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The optimism of spring

April 1st, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

The optimism of spring arrived early for me this year, showing up before the weather offered a reason.  I started planning the launch of my boat on the Mississippi before nature had even scraped the ice off the water. Still it’s best to wait till the icebergs clear the channel.

The long winter offered up plenty to complain about, which requires a bit of perspective.  I just finished reading “The Ice Passage” about the HMS Investigator, a British ship and her crew of 75 that launched in 1849 in search of the infamous Northwest Passage.

Outfitted for only two years, the Investigator ended up trapped in the ice of the Arctic Sea for four years. Unable to escape the ice during the infinitesimally short summers, the crew endured 50 degree below zero temperatures, constant starvation, and regular assaults on their sanity.  Suddenly, Midwest winters seem downright mild.

So we watch as the ice recedes, the snow melts, and the water begins flowing in the ravines. And with that, the multitude of human activity begins to thaw. Walleye fishers head to the dams below Lynxville and GenoaHikers exit their winter barracks with a renewed purpose in their step. Soon the valley will be filled with the sounds of children playing baseball, farmers plowing the soil, and tugboats plying the river.

Wildlife watchers find new subjects to watch. I still have not seen that fox residing in the brush pgeese-in-v-formation bile near our house, mentioned in my last blog.  But a raccoon scours our backyard for something to eat and squirrels can be heard rummaging through last fall’s leaves.  The sound of geese fills the warming air as they head north to reclaim their homeland.

Humans looking to shake off winter need only look to our calendar of events. The Driftless Folk School in Viroqua offers a number of classes in crafts during the spring and summer to get our hands involved in the season.  And the annual Brueggen Bash Polka Fest in Cashton on April 11 will get our feet moving again.

Those looking for more grandeur in Driftless Wisconsin need only look up.  No Driftless topography would be complete without the night sky draping the stage.  To learn more about the polar caps of Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge will host Voyage to the Planets on Saturday, May 3.  Presenter John Heasley will also tour the spring constellations.

The Starsplitters of Wyalusing, named after the Robert Frost poem that espoused the value of a “telescope in every town,” holds programming throughout the spring and summer at the Lawrence L. Huser Astronomy Center in Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien.

Optimism is not just in the air.  It has a foothold in the hills, valleys, and night sky of Driftless Wisconsin.

 

A cure for the winter doldrums

February 28th, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

A furry red creature has taken up residence in our backyard. Our dog was the first to discover our new neighbor while searching the backyard for a place to transact his business. Riley stumbled upon the scent and tracks of an animal leading into a large brush pile on the edge of our yard, showing the excitement you might expect in finding a distant relative.

Outside the entrance to the den, a smooth indentation lined with red fur lay atop a snow bank; a front porch from which our visitor could survey her new neighborhood.  The mystery was solved when my wfoxife saw and photographed a red fox trotting up our driveway like a neighbor coming for dinner.

A case of shyness has set in, for we have not seen her since.  Aside from tracks found in fresh snow or an occasional flash from our motion sensor light, she remains aloof.  Given the wintry weather, she has made herself scarce, preferring the comforts of her new log-pile home.

Winter seems unending. Along ridge roads exposed to crosswinds, snow drifts replace hilltops as the new horizon.  Rivers take on a different dimension during the winter. Sealed with ice and capped with snow, they stretch the valley floor from bluff to bluff like a desert painted white.

Driftless Wisconsin offers relief from winter’s doldrums.  The brush strokes of snow and ice create landscapes worthy of any photographer’s lens. The beauty of the land will warm the hearts of any traveler seeking to ward off winter’s chill.

Those looking for indoor refuge will not be disappointed. Our state and federal parks and attractions are open for the winter and offer exceptional educational programming.  Just across that white desert we call the Mississippi River, Effigy Mounds National Park presents their annual Winter Film Festival from January 4 to March 31.  Upcoming topics include, “Untamed America: Forests” and “Wild America: Deadly Beauty.”

On March 8, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge is offering “Creative Communities Art Demonstrations & Sale,” a day of “viewing and discussing art with a wide range of talented area artists.”  Then on March 22, learn and listen to “The call of the frog,” a program that explores the exotic language of 12 Wisconsin frogs.

In Prairie du Chien, the famed Villa Louis Historic Site, the Victorian home of the Dousman family during the 1800’s, is open for intimate viewings of the mansion.  On March 21 – 22, “Villa Louis behind the scenes” will present visitors with an up-close perspective of living in the elegantly appointed mansion.  And coming on April 26, the Villa will present “Breakfast in a Victorian Kitchen,” its popular series on the preparation of meals using period utensils and technology.

There are ways to shorten winter other than waiting for the groundhog’s forecast to play out.  Like our red fox, you can sit on Driftless Wisconsin’s front porch and just take it all in.

Looking for outdoor fun in Driftless Wisconsin

January 20th, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

imagegetThe holidays are over and winter has taken hold.  Save for a passing snow plow, it’s quiet outside.  Even a walk down a rocky horse trail near our home is muffled by a carpet of snow.

The woods feel like an empty park after all the kids have gone home for supper. But look a little closer and the forest will come alive.

A walk in the woods, albeit quiet, reveals footprints other than your own.  Hoof prints and paw prints gather along well-worn trails, forming a labyrinth of streets and alleyways through the snow.  Riley, our golden retriever, understands this. Every intersection requires a stop to check for traffic with his nose.

Entering the park yesterday we saw two whitetail deer bounding across a cornfield, their graceful leaps silhouetted against the snow. Riley wanted to meet and greet, but they had more pressing matters. He picked up their scent further down the trail, which was sociable enough for him.

You don’t have to be a dog to appreciate a Driftless Wisconsin winter.  When not checking the weather report or shoveling snow, you’ll find humans congregating around friendly people and outdoor fun.

You’ll find both at the Dam Phunski, a cross country ski event at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve this coming weekend, on January 25.  It offers courses for youth, juniors, and adults, with the proceeds going toward the Kickapoo Valle Reserve Education Program.

Other outdoor events at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, near La Farge, include an Ice Cave Hike on February 8. The hike will tour caves and frozen waterfalls, while participants learn more about the geology, biology, and history of the Reserve.  Registration deadline is February 1.

One of Driftless Wisconsin’s most legendary winter residents, the Bald Eagle, can be seen perched in trees near dams and other open water.  Prairie du Chien will celebrate Bald Eagle Appreciation Day on February 21 and22, offering live eagle and raptor programs, educational exhibits and displays, and outdoor viewing of eagles through spotting scopes.

