50 States of Generosity: Wisconsin
We’re continuing a series at Tweetspeak — 50 States of Generosity. We’re highlighting the 50 states of America and giving people beautiful ways to understand and be generous with one another by noticing the unique and poetic things each state brings to the country. A more generous people in the States can become a more generous people in the world. We continue with Wisconsin.
Wisconsin (capital Madison)
State fruit: cranberry. State bird: robin. State flower: wood violet.
I have never been to Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, but I do have a good friend who lives there. In every season she writes poetry and takes photographs about the natural beauty around her. I got a smile-filled photo from her in February with this message: “Zero degrees. Windchill -16. Two mile walk for the win today.” She’s one of the toughest women I’ve ever known. I can only guess she celebrated her excursion with a bowl of ice cream.
And why not? Wisconsinites consume 21 million gallons of ice cream each year, and the first ice cream sundae was concocted in Two Rivers in 1881. But I wanted to focus on a different Wisconsin export, one that needs extreme cold to thrive: cranberries, my favorite fruit.
More than 60 percent of America’s cranberries come from Wisconsin, mostly from twenty counties in the state’s center region. The only month in which those fresh berries make it down to where I live is in November, and I buy multiple 5-pound bags and freeze them to use all year. But those bags represent only 5 percent of Wisconsin’s crop — the other 95 percent is made into juice, sauce (shloop!), and dried fruit.
The fruit was originally known as the “crane berry,” partly from the flower’s shape and partly because sandhill cranes eat them. Edward Sacket, of Berlin, Wisconsin, gets credit for first harvesting the berries, back in 1860, but, as cranberries are one of our nation’s three native fruits, they were harvested by various Native American peoples much earlier.
Cranberries do well in Wisconsin because it gets so cold. Like many fruits, they need chilly hours to lock in their tart sweetness. But how do the berries survive -16-degree temps? Ice! In December farmers spray dormant vines with water so they get a good layer of ice to protect them from bitter cold and wind. That cold blanket keeps what is deep inside until the time is ripe.
In A is for Azure, an alphabet book like no other, written by L.L. Barkat and illustrated by Donna Z. Falcone, C is for cranberry, “a cranberry twirl.” Almost every day I find an excuse to twirl my cranberries into something. During the heat of summer I use them to refresh my soul with a splash of cold.
into steel-cut oats
add dairy, a splash
of orange, fall flavors —
(Read about another fruit that needs chill hours to grow sweet in next week’s By Heart column, when we read a poem about peaches.)
Poetry Prompt: Wisconsin Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about Wisconsin (research more, if you want!), and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About Wisconsin: Poets & Writers + More
Al Jarreau, singer, musician
Georgia O’Keeffe, painter (turns out, not from New Mexico)
William Ellery Leonard, poet, translator
Liberace, aka Mr. Showmanship, pianist and entertainer
Laura Ingalls Wilder (but you knew that if you read Little House in the Big Woods)
Thornton Wilder, playwright, novelist (turns out, not from New England)
Frank Lloyd Wright, architect (turns out, not from California)
Bob Uecker, aka Mr. Baseball, play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers
Browse more 50 States of Generosity
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro