Last weekend we spent an afternoon splitting wood and hanging around the fire at the 13th Anniversary Party for the Haseks.

It all started about 20 years ago, when an invasive beetle stowed away in a shipment of goods from China to Michigan. 

No, not the Hasek's love story--that had something to do with Alaska and yoga, I think. This is the story of why the couple had 12 trees taken down, and why they had so much wood in their yard that they had to have all their friends come over and chop it up.

Anyway, that sneaky little Emerald Ash Borer chewed her way out of the pallet and was delighted to discover that her favorite food was abundant and her natural enemies were scarce, so she got to work surviving and reproducing like a champ.  Two decades later and she'd made her way north into Ontario and Quebec east and west through the US and and south, into our neck of the woods.  

Our town has a lot of Ash trees in it.  The Haseks had 11 on their property alone, and when the blight was confirmed in our region, they had to decide between losing all that shade or pumping their trees with beetle poison every couple of years (which ain't cheap either), and hoping the trees stayed Borer-free.  They opted for the chop.  Time passed, the piles lingered, and an anniversary approached, so the happy couple called in the A squad to chop and celebrate.  


Wear boots and flannel, they said.  Bring axes and wheelbarrows, they said. Child labor welcome, they said.  We will feed you chili, they said. So we came.  Bearded and beflanneled, wielding axes and pushing barrows, we came.  

It was a balmy 37 degrees that January day.  The kids chased the chickens and took turns holding the rabbit and ran around like a pack of cousins all day.  Everybody over 13 tried their hand splitting wood.   The Superintendent chopped for 3 hours straight.  A Rocket Scientist with a bad back hacked away like Paul Bunyon. Four year old Henry filled and emptied his very own wheelbarrow about 40 times.  The carpenter's wife split and stacked like she was getting paid, stopping only to make way for a displaced vole-a refugee of the woodpile.

There were no injuries and almost no hurt feelings (it's hard to be a kid).    We had cake and toasted the happy couple and their sunny and open yard. 

As dusk fell, the children transformed from delightful woodsprites into small hungry demons and were removed.  The fire was engineered for heat and light, and we stayed close, sipping bourbons and beer, trading stories, smelling like woodsmoke and fresh air and hard work, unaware that the Ash Borer had moved on to a new host:  The White Fringe Tree.   [dun dun duuuuuuuunnn.......]

AuthorMatthew Collins

Half of the family headed out of town, and the other half stayed for the local festivities.  The parade, the barbeques, and fireworks on the hill.

AuthorMatthew Collins

Hardy Ballantine, neighbor since 1973

Hardy and his wife Jeanne first visited our small town when Hardy was hired to teach at a nearby university in 1970.

 “We came over here that summer and looked for a place to live and there wasn't anything, so we camped out at the State Park.  Jeanne was 9 months pregnant—“

“This was August, and it was hot,” Jeanne adds.

In 1973 they bought their house on North Walnut, and a couple of years after that they had their second son, Jeanne got tenure, and they took positions teaching on World Campus Afloat (now Semester at Sea).  They traveled the world with a 5 year old and a 2 ½ month old, which worked wonderfully, but upon their return, Hardy says, “life was just too complicated with two small children and both of us working, and we were living comfortably on Jeanne’s salary.”

Jeanne adds that “Hardy wanted to do some other things,” so Hardy quit his professor job and did some other things.  He joined the volunteer fire department, learned bookbinding and opened a home-based bookbinding business, renovated the house, and was a stay-at-home dad of two boys and a girl, Kate, who is my lifelong friend. 

In an era of latchkey kids and dual working families, Hardy remembers fondly the benefits of being a stable presence at home, especially when his kids were in jr. high and high school.

“Being able to work at home was very important for this family.  You hear about how teenagers don’t want anything to do with their parents and vice versa, but walking down the hall [of the high school], my kids were never embarrassed.  That was always something I felt pleased about.”

Over the years Hardy has been a valued member and leader in local organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, the fire department, the Planned Parenthood book loft, Youth Soccer, Chamber Music, the Unitarians, and the Theatre Arts Association, which afforded him another opportunity to work with his kids and get to know their friends.  He still seems surprised that “they never seemed to mind that I was there.”

Hardy and Jeanne travel in the way we all wish we could travel:  frequently, to interesting locations for interesting reasons with a lifetime’s experience traveling together.  This summer they will teach American students in Prague, as they have also done in Rwanda, Italy, Spain and Japan.  

