Derek Johnson Muses

Home of the Straight from the Cornfield Podcast

Tag Archives: outdoors

My First Garden at the New Place

People, get ready for me to begin hitting you with morally superiority of doing what’s best for my body and for the earth! I planted a garden this year!

I am being a bit feticious, but I’ve got a lot of stuff in the ground, and to be honest, I’m enjoying getting my hands dirty and wish I had tilled up more ground than I did. I’ve planted cabbage, broccoli, green beans, sunflowers, carrots, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, and corn (of course).

Like every time I get up and do something, I’m surprised at how easy it is once I start. Just a rotation of till and plant, and water and weed. I’ll have to freeze some of what I grow, but that’s just another lesson to learn. (Those who live around Seward, feel free to put in a offer on anything you may want.)

 

20140528-193731.jpg

Snow Walking

20140302-174021.jpg

I mean this sincerely: I enjoy walking outside in the snow during winter. Not when it is utterly, bitterly cold, like last Sunday night when I went out, walked five blocks in the sub-zero ice air before turning back, wishing the whole way I’d brought my scarf. But at least a couple of times a week during winter, I try to walk my usual 45 minutes to an hour.

I bundle up for it. I have a stock of tight, long-sleeved woven undershirts, over which I layer two or three t-shirts and a sweatshirt, two if it’s super cold. The thickness of the sweatshirt matters less than the overall number of layers. If the first two layers are tight enough, the rest should fit snugly.

Bottoms are less important. I wear flannel sleep pants underneath whatever sweats or jeans I have on. Not really a coveralls guy, but I use them on occasion.

The cold doesn’t get enough mention for how tiring it can be. Having done phone book distributions in the cold, I can testify to the fact that Gatorade is essential to getting throw a long snow walk. Snow itself can in fact be bearable and quite pretty when you’re in it. The wind, along with blowing snow, is the part that make snow walking excruciating.

But the essential part of snow walking, being outside in the raw elements, makes the exercise of endurance worth it. Snow walking isn’t about getting out, but moving forward toward the eight-to-nine months of the year where we in Nebraska are bound by the elements (or some winter where we dodge the bullet) and free to roam our streets without the threat of white stuff from the sky. Being outside in those summer months, well, that’s just a breeze.

20140302-174257.jpg

Seward Nooks: South Trail

As I’ve written before, I love to walk, although since I moved I walk downtown more than I do on the trail near my new home. Technically, it’s the same walking trail as I used to walk on every day at my previous residence, but as you will see, the route feels a bit more cramped, and quite frankly, less inviting in certain spots.

Big Crossing...

Big Crossing…

The worst part of my walk is this intersection of US Highway 34, which is too wide, and at this moment, under construction. But it’s either cross here, or cross a bridge with highway traffic on it, so I always dart in front of the incoming traffic. (For Lutherans, the LCMS Nebraska District office is in the background on the left.)

Downhill...

Downhill…

Up a block from that vast highway cavern, I turn and head down to the low-land floodplain. It’s one of the better streets of old houses in Seward, as all of them are well maintained and have genuine old-world charm that’s unique to each house. Don’t get me started on the cul-de-sac at the bottom of the hill, though.

Bridge....

Bridge….

This is the bridge I have to cross to get to the main trail, and while the bridge is broad and modern, but the pedestrian walk-way is narrow and not big enough for two people to pass by each other. At least it’s not as busy as the interstate. After the narrow crossing I have to go down a narrow connector path to get to…

DSCN0864

..the end of a spur.

This is where real trail begins. The John Deere repair place is in the background, on the other side of the soybean field. The trail is basically a whole bunch of curves around the river.

Curvature

Curvature

See.

Underneath...

Underneath…

This part of the trail runs beneath US Highway 34. It’s the one part of Seward that feels strangely urban, with the shadows and the lights along the top. But you can always see the greenery from either side.

Downtown...

Downtown…

More curves and greenery. Off to the right is a small parking area with a couple of historical markers, one of I don’t think I’ve ever read, and another one of those tall Nebraska historical plaques, blue and metal. There’s also a picnic table that I’ve never eaten at. But if I was driving through town on a business trip, I’d like to eat my lunch there.

Emptier....

Emptier….

A few paces down fro the picnic area, this drain hangs over the river. It may not empty anything into the river, in fact it probably doesn’t. There’s a lot I don’t know about this town.

Dome....

Dome….

The south tail of the trail runs by the ever bright sewage/water cleaning facility of the great city of Seward, right by this weird dome. It looks like the Trop in Tampa, where the Tampa Bay Rays play, not a great for them.

Gravel Street...

End Line…

Here’s where the trail ends, at Columbia Street across from a farmhouse and field complete with livestock, which you can just make out in the picture above. Columbia turns to gravel just before the it gets to the paved trail, and if there’s a sure sign of a rural town, it’s a gravel street and livestock within city limits.

