I saw a story this week about a 150-year-old tree in Rock County that has to be cut down to make room for the expansion of Highway 26 between Milton and Fort Atkinson. As it happens, something similar has happened in my life recently.
For as long as I could remember, a giant quaking aspen tree stood in the dooryard of the house I grew up in, just as it stood over the house my father grew up in, which was torn down in 1956. It saw me come home from the hospital after I was born, just as it saw Dad come home from the hospital after he was born. And for a lot of years, it showed its age. One night in the summer of 2010, a storm rumbled through that little patch of Green County, no different than other storms the tree had seen, only this storm fatally weakened her. "It'll have to come down," Dad said. It didn't come down right away, however. It wasn't until sometime early in 2011that the deed was done.
I was almost afraid to go home for the first time when I knew it was gone, because I feared how much it would change the place. Almost everywhere you went around the farm buildings, you could see it. It framed the space over which it towered, as if it were protecting the house in the crook of an arm. It shaded the dooryard and the driveway beyond. In the spring, it dribbled sap, so you had to be careful about parking your car beneath it. It hosted tire swings and sandboxes. Generations of cats, dogs, and kids played around it.
Like many things in life, the reality wasn't as terrible as the anticipation. The place sure looks different, but not unbearably so. The stump is still there, and it's probably going to stay. I'm glad of that, so my nephew and niece, who are 10 and 8, will be able to retain some hazy memory of the big tree that used to be in Grandma and Grandpa's yard.
It wasn't possible to count the rings, because the trunk was largely hollow. But the tree-removal guys estimated that the tree was at least 200 years old. And that's pretty incredible. That tree stood in that spot before there was any such thing as Wisconsin. When Abraham Lincoln was a boy. Quite possibly while George Washington still lived.
A friend invited me to join Twitter right after Twitter was founded in 2006. Because I couldn't figure out what it would be good for, I didn't join. In 2010, Twitter exploded into fashion, and I got on, reluctantly. I still couldn't figure out what a person could do in just 140 characters. Especially a gasbag like me, who needs 500 words just to say hello to my wife in the morning.
I can't imagine life without Twitter now. It's my go-to information and communication source. I use it more than Facebook, and I like it better than Facebook, too.
On Monday, I learned about the Boston Marathon bombings on Twitter--and Twitter was buzzing for more than half-an-hour before CNN issued its first bulletin. I've heard it said that on Twitter, you know what's happening, and on TV, you learn what happened--a subtle difference, but an important one. Since Twitter is so personal, it's a great way to find out what other people are seeing, hearing, and reading about a news event, and to add to your own knowledge of that event while it's happening.
But it's important not to believe everything you read. A lot of misinformation got spread on Monday. Somebody tweets something, somebody else retweets it, a third person retweets the retweet, and before you know it, the "something" is everywhere--even when it turns out to be wrong. A tweet is not journalism. Journalists are supposed to check with sources and verify their information before they publish it, and are encouraged to be skeptical: "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out," they say. But in world of modern news-gathering, the pressure to be first often outweighs the desire to be right--which is how CNN got so badly burned when they reported an arrest in the Boston bombings on Wednesday when there was no such thing.
When the world is calmer and quieter, Twitter is a lot of fun. I follow musicians I enjoy, comedians and actors I like, radio people I know, and friends, as well as sources of news and sports information I trust. And I crack wise on it myself. So give it a try. And if you do, follow me. My handle is ja_bartlett.
We're fortunate to live in a place where "locally sourced" matters, and where it's easy to find local food. And also drink. My friends in other parts of the country can scarcely believe just how much really good beer, wine, and spirits we've got in the Madison area, and it seems like we're getting more every week.
Everybody knows about the New Glarus Brewing Company and the Capital Brewery, but now that Ale Asylum has moved into their giant new facility out by the airport, they're poised to become one of the biggest brewers in Wisconsin. Former Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson is getting a new venture off the ground in Verona, and the former Ale Asylum location on Kinsman Boulevard is home to a new brewery called Karben 4. Plus there's One Barrel Brewing and House of Brews and the Great Danes and Vintage Brewing Company and I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting somebody.
Micro-distilling is getting bigger, too. There are maybe 250 distillers nationwide, and some of the most respected are right in our back yard. Death's Door Spirits started in Door County, but now does most of its distilling in Middleton. Yahara Bay Distillers is making brandy, rum, whiskey, vodka, bourbon, and gin; Old Sugar Distillery is making rum, whiskey, and even ouzo.
Lots of wineries 'round these parts, too. The Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac is the most famous, but there's also Primrose in New Glarus, Fisher King in Mt. Horeb, and Botham near Barneveld. Go a wee bit farther afield to find Spurgeon near Highland, Weggy near Richland Center, and Fawn Creek near Wisconsin Dells. You can hit Lewis Station in Lake Mills, Vetro near Jefferson, Staller Estate near Elkhorn, and Northleaf in Milton in a single afternoon---and I oughta know because Ann and I have done it. (Find locations and information about all of these and more right here.)
Which leads me to my next point. There's nothing better on a spring or summer afternoon--if spring and summer ever actually get here---than some beer or wine tourism. The great thing about every last one of the places I have mentioned that you can sample the product when you visit, and in many cases, talk directly to the people who make it. (Just don't oversample and then try to drive home.) Ann and I will see you out there.