Tamarack River Ghost
Publication Year: 2012
Josh’s big story is that a corporation that plans to establish an enormous hog farm has bought a lot of land along the Tamarack River in bucolic Ames County. Some of the local residents and officials are excited about the jobs and tax revenues that the big farm will bring, while others worry about truck traffic, porcine aromas, and manure runoff polluting the river. And how would the arrival of a large agribusiness affect life and traditions in this tightly knit rural community of family farmers? Josh strives to provide impartial agricultural reporting, even as his newspaper is replaced by a new Internet-only version owned by a former New York investment banker. And it seems that there may be another force in play: the vengeful ghost of a drowned logger who locals say haunts the valley of the Tamarack River.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Title Page, Further Reading, Copyright, Dedication
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The Peo ple Came First: A His tory of Coop er a tive Ex ten sionTer race Books, a trade im print of the Uni ver sity of Wis con sin Press, takes its name from the Me mo rial Union Ter race, lo cated at the Uni ver sity of Wis con sin–Mad i son. Since its in cep tion in 1907, the Wis con sin Union has pro vided a venue for stu dents, fa culty, staff, and alumni to de bate art, music, pol i tics, and the is sues of the day. It is a place where the a ter, ...
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I began this novel while in the Boun dary Wa ters Canoe Wild er ness Area of north ern Min ne sota. It was in early Sep tem ber 2009 that my son and canoe part ner, Steve, and I were stay ing in Moose Cabin at Hun gry Jack Lodge and day-tripping into the fa mous canoe area. On a rainy after noon, when we ap pre ciated hav ing a roof over our heads, I posed a “what if ” ...
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“Day light in the swamp!” yelled the log-driver fore man as he pounded a stick on the bottom of a cooking pot. “Day light in the swamp!” A hint of pink showed above the pine trees to the east, but it would be an other half hour be fore sun rise. The night temperature had dropped into the low thirties, and white frost covered every thing, not unusual for April in ...
1. Josh Wittmore
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Josh Witt more won dered how long his cha rade would last, how long he could con tinue until they found him out. He was re clin ing on his lumpy bed in front of the flick er ing TV in his dreary motel room in Crum pet, The Sleepy Rest Motel’s sign on the high way proudly pro claimed, “American-owned, clean, rest ful, all on one level.” When Josh parked in ...
2. Lazy Z Feedlot
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Out side the head quarters office, the smell and the dust rolled over Josh again. He pulled on his hat, adjusted his glasses, and glanced around. Through the dirty haze he saw a skinny, weathered cow boy astride a big white horse. Josh held up his arm. The rider slowly moved the horse closer “Name is Josh Witt more,” Josh said when he reached up to shake the ...
3. Fishing on the Millpond
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Oscar, you been hearin’ what I’ve been hearin’?” asked Fred Russo, Oscar “How in hell am I sup posed to know what you’ve been hearin’?”Oscar had a puzzled look on his face as he reeled in his fishing line and tossed the bobber and hook baited with a small min now back into the “So, what have you been hearin’?” A soft September breeze riffled the ...
4. Natalie Karlsen
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Two rifle shots echoed through the Tam a rack River Valley and rolled into the low hills surrounding the slow-moving river. The spot light coming from an old Chevy pickup parked on a field road caught in its sharp beam a six-point buck and doe fattened on Ames County corn and soy beans. With two rapid shots, the deer dropped dead. A .30–30 soft-point bullet ...
5. Tamarack River Valley
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Josh parked his Ford Ranger in the Ames County Court house parking lot. He had an appointment with the county agricultural agent, Ben Wesley, whom he hadn’t seen since he graduated from college. Now that Farm Country News had given him a promotion and transferred him from the Illinois bureau to the home office in Willow River, he was reacquainting ...
6. Farm Country News
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Josh arrived back at the courthouse around four in the after noon.
“How’d the interview go?” Ben asked when Josh entered his office.
“Burman’s quite a character. Down on the government. Down on the
“Yup, that sounds like Burman. I don’t know him very well. He’s never set foot in my office, but he’s hanging on. Making a living out there on ...
7. Tamarack River Ghost
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Oscar Anderson and Fred Russo stood on the banks of Tamarack River at the former Ira Osborne Commemorative Park, now known simply as the Tamarack River Park. It was a warm, sunny October day. The maples were showing off their fall colors, deep reds mixed in with a few yellows. The oaks on the higher ground above the river were just beginning to ...
8. Nathan West Industries
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Josh flipped on his computer and waited for it to boot up. He looked out his office window and thought about the conversation he’d had with his boss. He knew about the demise of several major news papers around the country, but some how he never believed it would happen to Farm Country News. He thought that the paper’s niche audience, people interested in ...
