Note: all photos by Kate Poss, unless otherwise noted
My eight-day retreat in Door County WI on the Heartland state’s ‘left thumb,’ felt like the best kind of therapy.
My first four days were spent staying at Megan and Tom’s park model home at the Hidden Ridge Resort in Sturgeon Bay. That story can be read here. Megan and Tom are friends and former neighbors who once lived across from us on Morning Glory Lane, in Langley WA, where we have lived the past 23 years. They and their sons are like family to us.
Next, I stayed with a friend of the heart, Ann, at her townhome about 20 minutes away for the next four days. Our time spent together was a healing experience. Ann’s skills at listening, her compassion, attention to details, fun humor, life experience teaching and coaching, love of the simple life, her communication with plants, her talent as an artist, and ability to ‘flow’ were all just the prescriptions I didn’t know I needed.
Ann stayed with us six months in 2011 while she was in between homes. Then and now, Bill and I appreciated her quiet presence and gift of creating ‘gracious space’ wherever she lived. The same is true now at her townhome bordered by cherry orchards in the front, and framed by birch trees and a golf course beyond her back deck.
Her light-filled home hosts nature-themed prints photographed by Ann and her sister, Sue. The deck is a sanctuary for visiting birds—Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, hummingbirds, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, Goldfinches, Mourning Doves, Chipping Sparrows, Baltimore Orioles (which dine on cut orange halves and jelly), wrens, raccoons, and a large squirrel. We enjoyed breakfast and lunch on the deck table while sharing stories and taking moments to admire the wildlife.
On my arrival at Ann’s on the late afternoon of Aug. 7, I mentioned–as I had asked previously, since my arrival to the Heartland–that I wanted to see lightning bugs or fireflies. Part of the Lampyridae family, they are not flies, but beetles. Their evening light shows were a favorite childhood memory. Back to this trip, I had no luck so far, in seeing them. Ann and I went out walking that evening toward the gravel portion of the road which runs by her townhome. We saw fireflies glowing in the bushes. Hooray! Fireflies and glow worms are part of the same family. Fireflies have wings; glow worms do not. Bill and I saw them in New Zealand in 1980, when staying at Fox Glacier, and at first thought we were seeing things, the glow worm light was so ephemeral.
Ann took us tootling to Bay View Terrace Park in Egg Harbor on Green Bay. I swam in warm and gentle waves, my first open water swim in nearly two weeks. Ann took a photo of me framed by Canadian Geese.
I was treated to lunch at the Get Real Cafe in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Healthy Food. I ate a Cajun shrimp salad. The meal formed a backdrop to our deep dives into one another’s lives and modes of thinking. It had been 12 years after all, since we last saw one another.
In the warm late afternoon sunlight we visited Horseshoe Bay Farms, where in 2022 nature artist Patrick Dougherty fashioned fanciful Stickwork. The installation here is called ‘Happy Go Lucky.’
Roy Scott, his partner Scott, and their dog Pippin maintain the landscape and barns, which are a ‘center for sustainable stewardship,’ just the kind of place Bill, Ann and I enjoy supporting.
Meanwhile, Ann and I talked of the state of the world and Ann was the first person who succeeded in raising my awareness about COVID and the unnecessary panic it created. She suggested I began reading The Real Anthony Fauci, by Robert Kennedy, Jr. By reading Robert Kennedy’s words for the first time—I had, up till then, dismissed much of his and others’ thinking as conspiracy mongering and wondered why our friends and families had gone over to the ‘dark side’ when speaking in favor of Kennedy’s thinking. I discovered I had been merely parroting Fauci’s words without investigating the story behind them. Such parroting is a mortal sin in the world of journalism, but being a liberal progressive, I trusted what I was being told. Robert Kennedy’s insight is no bunk thinking. My mind is blown, I must tell you.
After a day of tootling, I took Ann for dinner at Wild Tomato in Fish Creek. Located across the street from the popular Peninsula State Park, which features eight miles of nooks and crannies of limestone bluff shoreline and native forest.
