What Ed and I do well when we are home, back in Madison, is grab a day like today – a brilliantly sunny July Saturday and fill it with outdoor treasures. And there are two treasures that this region throws open to anyone.
The first is the Saturday market (for us, it’s almost always the Westside Community Farmers Market – because it’s just across the street and because it offers everything that we could possibly want, with familiar faces and tremendous energy running through it).
I’ve been gone for a whole month of Madison markets and I can see that I’ve returned in time for my favorite part of our growing season – when the cherries and berries are ready, and the greens still dominate, and the flowers are superb. (Perhaps our sunflowers don't serve a commercial purpose, but they do serve a "decorate my table" purpose... even as today, I chose the sweet sweet pea. As I told Ed -- it's the cheapest bunch. And quite possibly the most fragrant.)
Oh, let's not neglect the tomatoes. They're expensive still, so I am happy that my pot grown plant survived my absence. Though I must admit that my balcony crop doesn't even meet the demands of one dinner. Ed and I consume not a small amount of tomatoes.
The second treasure extends actually beyond just southern Wisconsin. It’s the Ice Age Trail and a longtime Ocean reader will perhaps remember that we have both worked on the trail (Ed much more than I) and have hiked many fragments of it – at least those that are within a short drive from Madison.
Today, we walked the part that’s perhaps one of the closest to the city, yet so bucolic and lovely that you could be transported in your soul to a far far more remote area of the state (at least when the trail cuts away from the nearby roads that forever insult the quiet of the land with a stream of road noises).
The idea is to walk maybe four, maybe five miles and then to return. (The Ice Age trail doesn’t loop – it continues.)
I should say at this point that I am a complete fan of the Ice Age trail project. The idea of creating a path with the help of communities of willing and sometimes quite passionate volunteers, a trail that eventually becomes one continuous scenic walk through our entire state, is, I think, tremendous. And what’s more, the trail is beautifully done – always with an eye toward the most scenic route, the most carefully positioned bridge or signpost – and, for those of us who get easily lost, it is extremely well marked.
The one issue we had today was with unwelcome companions in three short segments of the trail.
Unwelcome companions are a bother.
I don’t mean this guy – who saw us and came running our way, leading me to shoo him back toward the thicket. (Ed asks – why did you scare him? For God’s sake, Ed, the guy comes running at us – that can’t be good!) No, this woodchuck was in his element and he, ultimately, left us alone.
We had a less favorable reaction to the companions who made their presence known every time the trail spun through the forest.
Yes, the Wisconsin villains, the most obnoxiously persistent mosquitoes. Even though it was windy, even though it was still daylight – they were there in sufficient numbers that when it was time to return and retrace our steps, Ed said – how about if we take the road instead?
And we did. We shunned nature in favor of asphalt and, to add insult, we stopped at a gas station to refill our water bottle (four times, we were that thirsty!) and to buy an ice cream bar (what a deal – 99 cents! – this, predictably, from Ed).
Still, thinking back to the hike along the trail, I can now only really remember the stretches outside the forest – beautiful now, when all the flowers are in full bloom in the gentle way that happens only early on, when summer is fresh and rich with new and lively colors... yellow, purple, white...