The beer and the land

A guy’s excitement about moving from Chicago to Appleton isn’t necessarily the sort of topic a fellow might expect to find in a country tavern in the northern Driftless Area, but that’s the very subject a bunch of local guys were kicking around the other night over at York.

In the story, the Chicago guy said he’d visited the Fox River Valley area a while ago, and found Wisconsin to be refreshingly quiet and peaceful. He liked it there so much that he picked up his urban stakes and moved to Appleton.

The discussion, as we in this area might suspect, was primarily about what in the Fox River Valley he found to be so quiet and peaceful.

The guys in the tavern seemed to have the same notion as me where such quiet and peacefulness is concerned. I suppose peace and quiet can be found plenty in the Fox River Valley though I never really found it there while running several of their marathons over the years.

There’s a good chance, even, that things are much more peaceful when you’re not fighting through a marathon.

No matter, I had to nod my head in agreement about what the guys were saying in comparing most of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan corner with what we know over here toward the old Mississippi. It seems to them and to me that there’s always been quite a lot less hubbub going on out our way than what’s always been going on over that other direction. Historically, people left the areas of huge population to go there, and then came out this direction to escape things even more.

These days, maybe only the middle of the north’s forest-country is as quiet and as peaceful as the majority of days we have here in the northern Driftless. I’m not trying to stir civil unrest between the east and west, of course, but facts are facts.

Somewhere during that tavern discussion, the subject came up with the guys about what it would take to get them to sell their rural northern Driftless properties and move to another area.

What if someone offered you several million bucks to buy the land and mine it?

What if you won the lottery and could afford to live anywhere you wanted?

I’ve been around those discussions before, and they generally end up with folks saying there would be some hard decisions to make, if those sorts of things ever fell onto their laps. Maybe an island in some warm clime would be a nice place to live; maybe selling the land for a couple million would provide their young’uns with anything they’d ever need.

Such wasn’t the case with that night’s group, though.

Those fellows, whose fingernails have deeply-imbedded soil from Northfield to Pleasantville, took turns to righteously proclaim their commitment to never leave their parcels of quiet and peacefulness.

One of the guys took a long, slow drink from his bottle of Old Milwaukee, and used his free hand to wipe a drip of brew from his chin as his other hand gently returned the bottle to the bar’s surface.

“I don’t care if somebody offered me $6 million for my 120 acres,” one of the guys said. “That land means more than that, to me.”

There’s the quiet and peace that’s found out in our part of the countryside, but such an opinion runs much deeper, another of the guys offered. The ridges and coulees offer much more, he said.

“Have you ever really stopped to look around at this area?” the second gent said. “There’s no place in the world as beautiful as this.”

Some of what came from that group could have been passed off as things said by folks who’ve never really seen some of the world’s most grand sights. All of them were fully the products of northern Driftless Area soil, for certain, but all of them had been in many places around the globe. They’ve seen the greatest mountains, great valleys, jungles and icebergs.

“What he said,” a third guy piped in, his thumb pointing toward the previous speaker. “I’ve seen a lot of the world, but there’s been nothing like this, right here.”

Another of the men had quietly been looking straight ahead, barely showing that he was listening to comments made by the others. His measured words finally broke his silence.

“Why, if I won millions of dollars, the only land I’d buy would be all around mine, just to keep it like it is. I’d let people hunt there and everything, but I’d make sure nothing ever changed about that land.”

I know that group doesn’t represent everyone’s feelings about this grand countryside, but it was interesting to not find anyone of a different opinion in that place.

I had pressed them, and one of them felt compelled to return the favor and press me.

“Hey,” said the guy who’d been least vocal of the bunch. “You’re that guy who’s always writing. Why don’t you write something about us?”

“I believe I will,” I answered. “I believe I will.”

— Scott Schultz


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