Wisconsin


We spent yesterday exploring the backroads and lakes of western Wisconsin.  It was a beautiful summer’s day and the countryside was verdantly green due to recent rains.  As we were traveling down a county road I saw a large field of yellow.  As I ventured out in the waist-tall grasses and flowers I realized the field was filled with wildflowers.  These prairie coneflowers were high above the others, and they swayed in the wind.  Scattered around them were ox-eye flowers and bee balm.  I was in the middle of a sea of color and beauty.  The bees were busy moving amongst the blossoms and the wind rustled the flowers enough to make they appear to be dancing across the field.  It was a true representation of summer in all her glory.

Hudson hot air balloons_StaatsAcross the St. Croix River in Hudson, Wisconsin is a celebration of hot air balloons called the Hudson Hot Air Affair.  Begun in 1970, the festival brings pilots, hot air balloon enthusiasts, and lots of spectators out into the wintry morning air.  This morning’s temperatures were around 25 degrees –  mild for early February, but the winds were too strong and the cloud deck was too low to allow the balloons to launch into the sky.  When the weather conditions do not cooperate, the balloons are instead filled with air and up righted.  Some were tethered to vans and trucks, others were held down by multiple people at the ends of long ropes (at times trying to keep their footing as the balloons pulled and tugged and their feet slid over the compact snow and ice).  The balloons were plentiful and colorful, and the spectators were many and all seemed adept at keeping warm on a cold winter morning.  It was all a bright delight in the gray midst of winter.

Farmland snow_Staats 12034A new year — new ideas, new hopes, new resolutions.  Or maybe not.  As I look back on last year I realize that sometimes the most memorable times were the ones that were unplanned.  They came about, perhaps with a seed of thought, but they developed into something wonderful.  One grandson, then a second grandson, a marriage proposal, friends near and far, and family that came to visit.  This year I have many things to look forward to: two family weddings (one which is my own!), a honeymoon, a nephew’s college graduation, followed by his brother’s high school graduation.  Yesterday we took a drive through the Wisconsin countryside.  We had a general idea where we were headed, but the route developed as we wandered.  We found undulating hills and valleys in dairy country, fields of fresh snow, a creek where the hoarfrost was still evident in the late morning,  and a military veteran who was brought to tears when we thanked him for his service in World War II.  All these adventures came about because we were present in the day and 0pen to the discoveries that developed.  My wish for the new year is to be open to all that each day offers, and embrace it fully – life, friends, family, adventures, and memories.

Fall on the St Croix River 11114_StaatsFall colors are peaking in some areas of Minnesota and today promised unusually warm temperatures with blue skies — a perfect combination for an early morning canoe trip on the St. Croix River.  As we put the canoe into the water south of Taylors Falls, dawn was just breaking, the morning was crisp and quiet, and the water was calm.  We paddled south and had the river to ourselves.  Slowly the sun crested the bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the river, and the light was golden on the Minnesota hillsides.  Our trip was filled with wonder at the basalt cliffs that fall straight into the river, and at the beauty of this gorge.  A short stop for coffee and some pear bread on a sand bar was accompanied by an eagle flying overhead.  The morning was magical in its stillness and color, and this National Scenic Riverway renewed our appreciation for the beauty of fall and the area we live in.

Ski fence_Staats 8601We just returned from a day trip to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minnesota.  Located right on the banks of the Mississippi River, the museum is a hidden treasure.  The main reason for our trip was to see a special exhibit of 70 Ansel Adams prints.  I was thrilled and amazed to see and study the creativity that Adams brought to his final prints.  His use of black and white filters and his burning and dodging brought his images to the final representation of what he was seeing and experiencing when he captured the image.  On our way back to the Twin Cities, we crossed over the River and followed the highway north along the Wisconsin side.  Just outside of Pepin, Wisconsin we passed this amazing fence.  Amidst the snowy landscape and the overcast sky that mimicked the ground cover, we stopped to marvel at this bright fence made entirely of winter skis.  The color was eye-catching and the whole idea reminded me that just like we had observed at the Ansel Adams exhibit, there is creativity all around us.

Fog at dawn on St Croix River_Staats 3713With my previous posts of fall I’ve shared some brilliant colors, and we continue to see those in our landscape now.  But there’s a quieter side to this season too.  This is the side that speaks of the upcoming change to winter, the coolness that is evident in the air, and the slow turn into the dark of winter.  We were at Wild River State Park early one morning recently.  The park sits along the St. Croix River which divides the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  It’s a lovely, and quiet area, especially in the morning.  The air was cool and yet the river temperature was still a bit warmer causing the fog to hang low in the river valley.  This layer of fog seemed to soften the sunrise, to quiet any sound on the river or land, and to soften the golds and browns that were evident from the seasonal change.  Eventually the sun rose high enough over the bluff to burn away the fog, and the light became much brighter and sharper, as did the sounds of the day too.

Wisconsin fall 7D3485_StaatsCome with me for an afternoon in Wisconsin.  The air is cool but the sun is warm; the temperature’s about 57 degrees.  We head down a Rustic Road in Chippewa County.  After twisting and turning through agricultural areas there’s a sign ahead that we’re entering the Chippewa County Forest.  To the right is another sign marked Moon Ridge Trail and the forest road heading to the east looks inviting and filled with fall color.  Off the paved road and onto the forest road, each mile takes us deeper into the forest.  The colors are brilliant – especially in contrast to the blue sky dotted with white clouds.  There’s a different smell in the air – of fall and drying leaves.  We stop numerous times to photograph the colors and the meandering road.  In one hour we have driven less than three miles because of all our stopping.  There are many side trails leading from the main forest road but this one ahead isn’t drivable in the car.  Off on foot, up the trail, and then down the hillside.  As we step out of the forest area the view expands to the Spring Creek Flowage – a lake that meanders through the county – and the colors are intense and wonderful.  This is our view (and only ours as there’s no one else around).  Breathe in the smell of fall, feel the warmth of the sun, listen to the wind rustling through the leaves, take in the beauty of this day, and be thankful for being here at this moment of peak color in fall.

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