Picaresque Peninsula

Door County in Wisconsin seems a world apart. The scenery is stunning, as if the world’s best landscape, seascape, and country artists were each given a piece of the peninsula to paint. Anywhere your gaze rests is a pristine and perfect scene.

What seems anathema to the rest of the world is welcome, including dandelions. Whole fields of the luscious yellow blooms! I have always liked the tenacious flower, and have never understood why they are so despised. (Somehow I managed not to get a photo of the yellow fields. Don’t know how that happened.)

Making the place seem even more of a world apart is the absence of franchises in any of the villages. (The ubiquitous big name stores and fast food joints are all strung along a single portion of a highway in Sturgeon Bay.) Each restaurant we patronized was different, though all had delicious specialties, made-from-scratch baked goods, and friendly employees. In many cases, the owners worked alongside their staff, and the absence of any dissension between them made the meal even more pleasant. Each building that housed the restsurants were also unique, the most notable being the Swedish restaurant. It had been built in Norway, disassembled, and brought to Wisconsin and reassembled. It was too early in the season for the goats to be out, but in the summer, goats grazed on the traditional grass roof.

(Other Norwegian buildings found a place on the peninsula, such as the hand-made and hand-carved chapel.)

Putting the final touches on the picaresque peninsula, bits of art and daphodils peeped out wherever you look. (Apparently once there had been a fundraiser to sell naturalizing daffodil bulbs, and people planted them in usual and unusual places.)

I didn’t mean to make this sound like a travelogue, just wanted to explain some of photos attached to this blog, but it’s hard not to sound like a travelogue when trying to describe such the perfect visit (and perfect weather!) I experienced in Door County.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Wowed in Wisconsin

Sometimes on this great adventure of mine, I think I’ve seen it all. Well, not truly “all”. No one can. But so many places seem like other places, especially when it comes to shopping centers or suburban neighborhoods. Often one tree-lined road looks like another, or a body of water seems like . . . oh, let me think . . . like a body of water. I worry that I am becoming jaded, and then one day I turn a corner and fall into a perpetual state of awe.

In this particular case, I crossed the iron bridge at Sturgeon Bay and entered what seemed a fairy tale setting. A wonderland. It’s as if the entire peninsula of Door County, the thumb of Wisconsin, knew I was coming and polished everything to a brilliant gleam. Colors seem sharper here, as if every scene has been photo-enhanced to an unreal gloss. I passed a flower box of blooming tulips and narcissus, and had to touch the flowers to make sure they were real. The green of the trees, the grass, the fields look newly air-brushed. The waters of the bays and lakes are an astonishing mix of vibrant blue and teal.

My host has very graciously driven me around the peninsula to show me the sights — and oh, what sights there are! Fabulous jewel-like waters. Forest floors painted white with trillium. Marsh marigolds brightening broody marshes. Farms that look as if they belong in a children’s story book.

Even the shipbuilding plant on the bay looks more mythic than monstrous.

Adding to this sense of having entered a wonderland, we had beef wellington at an English inn that looked like something out of a fairy tale.

As a writer and lover of words, I should be able to come up with a better exclamation than “wow,” if for no other reason than to keep from boring my host, but the truth is, this place has wowed me.

Just . . .wow.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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My Ongoing Cultural Festival

Stevens Point in Wisconsin has a cultural festival every year, and it just so happened to fall on a weekend I was there, so I decided to attend. I wasn’t particularly interested in going to the festival — I never quite know what to do once I get to such events — but I figured it would give me something to blog about. (Would you be surprised and appalled to know that I often do things simply for the sake of a blog post? But hey . . . it gets me there, doesn’t it?)

I wandered about for a bit, not really getting into the spirit of the thing. It was hard being among all those people by myself. I don’t enjoy shopping, and I wasn’t hungry, and with no one to exclaim over the offerings with me, there was no way to ramp up my excitement.

But then I realized another reason why the various booths didn’t seem out of the ordinary — this whole trip for me has been a cultural festival. I’ve been to a Greek restaurant in a Greek village in Florida. I was welcomed into a Jewish home for Passover. A friend of a friend cooked a Russian feast for me in Texas. I’ve been to Chinese buffets, French bistros, Italian trattorias, German restaurants, Mexican and Cuban restaurants, southern barbecue houses. I’ve eaten Polish food and Welsh dishes and sampled all sorts of regional goodies as I’ve zigzagged across the United States. I’ve also been to vast grocery stores that mimic European markets.

Still, I squelched the urge to leave the festival. I figured I needed to walk an hour anyway, so why not walk around the festival? And so I listened to a guy playing the mournful bagpipes, and a mournful fellow playing the accordion. I watched practiced dance performances and unpracticed dancers having fun. Despite the people crowded around the booths, I managed to see a lot of the products for sale. In particular, a green glass bird Christmas ornament that caught my eye, but I am so out of the habit of purchasing knickknacks that I never even considered buying it.

And so, as it turned out, the hour I spent walking around the festival was a good one.

And besides, as you can see, I got a blog post out of the experience.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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What if the Past Isn’t Dead?

Many years ago, Jeff and I set off across the country to look for a kinder, simpler place. We had grown up in Denver back when downtown was barely a pimple rising from the flat plains of Colorado. We’d suffered through years of exponential growth and the resultant crime rates. When Californians moved to Colorado to escape the gangs, they brought the gangs with them in the bodies of their own children. And with Denver on the map thanks to a presidential wanabee from Texas who declaimed, “Imagine a great city,” Denver was also flooded with big-time crooks in big-name suits. Lots of shenanigans going on with shady land deals at what was to be the site of the new airport, and of course the savings and loan scandal where even the son of a president managed to score some ill-gotten profits.

Add traffic to the mix, the exhaust-blackened trees along mountain highways, and a faster pace of life than either of us appreciated, and we’d had enough. (My being held up with a gun as I came home for work added to our determination to find a better life.)

We hit the road with no real plans of where we’d end up, though we did have list of relatively crime-free places to check out. It was thrilling — and liberating — at first, but reality hit when we couldn’t find a better place. We stayed in northern Wisconsin for a while (eighteen months? Two years? I should remember, but I don’t) then we headed back west. But not back to Denver. Remember that old Joe South song, “Don’t it Make You Want to Go Home?” That’s how I feel about Denver — everything’s changed, and there’s none of me left to go back to.

And now I am back in Wisconsin for a couple of weeks.

As I drove here along I-90, passing places Jeff (my deceased life mate/soul mate) and I had visited together, tears welled up so I could barely see the road. I remembered our hopes and excitement as we’d made that journey, but I also remembered the complications and complexities that waited us. And I remembered how our story ended.

Those two youthful folks are long gone, and as I struggled to see the road through bleared eyes, I had to remind myself their failures and sorrows are gone, too. Life cannot hurt him any more. That old pain does not wait for me here.

But somehow, I found it hard to convince myself of that simple reality. And so my journey into Wisconsin was accompanied by the shadow of my dead past.

I’ve been in Wisconsin a few days now, staying at the apartment of a friend while she housesits in Mineapolis, and I am doing okay.

But I can’t bring myself to go up north to where we lived. What if the past isn’t dead? What if we are still there, struggling to create a new and simpler life for ourselves? It’s best not to find out.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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