Great American road trip: Wisconsin curds and Georgia O’Keefe

Even when whizzing through a state on the way to somewhere else, it’s possible to make observations. One can discover something new or remember a detail known, but forgotten.

As I am writing this, we are whizzing through Wisconsin on our way to Minneapolis after a night at La Quinta Inn in Madison. This is one leg of our road trip to Montana. No time on this leg for stops–except to pee and fill up on coffee and gas. We’re on a schedule with people to visit by dinner.

Still, I want Wisconsin to have more impact than the breakfast we had this morning which was just like the breakfast we had at a La Quinta in Denver two summers ago.

La Quinta Inns might be the same everywhere, but I’ve noticed a difference in barns. In Ohio, where I live, most I’ve seen are white. In Wisconsin, red seems to be the most common. I’ve also thought about the cheese curds that I bought near Wisconsin Dells three years ago when we also took this route. We didn’t have time to linger back then either.

At a rest area stop this afternoon, I picked up a brochure for Sun Prairie, the birthplace of Georgia O’Keefe. Sun Prairie is not far from where we are at the moment. Her grandparents who were Irish immigrants who settled here in 1848. O’Keefe was born in 1887 and grew up not far from her grandparent’s farm. According to the brochure, O’Keefe’s family’s house burned down in 1976, but there is a historic marker in its place. The town also has celebrations in her honor.

As we’re whizzing through Wisconsin, I’m noticing the scenery and can see why O’Keefe might have been attracted to New Mexico where she spent years painting the desert. Although Wisconsin’s land is covered with green lushness, the shape is similar to many of the hills in the Southwest. There is a craggy quality. Peel off the trees and you could be at the back of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque. Wisconsin and New Mexico are like the yin and yang of landscape.

Years ago, a woman I knew who lived in Albuquerque said she was moving back to Wisconsin, her home state, because New Mexico was too frightening and harsh because of its lack of trees. Wisconsin is like a mother, she said-with fewer sharp edges.

I’ve heard people from the desert who live in the Midwest speak of feeling boxed in and smothered by trees. They miss the vistas.

As we flew by the Dells’ exits, my son salivated over the water parks. Every hotel seemed to have one. “Can we come back sometime?” he wondered.

“Yeah, maybe.”

He’s heard a lot of maybes. Fortunately, hotel water parks are not particular to Wisconsin’s scenery. I sure wish we had found the time, though, to stop for those cheese curds.