Sadly, I hear the same things over and over again. This is this life. Why can’t you sell my house, why can’t you find me a house, why can’t you place a full page ad on the back page of the each London newspaper, because that’s where all the buyers are. These are the things I hear, and while the pitch changes and the versus are varied, the chorus is always the same. One of these things that I hear has to do with boredom, voiced often by those who fall easily into its clutches. There’s nothing to do there in the winter. There it is. That’s the sentence. Like small children who must be presented with something immediate and shiny, this is what I hear. There’s. Nothing. To. Do. There. In. The. Winter.
My family hasn’t visited the county where I do most of my fly fishing for many months, and so on Sunday we took the long drive. I am a terrific driver, fast and nimble, route minded. But I do not enjoy the process even when I’m alone, and so how much worse the process is with two children in the back seat. My children I love, but regardless of their individual behavior, their back seat joint road trip behavior is absolutely toxic. No matter, we arrived to this town on schedule and sat down to have lunch at a place where we will often eat dinner when we’re out there. The kids like it, and so we eat there. The pizza was soggy, the salad bar beets tasted as though they had been canned decades ago, according to my beet eating wife. The waitress didn’t refill our water glasses, and when one family walked in they immediately hovered over the salad bar before taking their seats, no doubt coughing and yawning the whole time. Lunch was okay, I suppose.
As a strange point of fact, one thing we do when we visit this town is stop at the grocery store. It’s a fine grocery store, small and clean, expensive. Another unique fact is that I have never left that store within spending at minimum $20. Hungry for a snack and bottle of water? That’ll be $21.45. But the people are different in that store, and so I enjoy the rare anonymity of an oft visit there. The fly shop is a traditional stop, but on a Sunday in this supposed Winter the fly shop is closed, and so if the fly shop is closed then the adjacent yarn shop will not be visited. Who would make a special stop for a yarn shop? Not me, and so we drove. The hardware store was next up, as I needed a small paint brush. The store had pictures on the wall of giant bucks that had been shot or arrowed over the recent season. Giant bucks every one of them, pasted on the entry wall for all to see. I don’t hunt, and I don’t like dead animals unless they’re cooked, but I marveled at the board as if I was searching for someone I knew. I wasn’t.
There’s a creamery in the next small town, cheese curds fresh daily. I’ll stop there once in a while to buy a bag of squeaky cheese, and I’ve been there enough to know that the freshest of the cheese is on the counter, not refrigerated. If you go there and all you can find is the FRESH CURDS in the refrigerator, you’ve been had. I know this, because I’ve been there. We didn’t stop this time, so we pushed north to the next town, to that town where there was some hillside land that needed looking over. Once the land was walked and looked at, we stopped at a Norwegian place that functions as the Old World Wisconsin of this area. There was an Old Timey Christmas thing happening, and so we drove in and paid the parking fee and wandered the old cabins that made up this first Scandinavian settlement in this particular part of the state. The old buildings lacked electricity and they were dark and damp, smelling of woodsmoke and the slow rot that will ultimately do each building in.
In one, a lady weaving some wool into yarn. In another, a blacksmith hamming some metal. It should be noted that upon entering the yarn weaver shop I asked how long I’d need to wait for a sweater, and once in the blacksmith shop I commented that the metal rod he was hamming on was transforming into a fine metal rod with sort of roundish end. Both comments were met with laughter, and so I decided that I liked this place, because they liked me. We walked around the soggy gravel paths, visiting the shops, sampling the lefse. My kids completed the scavenger hunt and were less than enamored with their selection of gifts- the dime gum ball machine variety. We left there shortly after, stopped at a few back road bridges to watch the trout fin in the current, and stopped back at the grocery store for two espresso drinks and a bottle water. $21.80.
We drove home, deep into the night, back to the south and the east, back to this place where we live most of our days. In that county on that day, there was nothing to do. Kids that lived there sat at home, bemoaning the lack of snow, playing video games and fighting with their siblings. The men watched football. The women were annoyed by the kids doing nothing and by the men doing nothing. There was nothing to do that day. But for us, we drove there anyway, and we went to a restaurant that we can’t go to at home. We went to the store that we don’t have here. We looked at some blacksmithing and some yarn weaving, and we walked some hillside land that couldn’t be found in Walworth County. There was nothing to do there, but we gladly went anyway, because it was a different place with different things to see and a different way to be.
This winter, you could sit at home in the city or the suburbs. You could sit there and say there’s nothing to do. Or you could come up to the lake, and wander around our town. Walk our shore path. Eat at our restaurants. When the snow comes, you can ski our hills and skate on our lake. You can do these things, which don’t sound all that exciting, until you realize that they’re infinitely more exciting that sitting at home.