Riding a golf cart on a trail through his woods Tuesday afternoon, Bob Flach calls out, “Lulabelle!”
In seconds, a ruffed grouse appears on the trail.
Lulabelle — Lulu for short — is an unlikely local celebrity. After all, she is a grouse, and a wild grouse at that. She lives in the woods on the Flach property north of Askov.
What is so special is their unlikely friendship. The celebrity comes from their story being aired last month as one of KARE 11’s Land of 10,000 Stories by Boyd Huppert.
“She looked really healthy the first time we seen her,” said Bob. That first time was three years ago in the spring when he was grading trails on his property with his tractor. A grouse appeared in the trail and wouldn’t move. Bob stopped the tractor, got off and started talking to the bird.
They’ve been meeting and “talking” on the trail ever since.
Bob admits he doesn’t really know for sure if Lulu is a female, but he did used to hunt grouse (he stopped after meeting Lulu). He suspects the bird is nesting based on her appetite and the possibility their first encounters were her defending a nearby nest.
This year he has been feeding her corn, but he didn’t feed her anything those first two years. Ruling out illness, injury and hunger, it looks like this is a true friendship, cultivated by daily “conversation.”
The Flachs have owned the property for 30 years, lived there for 15, and have many family members coming to camp there during the summers. This is the first time a grouse has acted this way.
Rich Thomsen of Askov was the one to contact KARE 11.
“He sent a really nice email,” said Bob.
Huppert inquired further. Bob said they spoke for about 45 minutes on the phone. He said he didn’t want the story done unless they made it one that was a memorial to his late wife Jeanne. It was an agreement they honored.
Bob said Huppert brought up a cameraman on Tuesday, June 11, and joined by his daughter, Wendy, they spent about four hours recording. He said nothing was scripted. They put a mic on him, and “he gets you to talk.”
Jeanne had been suffering from congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension and passed away in December.
“We would have been married 50 years March 1st,” said Bob.
When Jeanne’s health declined this fall, Bob rigged a way to carry her oxygen on the golf cart. Bundled up, visiting Lulu was the one thing she could do, and they visited two to three times a day.
“My wife got a lot of enjoyment out of her,” said Flach. What was therapy for them both now helps him grieve.
The station produced a couple of trailers that week and aired the story Sunday, June 16, as part of the 10 p.m. newscast.
Because he was traveling, he watched it online the following morning.
“I was happy with it,” said Flach. “The whole thing has been kind of a sweet deal.”
What do Bob and Lulu do on their daily visits? Bob invites Lulu to hop up on the golf cart, and she hops right in.
She jumps down and he plays by pretending to put his hat on her head. He does some friendly “sparring” with her and sees if she has any interest in a leafy sprig.
She makes a constant clucking sound, quieter than a hen, almost like a cat purring, as she walks around and interacts with Bob.
Lulu is not a shy bird. Though we have never met, she comes near and unties my shoelace. She is curious and hops onto my leg when I get down to get a close photo of her.
Bob says she has befriended the whole family and those camping with them. Though she has only once wandered up the trail close to the garage, Lulu has been known to enter an open camper as it is being cleaned. Bob showed one photo of her standing on the back of a camper’s sofa.
Family members and friends try to be careful because Lulu can get a little too chummy. She likes to peck the tires of their recreational vehicles. She was injured on Memorial Day weekend, but seems to be nearly mended now.
“She’s quite the bird,” Bob said.
To see Huppert’s video, go to https://www.kare11.com/landof10000stories or look for it on YouTube. You can also catch Lulu’s antics on the Lulabelle Facebook page the Flachs’ daughter Michelle made.