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Recent circumstances required me to clear my head. When I was a younger man that meant a five-mile run. Age has made that a lost alternative, so I tried something I’ve never done. Something that sounds old, but wasn’t at all.
I took a drive in the country.
This is a stress response that I have long pondered: Get in the car and drive. Jump on a train and see where it takes you.
So, on this day I drove. It was wonderful to see where my car went.
With no plan, I headed west past Verona and Mount Horeb, to Barneveld—the "Town that Blew Away."
For those new to the area, in June 1984, this small farming town was visited by one of the most powerful F-5 tornadoes to ever touch ground in the United States. Barneveld was utterly destroyed. Thirteen lives were lost and many more changed forever.
But I knew the town before the Big Wind came. In 1970, before my junior year in high school, I signed on to bail hay and do chores at the Bunbury dairy farm just outside of Barneveld. The thought was that it would make me stronger for football, but the benefits proved to be far greater than bigger biceps.
The farm had been in the Bunbury family for generations. Tom and Marijo Bunbury, a young couple just out of college with a baby, were then running it for the family. Tom, now a successful real estate magnate, had grown up in Madison and attended Edgewood High School while living the dual life of a farm boy.
For two summers I carried milk pails, drove a tractor, stacked hay bales on a wagon and again in the mow. Tom and Marijo were patient with me. If nothing else I was comic relief as I learned the ways of manure and sweat. It was, quite simply, the purest form of work I have ever done.
And now, for some reason, my car was taking me back there.
I find the land of southwest Wisconsin to have a beauty that rivals the rural vistas of France and Ireland. The rolling hills, the wooded dales with bedded deer that dot every farm. And over all of it stands the Great Blue Mound.
The drive took place on a warm first week of this past December. The crops were in and the sun was bright. The brown, stubbled fields yet to be covered in snow added a golden hue to everything. The low December sun made it magic hour all day.
It had been 47 years since I last visited the farm. The fear was that I wouldn’t find it, but, like a bell cow to the barn, my car headed to the right place. My SUV drove through the web of trunk roads directly to the Bunburys’ driveway.
Just seeing it took my breath away. It allowed me to think about when I was young, and the independence that drove me to leave town in summer to work as a hired hand—an interesting move for a young guy, and a precursor to other moves in my life.
I lingered at the entrance to the farm. I took a few pictures. And then I decided to keep driving. I checked Google and discovered that there were only 30 miles of farm roads between me and Mineral Point, a town that I have passed but never visited. So I did. I idled by Pendarvis and the old mining homes still clinging to the steep hills. I took a selfie on the main street to send to my buddy Mike who grew up there.
It was still light, so I looked at my phone and found that it was only another 30 miles of back road to get to another interesting town, Spring Green. So, I drove there, too, marveling at the towering hills and cliffs that announced the entrance to the Wisconsin River Valley and Taliesin, a part of our state known by all the world.
The sun was fading. I headed home, freed from the consternation that drove me to the road by the pure, timeless beauty of the lands just outside our town, and the perspective provided by the memory.
A wag once wrote, “The worst thing about getting old is remembering when you were young.”
But on this day, on the quiet farm roads of Wisconsin, those memories weren’t bad at all.
In fact, they were reassuring and comforting. As was the freedom of just getting in the car and seeing where it would take me.
So, when in doubt, drive.
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.