On the wall of the Halley Bus Company, there is a map of the twisting route the school bus takes, picking up and returning the children of our area on its daily run. But the inner sense one has of this wide sweep of country is simpler than the map line. Make the bridge the starting point and the route is a plain loop which climbs and broadens toward the west and turns at the top, the loop pinching back on itself like a word bubble in a comic strip. It retreats from the house where Lawrence Lugar lives with his wife, Lawrence whose main wish in life has been that his son farm his land.
This whole stretch of countryside is as fine as one could find—a patch of old logged-out country, its plowed fields rimmed with a new growth of trees. In springtime, on the hills and bottom lands, a black and white spattering of dairy cows etches itself cleanly in the green world. There are no cows, though, at the beginning of the loop. Instead there is a hint of settlement, a dabble of houses beyond Klein’s Bar with its sign for Wisconsin cheese, a tangle of roads and the aggressive rise of three hills, shaped like cabbages, that sidle back along the creek and shape the bends in the road where, when winter comes, cars can skid, losing the curve, and slide into the ditch, burying their hoods in snow. In winter, too, at four in the afternoon when the early drinkers at Klemper’s Bar have seen the school bus stop deep in the interior of the loop, the sun rolls down the curve of those hills and disappears.
Winter is our true season here. We have our summer days, of course, July days when all the air feels as boiled and heavy as the vapor in a summer kitchen. We have weeks at planting or harvest when clear skies and warm winds leave us dazed with utter pleasure. But shiver in a cold rain in August or glean corn in the dying fall, trudging along the sheared off stubble of a back field, and a sudden wind lodges winter in you as if it is the only season.
There is our winter sun, the pale circle that burns in a sky of lapis lazuli. There is the way the snow gusts across the valley in thin sheets and how all the children’s swings in the yards along the creek road move riderless in the wind, how the heifers step through the ice of the creek on the bitterest days of cold to drink the water. And then there is Lawrence, who is retired from farming to a new workshop and an old pickup truck, and who lives with Pauline in a house next to the farm he sold when their son didn’t want it—Lawrence who lives his life by the seasons.