Wednesday, February 29, 2012

the cat, the bird and things thereafter

We wake to spring, we close the day to winter, or some horrible in-between season that has the worst elements of them all. I’m growing used to this.

Let me remember the good beginnings to the day.

Isis, coming out to greet me.


That cardinal. The beautiful brilliant bird in a tangle of bare branches.


There. Recorded.

At the farmhouse, my to-do list swells. I leave for Berkeley immediately after teaching tomorrow. Let me turn away from Ocean, just for a little while, until tomorrow, or soon after.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Apart from “destination” tags – which I swear I’ll make good use of when I’m old and cranky and no longer able to step outside the farmhouse door – I don’t use tags or labels on Ocean. But I’ve often thought I should make an exception – the “oh, Ed” tag. I’ll come back to this another time.

I met my daughter and her fiancée for dinner tonight, downtown, at my beloved Graze, where the burgers are distinct and the good wine flows cheaply. Here they are, the happy pair, arriving...


It’s hard not to talk only about the wedding – there are so many questions a mother may have for her future son-in-law. Wait, son-in-law? Whoa, does that sound heady! I’ve had daughters only at home for such a long time! You mean that’s about to change? Sons (in law)? Whoa.... !

I was full of advice this evening – consider this, what about that... and they indulged me, even as I soon learned that they had already confronted and dealt with all my trivial and not very original points. In other words – they were on top of it, thanks, mom.

I love my daughters so very much.

On the subject of mothers and daughters – after a long hiatus, for reasons that are too intense and complicated to explain here, I am heading out on Thursday to see my mom in Berkeley. About time! She’s one of those people who tells you that you shouldn’t waste money and time on visits, and you believe her (it’s far far easier to believe that you shouldn’t do something than that you should) and only after do you recoil and wonder -- could this have been right? Shouldn't you have ignored any such messages?

It rained tonight. Heavy slobbering sobering rain. I’m dressed for the cold and it is cold, except it is not below freezing cold, so I feel as if I should protect my clothing even as I am cold inside and out. Is this February? Or something altogether weird and different?

Most importantly, is it spring yet??

Monday, February 27, 2012


Last night I gave the Oscars my best shot. Typically, I fall asleep for the middle segments (magically waking up to see who is walking up to claim the best picture prize), but this year Ed was in the sheep shed working on some project or other and I was working at the farmhouse and so I caught most of the awards, the celebratory speeches, the glitz.

But my mind was elsewhere. Minutes before the awards show, my older daughter called to tell me she had just become engaged. Happiness oozed out of her voice. There may be mothers who feel that their kid’s happiness isn’t going to make them or break them. I don’t know many such parents.

I love the prospect of adding my girl’s partner to our family (he’s such a fine addition!). I tell Ed the news and he asks – are we getting some goats? Cows maybe? He gets very confused on the formalities behind such events. I tell him no, no goats, no gifted cows either. He hides his disappointment well.

This afternoon, I go up to see my girl in her office on campus. I have done this no more than two or three times since she started work here a year and a half ago. Today is the exception – I want to see that smile on her face.

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It’s rare that any one event can transform your life in such a positive fashion. You could argue that a marriage is a formality, nothing more, that it’s a dated concept belonging to another time and place. Maybe. But it’s hard to convince me tonight that the joy of saying “yes” is just a fleeting little pleasure. I saw her radiant face. I know how solidly happy she is right now.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

up north

Wausau. Such an interesting place! One of the few small cities with a booming downtown, a wealth of historic architecture, a together city governance (so I'm told) that thinks ahead.

I pick a pizza place for our Saturday night dinner. Perhaps I’m wrong to describe it that way. It’s actually a brewery – Red Eye – but it has food – good food and great pizza, prepared in a wood burning oven. The place has... energy!



We choose a Bayou Pizza – with shrimp and crawfish and spicy peppers. (In the alternative, if you’re not into that kind of thing, you can have a burger, where they specify how the cows were treated before coming to you in the form of a patty).


