Cardinal Directions

A movie palace, steak sandwich, and ‘cash only’ sign

‘Lumberjacking’ in the Kettle Moraine, eating steak sandwiches, and swimming east, where no humans live.

split wood and a flower

The roads here run in the cardinal directions. 5 miles west is Dundee. Home of the Hamburger Haus, and a bar that sells tap beer for $2. 7 miles south is Mauthe lake campground- a popular destination for RV rigs. 23 miles east is lake Michigan
I”m working on a firewood farm in the Kettle moraine of eastern WI. There are grocery stores that only take cash, video rental palaces, and restaurants where the $4 steak sandwich is really just a hamburger.
Today it rained. It began as a light drizzle. The kind you know will eventually become a down pour.      There’s an eery silence that comes before storms like this. I think it’s because of all the moisture in the air. It muffles the nervous groans of the frogs, the buzzing grasshoppers and the chirping orioles. Life seems to vacate nature, leaving behind a sensory vacuum.
During the day it may reach 80 degrees and at night, it’s cool. Sometimes dipping to the low 50’s. When I’m not working, I stay at a cabin in-between the farm and lake Michigan.  Built in the 1940’s the interior is lined with wide cedar boards, accented by the occasional animal head. Behind the cedar, there’s no insulation. There’s an AM radio and at least 12 table lamps. I like the low lighting. The cabin is maybe 800 square feet, heated by a wood burning stove. It’s romantic, but I’m not sure it makes any difference. 
Between 8:00AM and 8pm someone within earshot is constantly mowing their lawn. When it was my turn, my neighbor Terry saw me prepping the mower. He said, “don’t use weed killer there’ll be nothin left”. I didn’t get the joke, so I didn’t laugh. I later realized my cabins lawn is mixture of clover, rye, and dandelion. Terry’s yard is a Kentucky blue grass desert.
Most campgrounds in Wisconsin sell firewood. Normally you’ll see it right when you pull past the ranger station- piled high in a wood shed, plastic wrapped in small bundles, or neatly packed in grapefruit bags.
The majority of our farm’s wood is sold on the honor system. Campers select their sticks, fill a rack, then slide $5 into the collection post. Every third person, skips the last step and steals the wood.
I can see why someone may do this. The wood is stacked high in the shed, appearing abundant, self-replenishing, free for the taking; but getting the wood here, takes a lot of work.
The department of natural resources combs public land and marks sick or hazardous trees, normally cedar or Ash- then our farm goes into the woods to cut them down. Once felled, the trees are de-limbed, and bucked into 18 inch logs, sometimes weighing 80 pounds. They are lifted into a trailer then driven to the farm where the bucked logs are consolidated, awaiting the splitter. Each stump is lifted once again onto the splitter where the operator takes slices off the log until it has been broken down into camper friendly fire sticks.
This wood is once again loaded onto a trailer, unloaded from the trailer, and stacked to dry- sometimes for up to a year. Once aged, the sticks are tossed into the bed of the truck, driven to a campground, and unloaded into the wood shed. About 14 times per week. Four out of every 14 loads are stollen.
After work, I drive 12 miles East back to the cabin. I change into shorts and wade into the lake. Waste deep, the chilly water soothes the dusty micro cuts on my hands and forearms. Behind me, Terry is pulling weeds, and someone else is, of course,  mowing their lawn.  Across the lake from me is a marshy wetland. There aren’t any humans living over there. I swim a lap around 2 white buoys. Then climb the latter onto a swimming platform 40 yards from shore. I’m not a great swimmer, so I’m  breathing heavily. I stretch out on my back, releasing the kinks in my spine. Lifting my arms over head to expose my chest and ribs to the sun. My heart rate hardly has time to return to resting before I hear a raised voice from the house behind me, “Hello, excuse, me”. There’s no need to turn around. I sit up, scoot to the eastern edge, and plop back into the cool water. A place no one owns.


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