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A life with Ellie

I stand in the animal clinic’s lobby joined by several other patients and their owners.

Then, I see her.

There she is for a fleeting moment. By the scale next to a pet supplies display. She jumps on the scale. Yikes, an always eager 48 pounds! What will the vet say about that?

An assistant informs me she’ll return shortly. I nod, take a seat and then am distracted by a woman entering the lobby with a Springer spaniel puppy tugging on leash.

Again, there she is. Just like my dog, Ellie, begging to be noticed. Bobbed tail wagging non-stop like an egg beater. Hardly giving a sleeping couch cat any more than a quick glance.

“Tell ‘em boss. I’m Ellie!”

I recall more of our life together:

Wouldn’t it be neat, I remember thinking back then, to feature Ellie on the Upper Midwest TV program I produced and hosted — “Northland Adventures”? With assistance and advice of our veterinarian and two trainers who’ve befriended me in the past, periodically we would show our audience how she grows and develops from eight weeks to a year old in three-minute segments that hopefully would inform and entertain viewers.

Stuff like house-breaking. Her reaction to voice and hand commands. Exploring her daily expanding world. Interacting with our older Springer spaniel, Matty. Teaching dummy retrieves. At the blast of gunshot, proving she was certainly not gun shy. What and when to eat. Where to sleep. Adapting to the wants and needs of my wife, daughters and guests and a line of diverse dogs she would meet.

Simply, stories about “Life with Ellie.”

In a hunting world dominated by black and yellow Labs and pointers of all sorts, people adored her liver-and-white charm.

From backyard locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota to the Dakota grasslands and waterfowl marshes, “Life with Ellie” reflected situations and topics ordinary hunting dog owners could relate to.

Yes, it started with ducks after her mentor, Matty, died. Her first waterfowl retrieve, a wood duck, came on the Mississippi River at Lansing, Iowa. Her last, a gadwall, was at Boisevain, Manitoba. In between Ellie gently but firmly brought back ruffed grouse, woodcock, ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, white-fronted geese, snow geese and even Canada geese she dragged to my hands. In the offseason, she would drive away squirrels and rabbits plundering our flowers and garden vegetables or raiding the bird feeders.

The hunter spirit was burnt in her heart. You could count incoming birds mirrored on her lovely dark brown eyes.

Aside from routine aches and pains, it took only one encounter to teach her to avoid porcupines. But the major trauma in her life came when she tore a ligament in her right rear leg flushing a large flock of sharptails in North Dakota. Several days later back home in Wisconsin she had a new metal joint implanted that served her well the remainder of her days.

Over the years her kind heart dispensed generous unconditional doses of doggy medicine to both me and my wife. Sue constantly had Ellie at her side licking her hand through two bouts of cancer and I had the re-assuring pleasure of her wet nose while overcoming several heart procedures.

Toward the end of her days Ellie and I were still logging three-mile daily walks around the neighborhood. And she never turned down a chance to chase neighbors’ pets, dogs and cats roaming outside our fenced back yard.

However, try as she did to keep her demise hidden, Ellie’s health and stamina began to decline. On her last night, she leaned against our legs like always when we arrived home. She stared at us intensely. Her stubby tail never wagged stronger.

But the next morning she was not around to greet us rising from bed the way she had daily for most of her life. Suffering an apparent stroke, she could hardly move and refused any food or liquids. Her tail was still. I loaded her limp body into the truck for that final trip, just as we had with two other Springers. Back to the clinic where they each had passed and some of their memories, like Ellie’s, linger.

“You have our sympathy,” the compassionate clinic assistant said. “One bag contains Ellie’s ashes, the other her metal ACL device.”

Ellie was gone from this place, gone from everywhere. Yet there she was, etched in memory. I took the bags and turned to the door. People and their pets were silent.

Inside the truck I placed Ellie’s remains on the passenger’s side seat where she customarily rode for so many miles.

Well deserved rest after nearly 16 years of giving and living.

A Life with Ellie.

Carlson is a freelance writer who lives in Eau Claire.


