Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wisconsin Yard Art Inspires Kansans

Elizabeth and Eugene in Kansas

Wisconsin Yard Art Inspires Kansans
by Greg Larson

I’m convinced that Wisconsin is king when it comes to yard art. There’s lots of it, and the folks in the cheese state take pride in their lawns and the accoutrements therein.  Gretta and I admired the yard art while touring the state three times by bicycle.  Contrary to what you may think, we did slow down to “smell the roses” and look around while traveling through the towns and cities.

Touring the Cheese State
The most prevalent theme was the Dutch boy and girl, with colorful variations throughout the state.  We identified the Dutch couple statuaries as "Elizabeth and Eugene," our middle names.  Calling them by our middle names is a whole story in itself, which I won't go into now.

Here are some of my favorite photos of yard art. etc., with anecdotes listed below each one:

Proud Couple
While I was taking the picture above, a woman came out of the house and exclaimed, "So, you like my sweet couple!"  She was obviously happy that someone appreciated her handiwork.  She informed us that she had just recently repainted them, and she added, "And it's no easy task!"

Two couples in one photo!
We were drawn to the yard with the windmill, the Dutch couple and a plethora of yard art at this location in Rhinelander.  But I thought the property owner had missed a marketing opportunity.  I kept looking for a custard stand or a miniature golf course.  A beer and brat garden would have been perfect, too!  Maybe the zoning wasn't right or they just preferred to display their yard art.

Miniature golf, anyone?

Making a Point!
Not too far across the Wisconsin state line is Strawberry Point, Iowa.  We found an ice cream stand a couple of blocks from this town's ground-zero, bought a treat and then walked up to admire the iconic image.  Wow, this strawberry could be considered  "high art!"  Anyone familiar with Claus Oldenberg?  But I won't get into a protracted discussion here on "what is art?"  I wonder if any Wisconsin city has a giant cheese curd mounted prominently on top of a tower?

Does this tell us anything about Packer fans?
Just before I took the picture above, we spent an afternoon with a few hundred cyclists at the Steven's Point Brewery.  The Brewery offered free samples at a beer garden on their lawn, and we sampled just about everything before making the return trip to our hotel.  On the way back to the hotel, the gates came down on a train crossing which was next to this yard and house.  We had plenty of time to admire the yard art, but viewing it was somewhat surreal, due to the effects of the beer, the train whistle and the crossing bells!  Maybe the owner's fascination with the yard art is also a defense mechanism for living so close to a railroad track.

Where have all the dwarves gone?
At one of the towns along the Wisconsin River, we slowed down and stopped at the front yard shown above.  I was certain this was the house that displayed Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in the front yard the last time we toured Wisconsin.  I didn't see Snow White anywhere, but I decided to take pictures of two Dutch couples, anyway....the pair shown in the front yard, and the pair in the side yard shown below.

Virtual Disneyland
Lo and behold!  What came into my viewfinder as I prepared to take a picture of the second Dutch couple?  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves!  Relegated to the backyard, no less!  The shame!  The following is only pure speculation, but as we pedaled on, Gretta and I concluded that the husband and wife (we gave them fictitious names of Karl and Mildred) were on the verge of needing marriage counseling.  Karl's co-workers at the paper mill down the road were giving him a hard time whenever he met them at the local bar after their work shift.  While drinking the Old Milwaukee on tap, they'd say, "Karl!  You've got to do something with Snow White and the little guys!  They don't fit your image."  The assemblage of Snow White and the dwarves was an embarrassment to Karl, even though he had agreed to the yard-art with his wife........after all, it was her idea.

We speculated that Karl talked Mildred into allowing him to move the major display to the back yard, but at a high price.  The negotiated deal probably included some diamond jewelry for Mildred and also included a lot of Karl's sweat, which was required to relocate the entourage of figurines.  The rental cost for the fork-lift to pick up and move Snow White was no small item, either.  But the snickers from Karl's buddies at the local bar and grille have subsided, and we're sure that he now lives in peace at work and home.  What a great country!

The Mother Mary of all yard art
Grotto Gardens was a shady afternoon respite on a long 88 mile day on the tandem.  Located in Rudolph, Wisconsin, it covers most of the grounds at the Shrine of Peace and  Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine and Museum.  It was established by Father Philip Wagner, fulfuilling a promise he made to the Virgin Mary after a 1912 pilgrimage to the Lady of Lourdes shrine in France.  Father Wagner was cured of debilitating exhaustion he was suffering while studying for the priesthood in Europe.

While taking the rest break, I filled my water bottles and sucked down some Vanilla Bean Gu Gel.  Then I slowly walked through the gardens and crossed a small footbridge.  As the statuary scene above came into view, I imagined a children's choir of a thousand voices filling the air.  It was a sight to behold, ranking above all other yard statuary seen on the trip.  A feeling of peace washed over me, along with the boost of caffeine from the Gu Gel.  I was ready to ride again.  At least I had overcome my temporary exhaustion.

