Fish, frogs and flooding

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A bullfrog soaks in the water that flooded a portion of pasture on the Buntjer farm last month.

The back pasture on the Buntjer farm provides a cacophony of chirps, croaks, splashes and buzzing these days as the waters of Peterson Slough ever so slowly recede from the grassy low spots it flooded several weeks ago.

There are no four-legged bovines to care about the water-logged land; and the residents, for that matter, don’t mind much either. If it weren’t for the huge hatch of pesky mosquitoes, and the bevy of other flying and hopping insects, I’d consider spending a little more time out there in the back 40. In nature.

I’d watch the bullfrogs submerged up to their necks in the remnant floodwaters. Listen to nature’s music. Soak it all in. It is summer, after all — that time of the year when we should be outside doing stuff, whatever that stuff may be.

Except that heat and humidity has chased me back into the air-conditioned comfort of home all too often these past few weeks.

Isn’t it strange how one notices the heat and humidity going from home to work and back home again, but when it’s vacation time and you get to sit at the end of a dock with a fishing pole in hand, the heat and humidity are unnoticed?

It was nearly a month ago already that I was sitting on the dock, listening for the loons and waiting for the tug on my fishing line at a beautiful lake up north. Meanwhile, the farm and the rest of southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa couldn’t seem to get a break from the rains.

Oh, we had rain up north, too, but we fished through the drizzle and lunched during the downpour.

In three days of fishing, my fillet knife got a workout with a bit of help from Mom. We made a mess of the fish cleaning shack and wished we could hire the work done so we’d have more time for the fun part — sitting on the lakeshore and reeling in panfish.

Like any other vacation, the time flew by. The work I’d intended to do didn’t get done because the farmhouse needed a bit of extra attention. Water-soaked basement carpets needed to be ripped up and tossed out. The Shop Vac needed to be operated. Furniture needed to be moved.

And lawns needed to be mowed.

Always, the lawns need to be mowed.

There’s rarely a dull moment, but that’s OK. It’s summer, and it’s time to get moving … or mowing.

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Driving Lessons

It’s been at least a decade since I’ve driven a riding lawn mower, but it shouldn’t be that difficult, right? Isn’t it kind of like riding a bicycle — once you learn, you don’t forget?

Growing up on the farm, I logged hours upon hours steering the Big Mow back and forth across the lawn as the blades cut a nice, neat row (most of the time). It was always north to south or east to west, depending on which patch of lawn was being mowed. We never were so fancy as to do that diagonal mowing pattern. On a farm with a big front lawn, as well as trees and gardens to navigate around, that kind of mowing would be too complicated.

The real complication, in my opinion, is that green machine — or rather the two of them — that my folks invested in to keep their lawn looking lush.

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With Dad dealing with some health issues, I’ve stepped up to help with the lawn mowing chore this summer. It takes about five hours to mow everything alone, or half that if someone helps.

Last week I attempted to mow the lawn all on my own, which I’ve now realized is not a good idea and likely will not be attempted again without at least taking some Aleve — perhaps both pre- and post-mowing.

If it isn’t the constant jarring of the machine (some of which is induced by operator error), it’s the stretched shoulder muscles from trying to hold up branches as I’m mowing underneath them, scrapes on the legs and arms from mowing too close to the evergreen tree, and the beating that came from getting whacked in the torso when the tire swing I attempted to push out of the way pushed back on its return swing.

Those are life lessons, and while important to learn from, perhaps more important are the driving lessons.

Lesson No. 1, from Mom, was how to start the blasted mower. Once that was accomplished, Lesson No. 2 was how the heck it went into reverse. My push mower isn’t nearly this complicated!

When I finally reached the first grassy patch to mow, I felt confident with my route and the speed, which had to fluctuate as I neared every single obstacle — building, light pole, guy wires, asparagus patch, prairie garden, evergreen tree and other trees.

Every single time I attempted to go in reverse with the blade engaged, the green machine wanted to die, so I’d quickly hit the pedal to lurch me forward, suffering a bit of whiplash the first time it happened … along with a sore neck for the next few days.

It wasn’t until Week 2 that Dad pointed out a little yellow button that says (RIO) above it.

“Push that in when you want to go in reverse with the blade running,” he said, giving me Lesson No. 3.

Week 1 would have been so much easier, and less painful, with that knowledge.

When Week 3 mowing was in progress, I told Dad he had to go retrieve a sock from the front lawn — a tube sock he’d apparently been using as a grease rag and had stuffed into a catch-all on the mower. I’m pretty sure a tree branch caught the sock and dropped it on the ground.

When he pondered why I didn’t simply stop and pick up the sock, I gave two reasons — No. 1, every time I step off the mower, the engine dies (it’s a safety feature); and No. 2, this particular area of the lawn is known to have slithering snakes on occasion. My feet were staying on the mower.

This, of course, led to Lesson No. 4 — an orange button that, if pushed, apparently keeps the lawn mower running when the driver steps off, as long as the blades are disengaged.

After three weeks, I think I may have learned all of the driving lessons necessary to operate a riding lawnmower. If not, I’m sure Dad will give me another lesson after reading this. What I’d really like is for him to take that brute of a tire swing down from the tree.

I still look for my loveable pooch, Molly, to be watching me from the garage door as I mow. The farm is so different without her.

Yet, I give thanks to her each time I mow the lawn because, knock on wood, I haven’t seen a single garter snake yet. Molly was my snake-killer and my protector, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s still protecting me from above.

Odds are the snakes will be back some day, and when I see one when I’m out mowing lawn, Mom, Dad and the neighbors will know what the blood-curdling scream is all about.

Dear sweet Molly, I’m sorry

Molly takes a break in the pool in this photo from the summer of 2013.

“Sometimes your heart needs more time to accept what your mind already knows.”

On Monday, I made the difficult decision to have my dog — my faithful friend, my healer of bad days, my brown-eyed beauty … my Molly — breathe her last, labored breaths.

My mind knew it was time. Oh, but my heart wasn’t ready.

My mind and my heart are are in conflict.

This day had been coming for months. We all knew it as we watched the tumors grow, saw the tremors render her back legs unsteady, heard her pants for air. If only she could talk — tell me it was time to let her go, tell me the pain was too much — it would have made it easier.

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Molly’s final photo. She never wanted to look at the camera.

Lately, Molly wasn’t barking. She wasn’t whimpering. She wasn’t making noise except for the struggle it took to stand and the times she couldn’t seem to catch her breath.

As I sat on the floor by her pillow Monday noon, Molly turned her sad brown eyes and looked right into my tear-filled and apologetic baby blues.

“I’m sorry Molly. I didn’t want it to end this way. I prayed God would take you in your sleep. I didn’t want to chose the day you’d leave us.”

That was my heart talking.

My mind, however, was saying “she’s suffering.”

Only now do I realize Molly’s death date is the 14th, equal to the 14 years we were lucky to have her as a part of our family. Four generations of the Buntjer clan got to know her, scratch her belly or pat her head, perhaps tickle her ear or slip her a scrap from the dinner plate.

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Molly opening her Christmas present several years ago.

Please don’t say she’s just a dog. She was more than a dog for my parents and me — she was family.

I held back the tears as I carried her from the house to my car, but they poured out as Dad cried over her and told her goodbye.

“Why don’t you wait,” he said. “She’s having a better day today.”

Dad’s mind and his heart were in conflict, same as mine.

The support came from Mom. She had her tears too, but she knew it was time.

Molly laid atop two dog beds in the back of my car as I drove to town with Mom in the passenger seat. I’d directed my rearview mirror at Molly, who seemed to perk up a bit as she watched the farm fields roll by. Molly loved car rides, loved sticking her nose out the window and letting the wind flap her ears.

A younger Molly was super excited when the car ride included a stop at Bella Park, and less so when the car parked in front of the Veterinary Medical Center.

On Monday, instead of feeling joy over her love of car rides, I felt like I was driving a hearse. Heavy heart. Death. Oh Molly, I’m sorry.

Molly’s youthful spirit is now at the Rainbow Bridge. We brought her age-weary body back to the farm she knew as home for the past 12 years. There, Dad had gathered shovels and chosen a spot on the hilltop — part shade, part sun — for Molly’s final resting place.

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Molly, as captured on a day when she wasn’t playing with snakes.

As the first shovel of dirt landed on the box, Dad said, “You may be gone, but you’ll never be forgotten.”

May she forever dream of chasing bunnies through the nearby grove; and may she always know that she was loved.

Dear readers: On days like this, writing is my therapy. Tears flowed like a river as I put into words the heartbreak of losing my Molly.

This wasn’t the first version of this column. The first one told of Molly’s younger days, how she came into my life as a giveaway, how she tested my patience as a puppy and how she became my grand protector by killing every single snake she could find. It felt, though, like I was retelling stories I’d written in the Farm Bleat, so I deleted it and started over.

If you’d like to get acquainted with Molly, you can search her name or “dogs” on my blog.

Turning Moments Into Memories

With gale-force winds at our back, my parents and I sat in the cheering section at a local baseball game Friday evening, watching my nephew Blake and rooting for the Fairmont Cardinals — even though they were playing the Trojans.

