Squirrels – Ed says. I’ve been listening to them.
It’s their evening dance, I guess. Most every other animal appears settled for the night. Not so the squirrels.
Though it’s not really night yet. The first dazzle of stars is becoming visible, but it’s just past seven. Still, within a few minutes, we’re both asleep.
As usual, I wake up frequently. It’s the way I sleep – one stretch, than another, some long and dreamless, many with the usual stories running through them. This night I know why I'm waking. It’s turning cold. I was sleeping on top of my sleeping bag after supper, now I’m loosely inside. Several hours later, I’m zipped up solid.
When we had pitched the tent in the forest of the Chippewa Moraine (a tad over 200 miles northwest of Madison) on a tiny isthmus between two lakes, it was so warm that we kept the tent rain cover off. It’s splendid to have nothing but fine mesh between you and the forest (it's been so warm that there are still the occasional mosquitoes). Until it gets cold. Then you wish you had thought less about the splendidness of it all and more about setting up the protective layer against a crispy cool night.
But oh, the weather! It’s the unseasonable warmth of this October that pushed us up here to begin with. Initially ambitious, we thought of going up to Michigan’s UP this week-end. No, too much driving for a two day trip. Ed suggested a ridge trail just a couple of hours north of Madison. Lakes! -- I tell him. We need to wake up to the noise of the waterfowl and a mist rising above still waters!
Last time we camped, the mist did indeed rise up over waters (not so still then -- it was the Wisconsin River) in breathtaking wisps of pink. That kind of image stays with you. Up in the Chippewa Moraine, there are more than twenty lakes within a day’s hike. The Ice Age Trail, that old friend of ours, passes right through – up one ridge, down the next, through a mixed forest of birch, maple, oak, and conifers.
The perfect backpacking week-end. Not true: one thing that I suppose may have been a bit less disconcerting. These two days have been designated as the days of the youth hunt in Wisconsin. Kids can hunt deer, so long as they have an adult with them. If you’re hiking, you’re advised to wear blaze orange. A warning that even dogs take seriously.
Not Ed though. Wear the vest, I tell him.
I’m wearing a bright red t-shirt.
...the color of maple leaves right now, I point out. But I let it go. I’m his shield We’re traveling together this time.
The Chippewa Moraine is just north of the small town of Bloomer.
And just outside of Bloomer, we come across a rally.
Harley people, Ed says. Having, for business reasons attended many a motorcycle rally in years past, he talks freely about the image of a Harley person, about the styles of bikes. To me, Harleys are loud. I can’t imagine Ed on a Harley.
Did you ever own a Harley?No, but I had an Indian. A 1948.
Why did you have it then?
We’re sitting at a picnic table outside the Chippewa Moraine Ice Age Interpretive Center. We have with us a Subway to split for lunch. Below, a prairie stretches toward one of the lakes and beyond.
Shortly after 1, we set out. Not a heavy duty hike – four hours (nine miles) out one day, then, circling a bit more, five hours (eleven miles) back the next. But what a hike! We are amidst a canvas of intractable, at once vivacious but also muted and gentle color.
In spite of the noise of the occasional gunfire, we come across no hunters and only once do we sight a white tail deer. Frogs, we do see frogs.
Snakes, too. More than one.
And over one of the lakes, loons croon with that characteristic plaintive song of theirs.
The trail continues mostly through county parkland and Ed reminds me that much of the dedicated forests are there for hiking because hunters have lobbied hard for their preservation.
When the trail leaves the county forest, it climbs up to a prairie that is beyond beautiful. We talk about the difficulties in establishing a prairie on land that for too many decades has been losing the battle with quack grass and creeping charlie. Still, when you look at these meadows you think nothing is impossible and you tell yourself – we should do this back at the farmette. Maybe.
Camping is free and unrestricted, here on county land. We pick our spot on the isthmus. I’m surprised that there are still a few mosquitoes out at dusk. Ed lights his ancient stove and boils water for the pouch dinner we’ve taken along. The sun sets on the lake at the foot of our tent.
...at night, a crash rouses both of us. Falling branch, Ed mumbles. But it’s not. There is a further sound of twigs breaking. Deer. It must be deer. I know I’ll spook them if I go out to explore. I stay in my warm bag and the noise quickly fades, replaced by a windy patter of falling leaves. When a gust picks up, it sounds like rain. A dry rain hitting our tent. From a starlit sky.
Morning. Maybe the best part is now. For those wisps of predawn mist over the lake.
...for the pink sky and birdsong....
Ed boils water again, this time for pouches of apple cinnamon oatmeal.
We pack up camp and by 8:15 we’re back on the trail.
Up one ridge, down the next, pausing every now and then, for the gold studded prairie...
...and the lakes...
...and a snack of dried apricots and nuts. The sky is a touch less blue this morning, giving us a chance to see it all in different light. Morning light.
And then, afternoon light once more.
A mix of trees, a mix of colors.
The perfect, fair-weather backpacking trip. Worth the nearly four hour drive.
On the way back to Madison we stop at an Eau Claire mega-Target. Ed picks up a pack of Dove mini ice cream bars.
There are 17 little bars in there!It was the best deal per ounce...
I understand that, but that is a lot of ice cream calories!
He takes out a handful and we distribute the rest to the people in line.
Don’t tell anyone, but Wisconsin is one hell of a beautiful state.