It started during the pandemic, that 2020 summer of historic proportions. In lockdown, my work and my wife’s work moved into Zoom, and after months in the house, we realized we could actually be doing this from anywhere. There was a feeling that any of us could die at any time, so we went and saw our families, driving from New York to Milwaukee, then Minneapolis. Stir-crazy, disease-fleeing New Yorkers drove the demand for house rentals up, and we left our beloved rural mountain house near New York’s Ashokan Reservoir, staying among the horse farms of rural Wisconsin. Two months + two weeks.
Somehow it became an annual tradition, though in slightly shorter durations, and though COVID fears are largely over, we went again in 2023.
We drove probably a total of 3,500 miles. Our boy, who turned one year old away from home, is mostly hooked on car naps. That meant added time winding around county roads and parked in shaded areas, doing work on my phone.
The plusses of the car naps: air conditioning (lots of hot weather in July on this scalding planet); iced coffees; getting out of the house; being alone.
I don’t know that they’re doing with tax dollars in Wisconsin but it’s not re-paving roads, that’s for sure.
But it may be unconscionable to be burning up gasoline for the sake of my son’s naps, so I won’t complain too much. One year I was convinced that the roads had broken something in the rear struts on our Prius. There was a squeaky rattling coming with every jolt—jolts which are delivered by deep narrow caverns in the asphalt that run across the roadway at a right angle from one gravel shoulder to the other. These gorges are caused, of course, by the cracks that open over years of changing seasons. Snow, melt, freeze, more snow. Salt, heat, melt, repeat.
In Wisconsin, between Genesee Depot and North Prairie, on County GG, you have the most beautiful live oak trees–gnarled beauties, with their characteristic haunted look, but their leaves stout, thick, glossy, the bark often coated in lichen. Granite gray and ivory soap green masterpieces of vegetation. The sight of these, and of horse farms and purple wildflowers, make up for the annoyance of the wretched roads.
Another negative: monotony. It’s gassing, breaking, left, right, signal, thump, nearly go nuts with boredom, then gun it for a time just to break up the monotony. Quite often I enjoyed the comforting sight of a big black Dodge Ram 2500’s grill in my rearview mirror. All you want to do is putter gently and quietly, the point of a car nap being not to get anywhere and to not get there slowly. But there is, apparently, either work or drinking or fishing to be done.
(Watch your tone, Mister!)
Hey, no one should be surprised to learn that Midwesterners are generally really kind people.
The Rural Mini-Lending Library
One day, on County ZZ (its real name), I came upon one of those lending libraries. A homemade job, of wood slats, a post, and a handsome antique window showing the offerings. I always liked these boxes of free ideas and enjoyment. I suppose I first saw them in St. Paul, Minnesota. In our New York town, there are several planted in the yards of some nice homes on residential blocks. Here, Wisconsin’s social and political demographic were such that it did not feel like an eminently literate place, so this was a welcome sight. As always, though, it’s what you choose to see and what you seek that determines the character of your reality—and I’m actually fond of the little historic village of Wales, where cyclists, church-going types, and book lovers commune in a café called Mama D’s. There framed quotes from Toni Morrison hang over free book swapping shelves, and there is a lamp base made from hollowed out Nancy Drew Hardcovers. So there are certainly readers in these parts.
Well, I slowed the car, rolled down the window, and took a closeup, intending to inspect the titles on the spines at a later moment. That moment is now. Here’s what I see.
This will be a neat exercise, but I’m a new father, and this is my first new post in six months, and so I’ll continue with more about the Summer Sojourn in an upcoming installment.