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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Country Cousin

Issue Date: October 7, 2020

Fire Prevention Week...

Autumn is moving on all too quickly. Colors seem to have peaked last weekend, but beauty continues to surround us. So far, there have been no widespread killing frosts, although we've had some mighty chilly nights. We've been blessed with mostly glorious days...except of course for the recurring bouts of rain. There's a plus side to the Autumn rains, though. They do prevent forest fires.

FIRE PREVENTION WEEK

That brings us to Fire Prevention Week, which began on Sunday, Oct. 4 and continues through Saturday, Oct. 10, timed to include the date of the Peshtigo Fire on Oct. 8, 1871 and the Chicago Fire on the same day.

In his official Fire Prevention Week Proclamation issued on Saturday, Oct. 3, President Donald Trump declared in part:

"This year, courageous firefighters and other brave Americans have confronted one of the worst fire seasons in our history.  We have seen more than 43,500 wildfires, lost more than 10,000 buildings, and 35 people have tragically died.  In the Western States, more than 30,000 firefighters ... the largest deployment in history ... have battled these fires, risking their lives for their fellow Americans' safety.  My Administration is thankful for the assistance from our National Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, and international partners from Canada and Mexico to help end this devastation.

"This tragic fire season is another reminder of the importance of effective forest management, which can play a big role in helping prevent forest fires.  Proactive steps such as cleaning forest floors to remove flammable limbs and leaves can help reduce the risk of large fires and improve the health of our Nation's forests.  In 2020, I have approved more than 30 Stafford Act Declarations, including Fire Management Assistance Grants, to help multiple States stop fires, and we continue to encourage active forest management efforts throughout the country.

"This year, we also give special recognition to the many American firefighters who joined the valiant efforts of our Australian allies in fighting bushfires that killed hundreds of people and countless animals and destroyed thousands of homes.  Tragically, three Americans perished in this courageous effort.  These heroes, all veterans of the United States Armed Forces, embodied the very best of the American spirit in their desire to help others, and we will always honor their memory."

DEATH TOLL PALES

The disastrous forest fires Trump spoke of, fires that still are burning on America's west coast this year in California, Oregon and Washington State, have indeed taken a tragic toll on property and lives, but the death toll pales in comparison with that of the Peshtigo Fire, which took an estimated 1,200 lives in a frontier area where that represented well over half the total population.

The Peshtigo Fire was not the worst in terms of property damage mainly because most of the untold thousands of acres it charred were in untouched forest in a sparsely settled countryside with few buildings. In 1871 Marinette County timber was cheap and plentiful, with little cash value until it was cut and hauled to market. (In 1911 timber land was valued at $3 an acre.) If those vast acres of primeval forest were valued at today's prices the dollar loss would have been incalculable - probably in the billions. As it was, Chicago - in the famous fire allegedly started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow on the same day - suffered greater financial losses.

The Peshtigo Fire included a vast area hit by the tornado of fire that burned from Crivitz south and east to Marinette, totally destroying Peshtigo on the way. That incredible blaze even managed to jump the Bay and burn in parts of southern Door County.

Hardly a family in Peshtigo came through unscathed in that 1871 inferno. The impact was shattering. But the survivors were just that - survivors. They rebuilt and the city today continues their proud tradition of carrying on in the face of whatever adversities occur.

PREVENT FOREST FIRES

President Donald Trump has taken a lot of criticism for daring to say that proper forest management would have helped prevent some of the disastrous forest fires out west, but everything I've learned about forest management says he's at least somewhat right.

Nature does not take care of its own, or at least not as we'd like it to. Actually, those forest fires probably are nature trying to take care of its own, except that humans get in the way.

Even the original inhabitants of this land apparently knew that some forest management is required.

THE OLD WAYS

Recently was contacted by Cathi Sawyer, who grew up in the Amberg area and now lives in Greenfield. She may be better known by old friends by her childhood name - Katie McTrusty.

Katie was kind enough to share some of her old memories, including those connected with a much loved friend who was part of the Indian tribe that in those days lived on the Pike River in the area of what now is White Rapids Road in Amberg.

She wrote: "They loved their land, but owned none of it as we understand "own." That was why they were made to move, because our surveyors said someone wanted to buy the place where they lived with money."

She described how they cared for all of the people's land: "In the Spring they control burned the forest so the old was cleaned out. The new berry bushes would come and everyone was out picking wild blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and chokecherries. This was a big thing. Families would pack huge lunches and everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, would pick and pick and then go home and make jams and jellies to preserve them.

