April’s Blizzard: (Part 2)

After my neighbors (I thank God for them!) helped me dig out, I went to the grocery store and restocked my food supply and spent a lot of time on the computer looking at pictures of the snow on social media and watching the weather to get snow totals. (We ended up with about 36 inches!) I saw a post on Facebook from the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, Wisconsin, that explained what was happening to migratory songbirds that had returned to the Midwest before the blizzard struck.

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The Group advised readers that birds which allowed people to approach them were in trouble. They were freezing to death and had nothing to eat. I immediately filled our feeders with sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, and suet for the variety of birds we get here and put out frozen fruit for the robins and other fruit eaters. The hardiest of birds ate and survived, but some didn’t as I was soon to find out.

As Stella and I took our daily walk, I kept my eyes open for animals of all kinds in distress. About a mile from home, I saw a bird sitting atop a snowbank on the side of the road. I took a couple of steps toward it, but it didn’t fly away. Stella bounded over to it to make friends. It didn’t move, even when she was nose to beak with it. It was in trouble. I couldn’t let it die there, so decided to pick it up. When I cupped my hands around it, it tried to hop away but was too weak. I rested my thumb over its feet to keep it still, unzipped my parka, and nestled it against my stomach to keep it warm, then zipped the jacket up as far as I could.

hermit thrush stomach

I hoofed it back home and called the Raptor Group. The lady I spoke with asked me to take a picture of the bird. She identified it as a hermit thrush, an insect eater whose song I’d often heard on my long, country walks.

She instructed me to gather a small box, a towel, and a heating pad to make a warm place for the bird to rest. The lady also told me to give the thrush water if I could coax it to take some. She said someone in Wisconsin Rapids could bring the bird to Antigo the next day if it survived the night. All I had to do was to keep the bird alive until then.

Thrush side view

I did as the woman said and tried to give the bird some water, which it wouldn’t take. I turned the heating pad on low and set it in a box covered with a towel to make a warm little home for the thrush. I carefully put the bird in the box and closed the lid so it remained calm and warm. When I checked on it a couple of hours later, however, it had died. I called the Raptor Center again and let the woman I had spoken to know what had happened. She said it must have been too far gone to survive.

That little bird’s death pained me more than I thought it would. It seemed a symbol of more than just the cruelty of nature. I felt a kinship with that tiny creature. We both were trying to survive in an inhospitable place, where unwanted snow, instead of flowers and leaves, arrives in the middle of April. Just as I did during that  unexpected blast of winter, I’m sure that sweet-voiced creature wished for the warmth of its southern home.

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The Blizzard of April 2018 (Part 1)

By mid-April in the South, temperatures routinely reach the 70s and 80s. Dogwoods, red buds, and azaleas bloom, grass turns green, and leaves green up the spectral branches of trees. To get my fill of warm weather that is still to come in Wisconsin, I usually watch the season in its glory as I watch the Master’s on TV. Living in the Midwest, I miss that slow unfolding of the spring every year, and here in Wisconsin I wear wool sweaters and pour over seed catalogs dreaming of warmer days.

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Bumblebee on a Red Bud tree blossom

Even after 20 years in the Midwest, I remain an eternal optimist that spring will reach Wisconsin before May, but that’s rare. This year, like last year, we had an April snowstorm, though not nearly as bad in Wisconsin as it was in the plains. The threat of a snowstorm this year brought back vivid flashbacks of last year’s blizzard. You’ll see why when I share the pictures. Today is the one year anniversary of that epic storm.

Beginning at night on Friday, April 13, 2018 (how appropriate) and ending on April 15, a blizzard vanquished our spring in one weekend. Mother Nature showed off by dropping every kind of precipitation on us, beginning with rain and ending with a blizzard. Snow on snow on snow. So much snow fell for so long it felt apocalyptic.

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What I saw after the blizzard when I opened my front door.

On Sunday evening after the snow had stopped, the weather in Green Bay recorded 33 inches of snow on the ground. At my house six foot drifts covered everything. I’ve never seen so much snow. It piled up so high I couldn’t leave my house. And except for my Stella, my loyal Labrador, I was alone. My husband was in South Korea for the entire month on his last deployment there. Before he left at the end of March, we had a six inch snowfall, and while he was clearing that away, our snow blower broke. He parked it in the garage and said, “You won’t need that while I’m gone.” Right.

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Hubby’s car is under here somewhere!

