Dad never could get him to do any work to speak of. He was always out behind the horse barn smoking cigarettes and that made Dad furious. When it came time for milking he was never around. He and his friend Wayne would be off riding Wayne’s Indian Motorcycle instead. Dad despised Wayne as well. He finally told Larry’s Dad to come get him. It was the same day of the Big Storm. No one came and he finally hitch- hiked his way back to McKinley.

I went to get the cows about 6 p.m. They were way back in the southeast corner of the 80 acres on the border of the Rock Creek Farm and the Old Rehbien Farm. Dad had made a pasture on the back of the big hill that always washed out when he planted corn there. The grass was green and lush and had lots of cow pies to step in.

I am suggesting it was probably in June when the tornadoes were spawned. I had gone to get the cows and bring them home for milking. I always carried my walking stick that Grandpa Glassel had made for me. I also had the Lassie, the cow dog, with me. I don’t know which Lassie as we had numerous Collies, all by that name. The cows were all bunched up in the far corner of the pasture. Lassie barked at them and tried to get them to get into the cow path and head for the barn. The cows always walked single file and had a deep rut cut in the ground. But this was a new pasture and the cow path was not well-defined. I thought that was the reason they wouldn’t start going to the barn. Between Lassie and me, we finally got them heading north to the barn.

Then, without any warning the cows all started to walk really fast. Then they began to run! I was scared because when they ran, they would let down and all of the milk would start coming out of their udders. Dad used to scold Lois and me for letting the Collie dogs make them run by biting at their heels. But soon, I couldn’t keep up with the cows.

Meanwhile, Dad saw the cows rush toward the barnyard. They ran frantically through the gate and into the barn—all into the wrong stanchions. “That had never happened before,” Dad told me later.

He figured out something was wrong and when he didn’t see me, he climbed the hill to go looking for me. By then I had just reached the top of the hill.

Dad later told me that he heard about the tornadoes on WCCO radio in the barn and then saw the tornadoes on the horizon over the St. Croix River, heading in our direction. I was scared and was running as fast as I could go but I kept tripping. I calmed down a bit when I saw Dad coming for me. He grabbed my hand and pulled me down in a gully. The storm blew over as fast as it came. In a matter of seconds, its fury had passed us by. It skipped over our farm but we watched in awe as the huge barn at the Rehbien farm flew into the air and landed in a million pieces.

The next day Mom and Dad loaded us all up in the rusted, green 46 Ford and we went for a ride to view the devastation. There were 18 tornadoes spawned by the storm stretching from the Glassel farm to Grantsburg and East as far as Clam Falls. The majority of the damage was done west of Eureka and north of Cushing. We drove past areas where as many as six barns and a few houses were totally demolished. Dead cattle were strewn everywhere. Unfortunately, most all of the milk cows were in the barn for milking at that time of the day and the barns collapsed on them. We stopped to visit Donald Christensen, Leroy Christensen’s Dad and Mom. Their barn was blown down and there were dead Holsteins everywhere. Some were still alive but immobile. They didn’t shoot them because they wanted to keep them alive until they could be butchered. The slaughter houses in Luck and Milltown were all backed up, however, and unable to take more cattle. Mom cried like a baby for hours for all those poor, injured cows. She loved animals!

But she loved her babies more. After the storm I remember Mom hugging me and thanking Dad. Her nine children were all saved.

The next Sunday, we went with Aunt Gertie and Grandma and Grandpa Glassel to Clam Falls. The old Glassel house where Dad and his brothers and sisters grew up was leveled to the ground. The farm had been vacant for several years. I went back to find the place years later but there was nothing there. Nature had taken over.

I often think about that storm. At the last class reunion, I talked to Judy Jensen, a historical writer for Polk County who worked for the Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake. She told me that they had numerous photos of the devastation from those 18 tornadoes in ‘55. It was the most devastating storm to ever hit Wisconsin and has since been recorded in the records as such.

I don’t know if I can actually say I was “in” the tornado or not. I just remember being really scared and Dad being on top of me. There was an unbelievable wind and then a flood of rain. I remember seeing Dads lips moving but couldn’t hear anything because of the overwhelming noise. Perhaps he was praying. Dad claimed that what saved our farm was the fact that it was built in the ravine sheltered with hills on all sides. During later years, he recalled that he saw the funnel going overhead and it looked like as if it went right over the barn and house. We never even lost as much as a tree limb!