Hibernation...

Hibernation…

On the other side of the fence is this winter-bear-float. I think this a Fourth of July Float, but I’m not sure since I never go to the parade. Either way, it looks so cheap in this city yard down on South Columbia in almost-ghetto. You think the city could find some empty shed to put it in.

It’s a long uphill walk, but I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s certainly not as bad as having to go down a steep hill when you’re tired and try to keep yourself from stumbling and falling all over yourself. On the left are the cheap Fox Run Apartments. When I worked at Valentino’s, I had to deliver to a woman in those apartments who always ordered an extra-cheese, extra-black olives small pizza.

Uphill...

Uphill…

This headless mailbox stands in front of an empty house. Like I said before, my neighborhood is a mixed bag of homes that are kept up and homes that have been neglected, the degrees of neglect range from semi to major.

Turn Sign...

Turn Sign…

Here’s where I turn off Columbia. This street runs one way for a single block to accommodate parking for the vision clinic and the insurance agency, hence the reason there’s an inordinate amount of traffic bothering me. I have never liked that this street runs one way,  but if it’s good for the eye clinic, I get that.

Seward Nooks: Twists and Turns.

DSCN9898

Fairgrounds Border…

DSCN9875

Waiting Game…

Hughes Brothers forms the east border of the fairground on the opposite side of the highway. It must be one of Seward’s biggest employers, but I’ve only known one or two people who have worked for them. In fact, I don’t even know exactly what it is they do there, although I do see a lot of their guys milling around the factory entrance whenever I drive by it on Seward Street.

DSCN0754

Levee Road…

This road leads out of the Fairgrounds and turns into Lincoln Street, rolling along the levee-top without a care in the world, steep slope falling on both sides of the levee. I drive this road worrying about my safety if some teenager or know-it-all with an over-sized pickup comes barreling from the opposing direction, all jazzed up with a case of beer in the front seat.

DSCN9900

Old Folks Home…

Lincoln Street leads out to the Senior Citizens Center, home to potato bake lunches, and other shows for the elderly. (Side note-a couple I knew actually met at a lunch here.) It’s the ideal place to preserve retirement savings, complete with off-color yellow walls, small windows right next to each other, a pop-out from ’50-’60’s mass construction. Of course, the dazzling new building in the background is putting a cramp in the retro-, live frugal style, but anything to attract new business to our spend-lite state.

DSCN9902

Exactly…

In keeping with the neighborhood’s shabby-no-sheek theme, this complex of cheap apartment buildings lies catty corner to southeast from the Senior Center Complex. It was the perfect shade of cracked white until a couple of years ago, when someone had the bright idea to paint the buildings tan. Talk about building yourself out of the neighborhood.Now it looks like a 1980’s-built prison in a desert town, or a filming site for a cheap horror movie. Hope you got a tax write off for that.

DSCN9905

Red Brick Road….

This is Eighth, a brick street that is way too narrow to service the amount of traffic it gets. Even worse than that, it has hills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving down this road, bumpty-bump-bump, hoping that another car doesn’t turn onto the street in front of me. They shouldn’t let people park on either side of this street.

How Much Traveled?

How Much Traveled?

There is a small housing development that is an U-shape of three blocks just off of Hillcrest on Tenth street, which is what should have been done with the Augusta Drive project. This foot bridge crosses a drainage ditch, to a path that leads down to the senior center. It’s a great idea, so at least the people who live on these street don’t have to walk on the busy Hillcrest street, even if there’s just an empty field and no walking trails on the other side.

Many tenants...

Many tenants…

When I was growing up, I was in this place many times when it was the Evangelical Free Church, for youth group and various homeschool functions. Since then, E-Free has moved to a big box location that used to be Wal-Mart, and two Lutheran churches have occupied this space. It never made sense to me why E-Free left after all the money they had to put into two additions, but I guess they are happy in their new location, and the old location is still used.

Once in high school, I nearly ended up in the ditch right there in the spot by the fire hydrant. I was seventeen and had not yet learned how to scrape my windshield when it snowed.

Put her up...

Put her up…

Wish they would have put that hope in when I was in high school. (More Seward Stories…)

Seward Nooks: Empty Fairgrounds

Sign in

Sign in

My indifference towards this weekend’s Seward County Fair stems from my lack of children, or from having been out of 4-H for thirteen-some years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go enjoy the crowd tonight, but I am loosing a favorite walking/quiet time spots for a few days. To show the area as I know it best, I have assembled these photos of the fairgrounds without people, as it is most of the year.

DSCN0766

Mini-Street

If the Seward County Fair was the Wild West, this would be Front Street. Instead, it’s just food and hot tub-vendor alley. There are some good funnel cakes and stuff, but fair food is geared solely geared toward helping feed kids’ sugary desires and helping adults gain back those ten pounds they’ve lost since Christmas. During the year, it looks musty and worn, but the summer heat sells the food.