Ferryville observes Bald Eagle Day on March 1, featuring an eagle from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, and Lois the Owl.  Chloris Lowe from the Ho Chunk Nation will talk about the honored place of the eagle in the Native American culture.

We don’t need to wait till spring to enjoy Driftless Wisconsin’s outdoors and wildlife. We just have to bundle up; and look a little harder.

The season of celebration

December 11th, 2013 by Eric Frydenlund

winter hillsideThe season of thanking and giving is upon us, so it’s time to make a list. Mine is short, yet long on importance: my family, my friends, and living in Driftless Wisconsin.  The month of celebration from Thanksgiving through Christmas offers a break from the world at large. We make time to look at the small things that grace our lives.

The season bridges harvest and winter; between plenty and few. A stubble of corn stalks stand in the farm fields, a sign of the completed harvest.  Spent leaves litter the ground like confetti, mementos of fall’s parade of colors.  And now the corn is in the silos and the photos of color-clad trees are in the camera.

The hoopla is over.  Let the real celebration begin.

There’s no place on earth quite so ready for winter’s celebration. Thanksgiving is over and the people of Driftless Wisconsin are ready for Christmas; ready to give. And if we are observant, the land gives back.

It gives us scenery unending.  Shed of its fall foliage, the landscape reveals at once its blemishes and beauty. Limestone outcroppings show themselves, assuming shapes of faces and places offered up by our imagination. The barren land rolls and folds as if flapping in a gentle breeze.

It gives us pleasure. The land and water of Driftless Wisconsin offers a playground of outdoor activities. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, and birding beckon from every corner of Driftless Wisconsin. And winter does not stop the fun. The ice is on the river and ice fishermen are already drilling for pan fish.  A brisk walk in the bracing cold makes you feel alive. It’s quiet in the woods.  No leaves to flutter or squirrels to scamper.  Wildlife settles into winter’s routine, ready for the patient photographer.

It gives us people, generous and welcoming.  Nothing warms the heart like the hospitality of our innkeepers, shopkeepers, and barkeepers. The people of Driftless Wisconsin are also keepers of our good fortune and ready to share it with visitors.

So come to Driftless Wisconsin, and share in this season of celebration with the land and its people.

A nose for discovery in Driftless Wisconsin

October 31st, 2013 by Eric Frydenlund

When you can’t see the prize, follow your nose.  This seems to be the general philosophy of Riley, our five-year old golden retriever, who relies on his snout to find his way in life.pile-of-leaves

We were out for a walk in La Riviere Park when Riley flushed a deer out of a thicket. While I watched the large doe as it bound up an adjacent hillside, Riley was content to follow it with his nose. He found every bit of excitement out of that fresh-from-the-oven trail as you or I would out of the sight of a white tail bouncing through the woods.

As the fall days grow shorter and the light wanes, it’s good to follow your nose. The smell of fall rivals the colors. Stirred with your feet, the odor of spent leaves rises like vapors from a fine stew.  The odor marks this season as surely as cut grass pegs summer.  It stirs memories as well.

I remember hunting with my father in the fall, the chill of early mornings warmed by the sight of a stalking buck.  I remember jumping like paratroopers with my childhood friends into freshly piled leaves. I remember hunting for the biggest pumpkin with my children and dressing them in outlandish costumes for Halloween.

Fresh memories are still for the taking in Driftless Wisconsin.  The orchards are still open in Gays Mills, and the smell of fresh apples, baked pies, and hot apple cider cuts the air.

For those with a nose for discovery, Driftless Wisconsin will lead you there.  Dr. James Lattis, Director of UW Space Place, will lead observes on a tour of constellations, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies at Observing the Dark Sky, at the Kickapoo Reserve near La Farge on November 2.

On November 9, Dan Jackson, president of the Coulee Region Audubon Society, will help birders identify the many water fowl along the Mississippi Flyway at Fall Migration Day in Ferryville.  And of course, all the state parks and natural areas are open to pursue the exploration of the fall season.  Peak color has passed, yet the slow march of Driftless Wisconsin’s foliage through the spectrum of fall colors continues.

Back at La Riviere Park, I made the way home following my shadow cast by a half moon.  Riley followed his nose.

 

Driftless Wisconsin in the fall

October 1st, 2013 by Eric Frydenlund

There’s no place on earth quite like Driftless Wisconsin in the fall. The bluffs rising from the river gives autumn another dimension in which to paint. She does not waste a good canvas.overlook fall

As the “color season” nears, we find ourselves peeking around the corner to see what comes next. Tips of trees are already turning yellow and orange, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of things to come.

I’m walking along a logging road that descends from the top of the bluff to a rock quarry.  I notice what seem to be fluorescent flags marking the trail, which turn out to be yellow-tipped leaves illuminated by the setting sun.  I follow these footlights to the overlook where the sun sinks into the Iowa bluffs. The season never ceases to amaze.

Fall is my favorite season; perhaps because this is the time of year my father put down his work and took up hunting. Excitement barely describes the feeling of walking into the woods on a crisp October morning.

The woods drops its guard along with its leaves and you get to know the land more intimately. With less to hide behind, deer betray their presence by the tattletale rustle of spent leaves. Of course, you need to learn the difference in sound between the rhythmic march of a deer and the chaotic romp of a squirrel. Many a heart-thumping encounter ended with a squirrel staring at me bug-eyed from a tree branch.

Or perhaps it’s my favorite season because the hurried pace of summer slows to a trot. The wind, no longer driven by summer’s heat, calms to a slow breeze. A walk in the woods after a rain allows you to hear your own breath. Or hear the sudden shriek of a blue jay announcing your presence.

Of course you needn’t climb our hill to enjoy the Driftless Wisconsin colors. Major parks are within a short drive from anywhere in Driftless Wisconsin. And on the way you’ll enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors along secluded back roads that turn a lazy afternoon into an adventure.

After sunset, I descend from the bluff top into the steep arms of my valley. No place on earth feels more welcoming.

September Celebration

September 2nd, 2013 by Eric Frydenlund

harvest photoA heat wave persists, bridging the short jump from August to September.  Summer refuses to yield without one last performance to remember her by. Even our 18-year-old cat has bowed to the dog days of summer.  Sprawled out on the baked concrete of our front porch, he’s barely able to lift a paw to order a Margarita.