It’s kind of an odd feeling to root against the home team, but my nieces and nephews either play for the Ellsworth Panthers or the Fairmont Cardinals, and thus my allegiance goes to them when, on the rare occasion, I actually get to see them compete.IMG_4404

It was a great afternoon despite the wind that chilled us — and a far better way to enjoy the outdoors than the countless hours I logged shoveling snow these past few months.

Friday evening kicked off a flurry of spring and summertime activities, with Blake’s baseball game followed by nephew Zach’s prom Saturday evening. Next it will be niece Alayna’s dance recital, Mother’s Day, fishing, more baseball, Zach’s graduation, fishing and, well, did I say fishing? The busyness of the non-winter season is upon us, and I think we all should have built up enough excitement for spring to plunge ahead with gusto.

The trusty camera on my smartphone will capture as many moments as my iCloud storage can handle this season of celebrations. (We are celebrating the absence of snow and ice, just in case you are wondering!)

Over the weekend, I stood grinning alongside nephew Blake in his baseball uniform, and was the proud aunt alongside nephew Zach in his tuxedo. While I haven’t yet printed the actual pictures, I know these moments will become fond memories.

The images have also confirmed that I’m shrinking. I suppose it could be that these little nephews of mine are growing up — growing strong and tall, confident and serious — but in my eyes they’ll still be the boy I once paid to eat a spoonful of baked squash, and the boy who nearly burned his finger reaching for the candle on his first birthday cake.

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Moments captured. Moments turning into memories.

Over the years, I was the pathological picture taker of the family. I filled more than a dozen albums with photographic memories of special moments in the days before iCloud storage. A couple of years ago, I emptied those albums and sorted the pictures into family boxes — one for each of my three brothers.

Mom has most of the same photos tucked away in albums of her own, so I can still look through them when I want to take a stroll down memory lane.

Looking through their photo albums usually happens during those long winter days. They call it reminiscing.

Through pictures, they can see the quick progression of infant grandchildren growing into teens, young adults and then young parents. The cycle begins anew with great-grandchildren.

The circle of life — captured in moments that turn into memories.

 

The Never-Ending Winter

Stir-crazy. [stur-krey-zee]. Adjective. 1. Restless or frantic because of confinement, routine, etc. 2. Mentally ill because of long imprisonment.

Example: I’m going to go stir-crazy if this winter doesn’t end soon.

 

Actually, I think I’ve already fallen off the cliff — not the mentally ill kind of stir-crazy, but the restless kind of stir-crazy.

The scene from a January blizzard.

Since before Christmas, seemingly every time I made plans to go out of town, Mother Nature stirred up some form of nastiness, whether bitter cold, snow, sleet, freezing rain or that awful, unrelenting wind.

In January, I took a couple of days off with plans to visit a needlework shop nearly three hours away. Instead, I hunkered down in the house because the windchill was minus-20.

A weekend or two later, I thought I’d squeeze the trip in on a Saturday. It snowed.

February brought more weekend weather interruptions, and a trip to Mankato was pushed into March because of Mother Nature. The trip was then cancelled entirely when I ended up with a bout of strep throat.

Finally, on March 16, I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed a road trip.

(If we’re measuring wants versus needs here, I stand by my statement. For my sanity, I needed a road trip!)

I didn’t care that we were in for freezing rain and sleet that evening. It didn’t even bother me that I had to drive on a mostly rain-covered highway during the last 30 miles (ice-covered the last few miles) toward home that night.

It felt absolutely glorious to get away, even for just one day. Not even the Twin Cities traffic could spoil my fun.

This may have been picture-perfect in January, but not in April.

The only thing on my shopping list was a $3 skein of specialty thread not available at any store within a two-hour radius of Worthington. (Please don’t question my want-versus-need. My family does a fine job of that already!)

As Greta Garmin directed me from needlework shop to German restaurant, German meat market, German bakery and Norwegian import shop, I happened upon the park with the giant spoon and cherry that I’d only ever seen in photographs. I caught glimpses of Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium as I maneuvered city streets and interstate traffic, and I did it all with a smile on my face. I was free — free of snow and ice and sleet and cold — for most of a single day.

A day away does wonders for the soul.

So here it is, the first week in April, and the snow is piling up outside yet again. I’m ready for it to be over, but I am feeling a bit more content than I was a few weeks ago. My thread purchase allowed me to finish a Hardanger doily I’d been working on, and I have several more pieces that I’d like to finish before the fishing opener — 15 more pieces, to be exact. One dozen ornaments, a centerpiece, a medium-sized doily and a small-sized doily. If they’re finished by early May, it will have been the most productive winter of stitching I’ve had.

