Thursday, July 15, 2010

Postcards from the Road

I promised you a postcard.
At the end of last week’s column, I said I’d send you one from our season’s first camping trip to Door County, Wisconsin. I can’t help but mourn the slow death of the picture postcard, but the advent of texting and email has made a scribbled note on the back of a pretty picture nearly a thing of the past for many. But I still admire the sheer poetry of a well-written postcard that combines a striking image with a quick, pithy story about a memorable day and place.
Door County is one of those places for me; a place “discovered,” so to speak, by my family long ago after another Wisconsin resort didn’t pan out as advertised, causing my usually patient father to pile us all back into the car and head north until we arrived at the vacation spot we would make our own year after year.
I couldn’t send each and every one of you your very own postcard, but I can share snippets of some of the sights we saw along the way.
My postcard message from an early part of the trip might read something like this:
“The washing of the waves, the crashing of the atoms.”
Our map indicated a benign-sounding place called the Point Beach Energy Center while we worked our way along a deserted road up a pristine stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline north of Milwaukee.
She: “Ooh, maybe it’s an offshore wind farm.”
Me: “Or maybe it’s a combination of wave and solar energy.”
Or maybe not.
The sight of an ominous-looking nuclear cooling tower and a clearly stated No Trespassing sign at the end of a dead-end, fenced-off coastal road cleared up that misunderstanding in a hurry, with a sudden sense of foreboding for those of us who can well remember Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and otherwise respect the thought of armed guards and well-trained attack dogs.
“Give me wind, sun and waves anytime,” I thought. as we beat our way back through the woods and onto another northbound road.
Our entrance into Door County and the quaint village that is home to the State Park that was our destination provided another kind of visual/verbal message, as we crested the hill looking down towards the beautiful lakeside town.
Me: “Aah, Fish Creek.”
She: “Aah, rain.”
Yes, it started raining as we arrived at our campsite, which resulted in yet another cunning portrait of northwoods fun, as one of us gamely tried to prove to the other that a devilish dome-style tent can be erected in a driving rain without soaking the inside as much as the outer fabric.
It can’t of course.
I wrestled and cursed the thing in a mud-and-sand-covered spectacle that made me look more like a wounded, wing-shot mallard crawling for cover than the resourceful, backwoodsman I was trying to portray. She, on the other hand, proved her superior maturity level by not laughing (out loud, at least) and limiting her comments to a single question:
“Is it supposed to look that way?”
Eventually, it did look the way it was supposed to look and after a dampish slumber, we set off to do something we’ve always meant to do while in Door County. Al Johnson’s Restaurant is an icon to all things Swedish, with a menu containing a wide array of Scandinavian dishes and a grass-covered roof that features real-live goats happily grazing away.
As a Bishop Hill descendent, I felt compelled to try and compare the Swedish pancakes. And I wanted to see the goats.
“It’ll be like that movie. You know, ‘Swedes Staring at Goats,’” I said blithely as we rolled into Sister Bay, the home of the restaurant.
But it was still raining.
No goats.
“I always thought goats were pretty sure-footed,” I mused, while looking around for a “watch out for sliding goats”sign.
“I guess we can check this one off the bucket list,” she muttered.
The skies cleared and we settled into a relaxed, idyllic rhythm that did a better job of matching the postcard-perfect days we had hoped for. We hiked shorelines, We biked wooded trails. We traveled by ferry to an island park and picked cherries by the bucketful in the lush orchards that dot the county. Realizing it was just another three hours north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we headed that way, sharing cherries and a day on the beach with my sister and her husband, kids and grandkids, who have made Lake Superior their backyard for over 40 years.
We zig-zagged home through Wisconsin, following the compass more than any map, heading west, then south, then west again, while stopping in pretty little lake towns for ice cream and a look around, then driving through the hills and herds of dairy farms that fill the middle of the state.
I enjoyed the view. I enjoyed the company. And I realized that every day can be like a postcard.
Some we send and share in every way we can. And some we tuck away to treasure and remember.

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