September is upon us and we yearn for that first coulee breeze sliding down the valley like water from a cool rain. Temperatures drop a little further each night, gathering momentum for the fall plunge. Corn tassels wave in the breeze to signal that harvest time is near.  The sun sinks below the horizon earlier, shrinking evenings down to whatever can fit between the river bluffs.

September performs these subtle theatrics as it prepares for our fall production of The Color Season in October.  Anticipation hangs from every branch. The stage crew adjusts the lighting.   The actors practice their lines: “The trees are starting to turn along County C,” we’ll say knowingly.

The stage is set.  But first comes the celebration of September.

Having had their summer fun, Driftless Wisconsin “locals” move through September in a festive mood.  A number of events will give visitors the chance to celebrate along with them. On September 6 – 8, the Villa Louis Carriage Classic in Prairie du Chien will stage one of the finest shows in the Midwest.  You would have to travel thousands of miles to see a better display of handsome horses and elegant carriages than those assembled on the stately lawns of the Villa Louis historic site.

Then on September 14 and 15, artisans will gather along the Kickapoo River in Soldiers Grove for the ninth annual Driftless Area Art Festival.  Extraordinary art, inspired by and created within the confines of the Driftless area, including parts of neighboring Iowa and Minnesota, will show visitors the creative side of living in the Driftless region.

On September 21, you can revisit our farming heritage at the annual Threshing Bee at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center, near Coon Valley. Watch our Midwestern rural history come alive with demonstrations in threshing oats, corn shelling, rope making, blacksmithing, butter churning, and cutting lumber.

On September 27 – 29, Gays Mills will host the 55th annual Apple Festival, a celebration of the fall harvest, the transition of seasons and, oh yes, the memorable crunch and drool of biting into a fresh home-grown apple.

The colors can wait until October. Meanwhile, Driftless Wisconsin will celebrate September.

History’s Trail

August 6th, 2013 by Eric Frydenlund

ekern_houseAs children we hiked to the top of the Mississippi River bluff, where legend has it that Michael Brisbois was buried so that he “could look down upon his intense business rival in death as he did in life.”

Or maybe he just enjoyed the view. History works that way, embedding its trail into the fabric of the landscape on whatever piece of land that pulls it in that direction. The land shapes history as surely as it directs the flow of rivers. And in Driftless Wisconsin, we find the abundance of natural resources and ever-present challenges that attracted its first inhabitants.

The first Native Americans were drawn to the Upper Mississippi River Valley by a land rich in game, fish, and life-sustaining water. Their footprints through early human history are now marked by Indian burial mounds that crown the tops of area bluff tops.  Effigy Mounds National Monument, just across the river from Driftless Wisconsin in Marquette, Iowa, has preserved over 200 burial mounds in the shapes of animals.

It was to this mecca of natural resources that the first European explorers and settlers were drawn, coming to trade furs and explore the new frontier. Farmers and shopkeepers followed, who like my grandfather, tilled the rolling land and planted towns in sheltered river valleys and on windblown ridge tops.

Driftless Wisconsin forms a mosaic of this layered history.  Every road follows the trail of settlement. Numerous historic markers tell this story, and you would do well, on your journey through this compelling landscape, to stop and read a chapter of the story. There are 21 markers throughout Crawford and Vernon counties, listed here on the Wisconsin Historical Marker blog.

The best way to step back through that portal of time is to visit one of our many historic attractions.  Those visits should start with Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center near Coon Valley, which is “dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the natural environment and cultural heritage of the area;” and Villa Louis Historic Site at Prairie du Chien, a Victorian mansion restored to its original 1880’s splendor.

The narrative of history has been written by nature as well as humans. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge has a visitor center and miles of hiking trails that will acquaint you with the natural forces at work in the Kickapoo River watershed. And at Wyalusing Park at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, where Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet first set eyes on the Mississippi, you can witness the deep river valleys cut over time by water.

You don’t need to be a child to enjoy the excitement of discovery.  You just need to rediscover a child’s curiosity. And along the way, maybe enjoy the view.

Memories Fresh from Farmers Markets

July 1st, 2013 by Eric Frydenlund

Market2Farmers Markets whet my appetite for garden vegetables and childhood memories. As a child I would sneak into my mother’s garden with my sister and pilfer fresh peas from their pods.  We would sit hunched in the garden, snapping the pods from the stem with one hand and unzipping them with the other.  The peas would spill onto our tongues like balls down the drain of a pinball machine.

Our next door neighbor had a strawberry garden with rows so long you had to turn your head to take it all in. At harvest time, they always shared some with us.  Seeing that bowl of strawberries approach from across the road set my mouth to salivating at first sight.

On Saturday mornings in Driftless Wisconsin, the best treats still travel the shortest distance.  Produce appearing at your favorite market is fresh from that short jaunt across the road from a local farmer, not “bleary-eyed” from a thousand-mile trek on interstate highways from processing plants in the big city. Just try to look fresh after a thousand-mile bus ride.

They say the sun brings out the best in the garden, but by my reckoning, it’s the other way around. On this rainy Saturday morning in June, a mixture of fresh food and smiley-eyed people has brought out the sun, arriving just in time for the music. Dan Harwood strums his guitar and plays the crowd and all is right with the world.

Including the world of farmers. You see, farmers bring more than product to market.  They bring with them their pride and love of good food. The pride shows up on their faces. The love oozes from every bite of their offerings.

A blueberry turnover from the Local Oven satiates my appetite, while a strawberry smoothie conjures up memories of that bowl walking across the street.  Jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam sit in rows, teasing passersby.  Fresh garlic, beets, and onions sit in baskets waiting for a dinner date.  I take home a couple of grass-fed tenderloins for a date with my wife.

Farmers Markets can be enjoyed all across Driftless Wisconsin, including the Viroqua Farmers Market in downtown Viroqua, the Prairie Street Farmers Market in downtown Prairie du Chien, Market in the Park at Sugar Creek Park in Ferryville, all on Saturdays; and the Gays Mills Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

Best of all, Farmers Markets transport you back to times when fresh food was the norm; whether hunched down on your knees in your mother’s garden, or eyeing that row of strawberries across the street.

Springtime’s promise

May 24th, 2013 by Driftless Wisconsin

1My wife and I live in a coulee along a drywash, a meager contributor to the Mississippi River and yet a topographical tributary to the Mississippi Valley.  We live in shadow until midmorning, when the sun finally appears to resume its work on spring, as an artist arrives late to her workshop.

