Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fitchburg Saturday

If I said to you that I lived in Fitchburg, just south of Madison, Wisconsin, that really should tell you nothing about the place I call home (except that it's south of Madison). Fitchburg is a town (population just over 25,000) that sprawls over 35 square miles. Until today, I never felt that it had a "downtown." It has a town hall and a library, but that's not where the areas of commerce can be found. Those are spread along major cut-through roads, as are the various developments: single family housing to the east and west, apartments and condos somewhere between the two. But what makes this a unique town, a weird town really is that nearly half of the land (in between all those areas of development) is zoned  for agricultural use.

It is extremely productive land -- rated near the 98th percentile in terms of quality and productivity. To me, it just seems the Midwest's same old, same old -- mostly corn, alternating with soy. Some pasture and wheat, a few orchards, but really, what you see are corn and soy. So I was a bit curious about a bike tour scheduled for this morning: it's an annual event and it leads you from one dairy farm to the next, with some history and updates on agricultural discussion thrown in.

Because my daughter has out-of-town visitors today, we weren't going to be able to go to the farmers market -- our usual Saturday routine -- and so it seemed especially opportune to have the biking event come up this morning. Perfect timing for Ed and me to go and take part.

Unfortunately, we wake up to another wet morning. As we eat breakfast, we try to talk ourselves into going on this biking event when it feels so, well, wet outside.


But, as if on request, the skies settle into a gentle pout. It's muggy and warm. We can do it!


Of course, the minute the small group of not quite two dozen riders gets going, the drizzle comes down again. Don't worry -- Ed tells me as I stuff my camera somewhere between my stomach and my t-shirt, it's just one band of rain. Give it twenty minutes.

He's right. The rain passes. We push on.

We go right to the farms -- the dairy ones first...


... for generations, home of the O'Briens. Yes, there is an Irish concentration here. Marriages that were close to home, within the same community of farm families, passing on the farmland from one generation to the next for some 170 years now.

But the buck stops here. The dairy herd in Fitchburg now stands at a (small) 700 head of cattle. And the "kids" don't want any part of it. Here you see the last of the O'Briens -- two brothers, just a tad older than me, who used to chase the train that passed through here not so long ago (conveniently converted to a bike path now) and pitch in on haying days, slowly letting go of the family business as the "kids" scatter across the country. A story repeated in many corners of this nation, that's for sure.


The bike tour passes through what was once Fitchburg's main street, right by the former Fitchburg Depot (long gone). This is the place where local farmer families came -- for the general store located in one of these buildings (the white one toward the rear).


So if Fitchburg once had a heart -- this would be it, now sadly neglected and tucked into one of those alleys where no one ever goes (neither Ed nor I ever knew of this back street in our town).

We have a few pauses for other conversations with locals who are involved in the agricultural side of Fitchburg. With a discussion about corn and soy right by a field of newly planted corn.


Too, a pause for ice cream, though I doubt it was made from Fitchburg milk...


And a pause for several stories told by local farmers, giving us bits and pieces of their family histories. Not uninteresting, especially once the biking group moves on and I can linger and ask the more detailed questions I always have, but which I think may be a waste of time for others.

So this is our morning...


... a reflective one, if not too strenuous in the bike riding department. (You should never go on a bike tour of anything and expect the group to move at a brisk pace. They don't.)

Afternoon? I feel compelled to plant the rest of the peas and beans. Especially since the sun breaks through and gives us a downright toasty set of hours.


And once in the veggie filed, I stay put and force myself to weed. An agricultural kind of day all around!

Flower for the day? Easy! Who doesn't love this jewel cascading down a rock wall?!


And finally the evening: the young parents are out tonight and Snowdrop, therefore, comes to the farmhouse. I am tickled to see her (and so happy to lay down the shovel for the rest of the day)! But she has had a full day and though she gives everything her best effort -- sitting...





And even singing, still, what she wants more than anything is this...


I surely understand. Her little body relaxes, her eyes eventually close and I put her down for a much needed nap.

We play some more after her rest period, but it's quiet play. With cheerful music in the background. Until her parents come to take her home.