At Wild Tomato, which can take up to an hour to be served—well worth the wait— I ordered a Mediterranean GF pizza with chicken, artichoke hearts and peppers. Fingers crossed! My gut did not suffer from gluten cross-contamination. I took enzymes before the meal, and drank a couple of tablespoons of Imodium® afterwards, and did not suffer the usual miserable consequences. The food was fresh and delicious. Ann and I split a dried cherry/goat cheese/walnut/fresh greens salad. Door County grows cherries that burst with superior cherry flavor. A couple who dined at Wild Tomato told us they would drive three hours just for the cherry salad. I can see why. Lisa was our fun server and made our experience memorable.
Later on, back at Ann’s, we talked about the necessity of using our senses to experience reality, rather than depending solely on the news to inform our world. For instance, I read often about Wisconsin in the New York Times, and thought it was going to be energetically tough being there because of the politics. Yet daily, I found nothing but truly friendly people throughout the state. Evidence of environmental stewardship abounds in Door County. There’s plenty of healthy eateries. Many of the locals I see look happy and healthy, enjoying life. That’s not to discount the state’s troubles, but overall, life seems good from where I view it as I tootle across the Heartland.
Besides paintings and photographs, Ann also likes working with clay. She created a trio of Integral Figures, inspired from South American ritual objects. Their heads were closed traditionally, and Ann thought to open their heads when she fashioned them, to allow them to be open to new thoughts. She wove a basket of dried grapevine and Virginia Creeper that sits nearby the beings, who, one can imagine, trade stories of what they’ve seen when humans aren’t looking.
Megan and Tom said we ought to check out the Lost Tuk Tuk cafe in Ephraim, on the Bay side, or west side of Door County. Arriving before it opened, we sat outside under an umbrella at the Chef’s Hat cafe, ordering yumyum bacon and seemingly magical dark coffee that raised our spirits and set our conversation to flowing even better than before. We were served by a young man with a beautiful smile from Turkey, who plans to attend a Texas university this fall, where he plans to earn a law degree. His sincere smile and positivity are the energy we need in the world.
Later, we sat on a limestone-hewn wall ,looking out at Green Bay with its cooling breeze, rainbow sail of a para-glider, cumulous clouds looking as if they rested on a horizontal plane of glass, cupcake-top-shaped islands, sail boats, and floating White Pelicans. Since Ann prefers not to have her photo taken, I committed to notes her flowing purple shirt, linen trousers, mirrored sunglasses and ammonite fossil necklace. Here is the result, with artistic license.
It was time for lunch at the Lost Tuk Tuk. Laura, one of its owners, said the restaurant was named for a time she was riding in a tuk tuk in Lima, Peru, and became lost.
“It was a great adventure,” she said.
Laura and her husband are from nearby Sister Bay, and decided they wanted to bring Asian-inspired food to the area. The result is an eastern Indian/Asian noodle fare. Ann and I ordered a chicken masala GF dish, which was quenched with fresh lemonade/pineapple juice.
Later, after stopping in at The Brilliant Stranger in Egg Harbor, I discovered that it is the same store which made a pair of maroon overalls our son Raymo bought me years ago from its shop on Etsy. Owned by Dawn Patel, who is partly of east Indian heritage, the business practices Fair Trade with artisans in Nepal. The result are overalls in rich colors, some decorated with Dawn’s artwork, along with pants, shirts and other Fair Trade craft. I splurged and bought a pair of chartreuse overalls, which when I wear them, will remind me of my peak experiences with Ann and the beauty of Door County.
When I asked Dawn if she was related to actor Dev Patel, she told me she wasn’t, but said to be sure and watch Dev’s fine acting in the film Lion, about a young boy who was accidentally taken by train from his Hindi town in the 1980s 1,600 miles away to Calcutta. He survived upon arrival, and was later adopted by an Australian couple, and at 25, found a way back to his home village and his mother, who never gave up on him. Ann and I streamed Lion on this laptop later in the evening. Well-acted and sobering. A reminder of how important ‘home’ is, and its pull on us until we find it.
