“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.


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.


This is the season I’m overcome with mixed emotions: I love the brilliant colors and subtle hues of autumn; I revel in the crisp cool air and bright blue skies, and I’m energized by the fierce storms magnified by crashing thunder and sparks of lightning. We have weather here.

But with each leaf that drifts toward the ground, covering it with a blanket of yellow, orange and brown, I’m reminded that winter is coming. And that’s the season I’d rather not be here. Trees are barren and stark. Shrubs slink back into sorry masses of yellow-brown brush. The landscape cries for a lid of pure snow to hide it all.

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Knowing what’s in store, I slog through the fall chores at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home.  I cut back the spent flowers—except for black-eyed susans, sunflowers, and any others with seeds or pods for the birds. I supervise the “fencing” of the fruit trees, so the deer don’t demolish them in the early spring before the forest grows its bounty. And I arrange for the pontoon, lift, and dock to be stored on the lake bank and alongside the garden shed—all the while cherishing memories of the delighted screams of grandchildren as they jumped off the pontoon into the lake or were pulled in a tube—a sport they call “tubing.”

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I buy butternut squash at the farmers market and bake an apple crisp to serve during the final week-end here when family and friends will stop by to say their goodbyes. Then next week, we’ll store all the lawn furniture and pots, winterize the cabin and set the heat in the main house to 50° to prepare for freezing temperatures; they can reach 30° below zero in January.

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We’ll soon return to our condo in San Diego and I know that when we watch the sun set over Sail Bay with streaks of orange and red, we’ll fall in love with the Pacific Ocean all over again. But for now, there’s a nostalgic sadness in my heart. I’m leaving my beloved Northern Bliss.

Upcoming blogs will continue the series covering our September trip from Germany down the Danube.

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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


Recently, conversations during my AquaFit class at the Y have been about water. Not the water in the outdoor pool, but the lack of water due to California’s 4th year of drought. We dream up new solutions: “Let’s pipe in water from the Columbia River. Use up some of that extra rain that falls on Washington and Oregon.”

“The new desalination plant in North County is coming on-line this fall. That’ll eventually give San Diego County about 10% or so of the water we’ll need. We should build more plants.”

“But running it takes a lot of power, and that comes from fossil fuels.”

“Northern California wastes the water that could be sent south to farmers. They’re protecting the delta smelt by letting it run back into the ocean and draining reservoir lakes to protect a few steelhead trout.”

“Los Angeles wastes water too. 65% of the city is covered in asphalt and concrete, so storm water can’t seep into the ground water. Yet their flood-control system shunts enough water into the ocean to supply water to half a million people. So where do they take water? From the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Colorado river we all use.”

We don’t spend much time in Southern California gossiping about the weather (because it’s always pretty much the same). Here we ruminate about water. As Joan Didion wrote in her classic essay collection The White Album, “Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. The water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is.” San Diego recycles part of its city water supply in a program called “toilet to tap.” Now they changed the name of the program to “pure water” for obvious reasons, but I do not think reverently about the water coming out of our taps.

I’ve just completed a gardening project as head of our HOA (home owners association) landscaping committee. Our focus has been on xeriscaping and installing a dry creek as a “water feature” in front of the condo building. Because water rationing will only increase as the drought drags on, the creek will of course, contain no water.  What a contrast to the creek I installed last summer at our lake home in Wisconsin! That creek will funnel water off the yard because we have too much.

Dry creek using blue stones to contrast with the multicolor landscaping stones

Many California residents didn’t know what the term “xeriscaping” meant until Governor Brown used the word in his water-rationing speech last week, announcing that California municipalities will henceforth use 25% less water. Xeri means dry, as in Xerox®, i.e., dry copy. Xeriscaping is a landscape method developed especially for arid and semiarid climates that uses drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation, such as the underground drip method. (Midwest and German friends, you don’t need to know this.) Our HOA committee boned up on xeri and now we’re proud to be ahead of the game. Our drought-tolerant trees, plants, and flowers now stand proud among multi-colored rocks, boulders and pebbles; and our dry creek, filled with smooth, blue river stones, winds around palms from the building foundation to the street, where it won’t leave one drop of precious water.

