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On The Mark: Summer brings outside work, beauty

It’s been a long and challenging summer in our part of Carlton County. So little rain, so many detours on Highway 210.

Not even one swim in a lake! We’ve made up for it with home improvements. These include installing a badly needed new septic system in a new location.

That meant lots of oak and poplar to harvest and lots of good thigh and upper body work for the physique! Throwing the smaller lengths like javelins into the surrounding woods. Piling chain-sawed logs in two-foot lengths into the trailer that Rod hauls with his vintage tractor.

At our woodshed, Rod deploys the splitter, halving logs into two-foot lengths which I toss atop earlier layers. I enjoy the challenges: hefting the logs, minimizing unused space between logs of varying sizes, finding special niches for extra-long or large chunks.

We burn wood throughout the colder months. In the wood stove that occupies a central location in our home and in our outdoor sauna, we build and stoke fires. In the winter months, we use a cast-off wheelchair from the nearby Villa Vista nursing home to bring the wood from shed to door.

When the snow accumulates, we use a flat-bottomed sturdy plastic sled. I’ve always enjoyed figuring out efficient positions for burning large logs, often using smaller sticks and well-read newspapers (not the Pine Knot, of course) to jump start home fires.

I have grown vegetables for many years, tutored by my Danish grandfather, Marinus Markusen. This year was extra challenging: so little rain. My industrious summer worker Mya Gronner, my cousin, Martha Markusen, and I took turns hosing down the vegetable gardens at the Markusen cottage. Our tomatoes and zucchini thrived, but many other usually reliable varieties shriveled up and died. Oh well, next year it could be better.

We’ve always grown perennials: gladiolas, day lilies, peonies and roses. And herbs like parsley, basil, rosemary and thyme. But this year I hankered after more color, cruising the garden shops. I buy marigolds, because, planted at the ends of each veggie row, their odor repels hungry critters. We have an electric fence around our veggie garden, but some predator figured out how to get under the wires and gobbled up the green beans. Thank goodness for the Cloquet and Carlton farmers markets.

It’s been a wonderful year for flowers. Marigolds and petunias, annuals and perennials and our thornapple and crabapple fruits. Two members of Bethany Lutheran Church host a perennial sale every late summer. I bought, planted and am enjoying these, confident they will endure the winter snows as they have our summer of drought. I water the gardens around our home and garage lavishly, especially this unusually dry summer.

Don’t mistake me for a winter-resistor. I love the snow and the ice. I am eager for ice skating on our lakes around Cromwell. We live on a glacial moraine that offers lots of hilly slopes, a beaver pond, and access to the Tamarack River. And skiing Pine Valley, where I enjoy working with young folks. Skiing also at Jay Cooke State Park, on the Piedmont trail in Duluth, and out back on our forested acreage.

So much for the city girl who lived her first 18 years in Minneapolis, cheek to jowl with post-World War II houses. We did have a great skating rink, though, just two blocks from our home, equipped with a wood-heated warming house stoked by handsome high school boys. My Cromwell-bred dad took me to Theodore Wirth Park when I was quite young, where he taught me to downhill ski.

He was encouraging and kind to me. A few years later, he talked me into competing in cross-county ski races at Theodore Wirth. All I have to show for those is a tiny gold pin consisting of two crossed skies. I smile whenever I spot it in the jewelry box.

Columnist Ann Markusen is an economist and professor emerita at University of Minnesota.One of the five owners of the Pine Knot News, she lives in Red Clover Township north of Cromwell with her husband, Rod Walli.