Originally published by:
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Specialty Media Group
Wisconsin Trails Magazine, March/ April 2011
In the Driftless area of Southwest Wisconsin, spring arrives full of the expectations we hold for a newborn. It arrives as a promise of gifts yet to come; of daffodils, of open windows, of summer evenings, of walleye striking, of long walks along the river. The air boils with water vapor; a reconciliation of winter and summer’s desperate temperament. Ridge tops poke above the fog as if risen from God’s imagination.
Watching for spring in Driftless Wisconsin is like waiting for a bird to fly. It sits still as a statue and then leaps into flight with such vigor; you can’t imagine it otherwise.
It’s snowing as I write this. Out the window, a landscape photo assembles one flake at a time. Trees are willing subjects for winter photos; they are content to stand still while their outstretched limbs are painted with snow. And unlike me, they don’t blink when you snap the photo.
A winter snowfall dusted our valley yesterday, coating every stump, branch, and bench with a sheet of white. Looks as if the occupants have covered the furniture with white linens and headed south for the winter.
I walked out the door of my home in Driftless Wisconsin for my evening hike and two hundred crows launched from the cedars on the hillside above our house. Four hundred wings beat the air like four hundred flags flapping in the breeze. Moments like this stop the monotony and let the extraordinary enter.
Outside my bedroom window, the elm trees across the drywash were the last to change color. For the next week, a fluorescent burst of yellow greeted me each morning like a sunrise, as I awoke to this collage of color. The leaves hung on valiantly, squeezing every last bit of color out of fall before finally surrendering to gravity.
Fall is my favorite time of year. The hectic gallop of summer slows to a leisurely trot; warm winds subside into a cool breeze; and the landscape puts on a season-ending show. Trees in autumn have never been known for their modesty.
If you have ever walked the Driftless area in the dark, then you come to know it with your feet. I did this last night, having fallen asleep in the chair and awoken to Riley’s nose in my face and a nagging guilt for missing our evening walk.
Driftless Wisconsin was spared being flattened by the last glaciers that bulldozed their way across the Midwest more than 10,000 years ago. Which is to say, it was spared from being ordinary. Driftless Wisconsin will not sit still for being ordinary. The land swirls and thrashes about like the north Atlantic in high winds. Highways surf the waves on a blacktopped rhythm, exploring the landscape from every angle. And every wave is capped with a view; every trough spread with a valley.