Palm trees used in xeriscaping

Last fall, I returned from lush Wisconsin with its 50 shades of green to parched, brown yards in San Diego. I told my friends about how I had to slope and drain that lot so that it flowed into a “rain garden” and then into White Ash Lake. Their reaction to my blog How to Drain a Wet Lot,” was “duh.” When I return to Wisconsin in May, I know I’ll find the same reaction when I describe our xeriscaping project to my neighbors there. The rainfall in Polk County in one month, June of 2014, was 9.5 inches; San Diego’s rainfall for that one year was 5 inches, 50% of normal.

For more on California’s water wars, go to http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/18/drought-look-ahead/

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/17/sacramento-drought-california-environment-water/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-beat-the-drought-l-a-looks-to-nature-for-help-1429199299

http://www.wsj.com/articles/californias-water-woes-are-priceless-1429051903


When I awoke this morning, there was an autumn chill in the air and this poem in my head, along with visions of pumpkin patches and maple sugar trees. I remember reading the poem by James Whitcomb Riley as a child in a Wisconsin school room. You can hear it recited here or read it below:

WHEN THE FROST IS ON THE PUNKIN

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and the gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’; of the guineys and the cluckin’ of the hens
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O it’s then the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock

They’s somethin kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here –
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny monring of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock –
When the frost is on the punkin and fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries – kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A preachin’ sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below – the clover overhead! –
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it – but if sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me –
I’d want to ‘commodate ’em – all the whole-indurin’ flock –
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Pumpkin Field

Pumpkin Field

Riley’s poems depict country life in rural America, circa 19th century. Heralding from Indiana, he was known as “The Hoosier Poet.” The whimsical nature of this poem reminds me of my own youth, growing up on a farm.

The pumpkin was quite useful to U.S. pioneers and is still valuable to third-world farmers because it is so easy to grow: just drop a few seeds into a small, shallow hole.  The pumpkin’s thick rind would allow them to keep it indefinitely.  I found that out when sailing the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu.  We were given a huge pumpkin by villagers as a “thank you” for giving them a propeller for their fishing boat. It rode in the cockpit of Pacific Bliss for weeks until I finally used our pressure cooker on board to transform it into a tasty pumpkin soup.

(see Sailing the South Pacific, page 284).

Fodder is food for farm animals.  The tall Indiana corn, when thoroughly dry, was gathered into “Shocks” of corn wigwams tied at the top, and left in the fields to be used as needed

Cornstalks used as decoration in Oceola, Wisconsin

Cornstalks used as decoration in Oceola, Wisconsin

During our autumn trip to Wisconsin, we paid a visit to Glenna Farms, where most of these photos were taken. Their maple syrup is to die for! We packed some into our luggage, but one can obtain their catalog or order products on-line at http://www.glennafarms.com/


“The hard edges of life move into softer focus up north,” says Joan Steffend. And Standing Bear said, “Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard.”

IMG_6126 Budding Wildflower with Butterfly

During Gunter’s recovery from his knee replacement surgery, I couldn’t wait to get back into nature at Northern Bliss, our lake home. Your own “up north” could be anywhere you choose to  get away and de-stress.

“The volume of life can creep up slowly…

the white noise of the daily routine…

distortion of unnecessary busy-ness…

groans of a big picture lost in a to-do list,

as the peaceful voice of our own nature

seems to grow fainter and farther away.

Up north you can turn up

the Silence of Divinity.” –Jimmy Brandmeir

Last week, with my Canon EOS hung around my neck, I crept close to butterflies and dragonflies while touring the dikes and watersheds of Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Time stood still while reeds rustled and sedge grass swayed in the light breeze. Even though July is off-season for the migratory fowl these wetlands are famous for, the day was a blissful communion with nature. As Tolstoy said, “One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.”

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After seeing the Lord of the Forest, an ancient kauri tree, while touring New Zealand, I still could not get those kauri trees out of my mind. So when we saw some furniture made of kauri wood in a museum, I made a wish: Someday, if I would have a lake or mountain home, and if I could somehow manage to purchase and ship some of that kauri wood to the States, I would have a coffee table made of a slice of that marvelous wood. Never mind that this is a protected species, like the ancient California redwoods. I put it “out there” anyway.

