Who are we? We are our stories.

Monday, August 27, 2012

"The Shack"

Larry and Linda called it "The Shack", mostly because he didn't want his employees to think he was living fat on the lake, want their cut and ask him for a raise. It was next door to us, their weekend house. Honestly, the house wasn't much. It had no insulation, a crumbling foundation, an antique gravity furnace and minimal wiring. It was small and not well built even when it was new. There was no fine woodwork or details.

But it was situated down the hill, so our view out of the north window or from the high deck was across a lawn punctuated with bur oaks all the way to Joanie's house. It seemed as if we had no neighbors. Miss it? Hell yes, we'll miss it. Maude was an Oakwood institution. She helped raise our young daughter. She lived there in Oakwood for 65 years, documenting her life in a weekly newspaper column in the Albert Lea Tribune. She was a great neighbor. And as I get older, any change is hard.

The new house will be wonderful, but because of the lot size and layout, it will be very close to us. It will be next door, not down the hill. We will have next door neighbors. Eventually, if the actuary tables are correct, Larry and I will die, leaving our wives to cope with life as widows, those crazy old Hanson sisters, living in Oakwood, next door to each other. Supporting each other. Or ... possibly even living in the same house?

And she was eaten by a yellow, steel dinosaur, punched to smithereens, crunched to splinters, and packed into four neat Thompson Sanitation coffins to be hauled away for a proper burial. R.I.P. The Shack.

Knauer's Meat Market - R.I.P.

Take two minutes. Read this. Note the last comment. Bummer.   :-(

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Houdini and Jack's Kids

This is a watercolor by the late Bob Muschler. Bob was a friend who raised homing pigeons. Bob loved all the birds. This bird's name was Houdini. He was a winner and Bob loved him enough that he painted a picture of him. Every year he also made a limited edition figure of one of his favorites which were collected by homing pigeon aficionados. Joanie recently gave me this painting and the figurine. The painting is now hanging on the Growlery wall and the little statue looks pretty damned fine sitting on my desk. 

Jack and Nancy Hockenberry
The other day Joanie was over and she mentioned that Nancy Hockenberry had called her and told her to watch America's Got Talent because her son Tim was a contestant. I don't know Nancy, but I worked with her husband Jack for two or three years, so I am somewhat familiar with the family. I looked on YouTube and apparently Tim is still winning. So here's Tim. 

And here's their son John speaking at the TED talks. John has a number of Emmys and Peabodys. A remarkable family (even Jack). There is also a sister, Amy I believe, but I couldn't find any public videos of her. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Swallows and Swifts

I've been reading Dunwoody Pond, a book by John Janovy, Jr. It has a chapter on the dynamics of cliff swallow colonies and how they are affected by their parasites. Okay, I know this may seem like a bunch of esoteric bullshit to some people, but it isn't. It helps me understand the world I live in. And anyway, even if it were bullshit, it's the job of writers to write it down, and it is the job of readers to read it. So Janovy writes it, and I read it.

The bicycle trail from Lanesboro to Harmony runs along the Root River and passes under a highway bridge just east of Preston. When you ride under it you can't help noticing the colony of cliff swallows overhead, twittering and swooping in and out of the nests. In fact there is even a bench where you can sit and admire the birds coming and going. After reading Mr. Janovy's book, I will never be able to look at a cliff swallow colony again without seeing the fleas, feather lice and swallow bugs - a bedbug that makes a pretty good living off of swallows. When I stopped to take the picture last week the birds were done raising their young and were gathering or already on their way to Argentina for the winter.

The picture below has nothing to do with the swallows. The fellow on the bench asked me to help him with his spinning reel. I sat down beside him and began untangling the monofilament wrapped behind the spool. I asked him what he was fishing for and what he used for bait. "Trout - mostly browns. Some people use flies of course, and others use spinners. I usually chop up a chub and hook little pieces on a small hook. Fly fishing is fun I guess, but if you actually want to catch fish, chub pieces are the best."  Probably good advise if a person's goal is to actually catch fish. Surprisingly, I was able to help him with his birdsnest.

For whatever reasons the Root River Valley seems to be good habitat for swallows and swifts. In Lanesboro I've noticed the barn swallow nests tucked under eaves and I see them flying overhead every evening as I sit on our deck and smoke my cigar and kill the last beer of the day. It certainly isn't mosquitoes that feed them. There are very few - so it's probably midges and various other hatches on the river and streams.

