When A Bear Comes to Your Front Door

I have fed chipmunks peanuts from my palm, stalked beaver around the lake in a canoe, tossed bread to wild ducks from the dock, caught and thrown back more fish than I could count. I’ve admired the flight of a bald eagle, a great blue heron and a twittering hummingbird. I’ve seen porcupines shoot quills, white-striped raccoon tails glow in the dark and deer dart gracefully through the woods. Part of the appeal of the North woods is this privileged relationship one develops with the forest animals. Living so closely to wildlife teaches respect, but in all my summers spent in Wisconsin, I’ve never considered what to do if a bear comes calling at my cabin door.bear

The locals at Summit Lake recount bear sightings every summer, but we had heard it so often, it sounded like folklore, the bear being like the Hodag, the mythical beast of the old lumberjacks of Rhinelander.

Still when living in the woods, bear is always in the back of your mind. When I grill out and hear a thrashing in the forest, I think, “Bears, burger, me…dead meat.” Just as I turn to run, I’ll see a white tail flip up in the green brush and a deer dart across the path.

So one drizzly afternoon, when my mom exclaimed, “Oh my, there’s a bear!” at first it didn’t register. I reluctantly put down my book and looked out the picture window in front of the lake. Not more than 15 feet away, a bear stood on his hind legs sweeping a clumsy paw at the bird feeder. His black coat was sleek and glossy from the rain and made him look slim. He had a cute, round snout and beady, black eyes. Standing five feet tall, he didn’t look that big or that bad. Before I could grab a camera, he lumbered back into the woods towards the lake leaving us with nervously reassuring one another we weren’t hallucinating.

“I thought it was a big, black squirrel climbing the tree!” my mom said in disbelief.

“Are you sure it was a bear?” my daughter asked skeptically.

“We couldn’t all be wrong,” I answered, pointing to my parents and sister who looked a bit shell-shocked from the sight.

“I don’t know,” Nat speculated. “How good are your eyes – you  all wear glasses.”

Next morning, my sisters and I were apprehensive when we walked down our wooded lane, stopping to chat with our neighbor the local woodsman.

“Nothing to be afraid of,” Steinie said. “Those are black bears, not grizzlies. Won’t bother you. Just give a holler. Tell ‘em to git and they’ll go on home.”

Yep, July 19, 2001, the day a bear came to call was etched in my memory. Over a decade passed before I saw another one. Sure enough Dad and I did a double take as we watched a smaller black bear look right as us then amble back into the woods.

Since ghost walks and flashlight tag were now out of the question, we spent summer evenings peering out the window. Every shadow looked like a bear. When it was too dark to see, we recounted bear stories over again as if to reassure ourselves that it wasn’t just some apparition of our imagination.

A lot of folks tell tales of hitting deer darting across the highway, but leave it to a Frenchman to boast of being hit by a bear. My husband swears that a big ol’ black bear ran right into him after he swerved on highway 64. Of course, the only witness was the bear, so we’ll never know for sure.  Sounds like one of those fishing stories where the catch gets bigger every time you tell the tale. But it could be true. One neighbor asked for advice on how to shoo a black bear out of his garage with a yard rake. My sister, Karen, was sitting on the dock admiring the lake when a bear ambled out of the woods aiming to hang out at our house until her dog, Kizzie barked.

It is one thing to see bears in a zoo, but another to see them in your front yard. I know what a caged animal must feel like. While our bear roamed around his woodsy world in freedom, I stared at him from behind our glass cage. It was a humbling experience, a vivid reminder that I am just one little creature in God’s great kingdom.

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Mürren Switzerland, Last Stop Before Heaven

IMG_3617_copyIn a country where every mile is beautiful, it is difficult to choose a favorite spot, but Mürren rates at the top of my list. Perched precariously on a narrow balcony 5,397 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the highest resort village in the Bernese Oberland offers the best view of Switzerland’s most famous trio, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Mürren is as close to heaven as it gets.

Part of the splendor is the journey upward on the Lauterbrunnen to Grutschalp funicular. Opened in 1891, it was once the steepest funicular in Switzerland until they replaced it with a gondola. After riding up a sheer incline, we stepped out into a station and boarded a train that crept even higher until the line ended in Mürren.

