Monday, February 24, 2003

Yesterday was crisp and bright until mid-afternoon, when it became overcast, windy and cold. Esther and I left Luke and Letha’s place about 11 a.m. and minutes later were on the Ice Age Trail northwest of Lodi. This trail is a 1.3 mile segment up a steep hill, with field openings that give panoramic views of the Baraboo Hills to the north. It ends at a gravel road after crossing a shallow stream. Rock hard snow pack and ice made treacherous footing.

We took country roads about 20 miles south to Indian Lake County Park to another segment of the Ice Age Trail. More rolling glacial topography. I dropped off Esther at one end of the lake and the car at the other end. There are five cross country ski trails in the county park. I ended up getting turned around in a circle and came back to the car instead of the other side of the lake. A surprised Esther caught me reading 20 minutes later.

Our last trail was difficult to find. Just outside of Middleton is the Valley View segment of the Ice Age Trail. The trailhead is at the top of the hill, at the entrance to a subdivision of Prairie style homes. It threads downhill through a meadow bordering backyards. After going through a patch of woods, the trail emerges onto an open prairie looking into a valley dotted by forests and homes. At the top of a hill is an old oak tree. As we approached it we heard bird song. The chickadees, wrens, sparrows and nameless other small birds quieted as we came near but did not flee from their brush pile haven.

This trail segment ends at the gated entrance to some unseen mansion. Ten feet from the trailhead post is an intercom speaker and keypad. Esther and I turned around and took a red-blazed loop trail that goes through oak savannah, a honeysuckle-infested prairie, and up again, with another valley view Esther said she liked best because you couldn’t see any signs of civilization, i.e. houses. As we climbed a hill back our car I saw above the yellow winter grasses the most impressive deer rack I have ever seen in the wild. The deer turned his head and I saw a dash of white at the end of his chin, and then he disappeared. The sight of the deer filled me with this amazed sadness because all I saw when I stood where I sighted him were houses and fences.

Our Appalachian Trail slide show at the annual meeting of the Lodi Valley Ice Age Trail Chapter meeting went well, despite a late start and equipment problems. The Roxbury Tavern had a quaint, housy feel, with low ceilings, a half room divider kept half the audience in another room, but we were able to maneuver the screen for everybody to see. I think abbreviating the program made it stronger, but there are a few stories I left out that I’d like to tell. At least they didn’t seem bored, and we got a lot of compliments from an admittedly sympathetic crowd.

Luke and Letha let us stay at their place, a widow’s cottage next to a historic mansion. After the presentation we went back to their place for a party, and I played guitar with Tim Malzhan, a Mobile Skills Crew leader, who taught me a few knew techniques for my guitar. I also learned I can play a pretty fast bluegrass groove.


Luke is a member of the Mobile Skills Crew along with Esther and I, and is the Ice Age Trail chapter coordinator for the Lodi Valley Chapter. Speaking of mansions, Luke and Letha live in a widow's cottage next to an antebellum/Italianate one that was built in the 1870s or 80s as a stagecoach stop. The cottage and home are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The widow's cottage looks like a castle turrett, with raised stone abutments on the four corners of the square structure.

Letha is an artist and runs the only art gallery/studio in Lodi. She paints canvases and wood blocks in textured abstract images. Many of the shapes are made by glue, which gives greater dimension to the image and gloss to the color. I'm always skeptical of abstract art, and look for continuity and some kind of overall theme. Or at least some semblance of cleverness. Would I display this in my home? Letha's art pleased me because in it I saw nature's influence. One blocky structure has the dashy striations of birch bark. A pattern of blue circles surrounded by a halo of lighter shade reminded me of mildew.

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