At 6:15 pm on July 17th, 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 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.

When I pack up our belongings in San Diego and fly like a migrating bird to return to our home Up North, I know what I’m escaping from: I’m escaping the noise of the city. I’m tired of car horns honking, ambulances and police cars screeching, traffic whizzing, airplanes ascending and descending. I’m tired of background noise in the hallway and elevator of the condo building. And I’m even tired of the sounds of the beach: roller blades clinking over each crack in the boardwalk, youngsters partying in the Jacuzzi, jet skis revving up on the bay at 6:00 a.m. I realize that, even in our own space, noise enters like an unwelcome intruder.

When I leave the condo, sounds increase to a dull roar. Muzak piped into elevators and shopping malls was bad enough, but now televisions and video screens are everywhere—in waiting rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops. Even gas stations blare out music and weather updates. Those who want to drown out those sounds listen to podcasts emanating from their earphones. It seems that all the world is eager and willing to bear nonstop sound. Is silence an uncomfortable experience for them?

Noise pollution is a real health hazard. Loud sounds trigger fear, the flight- or-fight response of our endocrine systems. That causes a spike in blood pressure and stress hormones such as cortisol. These adaptive mechanisms helped our ancestors survive a wild animal attack but if they are triggered day after day, they take a toll on our cardiovascular systems.

A 2007 study by a working group called the WHO Noise Environmental Burden on Disease found that long-term traffic noise exposure in cities may account for around three percent of deaths from coronary artery disease each year. According to the study, that’s about 210,000 Europeans annually killed (in part) by noise. Other studies showed that children living near airports score lower on reading and memory tests.

The sounds of silence. It’s no wonder I look forward to returning to our refuge, Northern Bliss, each spring. Heading north takes me to that silence I crave. Because creativity needs silence to flourish. The poet Khali Gibran said,
“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.” Silence refreshes the soul.

As soon as my husband Gunter and I cross the St. Croix River and spot the sign that says WELCOME TO WISCONSIN, we can feel our bodies begin to relax. Ah! We’re almost home! Do birds feel that same sense of relief when they finally land after their long journey back to where they raised their young?

The first day of coming home is fun, yet hectic. It is Mother’s Day, May 12. My daughter greets me at the airport and my granddaughter welcomes me by re-stocking our fridge and pantry. The second day, I climb into the hammock with a book in hand. It doesn’t take long to drop that book, breathe in the fresh spring air, and listen to those long-awaited sounds of silence.

A few moments later, I realize that my inner transformation is complete. Silence has awakened my senses. I can see clearly now and my heart is filled with joy. I cheer on the hostas, green spears only three inches high, piercing through the earth. I admire the fiddlehead ferns, fuzzy balls on short stems, just beginning to unfurl. I jump out of the hammock and dig into the soil with my bare hands. I’ll soon plant flowers here! The soil feels moist. It smells earthy and rich—totally different from the sandy, parched soil of California. I return to the hammock to inhale some more silence.

But this time, I’m attuned to the nature enveloping me and my world is no longer silent. I’m swathed in a euphony of sounds. I recognize the scree-scree of a blue jay and the rat-tat-tat of a pileated woodpecker drilling a hole into the bark of nearby tree. When I look up, a bald eagle whooshes over the roof, returning to his nest on the lake. A gentle breeze whispers through the pines and rustles the maples and oaks. The windmill slowly turns while rippled waves lap the shoreline and the door chimes ring ever so softly.

I’m reminded of the words of William Penn: “True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”

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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 https://loisjoyhofmann.com.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wisconsin Gardening

My Wisconsin garden is spring green in May

 I’ve spent the past week relocating our household to our summer home in Polk County, Wisconsin that we call Northern Bliss. Sailors forever, Gunter and I must have the serenity of water close by. We enjoy the change of pace from our city life in San Diego. There is another lake every four miles in our county, so we never lack the color of water. But after eight years sailing around the world, we also crave the color green.

I agree with John Burroughs, who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” While the green palette soothes my soul, the song of newly-arrived finches tickles my ears, the feel of warm soil running through my fingers connects me to the earth, and the heavenly scent of budding flowers brings me peace. I wet my lips and taste the freshness of the country breeze rustling through the treetops.

What happens to your body in the presence of green? Your pituitary gland is stimulated. Your muscles become more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase. That leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels. In other words, green is calming and stress-relieving, yet invigorating at the same time. The color green has been shown to improve reading ability and creativity.

Aha! I’ve been gardening my first week here, exposed to all that green. Now that my creativity is back, I can get back to writing again. Before I continue the Uzbekistan travel series, I want to take you to my environment here. The days are getting longer. Sunrise was at 5:27 this morning and sunset will be at 8:48. On June 21, the summer solstice, first light will occur at 4:43 a.m. with sunrise at 5:21. Sunset will be at 9:02 with last light at 9:40. Plants love all that light so spring growth is intensive. I can almost see those ferns in my garden unfurling their delicate fronds.

