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Dick Ellis Blog:
12/7/2020
On November 4, most of the country sensed that something was wrong. The previous day, Election Day, in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia vote counting was stopped late at night, poll watchers were told to go home, and vote counting was resumed. By morning the big lead that Donald Trump held in the evening had vanished under the cover of darkness.A few days later the media, not the people, declared Joe Biden the winner. Biden then beg...
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Harvest Time

Fencerows

By John Luthens

Come harvest time, I cruise the neighborhood with the abandon of a squirrel waiting for the first acorns to fall, waiting for the fruits of the tree and vine to give up their dividends.  An endless summer spent toiling under the hot summer sky (not me, I’m talking about the trees and vines and farmers) is laid out for the taking in the golden autumn air.

You have to put in some work on the front end to reap the rewards of the harvest.  The parable of the grasshopper and the ant comes to mind, the ant working diligently towards a winter stockpile, while the grasshopper idles away the days in the breezy shade of a tree.

berriesIn my defense, I only spend part of the summer in the shade.  Usually the hottest part, when the fish aren’t biting anyway.  I’m partial to fishing with grasshopper flies, which should count for something in the parable, but I’ve yet to finish construction on that particular logical bridge.  I’d content myself with real grasshoppers, but it’s too much work catching the jumpy critters.

Pictured left: Wild grapes await the harvest.

We do keep a small garden in the backyard.  It yields the best hot peppers around, and not much else.  Once in a while a misshapen cucumber or a stunted tomato comes forth. But it is foremost a pepper garden.

I think it is the lack of watering that really makes them thrive.  By summer’s end, the garden plot settles into the look and consistency of the hardpan Mexican desert.  And everyone knows that the best hot peppers come from Mexico.  Logical bridge completed, case closed.

Besides the pepper garden, there has been a cornucopia of research done on other particular crops in my neighborhood.   It gets to be repetitive, like weeding a garden (which I’m also against), or maybe like a paper route, without the getting-up-early part thrown in.

I make the rounds, checking out the apple and pear trees.  I know which roadside stand offers the lowest prices on sweet corn and pumpkins.  I’ve even discovered a small outfit on the edge of town that sells fresh-comb honey.

Our neighbors have a peach tree.  I check that out religiously too, but again, not an early morning thing.  It’s more of a late-shift type of reconnaissance, nosing my way into their backyard under the dark of the moon to pluck a couple of especially plump ones, then weaving back through the hedgerow to my house with the speed of a thieving jack-rabbit.

My finest harvest-time discovery this year came on an early Sunday dove hunt, when my son and a neighbor got permission to hunt the hay field edges of the farm bordering our back yard. 

I don’t hunt doves myself, but was content to tuck beneath the tree tangles in the sunrise to watch the excitement of the boys circling the fields; sort of like a hidden referee in the booth to review close plays.

The kids are both safe hunters, but doves spring up quickly and fly furious.  There is a power line running along one edge of the field too.  The difference between scattering flocks of sparrows and doves can be a split-second decision.  Mourning dove breasts are great table fare, sparrow breasts, not so much.  And the doves in the hayfield are partial to roosting on the power wire.  I didn’t want an errant shot taking out the power grid in the whole of northern Ozaukee County; especially with an afternoon Packer game looming.

Between shots, watching the feathers fly, I peered into the tangles above my sitting tree and saw wild grapes growing in clusters.  Let the boys do the shooting and bring in the wild game - wild grapes were a harvest situation I could relate to.   I high-tailed it out of the vines, ran to the farmer’s house for permission, and called my good friend Dennis, a.k.a. “The Grizzly.”  By halftime of the Packer’s game, it was all set up.

Dennis tangles with one of the most potent parts of harvest time.  When he isn’t chasing turkeys and deer through the crisp leaves of the Kettle Moraine, he squeezes the very juice out of the wild grapes of the autumn hills, pressing and bottling the harvest into a fine homemade wine.

There we were, with a stepladder for the high grape clusters, and the brute power of the Grizzly for pounding through the lower vines.  Dennis really does resemble a stout and friendly bear, and I thought about letting him go up on the ladder, but it was grape-picking after all, not a circus act.  Besides, I’d never get a downed grizzly across a hayfield. I can barely manage to drag a deer out of the woods.

The actual wine-making process is something I’m not privy to; a closely guarded secret that involves grinding up grapes in an industrial food processor, or smashing out the purple juice with a baseball bat, depending on which of the Grizzly’s hunting and wine-making buddies describe the process to you.

The resulting pulp is pushed through a wine press, strained into pails with a mixture of water and sugar, and set to ferment for a prescribed (and again, closely guarded) period of time.  Somewhere along the line yeast is added to the already naturally-fermented mixture: I assume to give it a little added kick.

Finally, the wine is bottled and stored like a true grizzly bear going into hibernation, only to be resurrected again for those special moments in life.

I myself can attest to a historic late-season ice fishing foray on Lac Vieux Desert, above the headwaters of the Wisconsin River in Vilas County. We walked into a heavy morning fog and onto suspect late-March ice, pulling a sled full of jig poles, multiple pounds of bratwurst, a portable grill, and a full-gallon jug of the Grizzly’s finest grape wine.

Nobody even cared about the growing ice cracks and water sliding across the glare surface towards the end of the day.  I swear it was only our ice-crampons and blind luck that got us off the ice with a limit of jumbo perch, not to mention a sled-full of stories that still get kicked around to this day.

Anyway, ice is still far from our thought- this is harvest time; and I’ve heard from the Grizzly himself that our grape-picking efforts have yielded 25 gallons of future stories.  They are patiently aging somewhere in a dark cellar in the Kettle Moraine hills, heavily guarded, I assure you.

Speaking of heavily guarded, I just saw the neighbor’s lights go off for the night.  I could really go for a peach or two.