Ah, Wisconsin! Where the landscapes look like patchwork quilts shaken out by gods of earth and sky; and where June is Dairy Month.
After the traffic hell that is Chicago, I crossed the border into my home state and pulled over at the first exit for a rest stop. I stretched; my limbs creaked and eased and my knuckles sank into the good Wisconsin turf lipped by the white flowers and fine green disks of our humble Wisconsin clover. White flowers of clover are good refreshment. If you ever find yourself wandering on a dirt pathway between woods and fields, far from home at lunchtime, that is a useful thing to know. Just make sure that no cows or deer have passed that way too recently. Then pinch the flower firmly at the base of its head, and pull the white spiky petals out one by one. The nectar is at the end of the spike, where it disconnects from the head.
A few dozen swarms of misquitos danced over to welcome me and I greeted then with a friendly if somewhat vigorous wave. Inside the rest stop building I studied a huge state map behind hard plastic, and felt quite efficient for finding the relevant spots in about three seconds. It’s a good settled feeling, to know where you are. Wisconsin has one of the oddest shapes of any of the states. It’s like something that was trying to be born as a flying squirrel or bat. Or a One-Horned Muskopod. But it didn’t quite make it. No doubt due to ‘those liberals in Madison;’ they are generally held responsible for everything that gets aborted here.
What’s odd is sitting in my parents living room typing away at my Mom’s laptop, and seeing green grass out of the corner of my eye through the front window. It seems like I should be looking at snow. However, last winter’s bumper snow crop has turned into this spring’s bumper misquito crop by way of all the flooding they’re getting. My parents’ house is on a hill so the flooding hasn’t threatened them at all. But many of the roads my dad normally drives to work are closed.
They have guniea hens now, my seven-year-old brother informed me as we tried fall asleep, he on his mattress on the floor and me on the sofa next to him. Kid has his own room but he’d rather sleep upstairs with the puppy. My parents are cool with that. You will not meet a lot of people like my parents even if you do come to Wisconsin. It’s been about six years since the last time they didn’t have someone in need living here. Right now it’s an elderly Irish lady, high on spunk and low on health.
My brother explained many things to me as we tried to settle in for the night – what a porkupine looks like when you shine your flashlight in its face suddenly, and why dogs bark in the middle of the night (it’s because they can hear the porkupines moving in the long grass, along with the rabbits and hedgehogs and turkeys.) The older dog, a collie, spends all night out of doors now that it’s hot and now that my parents have guinea hens. The collie will round up the guinea hens if they escape. The puppy will rip their wings off. My brother made a terrific face to explain the horror of the last event. Animal death, and birth, is part of learning about life here in the country.
Kid finally got to sleep despite the one lucky misquito that found its way inside, but I’m getting too old to sleep on the sofa. So I wandered downstairs and sacked out on top of my older brother’s bed. He’s away camping with his cool guy friends. Yeah, here cool people go camping when they want to live it up. I didn’t sleep much. Around 4:30 I heard my Dad leaving for work so I got up to see him off and we sneaked in a five-minute version of one of our old theological conversations. So much hasn’t changed.
About the only thing that’s different is me.
But coming back here I realize that there’s part of my that will never change. It’s the part that says “this is my own, my native land.” Native, of course, refers to the ground on which one was born. I never left Wisconsin to live, until three months ago. Despite all the talk in politics and so on about patriotism, I sometimes wonder how anyone can experience patriotic sentiments if they don’t feel their heart attached to a very specific bit of this Earth.
I loved a little paragraph in Lord of the Rings, which I can’t find now…two of the characters are discussing their love for the elves and all high things. And one points out that you have to love lowly things first; you need good earth to sink your roots into before you can stretch up and aspire to higher loves. I guess for me, Wisconsin is The Shire.
No grass appears either fine enough or thick enough, and every other landscape is either to rough or too dull compared to Wisconsin’s gentle hills. Right about now the birds and the swamp frogs are finishing their throaty contest and Wisconsin’s natural green and gold is making its way up the hill on which we are set. My parents have a dirt driveway about a quarter of a mile long. If I run up and down it four times that’s two miles.