Riley, our three-year old golden retriever, revels in spring the way a child wanders awe-struck through a toy store.  His senses are my entrance.  His nose twitches to a new odor, his ears perk to a new sound, and I look toward their origin.  Unlike the hollow clatter coming from the vacant streets of winter, sounds have a home in spring.  They dwell in the lush construction of new growth.

Two of my three children were born in spring, while the third wedged spring into the midst of a cold January morning.  I stood wobble-kneed, draped in a green hospital gown, until a nurse noticed the color of my complexion drifting toward my wardrobe like a startled chameleon, and ordered me to sit down.  I sat, dumbfounded, as spring arrived.

A new arrival to this world searches for familiar reference points like a circus visitor in a house of mirrors.  The nurse places the tiny traveler in your arms, and their eyes soon find yours, and you can’t leave them.

And so it is springtime in the Driftless area.  The sun shines through freshly-minted leaves that hang like mobiles above a newborn’s crib.  Each time the wind blows, the mobiles move, and the spaces between them open and close. The sun’s gaze parses into a dozen eyes that open with each breath of wind. I stand, wobble-kneed, transfixed on these eyes of spring.

My knees fixed, I begin walking through the undeveloped canopy still under construction.  Last year’s remnants litter the ground, dead and decomposing leaves from which this year’s growth rises.  Life has come full cycle, and whatever has been taken in the past, nature has given back.

A buck has etched a scrape into the middle of the logging road, still exercising his territorial rights from last year’s rut.  Each time I walk past, the leaves have been pushed aside and strident hoof prints leave their mark upon the barren earth.  The marks are linear and cross-hatched, as if signing his primitive intent.

In my last visit, pollen-laden catkins from a nearby birch tree have dropped on the buck scrape.  They dropped and scattered and skewed, forming strange hieroglyphics upon the earth. The buck’s best intentions have been overwritten.

Leave it to arrogance to think we can leave our mark.  Spring returns to reclaim its dominion, again and again.  We are not just fathers of children and owners of land, but stewards of nature, witness to miracles unending.  Spring returns to Driftless Wisconsin, resilient, full of promise for the future, laden with gifts from the past.

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Waiting for spring in Driftless Wisconsin

April 15th, 2013 by Driftless Wisconsin

2The spring of 2012 flew early.  I remember my then one-year-old granddaughter watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade in shorts.  Our family picnicked on a balmy Easter Sunday, complaining only about our mud-caked dogs who had snuck away for a swim at the beach.

This spring of 2013 continues to sit. Determined not to break our Easter Sunday picnic tradition, we huddled around a fledging campfire, complaining about spring’s late arrival to the party.

The snow in our valley finally gave up waiting, melting into the nearest stream and taking leave to the river.  Yet other signs of spring – budding trees and the emergence of green – wait for a sign that it’s OK to come out.

I may have happened last night. A thundering announcement accompanied by a penetrating rainstorm, woke up the entire valley, my wife and I included. The entire house shook as if spring could no longer contain itself.  This morning, green grass appears where snow banks stood a week ago, and green undergrowth squeezes out of the adjacent hillside. The bird of spring has flown.

With spring’s arrival comes outdoor adventure. My wife gave me a Wisconsin Park sticker for Christmas and it’s time to put it to good use.  Open year ‘round, state parks offer a splendid view to monitor the progress of spring.

Wildcat Mountain State Park near Ontario overlooks the sprawling Kickapoo Valley with the Kickapoo River meandering along the foot of the bluff below the park.  South of Prairie du Chien, Wyalusing State Park oversees the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers and the wide valley that holds the rivers.  Each offers tantalizing glimpses of spring’s arrival, from the explosion of budding trees to the fast-flowing rivers that signal the retreat of winter.

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge will celebrate spring’s arrival with the “Spring Fling Benefit” on April 27.  “Activities include: geology & nature hike, craft demonstrations, hula hooping, Sister City presentation, music by Dan Sebranek & Mary, silent auction, raffle, grilled brats & burgers, salads, desserts, soft drinks, and brew canoe.”

Other celebrations of spring include the Gays Mills Spring Festival on May 10 – 12, “a festival commemorating the traditions of the valley,” which features the Folk Festival of Music and Dance, the Ridge and Valley Rodeo, and plenty of good food coming your way in a Bake Sale and Pancake Breakfast.

You may want to wait for that soon-arriving warm day to stage your first picnic, but I can think of no better place to witness spring take flight.  Time for spring to leap!

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Jump into Driftless Wisconsin

March 9th, 2013 by Driftless Wisconsin

3Our golden retrievers Riley and Finn – the latter belonging to my daughter – are not impressed with the scenery, preferring to jump in the action. Riley buries his snout in the snow like he’s rifling for spare change under the couch cushion. Finn, who takes a liking to diving off fishing piers during the summer, enjoys “swimming” in the white waves; squirming and rolling to form doggie angels in the snow.

Dogs have it right. The scenery is nice but let’s dive into it.

So it is with Driftless Wisconsin; you come for the scenery, but eventually you need to dive in.  And contrary to perception, there’s much to do in Driftless Wisconsin during the “off-season.”

My wife and I enjoy snowshoeing at our local park. It’s the closest we’ll get to leading a polar expedition, striking a new web-footed trail across a field after a fresh snowfall. Once you get used to the footwork and cadence, there’s no territory too remote to go undiscovered.

For the ice fishers among you, the backwaters of the Mississippi offer plenty of opportunities to walk on water.  A trip along Highway 35 on a sunny day will find any number of hearty souls performing the miracle, and catching some nice pan fish to boot. Shanty towns of ice fishing shelters can be seen springing up over those fishing hotspots only accessible by boat during the summer.

Wildlife comes into view during the winter, as deer, turkey, squirrels, and birds – those that have not booked a flight south – can be seen carrying out their winter routines. Without a leaf or a corn stalk to hide behind, wildlife can be easily seen crossing farm fields, or with a patient eye, meandering across forested hillsides.

If indoor events suit your taste and temperature preferences, Driftless Wisconsin has theaters, film festivals, art galleries, and indoor water parks to keep the cold at bay. And small-town stores and specialty shops will warm you up instantly with their small-town hospitality.

Spring is just around the corner. But before we make the turn, might as well jump in the fun along this stretch of season.