"The under brush was cleaned out so the light could get through. The wood they cut was from trees that were dead or dying and keeping strong trees from doing their best."

Katie said her Indian friend thought the white people were very odd. He told her his people could not understand why we fought and killed to pull the riches out of the earth (as gold, silver and diamonds), only to build cement hiding places with bars in which to re-bury and re-hide them.

He told her they believed they belonged on the part of the Earth they stood on at the time, and they could not own it. They used parts of it while they lived, and when they left it was all given back. Nothing was handed to another person to own.

Also learned from our Marinette County foresters, and from friends while visiting in Germany that the American forestry philosophy of letting everything stay on the forest floor to return nutrients to the earth differs from the European theory of keeping the forest floor clean to prevent spread of disease and fires. The venerable ancient forests I saw there had absolutely no debris laying around. Couldn't actually have eaten off them, but neither could the bugs!

Maybe we need to take another theory of forestry. When was the last time you heard about a disastrous forest fire in Europe?

PRECAUTIONS

In line with the theme of fire safety, this is a good time to check your smoke alarms to be sure they're working. We don't have to. Ours get an automatic test every night at dinner time. Just kidding!

Also be sure heat vents are not blocked. If your furnace is in line for a checkup or a cleaning, get'er done! Heating season is upon us.

Before you put the heated mattress pad or electric blanket back into use for the season, check to be sure there are no loose or frayed wires.

Speaking of wires, recently had a bad experience. While operating my revolving brush upright vacuum I managed to gracefully run over the cord. Shut the thing off and moved the cord to safety. Apparently didn't stop the damage soon enough. Next time I touched that cord was a real wake-up call. Of the mind and body jolting sort. In their brief contact time that revolving brush wore away enough of the cord's protective coating to make it a serious shock hazard.

Trust me. Hand contact with exposed electric wires is not a good thing!

Certainly jump started this old heart!

Taped up the cord with electrical tape and finished vacuuming for the day. Now I'd best get some knowledgeable person to replace the cord. Don't ever want to experience that sensation again.

CONGRATULATIONS, MRS. MAYOR!

Congratulations to Peshtigo Mayor Cathi Malke, who is finally on her way to recovery after a particularly dangerous bout of Covid-19 that caused her to be totally confined to bed for over two months. She is looking forward to release from the nursing home in the very near future, possibly before another week goes by.

GET WELL WISHES

Sending sincere get well wishes to President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and the numerous Washington officials who have been stricken with Covid-19.

May your illness pass quickly, problems be minimal, and recovery be complete!

PUMPKIN REPAIRS

Halloween is fast approaching, and pumpkins in various shapes, forms and guises are popping up everywhere. Know what you use to fix a broken Jack-o-lantern? (See answer at end of today's column.)

TULIP TIME

No, not blossoms. But seriously, if you do it very, very soon (like this weekend) you can still get away with planting tulip bulbs for flowers in spring.

Gladiolus and other tender bulbs should be dug up before the ground freezes and stored away until spring.

If you want some hardy-type bulbs to force for Easter blooms, pot them now. Crocus, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips work well. Either buy new bulbs, or dig up some of the ones you already have growing in the yard and put them in pots you can bring indoors when it's time to start forcing the early blooms for Easter. They need 10 to 12 weeks of cold or cool storage after planting to develop good root systems.

The advice of experienced (and successful) gardeners is at this time of year, dig a trench 15" to 18" deep, put a board in the bottom and stand pots of potted bulbs on this.

Water the pots and then put coarse sand, sawdust, cinders or vermiculite around and over them. Put plastic or some sort of roof over the entire trench to keep the insulating material from getting water logged. If that happens, the pots will freeze in and have to stay outside until the spring thaw, and there go your Easter flowers. You might want to mulch over the top with straw or something too. Anyway, you want to keep the trench dry inside so you can get those pots out after the required 10 to 12 or more weeks of cold have passed.

Bring the pots inside as you want them. Water and place in a cool but sunny spot and watch them bloom just when you need a touch of springtime the most.

COOKIN "TIME

Harvest season is definitely coming to a close, but there's still time to save much of the late summer harvest. Here are a few good ways to preserve the bounty.

HOME CANNED APPLE PIE FILLING

This old, old recipe makes a filling far superior to anything you'll buy off the grocer's shelf. It's worth the effort, especially if you have an ample supply of apples. Try making it with a sugar substitute for a somewhat low carb version.

