I am sitting bundled in the back seat, one dog draped across my lap and another leaning against me. The three of us (My boyfriend Tim and his dad John) are driving up a winding county road on our way to the tip of Door County peninsula, where we will be taking a tiny ferry to Washington Island to the family cabin on the lake.
The conversation is light, unlike the snow outside which is beginning to fall in droves. We drive slower and slower, watching the world outside our car fade into the distance.
“Let’s wait and see if it settles down a bit,” John suggests.
We pull into a roadside pub and the afternoon turns into a warm room filled with new friends cheers-ing with steins of Belgian brews and fish fry. Suddenly, we hear a roar and a splash of snow smacks the front window.
“The snow plow made it! Let’s go!”
We slap a few bills on the bar and jump back into the car, determined to follow our beacon of light. A few more slow miles down the road and we’ve made it to the ferry. Onboard we hear the ice creak and groan as the ferry hull breaches the frozen tundra of Lake Michigan to make its journey to the island. It is 3pm, Central Time and the sun is starting to set. The thermometer reads -8 but the fine folks of Wisconsin are still grinning.
Welcome to the Midwest.
The Midwest in the middle of winter is not a hotspot destination. Freezing cold temperatures, otherworldly blizzards and dismally dark days make for a unpopular tourist destination. Add airport delays at O’Hare and Minneapolis/St Paul and it’s a place no one wants to get stuck in.
Go to any small town in Wisconsin and you will discover a time capsule: the local pub still uses faded coasters from years past, neon Schlitz signs buzz in the corner and a few of the patrons may not have left since about 1981.
Go to any large city in Wisconsin and you will find that it’s not really much different than the little towns. Every neighborhood has their favorite Irish pub, special Polish deli, Greek diner spot, late-night Mexican food stand or community German bier hall. People here are proud of their heritages and in the summer, everyone celebrates with dozens of Ethnic Festivals along the Milwaukee waterfront.
Summer in Wisconsin is like a whole new world. Strolls along the Lake Michigan, bike riding around the Capitol building in Madison, hikes through Kettle Moraine State Park and the quintessential “goin’ up North” for the weekend.
But right now, it is not summer. It is January, and it is bitterly cold. I have spent the last three days doing Wisconsin like a local: scraping ice off my windshield and 6 in the morning while it is still -4 degrees. Loitering at George Webb with a cup of coffee, just to warm my hands. Hotdish and drip coffee at the local banquet hall to celebrate a baby shower. Beer. Hugs. Friends. Cheering for the Packers. Listing to country music. Realizing how important family is. More food. Lots of love. Home.
Good night from the coldest, darkest, most lovely place on earth.
Happy homecoming, friends!