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Winter boldness

January 25th, 2013 by Driftless Wisconsin

4To the contrary, we have not abandoned the summer cabin and gone south for the duration.  There are too many extraordinary sights we might miss. Driftless Wisconsin in winter is quite spectacular.  Stripped of its leafy pretense, the landscape takes on a naked honesty. Without a shred of camouflage to hide behind, limestone outcroppings show their face, rivers step from behind the shoreline curtain, and the land reveals its character.

Wildlife, resigned to a seasonal shyness for most of the year, can be seen scampering among leafless forests and across barren farm fields. No movement goes unnoticed.  Winter is a season for boldness.

Eagles symbolize this daring to be seen. As rivers ice over, eagles gather around open water below dams like picnickers to a feast.  The regal birds can be seen perched in trees like holiday ornaments.

Two upcoming events celebrate these gatherings:  Prairie du Chien holds its annual Bald Eagle Appreciation Day on February 23.  The event will bring together birding experts, wildlife exhibits, and live eagle and raptor programs, along with spectators with an eye of appreciation for these extraordinary birds.

On March 2, Ferryville celebrates its annul Bald Eagle Day with naturalists programs, art exhibits, photo exhibits, and food to enjoy.  And they have an owl hooting contest that’s truly a hoot to watch, and even better to try out your skills.

Not to be outdone by eagles soaring through the skies, international ski jumpers will gather at the annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament in Westby on February 1 – 3 to try their own version of defying gravity.  Nothing quite compares to watching highly trained athletes mix courage with grace, flying though the air for hundreds of feet and landing with the precision of a Navy pilot.

Boldness need not be reserved for eagles and ski jumpers. Plenty of area skiing and hiking trails await your urge to get off that comfy couch, open the cabin door, and meet the cold Driftless Wisconsin winter face to face.  Your courage will be rewarded with sights altogether unseen during the summer, and a serenity draped with snow that will warm your heart.

And you’ll have more things to talk about that evening, gathering around the table to share fine wine, good food, and the day’s discoveries.  Be bold. Step out the door and greet the Driftless Wisconsin winter.

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A Driftless Wisconsin Christmas Gift

December 18th, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

5I don’t know if I arrived on time or the crows left on cue, but the crossroad of events involves some sort of synchronicity that defies reasoning. Reasoning is best left at home for such occasions; left for our clocks, laptops, and logical minds.

Children have a way of inventing reality that grownups have altogether lost. My six-year-old grandson finds adventures every day by constructing them from the fruits of his fertile mind. He uses cardboard boxes, recycled paper, and tape that he assembles with his imagination.

He recently left on a fishing trip in his pickup truck, arriving safely at his cabin “about 70 miles from home,” to go fishing for “big mama’s.” He prefaced all this with, “this is just pretend,” but went anyway, not wanting to miss the adventure.

We build the world with our imagination. We build the world given to us by our good fortune to be present at this very moment.

In the Mississippi Valley, we have good fortune come our way often, and we don’t need metaphor to give push to our imagination. “Fiscal cliffs,” from which we can only fall to our economic demise, give way to real cliffs from which the entire river valley opens below us like a finely-wrapped Christmas gift.

The Mississippi River enters right and exits left and we were meant to be here in between, witness to whatever the river brings our way.

Before and after the crows launched, two people entered my life, moving on the periphery where you take notice only if you are paying attention. A woman, bundled against the cold on a brisk Christmas shopping day, walks across a busy parking lot with head bowed, oblivious to everyone around her, looking down at the contents streaming from her smart phone.

A burly man, built for heavy lifting and hearty laughs, stands in the cold dressed only in a flannel shirt, head bowed and arms crossed, looking down at a freshly placed grave stone.

We have all done this. I have done both. One is a distraction, giving us electronic hints of what we are missing. The other is a reflection, giving us appreciation for what remains in this life for the taking.

They say, “Life is what you make it,” but give no instructions as to how to assemble the pieces. I think my grandson has it right. The pieces are all around us; cardboard boxes, paper, pencils, and tape. Family, friends, and extraordinary moments in Driftless Wisconsin.

After my walk up the hill, I came home at dusk, the path lost in the waning light. The crows were silent now, but another gift offered itself. Upturned leaves left in the wake of deer that frequent this trail were glistening in the moonlit night. My dog Riley and I followed them home.

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Revealing the next season

November 10th, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

6Just because the leaves have fallen does not mean the show has ended.  If anything, Driftless Wisconsin’s stunning beauty is accentuated, revealing limestone outcroppings, subtle contours of the land, meandering creeks, and other new vistas previously hidden.

Deer, typically concealed behind a curtain of foliage, can be seen scampering across naked hillsides. Squirrels, gathering groceries to stock their pantry before the onset of winter, can be heard scurrying about in the freshly fallen leaves like children raiding a potato chip bag. It all steps into view come November.

Absent fall’s cool winds and fluttering leaves, the forest stands mute, a stillness as deep as a tranquil lake begging for you to jump in.  And jump in you must.

There are many ways to enter this season of tranquility descending on Driftless Wisconsin; many ways to experience and enjoy this prelude to the holiday season.

If a brisk walk in the woods still beckons you, as it does me, then Driftless Wisconsin’s parks await discovery.  Kickapoo Valley Reserve’s trails explore the Kickapoo Valley landscape adjoining the river.  Wildcat Mountain State Park trails overview the Kickapoo River while the trails of Wyalusing State Park overlook the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.

If shopping before the holiday rush and without the frenzy of shopping mall parking lots appeals to you, as it does me, then Driftless Wisconsin’s main street stores with friendly clerks await your curiosity.  General stores and specialty shops, reminiscent of the era of bustling downtowns, are scattered throughout the region in our laid-back but vibrant small communities.

And if a quiet, romantic dinner and comfy Bed & Breakfast or Inn tickles your sensibilities, as it does mine, then Driftless Wisconsin’s inviting restaurants and lodges awaits your indulgence. Restaurants and bars, filled with the banter of locals recalling the day’s amusing encounters; and lodges tucked into secluded valleys and scenic landscapes, are sprinkled throughout the region.

The trees may know something we don’t: the less you have to show, the more you reveal of what’s behind you.  Best to jump in and take a hard look.

