It was one year ago when my wife and I made a momentous decision to keep ourselves safer from COVID-19, by relocating our life to our vacation home on Goose Lake, located in Adams County, in rural central Wisconsin. While we have enjoyed our home there for the past 19 years (camping on the undeveloped 86 acres we own for 10 years prior to that), before last March, we had never spent more than 2 weeks there. So, while we believed we had made the right decision to keep ourselves safe, only time would tell whether moving from close to downtown Madison to Goose Lake, where our closest neighbor lives about a half a mile away, would work out well for us.
While I have occasionally blogged about our transition to rural life, now that a year has gone by, I thought I would use Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac as a model for an annual review of our life on Goose Lake. Published n 1949, Leopold chronicled his life and the nature that surrounded him in his shack not far from Goose Lake. This now classic environmental treatise does not have to be read in order, as the chapters are divided by the 12 months of the year-offering Leopold’s keen observations for each month. His observations still ring true for many of my observations at Goose Lake, and I often pick up his book and read his writings about whatever month we happen to be in at the time. So, without further ado, here is my monthly chronicle of a year at Goose Lake.
We moved to Goose Lake after celebrating my in-laws’ 69th anniversary in St. Louis. In retrospect, that trip was risky due to the pandemic, but fortunately, no one succumbed to COVID. So, when we returned to Madison, we loaded up the car with supplies and began our new life living at Goose Lake.
As I have been working from home for myself for over 8 years, the work transition was not difficult for me. However, my wife Sheryl is a doctor, and as a lung cancer survivor, she felt too vulnerable to COVID to see patients in her office. As she no longer does primary care and her practice does not involve touching patients, she made the decision to “see” her patients by telephone. Since our cell phone reception is not great a Goose Lake, and she did not want her patients to have her personal cell phone number, we installed a land line at Goose Lake for the first time.
However, since March is mud season in Wisconsin, and our house is 1/3 of a mile through the forest down a gravel road, the telephone company truck got stuck in the mud by our house. I used some scrap wood to put under his tires and helped guide him out of the mud, but between his truck and two other trucks that came unannounced up our road (electric co-op and a delivery truck), we soon realized our gravel road was in need of repair. Of course, that would need to wait until things dried out sufficiently for the gravel trucks and graders to safely come up and down our road.
March weather in Wisconsin is still cool so we appreciated the warmth of our wood stove. Little did we know how much wood we would burn (and how much work it would take to cut, haul and split all that wood) while living at Goose Lake full time.
Shortly after we moved up to Goose Lake, the ice opened up, and as soon as it was safe, I hopped in my canoe to enjoy the relaxing sensation of floating on the water right next to the remaining ice.
While I have enjoyed baking bread since I was in my late teens, my bread baking ramped up quite a bit during the pandemic. Like many, I experienced the great yeast shortage of 2020, and finally found a pound of yeast available on Etsy. I am still working my way through that pound, but it has served me well, producing many beautiful and tasty loaves of bread.
Once the ice was completely off the lake, I was able to put my pier in, which was now more than 40 feet inland from its usual spot due to two years of flooding. I explored the lake and found 4 homes in extreme danger of flooding, as these homes were built before the Clean Water Act and subsequent regulations designed to protect shoreline habitat by requiring building at least 75 feet away from the shoreline.
By April, I made two quality of life decisions that proved fruitful. I brought my road bike up to Goose Lake, and I also brought my good camera there so I could capture better photos of the wildlife. Little did I know that exploring the rural central Wisconsin roads would result in my breaking a personal record by the end of the season by riding my bike over 1400 miles. One of the common spots that I rode by north of our home is the Oxford Federal Prison, a minimum security prison which has often housed corrupt politicians. Perhaps one day, the 45th President along with some of his criminal cronies will be my neighbors there.
My bike explorations led to other historic discoveries in the vicinity, such as this one room school house converted into a town hall.
After years of canoeing on Goose Lake, I have learned where the geese and Sandhill Cranes nest. Bringing my better camera up to Goose Lake allowed me to capture fantastic images of their nests, eggs and thglorious cranes. As the weather warmed up, we also felt it was safe to have friends visit outdoors keeping ourselves socially distanced outside our home.
Take note that although geese and Sandhill cranes use dead cattail reeds for their nests and they nest near each other, their nests can easily be distinguished by the goose down which mother geese pluck from themselves to cushion their eggs.
Since we planned on staying at Goose Lake, it made sense to engage in larger projects on our land. While I have long grown shiitake mushrooms there, I typically only inoculate 100 spore plugs at a time. With my wife’s encouragement, I inoculated 1,000 spore plugs. I described that project in my post Corona Shiitake.
By May, it became clear that our then 18 year old home, now getting used full time, would be in need of various repairs. I described my increasing home repair projects in my post Pandemic Repairman.
Our son, Josh, had been living in a large student Coop in Minneapolis, which was great before the pandemic, but not very safe from COVID-19, so he moved in with us at Goose Lake, and eventually he and I gave him a pandemic haircut.
As May wore on, the hay on our farm field greened up and our dog Luna enjoyed running through the field.