As for the cows, later I came to understand that their erratic behavior was related directly to their sensing the oncoming storm. That is why they were all grouped in the corner of the pasture. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the animals can’t detect weather and storms. Dad used to say to Mom, I know it’s going to rain. I can hear Landahl’s horses whinnying. He was right every time.

I’ve forgotten many things about my St. Croix Falls childhood days. But there are many stories that I do remember—especially those events that took place on that 80-acre Dairy Farm during the fifties.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Sometimes a family heritage search uncovers the most amazing stories!

My cousin, Debbie Miske, has been working on our family history since she retired. She’s recovering long-lost information every week and passing on her findings—an exciting treasure trove of family secrets. Recently, Debbie passed on the genealogical history of my great-aunt Rose—along with a wonderful Christmas story.

Rose KrugerRose Kruger was born in 1894 in Mendota, Dakota County, Minnesota. She passed in 1978. I remember her visits to our Wisconsin farm when I was a child. Although short in stature, she conveyed a powerful presence of authority. I cringed and shrunk behind my mother’s skirts; I kept my mouth shut, fearing I’d blurt out the wrong words. Rose was working in St. Paul by age 19. The story was probably written in that 1909-1912 time period.

This Christmas story was passed on to cousin Debbie along with my aunt Gertrude’s belongings after she passed. It was in booklet form with the painting on the cover and the nicely typed story inside. Debbie thinks the painting was of the original log building housing the St. Johannes Kirch in Eagan, Minnesota.

For writers, especially, it’s always a blessing to discover another storyteller among our ancestors. Has your family unearthed any treasures like this one?

Christmas Memories by Rose Kruger

Original painting by Rose KrugerOur Christmases shone in our drab existence like diamonds set in rusty iron. For days and days the house was in a turmoil of joyous bustle. Mother baked stacks of coffee cake, delicious coffee cake, such as only she could make thickly dotted with raisins, and an abundant coating of cinnamon flavored sugar. Bertha baked crocks of spicy cookies, and the day before Christmas she scrubbed the soft board floor of the kitchen to an unbelievable state of whiteness. Then, too, all the litter of utensils which were used for feeding the stock and which seemed indispensable in the ordinary routine of everyday living were cleared away, giving us room for our tree.

On Christmas Eve there was always a program at church in which we participated. Emma, who was already working in St. Paul, always came home to spend Christmas with us, and usually she came on Christmas Eve, laden with magic gifts and goodies. What wonderful evenings those Christmas Eves were! The very woods and fields seemed hushed in holy contemplation. Upon the white plush lining of the world the winter moonlight tossed a million glittering gems, and from afar we could see the lighted windows of the church, shedding a soft rosy glow upon the pure snow, which seemed a benediction from out of the holiest of holy places.

At church a giant tree, magnificently trimmed, filled up a corner. The children sang the age old carols with joyous abandon. Sometimes I paused to listen to the joy and hope in the other childrens voices. Almost like the heavenly host which sang, “Peace on Earth”, I thought them. Toward the end of the program the candles on the tree were lit, revealing its loops of tinsel and popcorn, its multi colored baubles and blond angels. The sparkle a little dimmed by the many seasons of use, the angels a little frayed by handling in awkward toil worn hands, but more beautiful than any crown jewels. Then bags of cheap candy, nuts an apple an orange were passed among the children. It was somewhat sticky, but our holiday would not have been complete without it.

The program over our father called us to him; not with words but with twinkly eyes and crinkly smile, either to tell us that the Christ Child had visited our home or that Emma was there. But one very blizzardy Christmas Eve it was to tell us, that even though the Christ Child had made his customary call, Emma had not managed to fight through the blizzard. But our joy was multiplied when upon our arrival at home we found that she had come and brought Cousin Louise!

Father and Mother often peered out into the mad swirling white world that Christmas Eve. “Such weather!” they exclaimed. That was the only time in my childhood when they by any word or action betrayed that they were not completely lost with us in the Christmas wonder land, and that the adult world of work and care stood waiting just outside the magic circle of the two glorious days.

Christmas morning we again went to church. It seems to me that Christmas days were always ideal winter days—clear, cold, sparkly. I can still feel the thrill the reading of the gospel gave me. The voice of the minister made music out of the world’s most treasured poem. In particular he read the part about the shepherds thrillingly.