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Fall’s season-ending show

October 1st, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

7Out for our evening walk, our dog Riley seems intent on exploring the smells of fall: decaying leaves and animal scents along the trail.  I’m focused on the show. A patch of first color hangs above the canopy, lit up like a sunset. A fluorescent glaze coats the trees, the first hint of fall’s arrival. The show has begun.

Fall’s appeal stems from my earliest memories of hunting; following my father’s footsteps into the woods with anticipation hanging from every branch. Of course, his chance of seeing a deer were somewhat diminished by the noise-maker child he had in tow. We still heard the sounds of deer snorts in the distance, which added to the mystery of the show.

A Driftless Wisconsin fall is full of mystery.  You can explore this mystery from the heights and depths of the Driftless Wisconsin landscape.  If you are looking for an overview of the plot, try one of the overlooks at our state parks.  Wildcat Mountain State Park near Ontario offers a stunning vista of the Kickapoo River Valley, which sprawls westward from its perch above the river.  Or cross the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Chien and climb the hill leading to Wyalusing State Park and see the color-framed confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.

If you’re looking to get into the story a little deeper, then take State Highway 27 through Cashton, Westby, Viroqua, and Seneca, which travels the ridge between the Kickapoo and Mississippi like a catwalk above the stage.  Then jump into either valley along one of the many County highways that meander down to the river through coulees bathed in fall color.

The Mississippi Valley offers great panoramas of sheer river bluffs and a big valley dressed up in its Sunday best.  And yes, with a big river to boot.  The Kickapoo Valley presents a more subtle presentation, with smaller hills and remote back roads that give you the sense of discovering paradise lost.

And if you’re looking for an in-depth study of fall color, take a walk.  Fall colors of every hue, from bright yellows to deep reds, will immerse you in a kaleidoscope of changing scenes.  Look down occasionally, so as not to trip over a tree root, but also to witness the culmination of the show; a curtain-dropping display of spent leaves at your feet.

So there you have it, a gallery of landscapes from every seat in the theater. Now it’s time to see it for yourself. Hurry though, the show has already begun.

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Many ways to experience Driftless Wisconsin

September 1st, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

8So we headed up the hill under a twilighted sky, summiting around dusk and descending in the dark.  I know this trail well.  Each deadfall, tree root, and protruding rock fixed in my mind. But in the dark, things get misplaced.  As two weeks ago when I tripped over a freshly fallen tree and planted my nose in the horse trail.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark on this night, I could faintly pick out the black earth of the hoof-worn trail that lay like a ribbon against the lighter background. I felt the steep slope fall away from my next step.  Riley’s shapeless form moved ahead of me, leading me home. During the day, this bluff cuts an imposing line against the horizon.  During the night, the land weaves its way into your senses.

So it is with Driftless Wisconsin.  Take a look around you at the stunning photos on this website, and you will only know part of the story.  It’s one thing to see Driftless Wisconsin in photos.  It’s quite another to experience it with your senses.

There are many ways to experience Driftless Wisconsin.

You can ride it on a bike.  The Kickapoo Brave Ride on September 15 begins in Gays Mills and takes you on a rolling tour of the back roads, visiting quaint villages and rural farmland along the way.  Along the 60-mile route, visit Ferryville for their Fall Fest and Market in the Park on the Mississippi River.  A Harvest Dinner with locally grown food awaits you back at Riverside Park on the Kickapoo River.

You can ride it on a horse. The 9th Annual Fall Trail Ride at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge on September 28 – 30 takes you along equestrian trails that will visit the fall colors.  Enjoy the special equestrian campsite with Saturday evening dinner and Sunday morning coffee and rolls. Registration is limited and required by September 16.

You can experience it through art.  The Driftless Area Art Festival on September 15 – 16 in Soldiers Grove will take you on a tour of the artist’s imagination.  Discover Driftless creativity through wood, ceramics, fiber, painting, photography, jewelry, sculpture, food, and music.

You can live it through history.  The Norskedalen Threshing Bee on September 22 at the Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center near Coon Valley relives the pioneer spirit.  See demonstrations in threshing, corn shelling, rope making, blacksmithing, butter churning, lumber cutting and all the skills that tamed the land for our ancestors.

See it in the light; feel it in the dark; take it all in through any means possible.  There are so many ways to experience Driftless Wisconsin.

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Driftless Wisconsin: not an ordinary place

August 1st, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

9The land makes difficult work for city planners and civil engineers.  Straight lines and level ground are in short supply. Trying to find a place to build a house or plot a road is rather like trying to set a beer can on the fender of a ‘59 Cadillac; there are no flat spots to rest your elbows.

River valleys make for the best place to plant a house without tipping over.  Outside of valleys, you’re on your own.  Roads snake across valley floors until they bump up against a bluff, where they either waltz up the slope or stop altogether for a lack of imagination.  Power lines scale the bluffs straight up, which make for sleepless nights for power line workers.

And what does this lack of ordinary do for visitors?  Well, you can imagine.

Imagine leaving your straight streets and six-lane freeways back home.  Imagine letting the land take you to never-before-seen vistas and never-before-experienced outdoor adventures. Imagine a freedom to explore places that just won’t fit anywhere else. Then you can imagine Driftless Wisconsin.

Once you have given up on straight lines, there’s no telling where the road will take you.  Every rise in the road and bend in the centerline holds a new surprise.  The road from Wilton to Wauzeka along the Kickapoo River takes you valley watching. You may have to stop to snap a photo or test a fly rod.  The road from Stoddard to Prairie du Chien along the Mississippi takes you river watching.  You will have to stop to watch a river barge “lock through” one of the Lock and Dams.

State parks are a good place to start for beginners.  Situated along rivers and around land forms, they offer an introduction to the Driftless area geology.  For the more adventuresome, hop on a bike or in that ’59 Cadillac and get lost.  Leave the map in the glove box.  There are back roads that ravel through places only imagined in a good book.  Eventually the road will take you back to civilization, where you can enjoy a relaxing dinner and peaceful sleep, before hitting the explorer’s trail again in the morning.

No, Driftless Wisconsin will not fit into a box or stick to a straight line.  But who wants ordinary?

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Exploring the Mississippi River

June 28th, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

The Mississippi River offers this sort of amazement.  The river presents so many points of fascination that it requires, I dare say, both arms to take it all in.  Bald eagles grace the skies like mobiles hung from a ceiling.  Bluffs rise abruptly from the waters edge, separating the broad valley from other places and other times.  Tugboats ply the current, pushing Midwest commerce up and down the river.