At the same time, I’ve been able to clear nearly an entire section of books from my bookshelf. Audio books checked out from the Nobles County Library and through the Plum Creek system have allowed me to keep stitching and doing the mundane household chores this winter. And because we’re doing a reading incentive program at The Globe this year, I’ve kept track of the titles.

I’m currently on book #29. Since early January.

Yes, it’s been a long winter.

The Wintertime Trifecta

We Minnesotans like to complain about the weather, this I know to be true. It’s either too hot or too cold. There’s too much rain or not enough, too much snow or not enough, too many days when the sun doesn’t shine.

And then there is the wind; always we seem to have the wind.

If we didn’t have to complain about the weather, what would we have to complain about? I mean, really, we live in the land of 10,000 lakes. We can find nature’s beauty from the Blue Mounds of Rock County to the Lake Superior shoreline and everywhere in between.

It’s just that, well, it’s too darn cold to go exploring — at least for me, that is.

And so, I’m stuck in my house, trying to keep from going stir-crazy.

Winter. It’s the season for doing all of those mundane household tasks I’m always too busy (or too disinterested in) to do any other time of the year … like cleaning out the closets, vacuuming under the bed or organizing photos in albums.

Not that I’ve done any of those things, well, except for the vacuuming.

I weeded through my needlework stash last weekend, pulling out all of the fabric I was never going to use due to my already bifocal-aided eyes. Through some online selling, I shipped off packages to such tropical paradises as Florida and Hawaii, telling my fellow needlework addicts I wish I could ship myself to their locale as well.

Although, I pondered, if it wasn’t -20 degrees in my lovely hometown, I wouldn’t be spending my weekends working with needle and thread.

Winter. It’s my season to stitch. With the stitching lamp above my head and the electric heater at my feet, who cares what the weather is doing outside!

After selling several pieces of higher count fabrics, I feel a little better about my stash, although I shouldn’t. The time spent on the computer selling items also lured me to online needlework shops and cross-stitch addict sites where I found specialty fabrics and threads I just had to have. A few packages have already arrived, making me feel like a kid on Christmas morning. (Only an addict will understand!)

To break up my stitching time, there are plenty of other things to do in the house — like organize my boxes of tea. How can one person have 12 boxes of tea? I either need to start drinking more tea or I need to stop looking at all of the tantalizing varieties in the grocery store.

The problem with having too many options is I spend 10 minutes trying to figure out if I want raspberry tea, peppermint tea, cinnamon and spice tea, vanilla tea,apple tea or plain old Earl Grey. I’m now sipping a cup of vanilla tea and wishing I had chosen the raspberry tea instead!

Oh well, tea and needlework, needlework and tea — that’s what’s getting me through this winter. Well, those and audiobooks. I’ve discovered they are great to listen to while stitching, and I’m able to log them as part of the library’s winter reading program.

It’s like the trifecta of wintertime joy, right in my own living room!

Now if you’ll excuse me, Chapter 10 and my latest needlework project are patiently waiting.

A Christmas Wish Too Big to Fill

Dear Santa,

I know you’re real busy and there’s no time to waste.

You probably won’t read this, you’re in such a haste.

After all, you have lists to make and check twice,

and then to remember who’s “Naughty” and “Nice.”

The elves are bustling with much to complete,

and Rudolph must be readied to light up the street.

Much has been done, yet there’s so much to do.

I understand if you don’t have time for me, too.

But my wish this Christmas, well, there’s really just one.

I want to be a kid for a day. Yes, I know it can’t be done.

My excitement for Christmas is missing this year.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve lost that holiday cheer.

If I could be a kid for a day, how swell it would be.

This adulting, sometimes, it’s just not for me.

How I’d like to hear your laughter on Christmas Eve,

instead of strange sounds in a house that creaks.

I’d wish for visions of sugarplums dancing in my head,

instead of imaginary bats and evil thugs while laying in bed.

I’d wish for the excitement on Christmas morn,

when we honor the Christ child so humbly born.

I’d anxiously tear through the gifts piled high,

and play with new toys from morning ’til nigh.

If I was a kid again, that’s what I’d do.

But I’m an adult, and adult I must do.

So Santa, just saying, in case you don’t know,

fancy gifts are unneeded, nothing tied in a bow.

There’s nothing I need left under my tree —

no wishes, no wants, no must-haves for me.

Santa, I love you, but you’re not up to the task,

for the requests I’m making, it’s the bigger guy I must ask.

I’d pray for peace on this Earth, a near-impossible feat,

but if it were possible, it sure would be neat.

I’d pray for Uncle Orv and his battle with cancer,

for miracle cures and for research that matters.

I’d pray for the lonely, the hurt and downtrodden,

for all those who feel as though they’re forgotten.

There’s lots to be wished for, oh Lord from above.

But perhaps what we need is a heart filled with love.