Wausau has a terrific food scene.

We talk to the B&B owners about this – how is it that Wausau feels like a place where the downtown is still important?

They’ve got the architecture...


And the related history: lumber barons, insurance executives, railroad tracks linking (in the past... sigh...) freight and passengers with Chicago and beyond:


The food, yes, definitely that. Wausau. I don't know how it is to live here. Seems like spring comes really late and I already think it comes late enough down south where I am -- by Madison.  Still, you seem so... cool!  And a terrific getaway for those of us down there in Madison who want a little of the north flavor, but don’t quite want to drive all the way north.

You may say – Wausau’s not really north. Oh no? Then how do you explain the snow on the ski trails? (Actually, I’ll tell you how you might explain it – they are the southernmost tip of the snowbelt this year. In the county park where we ski, they groomed the trails well, pounding down the snow as it came down all season long. The cover has a longer life that way.)

There are three loops to choose from: the “6” the “10” and the “20.” The numbers refer to the length of the trail (in kilometers). Oh, heck let’s do a blow out ski run! It may be the very last time for us this year.

Off we go.  The “20.”


...and of course, we take a wrong turn. The trails are beautifully marked, but you have to get in the groove of it – know what you’re looking for. Okay, back we go to the beginning. So it will be a few more kilometers, so what. Day is young, we’re feeling energetic!

...and it is so beautiful in this northern forest!


Pines, birches, cedar, poplars – I’m not a good tree identifier, but you can follow along for a bit and admire it all with me.

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The hills are moderate. Not as tough as the ones in our own Indian Lake Park in Dane County. The ski trail is wider, to accommodate the preferred way of skiing these days (ski skating, which tempts us, if only because it’s a faster... next year maybe). Still, there are some fun hills...


...and there is the challenge of getting through the entire loop. Ed and I are, as in life, quite the opposite in our sporting talents. He is supremely fast on the bike. He does cycling loops around me as I struggle up a hill. But in skiing, our talents flip. On a trail, Ed is cautiously optimistic. I am on fire. He moves steadily, contemplating his surroundings. I speed in bursts, hesitating only if a photo offers itself up for me and even then, I barely slow down.

And still, we move along strangely well synchronized. As in the everyday, we adjust our style, just enough to be compatible with the other.


We’re on the trails a very long time. Five hours of skiing. With only one five minute rest stop. Too cold to sit for long. (The temps stay at around 28. Perfect for skiing, too cool for lingering.)

Toward the end we almost give up. Almost cut it short. Skip the last five kilometers. But we continue. Maybe it’s the joy of having a bright, clear day. Maybe it’s the wish to stay as long as possible outdoors. Most likely it’s that neither of us wants to appear too soft. So we push on – up one hill, down again, forward, forward, until the end of the trail.


And now it's Sunday. The weather forecast says blustery, with snow showers. They got the blustery part right! The wind is blowing what little snow there is across the rural roads. We’ve driving east  – a dozen miles away from Wausau, the Ice Age Trail has a nice long stretch, right alongside the Eau Claire River.

My, it’s cold! Icy, too.

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But, it’s always thrilling to walk a new segment of the Ice Age and this one, by the nearly frozen river, is especially pretty.


In the forest, there appears to be plenty of snow. It makes for a wintry walk. Not unpleasant though. We're here for winter. We have winter.



A few hours later, we’re done. It’s early afternoon – tempting to stay in Wausau a little bit longer. There are museums, mansions, too.

Not this time. We’ll surely return. It’s time to get back home. Work’s nagging at me already. Home. Where the snow has all but melted.


Tomorrow’s a long long day. Even as for these last few hours of the weekend, I have Wisconsin’s north woods on my mind.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

in search of snow

If it was beautiful before, in the darkness of a winter night, you suspect it’ll be utterly breathtaking in the morning.

It is utterly breathtaking in the morning.


It’s one of those times when even too few hours of sleep can’t keep me in bed. I worry that one big gust of wind will push it all to the ground. And so I go outside.

