Monday, August 31, 2020

Dust In the Wind (Heading Back West)

Leaving Madison on a sunny morning made me feel pretty good about the visit. I was anxious to get up to Shell Lake to visit Gene & Mary and possibly see some of the grand kids. Wisconsin is beautiful this time of year, but it can also pop you in the head with humidity in a flash. Fortunately, the rain storm the day before had brought the humidity and temperature down into the very pleasant range. Next stop, Susan’s sister Mary & husband Gene.

Arrived at Mary & Gene’s place with no more odd side-roads “suggestions” from the Google Maps gremlin. I was glad to find that Gene & Mary like to take nice long walks, so getting steps was no problem when I arrived. What I noticed was that Shell Lake is interesting in that it has changed a lot, while looking much the same. The lake frontage was where I saw the most visual difference from the last time I was in town, namely lots of RV’s parked along the water’s edge in a fairly large commercial “campground”. Gene told me that a lot of the folks sign up for the entire summer parked by the water. It was a great walk catching up on what had been happening in their lives these past years. When we settled back at their house, I passed on some of Susan’s jewelry to Mary and gave them one of the photo collage on metal I’d had done in Desert Springs this winter. I also left them one of Susan’s memorial glass disks, so part of her would always be with them and in her home town of Shell Lake, Wisconsin.

The family showed up en mas for a fish fry on Sunday. Gene had caught all the fish and it was a fabulous meal. (A little concern was evident when the cooking was done and it had to be decided how to “hide” the cooking pot of hot oil from a couple of the more inquisitive little kids.) Mary had set out of container of pickled fish she’d done and it was hard to stop eating it. I was full from a great fish fry with lots of other side dishes and yet I kept finding my fork headed for the dish of pickled delights! With my tummy at full capacity, I was suckered into playing the Cornhole game. The fact that Gene & I chosen a shady spot under a tree and were reluctant (or unable) to move, lead us to the seated, Gentleman's version of the game. I actually got one of the bean bags into the Cornhole, but my display of excitement remained fairly low key as you can see.

The next day for lunch, Gene & Mary took Tony & his family out to a local dairy farm that had been converted into a winery - Clover Meadow Winery - and a distillery - White Wolf Distillery. (You gotta love the transition here-from methane to ethanol...with a variety of fabulous afternoon cocktail offerings and terrific food options from The Café.) Tony's twin brother Andy had to leave earlier that morning and his wife was working, so you just have to imagine another person (not in a red shirt...that looks a lot like Tony in the red shirt, and another lovely mid-West girl that we wished could have been with us at lunch!) That was one fine least what I remember of it!

Gene took me out on the lake my last evening with them and showed me where he’d caught the fish for the fish fry (and pickled delicacies) as well as giving me a tour of the homes along the water...some of them quite prestigious. I suspect I couldn’t afford to pay for one day’s upkeep on a couple of the “summer homes”. It’s been a great stay & I really enjoyed meeting the grand kids that came in for the fish fry and hopefully maybe even to see their wild eyed, bald uncle from the far, far, West.

First thing I needed to do after I left Gene & Mary’s place was to visit the Clam River Cemetery where Susan’s parents were laid to rest. I easily found their graves and sprinkled some of Susan’s ashes around their headstones. It was a beautiful site looking out over the Wisconsin farm lands and forests. After some time reflecting on our lives together, I got back in the Prius and headed down to Minnetonka, Minnesota to see Susan’s older brother Jerry and his wife Barb.

I was suspicious once more at the ease with which I was guided to their house in the Minneapolis suburb by Google maps. It may just be paranoia, but it does make for a more exciting travel day. The town was pretty much in lockdown for the CORONA-19 virus, but we had a pretty good visit and as usual, Jerry & I were able to whittle down his stock of beer while Barb kept bringing tasty meals & dessert treats to the table. Did a lot of walking in the area with the two of them and had a very relaxing stay. Like Barb said...It’s like (Bill Murray’s) Groundhog Day around here ...every day.

