Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 15, 2016
A time for landscapes, portraits and still lifes
It seems a bit like a Norman Rockwell painting. High ridges are separated by deep valleys. Nestled next to wooded hillsides are farm homes with black Angus cattle. Occasionally, we’d meet a horse-drawn Amish buggy on the curvy road that follows the meandering Kickapoo River. Geologists call this part of southwestern Wisconsin the “Driftless Area” because it was bypassed by glaciers during the last Ice Age and has little of the “drift” materials - rocks, gravel, boulders - that cover much of the state.
But this trip was different. While we could see the road ahead well enough, a heavy gray-white shroud hung over the landscape. The mist cast an air of isolation and mystery to our surroundings. Our world looked like an Impressionistic painting.
Husband Art and I were on our way from his hometown of Appleton to our friend Jo's farm. Our Christmas trip had begun a week earlier with a journey to the home of my first husband's brother Dave and his wife Joyce in Farmington, Minnesota. We hadn't seen them for more than a year, so we had a lot of catching up to do. The evening we arrived, Dave and Jo took us to one of their favorite restaurants - The Tavern on Grand. The restaurant's specialty is walleye and there is no shortage of options that include the delectable fish - cakes, bites, spring rolls, tacos, sandwiches, fettuccine, macaroni and cheese, and one- or two-fillet dinners. As an example of what a small world it can be, the restaurant was just down the street from where my sister's daughter Gabriela had spent four years at Macalester College earning a bachelor's degree.
It had been our intention to get up the next morning and get on our way to Appleton so we could meet up with Art's family, but the conversation flowed so easily that it was almost midway through the afternoon before we left.
Two days after our arrival in Appleton, Art's cousin Kris and spouse Jim hosted a ham dinner. Their son Ryan, girlfriend Brooke, Art's brother Tommy and Art's cousin Jeff and wife Lorraine made it another great night of conversation. Some of us met a few days later at Victoria's, a nearby Italian restaurant. Both were easy-going affairs, complete with delicious food, lots of laughter and family stories. In between, Art and I shopped, relaxed and read.
While the trip to Jo's place amid the misty hills was fun, her home was a welcome sight as we rounded the last curve on Sleepy Hollow Road in late afternoon. With the buildings nestled between two tall ridges, evening can close in quickly.
While Jo spent most of her adult life working in a Chicago suburb bank, her rural Iowa roots meant she always yearned for the peace of a place such as what she now owns. Having lost her husband almost 30 years ago, her companions now are cats Deuce and Marvin and her hen Three.
Small white lights twinkled on the porch. Knowing she'd be wondering when we'd arrive, Art pulled in quietly, stopped the engine and gave her a call. He chatted with her for awhile until she asked the question he knew would eventually come.
"So, where are you now?" she asked.
"Parked in your driveway," Art answered.
Used to his shenanigans, Jo reacted as if it was what she had expected.
"Well, come on in," she replied.
Inside, the aroma of supper cooking welcomed us. We hugged and immediately started chatting about this and that, picking up on conversation strings we had started when we last saw Jo in October.
We ate shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes, steamed Brussels sprouts and warm bread, and finished the hearty, tasty meal with red wine.
I went from room to room to check out Jo's Christmas decorations - a bowl of clove-studded oranges, a candelabra made from a wine bottle, wreaths at several windows, tiny evergreen trees lining window ledges, greenery in an old crock and red candles perched inside bed springs. Jo, who dabbles in antiques, has a real knack for making beautiful still lifes from simple objects.
The next day was even more misty and foggy than the previous day. But we still made the journey to nearby Viroqua to rummage around shops that had antiques, collectibles and books. We then went to another in nearby Westby that had an unusual feature - an "adopt a cat" room. Both Jo and I found it difficult to resist the friendly cats, but Art kept searching and eventually located a set of glasses I had been looking for.
Saturday wasn't sunny, but the fog had lifted so we ventured a bit farther - to Prairie du Chien and, across the Mississippi River into McGregor, Iowa. We had no particular agenda in mind, instead wandering through shops and checking out a store specializing in rare and used books.
Once back at Jo's, we sat by the wood stove fire, kicked off our shoes and relaxed.
Our time away was a needed shifting of gears. The previous weeks had been ones of being constantly on the go - our big Thanksgiving meal, daughter Katie's graduation from college, end-of-the-semester grading, health issues with Mom, and Christmas. We had needed to slow down - we needed time to see the landscapes, portraits and still lifes that surrounded us.
Upper-left: A farmyard in the mist-shrouded hills; upper-right: Jo and Gloria settle in for supper; lower-left: Art "mugging" for the camera outside a shop in Viroqua; Lower-left-middle: Marvin waiting at the window to be let in to the warm house; lower-right-middle: Deuce claims his place on a bed bathed in sunlight from the nearby window; lower-right: clove-studded carved oranges mixed with candy canes recall the recently passed holiday season.