We came home to a Christmas dinner—I have forgotten of what. For the Christmas dinners were not important factors in our lives. The religion which gave color and meaning to our celebration, the love and generosity which bound the family together and the deep feeling of joy, security and peace—those were the things which made my early Christmases memorable.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

You may think you had your fill of pie during the Thanksgiving but wait! Christmas is coming, and New Years awaits. And what would the holidays be without pies on the table?

Many of those pies aren’t pies at all because they only have a crust underneath. Pumpkin pie is really a tart, as is pecan pie and all those scrumptious cream pies. “The pies baked by the English settlers in the 17th century would have been fully encased in a layer of pastry called a coffin, which was often too thick and hard to eat,” writes Bee Wilson in a recent column for the Wall St Journal. “The coffin’s role was simply to protect the ingredients inside as they cooked, like a casserole dish.” She explained that pie wasn’t just a dessert, but a substantial dish filled with dried fruit and lots of seasonings.

The word pie is derived from the Latin word pica, meaning magpie, a bird known for her habit of collecting an assortment of odds and ends in her nest. Not so very different, the thinking goes, from the way medieval cooks assembled ingredients for their pies. Early recipes also call for an astonishing range of anatomical bits and pieces to be minced together with suet, oats and vegetables. The word haggis turns out to be an alternative name for magpie. In fact, haggis, a mixture of sheep innards—heart, liver, and lungs—mixed with oatmeal, fat, and spices and ideally cooked in a sheep’s stomach, in so much a part of Scottish tradition that the poet Robert Burns wrote an Address to a Haggis in 1786.

Haggis

Haggis

Did you know that a haggis is a bird with a strange gait and vestigial wings—like an ostrich—found on the highlands of Scotland?

Haggis, a bird of the Scottish Highlands

Today, a pie isn’t just any dessert. When you bring a pie to a holiday event, it shows you care. The crust is all buttery, flaky goodness and it’s special crimping depicts time, attention, and talent. The ingredients inside are carefully selected and placed into the rolled crust for maximum effect. “Rest for at least an hour,” say the instructions. Does that mean that the cook gets to rest too? You should. You deserve to rest on your laurels!

Happy Holidays to you and yours,

Lois Joy Hofmann

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


You might drive right through the town of Red Lodge, Montana on your way to the northern gate of Yellowstone Park. That would be a mistake. Because Red Lodge is more than a mere gateway town: this historic town of  2300 souls is a destination in its own right, one you don’t want to miss if you’re headed out west.

During the first week of September, my husband, sister, and brother-in-law flew into Billings, Montana, rented an SUV, and drove into Red Lodge where we had reservations at the Pollard Hotel for two nights. Friends of ours who live there—even though they travel all over the world—had invited us to visit their charming hometown. We arrived at lunchtime and weren’t due to meet them until that evening. It was a sunny fall day, with rain expected the following day, so we decided to take the acclaimed Beartooth All American Road (Highway 212) to the famous Beartooth Pass. After all, Charles Kuralt from the television show On the Road had called the route “the most beautiful drive in America.” Why not check it out for ourselves? We purchased a Styrofoam cooler and sandwich fixings at a local supermarket and headed out to explore.

Taking the Beartooth Highway.

We’re climbing, and climbing, and climbing…! After stopping at a turnout for a photo-op at 8000’ elevation, we enter a series of switchbacks that take us over 1,500 feet in seven miles. Lush forests and pristine vistas rapidly change to twisted gray trees and alpine tundra. There’s a story behind those massive chain-link fences we’re seeing. In May of 2005, a week before the highway was scheduled to open, nine inches of rain fell in three days, causing a massive mudslide that tore down the canyon, dislodging more than 500,000 cubic tons of rock. The reconstruction effort that summer cost $20 million, the same amount (adjusted for inflation) that was spent to build the road in the 1930s.

About 20 miles into this adventure, we reach Vista Point Rest Area. As we leave the parking lot, we round a series of curves called the “Mae West curves,” after the buxom star of the 1930s. Reportedly, that descriptive sign was taken down because it was too risqué! After rounding those curves, we’re astonished by the expansive vista to our right called the “Hellroaring Plateau.” The road climbing that side of the valley covers the same elevation gain in half the miles, it’s unpaved and rocky, and there are no guardrails. Needless to say, we’re not going there!