It’s so still now! Nothing moves, nothing disturbs the tranquility of this white, white morning.


I walk around the farmhouse, looking at it from all angles...


I admire the pines and the firs of course -- they’re always splendid under a snow cover.

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They’re splendid from beneath the bows, too!


And let me not neglect the other trees – the willows, the walnuts, the orchard trees – they’re all decked out in unusual ways.

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I award this February morning top honors. I can hardly remember a landscape this winter-pretty. Maybe not since childhood days at my grandparents’ home in the deep countryside of Poland.

Ed and I cannot decide whether to leave later this afternoon for our week-end trip north. We haven’t done much of exploring this year, outside of short drives close to home and so I want to go. On the other hand, we have snow here! Up north – they haven’t seen fresh snow in a long time!


In the end, we decide to go. I’ve made reservations – we don’t want to cancel out on well-meaning people. And, as the snow begins to drop down from the branches, I see that it is misleading in its depth. By the end of the week-end, it may well have disappeared.

In the afternoon, we pack our skis and point the rusty Geo due north. Not far. Neither of us enjoys spending hours on a highway. Just two hours to our first stop – Stevens Point. Population 27,000. Home to a major UW campus. CNN ranks it as the 18th in a list of best places to retire. Forbes says it's 6th best place to raise a family. Number 9 on the top ten list of "dream towns of America."

Oh, I’ve passed through Stevens Point before. I’ve taken my kids to the campus there for one middle school or high school competition or another. But I’ve never walked through the historic downtown. Never paused by the river, looked at the mural of the loggers who settled here more than a 100 years ago – Polish, many of them Polish.


This region was an important destination for Poles who came to America at the beginning of the twentieth century. My grandfather was one of them. Eventually, he abandoned logging in favor of auto engineering (only to be out of work, just as he brought his family over, in time for the Depression). This is the same grandpa who returned to the Polish village in his retirement. But his young adult days were here, in Wisconsin. Very likely with the Polish community that settled here.

We walk to the Cozy Kitchen – reputed to be the oldest eatery in this city.


It’s a diner – very traditional, very hearty. We eat an omelet, I drink tea... (so is it obvious that I am a mom?)



After, we continue our walk – past the Wisconsin River – still very large here, very imposing...


...and back toward the Main Street, where the murals describe a past...



... a past that surely has elements of the old country. My old country. Here you see Mr. Zdrojewski and his two teenage daughters, operating a bakery at this site many decades ago.


And here’s one that any Pole would recognize: it’s a mural depicting a traditionally poised set of roosters. You have to understand the art of paper cutting to see the utter Polishness of this design.


Alright. I’ve had my fill. We’re back in the car for the last thirty mile segment, still heading north and now a tad concerned about the snow. I had checked with the park where we are to ski – “good to excellent” they said a few days ago. But there really is very little snow in the fields and forests along the highway. Should we have stayed home?

No. We arrive at the park to check the conditions – they’re fine. We wont ski today – too late for that. But we should have our fill of it tomorrow.

We’re in Wausau for the night (population 38,000). I know, I know, sounds like the place I was born in, even if it’s an Ojibwa word – translated as “a far away place.”

We’re in a historic B&B – the Everest Inn. One that also has historically low rates. $59 with breakfast if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom. $89 if you want to spoil yourself with your own.


We eat in yet another historic place – the Back When Café. The building housing it is more than 100 years old and for Wisconsin, that’s significantly ancient. It’s at the end of this row of older storefronts.


Food here is a wonderful surprise. Completely fresh and honest (and we’re not eating at the town’s high-end establishments by any means). The broccolini wih garlic is terrific, the cider vinaigrette on the salad - sublime and the fish comes perfectly prepared.


What more could you want. Ambiance? Oh, it’s got that as well. An Old Room, a New Room -- take your pick. Young people, old timers -- they're all here. Mostly, I see, for the steaks and the fish. Plenty of that here, adorned with local (when possible) small farm veggies.

