Monday, December 5, 2016

Navarino offers big trees for a pair of sawbucks

By David Horst

NAVARINO -- For us, getting a Christmas tree is always an adventure.

Our tree is live. It’s cut by us. It is large.

We've had big fat trees, tall conical trees and bigger, fatter trees.

We’ll travel 20 miles for a tree. We have hiked every inch of an 80-acre tree farm and then walked away empty-handed when none of the trees met our -- well, really her -- standards.This year we went to the wild side. Unshorn trees in a former tree farm in the Navarino Wildlife Area were going for $20. Any size. Any species. Sales benefit the Navarino Nature Center.

Past tree stories:
Leaving its mark
The Beast
We've had the traditional balsam and the trendy Fraser, but our species of choice is white spruce. It has the branch heft to handle our weighty ornaments and that something extra.

Sometime after Christmas -- if you are attentive to keeping the water supply topped off -- a spruce that has been severed from its roots and has been living indoors for several weeks, may well start to grow. Green stems sprout from the branch tips and keep growing for five or six inches before it is hauled back to the burning pile. (By the way, burning a dried out Christmas tree will handle your firebug tendencies bigtime.)

With the trailer hitched, tires inflated and tail lights tested, we headed for the Shawano County line. That’s where you will find Navarino Nature Center and the adjacent wildlife area and, once again this coming Saturday (Dec. 10), it will be open for cutting.

With the temperature in the upper 40s, it was a pleasant walk in the woods. We entered into a typical northern woodland but, before too many dozens of steps, we were immersed in conifers.

White pines, balsam, Scotch pine were all there for the taking. Most of them towered above us, but for your $20 you are welcome to cut down a tree that is far too tall for your house, cut off the top for your tree and the branches for your wreaths and other yuletide decorations.Two warnings about Daniel Booning your tree from the woods:

  1. The top of the tree looks a lot more lush and full when it’s 30 feet in the air than when it is felled and lying at your feet.
  2. That really full tree you’ve got your sights on could very well be two or three or more stems that have grown together. Unless you’ve got a really funky tree stand, you are going to be taking home a tree with three bad sides.

These are wild trees and you should expect to celebrate your Christmas with that outdoor spirit.

After 45 minutes of wandering in the woods, we found a potentially acceptable spruce and marked it with a forked twig looped over a branch. Then we set off to find an even better spruce.

Half an hour later, we hadn’t found the ideal white spruce and had no idea where our marked tree was.

With the time in the woods having passed the two-hour mark, we located two worthy spruce trees a few steps from each other. Eyeing up their relative branch density, trunk straightness and brown needle count, we chose the one slightly more northern.

Our living room ceiling is a hair over 12 feet high, so we lopped off 15 feet of tree and dragged it back to the road. Sweat-drenched and panting, we presented ourselves to the Navarino volunteers, who took pity and loaded the tree into our eight-foot the trailer.

Once home, I successfully negotiated the tree back to 12 feet, 8½ inches. We dragged it through the front door, affixed the tree stand and, using every memory of strength I’ve ever had, lifted it upright.The good thing about a tree that big is that once you get it perpendicular, it stays in place just by the force of its own weight.

This was a successful tree hunt because it gave us another adventure and another story to share. Placing hundreds of lights, selecting favorite ornaments and remembering their stories still lie ahead. That’s when this collection of branches and needles dragged into our house goes from being a spruce tree to a Christmas tree.

But from now on, I may need to knock off a couple of inches for each additional year I age.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Smaller turnout in the locks was OK

By David Horst

This was a far cry from 150 boats.

That's how many kayaks, canoes and stand-up boards we expected to show up at Lutz Park for the Appleton Locks Paddle.

That was before the one-week delay, due to hazardously high water flow on the Fox River, and the forecast for rain all day on our substitute date, Oct. 1.

The 38 boats that showed up didn't pack the locks full, as photos of past years' trips testify. No clanking of gunwales. No pushing of boats into the path of the lock gates.

We saw immature eagles. We saw an osprey. We saw deer nosing along the edge of the yards on the north side of the river.

Friends gather for a group shot after a laid back 6-mile Appleton Locks Paddle.
And it didn't even rain.

It has seemed at times that our North East Wisconsin Paddlers public paddle events have fallen victim to their own success. It is fun to turn out a big crowd and enjoy the variety of boat colors and designs, and personalities of their owners. A flotilla like that nails our goal of getting people out on the water, but a smaller crowd has its charms.

I was able to have extended conversations under paddle power with the veteran paddler who drove up from Milwaukee, the former municipal worker who put up with my recitation of the history of the Appleton sewage treatment plant's anaerobic digesters and guy who is much closer to a real farmer than I am.

The logistIcs of launching and landing were were not on a scale with Normandy, as some of these outings seem to be. The group wasn't stretched over miles of River. It was just nice.

These outings are essentially planned by three guys and pulled off on launch day with a lot of help from just a few more. It was up to the three of us to make go, no-go decision. We made the absolutely right call.

The previous Thursday, the flow created a 2-foot standing wave of water rushing from the navigation channel to the open gates of the dam, eager to take someone along for the ride. Now the surface was flat, though the pull of the current was still real enough to kindle an active imagination to consider how bad of a day that would be.

As we pulled into Sunset Park in Kimberly, I realized this was it for the season and my mind turned to what we will ask all of these people to do with us next year. I'll be OK if for some of those trips, they count in the dozens instead of the hundreds.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ellen's 'Migration'

By David Horst

The love of my life and I visited the Green Bay Botanical Garden this summer. As we always do, we went to the domed Stumpf Belevedere gazebo to read the line of Ellen Kort's poetry inscribed there.

Ellen Kort
It was the first time we had been there since Ellen's passing more than a year ago. There was such a powerful feeling of loss that we had to leave the shelter.

We knew Ellen. I had the pleasure of working with her on a couple of small projects and I worked with her late son, Kris. My wife taught her grandson and knows her daughters.

To be honest, hundreds of people were closer to Ellen Kort than I was, yet I felt the loss. It was something about her poet's heart and peaceful presence that made people feel a closer connection than the facts could justify.

My most special interaction with Ellen was having her respond to a column I wrote about taking part in the Midwest Crane Count -- watching the sun come up over a farm field and recording the activities of the sandhill cranes.

She called me and read a poem to me over the phone. I didn't include the full poem at the time because she hadn't published it yet. A recent email asked if I could provide the full text.

Here it is. My wish is that we all see Ellen's shadow on the ground at times that we are in need of calm.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

At Home with Hummers

Each year nature seems to send a special gift to us up on the sandhill we call home. Last year, it was a bounty of monarch caterpillars transforming into butterflies. In recent weeks, we have been surrounded by frolicking hummingbirds.

Six, seven, maybe eight hummingbirds will fly high-speed sorties around our house, chasing each other to get the advantage at each of three feeders.

They will swoop up and down in arcs in front of the house, or scramble around back to catch their tiny breath on a twig. Stand on the back deck and you are certain you are going to have a hummer beak stuck in your ear.

They have been the source of hours of enjoyment, some of which I will share here.