AuthorCorrie VanAusdal

Eden says her favorite time to go to the pool is in the afternoons during the first couple of weeks it’s open, before school lets out for the summer.  “It’s all locals, our friends are here, and it’s like playing at the playground after school but…something different.”  We agree. 

Our small town’s pool is at the top of the big hill at the park where the baseball, softball, Tball and little league fields are (Matthew would like to add that these diamonds are not well tended, the drainage sucks, they need dugouts and nobody cares about them). In the winter we use the big hill for sledding, and on Easter the AME church members put together an egg hunt for the kids.  There is a serious-looking weekly game of Ultimate Frisbee all year, a slide and some baby swings near the climbing trees, and on the 4th of July we bring blankets and chairs and spread out all over the hill and field for the community band concert and fireworks display.

‘The big hill used to be a landfill,’ we say knowingly. 

‘Really?’ we ask incredulously.

‘Sure,’ we say, ‘there aren’t big hills around here because of the glaciers.’ 

‘Oh yeah,’ we muse, thinking of boulders around town that the glaciers left behind.  ‘I wonder how deep you’d have to dig before you would get to the garbage.’

New uses for old garbage heaps notwithstanding, we are very proud of our history here.  Gaunt Park is named for Wheeling Gaunt, the wealthy landowner who gave the property to the village in the 1890s.  Our generous patron was born a Kentucky slave in 1812 and when he was 32, through hard work and frugality, he bought his freedom and that of his wife and children (it’s unclear if it was all at the same time, or little by little).  When he moved to our village in 1860, Gaunt was already a wealthy and landed man who was known by Frederick Douglass and Bishop Payne, and when he died he left money and property to his living relatives and his church, as well as a large amount of cash and property to a nearby black college of which Payne was a founder.  To his village, Gaunt bequeathed the lands we know as our beloved park, with the stipulation that the village use rents from the land to provide flour to widows.  We honor that wish each December when village employees deliver 10 lbs each of flour and sugar to all local widows. 

December is far from our minds on this beautiful day at the teetering edge of summer. We park our bikes, hoof up the steep path, past the teenaged lifeguards at the gate and toward the cool blue squares of our pool.  On these uncrowded afternoons it’s easy to spot our friends’ towels, clustered together on the shady slope.   We hurry to smear sunscreen onto backs and necks before little fish have slipped through our fingers and into the water.

We stay too late on these days, knowing we should go home, get something onto the table, get people into and out of the bath-it is a school night after all-but we stay and stay until the fish grow legs again and rise, shivering, from the shady depths.  

AuthorCorrie VanAusdal

Tar Hollow 2014 was COLD!  It was rainy and muddy and freezing at night in the cabins.  Most of the action took place in the lodge, once the firewood dried enough to catch.   There was a crowd of camp chairs around the main fireplace about 7 rows deep, most with dog-eared novels or empty hot chocolate cups underneath.

The population of camp was overwhelmingly elementary-aged this year, with older and younger siblings along for the ride. The young ones were drawn to a new feature at the group campsite, called the Ga-ga Pit, and played there all afternoon Saturday and half of Sunday too.  The game looks something like a rolling dodgeball played from the knees down inside an octagonal, thigh-high corral.   From the hills above, the cheering sounded like Roman crowds at the coliseum: “Ga-ga!  Ga-ga! Ga-ga!”

Probably the same number of folks as always fell into the lake, but this year it was a big deal every time because of the temperatures.  Second-timers Stephanie and Jason McClean and their son Liam each took a head-to-toe soaking on Saturday, and after Saturday supper when we learned of a particularly scary capsizing we opted to close up the boats for the rest of the weekend. 

It was another indoor campfire this year featuring skits by talented and fearless youngsters, a long tale with a punny payoff from Peter Whitsun, an in-depth epic song about the emcee and his beard, a visit from Pepito, a belly dancing grand finale, then s’mores, popcorn, more hot chocolate and another shivering night.  

Sunday was lovely and checkout was remarkably fast.  This camper got misty-eyed and hummed The Circle Game on Sunday, thinking of Dick Robertson and all the stalwart Tar Hollowans who are no longer with us; remembering Tar Hollows that were cold, hot, rainy, perfect, mosquitoey or poison ivy-filled, Tar Hollow weekends defined by moments.   The ones we remember from photographs, or defined by the presence or absence of a crush, the one where we roller skated everywhere, the bathing suit one, the one with the super soakers, the one we came back from college for, the one we brought our toddlers to, the one with the tshirts. 

The bus departed camp at 1:30 and dropped us back at Mills Lawn with soggy luggage, tired eyes, and happy hearts.  

AuthorCorrie VanAusdal