(In case you’re feeling homesick for Madison, Wausau also has a Dane Brewery and Pub. I don’t understand the hows and whys of it, but hey, it’s here.)

We're back in our room -- a place that has so much antiquey memorabilia that I surely feel we are plucked and placed into another era. There is a modern small touch though – a gas fireplace and I flip it on thinking that if I want to feel completely immersed in the winter aura of this north-central Wisconsin town, I should do so with a (fake) fire at the side.

At the B&B, someone downstairs baked something with cinnamon (or pretended as much). The rosy quilt is warm, the night is quiet again. Or maybe it’s that I want to hear nothing at all but the click of our keyboard and the hum of the fireplace. My personal immersion into a Wisconsin winter song.

Friday, February 24, 2012

crazy beautiful

Look outside, Ed tells me.
It’s been a long day. I can’t say that I’m fully awake, but Isis is hopping on and off the couch and his movements finally prod me to come to the mudroom door.

The snow that first was to come, then was to pass us by, appears to have made it here after all. In fact, at midnight, it’s coming down strong. Small pellets of wet snow on a still night.

Want to go skiing?
I consider it, really I do, but I worry that there isn’t enough light. Skip the skis, let's walk.


We walk alright. Up our road...


... turning down the Rustic Road, following it all the way to the Nature Conservancy...


There isn’t a moon – it’s snowing after all, but the night is delicately white. And very very still.


The snow muffles all sound and we hardly hear the car coming down the road, laboriously, slowly. He stops when he sees us.
You folks in trouble? Who else would be out on the roads in this weather at one in the morning.
No no, just enjoying this beautiful night.

We’ve been at it for more than an hour. Time to head back. We both have work in the morning and there was this plan to head north, even as now, the last thing you’d want to do is leave this place that has been so magically transformed.


Maybe it’ll melt quickly.
I hang wet pants and jackets on chairs to dry and glance outside. Still snowing. Crazy night. Crazy beautiful night.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

the cat

There’s a cat on the shed roof. Isis, mouse hunting.


Hours later, he trots proudly, gray little thing dangling from his mouth. He drops it by the sheep shed door. A gift for Ed. That’s loyalty for you!

I’m at the end of the teaching week and that’s always a relief. Tomorrow, right after the last task is done, last meeting, last email, last file updated and set aside, Ed and I are heading north.

You could say that it’s a three-fold poke at my Polish roots. How so? I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. Right now I have eggs to scramble, maps to print out and a cat to reassure. Isis, for all his hunting instincts, loves a good rub more than most anything else out there.

Is it tough to live a life where your biggest challenge is to occasionally bring the gift of a mouse to your best pal? Isis might say yes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

contemplative moments

At my age, you discover reasons to go the doctor on a fairly regular basis (except for Ed – who never discovers anything and when or if he does, he deems it not MD worthy). Your thyroid bulges, your foot grows numb, you need this checked, that confirmed.

I had a bunch of such curiosities to check up on this week. That in itself is not blogworthy – not even on every-miniscule-detail-matters Ocean. But here’s what’s blogworthy: my total understanding of how lucky I am to have such fantastic, quick, smart, reactive but not overly invasive care at my fingertips.

One of these days I’ll get on Ocean and write something like -- I have six months to live and so forgive me if my posts are going to be longer and weirder. But if that point in time is later rather than earlier, I attribute it to the fresh and honest, Mister Red, and the fantastic health care available to me here in Madison. Well, too, the people in my life who keep me happy.

If I were to complain today about anything, it would be that I had too many hours of work and too few contemplative moments. But “too few” does not mean none. Leaving the hospital (test for numb foot. Verdict: it’s numb. So be it.), I scoot down to the lake. I used to bike this way...


...yes, this was once part of my everyday.


I give in to a a sentimental grin.

Then, in the hours of the late afternoon, I finally turn toward the farmhouse. Last turn, quarter of a mile more. Ah, for amber waves...


It was, in the essentials, such a good day.