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Agate fairies marry magic, art and science

Come August and October, along the shores of Lake Superior, if you are really quiet, you can hear the Agate Fairies gathering agates, basalt, and other beach treasures under the stars and waxing moon of north woods night skies. If you are lucky, you might find an abandoned bird's nest filled with beach treasures that the fairies have been collecting for their autumn celebrations. — Lissa Flemming

Lissa Flemming of Bayfield has always had a special relationship with fairies. Born in England, she grew up considering fairies a part of her everyday life.

"In England, there are lots of fairy stories," she said. "They are seen as real, and finding a fairy circle or fairy mushrooms was evidence those fairies had visited."

Flemming, who came to Bayfield over 20 years ago to work as a sea kayak guide and now owns Silverwaves Jewelry gallery and studio, recently had the opportunity to share her love of fairies, the outdoors and art by creating an agate fairy project for Bayfield Elementary School K-2 students. She works in the district's after-school program, and when the pandemic shut down in-person classes and the curriculum was narrowed to core subjects, Flemming was distressed that students no longer had art as part of their learning.

In a happy coincidence, drawing on her own childhood, she had just come up with idea of the Lake Superior

agate fairies, magical entities fed by the energy of the natural world who lovingly care for the Great Lake. Her storefront in Bayfield had become home to fairies and abandoned bird nests filled with the lake treasures the fairies collect. She also decided she would write a children's book about agate fairy adventures.

So, with her head filled with fairy stories and her heart telling her she needed to help put art back in student's lives, the agate fairy project was born.

Using funding provided in part by a grant from the Chequamegon Bay Arts Council, Flemming collaborated virtually with the K-2 teachers at the Bayfield School to create a project that would be age-appropriate, fun and help students learn science.

And do it all virtually.

Flemming started by putting together 104 kits containing all the items a youngster would need to make their own agate fairy. The kits were mailed or dropped off at students' homes.

"The kits had to be simple enough that they could be done by a kindergarten student who may not have the manual dexterity of an older student," Flemming said.

Jonas Heinzerling of Washburn's Oxygen Imagery and Web Design filmed a "how-to" video for Flemming that was used to show students how to create their own fairies.

"There is no right or wrong way to create a fairy," Flemming said. "They come in all colors, shapes, genders and hairstyles."

Once the fairies were done, the students were encouraged to take them on adventures. The fairies rode dogs, went on hikes, went outside for ATV rides and visited gardens, forests and beaches. Then the kids shared their adventures stories, honing English skills.

To bring a science component into the project, Flemming asked Apostle Islands National Lakeshore outreach educator Steve Ballou to explain how agates are formed.

Ballou, who came to the Lakeshore three years ago following 24 years teaching geology at Beloit College, was happy to oblige.

"I was more than willing to help," Ballou said. "I was looking for new ways to reach out to the school district during the pandemic."

"Agate Ranger" Ballou, joined by his own fairy, Juliette, created a three-minute video explaining what agates are and how they are formed. After the kids saw the video, Ballou joined them for a live Zoom session to talk with them about why fairies – as ambassadors of the natural world – are special.

"I told them when they are outside and feel a gentle breeze on their cheeks it could be a fairy," he said. "And that fairies can be seen in the blue of the sky and the green of the grass."

Though he is steeped in the hard science of geology by training, Ballou said he is passionate about the intersection of science and art.

The fairies are a way to excite curiosity and get kids thinking about nature," he said. "The fairies make learning fun."

Kindergarten teacher Laura Pederson agreed the fairies brought something special to a challenging fall semester.

"My kindergarten students were quick to fall in love with the idea that agate fairies could be found near their homes on the shore of Lake Superior," she said. "The agate fairies added a little magic and were a define attention-grabber during our Zoom class meetings. Students who completed their fairies were very proud to share them with their peers."

As students go back to school in person this semester, Flemming hopes the project will become part of the Bayfield afterschool program so the fairies can continue their adventures.

While excited at the prospect of seeing students in person again, Flemming is happy with how the fairy project came together.

"Life is full of challenges," she said, reflecting on working with children during the pandemic. "I believe how you face challenges impacts the outcome. This was an instance where we took a situation and managed to make something special."

To see Agate Ranger Steve Ballou explain how agates are formed, search for "agate ranger" on YouTube.

New owners change up Ashland furniture store

Two brothers from Winter have taken over a downtown Ashland furniture store with plans to remodel the business and change its offerings.

Marcus and Trent Biller said the former Bob's Factory Outlet will be known as Chequamegon Home Furnishings, as will its partner store in Park Falls. The brothers recently completed the purchase from Bob and Patty Hilgart and are selling off the remaining merchandise in the Ashland store as they restock it with new brands.

The Hilgarts owned the stores for 14 years and are pleased that the Billers will bring new focus to the business.

"They are young and energetic; they can do nothing but grow here," said Bob Hilgart, 73. The Hilgarts are retiring are devoting more than a decade together to making the store work.

"Bob has been in it for so long and has dedicated so much of his time and knowledge to the business," she said. "But we are so happy that we have sold it to two energetic young men who know the business, who know about furniture and have been in the business for many years. I hope people will support them as well as they supported us. We can't thank people enough for getting us this far."

The store will continue to offer furniture, mattresses and related merchandise n downtown Ashland.

