It was the kind of snow that made the roads wet, but not in a pretty way. With the thermometer hovering just a breath above freezing, it’s as if it couldn’t make up its mind whether to stick or disappear in a puddle.
We took the back road east out of Madison.
But the landscape remained relentlessly misty wet and understated and so we rejoined the highway, speeding all the way to Milwaukee, where we turned north, leaving the wet blocks of a city that looks especially dispirited on a tail end of winter kind of day.
I was feeling apologetic. The trip was my idea. We hadn’t done enough of Wisconsin winter exploring, what with my moonlighting at the shop and my incessant case reading. It was supposed to have been sunny, so I had reason to push us out.
But it wasn’t sunny.
As we approached Cedarburg (just 20 miles north of Milwaukee, and a few miles inland from Lake Michigan), I was thinking that we’ll likely not leave the b&b much. It was that wet outside.
Cedarburg is an old milling town and it is probably one of the best preserved such towns in Wisconsin. Money hasn’ flown to the peripheries like in so many places with quasi abandoned main streets. Along Cedarburg's main drag, I counted no fewer than four bustling cafés, a boulangerie, three chocolate shops – in addition to the bars, crafts stores, barber shops and a funky rebuilt retro movie house (where the live person behind the window shouted out hello to passersby).
But I couldn’t shake the thought that this 24 hour get away (I have to work Sunday) was ill-planned. We’ve got some wet weather here – was Ed’s comment as he got out of the Geo.
Our b&b was on the Main Street – a dangerous choice if you’re traveling with Ed as he regards street noise as something to run from. But I had liked the looks of this simple but solid old structure, and its good prices (even on a week-end, $85 for two, with breakfast).
Once inside, I relaxed. The place is quiet. The kind where you expect to hear a clock tick. Ed nodded – it’s nice , he tells me.
The late afternoon. It’s a “last chance” time of day. We decide to ignore the wet thin flakes and to head out for the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve on the shores of Lake Michigan.
It’s funny how the same wet flakes that fall over the paved roads and stubby cornfields look entirely different in a forest.
The air is still and at the top of the bluff we can hear the soft ripple of lake waters moving over the pebbles by the shore.
Not frozen this year, not even at the edges.
We follow the Bluff Trail to the gorge and it is so completely quiet that even a whispered comment seems too much. Ed's hair and beard become magnets for the flakes. They hold on for a minute, then melt away.
As we descend the bluff, the forest looks pretty enough to be on a holiday card. Season's Greetings from Wisconsin!
The air is wet with mist and the shoreline quickly disappears somewhere into the same horizon that hides the edges of the Great Lake.
It’s a beautiful walk. Up the hill now and around the loop. We encounter a man and a lively dog. A real jumper he is. Yes, I’m training him. He’s getting better. Leap, wag, leap – who can blame him. The snow, the wet end of winter air, the red dogwood branches – it’s all rather inspiring. Leap, bark – I could see joining him in this.
But we move on. Birches, cedar, so completely still that not a single flake is blown off..
In Cedarburg we abandon the car and poke around Main Street. Breads, pastries, chocolate, coffee. Life's essentials. Someone has figured it out. We stuff our pockets for the critical moment when we just may need a pecan caramel cluster.
The lights are on now. At the curb, ice sculptures from some former winter event are barely surviving in the 35 degree weather.
We walk out on the old rail bridge that crosses the river here. It’s part of the Interurban rail connection that once linked Sheboygan and Milwaukee.
We eat dinner at Morton’s – a local pub. At least we’re told that this is where the locals eat. As so many travelers, we like to eat foods geared for local tastes, even if up and down Wisconsin, those tastes don’t change much – the menu will have the burgers and steaks and fried fish and cobb salads -- all that any good Midwesterner would like to see on a night out. But there’s always a twist that’ll make a pub stand apart. Here, I read we can have a fried cheesecake or Cajun friend shrimp or friend artichoke.
I stay with a good little steak and Ed puts together his own Cobb salad and we watch the Olympics on a big screen that for once grabs no one’s attention except my own. The colors and noises of a pub are such a contrast to the silence of the afternoon! But I'm not complaining. It has been such a good day.