Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Scouting Spring

I'm under no illusions that winter is anything like over, or even that we've "turned the corner," with Groundhog Day behind us and the Pennsylvania rodent predicting an early spring. We can still see a lot of winter from mid-February to the end of March (indeed, it's minus 10 here in Saint Paul this morning, after a teasingly mild weekend).

Still, the sunlight has warmth now, it's even hot if you're in a sheltered spot on a sunny day. The male goldfinches are starting to color up out at Bide-A-Wee, and we see that our fox is digging out her hillside den again. We never see the actual fox--traveling with dogs isn't conducive to viewing wildlife--but our neighbors down the valley do. We see the snow around the den colored with the yellow soil the fox kicks out. These are signs, sure, but signs of progress only, not of any arrival. Best to keep a realistic view, hold on to our "mind of winter" as Wallace Stevens put it (without, I hope, becoming snowmen and -women ourselves...).

We found ourselves out and about in the Wisconsin countryside quite a bit this past weekend, looking for more signs, maybe. Started the day with a breakfast that some might just see as bread and jam and cheese, but we know it as la belle tartine--French bread and jam and cheese. Oh, and good butter, of course. I don't know why cutting the baguette in that French manner, separating top and bottom, is so evocative--maybe because I've only ever seen it in France, and at our house....

Home-baked baguette, our own runny blackberry jam from Bide-A-Wee fruit, aged cheddar and wonderful Marieke gouda, smoked fenugreek, if you please. A bowl of café crème would be the thing to accompany, but both Mary and I switched from morning coffee to tea recently, quite spontaneously. We drink plain old Tetley's or Red Rose generously whitened with raw milk that we get from our friend Renée at Bolen-Vale Cheese.

One day we packed a picnic lunch (optimists, yes, cock-eyed, for sure) and drove up along the Chippewa River north, through Chippewa, Rusk, and Sawyer counties, and meandered some side roads, just seeing the countryside. We stopped to scout a few putative trout streams, but the fact that most were ice-covered was not encouraging--the spring-fed streams that trout prefer remain open even in the coldest weather. But we saw moving water in the Chippewa River below the dam in the town of Radisson. The river flowed dark and ice-flecked, but the sight of it was encouraging, just the same. It made me think of stringing up the fly rod, stepping into my waders--though that pleasant moment is some weeks off, too.

In Radisson we also found this welcoming park with picnic shelter. You can practically smell the burgers and brats searing on the grill, can't you? We snowshoed across the park to the shelter. There were picnic tables under the roof, and one corner was relatively free of pigeon poop.

We had rillettes sandwiches with cornichon slices, butter and mustard, and a bottle of our own cider. I'd whipped up a quick soup just before setting out, an assemblage of vegetables, mainly--celery root, carrot, kale, potato, onion--made delicious by some of our home-smoked bacon. Just water to make the broth, and a little milk at the end.

A couple of cars passed on the park road as we ate, and we could see the drivers do a double-, maybe triple-take. We were very happy with our picnic spot. It was a very pleasant day, all 'round. We didn't see anything really remarkable, just the charismatic north country quiet under snow, under marbled gray skies mostly (Mary calls them India ink skies), the sort of light, the sort of scenes that can give you little shudders of delight for no reason you can fathom. And looking at the houses, cabins and trailers, we might have shuddered in another way, wondering what the long white season was like in that trailer in the shade of tall white pines, that once-gracious farmhouse now paintless and tilting, with the yard full of flotsam and jetsam that someone apparently thought worth keeping around, or just not worth removing. It was a little trip back into winter, in a sense, even if we were looking for spring (but we turned back before reaching the town of Winter, a few more miles up Wisconsin 70).

The dogs are excellent travelers, Lily on the left, Annabel right. The kitty litter is just for traction.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw


Martha said...

Brett—excellent slicing skills and a hearty spirit have you! I'm glad to know Tom and I aren't the only ones who think it's a good idea to have a winter picnic. Remember this?


el said...

Ah you stalwart souls.

And yes, often I am reminded of the husband who goes crazy in Giants in the Earth when I think of Wisco and MN (and heck even northern MI) winters when I see the houses you saw. Just a month too long for me, those winters.

But for me, looking for the signs of spring is just plain fun, and they do abound if you look, and perhaps adjust downward your notion of Spring. I didn't expect the robins, yet got 'em. It's nearing sugaring season is all...and spring to me is just that, not necessarily a t-shirt-friendly bloom-filled day at all! More like only one layer of clothing under a coat, that's spring! More like, hey, I *don't* want hot soup today, it must be spring. More like, this snow is too sticky to ski or shoe in, that's spring. :)

boy though you got me thinking rillettes again, dern it.

s said...