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Flight of the Monarch

I’ve always loved mowing the lawn. I know as a good environmentalist, I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true. I grew up in a comfortable middle or upper-middle class family where my parents for better or worse didn’t assign me many chores. In fact, mowing the lawn is the only chore I can recall. I don’t think I ever shirked this duty, but rather, embraced it passionately, as if training to one day join the grounds crew at some hallowed stadium or golf course. Perhaps it was because I was in love with watching the Kirby Puckett-era Minnesota Twins, the Robin Yount-era Milwaukee Brewers or afternoon Chicago Cubs games on WGN and marveling at the Wrigley Field fescue, that I took greater deliberation with my mowing. But from an early age, I’ve always appreciated a neat cross-hatching on a flat field of verdant grass.

Back in 2013 we bought a bright orange Husqvarna riding lawnmower with a 54-inch deck. Soon thereafter, I dubbed the mower “Monie,” which is short for “Monarch”, a gesture toward the lumbering piece of machinery’s coloring. Somehow, I’ve conflated a loud, slow, assemblage of metal and plastic with a beautiful, delicate and ephemeral butterfly. Apparently, I see no irony in the notion of me riding this iron butterfly over my property. This is how my mind works. If I’m being honest, the acquisition of a riding lawnmower fulfilled a life goal of mine. I was tickled.

It takes about 3½ to four hours to mow our lawn. Much less I suppose, if you’re just “cutting grass” rather than my tact, which is more “grooming the estate.” My wife tends to frown on my groundskeeping, because those four hours leave her essentially in charge of our two children and their needs. Earbuds in, engine roaring, blades of grass spewing out, I am unreachable. At times I have been accused of using Monie as an escape. Especially since the longer we have lived on our property, the longer it takes me to mow. This is due to the fact that I’ve begun mowing a circuit of trails around our 16 acres, all of the trails roughly 120 inches wide, which really requires three passes with Monie. The lawn may take four hours of maintenance, but the trails add another hour or so. I have also been accused of wanting to mow our entire property, of wanting to cut down every tree, shrub and wildflower, to make way for Monie. Ridiculous.

A few weeks ago, I found myself under the screws of a looming deadline. A big project was due and I couldn’t quite see an original solution for a problem I kept butting into. Other people might call what I’m describing “writer’s block.” Occasionally an aspiring writer will ask me, “How do you overcome writer’s block? What is your secret,” they’ll ask.

One of my secrets is mowing.

I think of writer’s block this way: Imagine you’re hiking along a soft, flat path through a wide open grasslands. Your way is smooth and easy. Then, you begin to climb a rise and suddenly, as if out of nowhere, an imposing wall all crowned in concertina wire looms up, stretching the span of the horizon. It’s as if the world ends at this wall. And for a writer, this is true. The story, the narrative just stops and instead of swirling familiar voices and characters dancing around, there is nothing but an ugly wall of cement as far as the eye can see. There appears to be no way to summit the wall or dig beneath it. Just the foreboding sense of being utterly stymied. But no wall is infinite.

When I mow the lawn, I’m not just cutting grass. Disconnected from the computer, my mind drifts and begins to loosen. Ideas bounce around and out. That metaphor of writer’s block I presented? That wall? On Monie, it’s like I’m driving to the furthest extents of the wall biding my time before I circumnavigate the obstruction. Maybe the folks at Husqvarna could use this catchy slogan: Mowing is meditation.

September and October are prime time for mowing the lawn. The weather is cooling, and a sweatshirt will soon be a welcome layer. To all of you walking behind Toros or Snappers, to all of you riding John Deeres or Cub Cadets, I toast your hard work. Keep those lines straight, your blades sharp, and always remember: high-octane gasoline and a frosty cold adult beverage. My best friend once pointed out that a person burns about a hundred calories per hour mowing the lawn on a riding mower. A hundred calories is a convenient number; essentially the same number of calories in a light beer. Sometimes the universe presents us with coincidences, and sometimes it is illuminating good practice.

