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 CafĂ©. 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.