9. Dr. William Willard Evans
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Josh Wittmore turned his pickup onto Highway 22 and headed for Madison and the University of Wisconsin campus there. He’d made the trip many times when he attended the UW in the late 1990s, and he remembered it as a pleasant drive. It was but eighty-five miles from his home farm, and only seventy-five miles from Willow River. He was surprised ...
10. Dr. Randy Oakfield
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A few days after Josh returned to Willow River from his visit in Mad i son, “Hi, Josh,” he began. “I enjoyed our conversation the other day, and I’m following up on my suggestion to have you sit in on one of Dr. Oakfield’s lectures. I checked with Oakfield and he’s presenting a lecture on vertical integration in agriculture next Thursday at 11:00. I asked if you ...
11. Research Proposal
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What’s up?” asked Randy as he walked from the Agriculture Hall lecture room with Emily. Josh had said his good byes and was on his way back to “Dr. Evans called while you were in class,” she said. She was still out of breath, obviously having run from Randy’s third-floor office, where her “What?” asked Randy. Emily, who had bachelor’s and master’s degrees ...
12. Big Hog Farm Coming
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Nathan West Industries (NWI) of Dubuque, Iowa, this week has announced its plans to build a major hog production center in Ames County. This third-largest agribusiness firm in the United States has purchased the former Tam a rack River Golf Course for its operation. The land has stood vacant since the golf course and condominium development recently ...
13. Dinner Date
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A con ser va tion warden’s job can be a lonely one, even more so for a young woman in a place where gen der roles have been care fully de fined and agreed on for gen er a tions. Ames County was one of those places. Men did their work; women did their work. When the lines began blur ring, eye brows lifted and peo ple raised ques tions. For some jobs it didn’t mat ter ...
14. Ice Fishing
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Josh’s mother had taught him well. When some one gives you a present, or does something nice for you, you send them a thank-you note. An e-mail message doesn’t count. It must be a hand written note, placed in an envelope and sent through the regular mail. The day following dinner and dancing certainly didn’t need to do it. The food was excellent, the ...
15. Valley History
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Josh sat at his computer at Farm Country News, working on the second in a series of stories he’d planned about the Tamarack River Valley. His brief history of the valley had appeared in Farm Country News this week, with a couple of photos he had taken of the river and an over view shot of the The Tamarack River defines the western boundary of Ames County in ...
16. Fred and Oscar
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Fred and Oscar enjoyed an other day of ice fishing in their little shack on the backwater of the Tamarack River.
“Say Fred, you gettin’ any bites on that fancy new rod you got for Christmas?"
“Does it look I’m gettin’ any bites? You going blind as well as senile?” answered Oscar, who fished from a second hole within their little shack.
“Well don’t get huffy about it. Ain’t my fault your new rod don’t ...
17. Skiing in the Park
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This time Josh took the initiative. It was a bright, sunny Sunday in January, a fine day to be outside. He decided to call Nat a lie to see if she’d like to go cross-country skiing. It was a wild idea. He didn’t even know if she knew how to ski. And besides, this might be one of the week ends she worked.
She answered on the first ring. “Sure, I’d love to go,” she said when ...
18. Informational Meeting
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Josh needed a break. He’d been hunched over his computer keyboard most of the morning. On his way for his third cup of coffee, he walked by his boss’s open door.
“Josh, you got a minute?” Bert asked.
“Sure, how are things with you?”
“I’m afraid I’ve got more bad news. Have a seat.”
“So what’s happening?” asked Josh.
Bert took off his wire-rimmed glasses and put them on the pile of budget sheets in front of him...
19. Opposing Positions
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Amos “Shotgun” Slogum, longtime resident of Ames County’s Tamarack River Valley, says it’s time that we quit eating meat. He was one of several who spoke at an informational meeting, held in the Tamarack Town Hall last Tuesday evening, about a new hog operation planned for the valley. At the meeting, citizens of the valley heard Ed Clark, a representative ...
20. Fred and Oscar
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On a late January morning, Fred and Oscar sat at their regular Wednesday table at Christo’s, each with a fresh cup of coffee in front of him.
“Well, whaddya you think, Fred?” asked Oscar, breaking the silence.
“About what?” Fred put down his coffee and looked at is old friend.
“About the meeting the other night?”
“What am I supposed to think about it?”
“Hell, I don’t know what you’re supposed to think about it, I wanna know what you do think about it,” said Oscar...
21. Yes or No to Factory Farms
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Josh Wittmore was working at his office computer when Bert Schmid stuck his head through the open door. He carried a copy of the latest issue of their paper, which had the Nathan West informational meeting story on the front page.
