An Open Letter to the Vegetation That Appeared in my Yard on Wednesday

Hey. I couldn’t help notice that you came out of the ground in the last 48 hours or so. Welcome! You’ll like this yard, I think; you’re in a good spot, lots of sun. Sure, there’s a ton of wood chips where you are, and I have to warn you there’ll be more to come. Trust me, I don’t like it any more than you do; those bags are heavy and dusty and it’s a miserable job spreading them all around, but they keep down the weeds.

You’re not a weed, are you? I can’t tell. You have lots of thin fronds - is that the right word? They’re not leaves. They’re not shoots; heck, you're way beyond the shoot-phase. If I saw just a few shoots I would be pleased, because that’s a sign of spring, and it is April. Looks like you might have a flower in you when the time comes.

Blades! That’s the word, blades. Like the grass. Odd thing about the grass, when you look at it - oh, right, well, I’ll describe it. The snow receded over half the yard, so the grass is exposed. It’s green. Can’t figure that out. Summer comes, no rain, I don’t water, it goes brown. Dormant. But cover it in snow for six months and it comes out green at the end. Front yard’s like that too. Zombie grass, I call it.

Around you there’s some dead stuff that will come to life eventually. Some plants just turn into sticks and then they green up and blossom. There are vines under the wood chips, they’ll be sprouting soon. I hate those things, but it’s satisfying to pull them up and get three, four yards of vine, like ripping the red string in a Band-Aid strip. Get used to the tree you’re under, because he drops stuff all over the place in May, when the growing really starts.

Say, about that. It’s the second in April. I don’t suppose you have a calendar in the usual sense; something told you it was go-time. The amount of sun, the length of the day, however you guys figure it out. But the first thing to start up around here, that’s usually the tulips and the blue flowers on the ground cover out front. Funny thing about that - it’s really a weed, or it would be if it was in the lawn. Then I’d be out there cussin’ and sprayin’ and trying to get rid of the Spurge or Creeping Charlie, but put it in an empty area without any grass and it’s ground cover! One man’s meat, as they say.

Is that how it goes? One man’s meat is another man’s poison? Not if it’s poisoned meat.

Sorry. Anyhoo. Nothing out front and no tulips in the back, and to be honest I wouldn’t expect any. It’s April second. We think April around here means spring and warmth, and sometimes it does, but more often than not it’s raw and dank with a few days of snow to keep us from getting “cocky.” That’s a word that means “happy and optimistic,” I guess. Last year we got blizzards in May; land’s sake, people were drawing dotted lines on their wrists with Sharpies just in case it went through June, so they’d know where to cut.

Now there’s a reason nothing is growing yet, and that’s why we’re having this little chat. I appreciate you popping up and giving everyone a sign that things will get better, but I’ll be honest. You jumped the gun and makes you look a bit foolish. Oh, I’m not disputing it was 50 the other day, but it’s going to get down to 29 tonight and we got six inches of the white stuff en route between here and Friday. So you’re going to be buried, that’s what I’m saying. God’s spade is going to dump a clump or two on your lid, and you’re going to wish you’d waited. It’s possible you’ll freeze solid, and the only way you feel any warmth is if the dog lifts a leg in your vicinity.

Hope you make it, friend. Just wanted to say it was nice seeing you. And I appreciate the gesture.




The worst sort of day. The worst. Nothing remotely resembles a column idea. Oh, I have dozens of things to write about, but not for this particular venue.

On the other hand, the editor-in-cheer is on vacation, so maybe I should just do limericks for 27 inches.

I blame this childless week and the dog that will not leave me alone and the weather, which is set to dump half a foot of snow by Friday. To boost my spirits I walked around downtown today, looking for something new - and that’s hard; it’s not like Manhattan, where you’re always discovering something new. I know this place rather well. But sometimes you forget to look down an alley:

Let's step back for context:


Yes, three walkways between the buildings. It's a whole new world up there on the second floor - which annoys the planners, because they want everyone to be down on the street, for the sake of Vitality. This way you get more shops on the street level, and people are strolling and looking in the shop windows, something mentioned in each-and-every story I ever read about new urbanist ideas. Ideally people should live six blocks from work, walk on the sidewalk to work, pause twice en route to work and twice on the way back to examine the goods in the window, and then return to their home on the 23rd floor.

