Trips unplanned. Guided only by random Google searches, billboards and the GPS.
At 6:30 AM on a winter Friday morning, we headed north, driving over the Tomorrow River with cups of coffee in hand and the sunrise burning over the horizon of snow.
My husband had business in Washburn and we were along for the ride. Our intention was to enjoy Washburn and then visit our old favorite, Cornucopia. Of course, the day assumed its own unpredicted agenda, as our days often do when viewing the world through a windshield.
Our love affair with Cornucopia, Wisconsin started in 2011. We were, once again, headed north with great anticipation of seeing John Prine perform at Big Top Chautauqua. I was over halfway through my pregnancy and although I am generally up for adventure, I was a little nervous to learn that my husband planned to inject spontaneity into the weekend by finding a place to sleep AFTER the concert. I grabbed the local guide I had ordered online weeks prior, and started calling every place on the list. Places were literally filling up as I called…”Well, I have a couple looking at our last cabin now….oh, looks like they’re going to take it. Sorry.”
I think I found the very last spot between Bayfield and Canada in the book. Even the name “Cornucopia” sounded exotic. A cross between Swiss Family Robinson and Tuck Everlasting. It proved to be just that. We spent that weekend in a little cabin just a short walk from the beach, dining on crazy delicacies from historic Ehlers General Store. European breads, organic cheeses, greeting cards, ammunition and chewing tobacco…all displayed in gorgeous cases on the worn hardwood floors. But…that was another adventure; a story for another time.
This adventure took us no farther than Washburn, as luck would have it. During my husband’s meeting, Max and I soaked in the beautiful books, high ceilings and golden radiators surrounding us at the 100 year old Washburn Public Library.
This rich experience was followed by lunch at our favorite spot – Coco Cafe. Nothing rivals their sheets of crunchy lavosh or pastries. But the real beauty is in the people watching. Small tribes of hippies wandered in and out as we dined. Not the toothless, Key West type either. The Patagonia-wearing folks with iPads and hiking boots that cost more than a fully restored VW microbus. (Note my envy.)
Anyway, with full bellies and our child starting to wing utensils in every direction, our visit expired and we headed out. Every trip I take needs a series of small adventures and one major expedition. Small adventures, such as the library, also include antique stores, used book shops, parks, rummage sales, beaches and hole-in-the-wall taverns. The grand exhibition is always a wild card.
On this trip, we watched snowmobiles zipping around us on either side of the highway, both my husband and two year old enamored with the roaring engines and sexy speed of these machines. I voiced my disinterest for this “sport,” noting that if I am going to enjoy a beautiful winter day, I have to be able to hear it. Crunchy snow. Wind through the pines. Birds. Melting icicles.
What experience would afford us that opportunity? Clearly, a sleigh ride! A quick search revealed an affordable ride just south of us, in Brantwood.
Nothing could have prepared us for the beauty of Palmquist Farm. Max’s eyes grew wide as we snuggled together in the sleigh covered with hay and blankies. The large horses marched forward in the fresh snow, pulling all of us easily through the winding trails.
What makes or breaks any experience for me, however, is the people. At the end of our ride, we sat in a gorgeous building next to a large fireplace and I conducted the Clark inquisition* on the owner, Jim Palmquist. *The Clark inquisition is the tendency my family of ten siblings has to learn everything they can about a person, fueled by insatiable curiosity and rapid-fire questioning. We deem it quite appropriate and a means to keep one another’s stories alive. My husband, and other private folks, view it to be an assault on someone’s privacy.
Jim, a fourth generation Finnish farmer, was all too happy to share his story. In years past, their farm employed people from the surrounding countryside of Brantwood. And when there wasn’t enough work, the local men came by anyway. The farm provided them community and kinship. Jim remembers being a young boy and observing these conversations, many of them in Finnish.
I like Jim. I like his several hundred acre farm. And I cannot wait to return for a long visit. To stay in one of the gorgeous cabins on the property, enjoying the sauna, the hearty breakfast, the ice skating rink and the woods, in all of their glory and deafening silence.