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From the Woodlot
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From the Woodlot

From the Woodlot

I have a history with whisk brooms. My father bounced back and forth between being a sales manager at a local Ford dealership where I grew up, and having his own used-car business. I spent plenty of Saturdays sweeping cigarette butts, Cheetos, French fries and receipts from the floor mats of Novas, Bonnevilles, Mavericks and rag-top Catalinas at his lot. A whisk broom was a big part of the task.

Some things become better with age. With spirits, cheese and locker-aged beef, it’s the dormant period that increases the quality. In the case of hand tools, if they’re still hanging on the workshop wall after two or three generations of use there’s a reason. Old chisels and claw hammers with a fine patina on their wooden handles have always been my choice instead of modern tools with titanium or fiberglass components. It turns out whisk brooms improve with age also.

I bought a new one the other day. I was tired of dog hair on the seats of my pickup truck. My dog, Sheila, is a prolific shedder, and she spends a fair amount of time traveling with me to my woodlot and cabin. I decided to carry a whisk broom in the truck at all times to keep pace with my “hair of the dog” situation.

I arrived at the woodlot on a sunny December day with temps expected to be in the mid-40s. It was a good day to grab that newly purchased whisk broom to tackle the task of “detailing” the interior of my truck. It didn’t work worth a bent nickel. I spent much time picking up corn fiber that had loosened from the modern version of the classic design. Sheila’s hair seemed to be a permanent part of the floor mats and seat covers. My shop vac wasn’t much better; my dog’s hair has special qualities.

I searched the shop for an alternative; perhaps duct tape was the answer. There on the workshop wall I spotted an old whisk broom worn to half its original size by the sweeping tasks of an uncle and grandfather. No I didn’t use carbon dating for that determination but rather my “shop” sense. I went so far as to perform a little comparison experiment to see which whisk broom had the best whisking capabilities. The photos don’t lie. The old worn whisk broom swept its modern competitor out of the running, restoring the hair-covered mats to their original splendor.

Some folks might like to sweep 2020 away for good. It’s been said many times this year – we have a new sense of “normal.” Or is it “abnormal” that’s been taken to a new level? Sadly we’re a deeply divided country. There are those who fear violence is being condoned and even encouraged by so-called “leaders.” I never thought I’d see the day … I’ll rag no further; this is an homage to a time-worn whisk broom.

The good thing about an effective whisk broom is I can work around that which is not to be swept to the trash. I personally can’t let go of all of 2020. I’ll sweep around family gatherings prior to the pandemic and treasure them. I’ll hang on to this past August’s visit to see my daughter and son-in-law in Colorado, pregnant with their first child. Just me, Wendy and Sheila cutting across the heartland, with the wide sky guiding us – flanked by corn, sunflowers, soybeans and black cows roaming pastures.

I’ll work my mental whisk broom around long phone conversations with my daughter, when we managed to resuscitate each other’s waning spirits – and learned a bit more about each other. Deftly I’ll whisk around a talk with my son on a July fishing boat when I realized his breaking free of me and our former farm has gained him some wisdom. It was wisdom I may have nurtured yet ironically suppressed by my continual presence on the farm. And of course I’m not sweeping into any metaphorical wastebasket the 21-inch largemouth bass I caught on the only lake I ever fish.

And then there’s my first grandchild, Martin – a healthy boy born Nov. 14, 2020. That alone makes 2020 a very good year for me.

Have a great 2021, friend.

Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.

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