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world's largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of “Sailing the South Pacific”)

Years later, part of the money from the sale of Pacific Bliss enabled us to purchase Northern Bliss, our family heritage home on a Wisconsin lake. Amazingly, my wish has come true. During the remodeling process of our lodge-style home, wonderfully completed by my son-in-law, Mike Mowers , I googled kauri wood. I discovered that—lo and behold—there was one distributor of kauri wood in the U.S. and he happened to be in Wisconsin! The company is called Ancientwood Ltd, owned by Bob Teisburg. The kauri he sells is pulled out of New Zealand swamps. It’s taken a year, but I finally have a coffee table and fireplace mantle made of that ancient kauri wood.

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Here’s an excerpt from Sailing the South Pacific:

The Lord of the Forest

I cannot get those giant kauri trees out of my mind.They say that even the redwoods of Big Sur, California, cannot compete with the kauris’ ancient appearance and aura. I must have another look.

We take the West Coast Road (also called the Kauri Coast Road) south. We follow signs posted for Tani Mahuta Track and the Waipoua Forest. There, we have been assured, we will find Tani Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree, guaranteed to take our breath away. This great work of nature was discovered in the 1920s by surveyors who had been contracted to build Highway 12 through the forest. They called it Tani Mahuta after a god in Maori mythology. Tani was the son of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother.  Being a jealous child, he separated his parents and then, out of love for his mother, created the living forest to clothe her. As a result, even today, all creatures of the forest are considered to be Tani’s children.

Walking the short track that leads through the cooling shade of the forest canopy, I flush with anticipation. Not far into the walk, we sweep around a corner and I stop dead in my tracks. There he is! Suddenly, I’m brought face to face with the Lord of the Forest. I stand perfectly still. I stare. My first glimpse of this magnificent tree takes my breath away! I can sense Tani Mahuta’s ancient presence and animal strength. He dominates the forest. 

Almost 2000 years old, he, too, is almost 16 stories high, but he has a circumference of over 45 feet.  He is the giant of giants!  An enormous growth that dwarfs everything else. 

A wooden fence protects him. A viewing bench surrounds him. I sit in silence. Awed. I wonder at the centuries that have come and gone under the spreading branches of this primeval forest patriarch. Then, I stand and move back…farther…farther…farther.  I must fit this entire majestic being into my camera lens. I must…I must….And, finally, I rejoice…because I have him!


Part I of the “Northern Bliss/Heritage Home” blog series

August 2012, Balsam Lake, Wisconsin

“What will happen to all your beautiful flowers when we leave here in three weeks?” Gunter asks as he watches me just a’diggin’ in the dirt.

I’ve been gardening for over two hours this morning. Enhancing the flower gardens here at our lake home is more than just a chore.  I am returning to my roots. I was born in Polk County, Wisconsin—in Cushing, less than 30 miles from here.

I set my tools down and move my kneeling pad over to the next clump of weeds to be pulled. “Leave? I’m just settling in, marking my territory.”

Digging in the dirt has become a compulsion since we moved many of our belongings from San Diego in mid-July.

“This reminds me of carrying pails and pails of water for my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens,” Gunter answers.  He points to the foxgloves. “The flowers in Bavaria were very similar to these. Only the flowers had different names.”

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Huge hydrangea

Tiger lilies grow well in Wisconsin

I’m not sure how to explain this drive to dig in the dirt, to go back to one’s roots. The compulsion comes from deep within and the process provides deep satisfaction. And when I’m all tired out, my chores completed for the morning, Gunter says I always return with a smile on my face. So it must be good for me.

Even though I’ve been a sailor throughout much of my life, and made my home on the sea for eight years, as a farmer’s daughter, the need to return to the land is a primal instinct. This is not unusual. Captain Cook, who sailed farther than any man had sailed before, retired on a farm in England near where he grew up, that is, until he was called back to sea again for his final voyage.

This land also provides for me a sense of completion. My family lost its dairy farm to foreclosure after the dreaded Bang’s Disease swept through the herd and the milk could not be sold. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I never had an opportunity to say good-bye to that land. It all happened so fast. Perhaps that created a longing in me that I’ve buried as deep as the foxgloves I have planted here.

