Crane/My Sunday Feeling

After my short jaunt on the bike Wednesday, a half-fast friend called about a ride on Thursday. I had afternoon plans so we had to go in the morning. We took variation 17A to Paoli. I just made that up. I’ve written about riding to Paoli before; a popular destination before I began riding there nearly 50 years ago. We rode a different route than I’ve ever taken.

One can no longer fill one’s water bottle at the town pump. They removed the handle early in the pandemic and have not put it back. Or else the pump don’t work cuz the vandals took the handles.

We came home through the arboretum. Just past Longenecker Garden we came upon a woman standing in the road photographing a sandhill crane standing in the road. We slowed down and passed between them the only line available. The human seemed to take more notice of us than the crane did.

As we rode away, I marveled at how inured to humans cranes have become in the past few years. Just then a shadow passed over me, close enough that I ducked. The shadow had a huge wingspan, appearing bigger by the fact that it was no more than five feet above me. I looked up to see a crane (the same one?) soaring just out of reach and then landing in the grass twenty feet off the road.

Photos: a selection of local cranes; none the crane from this ride, to the best of my knowledge.

My Sunday Feeling

Sunday is still laundry day, retirement or not. It was gratifying to see that there were no socks when I hung my laundry. No socks means no work. The newspaper today reprinted an editorial from 1922 asking “Is the barefoot boy a vanishing institution in our cities?” Bill Camplin, in his great 1993 kids’ album “Flying Home”, said “I Will Never Wear Shoes”.

“I Will Never Wear Shoes”. Bill Camplin, from the album “Flying Home”

Saturday is the day that retirement really sunk in. I went to the big local farmer’s market – I haven’t been able to go to that market on a non-holiday weekend for 22 years. I saw my old friend Bob and he showed me a poster they placed near his stand to commemorate the market’s 50th anniversary. It was a picture of him at his market stand in 1973. When I became produce manager at the co-op in 1975 I began buying apples from Bob and his cousin Edwin. Edwin doesn’t go to the market but Bob’s wife Jane does. She wanted to talk about bike touring, as she has toured England and France and the coast-to-coast trip intrigued her.

Wednesday Night Bike Rides no longer have to be on Wednesday nights, nor at night, for that matter. Monday afternoon the half-fast cycling club returned to one of our favorite Wednesday night rides out of Mt Horeb, touring the hills of western Dane and eastern Iowa Counties – the edge of the Driftless Area. Dinner followed at a Mt Horeb brewpub. Having just watched the Tour de France over the past few days made me wonder how/if these hills would be categorized on their system.

By the time you read this, my bike and gear should have arrived via van and trailer from the east coast. The bike will need some TLC before it returns to the road for the Peninsula Century Challenge next month.

Ferry cross the (not) Mersey

“Cause this land’s the place I love/and here I’ll stay” (or at least return to in 3.5 weeks)

“I thought Wisconsin was flat”: most heard comment in the last two days.

Dinner last night was at Tumbled Rocks Brewery outside of Baraboo, with S&T, I, M, & L from my former job. After a walleye filet with grilled potatoes and green beans (plus helping the kids with their fries) accompanied by a Scotch Ale and a Dunkel, it was decided that I needed more calories so added a Champagne Crème Brûlée.

This morning we had a tour of Baraboo. Leaving campus we coasted down toward town but, on the way out, there was a short but steep hill that had some of the folks walking and led to a few of those comments above.

There is a nice (by which I mean short and steep) climb into Devil’s Lake State Park and then a switchback-laden descent to the lake. After a ride along the lakeshore there is a gradual descent back to the highway, then a turn through wetlands and down to the ferry. I offered folks the option of an additional pre-ferry loop up Devil’s Delight Road to the ridge again with a descent farther down. They all declined.

Along the lakeshore
A few of the crew crossing the lake. Terry (in Canada jersey) is the blogger at Four countries are by the five people in the foreground.

There was a healthy hatching of mayflies overnight to introduce folks to that feature.

Mayflies on the boat. I brushed one off of my rear brake 50 miles later.
View from the ferry crossing Lake Wisconsin

After the ferry we continued through some of my favorite country before turning east into the flatter (more rolling) glaciated area. We came within about 25 miles of my house.

I have ridden past this many times but never stopped to take a picture. Note the “person” behind the wheel.

After lunch in Rio (pronounced “rye-oh”), we continued on to Beaver Dam. Ice cream and white cheddar popcorn helped delay my arrival but I was still much too early for the trailer unloading. The tent was spread out to dry and then packed away, as we are staying in the dorms of Wayland Academy.

Someone scoffed at my “Horribly Hilly Hundreds” jersey and asked, “how many feet of vertical?” When another someone pointed to the number “11,000 feet” on my back, his expression changed to one of respect. Yeah, Wisconsin is flat.

It may be just me, but I think from the turnoff to Schutte Road mentioned yesterday to the ferry crossing today may have been the best day of this tour.

It’s a Major Award!

