Wild city // A refreshing journey

My husband and I needed a little R & R around Easter this year, so we went off to a Wisconsin inn for a few days. We stayed at the Brambleberry Bed and Breakfast, a working farm about 40 miles east of La Crosse.

We found driving through farm country in the spring restorative. Seeing all the young cows, horses and sheep in the fields brought out the excitable kid in us.

You turn up a narrow road to get to this B & B, and you pass a couple of their rural neighbors on the way in. One has a street sign on the driveway that says, “Easy Street.” But — I had to laugh — these same people have on the archway leading to the front door of their trailer house a sign that says: “Twilight Zone.”

The Brambleberry B & B should have a sign up that reads, “Comfort Zone.” A couple, Sherry and Chris, run the place. Chris grew up on the farm. His parents still live in the house down the hill. Lucky, the dog, ran up to greet us. With black and white scattered markings, plus one blue eye and one brown eye, he appeared to be part lab and part whatever else (my mother would call him a Duke’s mixture). He came right over for a pat on the head, and then leaned sideways against my leg, as though the attention were making him swoon.

The sheep pasture and small barn are right next to the house where guests stay, and the smell of manure greets the weary traveler. I wondered about the wisdom of that configuration for a moment, but our city noses are so hopelessly sanitized. I quickly understood the pleasures of proximity: You see and hear the sheep as you come and go. Our second floor room faced front, and we could see the sheep out our window. Their presence — their looks, their baaing, and yes, their smell — were relaxing.

This B & B is a good place for anglophiles (my husband is one). It has a British Isles theme, complete with a full suit of armor by the door, tartan drapes in the dining room, and books on English history and architecture in the library. Sherry keeps the cookie jar full of Scottish shortbread.

Because they are located in the country, some miles from restaurants, the innkeepers serve breakfast, but also offer lunch and dinner on special order. They specialize in locally grown organic food. The meat, vegetables and fruit come from their own farm. It does not get more local than this. 

Even in April, not exactly a harvest month, we were served eggs from the girls in the henhouse, pork sausage and ham from pigs raised there, rhubarb and asparagus from the garden, and berry wines made from homegrown fruit. All the food was delicious, but Sherry’s scones were world-class. Both light and moist, they may be the best I’ve ever had.

A highlight of our stay was eating meals with the other guests. Sherry and Chris have a knack for drawing everyone together. We sat around the table for hours telling stories and laughing.

It was lambing season, and we got a quick lesson that could be called “Farming is Not for Sissies.” Twin lambs were born early in the a.m. on Easter, and the ewe, a first time mama, had trouble. It was a breech birth. The female lamb was OK, but the male, weakened and injured from the struggle, lay on the pen floor in a heap.

The innkeepers invite guests to witness lambing. My husband and I had not gotten up in the middle of the night to see this, though I got to hold the stronger lamb when it was just hours old. A couple of the other guests had gotten up for the birth, and they reported that the full moon was up, and that a pack of coyotes, drawn to the ewe’s bleating, or the smell of blood, or both, had come in close and howled.

After three days of feeding the male with a tube to his stomach (he was never able to get up to nurse) Chris writes in their blog, the lamb’s eye glazed over and his skin got cold. Chris put him in a box, carried him far from the barn, laid him in a hole he’d dug, and shot him to end his suffering.

Chris had to do this, though of course he didn’t want to. He and Sherry “spoil” their sheep, they say. They are tender with them. The sheep respond to their voices, accept care from them, and follow them around.

The same day Chris buried the unfortunate one Sherry called him at work to say another ewe had gone into labor. This time healthy twin lambs were born.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center.