The world was white and cold, the snow too deep to walk through. I tried and sank to my thighs in the backyard. I shoveled the back patio so Stella could go out and use the bathroom. She sank to her chest where there were no drifts.

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Stella exploring the drifts.

I tried to shovel the path out my front door, but the snow was too heavy. I ended up paying a neighbor kid fifty dollars to shovel my front porch and a path from my back door to the garage entrance. I waited for help. Before my husband left, he’d talked to our neighbors and asked them to help me if I needed it while he was gone. They called and let me know they help as soon as they dug themselves out. Then my closest neighbor’s snowblower broke. Keith, our further away neighbor, tried to use his machine, but it wouldn’t even make a dent in the huge amounts of snow in his driveway. We were all stuck.

car under snow

Finally, when I thought I might be stuck there until it melted, one of the neighbors from further away show up with a skid steer.

Skid steer to the rescue
Skid steer to the rescue!

It took awhile but I finally could see the driveway. I could finally get out of the house and walk around the neighborhood. But I had no idea what I would find a couple of days later.

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Birds of “Paradise”

If winter in Wisconsin is as cold as Dante’s 9th circle of Hell where Satan dwells, then summer in Wisconsin must be paradise.

This summer has been particularly lovely, especially if you love hot weather or are from the South like I am. We’ve had lots of rain this year, mostly in the afternoons and evenings, enough to keep me from having to water my plants and vegetable garden too much. All that rain has made the yard and landscape look almost tropical it’s so lush and green.

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View from the end of my driveway of an imminent storm.

Unlike the South, however, we rarely worry about terrible humidity. Our dew points regularly have been in the mid-fifties to low sixties, except for a few days. Warm enough to go barefoot, but cool enough to wear a sweatshirt from time-to-time and sit by a campfire without sweltering and getting eaten up by mosquitoes. That’s paradise!

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One of my favorite things in summer here is to open the windows and let in the warm air, sweet smells, and birdsong of summer. We sleep with our windows open from late spring until about the end of July usually or until it gets too hot. That means we wake to Aldo Leopold’s “dawn chorus” of songbirds claiming their territory. A sweeter sound I can’t imagine. Unfortunately, summer is ending soon. Many of the songs we usually hear have disappeared from our early mornings. Some birds remain, like tree swallows and cedar waxwings. They still visit each afternoon to bathe and drink from the stream and pond behind out house and fill the air with their whistles, pops, and clicks.

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cedar waxwings

But most of the birds have raised their young and are gathering food to ready themselves for the trip back south. The maple tree my hubby saved after a storm packing high winds partially uprooted it is standing upright again, but we no longer hear the baby robin that he put back into its nest high up in that maple. Even the sandhill cranes aren’t trumpeting their prehistoric calls much these days. They are still fiercely protective of their young. Here is a family of three that I saw in the field I pass when I walk my dog. Sorry the photo is a bit grainy, but they are fierce so I kept my distance.

sandhill cranes

Other birds that we regularly see and hear at our stream are indigo buntings, goldfinches, yellow warblers, rose-crested grosbeaks, gray catbirds (usually just outside our window), and just two days ago, a rarely sighted scarlet tanager. I wonder if this fascination with birds is a sign of my getting older. My grandmother and Aunt Marion used to watch birds too. I still remember the rimmed baking pan filled with birdseed they set out on the window unit air conditioner. Watching the birds feed there was my first experience of birds up close. Maybe I’m not getting old; maybe I’m only taking time to notice what I once didn’t take the time to see.

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male indigo bunting

One day I will fly south along with these birds. On the heels of summer I will arrive someplace arm to spend the winter snug in my southern home while Wisconsin lies buried under a white blanket and awaits the colorful birds and warm temperatures that turn an icy landscape into a summer paradise again.

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male scarlet tanager

 

An Artful Summer Weekend

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This is the first thing I saw after the rain on the way to Arts on the Square

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity, not just creativity in writing, but in all aspects of life. I think exercising our creativity could mean the difference in living a happy life versus a mundane one. Plus, it has been a while since I’ve engaged in art for pure delight. I think that’s why I’ve been struggling to find a routine that allows me to get in a creative flow. Last week I checked out two books to help me tame the monkey mind and engage my artistic mind. You may have heard of them: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’m finding out a lot about how creativity works as well as being reminded of what I knew already, which is that we must play to awaken our creativity and let our minds “romp like the mind of God.” That’s what I did this past weekend, one of the best summer weekends in Waupaca, the annual Arts on the Square weekend, which is put on by the Waupaca Community Arts Board.