After exactly 23.9 miles on Hwy 212, we spot the Welcome to Wyoming sign, reportedly the highest welcome sign in the U.S. This is also the 45th Parallel, meaning we’re now halfway between the North Pole and the equator. At 27 miles, we reach Beartooth Basin. Here you can ski at 10,000 feet during your summer vacation. Just check beartoothbasin.com for conditions. Thanks, but no thanks! Soon after the basin we spot the Gardner Lake pullout. What an incredible view of stunning cobalt-blue lakes set into undulating waves of rock! It’s an ideal setting for selfies, but you could die if you keep stepping back to get that perfect shot. We decide to take pics of our mates instead, yelling “smile but don’t move!”

 

Suddenly we realize that we must head back from here if we are to be back at our hotel in time to check in and enjoy the evening. On the way back, we stop again at the Vista Point rest area to enjoy our lunch.

Beartooth

Wayfinding on the Beartooth.

Historic Red Lodge.

The Pollard Hotel is fascinating. Built in 1893, this was the first brick building in town, cost $20,000 to build and had 35 rooms. A glass case in the sitting room displays and explains its history. Famous guests include William E. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, and John “Liver-eatin” Johnston. Our friends Don and Rebecca join us for drinks and dinner. We have a marvelous time. Of course, they advise us what to see in their historic town the next day.

We spend the morning walking the town, beginning with the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum. In 1990, this three-story Labor Temple building was gifted to the Historical Society. It had been built in 1909 by the Red Lodge Miners Local No. 1771 and put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The basement level contains an excellent interactive coal and hard rock mine exhibit. Afterward, we take the downtown walking tour, five blocks of Broadway lined with historic brick buildings on both sides: the Carbon County Courthouse, the Blackburn Building, the Red Lodge State Bank, and finally, the Carbon County Bank where Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid were reportedly captured after a foiled bank robbery. Before turning back we stop at a few art galleries and the old railroad terminal.

Broadway main street in Red Lodge

Broadway the main street of Red Lodge.

Driving through the Wilderness: the West Fork of Rock Creek.

We have the afternoon free, so we decide to take a self-guided sightseeing drive until the rain comes. At Gunter’s urging, John turns onto “the road less traveled” past the local Red Lodge ski area, the Girl Scout camp, and up into the wilderness. We have no idea where we are until we see a You Are Here sign. We’re at the West Fork of Rock Creek Trailhead in the million-acre Absoroka-Beartooth National Wilderness—one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states. Yep! Gunter has a reputation for getting us into adventurous “situations.” But we’re here so we may as well…drive onwards. There must be more to see.

We’re all alone back here. We stop, park on the gravel road, and listen to the creek. No-one wants to break the silence, but occasionally we whisper to each other. Please take a minute to see what I saw and hear what I heard:

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Rain clouds are forming and AAA might not want to rescue us here, so we hightail back to Red Lodge. We rest in our hotel while a soft rain drenches this town we have come to love. In the evening, our friends meet us in the hotel’s main dining room where they have made reservations to kick back and experience their favorite local band, The High Country Cowboys. What a way to conclude a memorable stay in this quaint-but-fun mountain town!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


“To plant a tree is to believe in tomorrow.”

Planted Maple

Lois stands by one of the six maple trees she planted at Northern Bliss. She also planted a variety of ornamental trees and bushes. She calls this phase 1, a start toward replacing those 22 trees lost during the tornado.

Natural disasters take their toll on the environment, but also on the human spirit. At first, everyone rallies around the victims. The disaster—flood, fire, hurricane or tornado—dominates the news cycle. Reporters interview eyewitnesses; curious onlookers drive by to view the destruction; scrappers and scammers come a’callin.’ At first, survivors of disasters are fueled by adrenaline. They are thankful that they and their families are safe. “It could have been worse,” they mutter while surveying their ravaged homes and property.

But in less than a week the news dies down, immediate help is gone, and victims are left alone to clean up the mess. Recovery is a much longer process than most expect. Insurance companies are swamped with claims and professional services are overloaded. Soon the realization hits home: the damage is worse than they thought. Cleanup will take a lot of time and resources. Many survivors have to go back to their “real jobs” while they continue to restore their property on weekends.

