Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Becky Thatcher

It felt like a Becky Thatcher sort of day.

Let me back up a little bit to explain. Last week marked the beginning of the late summer birthday season in my family. My father-in-law turned 79 on Wednesday, my father turned 72 on Friday, my stepmother turned 55 on Sunday, my youngest turns 20 this Saturday, and my Most-Perfect-Uncle will turn 60 a week from Wednesday. And the birthdays continue into September, too!

So last week my father-in-law asked if the family could join him for fishing on the float in Alma on the Mississippi River to celebrate his birthday. "Bronny, you should come, too," he insisted. (Yes, there is a small population of humans who get away with calling me "Bronny;" my college classmates and my husband's family. Period.) Today worked out as the only day most of us could show up. So my husband, his brother Larry, one of our sons, Joren, and I piled in the pick-up truck this morning to go join Grampa on the raft for a day of fishing.

My father-in-law is a bit of a prankster and I take it as a sign of affection and approval that he likes to tease and try to play pranks on me. But now and then I have to zing him back, just to maintain respect. So today I grabbed my antique fishing pole to take to the raft. Last month Dale and I found a 14 foot long bamboo fishing pole in the rafters of one of our sheds. We're relatively certain it hasn't seen the light of day, much less the kiss of cool water, for over 30 years.

Grampa DuWayne just laughed when I brought my over-long, unsophisticated fishing pole on the raft today. It got all kinds of longing looks from the old timers. And the youngsters (anyone younger than me at almost 50) looked at it like it was some strange device, perhaps akin to a telephone that actually dials and doesn't require electricity. Using a combination of DuWayne's tackle and my fly fishing gear, I tied a line to the thin end of the bamboo, loaded it up with a big, old red and white bobber, added a sinker, a modest hook, and a juicy big worm. I tossed the rig into the water and waited . . . .

I had a sunfish on the line in less than three minutes. WooHoo!

So here's the Becky Thatcher part. I got to spend the day on this amazing raft below the Alma Dam on the Mississippi fishing with a bunch of guys, and no one gave me grief when I just swung my Sunfish over to them for removal. I did grab a couple off the line myself, and I dealt with my own worms 95% of the time. I caught 14 Sunnies with the antique equipment and five of them were keepers.

The guys were mostly spin casting. They caught a lot of Sheepshead, which we keep and donate to the Eagle Center in Wabasha. They were catching Sunnies, too, and a northern and a few Small Mouth Bass. It was a good day to be on the water; upper 80's and humid. Cloud cover that rolled in in the early afternoon kept us from truly baking. Joren caught a nap in the recliner on the porch as well as a number of fish.

We had some excitement over the course of the day, too. Grampa DuWayne caught a 42 inch, 6 1/2 pound Gar with a split lower jaw. This is the kind of fish, that as an avid River Rat, who frequently swims in the Mighty Mississip, I would rather not see. Confirmation of prehistoric fish with a long jaw full of sharp teeth does not warm the heart. But is was impressive, nonetheless.

Several turtles were also caught. After I tired of the knots on my old fashioned fishing rig I switched to Arthur's spin casting Shakespeare rod, in honor of his absence due to work. (He put in a 14 hour day today!) I caught my biggest Sunny with his rig, and the biggest snapping turtle of the day! What a hoot.

And when they finally got him loose from the hook and the landing net, I was perched atop a bench to stay clear of the turtle temper tantrum.

Like Becky Thatcher, as much as I like hanging out with the boys, I'm still a girl who likes to wear pretty dresses at heart. (I did wear my Hawaiian Seahorse Sundress for fishing today!)

We concluded our antics with a stop at the Eagle Center in Wabasha to drop off a five gallon bucket of fresh fish and got a free pass to the staff area after hours and a personal audience with Angel, one of the Bald Eagles in residence. VERY COOL.

Did I mention that while on the raft we were buzzed by the biggest immature American Bald Eagle I have ever laid eyes on.

Wow! What a day. Thank you, Skovemen, for taking me fishing today. It truly was a blessing. Sunnies for supper were outstanding.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Grampa!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cutting the . . .

 . . . GRASS!

Mowing the lawn.

Curtailing the prairie.

Call it what you want, but in this family we have a backyard that never ends. And taking a two week vacation during the summer monsoon season equals a big mowing job upon return.

Our fleet of vehicles to tackle this job includes two derelict lawn tractors that no longer run, one all-but-dead mower that Dale drags behind the tractor (the same tractor he uses to drag the slightly functional snow-blower each winter that leads to using the front loader-bucket and scraping most of the gravel driveway into the yard), two push-mowers; one that I bought used a few years ago to do the trimming and a new Honda Dale bought last Summer to replace the most recently dead rider-mower, and two weed-whackers; one that functions and one that hasn't whacked for years.

