Tuesday, February 8, 2011
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