I’m sick of being surrounded by the sour blend of tribalism, labeling, shouts of “fake news,” and a dysfunctional political system. It’s easy to get cynical about things. I needed a “reset” and a healing dose of authenticity.

The easiest place to get a boost of genuineness is to amble in the woods or skirt a swamp. No egos, nefarious intentions or false pretensions exist there.

The other way is to go visit Karl.

With the finest, sunny day of spring upon us, it was time to get my gravel bike out for a ride. Good friend, Duane, joined me and we took off to explore the dirt roads in the township. I had a destination in mind.

After riding a few miles we turned down a quiet road shaded by tall white pine. We approached a small tidy house with some outbuildings and a neat pile of split firewood. I spotted Karl out back, raking the small patch of lawn.

Three years ago he would have been raking with his bachelor brother, Kermit, with whom he shared the house. Kermit died, and now Karl, at a young 81, lives there by himself. Karl was born here and lived his life on this site but his voice carries the melodic lilt of an old country immigrant.

Since I hadn’t seen him since last fall, I asked, “How was your winter Karl?”

He pulled his cap back and wiped his brow and said, “Oh December and almost all of January were pretty good but the last two days in January were something else.” Shaking his head, he muttered, “Why in the dark of the morning I had to use a flashlight to get a close look at the termometer to see if the mercury spilt out da bottom! It reads to forty below and I couldn’t see any mercury a’tal.” We chuckled and nodded, remembering the spell of cold that was even titled “polar vortex.”

And then Karl excitedly brought us to February news. “Man oh man, talk about snow. Could never rest from the shoveling.” He paused and then delivered an amazing piece of news. “I had to keep two grain shovels by the back door cuz one would overheat and I had to switch to the other on.”It is always refreshing for me to stop and visit with Karl. I miss Kermit as he was a perfect salt-of-the-earth sidekick who was easy to smile and often nodded rapidly in response to almost anything his brother Karl said. In recent years they put up scores of cords of firewood. No gasoline powered wood splitter for these two. They hand split everything and made an art form of stacking firewood.

They figured it took a cord of firewood to heat their small, old house every month over the winter. But they always cut far more and then would sell it.

Karl invited us in to show us some pictures. We followed him inside, swinging wide to avoid the wooden axe handle braced against the oven door to keep it from flopping open. Why get a new stove or door when a simple fix does the trick?

As we looked at the photos, my cell phone rang. I struggled to dig it out of my pocket and said to Karl, ”I’ll bet you don’t have one of these damn things.”

“Oh sure,” he said, pointing to a small folding phone partially covered by papers on the table, “It usually beds down right there.”

Karl asked, “You want to go out and see the rooster?” Duane looked fairly puzzled but we followed Karl out to his tidy small chicken house to see his pride and joy and only real pet. Stepping into the small room Karl quietly called “Come here Rooster.” A single, diminutive hen follows the rooster towards Karl.

I asked, “What’s his name?”

“I just call em Rooster.” Karl is a no-nonsense guy. “He’s a Jersey Giant. They can get up to 15 pounds you know.”

No, I didn’t know.

Karl pulled the big bird up onto his lap and grasped all the tail feathers and pulled. “You couldn’t do that with just any chicken.”

Clearly Karl and Rooster have bonded.

And why not? Karl sweeps up the rooster and hen’s room every day. Feeds and waters them at the same time every day. And believe it or not, Karl has even hung a window air conditioner in the small coop on hot summer days. No wonder the oversize rooster tolerates tail tugging.

With the day slipping towards supper we headed to our bikes. Feeling fully recalibrated towards bona fide “realness” Duane and I waved to Karl and pedaled away from this sweet estate of authenticity.