Sunday, January 11, 2009

Road Trip

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
This is a shot of one of the seven roads from home.

I tell Dawn I need to get out of the house. My faithful web researcher goes to Wisconsin Events to find out what's happening in the dairy state. A yodeling contest in Westby, cow chip flings in Liberty Pole and an exhibition of art made from clothespins in Viroqua tops the list. I suggest a road trip to the big city- Lacrosse.

I mention the proposed trip to Janie at the Readstown library on Friday. She's 82 and a real pistol. "Can you get me one of those things?" she says. Things? I repeat. "You know what I mean." Between each sentence she keeps up a steady stream of humming. Hmmm. Hum. Hmmm. "It's got a hook at one end and little lights." I'm still puzzled. "Gary, tell him what I want," she says to a library board member who's twiddling with the mainframe computer. There are at least 15 computers in the library in three rooms. Two of them have a mother and son at the monitors who haven't moved off their bucket seats since last fall. Most of the computers are donated. Gary turns around in his swivel seat at looks at Janie quizzically. "It's rechargeable and it has those little lights, " she repeats. You mean LED lights, says Gary. Janie looks at me again. "Yes, that's it." I have no idea what this gizmo looks like. I take down her home phone number and promise to call from the building supplies store in Lacrosse. I'm trying to squeeze my way out the door. Hmm. Hum. Hmmm. "They were on sale at Christmas for $9.99. Probably more now. Get me two. Do you want some money? " I'll call you I tell her.

I back the truck out of the barn. The night before, I turned on a milk house heater in the barn so I could back out in the morning. The clutch is frozen. I can only move it forward in second gear. The doorway to the barn is 16 feet four inches wide. The truck is 16 feet wide. I drive in the barn with the side mirrors folded in tightly and close my eyes. When I open the door in the morning, the heater is off. It drew too much current. The green jack strip I plug the heater into has an internal circuit breaker. The clutch is still frozen. By moving the clutch and the truck slightly, I click the floor shift into reverse. This time the shift knob doesn't come off in my hand. While we're getting a cardboard box for the non-perishable items and a cooler for meat, cheese and vegetables, I let the pickup run with the heater on the highest setting. Then we pack a tarp, bungees, notebook, measuring tape, the latest building supplies flier, old gloves for handling splintery wood,water, blankets, a snow shovel, and an extra jug of windshield washer and we're ready. I lure the Pooch in the house with a handful of Tasty Temptations Chicken flavor treats.

I forget to take a camera. Squeeze your eyes tightly and use your imagination for this part. Oh, I'm sorry. Then you won't be able to read this. Open them just a teensy bit.

Southwestern Wisconsin is called the driftless area. Ten thousand years ago, the glaciers that scoured the state missed the lower left hand corner of the state. Hold up your left hand palm facing away from you. I said left hand. Your thumb is the Door County peninsula, the top three big fingers are the Wisconsin uplands of forests, resorts and Chicago gangster hideouts. As you run down the left side of your palm, the Mississippi River forms the western boundary where it intersects with the Wisconsin River at Prairie du Chien ( prairie dog town). In our area the hills are steep and the valleys are called coulees. You'll notice a certain French flavor. As you approach Lacrosse the hills aren't bigger. They are spread out with broad fields below forested ridge top and peak.

Things are quiet in the cab of the truck. On Saturday morning WPR hosts a program called What D'Ya Know. The title is indicative of the ethnic flavor of our area. Talk to anyone within sixty miles and the sentence will end with, You betcha ! Rolling down the first steep incline with the roadside memorial for donkey drivers midway, I brake the truck to keep my speed close to 60 mph as possible. There's a speed trap before you enter Coon Valley. In front of the Italian restaurant, there's a six foot wooden carved raccoon. A mural on the side of another building shows 17 raccoons at a picnic. (Remind me later to tell you the story of the rabid raccoon.) I make a fetish of driving slow. Dawn looks up. Directly overhead, a hawk flies in front of the truck. For a moment my woo-woo meter starts beeping furiously. "Is the hawk telling us something? Are we supposed to follow it? This continues for about a city(in this case a town) block. Then the hawk, pulls back on the throttle, veers off to the right and drops a poop bomb. Serious guffawing ensues.
Most of the shoppers in Lacrosse are related to this man. Trolls, each and every one of them. One troll wanders the grocery store. Each time I round a corner looking for cat food or corn chips or edamame, he's there looking at me. If this were the city, he be dead on the sidewalk. You do not make that sort of eye contact in metropolitan areas. The lady trolls smile at you. They use that tight lipped smile, which means-I know I just cut in front of you. By smiling, they think they are absolved of any repercussions. This smile is different than the smile from the young cashier at the building supplies store. I call it the sugar daddy smile. Sorry babe, but my wife is a registered killer. I like living. I smile back.

In the interests of brevity, I'll leave out minor smirks and a few epiphanies. One in particular, however, is worth noting. The radio is still tuned to WPR. The host and hostess of a program Calling All Pets are discussing the phenomena of purring. The woman on the program is a PHD, adjunct zoology professor. She says, "We now know the definitive answer to the secret behind purring." Dawn and I lean closer to the radio. "The answer, " she says, " Is we don't know." What a letdown. Purring, defined, is a cat's relaxation of a certain portion of their vocal chords. The zoologist says it's similar to snoring in people. Quick as a whip, Dawn says, " So all these years you been purring!" Ta dum da! Take my wife, please.

On the return approach to Coon Valley, there's a broad expanse of snow covered field leading up to woods at ridge top that looks like a Mohawk haircut. From the ridge top to the highway are single file trails of tracks. At the bottom land is a flock of 17 wild turkeys. Their dark brown bodies contrast against the pure white of the snow. It's surely a Kodak moment.

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