Garden Ferns

Garden ferns unfurl as they mature

Did you know that fiddlehead greens are harvested as a vegetable? The fiddlehead fern fronds must still be tightly furled.

Martha Stewart even has a recipe for them! . Reportedly, they taste grassy (of course) but with a hint of nuttiness. Hmm. Many people say they taste like a cross between asparagus and young spinach. Some detect a bit of mushroom. Watch out for those if they’re growing nearby. Also keep this in mind: Fiddleheads can cause symptoms of food-borne illness if eaten raw or improperly cooked. Be careful.

Have a wonderful and inspiring spring!

 

 

 

Fiddler greens

Fiddler greens served as a restaurant delicacy

For related blogs, visit https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/soft-focus/

and https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/returning-to-northern-bliss-fifty-shades-of-green/

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 this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time through Father’s Day.

What a coincidence! I have two framed Egyptian papyrus prints on the walls of my home. And now I have Egyptian papyrus plants in my Rain Garden at Northern Bliss.

antique-egyptian-papyrus-20435416

The papyrus plant is a reed that grows wild in marshy areas around the Nile River. One of my favorite excursions when I visited Egypt during our circumnavigation was our boat trip down the Nile River. How I loved to see those papyrus plants swaying in the breeze! During a cultural show, we learned the process of making paper from papyrus. First, the inside of the stalk was peeled into long strips. Then these strips were spread out in two layers, one horizontal and one vertical, and pressed and dried to form a sheet. The sheet could be used by itself, or individual sheets could be joined end-to-end to form a roll. Natural gum held the sheets together, so no glue was required. A roll was usually about one foot in height and could be up to 100 feet in length.

I never knew that papyrus was offered by nurseries in the USA until I built my Rain Garden at Northern Bliss. I had researched the process in sustainable landscaping books and websites and diligently followed the instructions using native Wisconsin plants with deep roots. All of the natural flowers worked well in heavy rains except for the blazing stars planted in the center, the deepest part. They just drowned.

DSC00488 Dry Creek Flowing into Rain Garden.jpg

So the following spring I decided to try something else. But what?  Dale, my gardener with Lake Services, just happened to notice a group of tall papyrus plants in the back of a pick-up truck leaving a nursery. He stopped the driver to ask questions. And then we considered our options: Papyrus is a non-native plant, but because I’d seen it growing wild in the Nile, I knew it had to have deep roots to soak up excess moisture in my Rain Garden. But, because it’s a tropical plant, we’d have to replace the three plants every spring.

DSC00497 Papyrus in Rain Garden Facing Lake.jpg

We went ahead and I certainly don’t regret it. This year, we’ve had lots of rain and the system works: My Wet Lot drains like it’s designed to do and the three King Tut papyrus plants stand tall and majestic, swaying in the breeze─just like their ancestors did in the Nile.

IMG_0040 Statue amid Papyrus on the Nile River, Egypt.jpg

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

P1110733 Shases of green in the morning mist

We arrived at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home on June 4 this year—too late to see the fiddlehead ferns unfurl, too late to see the tulips and daffodils bloom, but just in time to see the trumpeter swans swimming along White Ash Lake, goslings in tow. My heart sang for joy!

Because of a mild winter leading to an early spring “up north” this year, the landscape is already dramatically lush. I marvel at the many shades of green: blue-green and lime-green hostas, dark-green spruce, and pale-green shoots of new growth. Talk about “50 Shades of Gray.” Here we have 50 shades of green! And green is all about de-stressing, slowing down, and letting go. It’s the color of life, nature, harmony, renewal, and energy.

50 Shades of Green

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I agree with John Burroughs, who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” While the green palette soothes my soul, the song of newly-arrived finches tickles my ears, the feel of warm soil running through my fingers connects me to the earth, and the heavenly scent of budding flowers brings me peace. I wet my lips and taste the freshness of the country breeze rustling through the treetops.

What happens to your body in the presence of green? Your pituitary gland is stimulated. Your muscles become more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase. That leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels. In other words, green is calming and stress-relieving, yet invigorating at the same time. The color green has been shown to improve reading ability and creativity. Aha! That’s gives me just the excuse I need to spend some time in that inviting hammock reading a book!

For a related blog, visit Soft Focus.

 

 

A commotion on the lake woke me up in a flash. The splashing was accompanied by a sound I hadn’t heard here—a deep note, like that of a French horn, with a lingering ring. I ran to the window just in time to see a family of five swimming past our dock. My bird book identified them as Trumpeter swans—the largest waterfowl in North America. The next day they came back and I managed to take photos. What a sight—and a privilege.

