I have been attending a Tuesday “bring your own lunch” group via Zoom. With so many limitations on my social outlets, I decided to get over my discomfort with eating in front of people. The group varies in size, but it is usually around 10–15. Topics also vary, with the conversation flowing easily.
While the group is local to Chicago’s western suburbs, many people have roots in other places around the country. One Tuesday, we talked about regional foods. I mentioned “lefse,” — which is a staple of my hometown in Wisconsin. Only one person on the Zoom had even heard of lefse. I tried to describe it as “kind of like a tortilla… sort of….” and quickly turned to Google to find a photo.
I grew up in a small town outside of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Norwegians settled in the area (hence the lefse). But town itself got its name from the French description of a game played by the Native Americans who lived there. The very earliest European settlers were French fur traders. The city itself is nestled where three rivers meet: the Mississippi, Black, and La Crosse.
La Crosse is part of the Driftless area in Wisconsin. During the ice age, moving glaciers missed this area entirely. While surrounding areas were flattened by the massive glaciers, the Driftless area is characterized by ridges, valleys, and bluffs.
Within the Driftless area, La Crosse and the surrounding towns are known as the Coulee Region. Coulee derives from the French word “couler” meaning “to flow.” Rivers and streams are bountiful. The dead-end road I called home growing up had “Coulee” in its name.
I never realized how breathtakingly beautiful the area is until I left. I spent a brief amount of time living in Kansas. I came “home” often. There was this spot driving along the highway in Minnesota that crossed into the Coulee Region. I would round the bend and get a first glimpse of the hills and rivers, and think, “I’m home.”
Of course, now I have lived in Illinois for more than 10 years. My visits back to the Coulee Region are less frequent. While living in the suburbs of Chicago brings its own kind of excitement, the lifestyle is very different than how I grew up.
Back to Bring Your Own Lunch club.
After the regional foods discussion and my education to the group on lefse, the following week, we talked about travel. More specifically, how much some of us missed traveling and seeing different parts of the world. The moderator asked: “If you could live in one place for the rest of your life, where would it be?”
I love Chicago. I love access to the Art Institute and museums. I love finding things to do with my family and the diversity of its people.
But when this question was asked, what immediately came to mind was “home.” I would want to spend the rest of my life nestled in the Coulee Region.
I remembered a visit I had several years ago. I still had several relatives living in the Coulee at the time. I sat with my aunt out on the porch, early in the morning, drinking coffee. No one else was awake yet. We talked about places to live and what it would be like to wake up on a beach with warm sun and sand.
But as I looked around, seeing sheep grazing, hearing the distant early chirping of birds, and watching the sun peek over the hills, I thought, “I don’t know… this seems pretty perfect to me.”