Next Saturday: B.J. Hollars lays out the rules of the road(trip) in summer.


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Conservative donor David Koch dies

WASHINGTON — Billionaire industrialist David H. Koch, who with his older brother Charles was both celebrated and demonized for transforming American politics by pouring their riches into conservative causes, died Friday at 79.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but Koch Industries said Koch, who lived in New York City, had contended for years with various illnesses, including prostate cancer.

A chemical engineer by training, Koch was an executive in the family-run conglomerate, the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980 and a major benefactor of educational, medical and cultural organizations.

But he and his brother became best known for building a political network dubbed the “Kochtopus” for its many-tentacled support of conservative and libertarian causes and candidates.

The brothers in 2004 founded the anti-tax, small-government group Americans for Prosperity, which remains one of the most powerful conservative organizations in U.S. politics.

“I was taught from a young age that involvement in the public discourse is a civic duty,” David Koch wrote in a 2012 op-ed in the New York Post. “Each of us has a right — indeed, a responsibility, at times — to make his or her views known to the larger community in order to better form it as a whole. While we may not always get what we want, the exchange of ideas betters the nation in the process.”

While lionized on the right, the Koch brothers have been vilified by Democrats who see them as a dark and conspiratorial force, the embodiment of fat-cat capitalism and the corrupting influence of corporate money in American politics.

The Kochs invested heavily in fighting President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul; they fought to bring conservative voices to college campuses; and they developed a nationwide grassroots network pushing conservative causes and candidates at the state and national levels.

The one exception: President Donald Trump. The Kochs refused to endorse Trump in 2016, warning that his protectionist trade policies, among other priorities, weren’t sufficiently conservative.

David Koch had stepped away from a leadership role in recent years because of declining health, including a decades-long battle with prostate cancer, and his brother became the network’s public face.

In an interview after the 2012 Republican convention, his mind was on his legacy.

“When I pass on,” he told The Weekly Standard, “I want people to say he did a lot of good things, he made a real difference, he saved a lot of lives in cancer research.”

Koch donated $100 million in 2007 to create a cancer research institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also gave millions to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the M.D. Anderson Cancer in Houston and other institutions.

The Lincoln Center theater that houses the New York City Ballet became the David H. Koch Theater in 2008 after he gave $100 million. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History opened a wing in his name dedicated to the story of human evolution.

He said his philanthropy was fueled by a brush with death during a 1991 collision of two airliners at the Los Angeles airport. Thirty-four people were killed; Koch spent two days in intensive care with smoke inhalation.

“I felt that the good Lord was sitting on my shoulder and that he helped save my life because he wanted me to do good works and become a good citizen,” he told Barbara Walters in 2014.

Charles and David Koch, each with an estimated net worth of $50.5 billion, were tied for 11th place in 2019 on the Forbes 500 list of the nation’s richest men.

Koch Industries, co-founded by their father, Fred, in 1940, is a Wichita, Kansas-based conglomerate with vast holdings in oil refineries, paper mills, fertilizer plants, cattle ranches and other ventures. It is the company behind Stainmaster carpeting, Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups.

It has drawn fire for years from environmental advocates and researchers. Koch Industries in 2000 paid $35 million — then the largest civil fine ever levied under the federal Clean Water Act — to settle lawsuits over oil pipeline leaks into lakes and streams in six states.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute ranks Koch Industries one of the top 25 polluters in the U.S.

David Koch, who held degrees from MIT, served on Koch Industries’ board and was also CEO of a Koch chemical subsidiary. He retired from the company as executive vice president in 2018.

Two other Koch brothers, Frederick and Bill Koch, came out on the losing end of a power struggle for control of the company’s board. They sold their stake in Koch Industries in 1983, later unsuccessfully claiming in a lawsuit that they were cheated out of more than $1 billion. David and Bill Koch were twins.

David Koch is survived by his wife, Julia Flesher, and their three children.

On Friday, Charles Koch said of his younger brother: “The significance of David’s generosity is best captured in the words of Adam Smith, who wrote, ‘to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature.’”