Sometimes, the mind’s eye takes a snapshot that captures a mood, an event or even the weather. This winter, and it still feels like winter, has been way too cold too long, even for Wisconsin.
Driving home through an older neighborhood last weekend, I saw a family gathered in front of their home. The air was damp and chilly, and the sky hung like a permanent grey tarp above their heads. The family stood in the semi-shelter of the wide porch that fronted their two-story house, a narrow strip of grass in front of it. In the instant I drove by, they looked like statues without expression, a portrait of flannel shirts, hats and jackets. One or two had a can of beer in their hands as they stared ahead. A pink plastic trike sat untouched on the sidewalk. And there on the grass was the focus of the family’s stoney attention. A small black Weber grill sat on its tripod in cold insolence. There would be not brats today. No burgers. No happy children playing barefoot under a sunny sky. No T-shirts and shorts and laughter spilling off the porch. This was Wisconsin and they’d have to wait like the rest of us for spring.
If you have a bike and a little time, head up to the Kettle Moraine State Forest north of Kewaskum and take the Lake to Lake bike trail. The 6.5-mile trail connects Mauthe Lake and Long Lake with the little village of Dundee in between. You’ll know Dundee as home of biker-favorite Hamburger Haus and a 2006 Extreme Home Makeover project, as well as the ancient kame called, appropriately, Dundee Mountain.
I like the sound of my bike tires crunching over the limestone-surfaced trail. The ride through hardwood forests, prairies, conifer plantations and lowland swamps is broken by a field of pink flowers as I round a corner, with friendly Dundee Mountain a dot in the distance.
The Driftless Area or Uplands of Southeast Wisconsin were untouched by the most recent continental glacier that shaved and shaped the gentle kames and eskers of our Kettle Moraine. The Driftless Area has steep rugged hills, cold running rivers full of trout, deep narrow valleys, caves and sinkholes, and diverse soils, plants and animals. It doesn’t have the rocks, gravel, boulders and residue the retreating glaciers left in other parts of Wisconsin. More than that, it just feels different, the vistas high and wide and surprising. So in a geologic sense, it’s OK to be left behind, unscarred and unscraped, the drama of ancient heights and shadowed valleys unchanged. It’s OK to be Driftless.