The Old House...

The Old Spot…

When I was in 4-H, I spent a lot of time in here working the food stand, all proceeds going to our local clubs. I remember getting there at 9 in the morning, straddlers roaming around, probably having no idea that we had cinnamon rolls to go with burgers and hot dogs we always sold. Th short distance between the food stand and the sheep and hogs that were being paraded around must have driven our sales down. At least I hope it did.

Big Kahuna

Big Kahuna…

Oh, the Ag Pavilion, where I brought my 4-H projects and served as host in the 4-H exhibit room. All the big booths for the important businesses and the stage for all of the big, big acts were under the giant aluminium roof. The silver metal walls gleamed in on all the joyful patrons with a bountiful grin, making it the gem of the grounds. Until they built….

The New Kid in Town...

The New Kid in Town.

I don’t remember the exact year that Harvest Hall was built, only that it was after I graduated college in 2005. All the wedding receptions are held over there now, even if it’s just “the new Ag Pavilion”. The original Ag Pavilion itself does feel less crowded during the fair, but I can’t remember a single exhibit from the one time I strolled through the Hall during the fair. I know its outside walls of this corporate barn better than the inside.

Park it Here

Park it Here

This is where I go when I come to the fairgrounds when there’s no fair. I’ve consumed one too many Runza or Amigos meals sitting under this tree, casting the empty brown bags into the green trash can, walking the grounds to unwind afterward.

DSCN9893

Walkspace…

The fairgrounds are my walking trail when I’m bored with my other walking trail. It’s a makeshift footpath that goes in too many circles, but at least I can get 45 solid minutes of walk-time in without passing the same place twice. I go by the cattle sheds, the metal buildings, the stand beneath which the Demolition Derby is held. It’s not a journey like Seward’s actual trail, it’s just a bunch of loops.

Winterscape...

Winterscape…

That is what the ditch by the creek looks like in winter. The tire trends of maintenance cars filed with mud slushee require that I wear my winter boots to walk. The tall grass has turned to yellow straw, the long winter sky stretching on above.

Rapids...

Rapids…

This bend in the Big Blue River is a good thirty yards away from the main fairgrounds, rough waters playing freely without interference. As one can see, the river did freeze partially at this time. I like walking to this spot, even it is right next to the dumping grounds.

Lazy Lake...

Lazy Lake…

But this weekend, there will not be any frozen water, except for ice to make snow cones and keep a lot of drinks cold. I’ll go, hope to see an old acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while, and maybe grab a funnel cake. Oh by the way, I’m probably going to kick it in Omaha on Saturday morning.

Idaho Stops and Observations

DSCN0315

Shoshone Falls, low for this time of year due to low snowfall and irrigation needs.

(First part of the trip)

Monday and Tuesday, my father and I visited our fields in Idaho along the Snake River Canyon, some geared toward next year, some at work for customers now. It’s an important part of the business, to let the people we work with know they are part of our BRH team and that we care about helping them raise the best crop possible.

Go for Green!

Go for Green! (Alfalfa, that is)

Idaho has become a much more diverse place agriculturally speaking. Our dealer told us potato production is down from what it had been, but guys will still move potatoes up in the cycle if the price suddenly goes up. They plant corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa (as a serious crop), soybeans, sugar beets, onions, and even radishes as a rotation crop. Everything is watered to death, but it has to be. It’s either dump water into the foot of earth above the lava rock that is buried under the ground, or nothing grows but sage brush. It is possible to turn some of the unfarmable ground into workable ground, but it requires a lot of time and money.

Many of our foreages are grown in the Snake River Valley near a town called Bliss, which according to our grower, “is a town with a happy name where no one gets along.” He says a third of the people are retirees, a third farm their tails off, and another third wish to do nothing whatsoever. Of the massive sewage facilities located to the north of his farm, he claims they were built in haste years ago before the housing market collapsed, when the city thought  thousands of Californians would immigrate to Bliss in the next ten years. Instead, Bliss’ stated population remains beneath 500, and the only Californians who moved in are trying to sell their huge houses on the river banks for more than million dollars, without takers. If you are going to build a house twenty minutes from the nearest competent grocery store, there are a lot more attractive locales to build it. The Tetons, for example. (Reminds me of other small towns.)

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

In fact, California immigrants seeking refuge from excessive taxes and high costs of living make native Idahoans quite chatty. The Boise metro area is a mass of urban sprawl, with half-a-million dollar houses next to front yards with goats herds and a single cow together. (Really? You’d think the goats wouldn’t stop bothering the cow.) Our contact near Boise told me that, when the demand for land around Boise was high pre-housing crash, a number of farmers were reluctant to sell, which resulted in the patchy neighborhood structure.  

