Monday, January 19, 2009

Does this mean the ice road is open?, or why I love Ashland, Wisconsin

I'm writing from what I've come to realize is probably my favorite place on this blue planet: my hometown, Ashland, Wisconsin. Nestled against the southern shoreline of Lake Superior, Ashland is an unassuming town of 8,000 people. It hovers between idyllic and despondent as it boasts an immense lake more akin to an ocean with water that waves a dark blue of crushed velvet and a national forest that it is too easy and wonderful to get lost in. The city also suffers from the diseases that plague most rural habitations - economic depression, isolation. But Ashland is experiencing something of a revival. I attribute much of these successes to the fabulous people who live here (and particularly the mayor, Ed Monroe, who is a phenomenal human being and visionary when it comes to the things that matter in a community like Ashland).

It gets very cold in Ashland, so cold that on the small bay that shelters the city (Chequamegon - that's pronounced shuh - wah - meh - gun) the lake actually freezes to the point where an ice road allows automobile travel between the mainland and Madeline Island.

Madeline Island is one of 21 Apostle Islands that make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Madeline is the only island with a permanent community, LaPointe, and the ice road, or a wind sled bring residents of LaPointe across from the island to commune with the rest of the world during the cold winter months.

As I sit in the Black Cat coffee shop, one of the pieces of evidence for Ashland's current cultural renaissance, a group of well-bundled young people stomped in, covered in snow. The proprietors of the coffee shop waved and chortled. "Does this mean the ice road is open?"

The winter pilgrims from Madeline Island have arrived. Scenes such as this are why I love this particular piece of the world quilt. And why Ashland is a better place to write than any other I've found.

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