On July 19th 2019, Gunter and I, along with his siblings, experienced a F2 tornado at Northern Bliss, our summer lake home in Wisconsin. I published a story about the storm and its immediate aftermath. That story ends on Saturday evening, the day after the tornado, when all of our helpers left to go back to their families and jobs. This story is about our recovery process—internal and external—that still continues 2 ½ months later.

We were more fortunate than most; we four seniors were alone for just one day before my grandson Brett and my son Jeff and arrived in his work truck complete with log splitter and tool chest. They had driven straight through from Houston to come to our aid! After evaluating the situation, it was clear that the two of them could only do part of the work, a tree service replete with heavy equipment would be necessary. Professional tree services I’d used in the past weren’t even returning calls. We would have to hire one of the men who had stopped by to offer their services. By Monday, we had engaged Nemo Tree Removal Services to topple the trees that had partially fallen, haul away the root balls, and saw up the rest. For days, they cut trees, dumping branches into one pile and cut logs into another while Jeff and Brett worked the splitter. Nemo fished some trees out the lake. In one case, he employed two cranes with baskets, working in sync, to remove a monstrous oak branch that could fall onto the house during a storm. We discovered that an enormous old oak we’d hoped to save had a gash so large that it too, threatened the house. Always, there were decisions to be made—which trees had to go and which ones could be saved. Each time yet another of the few remaining trees had to come down, my heart sank. In all, we lost 22 trees on our one acre of land. On a 100-foot section of lakeshore, every tree fell.

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Mike, the roofer we’d used to remodel the cabin last year, helped that first week as well. What a relief to have that job done quickly! Part of a branch was still inside the roof. Mike repaired the structural damage and provided estimates for interior repair to the kitchen and rec room to be done over the winter. Our insurance company had over 400 claims and only 4-5 adjustors, so work had to be subcontracted. The adjustor assigned to us lived in Duluth, Minnesota—over 100 miles away. Needless to say, claim processing and payouts proceeded at a snail’s pace. My job was to file claims as soon as we received estimates. The process was frustrating: I learned that trees are not covered unless they cause damage to housing or structures. They don’t pay for prevention, e.g., trees that had been so damaged that they might fall on a structure in the future.

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Disaster work crews—whether public or private—proceed on a triage basis. That makes sense, but slows down the process of recovery for homeowners. Clearing fallen trees from rural roads for electric line workers and emergency vehicles is the first priority for local governments; clearing driveways to get to those roads, and providing access to home entries are the first priority for commercial workers. Think snowstorms, except that trees instead of blizzards were preventing access. The next priorities are clearing trees that have fallen against structures. Trees down at the lake or in a back yard are last priority. All this means that in our situation, work crews completed some emergency work, then moved on to other customers, returning to our place later. Stump grinding (necessary before replanting can begin) is the very end of the tree removal process. That was shoved out to the 4th week of recovery and beyond; in fact, we still have stumps to remove from the lakeshore before we can restore our lake bank.

It takes a while to process grief. After shock and denial comes anger. When I was in that phase, my friends were reassuring me, “You’ll make Bliss beautiful again—even better than it was before. Granted, it will never be the same, but it will still be a pleasant, peaceful retreat. That was difficult for me to believe. As I looked at the 60 feet between the house and the dock, all I could see was a tangle of trees that had fallen on top of each other like dominoes. I couldn’t even see the dock! I could make out a speck of white that I hoped was our pontoon, way out there past that jungle. Imagine seeing a 100-to-150-foot pine lying flat. Now imagine a pile of pines. I was tempted to climb on top of the stack to see what the dock looked like, but I didn’t dare. Safety first.

Trees being cut into wood

Worker on top of fallen trees

As the clean-up moved on, those tall trees were sawed into manageable lengths and stacked using skid steers that tore up what was left of the lawn. Branches were dumped into huge piles and eventually hauled off by the truckload to the woodchip factory in Luck. Always curious, I learned a lot about the logging process. The roar of skid steers, bobcats, and cranes and the continual buzz of chainsaws drowned out my anger; I had too much to do. I hadn’t made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a work crew since I was a child growing up on a farm, but I soon remembered how to sandwich meal preparations for Jeff and Brett, in between laundering their work clothes and helping where I could.