“Looks like we got ourselves an issue,” said Bert.
“You bet we do—and we should make the most of it,” said Josh as he turned from his computer to face his boss...
22. Winter Festival
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The Tamarack River Winter Festival began in 1910 when several farmers in the area who worked in the logging camps during the winter months gathered to show off their lumbering skills and tell tall tales of life in the winter woods. Those early festivals mostly consisted of competitions between teams of wood cutters and individual contests, such as what team ...
23. Fred and Oscar
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Damn, it’s cold this morning. Colder’n a witch’s tit,” said Fred when he joined Oscar at Christo’s for coffee the Wednesday after the Winter Festival. Fred rubbed his hands together
as he spoke. “Quite a snowstorm on Sunday. Ain’t had one like that for a while.”
“Sit down, and quit complaining,” said Oscar, who already had a cup of steaming coffee in front of him.
“I ain’t complaining. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, though. Twenty below zero this morning,” said Fred...
24. Paper Problems
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Josh Wittmore, ad manager Bixby Billings, photographer Steve Atkins, and Bert Schmid sat around an old oak table in Farm Country News’s conference room on the Wednesday afternoon following the Tamarack River Winter Festival. The conference room also served as the lunch room, archives collection room, photocopy room, and a place where extra stuff ...
25. Smear Tournament
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After living in central Illinois for ten years, Josh had for got ten how miserable the month of March could be in Wisconsin. One day a promise of spring, with temperatures creeping into the high thirties, the snow turning mushy and eaves from the snow-covered rooftops dripping, and the next, an other snowstorm and temperatures hanging around zero. On ...
26. Nathan West 435
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Josh was up early on Monday morning, his mind filled with thoughts of Natalie and the wonderful time they had at the Smear tournament, and the even better time they had at Natalie’s cabin in front of a crackling fireplace. He looked forward to visiting the big factory farm in Iowa. As a reporter, he knew he must gather some first hand information about a ...
27. Decision Time
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After his visit to Nathan West’s large production farm, Josh wrote a long piece that he titled “The Future of the U.S. Pork Industry?” The piece featured details of his visit to Nathan West Industries’ big hog operation in Iowa and interviews with University of Wisconsin officials, plus the words of local citizens both for and against large-scale farming. In that ...
28. Tamarack Museum
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A bright sun, a clear blue sky, and temperatures predicted to climb into the low fifties greeted
Fred and Oscar when they climbed into Oscar’s rusty old Ford pickup on a mid-April afternoon.
“Why’d you say we should go to Tamarack Corners today? Be a good day just to stand on the riverbank and watch the Tamarack hurry by,” said Fred.
“Because we’re gonna visit the museum, that’s why. I told you that yesterday.”
29. Zoning Committee Meeting
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Emily, let’s go over the material we’re presenting at the Ames County Zoning Committee tonight,” suggested Assistant Professor Randy Oakfield. “I need to be brought up to speed.”
“There’s no need,” answered Emily Jordan. “I’ve checked the figures a couple of times. We’re ready for this evening.”
“Still, I’d like to look over the data.”
“The surveys are in my apartment, and I just put my laptop with the PowerPoint presentation in the car. Trust me, everything is in good order.”
30. Newspaper Demise
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The morning after the listening session, Josh Wittmore was on the phone with Cindy Jennings, chair of the Ames County Zoning Committee.
“Did your committee vote last night?”
“We did. We voted four to one to approve the zoning change. The university research results took most of the wind out of the sails of those opposing the project. Didn’t hurt that the company promised a pile of money to spiff up Tamarack Corners either,” said Cindy, “but I was a little...
31. New Journalism
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Shortly after noon on Friday, Josh’s phone rang. At least the bank hadn’t disconnected the phone, not yet anyway.
“This is Josh Wittmore.”
“This is Hector Cadwalader, over at the bank. Could you stop by my office this afternoon, say around 3:00?”
“Sure,” Josh said. He thought that Cadwalader wanted the inventory reports he been working on all week and probably wanted to hear how the...
32. Fred and Oscar
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Fred Russo drove over to Oscar Anderson’s farm for a visit. The two of them sat on Oscar’s back porch, each in a rocking chair as the late April sun slipped behind the horizon and a warm breeze swept over them. Spring was in the air.
“You planning on plantin’ a garden this year, Fred?” asked Oscar.
“Thinkin’ about it. Always plant a garden. Never missed a year yet.”
“It’s a little late to put in potatoes—wanna get them in by mid-April so they get a good start before them damn potatobugs come around to feast...
33. Different Results
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The morning after the zoning committee meeting in Willow River, Emily Jordan punched in a phone number in Dubuque.
