Driftless By Design

When John gave her the ring he hoped that marriage would follow soon after. It did. Mary said yes. His unspoken question was answered with her unspoken assent on the same day. She simply nestled her head against his neck in silent agreement. They were married in June of that year, 1957.

The couple spent much of their time together in nature. There were yearly camping trips to lakes, mountains and forests. Twilight and sunrise often shared the light of their campfires. By way of nature’s vast expanse, the couple became closer. For them, there was never a thought of sitting in front of the television set night after night, pining for something more. They chose what they wanted: the panoply of the natural world; the broad-shouldered earth.

Wisconsin’s Governor Dodge State Park became the site of an annual destination for the couple. The state park, located only three and a half hours from their home, is demarcated in southwestern Wisconsin. It lies within driftless area of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Mississippi, Chippewa, Kickapoo and Black rivers flow through this area, dissecting the uneven landscape and forcing the weaving of man-made roads.

The park offers two lakes: Cox Hollow and Twin Valley Lakes. The couple’s favorite campsite, near Cox Hollow Lake, is nestled among oaks, white pines and hickory trees. Through a clearing at the edge of their campsite the couple viewed a gently sloping field blanketed with goldenrod and sunflowers. At one time Mary told John that the Monarch butterflies that silently fluttered among this dappled setting were faeries. John told Mary that the Hummingbirds that hovered in their camp sought only the sweetest of nectars – his Mary.

The road trip to Governor Dodge was easy. The ride became a time to talk about nothing and about everything, a means to embrace the other. As was their way, they would pack on Thursday evening. Then, On Friday morning they would drive up in hopes of getting their favored spot before the weekend campers arrived.

When they arrived at Governor Dodge they paid their campsite fee, found their site and unpacked the car. Everything would be in its place within an hour. They prepared well.

Their first afternoon was usually spent sitting on the grassy hillside looking down on the sandy beach of Cox Hollow Lake. The scattered oak trees blocked the high afternoon sun, while a cool lake breeze ascended up the hill. These surroundings made it easy for John and Mary to nap, even though children whooped and wailed when splashed with lake water. Later in the afternoon the air would become filled with the cacophony of weekend visitors greeting each other.

When dinner time came around John and Mary had cooking down pat: Coleman stove, cast iron skillet, freshly caught walleye fried in butter with tear-prompting onions and brought-from-home herbs sizzling alongside. Dessert was an ice cream bar bought at the camp store just up the hill from the lake. And, a cup of Thermos coffee.

The undiluted sprawling sky above Governor Dodge State Park provided the couple with an open air observatory. At night they would drive out to an isolated ridge road that passed through an open field. They would park in the grass, get out and sit on the hood of their car. It seemed to them that the darkened heavens published dot-to-dot pictures: Ursa Major with its asterism The Big Dipper affixing north.

John and Mary would trace the points of light with their fingers. Occasionally, the celestial array of distant lights became cloaked by screeching bat swarms flying in high speed pursuit of blood thirsty mosquitoes. Mary liked the bats, but only for this reason.

After midnight, the couple would return to their campsite. They would make one final inspection of their food storage. They knew that robbing raccoons were on the prowl. When they were both ready, they quickly entered their tent hoping to keep the uneaten mosquitoes on the outside with the bats. Once inside, they replayed their favorite memory.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

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