These swans have had a touch-and-go history in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The last wild nests were located in Heron and Everson Lakes in the late 1880s. The birds were killed for food; their feathers were used for ladies’ hats, and their down, for powder puffs. By 1935, fewer than 70 of these majestic birds could be found in remote areas of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. That year, Red Rock, Montana became a refuge for Trumpeter swans. Hennepin Parks, Minnesota hosted restoration efforts in the 1960s. Then in 1982, Minnesota’s DNR (Department of Natural Resources) joined the effort by transporting swan eggs from Alaska to Minnesota. The offspring, called cygnets, were raised for two years and released. Now, over 2000 swans trumpet in Heron Lake, Swan Lake, and St. Croix State Park. In Wisconsin, thanks to the state endangered species act and a public-private partnership, trumpeter swan populations are recovering. Trumpeter swans doubled the goal of 20 breeding pairs by 2000, and were removed from the state endangered species list in 2009. Today, the number stands at a modern all-time high of nearly 200 nesting pairs in 23 counties. You can view them at Crex Meadows in Burnett County and Sandhill Wildlife Refuge in Wood County—or come to White Ash Lake, where we have one family of five.

Family of FIve Trumpeter Swans

Family of FIve Trumpeter Swans

Life Cycle: The male and female build a nest on a muskrat or beaver dam, on a floating mat of plants, or build up enough plants to make a platform. The female incubates the clutch of 4-6 eggs for 34 days. One day before hatching, the chicks begin to peep. Cygnets can swim as soon as their down is dry, but they stay on their nests for a few days. For the next three weeks, until their new feathers grow in, they are brooded by their parents and fed snails and insects from the bottom of the marsh. The juveniles stay with their parents through their first winter until they return in the spring to the same breeding area. Then they hang out with their siblings for 4-6 years until they are mature enough to mate and raise their own young. If a pair uses the same nesting location two summers in a row, they form an almost unbreakable attachment to the site.

Pair of adult and juvenile swans

Pair of adult and juvenile swans

The swans create quite a commotion when they take off. They run on top of the water with their wings flapping. Just after take-off they pull their necks into an S and then straighten it out. They sleep with their head tucked down under their wing.

Fluffiing feathers to dry off

Fluffiing feathers to dry off

The first time I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker, a big dashing bird with a flaming crest, he was rooting in the lawn near the lake at Northern Bliss. “Look at that!” I yelled to Gunter. “It’s almost as large as a bantam rooster.” Soon another joined the first. We remained hidden behind the sun room window, mesmerized, afraid to move. And of course, we had no camera nearby. Later we consulted our bird books. We had seen a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers! We bought suet and continued to replenish the feeder whenever we would stay at Northern Bliss. Sometimes the birds would come and other times they would stay away for weeks or months at a time. We could never “guarantee” that our guests would see these shy, elusive birds.

This year, our luck improved. My son made us a suet feeder designed for woodpeckers. We placed it away from the other feeders, underneath the branch of an ornamental berry tree. That site just happens to be below our second floor bedroom window, and now we keep cameras at the ready. We have been rewarded with a “sighting” about every 2-3 days. Two weeks ago, our guests, avid birders, spotted the threesome (yes, now they have offspring) at that feeder many times. And one day last week, I waited patiently at the window for opportunity to photograph all three. I snapped about a dozen photos to get these, my favorite shots.

Our family of three pileated woodpeckers.

Our family of three pileated woodpeckers.

One woodpecker searches for ants while the other enjoys the suet on the special feeder made by my son, Jeff.

One woodpecker searches for ants while the other enjoys the suet on the special feeder made by my son, Jeff.

Feeding the younger pileated woodpecker.

Feeding the younger pileated woodpecker.

After reading more about the habitat of these woodpeckers, I realize how special we are to have them here. One family’s home territory can occupy 150-200 acres!  A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and will only tolerate new arrivals during the winter.

This woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. In the north, it’s the size of a crow; in the south, slightly smaller. You can’t miss its black back with bold white stripes down the neck, a vivid contrast to its flaming-red crest.

The light purple shows the uncommon areas where Pileated Woodpeckers can be found. They are more common the darker area.

The light purple shows the uncommon areas where Pileated Woodpeckers can be found. They are more common the darker area.

Woodpeckers nest in dead or soft coniferous or deciduous trees. They prefer old forest growth, but there’s not much left, so they have migrated closer to human activities. Even so, I’ve noticed that ours do not make an appearance on busy weekends with lots of lake traffic.

One day, I followed the wuk, wuk, wuk warnings they made as they marked their territory. A Pileated Woodpecker call sounds like this:

.

When I reached their home in a humongous dead tree right over our lot line near my “natural garden,” I could hear the drumming. Listen to it here on Pileated Woodpecker Central.

Now that I know where they live, I’m planning a “stake out.” I’ll set up my camera on a tripod for some awesome photos of them entering their home. When they are not dining at our suet table, Pileated Woodpeckers whack at dead trees and fallen logs—or even wooden telephone poles—in search of their main prey, carpenter ants. This drumming leaves unique rectangular holes in the wood that offer crucial shelter to many species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens. I love having them here!