“Hello, Nathan West Industries, Robert Jordan.” “Uncle Bob, how are you?”
“I’m just fine, Emily. How’d the meeting go last night?
“It worked. My little number manipulation did the trick. Just heard on the radio that the zoning committee voted four to one to approve the zoning change. We can start building immediately.”...
34. Spring Snowstorm
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Although May was right around the corner, the last Wednesday in April was unusually chilly, even for central Wisconsin. Only two days earlier, after many area farmers had their potato and oat crops planted and vegetable growers had their peas and early sweet corn in, it snowed two inches, destroying anybody’s hopes that maybe this year spring would succeed ...
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Randy spent two sleepless nights after his office meeting with his graduate student. She admitted she had doctored the research results she had reported at the Willow River meeting. Even more disturbing, she had threatened that if he told anyone about her manipulation of research data, she would make sure the chair of the Department of Agribusiness Studies ...
36. Opening Day
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Two days on the Wisconsin calendar take on near religious significance: in November, the opening day of deer sea son, and in May, the opening day of fishing sea son. Wisconsin sportsmen and sportswomen mark these dates on their new calendars every January. Absolutely nothing takes precedence over them—no clear-headed person would ever schedule a ...
37. Electronic News
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By late May, the online version of Farm Country News, with its new editorial approach, was humming along. So far there had been some, but not much, grumbling about paying to have some thing in the newspaper. Payment rates varied. If some one wanted something to appear on the home page, the cost was twenty-five cents per word. Everything else was a ...
38. Surprise Present
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Fred and Oscar arrived at Christo’s about the same time on this warm late-May morning. They found their way to their reserved table that looked out on the Tamarack River, now back to its normal flow after the spring breakup and the rush of melt-water coming down from the snow pack in the north.
So far, neither had said anything, not even so much as a “good morning” ...
39. New Hog House
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As Josh followed the road into the former golf course, he saw bulldozers working, moving huge piles of soil in preparation for the buildings. A big concrete truck grumbled ahead of him, its enormous red body slowly turning, diesel fumes spurting from its silver exhaust pipe. As he topped a little rise, he could see the Tamarack River in the distance, a blue ribbon ...
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Josh wrote a lengthy article, complete with photos, of the progress Nathan West was making with its new hog production facility. He worked hard on the piece, which included quotations from Ed Clark. It was an objective piece; it included lots of facts and no opinions about either the positive or negative features of a large-scale con fined hog operation....
41. Department Decisions
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In a series of meetings in the Department of Agribusiness Studies and in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as a whole— deadly serious meetings held with out fanfare or publicity—the “Randy case,” as it was called, was discussed at length. Randy appeared at each of these meetings to share his side of the story. Emily also appeared at each. For a time, the ...
42. Fourth of Seventh-Month
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It was the Fourth of July, and Josh sat at his desk at Farm Country News. With the paper putting several new pieces online every day, he was busier than ever. He and Assistant Editor Natasha Bruchs read the submitted material, searching for obvious factual errors and confused writing. Jerry Kolka, copy editor, carefully read and corrected obvious spelling and grammatical...
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The remaining summer months flew by. Submissions continued to flow into the offices of Farm Country News. Articles from John Deere and Case IH, material from Archer Daniels Mid land, a long piece from Monsanto, a story from Tyson Foods, an other from Cargill, and a two-thousand-word piece from Land O’Lakes. Nothing from Nathan West headquarters in ...
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Some things never change, thought Natalie as she sat in her Ford F-150, parked on a little knoll that over looked a considerable portion of the Tamarack River Valley. It was late September, and she was on poacher duty. As surely as the first frost arrives in the fall, the calls come in complaining about game poaching and wondering why she wasn’t stopping all the ...
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Josh slept fitfully. His mind was on Natalie, the identity of M.D., and the huge fire that had completely destroyed one of Nathan West’s main buildings. Was it possible that Natalie, the woman he loved, was an arsonist? Was she some one with such an over zealous concern for the environment that she would burn a building to make a point? ...
46. A New Beginning
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The following morning, after Natalie had driven off to work, Josh returned to his apartment. He felt better than he had for days, but he still worried about finding a job. He was well aware of the limited demand for agricultural reporters. One of his other worries had been ill-founded—Natalie didn’t care that he had lost his job; in fact, she was pleased that he no ...
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Natalie Karlsen and Josh Witt more were married on June 18, 2011. They share the cabin on Copper head Lake, which they have purchased. On special occasions, they enjoy chocolate cake with a bottle of wine. Natalie continues as the Ames County conservation warden. She makes certain the game and conservation laws of Ames County are strictly enforced. But ...
Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2012