4 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup quick cooking tapioca

1 teaspoon salt

10 cups water

16 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 to 3 drops red or yellow food coloring, optional

Have jars, rings and lids washed and sterilized. In a very large saucepan blend the sugar, tapioca and salt. Add the water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Cook 2 minutes more. Stir in the cinnamon, lemon juice and food coloring if you're using it. When well blended stir in the apple slices. Again stirring constantly, bring to a good rolling boil. Keeping saucepan on the burner so the boiling doesn't stop, begin filling the jars, leaving half an inch of head space. Put on lids and process in a boiling water bath, 25 minutes for pints, 35 minutes for quarts.

CANNED PUMPKIN CAKE

Marvelous Christmas gifts. You need 8 pint size wide-mouth jars, vegetable oil spray, and 8 waxed paper circles. (Grandma didn't have spray. She probably would have melted butter in the jars, then swished it around to grease the sides. You choose.) To make your own pumpkin puree out of fresh pumpkins or even out-of-date Jack-O-Lanterns, see instructions below.

2/3 cup shortening

2 2/3 cups sugar

4 eggs

2 cups pumpkin puree (canned will do)

2/3 cup water

3 1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Have the jars ready. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat all the cake ingredients together until well blended. Fill each greased jar half full of batter. Put jars on cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes. While they bake get the rings and lids ready and cut the waxed paper circles to fit just inside the jar. Remove jars one at a time from the oven, put on the waxed paper and then the lid and ring. Put jar upside down to cool. When ready to serve run a knife around the inner edge to loosen and slide the cake out.

PUMPKIN PUREE

Wash the pumpkin, remove stem and cut it in half. Scoop out the pumpkin seeds and any stringy flesh then lightly season with salt. (Don't throw away the seeds. See recipe below.) Place the halves cut-side-down onto a baking sheet and roast until the flesh is soft and coming away from the skin. Let it cool a bit and then peel and process until smooth in a food processor. You can also use the same method to make winter squash into a puree that can be substituted for pumpkin in pies or whatever you like. If you're salvaging the remains of a Jack-O-Lantern you need to cut it into slices and peel them inside and outside and then roast in a covered pan with just a little bit of water until tender.

ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS

1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds

2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more for serving

2 teaspoons olive oil, melted coconut oil or nut oil like walnut

2 teaspoons your favorite spice blend such as curry powder, chili powder, siraccha, onion salt, etc.

Use seeds from pumpkins, or winter squash with large seeds, like Hubbard, Butternut or Acorn. Scoop out the seeds and pull off as many strings as you can. Throw them into a bowl of cool water and swish around a bit with your hands. Once they're mostly clean, put them into a pot of boiling salted water and simmer for about five minutes to season and clean them some more. Use about 2 teaspoons salt for 2 cups of water. Drain the seeds and spread them on clean dish towels and pat very dry. Mound the dried seeds onto the prepared baking sheet. Add the oil and any spices on top then toss until well coated. Spread the seeds into one layer. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees, stirring at least once, until fragrant and golden around the edges. This will take from 10 to 25 minutes, depending on how large and how moist the seeds are.

MOCK RASPBERRY FREEZER JAM

Way too easy to be so good. It even looks like the real thing, but the seeds are easier on the teeth. I love raspberries but seldom eat them because of the seeds. This can also be made with artificial sweetener and sugar-free gelatin dessert powder (Jello) for a very low carb treat.

2 cups ground green tomatoes, drained a little bit

2 cups sugar

1 box raspberry-flavored gelatin dessert mix (3 ounce size)

In a heavy stainless steel pan mix the sugar and ground green tomatoes until bubbly. Stir frequently, as this will burn quite readily. When fully boiling stir in the gelatin dessert powder, and continue stirring until it dissolves completely. Pour into very clean, dry freezer containers. Let stand at room temperature until firm. Cover well and freeze to store. Thaw in refrigerator and keep refrigerated after each use.

Answer to Jack-o-lantern riddle: Use a pumpkin patch. Ouch!!!

Thought for the week: Dear Lord, please, help our wounded nation return to some sense of decency. We can no longer sing, "Onward Christian Soldiers." We've turned our backs on You in favor of being politically correct. We deserve Your punishment, but please grant mercy. Help us find ways to stop hating, ways to make the rioters stop looting, burning and killing, and trying to win something by destroying our right to worship You and our precious heritage of the chance for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Amen.

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo.com.)


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