Awesome picnic! I love that area of WI. I had not thought of adding food to our snowshoeing outings, which is funny because food is included in nearly all summertime jaunts.

We saw a yellowing finch yesterday too. Watching them on the feeder out the kitchen window and realized something was different...it dawned on us both simultaneously with big grins. Yep, we look and listen for signs of spring all the time. First crocus was March 12 last year, that's not too far off!

sylvie in Rappahannock said...

I should not read your posts before dinner, Brett. They make me hungry. Hey, you know, this is how baguettes get cut at my house too... how funny!

Sharon Parker said...

Lovely post, and what a marvelous picnic. Encouraging about the goldfinches. We get them occasionally here in Longfellow, and I had noticed them in their winter drab colors, but I haven't noticed any lately. Now, however, I will attempt to be more vigilant in my watching!

Trout Caviar said...

Thanks, Martha--it's all in the wrist, you know? I had not seen your North Shore winter picnic post, good fun. I love winter eatings-out, let's call them. We used to go out all the time for a ski and hot lunch out of the back of the VW bus--had a kitchen set up in the back.

El, I will be watching your posts for signs of the late winter willies creeping in.... You're right, lots of fun activity comes with late winter/early spring--the sugaring, and we'll be taking another whack at pruning some of our wild apple trees soon. Rillettes, they're so easy, you can make 'em standing on your head! And then they give and give and give (that will be lunch for me again today).

Sara, taking some tasty food along is that much more incentive to get out on the 'shoes. Lord knows you work up an appetite trudging through the depth of snow we have this year. That Sawyer-Rusk County area is pretty interesting, getting very north woodsy up there.

Sylvie, you cut your baguettes that way, too? Tu m'étonnes! You really are bien francaise if just a piece of buttered baguette makes you hungry. But then, you should be hungry before dinner, it's the best seasoning, right? Not that your cooking needs the help, mind you....

Thank you, Sharon. We get absolute hordes of goldfinches at the feeders at the cabin. And they're around all year, of course, and you see them crossing the meadows in their swooping flights, breathtaking. In the fall when the thistles go to seed they ravenously rend the seedheads flinging fluff to the winds.

Ladies, great to hear from you all~ Brett

sylvie in Rappahannock said...

oh sure, the baguette... Bret? Bret!? the rillettes mon cher, that's what was making me hungry, and the cheese & jam... Ok, and here it goes again, I am looking at it before lunch!

Time indeed to go make some rillettes for all thos pickes I made last year (and I am still making)

Trout Caviar said...

Oh, riiightt.... The fatty, fragrant rillettes, the yummy runny jam, the cheese.... I thought it was the baguette(!).


Meg said...

I want to meet Lily and Annabel!! Also, there is nothing wrong with optimism. Today we were out walking the four Danes in shirt sleeves here in Boyceville. When will you guys be by the Corner Cupboard again?

WeekendFarmer said...

ooooo that cheese!!

I am so glad I am not in Bemidji anymore....safely here is Jersey with 10" of snow on the ground : )

Loved your picnic! Way to go!!!

Trout Caviar said...

Meg, from 26 below Thursday morning to 48 above Sunday afternoon--how the heck do you dress for this kind of weather...? Looks like an early start to the slush season. I'm sure you will meet our bearded ladies soon enough, and we look forward to meeting the Danes. As to when we'll be lunching in Boyceville again I'm not sure exactly. Whether we get ourselves together and on the road in time is always pretty much a crapshoot, but we hope to see you soon.

WF, yes, the cheese, it is fantastic, but what else would you expect in America's Dairyland? We're so fortunate that Renee's lovely little shop is right on the road to Bide-A-Wee. She's got cheddars every age up to 12 years old, and they top out at about $13 a pound! I've kicked the imported cheese habit completely in favor of your local products. So, New Jersey--you folks have seen a bit of the white stuff this year, haven't you?

Think spring~ Brett

Fred said...

It's the raw milk that got me. I love it.

Trout Caviar said...

Fred, the milk is great. I'm drinkin' more milk now than I ever have in my adult life (I think this is adult life...). I love Cedar Summit, too, but the stuff we get from Renee is just so totally drinkable. Gotta get me some Ovaltine.

Cheers~ Brett