Jerry and his brother Mark have developed quite the woodworking talents. Mark had handcrafted a beautiful canoe that was fully functional and really a piece of float-capable art. He’d also just completed a stunning easy chair made with rope & wooden slats. It looked like a rigid “regular” wooden rocker, but when you sat in it, the rope & slats moved to cradle you like a glove. Really a special piece. Jerry on the other hand has developed incredible techniques making laminated fishing nets. Originally he was just making a couple for his fly fishing expeditions, but then started turning them into pieces of exquisite beauty & design. One of my favorites is shaped more like a little guitar than a fishing net with inlays of striking wood patterns. Recently he’s started creating the netting frame that instead of holding a net, becomes a picture frame.

(And when I get home, I just hope to nail some replacement boards sorta lined up correctly in my deck...sheese!)

I pulled out the Susan Collection of Jewelry for Barb and she picked out several pieces for  keepsakes of Susan. Later, I loaded up the car & cooler for my next stop...Pierre, South Dakota (once again trusting the ethos, my phone’s GPS connection, and Google maps). Kari was expecting me for some baking “lessons” and shared experiences with the process. I was really interested in how she was baking so many beautiful loaves in her apartment’s electric oven. So look out South Dakota, I'm headed your way next!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Dust In the Wind (Making the Corner)

 It looked to be a relatively short drive to Mark & LeeAnn’s home and the rest areas in Iowa are the best in the nation. I stopped at the Grant Wood rest area on the I-80 and was entranced by the art and beauty displayed there. I am putting a link to an article on the Interstate Art rest areas of yourself a favor and put them on your midWest bucket list.

Iowa Interstate Art

Most of the covered outdoor tables at the Grant Wood rest area had a quote tastefully done in cutout metal sheets, hanging at one end of the partial picnic table enclosure...I found this one from Tennessee Williams particularly appropriate for my trip.

So, I’m pretty sure some AI embedded within either Google Maps or my phone noted that I was about as far away from home as possible on this trip and it was time to have a little fun with the human. Since traveling time is the most effective time to “have some fun” with the Traveling Loafer, I’m pretty sure that I was directed on a multitude of County roads & bypasses (and I sure a couple driveways) taking me through whatever wilderness still existed in Southern Wisconsin as I blazed the trail (literally in some cases) to Burlington. (I do hope that farmer’s wife wasn’t really attached to that huge petunia plant spreading out into the road.) In all fairness, it was a beautiful day, I had no real time schedule other than reaching Burlington before dark, and it was quite a scenic, no worries...😎

I arrived at Mark & LeeAnn’s with plenty of daylight left to spare. LeeAnn had fixed a great dinner for us and Mark had Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark beer in the refrigerator...yes, it was a fabulous day! We had a lot of fun catching up with each other and talked pretty far into the night. The next morning we had a good walk around Honey Lake and then went into Waukesha for some pottery clay (LeeAnn is quite an artistic potter of unique and wonderfully quirky pieces!). My old classic iPod had finally bitten the dust on this trip, so we also hit Best Buy so I could pick up an MP3 player of some sort. I’m not really sure the young salesperson knew what I was talking about (Oh My God! I am a Dinosaur!). Finally did find an older sales rep that showed me to their little museum section of music “devices”. I’m pretty happy with my SanDisk Clip Sport Plus, 16 GB MP3 player except it’s so damn small, I’m afraid I’ll lose it in my shirt pocket.

After drinking nearly all their beer and enjoying lots of tasty foods, I needed to head up to Madison to spend a couple days reliving my memories there with Susan. After a couple of good hugs from Mark & LeeAnn, I fired up DOC* and turned the tires Northwest to Madison, Wisconsin.
*(Prius Hybrid Drive...PhD...DOC  - pretty easy to see the naming logic here and we’d had a lot of hours riding in the car with nothing else to do...)

