Winter of 1976-1977, we took a (much-needed) break from
urban living, and in late-November put a lot of our stuff in storage,
and moved from Milwukee to the Central Wisconsin countryside. Duncan
had gotten his first professional planning position in the small city
of Portage, 30 miles north of Madison.
Rather than live in town, we looked around the countryside to find a
house to rent in the countryside -- and found something wonderful 20 miles northwest of
Portage: a large house on the outskirts of Briggsville, a one-store hamlet on the shores of the very large Lake Mason.
The winter of 1976-77 was very cold, extremely cold, excruciatingly cold, with our part of Wisconsin having below-zero days for the entire month of January. That winter was so cold over the entire world that National Geographic had a special article about that phenomenonal winter. In Briggsville, going outside for anything longer than 10 seconds made our faces hurt. As our woodstove pumped out heat, we -- being intentionally TV-less -- listened delightedly to UW-Madison's public radio station's daily book-reading show called "Chapter a Day." When they featured Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, our winter felt even colder.
[ Insert our pictures of Briggsville]
On our frozen lake in that winter, the ice fishermen towed their huts out onto the ice with their trucks, and moved in for the duration -- complete with their small pot-bellied stoves. During the week, I went out alone every day by myself and skated til I got too cold, and on the weekends when Duncan was home, we went together. Sometimes we struck off from near our banks, skating far into the center of the lake, the frozen-down-10-feet-or more lake. Pretty soon, the realization of how far out from shore we were would begin to spook us, so we would turn around and head back, feeling relieved when we finally saw our own banks and our own house. Terra firma in addition to aqua firma.
We had two cars -- both VW bugs -- and every day Duncan drove his 1968 bug into town (Portage) to his work. One day a week I also went in -- to go to the grocery store and laundromat. My 1963 bug had a less-robust heater than did Duncan's car, and if I stayed in town til late in the day, by the time I drove back to Briggsville, it was so cold in my car that I got chillblanes in my feet and hands. Sometimes they were so numb I did not know if my feet could properly press on the accellerator, brake, and clutch, nor if my hands could hold tightly enough onto the steering wheel.
But when I was not that cold, the drive was wonderful. I loved looking at the farm fields with their rows of corn-stalk stubble sticking out from the snow.
That Winter, I did a lot of work on my Romundstad and Madson family histories -- my mother's Nordic heritage, all of whom were from Norway, the land of the Midnight Sun. The Madson side of the family had lived very near where we were living, so we had good times visiting people and places.
Then Spring Came ! !
When Spring came to our corner of Wisconsin, the ice on Lake Mason started to thaw, turned black, then one night, it "went out" all at once. In the morning, we could once again see the wind ripple over water in its liquid form.
Interestingly, despite the severity of the winter, the "going out" date was right at the standard yearly time. That year however, rather than the perenniel Spring bulbs taking turns like they usually did -- one after another -- that year, they all bloomed all at once. The usually-early-blooming snowdrops, the middle-time daffodils, and the late-blooming tulips all bloomed triumphantly at the same time in April, saying to each other, "Alright everyone, we've been under this stiff frozen ice for too long, so let's all jump out TOGETHER !! YAY !! "
When I drove around the warm countryside in my VW bug -- doing errands in town or going to get milk from our dairy farmer neighbors -- I felt the sun shine and the wonderful warm breeze waft in through my open roof window. Sheer heaven after the frozen hell of my numb drives of Winter.
That Spring -- after that severe Winter -- the gray whales off Baja California came up to people for the first time in recorded history.
In April toward the end of our time in Briggsville and shortly before we moved back to Milwaukee, we held a picnic at our house and lake with friends we had made in that area and also some Milwaukee friends staying with us for the weekend. We had a wonderful time: warm weather, good food, played volley ball, made homemade ice cream from milk from some neighbor's cows, and some brave souls even (briefly) went swimming in our lake !!
It was a Glorious Spring following on the heels of a Glorious Winter.
Such are our mythic memories of our time in northern Wisconsin beside a large, beautiful lake.