Thankfully, we also had some time to visit some great places, like the World Center for Birds of Prey (where I had been as a kid), the Idaho State Capitol, and Bronco Stadium. As I did in Madison last year, I got a glimpse of the blue turf, even if the thrill of running through the stadium without authorization was withheld. Boise seems hipper and cleaner than either Lincoln or Omaha (the lack of snow helps), but even with all of the modernites who’ve come from California, the city still looks like middle America from the inside. 

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Closest I’ll get to the Blue Turf

And here’s what I found to be…well, quirky.

Stinker’s gas station-Okay, the skunk mascot is kind of cute, but you’re ripping off Bucky the Banger, the University of Wisconsin’s mascot. The red trim is just insulting. And who would buy gas from an establishment that puts bad smells into its name? Selling gas is the same everywhere; don’t screw it up.

The fake rocks every other shopping center or high end home uses-you’re Idaho, why are you using fake rocks when you could literally go out to any field within a ten mile radius and fetch actual black lava rocks to use in construction? Okay, it looks pretty, but it just blinds everyone when it’s really sunny. Which is pretty much every day.

Yards full of every last truck, tractor, and other farm vehicle the farmer has ever owned-I was told by someone who grew up in Montana that the far West farmer never get rid of any of their old vehicles or equipment because they may need a part of that old tractor when their current tractor breaks down. Okay, I get that, but still, does the world need to look at such a mess in the middle of your yard?

Boise State’s Hipness-I walked into a Boise State fanshop, and it was literally a mantle full of every possible combination of orange and blue. (Does anyone know how much BSU has ripped from the Denver Broncos?) There were not a lot of wall hangings and T-shirts with game dates and opponents on them, like you see in a Nebraska fan shops. Even the wall hangings they had mixed in the orange and blue. Husker Nation, we cling to the past.

Road Notes: Peacocks and Delivery to North Kansas

Yesterday was the first work trip since September, as I came out of hibernation and on to the asphalt. I went down to Kansas to take thirteen bags of corn seed to a customer who lived thirty miles north of Topeka by the town of Valley Falls, Kansas. It was a little more than three hours from Seward one way, the perfect day trip. I woke up at 5:30 and rolled out of the warehouse by 7:20. Everything was marvelous, until I hit rush hour traffic on Highway 2 in Lincoln and had to sit through two red lights at 14th Street.

After I got through Lincoln, it was more or less smooth sailing. I had taken the route to Topeka several times as we have a dealer in Sabetha, Kansas, although the last time I remember was back in 2010. I’ve done a lot of the photography along the way, particularly in Auburn, Nebraska but there was still plenty of spaces I hadn’t been. This time of year, a rainy early April, is a good time for finding contrasting colors, as the green grass has started to grow around the brown grass.

New beginnings...

New beginnings…

The road construction crews have also come out for the season. I ran into one as I arrived at the Kansas border on Highway 75. It facilitated a ten minute wait and a ten mile stretch of driving on de-surfaced road at forty-five miles per hour, an unpleasant stretch if you drive a hand-me down pickup with 200,000+ miles and a load. I took Highway 73 through Falls City on my way home and was also able to stop in Syracuse and return a Tupperware to one of my guest artists from February.

The farm that I delivered the seed to was on the west side of tree sanctuary. Four pet peacocks roamed the yard (?), along with a large black-and-white speckled dog the size of a St. Bernard. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem to bother each other. The buyer was absent, so I unloaded the bags and left quickly. The dog didn’t bark much, but I was still nervous, based on past experiences.

Just one of the farm animals...

Just one of the farm animals…

On the way back, I stopped for lunch in Horton (not Holton, a few miles down the road-so confusing) at a burger-and-ice-cream drive-in and had a taco burger. Kansas and the other wasteland states (Nebraska, Wyoming, etc.) seems to have a high number of these little drive-in places, like Sonic but more basic. I always admire whoever it is who chooses to run a business like this in off-the-map America, because they do not make a lot of money considering the time they have to put in.

On the way back, I got tired, but I managed to make it back on a single energy drink (Starbucks Refesher-doesn’t leave me feeling dehydrated).  I listened to several Issues, Etc. 24 podcasts, on the work of Christ, sin, and justification, but still have most of that program left for the summer miles ahead. Finding the perfect tracks for these trips is important, because when I remember them later on, I remember what I was listening to at the time. Like when I drove this route three years ago listening to a call from Mike in Indy on the Jim Rome Show.

It sprinkled at a couple points, but it never really rained, a relief. The long, multi-day trips in my cab are still a few months ahead of me, but I was glad for yesterday. I got to take a route that was familiar, but that I wouldn’t take very often once summer starts, and some unique shots. Best of all, it kept me working.

January Get-Up

It’s been a good couple of weeks around Seward. Since the mega-snow that fell around December 20th, the snow has gradually melted away, and I’ve worn shorts outside. Gradually, I’m starting to adjust to warm weather, and yesterday morning, my subconscious gave me a kick.

