Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 27, 2017

Boat, birds, bears and books

Our annual adventures to Wisconsin’s North Woods are now an inseparable part of our family’s history. Husband Art’s cousin Claudia and her hubby Karl are a big part of that story. They were instrumental in our decision to buy a cottage there.

But while we knew Karl wasn’t doing well recently, we were surprised when Claudia informed us of his death. Almost immediately, Art, our girls and I began to reminisce.

His husky baritone voice and hearty explosive laugh came to mind immediately. I also recall enjoying watching the birds at the many feeders Karl had installed in their back yard next to their home. The wide windows in the living room provided a clear view of the woodpeckers, chickadees and other birds in the winter and of the hummingbirds in the summer. Karl had at least one bird book on the nearby coffee table so different species could be easily identified.

Art reminded me of the time he went to the refrigerator and poured himself a large glass of what he thought was Kool-Aid. He quickly discovered it was liquid for the hummingbird feeder ... mighty sweet!

Squirrels, chipmunks and deer made appearances, too. Karl got frustrated when deer or bears knocked down his feeders, but I think he also enjoyed seeing the wildlife up close and personal, even though it meant extra work to get the feeders back up.

He enjoyed taking his boat out in the Chain of Lakes. Sometimes he pursued the elusive musky, but like many fishermen, I think much of his pleasure arose from being out in nature.

When Karl took daughters Mariya and Katie and me on boat rides, he always took their dog along. Over the years, we knew several of them, including Rosie, the black Lab. She provided endless entertainment chasing after a ball or begging for attention.

Karl freely shared his knowledge about the history and natural beauty of the different lakes in the area. Once we had passed through one of the small channels connecting to an adjacent lake, he’d roar across the open expanses of the lake to give us the thrill of spray on our faces. He told us about the wild rice in the shallow waters and how Native Americans had the first shot at harvesting it. He pointed out eagle nests, herons and loons - oh, how he loved loons! He told us that each lake would usually have a pair of loons that would spend the summer raising their young.

One year when German “kids” Nadja and Tim were with us, Karl took Tim tubing - probably Tim’s favorite thing from that trip. When we told Tim about Karl’s death, he recalled the boat rides and Karl’s laugh.

... To me, it always seemed like he was pretty happy with his life. A really nice man. Good heart and a deep (smoker) voice. He reminded me of my own grandpa who died in 2005.

Karl let the kids drive the boat for short periods. Mariya said:

I really enjoyed our forays into the Wisconsin wilds on his boat ... And that he let me drive the boat, even though I crashed it once.

She hit a sandbar, which damaged the propeller. But Karl was able to coax the boat back to his pier. He never said a harsh word to her.

Nadja also got a chance to navigate.

I remember Karl taking us tubing or speed-boat riding ... he let me drive his boat for a short time and showed me the beautiful nature in Wisconsin. He knew lots of facts about animals and plants ... I loved his little and very tidy garden and the path to the boat ...

Katie commented that Karl and Claudia always included our kids in the conversations.

They always wanted to know what we were most interested in at the time and would find things related to that to let us borrow or talk about.

When our girls were younger, that included playing Checkers with them or doing tricks with Dominoes or buying Beanie Babies at a local store. When the girls were older, Karl and Claudia wanted to know what they were studying and what their interests were.

Most years, Art’s mother Donna was with us and Karl and Donna loved to talk about the Packers.

We often ate at their home, where Claudia would fix the most delicious meals and desserts with Karl as her right-hand man. At Christmastime, we’d travel the three hours from Donna’s home to Claudia’s and Karl’s, enjoying the lovely winter scenery along the way. Their place was always beautifully decorated and included a tree Karl had cut from the nearby woods. Claudia’s childhood dollhouse stood guard next to the decorated tree. A highlight of the visit was the delectable and beautifully decorated Christmas cookies that Claudia baked and Karl helped decorate.

One year, he made tiny birch-bark birdhouses. He also made birch-bark stars. They are among my favorite ornaments on our Christmas trees.

Before Karl retired some 20-odd years ago, he had been a printer. He often passed hours at the computer-controlled press reading. It remained a much-loved pastime after retirement and he always had a partly-read book or two in their home.

One summer, we invited them to our cottage to share the grilled trout Art had caught. But most years they had a new restaurant they wanted us to try. In August one year, Claudia and I made raspberry jam from the wild berries Art, the kids and I had picked. I always reserved a pint of fresh berries for Karl so he could put them on ice cream.

The pair had been married 63 years and seemed a particularly good match. Karl will be dearly missed by Claudia, their daughter Amy and sons KC and Art. But as Tim said, “... it always seemed like he was pretty happy with his life.” We all should have such an epitaph.

Top-left: (l-r) Tim, Nadja, Katie, Karl, Claudia and Gloria; bottom left: Mariya steers the boat and Karl monitors. Katie enjoys the ride while Karl's faithful companion watches over the boat's stern; middle-left: Karl takes Katie for a ride in an old wheeled chair; top-middle-right: Karl dances with Mariya in the kitchen; bottom-middle-right: one of Karl's birch-bark miniature birdhouses; right: Karl helps with supper while man's-best-friend hopes for a handout.

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