"We are going to carry a lot of the same products, and we will be offering some new lines," Marcus Biller said. "We will have a big line of upholstery, sofas, sectionals, love seats and recliners. We will also have rustic up-north-look log furniture and Amish furniture. They are things you can't find everywhere."

Biller said he was beginning to adapt to the Ashland market.

"It's going to be a bit of a learning experience," he said. "Every market is a little different. We are going to try and keep everything as affordable as we can."

Biller said he and his brother feel a responsibility to join other merchants and keep the downtowns of Ashland and Park Falls alive.

"It's good for both communities, to not have a big empty building, especially not on Main Street. When that happens it hurts the community. When storefronts are empty it doesn't do justice to the town," he said.

Biller said most of the staff will remain with the business as it transitions.

"Everybody who wants to stay is pretty much going to be staying," he said.

Biller said the former owners have given him and his brother a head start by being such good stewards of the business and its workers.

"Bob has done very well in working with both locations. He treats his employees very well and they are happy and very loyal," he said. "Several have been here since the store's inception, and that says something."

The store next will hold a grand opening to welcome residents to see its new wares — though the new owners aren't sure when that will happen.

"We still need to do a bit of revamping here, but both locations will have a grand opening and we will be offering a bunch of discounts right away. In the meantime we are anxious to meet the public and find out from them what they would like us to carry," Biller said.

Evers budget includes legalized marijuana


Gov. Tony Evers' next twoyear budget will include a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana as part of plan to generate more than $165 million each year for rural schools and underserved communities.

The proposal to tax and regulate marijuana similar to alcohol sales is likely to be shot down by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has opposed efforts to legalize marijuana in the past. Thirty-six states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana and 15 states are regulating recreational use of marijuana, including neighboring states Michigan and Illinois.

Evers said in a statement that the proposal would provide more state revenue, create jobs and cut down on criminal justice system costs.

"Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin — just like we do already with alcohol — ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state," said Evers.

In 2018, voters in 16 Wisconsin counties and two cities supported ballot questions about the use of marijuana, a dozen of which were related to medical marijuana. Evers floated a proposal to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possessing small amounts under the current budget, but that was shot down by GOP leaders.

Some Republican lawmakers have supported legislation to legalize medical marijuana in recent years, including now Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Tomahawk, and Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls.

Bernier said Sunday that she's open to legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing small amounts of the drug, noting it may have potential to help people break their addiction to drugs like methamphetamine or heroin. She said she's willing to work with Evers, but also indicated his past efforts to

decriminalize marijuana were a thinly veiled effort to legalize recreational weed.

Bernier called the governor's proposal "divisive."

"The bottom line is, he knows, I know, we know that the Republican Legislature is not going to legalize marijuana, per se," said Bernier. "So, let's talk about the things we can do, and work together."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a recent WisPolitics forum that he wouldn't support legalizing recreational marijuana. While he backs legalizing medical marijuana, Vos added that he wouldn't support including that proposal in the state budget.

Neither Vos nor Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostberg, could be immediately reached for comment on Sunday.

A Marquette University Law School poll in 2019 found 59 percent of voters think marijuana use should be legal while a significant majority — 83 percent — believe medical marijuana should be legalized.

Evers is proposing to set aside $80 million of the proposed $165 million each year to invest in communities through a new fund that aims to improve equity and aid underserved communities. Of that, more than $34 million would boost sparsity aid to help rural school districts and any money leftover would go to the state's main fund. The investment would begin in the second year of the 2021-2023 biennial budget.

The state Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would be tasked with oversight of recreational marijuana under the proposal. Marijuana retailers would be required to obtain a permit from the Department of Revenue to operate, and people would have to be 21 or older to buy recreational weed. Minors would be prohibited from buying marijuana.

Those seeking to buy medical marijuana wouldn't have to pay retail taxes under the proposal.

Residents would be able to possess no more than 2 ounces of marijuana and six plants under the proposal. Those who live outside the state would be limited to .25 ounces of marijuana.

Jay Selthofner, founder of Northern Wisconsin National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, said the governor's announcement is exciting and sends a signal that Democrats are willing to support the measure. But, he acknowledged it's unlikely to pass in the budget. He would like to see lawmakers introduce a stand-alone bill to legalize marijuana and hold a public hearing.

"Prohibition is unconstitutional," said Selthofner. "In my particular eyes, cannabis is safer than alcohol or cigarettes, and the wasteful spending we have on prohibition, which is not supported by science or the public, needs to change."

Selthofner argued that Wisconsin has the opportunity to create or attract thousands of jobs. One report said Colorado's cannabis industry now employs nearly 35,000 workers. He also contended that prohibition of marijuana use has highlighted racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Under Wisconsin law, criminal possession of marijuana is charged as a misdemeanor on the first offense, but subsequent offenses can be charged as a felony. That could mean a fine of up to $10,000 or three-anda-half years in prison. Wisconsin cities like Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and Superior have made minor marijuana possession punishable by a fine.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has found that application of the law shows racial disparities in Wisconsin. In a report last year, the civil liberties group found Black people are four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Wisconsin, ranking 14th in the nation for racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession.

Four Wisconsin counties were ranked among the top 20 counties in the nation for racial disparities among marijuana possession arrests: Ozaukee, Manitowoc, Washington and Waukesha counties.

Marijuana arrests in Wisconsin for sales and possession combined dropped from 19,261 in 2018 to 16,044 in 2019, according to most recent data available from the Wisconsin of Justice.


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