Friday morning, I woke up at three and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was particularly frustrated because I had just got my awake/sleep balance to where I wanted it to be the day before, and now it was going to get thrown out of whack again. Normally, I can’t sleep, I’ll get up and read after an hour or so, but this time, I spent most of the next two hours tossing and turning. I really, really wanted to sleep normally, but my body would not permit it.

I admitted defeat around 5:20 and decided to take advantage of my insomnia by going for a drive and taking some photographs. Idealizing my path, I envisioned taking the interstate west, stop at Starbucks in York for my morning coffee, and get off at Bradshaw or someplace. By then, the sun would be rising, and I could happen upon some structures to photograph.

I got as far as Tenneco before I realized that I didn’t want to drive in such think fog unless I had to. So I decided to turn back and head into Seward to get some coffee and breakfast at Amigos. The only thing worse than trying to drive in fog was trying to drive in fog without coffee.

So I went to Amigos and ordered a breakfast biscuit, a donut, and coffee. I caught up on Facebook and read the news, all the while trying to turn out the country music that was playing above me. Once I was bored, I decided to try taking Highway 34 out of town this time.

The sense of adventure from this new course lasted until I got two miles outside of Seward and found the fog even more intolerable. All of a sudden, I remembered that I had some trays and carts to wash, and I turned back toward home. Great plans, only to be abandoned.

Later on Friday afternoon, I went for a walk and realized that I hadn’t taken as much time to walk around Seward, even though I could. I’ve been writing a lot recently, trying to break ground on a new story, and I needed that head-space.

World Waking Up...

World Waking Up…

Big Cities or Little Towns?

Seward My Anchor

I’m divided when it comes to “being from Seward”. I don’t think of myself as a lifelong Seward resident, even though that’s what I am. When I asked, I say this is where I’m from, not with any conscious shame, but with a wondering if I’m really in the best place for myself. Not that I run from the title or feel I have anything to be ashamed by it. Would I like to live in a larger city with more opportunities and new things to do every weekend? Yes, it depends on where my life goes, and I’m not very big on planning.

Small towns can be risky places. There have been many times over the past summer I have been driving around Nebraska and Wisconsin and have come across children and teenagers roaming the street, having that board look in their eyes. Heck, I even find myself doing that. I’ve debated this with some of my friends here; while you can find events and culture wherever you live, there are certain limitations to smaller towns. If you grow up in one and have a circle of friends who you click with, you can have a very happy, productive life. But if you burn through your bridges, you can become isolated and bitter, and gossip can eat you alive.

But I’ve felt at home in small towns to. When I visited Omro, Wisconsin five times this past summer, it felt very peaceful and free. Driving through the parts of Michigan that are off the beaten path, I find myself wondering what it would be like to live there. Of course, I visit all these northern states in the summer and understand that nearly four months of bitter cold can be wearing on a person. (By the by, the reasons barns in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have slating roofs is for all that snow to fall off.)

Over a year ago, I spent a month roaming around San Francisco. I visit Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities regularly. I don’t know that I’d care for a huge metropolis, but a mid-sized city with enough parks and walking trails would be great. California is a great place to get lost, but I won’t want to live there long term if I wasn’t making huge money. Omaha seems like it would be a good place, as would Des Moines. But if I got the right job offer, I’d jump at the big city.

For me, it comes down to quality of life. Where can I find the right place to accomplish the goal of being the best and most effective writer I can be? Any place that has a working internet connection will do; beyond that, I’ll forge any path.

Bright Lights

Harvest Day, Long Day

My Parking Marker at Omro

I rose that day shortly before five and dawdled for over an hour. Typical me; whenever I have a big project in front of me, I tend to do two million little choirs before I can get to it. I left my motel room a little before six, the sun peaking beyond the silo on the horizon. Should have been to the field by five-third and taken advantage of Wisconsin’s long summer days.

Today I would harvest silage samples from our plot in Omro, Wisconsin. I would need to harvest six plants from each of the eleven hybrids from our plot here, and, presuming I finished by nine, I would try to harvest samples from our plot over in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The other night, I had estimated that between the time of both harvests, drive time, and stopping time, I was looking at a twelve to thirteen hour day, minimum. Which was why I was concerned about starting early.

Sunrise on the Plot

I made it to the plot a few minutes after six, after a coffee and drink break at the the Omro (more wasted time, come on Derek). Thankfully, our samples are close to the road in this plot (in others, I have had to carry samples for forty-five minutes, leaving scratch marks on my arms). I get in, harvest quickly, and have my truck loaded before eight. I even have time for a short video.

After obtaining ice from Omro’s gas station/Subway/hardware store, I open up my GPS and get directions to Spring Green, figuring whatever route Mavis gave, it will be better than going back down County Roads to Waupun. The route calls for me to take the ten mile route east out of Omro, which I started on. But when I got to the east end of town, I decided that I would second guess myself less if I take the road I know as opposed to the one that’s potentially twenty miles out of my way. I head back to the county roads.