If so, that longing didn’t surface until I attended my 50th class reunion in St. Croix Falls in September, 2010. I rarely attended reunions, and may not have come to this one had not my granddaughter scheduled her wedding the week prior. During the event, a classmate of mine asked me, “Are you here to look at a summer home?” Her question startled me. “Lake homes here are selling for half of what they were before the 2008 crash.”

That comment set the process in motion.

For the next two days, Gunter and I drove through the countryside admiring the fall foliage.  “I love all the deep blue lakes, the lush rolling hills, and the wonderful colors. It reminds me of my own roots in Bavaria,” Gunter exclaimed.

“That’s probably why so many German immigrants settled in Wisconsin,” I replied.  “They must have thought the same thing.”

“Lots of FOR SALE signs around here,” he noted. “Interested?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Yes! The home should be here in Polk County.”

Now why did I say that? I’ve never even thought of buying a home here. Not sure I want this. Too many memories—not all of them pleasant.

But the die was cast. Actually, the die had been cast two years earlier, when we completed our world circumnavigation. The planned trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss,” would cover the eight years of our sailing adventures. But even then, I thought about writing a book about what happened in the years before we left to go sailing.

During presentations promoting the first book in the series, MAIDEN VOYAGE, many readers asked about our lives before sailing. That would make an interesting story: how did a farm girl from Wisconsin who wanted to escape her past and succeed at business and a boy from Munich who loved math and science meet each other—after many wrong turns in life—and become soul mates?

What would I need to do to write such a book?

I would need to pick up the dialect I’d forgotten. I would need to stay where I grew up for a while to re-acquaint myself with the farming culture again, to regain that sense of place.

OK, I can do that!

Beware of setting a goal. It just may have a way of happening before you know it! I had only a goal. I had no strategy in mind, not even a plan. My writing goal, however, seemed to fit with our shared goal of providing ways to keep our families in touch with each other. Since both of our parents died, Gunter and I have taken seriously the responsibilities of being the matriarch and patriarch of our respective families. We sponsor family reunions where all the children, grandchildren and cousins can get together. Could having one central property for those reunions—sort of a Heritage Home—work for us?

The following year, 2011, we organized a family reunion by renting a cabin on the shores of Balsam Lake, the largest lake in Polk County, to market test the idea.

If we build it, will they come?

It worked!  During the main event, a barbeque on the cabin’s big deck, I counted 28 attendees; they were all related. So the search for an appropriate lake home began.

If it all proceeds smoothly, it’s meant to be.

By the time we left the cabin, Gunter and I had made an offer on a home on nearby White Ash Lake.  After returning to San Diego, and negotiating back and forth, we soon found ourselves the proud owners of a family home.

But the task of remodeling it to make room for our four children and their spouses, five grandchildren (two with spouses), and two great grandchildren was just beginning. We would knock out three walls to make a massive Great Room. I planned the kitchen and dining area to seat 17, the patios to seat 16 and all the bedrooms—including a bunk room we would build—to sleep 16, with space for additional air mattresses. Not all would always come at the same time, but there are always a few extras in any gathering! I am the eldest of ten (nine living), visits by siblings needed to considered as well.

As my readers know by now, Gunter and I love to travel! We had already committed to two international trips—to India and South America—when we purchased the home. In between trips, Mike, my son-in-law, and I managed the remodeling (he did most of the work himself). It was an amazing process and a tight schedule, but a mere two hours before the first visitors arrived in July, the carpet had been laid in the bunk room and the bunk beds installed! (For those readers asking why the India and South America travel blogs remain unfinished, this is my excuse. They will be completed sometime this winter!)

When all the hub-bub becomes too much, I retreat to my garden to dig in the dirt. The birds chirp merrily as they perch on their feeders and splash in their birdbath. The breeze whispers through the pines, birch and oak—so different from the palms in Southern California. And across our dead end street near the woods, a doe stands and stares, daring me to chase her from my hostas.

Life is good here.

She dares me to chase her away from my hostas

 

Yellow Goldfinch at the bird feeder