Cheese Curd Stonehenge - Potential Yard Art?
Gretta and I developed an appreciation for fresh cheese curds while in Wisconsin.  Once you've had fresh cheese curds (yes, the ones that squeak when you chew them) you will never want to eat any curds that are not fresh.  I became fascinated with their shape and came up with the ingenious idea that they looked like part of Stonehenge.  One idea led to another, and I concluded that large fiberglass replicas of cheese curds in Wisconsin could rival the pink flamingos or the Dutch couples in yard art status.  Depending on the size of yard, each homeowner could display all or just a portion of Stonehenge.  An entire miniature golf course would fit into some of the larger replicas, whereas a few simple fiberglass "stones" would make a nice backdrop for a flower garden!  The picture above is a stonehenge model I created from real cheese curds. If you know of any venture-capitalists interested in funding fiberglass fabrication of cheese curds, let me know!

Cozy garden for Kansas pair
So that brings us to the Dutch couple shown above, Elizabeth and Eugene in Kansas.  Some friends had inherited the concrete sweethearts, and after seeing how excited Gretta was when she saw them, they decided the Dutch couple needed a new home.  Imagine our surprise when one day the figurines appeared on our front porch.   We've recently given them a new coat of paint and they are displayed prominently in our flower garden. 

Eugene and Elizabeth in the Kansas kitchen
We also have "Elizabeth and Eugene" salt and pepper shakers, complete with an accessory windmill in our kitchen in Kansas which remind us of Wisconsin yard art and of Holland, Michigan......whence they came.  But that is yet another story for another day.

The Making of Stonehenge in Two Days

You, too, can have fun in retirement!


Creating a cheese curd replica of Stonehenge was a unique experience. The first task was to see if cheese curds were available in Kansas.  I found some large-sized curds at the grocery store, then purchased a green covered foam board for the base, and cut pieces of toothpicks to attach the cheese curds to the base board.  Maps and photos of the real Stonehenge were readily available on the internet, and once I determined the proper size for the circle, I was deep into the project!  Some last-minute mozarella pieces were necessary to create the larger central stones.

At one point in the middle of the fabrication process I had a flashback to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," when Richard Dreyfuss was creating the Devil's Tower model.  I had an eerie feeling that I might find crop circles in the back yard the next morning!

As I awoke, my big toe detected some harmonic vibrations at about 5:00 am......Oooo!

Stonehenge in two days!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

River of Dreams

Dad -  fixing his fishing line (1962)

Dreams…..we all have something in common.  They occur most every night, but are so elusive, quickly evaporating from our memories.  Some dreams include the hum-drum, everyday occurrences, yet others are so bizarre they are impossible to describe.  For something that occurs so often, we know so little about them.  They tap the power and material in our brains, throwing the images back to us in unusual ways.

River of Dreams
by Greg Larson

It was an early spring morning in the heart of the Flint Hills and the dew was heavy on the bluestem prairie grass.  I was deep in thought, scanning out upon the horizon, where the sun was beginning to rise.  I looked back at a farmhouse and saw my dad walking toward me.  The house didn’t look familiar, but I noticed the lawn was neatly cut and the climbing rose bush had begun to bloom on the trellis.  It was a peaceful setting in the mellow light.

Dad looked at me and said, “I’m leaving early, and I’ll be ahead of you. If you want to go fishing with me, I’ll be about seven miles south of here on a bend in the river, near the highway.  I hope you have time to stop.”

I broke out of my near trance-like state and responded to him, “Yes, I’ll see you later!”

He drove off, picking up speed down the gravel road; the limestone dust billowing behind the car as it disappeared into the trees along the creek.  I wished I had listened to him more closely.  How was I going to know the exact spot on the river where he would be fishing?  I might have to walk a mile or two, and the weeds and brush could make it difficult for me to find him.

And then I woke up.

I had been dreaming, and as I awoke the realization hit me that Dad had passed away over a year ago.  I wouldn’t be able to go fishing with him again, at least not in this lifetime.  But I began to think about the amazing subconscious area of our mind and how it works while in the dream state.  Fishing along a river wouldn’t have been my first choice for picking an activity with Dad.  I would have envisioned a golf game on a pristine and empty golf course.  I have decades of memories of playing golf with him, including beautiful spring days on the public courses in Wichita during his later years.  

But deep down, I knew that fishing was Dad’s favorite pastime.  He had a passion for fishing during his childhood and into his adult life.  Somehow my subconscious had picked up on that fact before the dream began to stream across the synapses of my brain.  Indeed, Dad took me fishing many times when I was young.  It was a perfect time to be with him.  We were outdoors, and he was relaxed, enjoying the time spent fishing with me and my brothers.

It was a fleeting “river of dreams” moment. I wished the faux reality had lasted longer, allowing me to find him on the river.  I would have been able to put the bait on the hook and cast the line out into the channel.  Then I would have sat beside him, taking the time to visit, or absorb the silence side-by-side, watching the river roll by us.  Maybe some early morning in my dreams I’ll see him driving back out of the trees toward the virtual farmhouse, returning to take me fishing with him.

Dad with his stringer of fish