Greg Koelker


The time of cool evening campfires is upon us. We haven’t had a fire outside all summer. Our birch and pine firewood pile never dried out until this week. We have scented the autumnal perfume of a burning wood fire often this summer though. Our friend and neighbor Gregg Sikora cooks over an open oak fire often. Two years ago, he grilled the tenderloins of Pat Kolbe’s big buck for lunch, perhaps the best ever.

I usually write about years ago or at least last year, but we are looking forward for a number of reasons, but the big one is next year at this time. We are hosting the wedding of mountain man Benjamin and his Christine. El and I are so happy for them. They seem perfect for each other. Opposites attract they say and in a lot of ways they are. He is a hunter; she prefers vegetables, for example. They compromise on chicken and fish sometimes. Chris says her deer and/or elk is jerked into treats for the dogs. They both love their dogs and cats, and skiing and hiking and biking in the mountains. They plan a September ceremony in our tobacco shed and a reception here in the yard at Grouse Hollow. Even with a year to go, there is plenty to get started to make the place presentable. That old building has seen a lot of tobacco and machinery and firewood and such, but this will be a new memory for it, decorated and filled with people.

There have been many parties here since the place was first settled not long after the Civil War. The earliest pictures we were given by the late Doris Oldenburg were of special day here in 1902 where a photographer took pictures of the family dressed in their finest, complete with long dresses and long beards. The house looked much the same when we moved here 75 years later. Our old friend, the late Harry Korhalls, who grew up near here, told us once that he came here for a wedding dance. The party was held in what is now my shop. He said they had musicians and lots of people dancing.

In 2003, we held a huge blowout to celebrate both Ben and Mark graduating from college the same day. I grilled dozens of brats and burgers and dogs. The guests just kept coming. I never even got a taste of beer from the five or so half barrels the boys purchased. In 2004, we celebrated Ellen’s 50th birthday with a surprise party. Mark and Ben were here that week and we painted the kitchen. Oh, since were in the middle of a kitchen remodel, there were no cupboards or even a sink. Still the neighbors helped with the surprise. Dave and Kathy Becker picked up and delivered our catered lunch (I got smart for this one and didn’t cook). Our families set up tables and chairs and when El got home from church that Sunday morning, she was greeted with a party already to launch. We have also heard rumors that Ben and Mark had some, uh, for lack of a better word, wild parties when El and I were not home. This one should be nice and a bit more civilized than some. We shall see.

Anyway, we can only hope to get such a beautiful start to September in 2019. As for weather, we got through the recent nasty devastating storms with only a little water in the basement and a downed box elder that made a direct hit on our kennel (Bo was in the porch.) We pray for those who are still cleaning up and drying out. We give thanks for all the wonderful firefighters, police, utility workers, town and county employees, wardens, mayors, and volunteers from the entire area.

Last week, our old friend Richard Bryhan of Lancaster passed away at 90. When I was growing up, visits to and from Richard and Irene and their kids: Jimmy, Rosemary, Ron and Steve were often and holiday-like for us kids. We played outside and in the basement. The grownups played euchre and roared and laughed. My favorite memory is of the night the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan. The grownups were curious to see this after all the national hype. Jimmy and I and the other kids spread out on the living room floor and watched with awe at the Fab Four sang and played. Midway through the first song, I heard Rich growl and I turned to see him say to my dad, “What a bunch of (barnyard expletive)!” Anyway, Jimmy paid us a big compliment when he said, “You guys were more like relatives, cousins than many of our real ones,” at the visitation.

Until next time, get out — Ellen is recovering well, helping around the place a great deal and enjoying the hummingbirds and flowers, and taking care of her small garden and me. Bo is growing like a Labrador puppy is expected to. He is 4 months old now and 30 pounds with feet big enough to almost walk on water with an inner monster showing its ugly puppy teeth once in awhile . I am pretty much the same, looking forward to some time in a tree stand and/or with a .22 in a squirrel woods. Have a safe hunting season. Enjoy.

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Greg and his wife Ellen Koelker are retired and live on Grouse Hollow Farm near Stoddard. He is chairman of the Vernon County Chapter of Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

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