The familiar road down to Waupun didn’t feel as tiresome, only because I was numb to its curves and slow goings. I didn’t check my map when I was driving; I knew it would be a little less than an hour. I spent five miles on that trek stuck behind a flatbed truck loaded with hay bales. Scraps kept flying off, which didn’t bother me, but probably bothered the convertible (driven by a couple of hip grayheads) who pulled up behind me.

As I had found out the previous day, US 151 from Waupun to Madison was blissfully quick, compared to driving from Arlington, to Watertown, then up to Waupun. (An hour and forty minutes compared to four or five.) The route I approximated as the best (checking again the next day, I found others that were less urban) lead me through Sun Prairie’s pleasant suburban walls into Westconsin’s rolling hills.
That is the remarkable difference between the halves of Wisconsin on either side of Madison. The east half is generally flat, like Nebraska or Iowa. Westconsin is a majestic mess of hills and valleys, limestone popping out all over.

Typical Westconsin

So I weave through the mess on Wisconsin Highway 19, a slim two-laner. In Wanaukee there’s a Culver’s, and as several billboards have wet my appetite, I’m tempted to eat there. But since it’s not quite 11 A.M., I decide to pass even though I may not find a town large enough for a fast food place. I met up with US 18 ten miles from Spring Green, and I end up crushing a Subway sub in 1,600-pop Mazomanie.

Around 11:30 and halfway through a podcast on Bach, I make it to Spring Green. Like Omro, our hybrids are a short walking distance from a place on the road where there is a clear marking place, the driveway of a house. It’s overcast, which I’m grateful for, but as I’m in the middle of tying the bundles together, I begin to feel raindrops. I worry I’ll be soaked through and have to drag my feet through mud, but I got all the samples out and in the back of my truck in time and pull out of field while it’s still not raining. It starts raining as soon as hit curvy Wisconsin Highway 23 down to Dodgeville.

My Parking Marker at Spring Green

When I opened the back of my truck, I found half of the ice melted. I’d bought the same amount of ice that I had two days ago, and it was melting at a faster rate, proving there’s nothing like Casey’s ice. I piled in the new samples and headed into town to get some extra ice. Ice acquired, I stopped by Acardia Books again to get an iced mocha. I’m filthy and shouldn’t be going into coffee shop with old issues of The New Yorker on the wall while I’m reeking of muddy soil, but the thing is, I don’t care.

It is roughly sixty-seven miles from Spring Green to Dubuque, aka the end of the massive Westconsin hills and windy roads.  US Highway 30 is one of the great blessings of these travels: two lanes of light traffic for over two hours of the drive from Dubuque. I’m not as fortunate on the other side of the Mississippi: it rains, which slows me somewhat, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been. The sky is still light.

When I reach Dyersville, Iowa, I make a point of getting off the highways and find a place to download the full episode of the Herd on ESPN Radio. McDonald’s WiFi is crap, but I make due at the public library. I fume the whole seven minute drive into Dyersville to find the library; how extra options make us so pushy. But I get my podcast, and once I’m west of Dubuque, the drive feels down hill.

I reach our researcher’s place by 7:30, and my Dad comes to help me unload the samples. I am relieved to have this down while it’s still light. We finish quickly, and then I head back to my parents’ apartment for dinner, remembering last year when our plots where in Owatonna, Minnesota and Reinbeck, Iowa.

Return to the Road

I first tasted daylight yesterday around 5:10. I had to run out to Hastings and pick up some seed, and then take it to Ames in the afternoon. I debated about getting up and trying to leave by 6, getting to Starr’s at first light. Instead, I rolled over, slept some more, and got up at 6:15. Still left a bit at 7:10.

This is the time of year were I start wearing thin of driving. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing fields, and I love hitting up certain restaurants. But after this much time in the road, I need to spend a month at home to recoop mentally and put the ideas I’ve come up with to the page. I love the photograph, but I need time away  from it Labor Day weekend at the lake can’t get here soon enough.

I make the jaunt to Hastings at least four times a year, the last time being when the ears have filled out and I take measurements and pictures for our buyers. I can usually make it in an hour and twenty minutes, but Saturday I took my time. I stopped for a flash rain and got Starbucks in York. The barista was way to friendly for 8AM Saturday morning, but I got a receipt for a $2 drink after 2 PM.

I get to Hastings at 9, right when our grower was supposed to have a meeting. We load seed and talk about the drought. They had to shut off one of their pivots for a week during detasseling, but their starting to come back around. There’s a reason my dad tries not to call the growers between August 1 and August 18. It is the fear range when they’re worried about the size of the ear, and understandably so.