At first, British tourists invaded Mürren, accessible only in summer months. As early as 1869 a British visitor complained, “It is crowded to excess with English.” Archbishop of Canterbury was appalled to see people playing tennis within view of the Jungfrau. He considered it sacrilegious to participate in such an artificial activity when surrounded by such a spectacular natural sport arena.

In 1910, the hotels persuaded railway lines to open lines for winter season. In 1928, the first Inferno Ski Race from the summit of Schilthorn mountain (9,744 feet altitude) put Mürren on the map. Mürren has also been associated with ballooning since the 1910 crossing the Alps ended in Turen.

Sports enthusiasts aren’t the only ones to enjoy Mürren, one of the larger car free resorts. Every day tourists love strolling through one long main streets where bakeries, boutiques, hotels and resorts perch on a ledge of Switzerland’s most famous Alps. Every 50 yards, red benches beckon gawkers and walkers to sit a spell when the panoramic views take one’s breath away.

One step out onto the terrace of our Hotel Alpenruh overlooking the tips of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Munch in full splendor and felt like we’d tumbled into Heidiland. Several hiking trails offered excursions. We chose the children’s adventure trail, which required more dexterity than my old body could muster. Even with my adjustable walking sticks with three different tips for snow, mountain and road surface, I struggled to maneuver the sheer ledges.

We climbed up a peak where half a dozen chalets – abandoned in offseason -looked like a mountain ghost town. The trail disappeared again in heavy wet snow. The only way back was straight down a sheer drop off that even a skilled skier would have trouble descending. Never daunted, my husband bounded ahead sideways like a billy goat and forged our own trail. My knees screamed in pain each step downward, but I pushed ahead fearing that if I misjudged one step, I would roll into another valley and be lost forever.

We finally saw the village below although it took another 2 hours to reach it. Once back at the hotel, I collapsed on the trundle bed under a fluffy duvet enjoying my hiker’s survival high. I admired the show outside my window as the setting sun illuminated the rugged mountain trio in various shadows and shapes. Meanwhile, much to my chagrin, my husband watched a football (soccer) match on a mini TV. In a land offering this kind of splendor just outside one’s window, television, like tennis courts, should be banned.

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SOS Chiropractor to the Rescue

I have been to dozens of doctors for a lifetime of injuries and ailments, but there are certain ones I never forget. Chiropractors saved me from surgery back in July 1979 during my first hospitalization for a herniated lumbar disk L4, L5. I ran from the knife and saw my first chiro, who help me rehabilitate in time to play in the first women’s professional league that fall. I have been addicted ever since. Long gone are the days that chiropractors were called quacks, now most insurance companies recognize them.

I drove hundreds of miles between different states and countries in pursuit of competent doctors because a good chiro was worth his weight in gold. When I lived in Germany, there were no chiropractors, so I would return to Paris. For a decade when living in France, I took the metro to see Dr. Tanqueray at the Trocadero. In Switzerland, my husband drives me to Geneva for the early bird special at 7 am. which means no waiting. I ride the old caged elevator up to the 3rd floor to Dr. Girod’s office on Rue Voltaire.

But my favorite chiropractor of all times is Dr. Draeger in Eagle River, my summer time muscle and bone spine caretaker in Wisconsin.

Chiro in the woods

Chiro in the woods

Tall and wiry, I have always been difficult to adjust, but Dr. D can pop me back in place every time.  I have witnessed chiros work miracles. After my son was born in Paris, I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand up right. I saw my chiro and after a neck adjustment, I was back on track. I have lurched into my doc’s office, limping from low back pain, looking like the leaning tower of Pisa and walked out standing tall like the Eiffel Tower.

Anytime I have any back or joint pain, I go to the chiro first. Chiropractic medicine emphasizes the self and advocates exercise, a healthy diet, and a balanced lifestyle.

After my sister underwent a battery of tests for a “heart” problem, Dr. D adjusted her dislocated rib with a manipulation that his brother, also a chiropractor, devised and her chest pain disappeared. Dr. D also adjusted my son’s dislocated wrists. My dad swears by him.