I have just received a Major Award! For meritorious service, I have just been awarded The Golden Bedpan! No gold watch for me – an honest-to-god Golden Bedpan! (miniature facsimile.) 24k over pewter. Had I known I would receive this, I’d have retired sooner!

How does it feel to want?

I used to manage a housing project. As part of that job I supervised a maintenance crew, since I couldn’t do everything myself. I would get there early, check the maintenance requests that had come in overnight, balance those with the ongoing maintenance that was due, and any projects we had working. When Tom came in to work, I’d say, “I want you to…” and name a job.

Tom would reply, “How does it feel to want?” On the surface, this was me giving him a job for the day and him giving me shit in return. But what was below the surface? When I asked, this truly was what I wanted. As a human being, he had autonomy and could say no. We could talk about all of the work that needed doing, or something he had noticed the day before. We could have had that conversation first, in which I laid out all the work for the day and we chose together. He also was used to a boss who gave orders, not one who stated wants. Ultimately, he could refuse (whether an order or a want). Ultimately, I could fire him. He wanted the job and I wanted a staff I could count on, so we worked it out each day.

But on another level, he was offering me a spiritual/ontological lesson. I could actually take him up on the offer and feel what it was to want. I wasn’t paying him for that. It was a bonus.

There was someone else I was paying for that. We’ll get into that soon. So what is it to want? One meaning of want is to lack. Another meaning is to desire. If we smash those meanings together, we get desiring what we don’t have.

The Buddha taught that all life is suffering and all suffering arises from desire. Chew on that a bit. A lot of us will chafe at the notion that all life is suffering and insist we are happy. Buddha didn’t demand that we believe him. He demanded that we experience for ourselves. To get that suffering arises from desire might be a little easier but even that might get you thinking about how much pleasure you get from wanting something, planning and saving for it.

We bring a lot of passion to the quest. Passion comes from a Latin word which means “to suffer”. [It’s now a small leap to recognize that compassion means “to suffer with”. That’s a topic for another day.] So you want something. Depending on your personality, maybe you rush out and buy it. Maybe you read Consumer Reports and product reviews. Maybe you go try it out or compare different options. Maybe you save money for a long time, or maybe you just go into debt.

Now you have the thing. Then what? You go onto the next thing to want. My teacher asked us to consider the possibility of wanting exactly what we have. I suggested this to someone recently and they said “You can’t really ‘desire’ what you have though you can desire to maintain it. You CAN be content with it.”

Notice that there isn’t a lot of “juice” in contentment – it’s nothing like wanting, desiring, pining for, coveting. What if my friend is wrong? What if you can want what you have? What if you can bring the same intensity of experience to what is, as you can to what isn’t? Wouldn’t you suffer a whole lot less? Try it some time. (I’ll wait. Let me know how it goes.) Want what you have, not what you lack. See if it’s possible. See how you feel.

We like to complain about what we “have to” do. How would the experience change if we thought of it as what we “want to” do? You might object and say that is lying. But is it? When we make a choice, there is always at least one alternative. Let’s say I told Tom to trim the hedge. He could say he “has to” trim the hedge. He could also say he “wants to” trim the hedge. What is the alternative to trimming the hedge? Obviously, not trimming it. What are the consequences of not trimming it? The hedge doesn’t get trimmed, people get upset because the property looks run down. Someone else trims the hedge and resents Tom for not doing it. I fire Tom and he is out of a job and has no income. There are certainly others. But Tom has chosen to trim the hedge rather than accept the consequences of not doing so. He wants to trim the hedge more than he wants the consequences. How would the experience be different if it started with wanting to trim the hedge?

Mr Natural tries wanting to do the dishes

Top of the World!

Sunday’s ride with the Bombay Bicycle Club included the “Alpe d’ Huez option”. While that is a considerable exaggeration, it did include 3 consecutive climbs over a ridge in the driftless area.

A horse camp for kids at the top of the first climb (PS I was a counselor here 50+ years ago)
My kinda road!

After picking someone up at the airport, I hit the road an hour after the group left, so I didn’t see anyone. The forecast said warm, windy, and cloudy. There was no mention of rain. Twenty miles in, the sky to the north looked ominous. The radar showed it moving southwest to northeast and that it would miss me entirely, just giving some dark sky to watch. The wind was strong out of the south, so that seemed like a safe bet. Thirty-some miles in, it started to rain. There was no cell service, so I had only the sky to go by, not radar or a revised forecast. It was cooling down. With no access to a map, I guessed on a shortcut. It turned out to be more of a detour than a shortcut, only cutting 1.5 miles from the total ride. The good news is that it cut some descents that would be hazardous in the rain. The bad news is that it cut a couple of favorite climbs, substituting straight and flat miles in the valley.

One of the climbs I missed out on Sunday

In praise of sap

We don’t generally consider it a compliment to call someone a “sap”. Nor is it particularly civilized to hit someone with a sap. But maple sap…ahh, that’s another story.