The Platte is dead dry, and I don’t just mean shallow as usual. I mean there’s no water in it and farmers have been disking it. I have to drive 65 back because of my load, making the road more tedious than ever. Funny thing is, driving five miles below the speed limit on the interstate is so relaxing. You rarely have to pass anyone and can just relax in one lane. I get home and take another nap before eating a carefully planned last meal, packing, and leaving.

The packing for this trip was easier: since I will just be going to fields, I only need grubby shirts and shorts. I take fewer books than on previous trips. I do the dishes, hang up the last load of laundry, and bolt.

On the way to redeeming my receipt for a $2 drink, I find out it was easier to get to a Starbucks in Omaha off the interstate than I’d originally conceived: just take the I-680 and get off at Pacific, there’s one right by Westside High at 87th. It’s one of the best Starbucks I’ve ever been to, sitting at the corner of a strip mall so half of the walls have huge windows on them. I get my drink, write a little, and head out.

I listen to Issues, Etc. as I drive, programs on the Old Testament prophets mostly. This the time of year where I have seemingly unlimited time to catch up on all the stuff I like to listen to, especially Issues. That’s a lot of what makes this worthwhile.

Issues are black and white

Road Notes: Back to Wisconsin and Dodging Biting Dogs

It was a bit exasperating to my psyche to go back to Wisconsin (even more so when a dog tried literally to bite me-keep reading), driving most of the same route to the same fields that I went to a month ago. But, I have some new experiences, so another edition of Road Notes. (First Edition and Sequel)

Plot in Spring Green is Shedding

Tuesday morning, I wake up in Dubuque, say goodbye to Tom and grab another punch for a free coffee. The morning clouds are laced by blue sun; it’s hazy and humid, but thankfully not a scorcher. When I get to the plot at Fennimore, I have to call our grower to double-check the location and find out the field I assumed was our test is not our test plot. The actual test plot is located in a place that is much more difficult to get to, along roughly graveled access road up-and-down an uneven plane. The plot itself is planted in a strip on a hill, and it’s going to be a long carry when I harvest the plants here.

Post-field, I head into Fennimore, intending find a library to e-mail some field notes to my father to make sure we are on the same page. I park the library parking lot, but see a bakery across the street, so I decide to support the local business. I don’t go in at first, but instead stand right outside the door to make sure they have WiFi. They do. The bakery is run by some conservative protestant women wearing homemade dresses and prayer-head coverings. I buy a pecan roll (incidently, “pecanroll” is the WiFi password). I e-mail my father, facebook a photo of the bakery to a friend of mine who’d love it (he does), and waste another twenty-minutes downloading podcasts, as if I haven’t already purchased two books on CD. Overall, the trip is a disaster.

The Cottage Bakery in Fennimore

This time, I decide to go straight north out of Fennimore instead of taking US Highway 18. Choosing a county road over US 61, which goes only a handful of miles to the west, it is finally cemented in my head that using county roads to navigate the Wisconsin hills just isn’t worth the hassle, especially when you’re slowing down for the Amish, which I do thrice.

Advancing to the town of Blue River on the Wisconsin River, I wonder what most of America would think if they knew that their milk came from dairies in the rotten wooden barns I’m passing. Blue River reminds me of Stapelhurst. Like every American town of 400 or less, it has too many buildings meant for businesses. From Highway 60 east, I get a spectacular view of the Wisconsin, which is dotted with sandbars, but nowhere near as shallow as the Platte.

Post-plot inspection (this one will be much easier to harvest than Fennimore), I drive into Spring Green and eat lunch at The Kitchen at Arcadia Books, the high-class bookshop/coffee shop I passed by last trip. The shop is built for light (light blue walls, varnished wood) and brandishes several old covers of The New Yorker on its walls. Ironic for southwest Wisconsin; must get Chicagoans out her for the Shakespeare festival.

 

Burn up through the valley to Mauston, where I stop at an Evangelical Christian coffee shop on the square. I’m drawn to the art in their windows, but I order a latte with a shot as well. They’re closing, so I head off and make a wrong turn as I try to get on the interstate and have to go back around the construction in town. Even though I-94 goes at an angle, only Wisconsin Highway 82 has an exit. 58 does not.

Most interesting vehicle I encounter on the way to Colfax is a F-350 with a trailer, North Carolina plates, and N.C. State plate on the front. Colfax is on the end of a dry spell, and our stuff there doesn’t look great, although it’s still July. On the way back down, I stop for dinner at Moe’s Almost Famous Diner, a 1950’a style place that I should have known values environment over food. The waitress is unengaged, tells me where to sit, is late taking my order and in bringing me the check, resulting in her tip getting dock. The food is really bad too, and I drive down to Tomah disappointed. Checking into the Super 8, the guy in front of me speaks with a Canadian accent, so I assume he’s driving the vehicle with Winnipeg Jets plates in the parking lot.

