Always cold hands. How do I survive Wisconsin winters?
“I would have been here earlier, but I forgot my purse at your butcher and had to go back.”
This was the second time since the Solstice that I left my purse in a public place. I’ve been so distracted lately. I planned this trip just after the New Year not only to pick up the lamb that I bought from Jim from his local butcher, but to clear my head, reflect on the past year and carve a path for the coming one.
“We just made some lunch,” Jim says. Do you want to join us? Rest a bit before you hit the road again?”
Uhhh…I so don’t want to have lunch. Not because I don’t like Jim and his wife, but I just don’t feel like talking. I’m in hibernation mode; my ritualistic break from the growing season. I figure I could use some social interaction though. Maybe it would perk me up.
“Umm….Ok.” I actually cheer myself up a bit just hearing my commitment to their lunch offer; dusting off winter’s sleep with growing season’s zest.
Jim takes my coat and we settle in around the kitchen table. Ruth Ann, his wife, brings coffee, homemade chicken soup made with meat from their free range birds and crusty bread served with fragrant, local honey. He cues up his property on Google maps revealing his 27-acre homestead, spread with cropland, sheep pasture, a modest farmhouse and outbuildings. He points an unsteady finger toward the fields that will be converted to prairie during the spring, excited to show off the aerial view of his acreage from his Christmas present iPad.
I was intimately familiar with those fields as I had walked them with Jim the previous fall prior to creating a plan for their conversion; a plan that would bring Jim’s mission to life.
The first time I met Jim was during a consult on an unseasonably hot September day. We walked the straight rows of his bean fields that stretched up the sandy hills toward the horizon and along the wooden fence that lined his sheep pasture, stopping to marvel the tangled vines of his prized tomato patch, heavy with fruit. Fruit, he said, his granddaughter loved to pick. Jim’s happiness from thoughts of his granddaughter gained momentum as he told me about the birds that he had grown to love. Birds that were already trekking south as we spoke.
Grassland birds, up with the sun, kept Jim company as he tended to his early morning chores before heading to his day job as a high school science teacher. Dickcissels, Henslow’s and Grasshopper sparrows; heard, but seldom seen. Birds, he knew, were in precipitous decline. Jim wanted to help by giving the birds what they needed most.
Although hayfields and pastures are common in this rural Wisconsin community, most are mowed and baled prior to chicks fledging from their vulnerable ground nests. Others are fringed with shrubby fencerows, which act as super highways for raccoons, opossums and skunks; nest predators that relish eggs and baby birds. Building a prairie on 20 contiguous acres devoid of crisscrossing fencerows would benefit the birds that he loved.
I advised him on a strategy to prepare his bean fields for the introduction of a prairie landscape and he sends me on my way with an ambitious native seed mix wish list. Instead of the typical one or two, however, Jim wanted eight unique blends. Eight seed mixes comprised of prairie wildflowers, grasses, and sedges that would thrive on the sandy soils that defined his fields. Eight different vistas to swallow as he’s tending his sheep, picking tomatoes or making soup.
“Thank you so much for lunch, I say gratefully, pushing my chair in, remembering to take my purse. How much for the meat?”
As I write him a check, Jim waves away my comment about how he should charge more for his grass-fed lambs.
And, it’s just the mind-clearing recharge that I need to carry me to May.