The first few photos I took on our big trip were of our immediate area, the Driftless (or Coulee Region, as it is also known), which is this amazing unglaciated (hence, “drift-less”) region that includes Western Wisconsin and small sections of the surrounding Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. Rather than gliding over this part of the state and rendering it flat like the rest of the Midwest, the glaciers instead split somewhere up north and by-passed its rolling hills and deep valleys, preserving its undulating beauty and making it off-limits to the kind of large-scale agriculture and suburban sprawl we’ve encountered out on the Great Plains. Instead, it is a home to small dairy farms, numerous Amish, back-to-the-landers, and a few amazing humanly-scaled organizations in and around Viroqua, its unofficial capital.
Because this blog is a potential promotional space, I feel compelled to highlight some of these extraordinary institutions:
- Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School, which my husband and his three siblings attended, is a no-nonsense, uncharacteristically-affordable Waldorf school which is now I believe 30 years old. My daughter has just completed kindergarten here and will be starting first grade in the fall, rainbow bridge and all.
- Organic Valley, which brings countless real foods to our table and sponsors this blog, among other things.
- Driftless Folk School, which offers classes in sustainable skills.
- Youth Intiaitive High School, a small Waldorf high-school whose mission is to involve the students and the parents into the governance of the school and fundraising in a major way.
- Viroqua Food Cooperative, where the majority of my food comes from. Seriously, I don’t know what we’d eat otherwise, besides the meat and the veggies that we raise. Most of the food here is organic or otherwise ethically-sourced, and everything I bring home from here is good, pure, and true.
Thank you for your attention. Now back to the local landscape.
Apart from riverbanks, which have their own topography, the two major features of the Driftless are its ridgetops and valleys. When you are up on the ridge, the landscape is similar to that of the plains – relatively flat land is plowed-up for cultivation, only here the farmers arrange their fields in narrow strips that follow the contours of the hills to minimize erosion.
The hillsides, on the other hand, are too steep to farm and are covered with woods – a home to the area’s wildlife, including some plentiful and delicious whitetails.
The widest of the picturesque valleys below can be cultivated and the soil is rich, but they can also be colder than the ridge-tops (the difference that can be crucial during the delicate times on both ends of the growing season), and it gets dark sooner. The valleys here are often criscrossed by clear, cold streams favored by trout and fly-fishers, some of whom drive up here from the nearby urban centers like Minneapolis, Chicago, and Madison.
To get to Iowa, the first state we crossed, you have to drive down to the Mississippi River at the town of Prairie du Chien – one of the oldest in the state. Here are the photos from that scenic drive:
Being stuck behind a big hayload that is stuck behind an Amish buggy on a highway is a common situation.
Alternating corn and beans, but not as much of them as in flatter areas of the country.
Lots and lots of dairy farms. It’s the Dairyland after all. I am pretty sure God led me here for a reason.
See how the fields are actually on hilltops?
This rolling topography has a distinct effect on the identity and the mentality of the people who grow up around here, I think.
And this, finally, is the Mississippi river.
A few more photos of the area can be found in this post:
The next post will cover our tour through the thrilling Iowa and Nebraska. Stay tuned!