I had entered the third phase of the grief process: bargaining. But not with God. With the tree services, insurance companies and loggers. I was consumed in a beehive of activity as the constant buzz of chainsaws continued from morning ‘til night all across the lake. Our world had closed in. It had become our family, our workers, our White Ash Lake neighbors—all compressed together and becoming one. When we had a minute to get on-line, we didn’t tune into news or politics; we checked the White Ash Lake Facebook page to see how folks across the lake were faring and what help they might need. We could see their damaged roofs and tarped windows; the wind had violently ripped away the privacy curtain of trees that had surrounded each home.

I began to appreciate gifts that the tornado had left behind: our bright red canoe; special clay pots; the renovated cabin and its rock gardens; the stalwart Swedish couple made of concrete who miraculously escaped between two falling trees; the deer statue Nemo lifted out of the lake with his crane. Gunter ordered a flagpole and a new U.S. flag. Jeff and Brett raised it one day as we all saluted. Brett rescued a garden trellis, pounded out the dents, and re-cemented it into place. I reattached the honeysuckle vine, which still lives. All these are precious now.

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After three weeks of nonstop activity, my son and grandson left and the same day previously- scheduled August visitors arrived. I smothered my exhaustion and tried my best to entertain. After both couples left, Gunter and I slumped into depression. The bliss and magic were gone and this beloved summer home no longer brought us joy. I took out my purple pen and journal and began to write. It was then I realized that I had been navigating the five stages of grief and had fallen into that dreaded fourth stage: depression. However, we had planned a September trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons with my sister Ret and her husband John, our favorite travel partners. We love to travel, but were we up to it? So much work remained.

Gunter had a great suggestion: “Why don’t you make a list of trees you want to plant? Get creative. Let’s do something new and different…now that those oaks and pines are gone.” My spirit lifted. I’d rather create than restore anytime! For the next few days, we tossed about ideas and came up with a list of nine trees and two shrubs that could be planted yet this fall. We would make another list for spring, when those recalcitrant tree stumps along the lake shore would be gone. I ordered the plants to be delivered from the nursery the week after we’d be back.

After a wonderful trip, we returned to Northern Bliss with renewed energy and vigor. Two weeks of that fresh mountain air had refreshed and invigorated us. Full of anticipation, we watched Abrahamson Nurseries deliver and plant the new trees. Pure bliss!

“Each tree you plant is a personal testament of your having lived,” ecologists say. Just the act of watering those new trees forced me to think beyond myself. For many years, we enjoyed the marvelous oaks and pines provided by those who came before us. Now, these new maples and ornamentals will be gifts to our children and grandchildren and for generations to come. As Author Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

And that fifth stage of grief: acceptance? We’re way beyond that! We’re into creating something new—another Paradise. Just you wait and see. We may even add a bench underneath those Autumn Blaze maples.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

 

 


At 6:15 pm on July 19th, the sky looked weird and the air turned deathly still.

We had planned to go to an outdoor concert in Amery, Wisconsin that fateful Friday night. We had packed four folding chairs and packed them in the trunk along with rain jackets, just in case. Fortunately, we’d left the car in the garage with the door shut.

“Can’t tell whether it’s going to rain or not, said Gunter, my husband. “If it does, we can go to the fish fry instead.”

The four of us—Gunter and I along with his younger siblings, Helmut and Helga—remained on the patio, staring at the sky. It was turning greenish-black.

“I don’t like this,” I said. “Let’s get inside.”

We entered the sunroom with picture windows facing the gardens and White Ash Lake. Then it hit. Suddenly the sky roared like an oncoming freight train—and then whooshed through the treetops like a jet engine. We stood there, transfixed. Our feet were riveted to the floor. We were seeing, firsthand, the sheer, raw power of nature. One huge pine twisted, uprooted, and crashed to the ground in a slow, deliberate motion. Then another. And another. Altogether, our six trees at the shoreline fell on top of each other like dominoes. Their trunks and branches carpeted the entire lawn between our house and dock. Beyond, we could see White Ash Lake kicking up angry waves. My heart pounded but common sense prevailed.

“Move away from the windows; they could break!” I yelled.

Terrified, yet fascinated, the others just stood there.

White Ash Lake Tornado 2019

The pines along the lakeshore fell across the yard like dominoes.

“Move!” I insisted. “This is a tornado. I’ve been in one before. Follow me down to the bunk room. That’s our safe space.”

They didn’t get it.

Then a dull, heavy THUD shook the house. The roof! The sky turned black and the power went out.