(FOUL LANGUAGE WARNING: I grew up with a father who can really swear. And then I started hanging out with a bunch of River Rats who can really swear. And then I went to college, and my swearing was not frowned upon. And then I married a Baptist who very occasionally swears. It hasn't cured me of swearing. Sorry. Consider yourself warned.)

So the mowable area of our yard is currently LONG and juicy as a result of lots of rain, high dew points, and plenty of shade. Yesterday we finally had dry enough grass to tackle the part south and west of the driveway with the push mower. Joren took it on and when I examined his brief effort I realized that he was moving faster than the mower could handle. His tracks looked like 1/3 of the blades were actually cutting grass. (I am aware that it only has one blade. But earlier this summer during a different temper tantrum my husband reported that the mower was "cutting like horseshit because some moron had the blade upside down." Hmmmm . . . wonder who did that?)

Tonight Dale fired up the tractor to start knocking down the tallest stuff and I fired up the "new" Honda to take up where Joren had left off yesterday (with the blade right-side-up). BAD IDEA.

First of all, Dale's tracks with the big tractor looked like some strange wind gusts had blown through the yard. Some of the grass was clearly cut, but most of it simply looked crushed or blown over. The Honda push mower, purchased approximately one year ago, no longer has the exit flaps attached. It simply blows grass, sticks, stone, and dog shit right out a gaping hole on the right side of the mower deck. All the fancy plastic shit that should attach to the deck to direct the spew of crap from under the mower is broken beyond a duct tape or McGyver sort of repair. So it's mowing at your own risk with crap flying all over. Eye protection is required and a flack jacket is recommended.

It wouldn't be so bad to power through the shit storm if this mower actually cut the grass.

But the "self-propelled" assist creates its own problem. It's a pain in the ass when you need to back up, and when the grass is long and wet the front wheels simply sit and spin. Hell, my immobile mother could run this outfit smoking her precious cigarettes as fast as I can push it in the hopes that it actually cuts the grass in front of it!

I worked myself into a frenzy of disappointment in about six rounds of the driest, shortest part of the yard when Dale pulled up with the less-than-adequate tractor rig. I motioned him to slow down in the belief that if he went slower the mower behind the tractor would actually cut all of the grass it encountered. He stopped to get clarification of my hand signals. I started harping about all the stupid lawn mowing equipment on the property and he climbed off the tractor and started the push-mower when I was in mid sentence.

FUCK YOU! I thought.

He said, "Let me take it for a spin," as though I am incapable of understanding the finer points of pushing a goddamn mower through the fucking grass. My father at least had the sense to purchase solid beasts that cut the fucking grass. As I turned to walk away I simply said, "Oh, I wasn't talking or anything. . . ."

I shoved four bottles of beer into my bright red neoprene six-pack carrier, tucked the carrier against my belly under a tucked in t-shirt, donned my helmet, and kicked my trusty Yamaha Enduro 250 into action to ride to Peggy's house. (She lives less than two miles away through the corn and bean fields with less than 100 yards of gravel road from the field driveway to hers.) Upon arrival I walked in and asked the residential population who wanted a beer. Peggy asked what I was up to.

I responded, "I am AWOL from mowing."

We sat in her room chatting about lovely subjects, reflecting on the best parts of Summer as we sipped a couple of beers together. Her grandson, Kaden, and I discussed the merits and technicalities of sword fighting vs. light sabers and force-field shields. I vented about my husband who has no sense of urgency about fixing any damn thing. She delighted in having the summer off from work. I expounded on the excellence of having had a three week vacation that included projects at home, traveling with friends, and celebrating a wedding with family. I high-tailed it home just before sunset.

And there was my friend Mary's motorcycle in the driveway upon my arrival home. I am completely blessed with friends who are where you need them when you need them without even asking.

Lawn mowing be damned.

Classified: WANTED - sturdy, steel, sharp, powerful lawnmower that requires no TLC. Must be able to cut long, wet grass. No frills. Willing to pay $50 or less for used yet dependable machine. Call me if you have a machine that truly fits my criteria. I am not looking for a lawnmower that will groom a landscaped yard. I need a power machine that will cut the fucking grass. We live on a farm, not in an association-organized suburb. Will consider higher payment for demonstrated excellent restoration of a used Terraferminator. Kitten Clippers need not apply. (You really should watch the clip linked on the Terraferminator :) BCSkov