The water holds these images on its surface, variously smooth and rippled, reflecting the world of islands, bluffs, and sky suspended above. And the river flows, which sets the scene in motion.

On this Saturday, I am here to watch and listen.  I am aboard the Mississippi Explorer, heading north through tranquil backwaters to have a look at a couple of eagle’s nests and whatever else might present itself along the way. To catch an eagle at home, tending family and keeping watch, qualifies as an intimate glimpse of royalty.  Trained in the social manners of heads of state, eagles do not return your gaze.  They keep their eyes on things more important.  I caught one in a photo, accompanying this blog, posing regally on a branch near its nest.

The river shows us stories both large and small.  Chris West, the interpretive naturalist on board, showed us a mayfly larva, soon to hatch and fill the sky – and our windshields – with a black living cloud.  A mayfly hatch is one of those uncelebrated Mississippi River events that while spectacular in its own right, river towns look forward to like hail storms.

Chris also displayed a sprig of wild celery (Vallisneria americana), one of nature’s hydroponic tubes, which decorate island shores. According to the Minnesota DNR, wild celery “Provides shade and shelter for bluegills, young perch, and largemouth bass; choice food of waterfowl, particularly diving ducks; attracts muskrats, marsh birds, and shore birds.”  It looks fluorescent in Chris’s hand.

Captain Annie Weymiller took us on a grand tour of river scenery and wildlife, while the river told the story.  Like the knowing grandfather who lived through the Great Depression, the river has lived though the great migration; of Native Americans who came to its shores, of European explorers who arrived on its tributaries, of settlers who built on its banks.  And let’s not forget the migratory birds that travel its skies.

The Mississippi River cuts its way through history, moving earth, shaping stone, and fashioning scenery unmatched on earth.  Every which way we look, a new scene unfolds.  Just point in any direction and say, “Now would you look at that!”

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Spending time with a river

June 2nd, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

Scott Teuber of WI River Outings knows something about the allure of rivers. Scott began paddling in mid 1990’s and has been hooked on it ever since, which led to starting his own canoe rental business in 2003.  Now that his operation is expanding onto the Kickapoo River, he arranged for a demonstration tour of the lower Kickapoo, putting us in the river above Gays Mills. The adventure was on.

 

We boarded the shuttle above the dam in Gays Mills and spent the time heading north getting to know our boat mates. Conversation was lively, full of anticipation of spending time with a river on a sunny day.

Arriving at the Kickapoo River Bridge on County Highway B around 4:30 pm – this short section would take about 90 minutes – Scott gave us instructions on river navigation.  The thing about rivers is that they do most of the navigating; just let the current do its work.  The meandering Kickapoo is somewhat directionally challenged, taking you east and west in equal portions to south, but eventually delivers you to your destination.

We paired off into partners and slipped our canoe gingerly into the current, like explorers into uncharted territory.  After fleeting near the bridge while the rest of the canoes put in, we headed downriver.

The upper Kickapoo is open for canoeing and served by several outfitters.  The lower Kickapoo River is currently being cleared of major debris, thanks to funding by a Community Development Block Grant, which will open it up for recreational use. This section of river has not been cleared yet, but contains no major obstacles that require portaging or extraordinary skills.

No matter.  A low hanging branch and an errant helmsman – that would be me – still managed to roll us over into the chest-high water for a late afternoon bath. It’s humbling to be outwitted by a river that has a better idea where it’s headed than you do. Upright and invigorated by our sudden adventure, we continued downriver; wetter, but soon bathed in warming sunlight.

The river obliges your every curiosity, taking you on a guided tour of attractions in the valley. Your perspective constantly changes.  Forested river bottoms with overhanging canopy suddenly open to pastureland with wide-angle panoramas. River bluffs loom large and then fade from view. Critters on the bank make brief cameo appearances and then return into hiding. Startled geese take flight and do a quick flyover before disappearing into a sun-drenched sky.

Amid laughter and muted conversation from canoes ahead and behind us, Riverfront Park in Gays Mills soon peeked around the next bend. After debarking, we spent some time celebrating with wine and cheese, retelling our adventure.   There’s much to tell.  The Kickapoo River takes you to new places and new experiences without ever leaving its banks.

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Picturing Driftless Wisconsin

May 9th, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

I did that yesterday; abandoned the car for a walk along the Mississippi River bank. The wind was light from the southwest, impacting the bank at an angle so that wave crests darted along the shore like fish exploring the shallows. While the waves chased my feet, the Iowa bluffs shot skyward from the opposite side of the rumpled sheet of water. 

 

I enjoy exploring those bluffs along the Mississippi and Kickapoo Rivers.  Generally speaking, the breathless walk up is rewarded by the breathtaking look down. The entire valley will simply not fit in a camera frame; you need to turn your head to catch where the river is coming from and going to. 

There are numerous places to enjoy this vantage.  Wildcat State Park near Ontario overlooks the meandering Kickapoo in Northern Driftless Wisconsin, while Wyalusing State Park oversees the Mississippi in the South.  County parks, waysides, and overlooks are scattered in between, where you can get out of the car and venture a look.  

For that walk along the river, consider the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge, a defunct dam project now converted into a nature preserve.  Or visit Readstown, Soldiers Grove, Gays Mills, or Wauzeka, some of the many tranquil communities tucked along the Kickapoo.  

My walk along the river was on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien, a slice of land overflowing with frontier history. Equally compelling views of the Mississippi from water level can be captured along the Great River Road, as it winds north along the river through Ferryville, De Soto, and Genoa

While you’re indulging your senses, be sure to explore the many events happening in Driftless Wisconsin.  Gays Mills will hold its annual Folk Festival of Music on May 11 – 13.  The Folk Festival ventures across the musical spectrum from traditional Eastern European to bluegrass.  And it’s not just for sittin’ and listenin.’ Friday starts with a square dance and Saturday includes dancing and a fiddle bee. 

Westby is the stage for the Syttenda Mai on May 18 – 20, the annual celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day. This year’s event includes arts and crafts, a kiddie parade, a 5K walk/run, a bicycle tour ranging from 30K to 100K, and much more. 

On May 19, the Villa Louis on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien will offer “a culinary tour of the late 19th century through the preparation and consumption of a Victorian breakfast – using the foods, utensils and technology of the time.”  A tour of the Victorian Estate will follow; reservations are required. 