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More morning glories because they make me happy.

From Shuvani Tribal Bellydancers to poured metal tiles, the 10th Annual Arts on the Square had something for everyone, and it only gets better with each passing year. This year the festival began with events every night last week and culminated in a weekend of music, art, food, and exercise. The Waupaca Triathlon and Ride Waupaca were also held over the weekend, so this area was chock full of things to do!

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Dave Sullivan on guitar.

The only problem was that, sadly, rain was forecast all weekend. I didn’t arrive at the festival until about ten in the morning because of rain. Heavy downpours had already erased the beautiful chalk drawings on the sidewalks in front of downtown businesses by the time I arrived, but they didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The organizers were prepared and had moved the artists who were there to display and sell their wares into the Rec Center (Waupaca Recreation Center), and musicians took shelter either in tents or nearby stores. Music echoed from the food tent, and jazz flowed from the Union Street Emporium where Erin Krebs knocked me out with her vocals! I also watched Dave Sullivan perform his smooth jazz guitar.

After soaking in the visual arts and the jazz on the square, I stopped off at the We Love Waupaca mixed media and collage workshop to make a collage. I wasn’t really sure how to do what Martha Duerr, the person in charge of that tent, wanted me to do at first. We were supposed to think of a place in or near Waupaca that we loved and try to represent it in collage form on a Waupaca map, but we were supposed to leave part of the map showing. Then we could use pastels to finish it. When I’m faced with an “assignment” like that that requires creativity, I rebel against the constraints. I know enough about artistic temperament and creativity to know that rebellion is nothing but resistance, and resistance manifests itself in fear. I was scared to let myself go, to do something someone might think was stupid. But I’m stubborn enough to realize that, because I felt resistance, I had to make a collage.

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The humidity made the tissue paper hard to handle, and the scissors were tiny kid scissors with glitter and glue stuck to them. I felt decidedly uncomfortable. I watched two little kids at the table near me working diligently on their collages and wondered if I could forget my own inhibitions like they had. I remembered what I had been reading about creativity and decided to have fun and see what happened. I thumbed through numerous copies of National Geographic Magazine and bags of pre-cut images and chose the ones that appealed to me. I didn’t know what I wanted to create, but since Bruce is a pilot, I started with an airplane. Then I found a picture of a spillway, and the idea of Hartman Creek State Park came to me, so that is what my collage is supposed to represent. Here it is above (Please excuse the awful picture). Something interesting happened while I was creating the collage. The weather had been sticky and hot for most of the day, but as the collage came together, the rain stopped, the wind picked up and the air cooled way down. The change was palpable, both the change in the weather and in my attitude and release of fear. Coincidence? I’m not so sure.

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Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser with my friend Bill after he recited his haiku “The Paperclip.”

In the poetry and storytelling tent I bought  a book by Jerry Apps to read by the fire during our long Wisconsin winter. It’s called The Quiet Season: Remembering Country Winters. In addition, the current Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Kimberly Blaeser, recited some of her moving poems.  Again in the storytelling tent, I used a manual typewriter that poet Paul Wiegel brought with him. He used them to write poems on demand for anyone who wanted one. I did my best to write a snippet using one of the more “modern” of the machines and hung it on the bulletin board with the others. Let me just say that I had forgotten how clunky and difficult manual typewriters are to use. Thank goodness for computers! In the picture below is my friend Barb on the left in the foreground writing her thoughts, and that is Paul in the hat sitting on the back left.

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The last thing I did was to witness the Waupaca Foundry operate a portable foundry onsite to pour metal tiles. That was really something! People made etchings in sand, and the skilled workers from the foundry poured molten metal into the etched molds. After they cooled, people could take their tiles home. The Waupaca Community Arts Board brought back this project for the second time after the success of the community art project, Tell Your Story in the Tiles, was installed at Waupaca’s South Park.

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This past weekend was rejuvenating and fun. I was able to reconnect with my own creativity and enjoy the talentsof so many artists and musicians and and the hard work of friends and volunteers that make Waupaca such a special place to live.  I ended it yesterday with dinner on the Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes cooked by my friend Mary.  That’s her husband in the above photo with the poet laureate. Bill and Mary own the office supply store Office Outfitters here in Waupaca. I can’t remember when I’ve been so content to call this little town home. 🙂