Driftless Terroir: Embracing Peace While Sheltering at Home

by Heather Harris

My last “Driftless Terroir” column (August 2019) described the tension I felt between the call of my core self toward the natural world around me and the daily responsibilities of chaotic career and parenting duties. I urged readers at that time to “give and take of the abundance” around us, to stop and register the beauty outside our southwestern Wisconsin doors. Now, I’m writing from my rural cottage after a month of “sheltering in place.” How the tables have turned! 

Heather Harris

The days seem to have stretched. Rather than commuting to downtown Madison, I work from home at a make-shift desk, overlooking a forest landscape. Colleagues have been replaced by a pair of flirting cardinals in the tree outside my window. Fleeting evenings and weekends with my kids have evolved into exciting days of homeschool, intentionally prepared meals and relaxed playtime. There are no excuses for further delay of any project I’ve ever put off. The Universe seems to have given many of us a demand to stop and smell the newly emerging daffodils and embrace simpler living.

With lots of time to think, my overwhelming returning thought is one of gratitude that I am situated during this crisis right in the heart of the Driftless Region. While not everyone is similarly positioned, I’m personally grateful to have miles of rolling hills, twisting streams and oak savannah to explore without many signs of civilization. 

Initially, I found that digital connectedness and media chaos still had the ability to take over my time at home if I let it. But eventually I found ways to be more self-aware and to embrace all that springtime in this area has to offer during this period of uncertainty. Making time each day to disconnect and enjoy the outdoors has become a necessary act of self-care.

A friend recently told me that “spring has always felt like an exhalation.” It’s true that the natural world around us hasn’t stopped its progression toward glorious summer, “rough and ragged at first, then smoothing out as it remembers how.” 

As I raked a few years of neglected pine needles and brush out of my yard, I uncovered what I thought was a big toad, but upon closer inspection had yellow thighs that revealed it to be a Cope’s tree frog. It seemed to smile at my ignorance that tree frogs even exist in this area, then provided a great science lesson for my second- and sixth-grade daughters.

Meandering on less populated hilly roads, we’ve come across pheasants, coyotes, foxes, deer, turkeys, vultures, beaver and all sorts of other animal neighbors we don’t often get to interact with. These encounters have inspired many conversations, drawings and research opportunities for our family.

Green has replaced the dull of winter, creating a happy atmosphere for our time at home. Lilies, daffodils, iris, crocus, stinging nettle, grasses and all manner of tree buds have begun to fill our yard with bright leaves stretching toward the sun each day. With time to notice, I see their progression over the hours. 

My daughters and I selected seeds and are tilling the clay loam in order to have a family garden for the first time in years. We may attempt some wattle raised beds woven from long flexible branches of trimmed trees and bushes. 

We’ve even happened upon a few history lessons. Digging in the herb garden near our 1840 house, we’ve found pottery, buttons and part of a doll’s face from tenants gone by, and have begun to invent stories of how they might have come to be there. 

Our physical activity has increased as we’ve embarked on outdoor adventures, exploring streams and forests, looking for nutshells, feathers and budding branches for interesting bouquets or just generally running and playing to our heart’s content. It has reminded me of childhood summer and given me feelings of freedom and peace. 

Outside of our home base, there has been an overwhelming feeling of community as area farms continue delivery of fresh eggs, meats and veggies, small businesses find creative ways to continue to sell their wares and community members show support by purchasing, sharing and helping deliver locally sourced goods.

We likely have months ahead of us where we will need to continue to be creative and careful in our cohabitation. Now is a wonderful time to embrace the outdoors, focus on self-care and compassion, revel in time with our loved ones and show support for our region and all it offers. 

Heather Harris is a fourth-generation Mineral Pointer and director of marketing at Overture Center for the Arts in Madison. She is a mother, occasional writer, artist and actor and a life-quirk enthusiast.