Pretty short driving day and there was a very nice walkway system from my motel into the capital city. It was early afternoon when checked in and since it was a very pleasant day, I walked into town. Immediately went to the Capitol building and was only able to walk around it. Madison had been having quite a few active marches (Black Lives Matter) and as usual (unfortunately), some people had decided breaking windows and damaging store fronts was part of the protest march concept. The result was that when I arrived in town, most of the shops had been boarded up and the Capitol building was closed to visitors. On a good note, most of the sheets of plywood had been painted with wonderful murals and dedications. Although saddened by the visible damage and obvious recent strife in the city, while walking around the area, I wandered by the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company...and it was open and I was thirsty. Masks were required to enter and you were allowed to remove them once you had been seated. It has a really wonderful classic pub “feel” and I chose to sit at the bar. I was able to taste a few beers and finally selected their Black Earth Porter to quench my thirst. The bartender and another employee were very friendly and since I was the only person at the bar...very attentive. They asked what brought me into town and I told them about meeting Susan here, our travels, the Capitol Pee, and that I was bringing one of Susan’s glass memorial disks to place on the campus grounds. As I was getting ready to leave, Sean, the bartender, told me he’d comped my beer and was touched by my story. I was really impressed by the people and the Great Dane Pub. It was a no brainer to choose to stop by again tomorrow and have lunch (and another beer).

I walked by the Zoe Bayliss CO-OP where I met Susan in the fall of 1969. It hadn’t changed a bit while the main U of Wisconsin campus was much, much different than I remembered. Lots of newer & bigger buildings and halls...memories were all I had of a lot of the campus from the two years I spent here. Susan was on a scholarship to the U of W and was living at the all girls scholarship dorm Zoe Bayliss.
A bit of trivial, yet important history...The girls of Zoe Bayliss had decided that the beginning of the semester needed a party and in order to have a party, they needed to get a keg of beer and drum up some college boys. Drinking age for beer in Wisconsin was 18, so getting the keg was no problem...the boys however needed to be lured in. They chose several girls in the house for the task that were quite attractive and not shy. Out into the neighborhood they went, asking any unattached boys they met to join them for a beer at Zoe Bayliss. I was staying a block away in the YMCA and followed a cute little blond back to ZB. She immediately disappeared (off to gather more males I later found out) and I was left sitting alone in the main room. As I was sitting there, yes, still alone and thirsty, Susan appeared and asked if I’d like a beer...instead I got a bolt of lightning through my heart...and the start of nearly 50 years of being constantly with the love of my life.

Walking home my first afternoon back in the Capital city since 2009, I passed the Madison Ice Arena...a huge building enclosing an immense public ice skating arena and ice hockey rink. At the time, the line of cars wasn’t related to a sporting event, it was a lineup for Covid-19 testing...the stark sign of change in our daily 2020 lives.

Back into town the next day, I stopped in at the Great Dane Pub for lunch (Brat & Bacon Pretzel Burger with fabulous fries to die for!). Having another awesome, hand pulled, Black Earth Porter to sip & enjoy really capped off a memorable lunch in a memorable pub, in a memorable town.  Yummmm!
Note, that even though air conditioned at the Great Dane
Pub, my beer was rapidly evaporating...Thank goodness for taps!

Also found out how to store wood for a WFO pizza place in a large city.

After lunch, I walked up State Street from the Capitol building and found an appropriate place to put one of Susan’s memorial glass disks.
One of Susan's glass disks was placed below the shrubbery
(by my umbrella at the little circle marked SHS).

I buried the disk and then sat there for a while looking down a grassy slope towards the Capitol...the Perfect spot...placed on the campus where our journey began, looking at one of our most meaningful stops on the almost incomprehensible Capitol Pee quest. I'm sure there will be a future post on that particular adventure that was begun/dreamed up in August of 2000, then coordinated, and completed by Susan in March of 2011...with me as the official photographer documenting each visit...of course outside the ladies restroom. 😉

On my way back to the motel, the clouds opened up and I found shelter under a building overhang (along Lake Monona's North side) for almost an hour watching an awesome thunderstorm light up (and drench) Madison. I sat & thought about my wonderful days here in 1969-1971 as well as the new memories I'd gathered in these few short days. As the rains came down, I remembered an old Hawaiian saying that noted Rain was Mother Earth's mixed tears of sorrow seeing you leave the islands and tears of joy for knowing you.
I know I was experiencing tears of joy & sorrow from the heavens to have a part of Susan returned to Wisconsin. I also shed a few tears of joy reflecting on the nearly 50 years we shared and how we truly lived our lives fully entwined in our love & deep friendship for each other.

Lake Monona, looking across to the Capitol building, colorful murals on plywood window
covers, Zoe Bayliss where we met, and fabulous fare at The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.

I am one lucky man to have had Susan Helen Stansbury in my life for all those wonderful years.