Rural lost and found

The messages were mixed about the driver’s intent when a car rolled to a short stop up the ridge along Eimon Road, started again to veer up onto Skoyen Road, and then come to a complete stop.

Someone either was lost or wanted to find out what would motivate me to drag my weight afoot up the ridge’s long and somewhat steep grade. Or, it could be a friend or acquaintance stopping to say hello and pass comments about that day’s Eimon Ridge wonders.

I like a mystery as much as the next fellow.

It turned out that the driver was a fellow whose years surpassed mine by 10 or 20. He got out of his car and stood above me on Skoyen Road, near that meeting with Eimon Road that creates a point in the soil between.

The mystery was short-lived: He was lost.

“Where do any of these roads take me?” he called across about 30 feet of steep ditch and tall grass between us, me having stopped on my Eimon Road trek.

I replied how that depended upon where he might be headed, and he replied how he thought there might be a tractor-pull going on down at Hixton. He quickly explained how he lives over by Mondovi and that, more than anything, he simply was out for a leisurely afternoon driving adventure – he might also be happy finding Pigeon Falls — but had come to realize he had no idea where he was.

A litany of directions to Hixton poured from my mouth, me never one to direct someone away from the promise of a good tractor pull.

“If you stay on Skoyen, go to Huskelhus and turn left; take that to Highway 121 – or, take a right onto Huskelhus and then a left onto Stieg Coulee and take that down to 121. Either way, turn left onto 121 when you get there; that will take you to the freeway, where you’ll want to get onto the eastbound ramp in Northfield. Hixton is the first exit on the freeway.

“Or, you can back up and get back down here onto Eimon, and take it east to county G; a right onto G also gets you to 121.

“Of course, if you want to go down to 121 and get back to Highway 53, take a right when you get to it – whichever way you get there – and that’ll take you to 53 at Pigeon Falls.”

The fellow thanked me for the directions and drove away. I wondered whether I’d done much more than to confuse him more, but figured I’d given directions like someone who’s spent enough time in this neck of the woods to spew such confusing directions to someone who can’t claim such a status.

It would have been easy to think about other things as I continued my walk-turned-into-a-run, but I was dogged by a couple of things about the encounter.

First was the unintended profound nature of the lost man’s initial question: “Where do any of these roads take me?”

Oh, how easy it would be to spend the rest of the afternoon reflecting about such a question. The answers are as long as Trempealeau County from its north to its south; the answers are as tangled as our roads winding around the northern Driftless Area’s ridges and coulees.

It’s often occurred to me that I can never know or even want to know where these rural routes will take me. That’s a great part of life’s adventure out here in the countryside, allowing the roads to carry us where they might.

I envied the man for having taken roads of destinations so unknown to him. I felt sadness for the man for any fear about not knowing where he was on the roads.

Also dogging me was my too-quick-to-judgment notion that being able to give a few basic directions about roads so near to our beloved Eimon Homestead somehow gave me full-blown status of being a “local.” It took only moments for me to recall a discussion I had with some friends whose families had several generations of roots sunk into this area’s soil. During a ride with my football-officiating partners back to Osseo from a game in Pepin, I attempted to recall the routes wife Dee and I had taken on a summer drive to and from Alma and Pepin.

The guys that night asked me about whether I’d crossed one coulee or another; they wondered aloud whether we’d crossed one back-roads ridge or another. They got a rightful kick out of my stumbling with answers about thinking our drive had something to do with county D or K or N, probably Highways 35, 121 and 88 with maybe Gilmanton somewhere between.

“You have no idea of where you were then,” one of the guys knowingly said through our laughter.

The discussion made me reflect about when someone relatively new to a rural place really gets to know where he or she is – that of knowing “place” within the soil and community. Does it take a year, a decade, or a couple generations to really be part of a community? Do the answers vary by each person’s and each community’s personality?

The challenges involved in answering such questions require that, for the time being, I’ll have to accept moments of being able to offer directions to strangers mixed with still sometimes being lost within these rural routes.

I’m OK with that, as long as it goes with the promise of occasionally happening upon a good tractor-pull.

— Scott Schultz

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