June 3rd…“DID YOU EVER SLEEP OUT UNDER THE STARS ON YOUR FARM IN MINNESOTA?”
The last “Surge” milking machine was being unhooked from one of our Holstein cows when my big brother, Lowell, had an idea. “Hey El, how would you like to sleep out under the stars tonight?” Eleven years my senior, Lowell was like a young father to me and often included me in some of his life adventures. This excursion sounded like a doozy of a good time, so I responded, “SURE, that’d be GREAT!!” as loads of smiles profusely popped from my face! I couldn’t wait to see what his plans were.
The cows were finished being milked for that evening, and after a few more chores around the farmyard, we shifted into FUN MODE! The push button starter on our B Farmall tractor brought that little engine to life and it purred like a kitten as big brother spun it around in our graveled yard to hook it up to one of Dad’s flat rack wagons.
With all our camping gear on board the flat rack, Lowell said, “We’re heading down to camp at the thicket tonight!” The “thicket” was our Midwestern word for a grove of somewhat swampy woods that straddled Brush Creek that ran along the southern boundary of our farm northwest of Kiester, Minnesota. With energy to spare, I was pumped as I hopped up onto that wagon while Lowell aimed that little “B” tractor through our orchard and set a course that followed the setting sun to the west side of our 120 acre farm property. While standing on the wagon, as we went bouncing along, I gazed back at our farm receding in the distance behind us. As we lumbered along I enjoyed how the summer sun was kissing our farmlands “goodnight” with its golden arms of light reaching out and enveloping the windbreak of trees that wrapped around our main farm and protected us each year from winter’s fury. Being the young buck I was, I stood on that jostling platform and “surfed the wind” as our flat rack wagon “bucked” along the stubble-covered field. Within minutes, we pulled into our camping destination to have some special brother with brother time.
To me, our thicket was a place of wonderment and us boys used some of the waning moments of daylight to explore these woods inhabited by Great Horned Owls, Mink, Muskrats and related wildlife. Earlier in my boyhood, and lacking the wisdom of today, I once tried to shoot a Great Horned Owl in that same thicket with my father’s Remington 22 Caliber Rifle. Thankfully, the owl was sitting on a limb at such a long distance that, by the time my bullet reached it, its power to kill was spent and ended up just knocking the big bird off its branch. It flew away, unscathed, for another day of life. In other realms of wildlife of our area, stories were sometimes told by our elders of massive Snapping Turtles being in that same vicinity, along the creek bed, although I had never laid eyes on one myself.
Having set up camp on the platform boards of that flat rack wagon, it was time to light our oil lantern and have some grub for our suppertime. Darkness now ruled the farmland around us and the owls began their serenade to us from the thicket as they sat on their wooded thrones. “Whooo, Whooo is sleeping in our woods??!!” the owls seemed to call as we settled underneath our blankets for what we thought would have been a night of serene star viewing of the heavens above us……but…..that was not to be. Our oil lantern was not only a beacon to us, in that ebony world of darkness, but, in the stillness of the evening, and with no wind to push them away, that lantern seemed to call forth every mosquito that had ever lived in the entire State of Minnesota. Black clouds of those tiny, infinitesimal insects descended upon us and began torturing us with their uncountable whines in our ears and stings so numerous that we couldn’t slap them fast enough! Even with Lowell dousing the lamp into darkness, it didn’t seem to help, for now they had our ‘address’. The lethal calm of the night around us gave these mini jet fighters the ability to attack at will. It didn’t take too much more agony before my big brother Lowell said, “Let’s get the HECK outta here!!!” He jumped off the wagon, fired up the engine of the B Farmall tractor and in a minute we were zipping across those darkened fields like a flash and away from the hordes of tiny assassins that wanted to suck our very blood.
To try to rescue some of the night’s adventure potential, Lowell suggested that we could still have a camp out on the front lawn near our farm home. That sounded like a fine alternative for me, so, when we got back to the homestead, we pulled our gear off the flatrack wagon and settled our bodies onto the soft grass of the lawn and pulled the blankets over our heads for some sleep. The mosquito threat here was negligible, so we were almost dozing off into ‘slumberland’ when we heard the distant rumblings of the birthing of a summer thunderstorm in the far distance. Rolling over and looking skyward from our pillows, we’d see a quiet flash of light ricochet off the base of the clouds above us. A long pause, then a low rumble. “Nothing to worry about.” , said brother, “It’s still a long ways off”. Who knows, said big brother, the storm may even turn another direction. Another lighting of God’s “flashbulbs” in the sky, and this time there was a quicker rumble. There increasingly was a flash, pow, flash, pow in the sky that became more and more frequent until………you guessed it, the thunderstorm was now right over our farm and the sky unleashed torrents of rain upon us and our gear. We ran for the house as fast as we could make our young feet fly! Brother dear said something to the effect of “This is CRAZY!!!” (which I seem to remember it coming out of his vocabulary in a bit more colorful way……….Hehehe!!) As far as camping, well, maybe it wasn’t cracked up to what we had hoped, yet I look back on it as a grand adventure with the one and only brother hero there is in the world for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.