December 27th, 2009 - Back to Surreality

As I have previously mentioned, Ashland, Wisconsin lies at the corner of Twilight Zone Street and Surreal Avenue.
Our latest foray back there for the Christmas holidays only stands to reinforce that adage in my mind.


And so, this is Christmas.
I think this is where the president of the local power company lives. I noticed the lights down our street alternately dimming and surging for short periods on Christmas Eve, at about the frequency of the chase lights in their yard.
Well, it just ain't Christmas without about a megawatt of lights and an inflatable Moonwalk for Santa's elves to fly around in, that's for sure.

Meanwhile, it's hard for me not to think of this "Picture of the Day" I saw on National Geographic's website recently of gold miners in Ghana. It really struck me hard.
This was not taken in the 19th century; this was taken in the 21st century. Harsh.
Let's just take a step back for a second and think what it takes to get us that next 'wear-it-once-a-year' gold earring. Last year Americans spent over $1 billion on Christmas ornaments from China. In 2007, Americans spent more than $39 million buying nativity scenes shipped in from the far East.
What I want for Christmas is for us to think about who we are.
I have to admit, our family did pretty well on scaling back the consumptive 'purchasing for the sake of purchasing', and oblivious wastefulness that has bothered me in past years.
I'm proud and encouraged to see more and more people in the First World realizing that they actually are part of some global excesses. I'll leave it at that. For now.


Okay, back in northern Wisconsin, the lines of latitude and longitude are converging on weirdness.
Outside my mom's bathroom window, an apple still on the tree maniacly grins more of a Halloween sentiment than a Christmas wish. Mmmm. Golden Delicious. Maybe a little too golden.

We drove up after, through, and during some pretty big snowstorms, which turned into rainstorms, hailstorms, and then back to snowstorms.
It was really just like being in one long dim precipitate cloud from mid-week until we left on Saturday afternoon, when we saw the sun for a short time once we got back on the road, then we drove back home into the cloud of even more mixed precipitation.


Strange snow creatures began to appear in town, such as this Jurassic Park of sculptures in a front yard near Beaser Park.
(Site of my former elementary school, the same building where my grandmother attended kindergarten. "Beaser wheezer, lemon-squeezer, stick your head in an ice-cream freezer...")
Okay, sorry for the brief departure there.
Above we have the Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus, and something resembling a Manatee, all faithfully represented with the expressiveness of really wet snow.
The family of sculptors themselves all came to the front window of their house as I was taking the picture, very gratified to have their work captured digitally. Snow is such a transient medium, as we have learned from Frosty the Snowman, and you have to hope it's appreciated before it morphs into something else or disappears completely. I should have tried to capture them in the front window responding to the moment of fame with their art in the foreground. Ahh, L'esprit de l'escalier, why do you torment me..?


Here, Happy the Dog gets his Christmas talking-to from my mom.
What an expression. Sharon says he's doing his Mongoose/Meerkat impression. No doubt. That is a spot-on observation.
As we were driving up there,
I had been thinking about two places that I wanted to visit/revisit on this trip.
One was the strange farmhouse that we came across on a during our Thanksgiving trip, the other was this train trestle that had been haunting the back of my mind for some time.


My dad and I used to hang out at this train trestle when I was a kid, as 'Fish Crik' runs nearby, and I remembered it like something out of "Stand By Me" (with the outrunning the train scene) or every time I saw a film like "Kelly's Heroes", "Where Eagles Dare", "The Guns of Navarone" or that movie that ends with a standoff at the Canadian Border on a huge train trestle, can't think of the title.
It's a big one. I talked to my cousin Paul before we went looking for it as he was/is a mechanical engineer and used to go fishing out there too. He said it's a bit of a standout.


If I heard him correctly, it's the tallest weight-bearing trestle of it's type in the whole of the state.
It used to be a railroad bridge,  now has had it's tracks lifted and has been converted to rails-to-trails corridor; for snowmobiles in the winter, and hike/bike on hard pack gravel in the summer.
I don't know how high it is. I should have taken some guesstimates off of the trees, but it was raining/sleeting and we were on snowshoes, freezing our hands off, by continually soaking our gloves from bracing off of the hillside as we made our way from the top to the bottom by cross-cutting the approach hill, which was very steep.
The new snow was very wet and the going wouldn't have been too hard if it weren't for the fallen logs and branches that you couldn't see lying under it. You'd take a step on the side of the hill and slide sideways in your snowshoes for about three feet on the bark of a slimy wet branch, plowing a bank of wet snow until it either piled up and stopped your slide or you slid off of the branch.

I found a listing on a website that sounds a bit like this bridge, but I don't think it's the same one. The one described on the website is a 'traffic' bridge that's 151.3 ft. long, built in 1925. This one has to be at least that long, maybe even older (at least originally, it's all wooden girders and poles, covered in creosote) and I'd say at least 80 ft. high from the valley floor. The stuff dreams are made of. I had to laugh after I took the picture above by hanging my camera over the top of the retaining fence. I had to stop and check to see if my camera was in black & white mode. That's the kind of day it was. It is a color photo, you can see the blue of my snowshoes at the bottom and the green saplings if you click on it and look at it larger. heh.
Sharon thought it was a pretty interesting excursion and we had a good hike in from the closest road, across the bridge and down through the valley and up the other side.
As I was exploring the wash directly under the bridge, I found some fresh either wolf or coyote tracks (probably coyote but you never know).

They ended near this weird double-culvert, and I thought for sure I was going to get some beady red eyes by sticking my camera in there and taking a flash shot, but no. Just some old detritus and a huge Dorito bag that something had dragged in there and ravaged.
Didn't get time to check out the other side...
I can remember as a kid my dad and I putting our ears down on the tracks in the middle to see if we could hear or feel any trains coming from far off, and to see if we should "start running" (see Stand By Me reference). This was long before the movie.


Our other stop was at the house by the windmill that we found during our sunset drive over Thanksgiving.
It got really dark while we were there last time, and I wanted to go back out there and see the house in the daylight. You see, I'm a bit smitten with it. I don't think Sharon is as smitten as I am, but it is for sale.
On a whim I typed the address into Google and sure enough, up popped the Realtor information: Wisconsin farmhouse on five acres, two-car garage, yours for $74,500 while you "restore it to it's original grandeur." Amazing. Either it's in rough shape or haunted. The taxes are only $861 a year, I think my mom living in her two-story in town without acreage pays more than $1500 or something for hers.

It's got nice fruit trees alongside; looks like apples, and maybe a plum tree out back.
A nice summer doghouse for Happy alongside, complete with hay.
There are a couple other big trees, (Aspens?) and the awesome porch, facing west and north toward the lake (Superior), a ways off. Maybe you could see it from the roof on a clear day.
If someone would offer to set us up in it, I would be happy to work out a deal for them to share in the royalties of the novel I would plan on writing there. The creaking windmill across the road adds to the ambiance.

So that's it. I don't know if Ashland would continue to be as surreal if we lived there, or if we would just become a part of it and be one of those houses with too many tacky lawn ornaments and junk cars in the driveway.
It shows a new side, sometimes subtly, every time we see it, I'll grant it that.
Even the pine in my mom's backyard had a new face during this last storm. The next morning the heavily-laden branches from this night were catapulting snow everywhere as it warmed up.
It's all part of the surreal movie set that is Ashland, Wisconsin.

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