The Sandhill cranes continued to put on a show for me as I canoed through the extensive flooded wetlands on Goose Lake. Redwing blackbirds filled the air with their songs. Take note of how well the Sandhill Cranes camouflage their nests in the cattail reeds. I will never tire of their majestic beauty and pre-historic calls.
On Mother’s Day, I made Sheryl what has become an annual breakfast treat of homemade English Muffins to create Crab Eggs Benedict. Cool weather meant we were still using the wood stove.
The farm field north of ours turned a glorious yellow with dandelions and other wildflowers.
Later in May, I had gardening decisions to make. In the past, I have not gardened at Goose Lake because without living there, I cannot water a garden consistently. But since we were now living there, after numerous ideas of what and where to garden, and seeking input from friends and neighbors, Josh helped me create a new raised bed garden near the house. I had someone bring in some better garden soil than the sandy soil on our property, and I supplemented it with a neighbor’s well cured cow manure, which he was pleased to get rid of. Josh helped me haul some logs I had cut previously to form the boundary of the garden, and used his geometry skills to determine how to place the logs.
Since the garden is surrounded by forest, I knew tomatoes would not do well. So, I made the decision to plant only tomatoes (31 plants) in our backyard garden in Madison.
One big change for me was how I performed my duties as a DJ on WORT, a wonderful listener-sponsored community radio station, where I host a couple of world music radio shows. Due to the pandemic, the station closed to the public, including its hundreds of volunteers. So, all DJs had to learn how to pre-record their shows digitally. This was no small effort as it is very different from hosting a show live in the studio at the station. We had to learn how to use a variety of software tools. My first pre-recorded 2 hour show took me 6 hours to record!
For the first few months my voice sounded tinny because I was using a low quality headphone microphone. But, my wife and son gave me an early Father’s Day present and using the professional USB microphone has improved the quality of my recordings tremendously. Here I am putting together a radio show in my Goose Lake recording studio prior to receiving my new microphone.
Meanwhile, nature continually revealed its wonders. Here is a Redwing Blackbird nest in a bush on the lake.
While I had passed many farm stands around Goose Lake, this was the year that we became regulars at the Borkdale Farm Store a few miles down the road. We have purchased virtually all of our eggs from the Borks as well as beef, chicken, and maple syrup. My wife’s family insists that the beef brisket she makes from the Bork’s brisket is the best they have ever tasted! I wrote about their store here.
I have long enjoyed my success at growing and reblooming orchids, but I never kept houseplants at Goose Lake as they need to be watered weekly and prior to this year, we were not always there every week. Now that we were living there, as my orchids started reblooming, I brought them up to Goose Lake for us to enjoy.
For many years, we have known that large snapping turtles live in our wetlands and lay their eggs in our gravel road. We have seen evidence of broken egg shells every year. However, this year, since we walk down our gravel road every day, we had the immense pleasure of witnessing them bury their eggs!
More bike riding led to more rural discoveries.
Having so much time to explore our land led me to discover plant identification apps so I could identify the many wildflowers on our property.
By late June, strawberry season was in full bloom and we found a nearby farm to pick luscious strawberries, which we enjoyed in many wonderful forms.
By July, the nights were late and warm enough to watch gorgeous sunsets from our canoe.
While we have known that wild black raspberries grew on our land, since we were only there occasionally in the past, we never truly harvested the full abundance. In July, we were harvesting daily, making lots of jam from them along with other fresh fruits, as well as enjoying gobbling them up fresh.
Josh had returned to Minneapolis, but came to visit for Sheryl’s birthday. Along with our dog Luna, we found a secluded spot on the Wisconsin River to celebrate together.
By August, the farmer who rents our farm field was harvesting another crop of hay and our garden was showing signs of promise, with the help of nutritious lake weeds which I hauled up from the lake for mulch.
We bought Sheryl an e-bike in Madison, which she loves, and we brought it up to Goose Lake. We are now able to ride together as our pace on her e-bike, and my road bike is about the same (I pass her going downhill and she whizzes by me going uphill).
By mid-August, our tomato crop was pumping out a massive number of beautiful tomatoes. So, we brought the dehydrator to Goose Lake to preserve those we did not turn into soup, eat fresh or cook in another manner.
For the first time since we moved to Goose Lake, I needed to appear live in person at a mediation. Sheryl gave me a pandemic hair cut, and it turned out reasonably well.
On August 22nd, we celebrated our 38th anniversary. Normally, I buy Sheryl one rose for every year we have been married, but the nearest florist is over 20 miles away. Fortunately, I found a great florist in Portage, who was willing to deliver this beautiful bouquet to my beautiful wife.
Sheryl and I prepared a lovely dinner for our anniversary so we did not miss going out to a restaurant.
As I mentioned previously, Goose Lake, like most of the midwest, remained flooded-approximately 2 feet above normal. As Chair of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), we had been working with landowners, neighbors, the County and the DNR on flood mitigation issues all summer long, although no certain solutions had presented themselves for a variety of reasons. Each year, per state law, the GLWD must hold an Annual Meeting, but due to COVID, that presented challenges this year.
