Our Sunday drive

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Sunday afternoon we drove up north to see some fall colors. The wizards of weather foresaw rain and gloom, but the wind tidied up the sky and swept the clouds into the corners so the sun could shine across the bright blue dome.

 

 

Crowds of slim birch trees dressed in their finest yellow drew close to the road and shyly waved as we drove by. Rosy-cheeked sumac crowded round their feet and drew even closer to watch the cars go by. The oaks, of course, wore their best: dappled patterns of green, yellow, orange, and red; swaths of color made iridescent by the light. Standing among the glory of the colors, the firs and pine trees kept to themselves, attending to their business of staying ever green.

 

 

Near the village of Wittenberg, we saw one deer, a young doe, crossing the road. We slowed the car, and she turned to look at us. When we drew closer, she turned and ran, her white tail waving goodbye.

 

 

Near Tigerton and again near New London, we crossed the Embarrass River with its intriguing name. It’s easy to imagine the naming as a kind of penance for some act of shame or humiliation by Wisconsin’s early settlers, but it’s merely French for obstruction. Before any other Europeans arrived here, the French canoed their way through the state rivers looking for a route to China. They were as successful as we were as children, digging holes, thinking we could tunnel through the earth and crawl out in Shanghai. Trees lining this tributary of the Wolf River fell into the water, clogging the passage of the French, so they named it for its obstruction.

 

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Our drive led us past red-barned fields, each marked by one or more silo like silent sentinels guarding the farms. Acres of corn crowded the land, each stalk wearing a feathered cap in anticipation of the harvest.

 

 

We spoke little on our drive; our hearts were too full. Fall crushes us with its beauty and heals us in turn. Beauty is the heart-balm that creates a longing for home and then invites us in, and each time the earth turns, splashing my eyes with its color, I cannot get enough of it.

 

 

De-lighted for 44 hours

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I woke up in complete darkness just after Tuesday ended and Wednesday began. Outside the wind was banging around the house, tossing garbage, tearing limbs off the trees, and howling like a hungry wolf. It raced through our city at 90 mph with six small tornadoes tucked in its pocket, which it set down here and there like spinning tops with winds up to 120 mph that tore roofs off, split trees clean in half, and then snapped a dozen telephone poles, tangling their power lines and extinguishing the lights for over 50,000 people. We were in that de-lighted number.

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We sleep in modified darkness, a lonely universe with pinpoints of light here and there dimly shining. I have a digital clock by my bed that counts the minutes in blue-green numbers and we have motion-operated lights in the bathroom, hall, and kitchen that protect our toes from stubs and our shins from furniture. All night the lights shine – digital clocks in the living room and on the microwave, and on/off indicators on the TV, modem, Time Capsule, printer, computers, and toothbrush.

 

It has been a long time since I’ve experienced darkness. No lights inside; no lights outside. Only a glow in the night sky to the southwest where electricity still flowed.

 

Our grandchild slept in the spare bedroom when the storm hit but never woke up. We ate cold cereal for breakfast, opening the refrigerator to get the milk and closing it quickly to keep the food cold. I scrounged through the cupboards and found some coffee tea bags. Then my husband heated up water on the grill so I could have my coffee. On the way to the grandchild’s summer program, I saw some of the wind’s work and heard that it would probably be days before we would be back on the grid. We felt blessed to have water, including hot water from the gas water heater.

 

Wednesday I read more than usual. We could get on the Internet by setting up a hotspot on one of the iPhones, but the connection was slow. My husband drove outside of our area to find ice since all the nearby grocery stores were closed. We ate what we could from the refrigerator and put the rest of the food on ice. He bought a small propane burner and we cooked on that and made tea. I read myself to sleep with a flashlight.

 

Thursday I had classes. Our school had the power back on by then, and none of the international students in my class had lost power in their apartments. All were alarmed at the idea of living in an area with tornadoes, so we spent the first hour talking about tornadoes and what to do if one touched down. That conversation led to ice storms, blizzards, wind chill, and frostbite, which are all as much a part of living in northeast Wisconsin as bratwurst, cheese curds, fish fries, and bubblers.

 

Cheese curds

Cheese curds

 

Bubbler

Bubbler

 

Thursday evening after I got into bed with my book and propped my flashlight up, the lights flickered on and off. When the electricity began to flow again, some neighbor children ran outside whooping and hollering. I had to get out of bed and turn lights off.

 

I am thankful for the men and women who spent hours working on downed wires, broken telephone poles, and local generators. I had forgotten or never realized how much noise the lights cause. We live in a restless world of illuminated nights that leave little space for silence. Although we experienced some inconveniences during our short time without power, I slept well, wrapped in the quiet dark beneath the starlit night.