A trio of white sea gulls with black-tipped wings wheeled in gliding circles beside the blue trussed bridge we were crossing. I commented to my daughter, “Seagulls are always hungry and looking for food. Those three probably belong to a huge colony. I’ve heard them described as ‘flying rats’, but unlike rats, they help clean up the environment. They aren’t picky about what they eat.”
Tammie said, “Despite their bad reputation, they’re pretty birds.” Taking a few short glances around, she added, “Wish I could look around a little, I’ve always liked the view from this bridge.”
“You’re not missing anything. Just keep your eyes on the road!” I nervously suggested, internally noting all the other cars ahead, behind and alongside us. I asked, “Will you tell me again about the place we will be visiting today?”
Dutifully, my daughter complied. “I found a beautiful website advertising an orchard tour in the La Crescent area. The place uses hoop houses. They grow grapes, apples, berries and make wine. It sounded interesting and I thought you’d be interested, since you have a hoop building greenhouse.”
The highway was built on the side of a bluff. Following a curve around the huge land form, we could look down at the farmland in the valley below. I said, “The view feels like we’re flying a small airplane at low altitude.”
“Take a right turn at Knob Road in one-quarter mile.” Startled by the GPS woman’s voice giving instructions, I glanced down at Tammie’s phone. A moment later my daughter slowed and turned.
The new road started out paved, but after a few miles became a gravel road. Tammie complained, “The heavy rain-storm the other night washed away a lot of gravel.” She wasn’t exaggerating. Deep ruts eroded the hilly road.
Rounding the side of a bluff, the elevated left side of the road was particularly washed out. Looking closely at the shrubs in the ditch to my right, I realized with a start that they were the tops of trees growing far below! “Hmm…Tammie…” I suggested, “Don’t drive too close to the right side of the road…OK?”
When we finally arrived at the open hillside meadow where the orchard was located, we were disappointed. Everything looked dilapidated. Loose plastic on small hoop buildings flapped in the wind. Nothing looked neat and cared for. Following the driveway, we circled a barn where multiple ancient machinery sat, more in decay than in display. There were no signs indicating that they gave tours or hosted wine and cider tasting. I said, “Maybe this isn’t the right place. It looks like Ma and Pa Kettle live here.”
Tammie protested, “This is the address from the website.”
Looking around at the unprofessional layout, I marveled, “They had a really good website designer.”
“Too good.” Tammie affirmed. “We’re going to leave before anyone comes to greet us.” From a small pasture near the barn, a small herd of cud-chewing cattle passively watched us drive away.
“I’m sorry that didn’t work out.” Tammie apologized as we drove back across the bridge into Wisconsin. “Do you remember the coupons Greg and Donna left for us on the table in our cottage?”
“Yes.” I said, “For free glasses of wine at a place called, ‘The Branches’. I’ll be happy to go there since it’s been given so many glowing reviews.”
Driving east on highway 33, we swooped up, down and around the bluffs. One stretch had me in total awe. “This is like a view you’d see in Europe!” On a plateau in the middle of ordinary farm land, we turned off the highway. After our last disappointment we wondered what we’d find this time.
We pulled up to a new building surrounded by a large, well-cared for vineyard. The hostess, in the airy barroom which was illuminated on three sides by windows, said, “Before you choose your free glasses of wine, would you like to sample a flight of wines? You can have three for free or six for five dollars.”
I took the free three and Tammie ordered the flight of six along with a plate of snacks. We found a table near a window. They served us a huge platter of three cheeses, sausage, crackers and olives. Sharing our bounty, we had a great time discussing the color, bouquet and flavor of the sweet, mellow wines reminiscent of visiting a small winery in Europe.
Although we hadn’t flown across the Atlantic Ocean for this vacation, we’d experienced more than one type of flight that day. We saw great natural beauty and were in surprised, startled and scared in turn. As all good days should end, we spent the afternoon warmed by the sun, eating savory food, drinking sweet wine and enjoying pleasant companionship.