So, instead of holding our meeting in the usual venue in the 19th Century one room Town of Jackson Hall, we rented a tent, and held our meeting outdoors near the lake. We had better attendance than ever before and although there were some disagreements, we worked them all out. I wrote about our challenging, though successful meeting here.
Later that month, we removed the weed harvester from Goose Lake.
October brought fall colors as well as the need to cut, split and haul firewood.
October also brought harvest season to the surrounding farms, including many potato and pumpkin farms. This also meant an increase in truck traffic to haul all that produce. For some reason, potato trucks are not covered, so on one bike ride, I picked up a few potatoes that had bounced out of a truck.
Then came the final harvest of our first garden at Goose Lake before the first frost. I learned a lot about gardening in a forest and will make some changes both in what I grow and how I grow it. One thing my wife Sheryl discovered is that every part of the nasturtium plant is edible, so in addition to enjoying the flowers, we made pesto from the leaves, capers from the seeds, and vinegar from the flowers.
Probably 8 months later than we should have, I finally installed a mailbox before the ground froze so we could receive our mail at Goose Lake.
Later that month, I encountered this friendly guy on my way to the hardware store in Adams.
During the waning days of fall, before the lake froze, I took one last canoe to watch the sunset.
Before we built our house, I planted 2500 spruce and pine saplings on an old scrubby farm field to act as a snow screen to protect our road, which had been getting huge snow drifts. Each year, I thin those trees, many of which are over 20 feet tall. Each year, when I do so, I offer the cut trees to friends and neighbors if they wish to use them as Christmas trees. Although I am Jewish, I have no problem helping friends and neighbors celebrate their holiday. In past years, I usually only got 1-3 takers of my offer, but this year I received about a dozen takers, probably because more people were antsy to get out into the woods during the pandemic. I wrote about my experiences as a Jewish Christmas Tree Framer here.
Afterwards, my chainsaw needed repair and I returned to Wally, a local farmer/chainsaw repairman, for a unique rural experience which I wrote about here.
By mid-December, Goose Lake had frozen sufficiently for some amazing ice skating.
A few days later, Rob Pollan and his wife Allison joined us at Goose Lake to help me put together his dearly departed father Stan’s ice boat, and ice sail. Unfortunately, the boat was missing a few critical bolts, but we did enjoy some outdoor eating, skating, and ice sailing.
After a trip to the hardware store, I completed rigging the ice boat, and enjoyed some amazing ice sailing. My son Josh was visiting so I got him out on the boat too. Unfortunately, the wind died down for him, so I pushed the boat to catch the wind while I was on skates. Even more unfortunate was that I fell and sprained my knee and broke my rib. Ice is indeed slippery.
The snow finally came in January, and it was beautiful. Although my sprained knee kept me off my cross country skis, Sheryl was able to get out on hers.
Between my sprained knee and the rate at which we were burning wood, I finally conceded to my age and hired a small crew to help me cut down some very old huge dead oak trees for firewood. Although I was not planning on getting into a political conversation, one occurred anyway, and I used it as an opportunity to find common ground with my rural neighbors, despite our differences in political leanings. I wrote about that conversation here.
By February, between my sprained knee and multiple trips to Detroit to help my family out, I had not yet split the logs that the crew I hired had cut for me. I finally rented a hydraulic splitter from the hardware store in Adams, about 25 minutes away, which turned into quite an adventure. Although the man who showed me the splitter started it up, once I brought it back to Goose Lake, it would not start. I thought it was flooded, so I hand split some of the smaller wood first.
However, when I went to try starting the splitter again, it still would not start. So, I called the hardware store and they agreed to bring me another one. When I asked how I would bring both of them back (as they travel on a trailer hitch), they said they would pick up the second splitter.
Fortunately, the second splitter worked just fine, but that does not mean it was not a lot of work. Once I had finished the medium sized logs, I asked my wife to help me roll the larger logs to the splitter, which she did. I have no idea how much all that wood weighed, but I can tell you that a month later, my forearms are still sore!
Although March is only half over, it has now been a full year that we have lived through a pandemic at Goose Lake. I am starting to plan our garden, which I expect will be more successful than last year. We may also plant some fruit trees on an old scrubby farm field.
Before the lake melted, however, I was able to get out on one more thrilling ice boat ride. After that ride, it was time to dismantle the ice boat and get it off the lake before it melted.
Another project was to hang a wood duck box that my son Josh had rescued last spring from being flooded. It now hangs on a dead flooded birch and we should have a great view from our pier once I put it back in after the ice is off the lake.
I do not pretend to be the great writer or environmentalist that Aldo Leopold was. Rather, I took the Sand County Almanac as my inspiration for this post.
The future is unclear for us as to whether we will remain at Goose Lake whenever the pandemic ends. We both really enjoy living there, but once Sheryl goes back to seeing patients, it may be too long a commute. In the mean time, we will plan our Goose Lake garden, and enjoy our rural life.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact me, Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting my web site: Systems Change Consulting.