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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: January 20, 2022

Part II, Setting Down for January

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,




**********

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the challenges of a Wisconsin January, and found comfort in comparing my current situation to those who lived here long ago. Three things came together to compel me to take this subject up again; two reader's observations; a Facebook site I follow called "Michigan off grid living," and an exceptionally interesting book I read.

The two readers are from the Silver Cliff area (population 529) of northwestern Marinette County and are long-time residents. Sabin and her mother, Zelma, e-mailed me that there was no electric service in the area until the late 1950's, so their situation in winter back then was much like that of the early settlers. The King School was the center of local activity in the winters, with singing events, plays and other get-togethers. The residents of the "valley," all who lived miles apart, made it a point to gather for birthdays and anniversaries. She said roads were not serviced by any governmental body but everyone had a sleigh. Each homesteader had to drag/pack down an assigned section of the road for local travel, and were compensated by the town to do so until a plow was purchased.

Sabin's grandparents had a Victrola before radio was available, for entertainment. A wood burning cook stove was always fired up; and of the seven homes around hers, five, including hers, still has a cook stove in the house. She even sent a picture of hers and says she still uses it.

Before they got indoor plumbing they pumped water from a pump in the yard and hauled it into the house; a big improvement over the previous solution for water in winter which was to haul it from a creek. I love hearing from readers, and this was a fascinating first hand and local account. And I found it very reminiscent of the fond memories passed down in my family from relatives who experienced life at the village of Peshtigo Harbor, long gone. Thank you so much!

The Facebook site is for those who consider themselves "off grid," generally meaning mostly self-sustaining, living without utility provided electric, sewer or water service, and trying to maintain a simple lifestyle. Obviously this means different things to different people, but it is fascinating to read about these (mostly) upper peninsula residents who live miles from other people, and trek to roadways on snowshoes or snowmobiles to get their mail or necessities because their driveways, often a mile or more long, are snowed in all winter. They grow a lot or all of their own food, through gardening, hunting, fishing, collecting wild plant foods and stock raising. Their residences are everything from tents (yes, all winter long,) tiny modified one-room storage buildings, refitted shipping containers and aging camper units. A few have little homes that wouldn't look out of place on a Peshtigo street. The group shares tips on how to deal with outhouses in winter; how to preserve food; and are passionate about wood stoves and gardening. (Wood burning cook stoves 100 years old now sell for 5-10 times what they originally cost.) Reading through their posts is like a glimpse into the lives of our great-great grandparents ?? and there are a lot of very "unique" personalities among them. I learn a lot from them, and quite a few of them are absolutely hilarious. (Note: from time to time the site, like most forums, is marred by off-color content or political rants, but the moderators do a good job, in deleting content or people that are off-topic.)

Finally, I read a fascinating book called "The Final Frontiersman" (non-fiction) by James Campbell. The book is about the family of Heimo Korth (who ironically, was born and raised in Wisconsin,) who live in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They lived more than 100 miles from their closest neighbor, and their only transportation to a village is via float or ski plane able to land on the river or ice. They normally only came out of the bush one time a year. They endure endless sunless days in arctic winter, and temperatures of as much as 53 below zero. They live in a simple log home they build themselves, and move to a completely new location once per year to prevent wiping out the local wildlife. They haul ice from a creek to melt for water and their source of heat for all purposes is a single woodstove. The floor of their home is hard-packed dirt or hand-cut wooden boards. The climate doesn't allow for a garden, so their year-round vegetable is canned spinach. The book recounts the lives and adventures of the couple and their two surviving daughters over the course of several years and is a stunning lesson in survival; self-sufficiency; and perseverance. They thrive in a hostile environment and gnarly conditions. I devoured the book in a day and a half and can think of ten people I will recommend it to.

The lesson I draw from all of these inputs is that winter is what you choose to make it. The Silver Cliff residents made their own fun and their neighbors became extended family; the off-gridders are a gritty bunch unafraid to work hard, live a life devoid of comforts most of us take for granted and are happy to laugh at themselves; and the Korth family simply astonished me. They all found or find the good in their demanding and uncomfortable winters.

My morning mantra on below zero winter days is "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." You will not get this day back; find a way to make it a good one.

SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD

"Easy on Me" by Adele. This is a recently released sad song, so I don't focus on the lyrics. She has one of the greatest voices of our time; and the technical demands of this particular song are incredible. I can only think of a handful of vocalists who could navigate it. If you want to know what the gift of perfect pitch sounds like, give it a listen.

HONORING A HERO

A personal salute to Martin Luther King Jr., whose day of remembrance was Monday. He was a champion of human rights, and a preacher of non-violence toward fellow men and women, who died from an act of criminal violence. We have made progress in equality in this country, but it is clear we still have a long way to go. It is right to honor this inspirational man.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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