Report from the Driftless

IMG_2266I am writing from 219 Washington Street, Mineral Point, Wisconsin. I am staying in the most lovely, cozy, inspiring place, a yellow house, well-suited to the task of writing. Mineral Point is located in what is known as the driftless area. Doesn’t that just sound so ruggedly dreamy? What it really means is that this region of southwestern Wisconsin (and some pieces of Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois) all escaped glaciation in the last glacial period.

In case you don’t know, glaciers, when they retreat, are notorious for leaving behind silt, clay, sand, gravel, and boulders. All this junk is collectively known as drift. What we have here is no drift, or in other words, driftless. There may be no drift out here, but there are hills. Lots and lots of them. In fact, the driftless area is characterized by deeply carved river valleys. And wherever there are valleys, hills seem to be not far behind.

What all this amounts to for the average Joe person like me is delight in finding that the town is built on one steep hill after another. A girl can get a really good workout just walking into town in the morning to see what’s what.

There is more to the hills than aerobics, however. In the 1830s and 40s, these hills were probed for their large and easily accessible amounts of lead and zinc. Hence the name, “Mineral” Point. This was a booming mining town up until 1849, when everyone turned their sights to California in search of gold.

IMG_2287 (1)But, before that happened, loads of Cornish miners came here. In a hiking trail pamphlet I picked up at Merry Christmas Mine Hill, the miners from Cornwall are described as “some of the best hard-rock miners in the world, [who] arrived with knowledge accumulated through centuries of experience at deep shaft mining in their homeland.” Wow. Don’t you wonder how they knew to come here? Remember, this was way before text messaging and telephones. I guess someone wrote someone a letter and the rest was history.

In fact, there is a sign in the town alerting us to the fact that Mineral Point is the place most like Cornwall in all the world, outside of Cornwall. I don’t know Cornwall, but apparently, I do now. I totally approve. The Cornish pasty I got from Red Rooster CafĂ© was delicious. They also make something called figgyhobbin (sweet pastry with raisins). Haven’t tried that yet. But I will.

The house I am staying in is very comfortable and full of lovely creations made by its owner, Lisa Hay, who also owns a candy shop downtown called High Street Sweets. Lisa paints things and displays them throughout the house: chairs, vases, picture frames, toilet plungers, tea bags. Yes. Tea bags. There is a small display of teabag paintings in the sun room upstairs. Each bag has a distinctly beautiful miniature image of a bird painted on it. Brilliant.

IMG_2292This residency was awarded to me by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters for having won the Wisconsin People and Ideas poetry contest this summer. I want to thank the Academy for this wonderful gift. I have never won first place in anything (before this.) Don’t worry, though. I may be wandering the driftless, writing poetry, climbing hills, and craving figgyhobbin, but I won’t let any of it go to my head.

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