Dr. D has the extra special touch. He welcomes you like a long-lost friend, every time you step into his office. How many doctors do you know who give you hugs and make cabin calls? In the summer, if he drives by route 45, he will swing off the highway on the back road, winding around the lake, and ring your doorbell. He will drag his portable table out of the trunk and click-clack treat the entire family. For free!

Under chiropractic care, I recovered from athletic injuries, bike crashes, car accidents, and the trauma of giving birth. They have helped me recoup from flying soccer balls, hitting walls, and bad falls.

With the assistance of skilled chiropractors, I have healed from 3 whiplashes, 2 child births, and one too many re-locations. I recovered from herniated lumber disks, compressed dorsal vertebrae and pinched nerves and the bone crushing wear and tear incurred over hundreds of thousands of miles of road trips and air travel between states and across continents.

If I am still upright, it is because of chiros! Thanks to chiropractors for keeping me mobile, especially to my favorite magic hands, Dr. Dave.

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A Daughter’s Homecoming Brings Sunshine to Switzerland

My Frenchman and I stand at the Geneva airport, gazing through the glass windows at the crowd milling around the luggage carousel. Our daughter, towering above the Europeans, slings a duffel over her shoulder and strides through customs with a tired grin, dropping her bag to hug her dad.

Baby Nat with grandparents

Baby Nat with grandparents

How many miles must one travel to connect generations between separate continents? Nearly three decades ago,  I cradled my Franco-American newborn in my arms during a 4,000 mile journey, 500 mph, 30,000 feet over the Atlantic. What was I thinking?  My anxiety melted the moment I stepped through customs at O’Hare airport and witnessed her grandparents’ joy. For the next 5 summers until cousins were born the McKinzie’s first grandchild was spoiled like an only child by her aunts and uncle.

proud little girl on the beach

happy little girl on the beach

How many road trips were made to Trouville in a pilgrimage to

Trouville in the spring

Trouville in the spring

Normandy and the other side of her heritage? In the thousand year old village on the English Channel, time stood still, frozen in the spindly, brick, 5-story fisherman flats lining the cobblestone quays. Here, Mamie and Papie raised their first grandchild on fish and fresh crème, the finest offering of France’s dairyland where sea and soil marinate to perfection.

Years after our first trans-Atlantic flight, my daughter landed back in Europe. Sunshine blinked through clouds in Switzerland for the first time in weeks, as old man winter finally lifted his heavy, gray veil. As we walked and talked, my footsteps felt lighter, as we wined and dined, the strawberries tasted sweeter, hinting at spring.

In a reversal of roles, now my daughter tucks me in at night. Sprawled under my duvet, we reminisce about her childhood where we weathered the storms of relocations and separations as we traveled to distance lands in our imagination on a 4-poster bed in make-believe. Today, we discussed books and babies (she is a pediatrician) and child development and teaching, language acquisition and writing.

Then in a blink we are back at the Geneva airport waving goodbye choking back tears, our hearts heavy. Our daughter flies home to her children’s hospitals in the Twin Cities, where she answers her pager at all hours. She cares for infants, speaking French to West African immigrants and conducts wellness visits for Spanish families. She reassures frightened foreigners, breaks down medical jargon into layman’s terms and magically calms fussy toddlers.

“She is so far away! Don’t you miss her?” my friends here ask. Others wonder, “How could you let her go?”

Ah, but just as my mom taught me, I know that “a child is a gift on loan from God.” Our daughter belongs to the world. She is where she is supposed to be, doing what she was destined to do.

We are together,
My child and I,
Mother and child, yes,
But sisters really
Against whatever denies
Us all that we are.
Alice Walker

Over the years, watching her grow strong, we invested thousands of dollars in education and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, thousands of meters above sea level from Switzerland to Minnesota. The precocious little girl who grew up loving water settled in the Land of 10,000 Lakes where the trees grow tall and the skies are blue.sailing in Wisconsin

Can you put a price tag on family ties?

Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from lovin’ you.

No matter how great the distance, can you ever truly sever the cord connecting a mother to her child?

