I’m rewriting the first part of this journal from my farm notebook, so that it’s easier to read, and less likely to get lost. And I’m putting it in to the blog so that it fills in some of the early history of our life at the farm.
This is what I wrote about finding and buying the farm:
1999 and 2000
We spent a lot of time these two years looking for a place in Wisconsin. We had the Y2K farm near Plum City, which we didn’t like, but we used it as a base of operations, and every Tuesday, we would set off driving around the countryside, looking. We enlisted Fred Winkler, the Edina Realty agent in Prescott, to help us. He had grown up in Plum City, so he knew all the farmers in the area. We would go around with our Plat book, and our topo maps, and find beautiful little valleys, look up to see who owned them, and go back to Fred. He would be able to tell us whether the owner might be interested in selling in the near future. We drove along most of the roads in Pierce and Pepin counties, and even a little in Dunn County. We saw lots of beautiful country, and lots of farmland, and a coyote being chased by some hunters.
We found one place that really liked just north of Plum City. It was about 160 acres, with a creek running through it, a large wetland, and a small bluff with a south-facing hillside. We would drive through and look longingly at it all. We made an offer, through Fred, to the owner, but she just couldn’t decide what to do. Her husband was dead, her daughter had been killed by an abusive husband, and her granddaughter came to stay with her. She didn’t answer our offer, and we got more and more impatient.
So we started answering ads from other realtors. We went to see some places with Dean Holden, a realtor from Ellsworth. He had a really awful place outside of Ellsworth, and a nicer place near Elmwood. The Elmwood place was a valley, mostly fields, with a fringe of woods all around and an old brick house in the middle. But there was an ongoing dispute with a neighbor, almost no natural habitat, and woods filled with honeysuckle.
One day Mike saw an ad in the Shopper – the free advertising newspaper – from Emmett Rutchow, who was selling some land much farther south than where we had been looking, in Buffalo County. He convinced us to come down and take a look. We met him at the corner of Laehn Ridge Road and Hwy 88, and followed him about half a mile to the land. He took us in his car, and drove out into the fields. We bumped along over the corn rows in his old car. After a bit the car started to overheat, so he turned on the heat to cool off the engine. It was a warm February day, and the sun was beating down, so it was pretty hot. The land was not at all what we wanted. It was all cornfields, on the top of a hill, with just a little woods along the edges. We sat in his car and explained what kind of land we did want. He said that he knew of some land like that, nearby, and he thought he could convince the owner to sell. He said he would drive us past it on the way home. He also told us about a white deer which was often in the area. We saw it along Laehn Ridge Road as we drove away. It was very odd looking; it looked like a stuffed toy, fuzzy and not real.
We drove by the land and stopped to look. We looked across a wide wetland to two high hills and a valley in between. It looked quiet and uninhabited. We were pretty excited, because we hadn’t seen anything so wild before. We told Emmett that we’d be interested in finding out about it.
Ed Barnes, the owner was happy to let us walk on the property to look at it, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to sell. So about a week later (early in March) we went down for a look. Emmett had borrowed a pick up truck to drive in with, and we drove in on the old farm road and then over the fields. He took us up to the top of the hills, to huge flat corn fields, and down into the valley where the cabin was. We could only peer in the windows of the cabin, because we didn’t have a key. He finally dropped us off in a valley at the far end of a field so we could walk around on our own. We climbed onto a hill at the back of one of the valleys to have our lunch and discovered that it had a remnant prairie on top. (Later we named it Hidden Oaks Prairie.) As we walked we saw lots of small butterfly-like moths. I later learned that they were Archiearis infans, “The Infant”; orange and brown and white. They like the muddy ruts in the road in the sun, and swarm up around our feet, sometimes as many as 20 or 30. The book says they fly “on warm afternoons in birch forests” (the caterpillars eat birch) in March to early May.
We were intimidated by the amount of land – about 400 acres – it seemed so huge and unmanageable. And it was farther than we had planned to go from the cities. We walked the property several times trying to make up our minds, while Emmett talked to Ed. Finally, a few months later, Ed decided that he really needed the money, and he would sell. But first he wanted to meet us. We made arrangements to meet him at the Mondovi Inn, with Emmett to introduce us. Ed was very nervous. He was almost rigid with fright. But he was friendly, and liked us. He really wanted to continue on with a project that he had just paid for, to plant some red oaks on some of the old fields. So we agreed to let that planting go ahead, and he agreed to sell us the land.