JIMINY SPRUCE ACRES -- With a song in my heart and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow whispering in my ear I returned this week to the family property just outside Whitehall, Wis.
It is a small tract of land, barely 4.5 acres, but it holds great natural beauty and the promise of tomorrow. It is bordered on the south by the meandering Trempealeau River, which holds catfish, northern pike and an occasional rogue German brown trout that could bend your rod in half.
It would have been too close to humanity for Thoreau -- the traffic of U.S. Highway 53 buzzes nearby -- but a heavy canopy of white pines, silver maples and boxelders effectively buffers the noise, making it possible to escape without intrusion to a forest floor alive with wildflowers, butterflies and signs everywhere of whitetail deer. We even saw a fox kit cross North River Road and duck into the lush underbrush.
This is the forest primeval
The murmuring pines and the hemlocks
Bearded in moss, and in garments green
Indistinct in the twilight
Stand like Druids of eld
With voices sad and prophetic
My father purchased this land more than 30 years ago, with plans to build a modest home just above the river floodplain. It never got done, but we are not ready to abandon his dream. On Friday we took a wooden bench he built years ago and placed it on the sandy bank above the Trempealeau, a great perch from which to watch the river flow, read a good book and contemplate our small places in the universe.
It is a start, and somewhere I'm sure Dad is smiling.