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Tall American Squeezes into Small Country

Whenever I step aboard the return flight to Switzerland, I feel like Alice in Wonderland falling through the hole into the land of miniature. I have an 8-hour flight to transition to what awaits on the other side of the Atlantic. I squeeze my 5’10” frame into compact seats designed for dwarfs. I eat baby-sized servings with doll-sized spoons on a mini tray.

In the Geneva airport, I tower above Europeans while lugging baggage twice as big as and three times heavier than theirs. Not all expats are hoarders, but like many of my compatriots living overseas, I bring back as much of the homeland as possible, hence my bags are laden with Tootsie Pops, cake mixes, chocolate chips and other American staples.

When the taxi pulls up in front of our twin house, my husband leans out the window to announce, “Oops, honey, I shrunk the house.”

Switzerland is a “petite” country; the price of real estate is premium. There are no sprawling ranch homes or suburban mansions here. Our yard is the size of a postage stamp. Surface wise our ground floor is no bigger than an American garage. But we are lucky we have four floors stacked like baby’s colored building blocks. It’s great! This way I don’t need a gym membership; my home is a StairMaster.

kitchen

kitchen

Our kitchen is three-square meters. The refrigerator is smaller than the mini bars in most American hotels. The fridge, stove, and sink are within an arm’s length, so I can remove foodstuff, sauté veggies and wash dishes simultaneously. But I rarely do any one of the three. It is a one-butt kitchen, and I am always the first volunteer to butt out.

Europe has a different scale of measurement and I am not talking metric here. Cupboards are more like the size of American drawers. Walk in closets? Forget it. My sister’s Barbie wardrobe was bigger. Appliances are also more compact. Our microwave fits in a kitchen cupboard. The washing machine holds five articles of clothing or the equivalent of two American sweatshirts.Read more

A Dozen Tips to Endure Back Pain

I am up before dawn to see my chiropractor for the early bird special. With a 7 a.m. appointment, there is no wait; we beat the city traffic, and best of all Le Frenchman can chauffeur me there. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from chronic back pain. The decline began in college when a Big Mama landed on my back on a rebound in a basketball game. After that I walked so crooked that my college roomies tilted the pictures in our apartment to make me feel better. I have tried every treatment that exists, except surgery, and have become resigned to the fact that, okay, my back hurts, but life goes on.

Take one spine; add two herniated lumbar disks, three compressed dorsal vertebrae, four whiplashes and five concussions, and what do you get? One heck of a backache! My bod has undergone a lifetime of trauma. Bad back is an understatement. Yet if you look at me, you’d never know, because I keep on keeping on.

Here is how I cope with a full-time job, cross Atlantic travel and a semi active life.

laying down in Central Park, 1980s

laying down in Central Park, 1980s

  1. Take mini breaks. I have a yoga mat in my office at school; I lay down and stretch in the middle of the day.
  2. Wear tennis shoes with orthopedic soles. If your feet are imbalanced, your spine will misalign. Heels are a big no-no !
  3. Use both sides of the body equally especially when lifting.
  4. Invest in a good recliner and firm mattress to sleep on and a great pillow.
  5. Alternate heat and cold. Sometimes only an anti inflammatory medicine can help the healing process begin as the muscles will become inflamed to protect the injured area.
  6. Find a good chiropractor!
  7. Try a combination of alternative medicine – physical therapy, massage, relaxation and meditation techniques.
  8. Maintain mobility by staying fit – sometimes it is too painful to sit, but usually I can walk without too much discomfort.
  9. If you have acute pain, limit riding in a car. If you do have to travel, stop, get out, and stretch every half hour.
  10. If it hurts to sit, stand, or walk–then crawl. My Swiss chiropractor recommends getting down on « quatre pattes » as the crawling movement is natural before we became upright, back breaking bipeds.
  11. Swim – there is no pressure on the joints and the water soothes the soul.
  12. Find a good partner even if it means going halfway across the world.

    ... and above Mürren, Switzerland, 2012

    … and above Mürren, Switzerland, 2012

When I get discouraged from the pain, I try to focus on someone else’s troubles. There is always a student, a colleague or a friend that is facing challenges far greater than a bad back. Anyway, I won’t be upright forever in my next life, I’ll be a fish.