A quarter of a mile up the trail is Preston and the old school. The following is from the Fillmore County Journal.  
The number one chimney swift site in the state of Minnesota as determined by the Audubon Minnesota Swift Counts in 2011 is the former Preston Elementary School chimney, which is now Trailhead Inn and Suites. Population counts had been conducted at over 200 sites within the state in 2011. Last August 30 around sunset, 1100 chimney swifts were counted circling over the 65-foot tall historic chimney before funneling down for a good night’s rest. The chimney is nearing 100 years old and has likely been a destination for the swifts since its construction. Swifts gather for communal roosts in large chimneys.
Greg Munson, former director of the Quarry Hill Nature Center, became aware this last spring of some damage to the old chimney, probably from a lightening strike. He initiated the effort to repair the historic chimney. The chimney has not functioned for the purpose for which it was designed, for the building’s furnace, for many years. Munson contacted owner Steve Corson and was given permission to repair and stabilize the chimney. The Minnesota DNR Non-Game Wildlife Division provided $4,500 for the repair of the chimney which has been completed.
At a May 2011 Preston City Council meeting, Munson presented plans for a tower/kiosk to be located in front of the Trailhead Inn near the bathrooms. The tower could provide a nesting site for a pair of chimney swifts. The kiosk would have educational materials on each of the four sides about swifts and possibly about cliff swallows and turkey vultures, which are also prevalent in the area. The tower is planned to be 16 feet tall with a 4-foot by 4-foot base to be made of concrete block. The DNR has expressed an interest concerning the installation of a camera, similar to the “eagle cam.”
Funding for building the tower/kiosk has been obtained ($300 from Zumbro Valley Audubon Society of the greater Rochester area, $300 from Minnesota Audubon, $2,000 from the Corson family, and $1,000 from the Preston Foundation.
City Administrator Joe Hoffman confirmed that the city has approved the building of the tower/kiosk on city property contingent on an agreement between the parties involved. At the city council’s July 16 meeting Hoffman reported that the city attorney had drafted an agreement as directed in May. However, Zumbro Valley Audubon wasn’t receptive to being responsible for liability and maintenance and asked that the city accept these responsibilities. The city council is concerned mostly about future maintenance and has invited Zumbro Valley Audubon to their August 6 meeting to work out an agreement between them for the liability coverage and maintenance of the tower/kiosk. Until there is an agreement, construction of the tower/kiosk is on hold. 
The designation as the number one gathering site for the chimney swifts in the state is yet another visitor attraction for the city of Preston.

Chimney swifts gather in huge flocks in late summer-early fall preparing for their migration south to the Peruvian Amazon Basin where they spend our winter. 
Preston’s historic chimney attracts the fast flying, insect eating birds for their over night resting place. Swifts don’t perch but cling to a vertical wall like this brick chimney. Swift numbers have been declining, possibly due to a reduction in the number of masonry chimneys available for roosting and nesting. Many old chimneys have been capped. The preservation of old chimneys could help stabilize the population of the chimney swift. 
Audubon describes the chimney swifts as four and three-quarters inches to five and one-half inches, about sparrow sized. They have a brownish gray body which appears black in flight and a very short tail. The small spines on the tail are used for support while roosting. Their wings are long, narrow and curved. The swifts have a wing span of about 12 inches and weigh less than an ounce. They communicate with loud, chattering twitters.
Swifts are built for speed and are great aerialists. They are among the fastest fliers in the bird world. They have been described as a flying cigar. They breed and roost in chimneys and feed entirely while in flight on flying insects. They also bathe and drink out of bodies of water while in flight. Twigs for their nests are gathered while in flight. Once they leave their roosting location in the morning, they stay in flight all day until they return to the roosting location in the evening.
Nests are made of twigs fastened together with saliva and attached to the inner wall of chimneys, air shafts, and occasionally a hollow tree.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Divot

At our cottage in Lanesboro we don't have much on-street parking, but as the boulevard is very wide and there is no curb, we just pull the car off the road - note the tire tracks.

Evan, the young man who mows our yard, is twelve years old, an impressionable age. He needs an older, wiser man to misguide him. I have volunteered to fill that roll. The car needed to be moved so he could do his lawn maintenance thing. As at that age I was driving a Massey-Harris 44, I felt it was time for Evan to take the wheel. When I asked him if he wanted to move the car, he seemed stunned, claiming that he didn't even know which pedals to push. I assured him that there was no problem, I would talk him through everything. So when his father and Lorna were momentarily distracted, Evan and I got in the Honda, moved the seat forward, strapped in, and carefully reviewed the controls. After I checked both ways, we made our move. There was not another car in sight. What could possibly go wrong? Evan eased his foot on the gas. As it was an uphill slope I suggested a little more gas. We went up onto the street at a pretty fair clip. As we were going across the street, I said, "Brake ... BRAKE!" Evan did the logical thing. He pushed his foot down hard. On the accelerator. We slammed to a halt when the trailer hitch and brackets buried themselves in the slope of Keith Burmeister's yard across the street.

In the tradition of good sportsmen everywhere, we dug the chunks of sod out of our undercarriage and replaced the two foot divot. The grass is still a little torn up, but I think it'll eventually come back.  


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Georgena Terry

This is Lorna's Terry. As she is not a tall woman, there are all the toe lap and other small frame issues. While the problem can be solved other ways, the older Terry frames seemed to be a straight forward way of dealing with it - as long as a person can get by the non-typical appearance of the bike. This may also have contributed to the low price I caught this one at.

The components on it were pretty low end. Because of the steep Church Hill in Lanesboro she needs some serious gearing, so I bought a V.O. triple crankset (on sale). A Nitto long stem gets the bars up where she likes them. She also likes indexed shifters close to her finger tips, so I found these on the Bay, some 80s vintage Shimano rocker shifters. Don't remember what they are really called, but they rock back and forth. As the original RD would not wrap enough chain, I found an old 7-speed long cage rear derailleur in a miscellaneous box in our basement. She gets the  Dura Ace brakes, again because I already had them.

Lorna walks a lot with her friend. They usually meet on a neutral location and walk around the lake. They walk with Nordic hiking sticks and she needed a way to transport them. Again to the basement, where a Tubus Fly rack was waiting. The original mounting paraphernalia was long gone, but because the Terry mounting holes lift it way up, it wouldn't have worked anyway. So, with a hacksaw, drill, file, and aluminum bar stock, eventually I came up with a gerry-rigged front mount. Works good, looks okay. I may redo and lengthen the vertical strap to level the rack better.