We all raced down to the bunk room, a windowless Man Cave we had fashioned out of the utility room for our grandsons. Gunter grabbed flashlights but our trusty generator kicked in after 10 long seconds. We had lights! Five minutes later, the generator stuttered and stopped. My stomach clenched and my tongue felt like sandpaper. To drown out the godawful noise, I chattered about the tornado I’d experienced in as a child in 1952. My Bavarian husband and his siblings had never experienced one in Germany; they had no first-hand knowledge.

When the racket subsided, we ventured upstairs. It was only 6:45 although it had seemed like an eternity. The sky was no longer black; the storm had moved on. Our first impulse was to go outside. We were shocked to discover there was no way out. Fallen trees and branches filled every window and door. Out of the lakeside windows, I could see nothing but trees across our entire lower patio and yard. We couldn’t see the dock, but I thought we saw a glimmer of white beyond the tangle of trees. “That must be our pontoon,” Gunter said softly, still in shock.

Helga called our attention to water dripping onto the kitchen counter and splashing onto the floor. “Looks like the roof is leaking,” she said. We sprang into action, positioning every wastebasket and bucket we could find. Later, we found water dripping from our rec room ceiling. We covered the sofa below with towels.

Because we couldn’t exit through any of our doors, Gunter manually opened the garage. We all filed out behind him, astonished at the destruction. Our driveway was blocked by fallen trees; but no matter, so many trees had fallen from the woods onto South White Ash Lane that we could barely make out the road!

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My daughter Kim and son-in-law Mike insisted on driving to Northern Bliss as soon as they could. They had experienced straight-line winds but even those downed six trees on their property—thankfully, none near their house. The downpour had created a river of rushing water down their driveway. We begged them not to try; they wouldn’t be able to get through. But they were determined. Their usual 20-minute trip took 2.5 hours, chainsawing their way through. The worst devastation they encountered along the way was my four-acre wooded property, with hundreds of trees down, some of them across the road. There they joined the drivers of five other blocked cars who were also chainsawing their way through. Their last challenge was to move parts of trees blocking our dead-end road. Mike and Kim wanted to bring us back to their home, but we said no. We were the bucket brigade, protecting our property from further damage from the rain. We four spent the night the old-fashioned way: by candlelight. We collected rainwater from the buckets to flush the toilets.

White Ash Lake Tornado

Holly removes branches from my hydrangea and hosta garden.

Early Saturday morning, Mike called on all our relatives living in Minneapolis to come on down to help. Six arrived, each with his or her own chainsaw. Mike’s brother-in-law helped him tarp the roof, which was broken right at the peak with a massive oak branch inside the hole! A huge tree had uprooted and tipped the propane tank partly on its side. The jolt had cut the buried line from the generator to the propane tank; Mike went to Menards to purchase copper tubing. Then he built a new line. The others focused on cutting the trees that had fallen from the woods across the street onto our driveways. Downed power lines crossed the driveway exit, but they could clear the entrance. My granddaughter Holly especially impressed me. She owns a “Queen” battery-powered chainsaw and cut and removed branches from my hydrangea and hosta gardens. Seeing six relatives—without helmets, chaps and boots—wield those chainsaws impressed Helga. In Germany, such work would require licensing, training, and special clothes. Chainsaws would not be a common item in their garages.

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By Saturday afternoon, we had generator power again. Those in the White Ash Lake area without generators waited 1-2 weeks for the electric company to repair all the lines. They had 6000-7000 customers without power in Polk County and brought in 100 linemen from Minnesota. The following week, The Wisconsin National Guard arrived to help open the roads to remote homes on the other side of White Ash Lake.

In addition to structural damage to the house roof, minor damage to the cabin, a destroyed dock and boat lift canopy, arbors, and numerous smaller items, Northern Bliss lost 22 mature oaks and pine; it will never be the same in my lifetime. A similar story can be told among all the property owners around North and South White Ash Lake. Not one of 80+ properties was spared. I expect to hear the buzz of chainsaws, the grinding of stumps, the roar of heavy machinery, and the pounding of hammers until frost—as the recovery continues. How ironic! My latest blog was about migrating north to the sounds of silence here in the land of lakes and woods. The silver lining is that all are safe, and no lives were lost, thank God. We will rebuild.

Next: The Recovery Begins

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website https://loisjoyhofmann.com.

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