When spring is in the air, days are sunny with light winds and temperatures above freezing, cold nights…the sap starts running. When winter is still here, we can dream about those days while poring over our seed catalogs.

Maple sap itself seems like nothing special. It looks like water. It takes some discernment to notice its sweetness. But boil it down to about 1/40 of its original volume, and it becomes the golden elixir.

Morning sun and maple tree through maple syrup.

Maple syrup is the perfect antidote to cabin fever. There’s not as much to do on the farm in the depth of winter and it’s not all that fun. But when the sap is running, you hike through the woods, drive the spiles into the trunks, hang the buckets or bags, or run the lines, and wait.

When you have enough sap, you build a fire and the sap goes into a big stainless steel pan to be boiled down. Now you have a place to get warm in between runs. As the day goes on and the sap boils down, the steam rising from the pan begins to feel a bit more sticky. You transfer the near-syrup to a smaller pan to avoid scorching, and get the canning jars ready.

Pour a little into the snow for the treat of maple sugar candy. Enjoy it on tomorrow morning’s pancakes to fuel you up for the next day of collecting. Pour it over ice cream, or add a touch to your morning coffee.

Syrup grading used to reflect the racism in our culture – the lighter the color, the higher the grade. Some of us used to buy only Grade B, the darker and more flavorful syrup. Now they are named by color rather than calling light better. The bottle above is Grade A Dark. It also comes in Golden, Amber, and Very Dark. (There used to be “Light Amber”, “Medium Amber”, and “Dark Amber”.) Lighter colors tend to have more delicate flavors (more hints of vanilla, to some) and darker colors stronger, more maple flavors. Very dark might have smoky nuances. A recent trend has been to age syrup in used bourbon barrels, yielding complex, liqueur flavors (but no alcohol). I don’t use it as my everyday syrup (the bourbon barrel aging adds cost), but it is a great treat. Some went into my Sunday morning cappuccino today. (My weekday coffee is a cortado.) Those with strong preferences might call light syrup tasteless, just sugar; or dark syrup burned tasting.

Years ago I took my kids to a maple syrup festival. In addition to seeing trees tapped and syrup made, they had taste tests. Maple syrup and sugar syrup (ordinary store-bought pancake syrup) were dosed from squeeze bottles (like the ketchup and mustard bottles in a diner). The host squeezed a bit onto a stick for my son to taste. He said, “That’s maple”. The host said, “No, you’re supposed to taste both and then tell me.” My son said, “I don’t need to taste both.” The host insisted on trying again. He squeezed a bit onto a new stick and my son instantly said, “That’s just sugar.” It took several trials before he was willing to taste both before rendering an opinion – though he was never wrong.

A bit later my daughter (2 ½ years younger) walked up to the booth. The same scene entailed. The host was visibly frustrated. I told him, “You can’t fool kids who were raised on maple syrup.” He gave up.

I haven’t helped with maple sugaring for years. The last year I did it, we had modernized. Lines ran from the trees to centrally-located 55 gallon drums. Rather than walking the entire line, we could go to the drum to collect sap for cooking…and the horses, pulling a sleigh, could bring it back to the pan for boiling. Since the trees were scattered along multiple hillsides, it saved a lot of walking; but I’m still not sure that was a good thing. Walking the trail on a late winter morning to see if the sap is running yet is kinda like checking for presents under the Christmas tree…

Another kind of sap

In the fall we have another syrup season – sorghum. Sorghum is northern sugar cane. (“Northern” being a relative term, as most sorghum grown for syrup in the US is in the south.) We grew it in southwestern Wisconsin, just down the road from where I did my maple sugaring.

We mostly think of sorghum as a grain fed to animals; but we rode through the fields on a wagon, chopping the grain heads off with machetes and cutting the canes at ground level with a mower – that was a lot easier than the back-breaking work of cutting with machetes, which we did my first year on the harvest. When we hand-cut with machetes, we could stack it neatly for transport. The mower dropped stalks in all directions, so we had to gather and arrange it before transporting on the wagon. The canes were then fed into rollers and the juice squeezed out.

Years ago, I wrote a screenplay for a documentary on the sorghum-making process, starting with a helicopter shot of the steep hillsides and deep valleys of the driftless area, zooming in to a tracking shot of the tractor and wagon in the field before cutting to ground-level shots, and featuring an interview with Cap Stussy, the man who taught me. I still have the notes, but I found this YouTube video that saved me the work of production:

The press in the video is run by real horse power. Cap ran his from the PTO (Power Take-Off) on his tractor.

Sorghum is more like molasses than maple syrup – stronger, with a bitterness behind the sweetness. When I used it on pancakes, I sometimes used it mixed with other syrup to sweeten it and reduce the bitterness. It is also sweeter if you keep the grain heads out of the mix.

Pecan pie recipes usually call for corn syrup (Karo syrup). I have used various combinations of light and dark corn syrup, sorghum, and maple syrup. All work and most are tastier than plain light corn syrup. Go bake a pie and tell me about it! (15)