Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes revisited: An Axel Permanson planting

Did you see that beautiful moon last week? Especially on the nights of Jan. 17, 18 and 19? And in the mornings? We may not live in “the land of the midnight sun” but that big reflector up there sure bounced some bright moonbeams off the snow all night long. It was cold, oh! boy!, but it surely was pretty.

On the mornings of Jan. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31 check the southeast sky just before daylight. Venus and Jupiter appear to be very close together. It seems that so often when there is something outstanding to see, it turns out to be cloudy. We should have one clear morning in a week.


Birds do not fly south each fall to escape the cold weather. They are going to places where they can find food-not available during the winter in their breeding areas. Some birds are forced to change their diets during winter migration, switching from insects to seeds or even fruit. Some birds eat nothing at all while migrating, flying straight through and waiting until they arrive at their destination to eat.

Aren’t we lucky that some stay and brave the winter weather? Think what a tiny motor that chickadee must have. This is the south for the evening grosbeaks. The majority of them breed farther north and migrate to our area in the fall. The same is likely true for the bluejays seen here now.

It takes more food to keep them warm during the colder days and nights. Give them a little extra, and don’t forget them.


Our owls start breeding and nesting next month. Any bird with the stamina and determination to sit on a nest, covered with snow, in bitter cold and to find food under such adverse conditions, must be regarded with respect and wonderment.


A man who was about as closely linked to nature as you can get died last week.

Axel Permanson and his wife, Joy, made their living in partnership with the soil for the last 40 years. From spring until fall, they worked long days, starting soon after daylight and continuing on until dark. They must have been doing what they enjoyed.

Many of the blue spruce, ginkgos, arbor vitas, shrubs and ornamentals beautifying the homes on King’s Road and the landscaping around many churches and businesses were planted by Axel.

Each year Axel and Joy sold tons of cabbage, hundreds of pints of raspberries, large amounts of rhubarb stalks and roots, lots of radishes and vegetables, and many flowers such as glads, tulips, lythrum, bleeding heart and hosta.

As a young man, Axel followed the wheat harvest, spending three summers on the great Glover ranch near Oakes, N.D. He was a machinist, woodworker, beekeeper, fisherman, hunter and berry picker. He enjoyed good music, opera, people and telling stories. In 92 exciting years, a lot happens, and he had much to tell.

A few years ago he met a bear right behind his home. He called out to it in Swedish, but the bear failed to answer. Axel kept talking to it in a friendly tone, complimenting the bear on his nice fur coat. The bear came within about 10 feet, said something in bear language (which Axel didn’t understand but which did not sound hostile), climbed the aspen tree there and just looked things over. Axel went on his way and the bear apparently did the same, as he was gone when Axel returned.

Like most Swedes, he was a skier. I like to think I am now sliding down the same trails he did long ago. He was a nice man, a good man. When spring comes, plant an extra tree or a flower, Axel would like that.


Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on Jan. 25, 1984. How wonderful it is to learn about Axel Permanson and his wife, Joy. Their memory lives on in some of the plants and shrubs they planted well over 40 years ago.

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