Our neighborhood is a bit of a mess right now. Yesterday morning we woke to what some estimate to be the third 500 year flood here in less than a decade.
Sit with that for a moment.
It's often difficult to tell how bad the flooding is based on what we can see from the house. So yesterday morning when we saw that the creek (normally just visible from our front porch) was a churning chocolate milk river we knew the flooding was worse than we suspected. The four of us walked to the creek to survey the damage, then tentatively explored the neighborhood, checking in on some friends, and surveying the damages.
I found myself vacillating between being a child-like curiosity about the high water mark and the chilling reality of how serious this truly was.
One neighbor temporarily lost 40 head of cattle to the rising water. Immense beef cattle swept away (along with their fences), coming aground again on a neighboring farm a couple of miles downstream. The water was that fierce and that high. A friend found themselves caught in the rising water, their car swept more than 100 feet out into a cornfield, the river raging all around them. Thanks to the help of the volunteer fire department they made it out safely, but the what-ifs keep rattling in my mind. Not far from here a house was caught in a mudslide, killing the man inside.
Both Crawford and Vernon Counties (where we live and where we work) have declared a state of emergency. With roads washed out, driveways blocked, and bridges collapsed there is a good deal of hard work - and patient waiting - that still needs be done before life can return to normal.
But the snowplows and the road crews were out yesterday, tirelessly clearing rocks, trees, and mud from the roadways. Based on what we have seen, though, it will be a long time before things return to normal around here.
As for our family we're just thankful for the distance between house and creek, that the hillside above us held fast, and that the power is on and our sump pump is keeping the basement relatively dry.
Our animals are safe, our house is standing tall, and we're mostly just grateful that it wasn't any worse. And now we all pray that no more rain falls here for many many days.
And one more thought, no matter where you call home:
Every time I see the creeks rise beyond their banks I worry about E.coli, especially with children. Please, please be safe out there and do what you can to limit contact with flood waters. I know multiple people who have fought for their lives after contracting E. coli from innocent looking flood water. Be careful. We need you.
Stay safe out there, friends.
As you recall, we each got to choose the thing we wanted most to do while we were at the cabin. I took my solo hike that I shared with you yesterday while Pete took the kids to the lake (Sage's pick), Pete did some fishing before dinner. Lupine's turn was next.
Her choice was foraging apples.
I was glad.
It was the main reason she wanted to go up north. To pick wild apples. So we woke early on Sunday while the boys were still asleep and with whispered voices shared breakfast and tea. She wrote (and drew) a note letting them know where we were headed, then we set off before they awoke.
We have a favorite wild "orchard" (a string of feral trees along a country road) where we pick each year. I have picked from some of these same trees since I was a child helping my grandpa fill 5 gallon buckets into the back of his pickup truck. He used them for baiting deer. (Sometimes I wonder if my grandma swiped a few for making sauce. I bet she did.)
I was small and nimble, so he would send me up into the branches to toss down the hanging fruit.
But grandpa was not discriminating. Apples were apples. (They were for the deer, after all.) Lupine and I? We taste, evaluate, and discuss the merits of each tree.
Some wild apples are sharp, tainnic and sour. Others are soft and sweet and juicy. And others aren't even fit for the deer.
We taste, make dramatic faces, then toss the samples over our shoulders and either march on or fill our baskets.
Some sample are so delicious we can't bear to toss them and nibble away on them as we walk between the trees.
Lupine is small and nimble and she clambers up into the branches without being asked. We laugh as apples fall and conk us on the head on occasion, and she tossed down fruit after fruit.
40 or 50 pounds of free apples later we were ready for home.
I shouldered the heavy bags and we set off.
We haven't been to the cabin in more than a year, so when we passed by a neighbor having coffee on his porch, I assumed he wouldn't recognize me.
I was lugging three heavy bags and a basket of apples down a dead-end country road and didn't want to cause him worry. So I called out, "I'd offer you some apples but I know you don't care for the wild ones!"
He laughed. "Oh! That's you! The one who picks the wild apples every year. Nope, don't like the worms."
We paused to chat, then continued home with our harvest.
And it's true. He doesn't eat them, desipte their abundance on his road.
Not in sauce or pies or fresh off the tree. And that's okay with me! We can't all love the same things, can we? That wouldn't be much fun.
Yet each year as we pick these trees I see cars rumbling by and I wonder, "Are they off to buy apples at the grocery store?" Apples shipped from New Zealand or California or Chile. Apples with no spirit or story. Apples where each tastes the same as the last, a predictable red delicious or granny smith - no surprises, no dramatic faces needed on account of their predictable mediocrity.
Not wild apples. They are always unpredictable. I admire that about them. Full of surprises - either unbearably awful or surprising in their complexity.
Wild apples, of course, aren't known for their long storage. So we sorted out the tastiest fruit to eat for snacks, but the rest we'll slice and freeze for winter pies and crisps and - for the bulk of the fruit - transform into applesauce tomorrow.
Because a pantry full of 40 pints or so of free sauce, made from apples that we wrapped in laughter as we tossed them into the bag? That's my kind of treat.
You can find my applesauce recipe here.
On account of Pete missing our trip to the North Shore, I suggested that the four of us slip away for a weekend on the river at my parent's cabin. Somehow more than a year had passed since we last visited as a family. It was time.
The cabin is small and old and frumpily decorated with deer heads and blaze orange hats. Therefore it is perfect. (Obviously.)
Perfect not in a magazine photo shoot sort of way (oh my, no) but rather in that "sit by the fire and knit with your grandma's needles right in the spot where she used to knit" sort of way. Built by my grandpa and my great grandpa, this long history lends a further layer of charm (and, yes, dead animal decor).
Even our name was borrowed from this river when we were engaged, then married upon her banks.
I don't have deeper roots anywhere than here.
Thanks to a friendly neighbor who stepped in for farm chores back home we were able to go. For three quiet, glorious days beside the river. (It's a long drive so I'm not sure we have ever gone for such a short stint, but that was what we could manage this year, and we were so thankful.)
We baked cinnamon rolls in the morning and sat by the river all day. We watched geese fly overhead and listened to the wind through the trees. The kids (brave souls!) even went swimming a few times, despite the mercury barely brushing 70 and the river water cold.
Everyone chose one thing they wanted from the few days we had, and we made time for them all.
My pick? A walk (alone) in the woods.
Alone for the deep quiet of it all. Alone so no one would ask how long I would be off the trail, lying on my belly in wet moss, taking pictures of mushrooms.
For the rare
Hello there! I am Rachel Wolf. Lover of wild places, blogger, homesteader-in-training, unschooling mama, & owner of LüSa Organics. At home in the hills of the Driftless. Welcome!