This will not happen downtown and it will never happen downtown, because there’s the skyway culture above. It will happen in outlying neighborhoods, where there aren’t skyways, and the residential complexes form actual neighborhoods. But the priests of The Street will continue to pound away against the skyway and for the model of Paris or New York. Which are wonderful: who doesn’t like window-shopping in New York? But that’s a city with the inherited density of a century and the population of the entire state of Minnesota.

But, to be fair: swing around from the alley, and voila :it's like I live in a REAL CITY!



Apartments. I’d love one of those if I was filthy rich and didn’t live here, and just wanted a pied a tierre when I came to town.

I went back to the office through the skyways, which were packed at 2:30 PM, the cafes full, the coffeeshops humming, each building and its atrium distinct in character from the last. We used to be proud of this. I still am. I remember my first trips through the skyway when I was in college, and took the bus downtown just to be in the city, how small I felt compared to the confident people in suits who had Real Jobs. I felt part of it all, but it also felt like an audition.

Apparently I passed. I forget that sometimes, to my detriment. I’m doing fine and the city, downtown, is better than any time I’ve known it, with more glories on the way. Not the worst day, at all. On the contrary: a perfectly fine ration.

Says the man who, between the start of this lament and the end, got a column idea and wrote something he liked.

A nice Main Streets update below, complete with new graphics. Fine-tuning, always fine-tuning. And the last restaurant interior update! Until it resumes with the next batch in late fall.




You have to feel bad for some towns that have quality like this::


All pictures from Google Street View, of course.

I forget where it is. Beaver Dam WI, I think; I was there to find a restaurant for the end of the Interiors site. Everything was low-res and blurry and disappointing. It was all a miracle when they first did it, of course. It will be fixed when they do it again.

They will. I don’t know how often they do it, but you know Google will drive every road in the country. Again.

I had better luck elsewhere down the road.


Prosperous times yielded a solid storefront, the pride of the town:


Turn right and you'll see downtown. Down the block, on the right:


All pictures from Google Street View, of course.

Big building for the town; you wonder who paid for it. Google Woodard and Clinton, and you’re asked if you want Woodward and Clinton, and then it’s useless links about Washington DC, newspapers, and hotels.

Found an account of the leading citizens, and I suspect that the title of the book was whimsical: “The Ancient History of Clinton, WI.” Especially since it was write in 1898. (The area was settled in 1837.) It lists a George Woodard as the fellow who manages the daily affairs of the Citizens Bank of Clinton. It appears to have been founded by A. Woodard Sr., and A. Woodard Jr. was the cashier.

Did it have a fire? Yes; like all towns, it had a Great Fire. This one wiped out the business district in 1896. The town as about 2100 people today.

Let's move along.

You can tell this was a supperclub of some kind, right? But it had a name on the side that requred any new owners remove the name, keep the name, or do what architects to when they make a mistake:

Plant shrubs. Looks like "Salamone" to me.

Downtown has its blank moments . . .


All pictures from Google Street View, of course.


And some fine old signage.


All pictures from Google Street View, of course.

If you look closely, you can see the multicolored tile from a 50s or 60s renovation. Also, if you look closely, you may think "why am I looking closely at an old shoe store in Wisconsin?" Because that's what we do here.

There's a restored Official Building:

It has to be a Federal building, right? The Romans would be proud to see something like this in a provincial capital.

I'd given up on finding movie theaters; the downtown ones are gone, and the old pictures of downtown make you a bit sad. Then . . . this. Holy crow:

It's the STRONG Building - a remarkably foresighted structure that went up in 1923.



Let's take a tour!


Regrettable lobby renovation. In fact, the interior seems to be as devoid of detail as the exterior abounds with it.

Restaurant update, as the pane above demonstrates; Work Blog in small portion around noon-thirty or so; Tumblr, of course, every day. See you around!




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