Whether viewing or doing, there’s an experience in Driftless Wisconsin to meet every perspective.  Time to put down the camera and step into the scene. 

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Spring’s Arrival

April 6th, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

Just to confirm spring’s arrival, my five-going-on-six-year-old grandson coaxed me out to the backyard for the first game of catch. His arm is stronger this year, which keeps his grandpa on his not-so-nimble toes. And the bicycles have emerged from storage in time for our first bike ride.  The Driftless terrain provides both challenging hills for the serious rider and easier stretches down in the valley for the rest of us.    

The hillside above our house has already exploded in a fluorescent green optimism. As I write this, five deer are browsing on the new growth, and looking very appreciative of the season’s early arrival of dinner. Wildflowers have joined the celebration, sprinkling the hillside with lavender seasoning just for good measure. 

Aside from mowing the lawn, humans are eager to start celebrating too.  Driftless Wisconsin is alive with events to welcome the new season.  On April 20-21, Gays Mills will celebrate the 2012 Kickapoo Earth Day at the new Community Center.  Friday evening’s performance of “Twenty Seven Birds” will combine bird calls and video with bass clarinet, alto flute, and piano in a memorable tribute to the birds of the Driftless region.  Saturday will bring together national speakers, regional performers and presenters, along with workshops and activities that will observe the “collaboration of citizens up and down the valley who care about the natural world.” 

On Saturday, April 21, Prairie du Chien Downtown Revitalization will present, “Girls Day Out,” a day in the Downtown “for you and you alone.”  The day includes activities that will pamper your senses and indulge your creative side, such as hand massages, planting an herb garden, wood working, design wars, pillowcase making, window screen painting, cake decorating, poker run, live entertainment, and free wine tasting.  Just the kind of day that welcomes spring with your favorite pleasures. 

Driftless Wisconsin is filled with activities and events that welcome the season, not to mention the parks, rivers, nature hikes, and overlooks that put spring into perspective.  Check out our event calendar for the dates you plan on being in the area.  It’s never too early to answer the bell and wake up to spring in Driftless Wisconsin. 

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Springtime in Driftless Wisconsin

March 21st, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

My wife and I live in a coulee along a drywash, a meager contributor to the Mississippi River and yet a topographical tributary to the Mississippi Valley.  We live in shadow until midmorning, when the sun finally appears to resume its work on spring, as an artist arrives late to her workshop.

Riley, our three-year old golden retriever, revels in spring the way a child wanders awe-struck through a toy store.  His senses are my entrance.  His nose twitches to a new odor, his ears perk to a new sound, and I look toward their origin.  Unlike the hollow clatter coming from the vacant streets of winter, sounds have a home in spring.  They dwell in the lush construction of new growth.

Two of my three children were born in spring, while the third wedged spring into the midst of a cold January morning.  I stood wobble-kneed, draped in a green hospital gown, until a nurse noticed the color of my complexion drifting toward my wardrobe like a startled chameleon, and ordered me to sit down.  I sat, dumbfounded, as spring arrived.

A new arrival to this world searches for familiar reference points like a circus visitor in a house of mirrors.  The nurse places the tiny traveler in your arms, and their eyes soon find yours, and you can’t leave them.

And so it is springtime in the Driftless area.  The sun shines through freshly-minted leaves that hang like mobiles above a newborn’s crib.  Each time the wind blows, the mobiles move, and the spaces between them open and close. The sun’s gaze parses into a dozen eyes that open with each breath of wind. I stand, wobble-kneed, transfixed on these eyes of spring. 

My knees fixed, I begin walking through the undeveloped canopy still under construction.  Last year’s remnants litter the ground, dead and decomposing leaves from which this year’s growth rises.  Life has come full cycle, and whatever has been taken in the past, nature has given back. 

A buck has etched a scrape into the middle of the logging road, still exercising his territorial rights from last year’s rut.  Each time I walk past, the leaves have been pushed aside and strident hoof prints leave their mark upon the barren earth.  The marks are linear and cross-hatched, as if signing his primitive intent.

In my last visit, pollen-laden catkins from a nearby birch tree have dropped on the buck scrape.  They dropped and scattered and skewed, forming strange hieroglyphics upon the earth. The buck’s best intentions have been overwritten. 

Leave it to arrogance to think we can leave our mark.  Spring returns to reclaim its dominion, again and again.  We are not just fathers of children and owners of land, but stewards of nature, witness to miracles unending.  Spring returns to Driftless Wisconsin, resilient, full of promise for the future, laden with gifts from the past.

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Driftless – what’s in a name

February 29th, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

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Eagle Watching

January 31st, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

Certainly no glimpse compares in sheer grandeur to the sight of a bald eagle soaring over the river valley.  Sitting on a breeze like royalty on a throne, the bald eagle reigns supreme over its river kingdom.  

The overlook at Pikes Peak Park across from Prairie du Chien is one of my favorite spots for viewing eagles. Standing above the Mississippi River Valley, eagles can often be seen sailing on the wind overhead. 

Eagles are plentiful throughout the region.  Bald eagles can be seen cruising the skies over the Kickapoo River, shopping for their next meal.  They can also be seen along Highway 27, which dissects the two river valleys, sometimes feasting on fish entrails dumped in farmer’s fields by commercial fishermen.  

Two events coming in late February and early March help celebrate this rich heritage of eagle watching.  On February 25, Prairie du Chien observes Bald Eagle Appreciation Day, an event filled with activities that shed light on the life of an eagle. Programs include live eagle demonstrations, an American Eagle Documentary from the PBS Nature Series, live raptors, craft activities for children, puppet shows, with birding experts on hand all day. And oh yes, outdoor viewing through spotting scopes.  Downtown Prairie du Chien will also feature a walking eagle gallery.  

On March 3, Ferryville will celebrate Bald Eagle Day.  Ferryville sits on a wide expanse of the Mississippi River known as Lake Winneshiek, where the river unfolds below your feet from the Observation Deck in the downtown.  At the Village Hall, regional experts will present live eagle programs, a presentation by the US Fish and Wildlife, and a talk by Chloris Lowe of the Ho Chunk Nation. Be sure to meet Lois the owl, who will be supervising a hooting contest for all ages. And take in the Kids Crafts and a photo exhibit by local photographer Larry Knutson.  

I can’t imagine a better weekend spent than eyeing some eagles.  You may not possess their keen eyesight, but you’ll discover an appreciation for their place atop the world. 

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