Ode to Wisconsin

Originally published in TRIAD Magazine.

You never realize how deeply your soul is connected to a place until you leave it.

It’s as if you yourself are planted in the very same earth as the trees outside your window. And at the risk of sounding Disney Pocahontas, I believe the land you live on molds the very community you live in.

If I hadn’t moved to one of the busiest cities in America (Atlanta, GA), I perhaps would have gone on living in the wild quiet of the Wisconsin landscape without realizing how deep my roots ran under its gently tilled topsoil.

The coming of autumn to the Northern Hemisphere causes me to look down at my hacked roots in dismay. In the concrete fortress of Hot-lanta, I find myself daydreaming of the cool harvest-time in the Midwest. If you’ve never experienced fall in Wisconsin, join me in my soliloquy.

One of my friends told me he could never prefer autumn over the spring because of what it signifies—death of the year and all living things with it. But I disagree. There isn’t a season that celebrates life more than the Fall.

Perhaps it’s because we northerners live so much of the year buried under the snow, that autumn feels like the season when soil comes to life.

In Wisconsin you wake up to lung-breaking clarity of the morning cool lifting from the earth. Trees finally break out into sunset colors, like a secret they can no longer contain—they were born for this momentary display of light.

Ground hardens and farmers give up their endless battle with the earth, allowing long stocks of corn to turn golden against the harvest moon. Earth gives way in one last burst of bounty and we all run to the market to stock up on provisions before the cold settles into our bones for good.

The lakes transform. They lose their happy, wet waves of summer and lap with cold and crystalline precision on deserted boat docks. When the wind quickens their waves, they sing their last before the hardening of ice overtakes their mouths and faces.

Birds rush up from the earth, taking off into the sky with finality. We know they won’t return.

All around you nature is singing its last song—full of the beauty of life. You feel it rush into a crescendo before descending into long, cold sleep. It has saved the best for last.

In this way, the land has shaped its people. You won’t find busy metropolises, four-tiered highways or overgrown skyscrapers in Wisconsin. We build our homes close to the ground. We are farmers at heart, we live off the earth, we listen to its song.

In the autumn we dance along with the changing season around us. We huddle in taverns and coffee shops, gather in the last fruits of the earth and celebrate life. Taking our cues from the transformation around us, we bundle up and soak in the last rays of warm sun, letting it seep through the layers of wooly sweaters.

We malt our beers and age our cheeses to the tune of this evensong.

We too are filled with the restless energy that comes from the leaves whipped up by crisp breezes outside our windows. We celebrate, prepare and find ourselves in the passing of life over cups of steamy hard cider.

Perhaps this sounds over-romanticized. It probably is. Distance tends to…well, you know.

Yesterday, however, a flash of red caught my eye through the rear view mirror. Tumbling out my car I went to see what it was. A bright red leaf had plastered itself against the back window. I picked it up and brought it with me. I know its song. I’ve sung it before. It drowns out the constant whir of traffic outside my apartment.

It takes me back to the barren fields of Wisconsin’s dying summer song.