After Egg Harbor, Ann drove us to the town of Jacksonport, where we parked and walked in the clear warm waters of Lake Michigan at Lakeside Park. After cooling our feet in the warm shallow water with tiny schools of minnows, we sat on a bench in the shade. An athletic woman came walking by, jiggling her three-week-old grandson to keep him awake. While his mama wanted him awake, the little guy was mad and made a sour face at his fate. Jacksonport is directly across from Traverse City Michigan, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the solid horizon of water and sky.
By Friday, our visit had come to an end. I am grateful for the connection and flow that had blessed us these past four days. If I were to speak of the Holy Spirit, the Force we learned of in Catholic School, I’d say that is the power I felt over the past four days. Maximum lift!
Leaving Sturgeon Bay, I drove through a helluva rainstorm with windshield wipers on maximum, leaving a barely-visible view on the freeway. Fortunately the torrential rain lasted less than five minute intervals—there were several of these, but required white knuckled hands on the wheel while driving at 40 mph rather than the allowed 70. Gretchen’s Kia Soul had little moments of hydroplaning, so I drove extra carefully.
I arrived at Megan and Tom’s in Appleton. When I told Tom that I’d be staying at the Happy Medium in Middleton WI, near Madison, he walked out of the room and returned with a shoe form in size 8 1/2 AA that was printed with the words ‘Happy Medium.’ The collectible was something he displayed at an artists’ store he once ran with a partner.
Turns out, Tom, now a chemical engineer who works for Kimberly Clark, ran an artist consignment shore in Minneapolis. More than 150 artists were represented and the store sold more than $250,000 worth of merchandise. But Tom said he and his partner barely broke even, so he pursued a degree in engineering, while his partner carried the store for another 10 years. It was while he ran Intermezzo, the art consignment store, that Tom met Megan. A 1990 publication of Minneapolis/St. Paul’s ‘Best of the Twin Cities,’ rated his store as one of the best.
“When I retire, I would like to run a place like that again,” Tom said. He’s 62 now.
In appreciation for the use of their Door County cabin, I took Megan and Tom to lunch at Author’s Kitchen & Bar in downtown Appleton, the city where they live. The food was artfully arranged—Megan loves its eggs with Hollandaise sauce, delicious, and we had to use our big voices to be heard above the roar of voices in the popular eatery. Megan and Tom said I must not fail to visit Madison’s Capitol building.
The domed landmark, completed in 1917, is the only one nearly in size and design equal to our nation’s Capitol in D.C. I asked a guard if I might lie on the marble floor to take a photo of the dome above. She assured me that was a regular practice. Here is the result:
Meanwhile, I texted Chloe Cairns, Bill’s great-niece and daughter of his nephew Michael and his wife Deirdre Cairns, about getting together. She lives in Madison. Chloe had a moment free, and suggested we order poke from Poke Plus on State Street. We walked with our takeout over to the lakefront, where a band was playing and young locals gathered to drink from plastic pitchers of beer. For the following two hours we talked while we ate with chopsticks. It was my first real conversation with her outside of previous family gatherings. Chloe is remarkably independent thinking, open-minded, honest and wise for her 20+ plus years. She plans to travel to Central and South America in 2024 to learn more about herself and cultivate her life experience. She would like to be a counselor for middle schoolers later on in life. She has already earned a teaching degree.
As it was just beginning to get dark, I drove up to my Airbnb home, located in a residential neighborhood of Middleton. It is called the Happy Medium, an unpretentious 1970s/1980s-era home, where I rented an upstairs bedroom with lovely linens and shared bath with a pair of other guests. I was greeted by the owner’s cats, Stanley and Kimber, who like being cuddled.
That’s it for now. I’ve sat in a comfortable chair looking out at the old restored homes in Middleton from the city’s public library window and need to stretch.