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Different is Good

I’ll admit I’m a fish out of water. Living in Wisconsin has widened my world, and it is something I never anticipated. I will be reveling in this experience for the rest of my life. All I ever wanted to do was live on a little farm with animals, wildlife, and gardens. Look at me now! It was an unlikely life event, but you know what they say: Thoughts become actions and actions become things.

I grew up with horny toads, snakes and of late, have come to have the unfortunate privilege of knowing scorpions and coyotes all too well. I was engaged to be married to my Midwest boyfriend in July during a monsoon dust storm. I can identify any kind of cactus, insect, and desert plant, and can estimate the outside temperature based on how the sun bites at my skin.

Yeah, I’m a desert rat.

Living in the Wisconsin lifestyle is as juxtaposed to Arizona as it gets. There are some Midwest things I didn’t know existed and still others I may never understand. But all that’s okay. It keeps my mind sharp and curious. Every year I have to adapt to something new, often blurting out, “You’re kidding. I had no idea.” But likely these Wisconsinites would say the same about Arizona. Stop and think about the diversity of our country. I’m not only talking about people and cultures, but I’m including geography and landscape. Here are some of the earliest things I learned about the Midwest.

They have humidity. Humidity levels in Wisconsin rarely drop below 55-60%. In Arizona, the humidity can get as low as 10% on a summer afternoon. The dry air can choke you as you watch plants shrivel and die. Conversely, there have been times when the Wisconsin humidity was so thick, I had trouble breathing. One positive observation about humidity is that my skin and nails are healthier. Wisconsinites have something called dehumidifiers to take water out of the air. The water table is so high they use sump pumps to keep water from flooding the basements. The well we use for irrigation in Arizona is one thousand feet under the surface. This Wisconsin wetness takes some getting used to.

There are a lot of bugs. I was forewarned about Wisconsin ticks. We don’t have many ticks in Arizona. I didn’t know ticks had a season of preference. I didn’t know the many ways they could infiltrate my home. My paranoia has receded a little, but just this morning my husband picked one off his leg, trying to attach and feast. I believe they think he’s special. He’s had more ticks than my dogs ever did. I tasked him with stripping the bed for laundry and cooking the bedspread in the dryer. These are new tick killing skills for us.

Yet, Arizona has scorpions. Bark scorpions. They are the most poisonous scorpions in the world. I am so paranoid, I can spot a scorpion ten feet away without my glasses, at three in the morning, while still in a sleep stupor. This results in a scream like a little girl that is designed to get my husband to fly out of bed before it escapes.

But a week after living in Wisconsin, I found my true nightmare on the windowsill above my bed. This creature appeared to be a cross between a tick and a scorpion. Does it get any worse? Research determined this ugly bug, a pseudoscorpion, was quite harmless and truthfully, I haven’t seen one since. This fear I can set aside.

My education continues. I have learned August is spider month, so watch where you walk at night. June is the start of firefly month and a delightful experience for young or old. There are boundless earwigs that can strip an herb plant overnight. Ants are ferocious, but I admire their ambition. Deerflies like dark hair, so I wear a cap to prevent bites and most irritating, literally, if I get enough mosquito bites, I can run a fever that night. › scorpions-in-wisconsin

Wisconsin has fairs, feasting, and festivals that go on for months. We’re a stone’s throw from four other counties and attend almost every county fair near us. Then there are the festivals with local artisans and musicians. The fair food does not disappoint. Many people walk around with corn cobs in hand, dipped in rich butter that dribbles down their chins. There is always barbeque, evidenced by the annual Rib Fest. Count on brats, funnel cake, and platter size meals. I usually hear my arteries screaming after a night at the fair.

Tractor pulls. Many of these fairs include big draw attractions like tractor pulls. What’s the big deal and why do tractors need to pull? Is this really an event? Tractors are a source of pride in the Midwest and let me tell you the importance of these working beasts.

Yes, we’re in farm country, but it goes deeper than that. I learned firsthand why having a

powerful tractor is a blessing. Something always needs pulling or moving in these parts. As I write this a fallen tree in our field waits to be dragged off the property. A tractor is going to do that. When a road is blocked by storm debris, it’s usually the closest neighbor that clears the road. Unless there’s an issue of danger, someone will jump in and fix the problem instead of waiting for the county to clear it. He or she is the hero, plain and simple. A few years ago, our neighbor who drove a big rig, parked it in his field for the weekend. By the end of the weekend rain, the rig had half it's tires sunk in mud. What pulled him out? You got it. A neighbor’s tractor.

Bubblers vs. Drinking Fountains. No one around here refers to spouting water as a drinking fountain. It’s a bubbler and there’s a long-standing history to consider. It started at the turn of the 20th century. There are numerous rumors tied to the Kohler plumbing product company, which got it's start in Wisconsin. Perhaps it was a push from the Milwaukee newspaper to select a name and stick to it. It could be the adage that Germans, many in southeast Wisconsin, choose names that label something’s function. Any of those legends could apply, but the truth is still a mystery. I was quickly brought to my knees when mistakenly referring to a water source as a drinking fountain. I mean, all of us desert dwellers care about is that it’s water and wet. Not in Southeast Wisconsin. It’s only a bubbler, end of story.

Water fountain or bubbler?

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Supper clubs and fish fries. When I arrived in Wisconsin, I didn’t know what a Supper Club was or why it existed. Why would a restaurant serve only supper, the preferred word for dinner, which is really meant to be lunch. Stay with me.

Supper clubs open at 4 p.m. They serve extravagant multicourse meals with a down-home menu for a fair price. The alcoholic beverage is a usually a beer or a brandy old fashioned. On any weekend night these places are mobbed. Most have a specialty like German food, prime rib, and then there are the Friday fish fries. This is some kind of fried fish, primarily cod or walleye, served with coleslaw, potato pancakes, and a slice of rye marble bread. There is little variation on this. Sometimes there is comfort in knowing what you can expect. One year I sampled every fish fry I could find within a 30-minute drive. By the end of the summer, I still couldn’t choose my favorite. In my humble opinion, supper clubs and fish fries never get old.

I suppose you could say the same thing about Mexican food in Arizona. Any craving for spicy and cheesy is quickly resolved. The same comfort I get from a Wisconsin supper club, I get from a stuffed burrito: enchilada style, my tastebuds eventually adapting to the spiciest salsa and tortilla chips.

From their Facebook page, one of our favorite supper clubs, the Duck Inn located in Delavan, Wisconsin. Once inside it reminds you of an old hunting lodge.

So, I ask you, politics aside, isn’t this a great country? Let’s embrace our differences.

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