Tuesday morning, I wake up and, forgetting my lesson from the Cottage Bakery, waste a lot of time trying unsuccesfully to sync my iPod to my laptop. Our plot in Tomah has some insect damage but looks okay otherwise. As I get back to my truck, I met one of our plot’s farmers, introduce myself, and give him my card. We chat for a minute about the lack of rain, and I head out.

A couple miles east of Tomah, there’s a roadblock due to a bridge that’s out. I’m out in the middle of cranberry country and national forests, which means a long detour if I decide to take country roads. I consult my GPS and figure it’s worth the risk to go country roads. It pays off: I only have to drive eight or ten miles around, and I’m back on Wisconsin Highway 21.

Pond on the way

After viewing our field by Coloma, I stop for lunch at the Culver’s in Portage and trying to prove I’m classy, I find a lake and eat lunch in front of a bunch of swimming kids. Swing through downtown, cross the river, and I’m back on I-39.

I arrive at our plot in Arlington circa 12:30. It’s right next to a house, so I figure I should knock there first to let the people know I’m there. When I pull in the driveway, a dog comes up barking. I decide to ignore him, as I do all barking dogs, but he comes up beside me and bits a hole in my pant leg. (Praise the Lord I choose to put on long pants today.) Rattled, I head back to the cab of my truck without knocking on the door and without getting bit again. I debate what to do for a second, but then someone comes driving up the lane from the behind one of the barns. We speak to each other through our respective truck cabs; I don’t tell him about the dog bite, and he instructs me to drive to the field at the end of the lane I’m on. I do, and sit sheepishly in the cab for a few minutes while the dog continues to bark. Eventually, I cautiously get out and head into the field. The dog doesn’t follow me. I’m a bit relieved when I see that most of the crop here has been lost to drought, meaning I won’t have to go here again.

The dying plot

I take a county road (this one actually is straight) down to Sun Prairie, an upscale Madison suburb where I search for a place to buy scissors to cut off the dog rip in my pants. I don’t mess around and tell myself to stop at the first store I see, which turns out to be a Dollar General. No one stares at me when I go to buy the $2 scissors and a Gatorade, or when I come out and stand at the open door of my truck cutting my cargo pants into shorts. Thankfully, these pants were about shot anyway. On my way out of the shopping center where I bought the scissors, I make a failed attempt to jump on McDonald’s WiFi from there parking lot.

While I stop in Marshall to use their sterile peach library’s WiFi and call my Dad, I tweet about the irony of their being towns named Waterloo and Watertown within twenty miles of each other.

After examining the plot (excellent stand in spite of the heat), I drive into Watertown and take a leisurely break at Tribeca, a book/coffee shop with an upstairs that has a view of downtown Watertown. After working on an HL column on Rex Burkhead, I stroll down town to the river which must give Watertown its name. A bunch of teenagers roam the streets, and I wonder if their bored here during the summer.

Watertown

As I drive north out of Watertown, my dad texts me that the plot in Fox Lake has been abandoned and I won’t have to go there. I drive relieved through the wretched roundabout to get to Wisconsin Highway 26, relieved a stop has been eliminated.

I spend the night at what used to be the AmerInn in Waupun. The hotel is now called Borders for some reason, and a bunch of road crews are staying there. I’m exhausted, so I got to the one restaurant that’s close that I like: Culver’s, for the second time today. Later, I go back for ice cream.

I wake up at four and can’t get back to sleep. I work on my Husker Locker column, getting to the body of the work. I still manage to leave late and get to the first Omro plot at 8:40. The second plot takes me a while to find, but it’s by an abandoned school. The two plots (four miles apart) are works in contrast: the first is completely healthy, the second will be abandoned because of drought and weeds. Relieved, I drive back to Omro and waste some time browsing a thrift store.

TVLine

TV News, Previews, Spoilers, Casting Scoop, Interviews

goingoutandcomingin

"The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore." Psalm 121:8

Just a Guy

with an Appetite

Sun-Ton Farms

Dairy Farming through the eyes of a former "city" girl. I am blessed to be able to work along side my husband of over 20 years and help care for our cows, calves, and beautiful farm.

StarboCho

Dragon Slaying: from the Lutheran Perspective

Final Mystery

"The final mystery is oneself" - Oscar Wilde

Biking with Coleman

Traversing North America by Bicycle

Christian in America

The blog of Matthew Tuininga

Cassie Moore

Adventures in the Mundane

An Illustrated Parsonage Life

A new pastor's wife writes about church, home, children, and life's general absurdities and mishaps.

Musings of a Circuit Riding Parson

Just another small town, small town, small town preacher

Oratio + Meditatio + Tentatio

A theologian's pressure cooker.

Brent Kuhlman's Blog

A great WordPress.com site

Peruse and Muse

One Author in Search of an Audience

St. Matthew Lutheran Church

Bonne Terre, Missouri

Tips On Travelling

Learn how to travel Further. Longer. Cheaper.

%d bloggers like this: