Driftless Wisconsin. The name implies a lack of movement, as if “drifters” seldom visited or snow never drifted in a stiff crosswind.
The name actually means the absence of “drift,” the sediment left behind by receding glaciers. The last glaciers never visited these parts, and hence, never left their calling card. This geological explanation might lack romance, but the area does not lack motion; of either its topography or the people who inhabits its hills and valleys.
Rivers are constantly at work shaping the land, molding it in some divine image. Strong river currents on the Wisconsin River can move sandbars within hours, a noteworthy consideration for campers looking for high ground. The Kickapoo River claims new territory daily, eroding pastureland and toppling trees in search of a new course.
Native Americans first populated this region over 10,000 years ago, and nomadic tribes moved along the Mississippi River and its tributaries in search of new fishing and hunting grounds. European explorers first visited in the 1600’s looking for new trade routes and French-Canadian fur traders soon followed.
Settlers came next, building in a region ripe with opportunity. My own father’s family, Norwegian immigrants, settled in 1910 on the hills near Westby, having fled the crop-starved flatlands of South Dakota for the rich soils of Driftless Wisconsin. Former city dwellers make up part of the region’s newest “immigrants,” having fled the stress of metropolitan life.
They have all come for similar reasons, to explore within and dwell upon a land rich with movement: rivers that take you on adventures, migrant waterfowl that travel the Mississippi flyway, wildlife that journey from feeding grounds to the river, and vistas that run forever into the horizon.
The land rises and falls from valley to ridge, folding its people into a life like no other. Having traveled the world for new experiences, I always return to Driftless Wisconsin for its sense of belonging. Its tight ravines and protected valleys embrace me, and I can always stand on a ridge to see further than I can imagine.
Some who live here have known no other place, and really don’t care to leave. Some have experienced other places, and have chosen this place to stay.
Others like you will come to explore it, come to know it, and eventually to understand what’s in a name: Driftless Wisconsin, a, place that moves in your heart.
One of the great pleasures offered in Driftless Wisconsin is the abundance of wildlife that make this rugged land their home. Watching a deer hurdle a fence line or a muskrat plunge into the river never gets old, and provides a privileged peek into the fleeting world of nature.
Standing on a ridge in Driftless Wisconsin with the wind in your face, you can almost imagine soaring like an eagle. Or if you’re willing to strap a pair of skis to your feet and leave common sense behind, you might actually take flight.
As grandparents on New Year’s Eve, the possibilities include hoisting a bottle of baby formula with our seven-month old grandchild or raising a glass of champagne at a local eatery. Whether babysitting or celebrating, our granddaughter’s full-face smile will be lighting up the New Year.
As the holiday pace quickens and hurls us deeper into the shopping season, Driftless Wisconsin prepares for winter’s slower tempo. Don’t get me wrong; our calendars are full with Christmas parties, tying up loose year-ends, with time squeezed in for shopping. Yet the landscape of Driftless Wisconsin tells a different story as it prepares for the long winter ahead.
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If you’ve ever watched time-lapse photography, then you can appreciate the fleeting nature of wildlife caught on our game camera. Located on a busy deer trail near Ferryville, the camera lens captured the night life of forest residents in their nocturnal routine of hunting for food.
Change is in the air and coming through our windows. My wife opens the windows in defiance of the approaching cold. I close them in hopes of forestalling another seasonal milestone; turning on the furnace. A mild October beginning had us lulled into thinking the Indian summer might sleep in and stay awhile, but falling temperature and rising winds have us reaching for the comforter – and the window crank.
To fully experience Driftless Wisconsin requires the use of all of your senses. A drive through the Driftless landscape during fall will find you craning your necks to see the autumn colors framed outside your window. But then it’s time to park the car and walk into the picture.