The Mighty Mississippi from Eagle Ridge, Ferryville, Wisconsin

by Alden Cole on June 1, 2013 · 0 comments

MightyMississippi12″ x 24″ acrylic on masonite panel

Tuesday May 14 friend Charlie Zimmerman and I packed his Subaru BRZ with two weeks worth of clothes, a few books, plus painting supplies for myself, and headed for Ferryville Wisconsin, with a three-night stop-over in Chicago. We arrived there Tuesday night after a 14 hour drive low-lighted by a couple of massive slowdowns of the “stop and crawl” variety – the first just as we were leaving Philadelphia, the other in Ohio where it took 2 hours to travel 8 miles. We arrived in South Chicago just before 9:00 central time, and called our mutual friend Joyce Dunn who guided us to North State Parkway via Skyline Drive and Lake Shore Drive, which provided spectacular night views of Chicago’s awesome skyline.

What had occasioned all this traveling? An invitation early in January to visit Ferryville, Wisconsin in May, from my first-cousin Marge Cole Thompson, and her husband Dewey. They were the first to purchase a painting from my December email series, Cole Farm on the Hill #2, 2013’s first sale. During our email negotiations, Marge reiterated her invitation of many years – to come visit them at their eyrie in Wisconsin – a trip I had always begged off  for “lack of time” or “lack of money.” Times are different; I still don’t have lots of $$, but I’m wealthy in friends and family, and time I’ve got.

Marge & Dewey offered me the use of their condo in Chicago if I needed a place to stay en route, so I started thinking. In February I asked them if I could bring a friend. They agreed. I called my old friend Charlie who lives in Ocean City NJ to see if he’d be interested in driving west for a few days. He signed on. In March I called an old friend Joyce who lives in Chicago to let her know that Charlie and I were headed her way, and hopefully we could get together. She was thrilled. The three of us had been friends while we were together at RISD in Providence RI back in the mid-60s. Although Charlie had seen Joyce in Chicago about a decade ago when he was there on business, I hadn’t seen her since 1974 when she left New York and moved back to Chicago where she hailed from. Our contact had been pretty sporadic since then. Now here’s the interesting synchronism – Joyce lives a mere block away from Marge & Dewey’s condo on North State Parkway, just 3 blocks from beautiful Lake Michigan. How’s that for convenience? Mid-way between the two condos is Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, an illustrious edifice that spans a width equivalent to several brownstones, now also turned into condos since Hugh moved west. From the 10th floor condo where we were staying we watched some repair work being done to the large roof area, and in my mind’s eye I could almost see back in time to when Hugh hosted some pretty amazing parties on that roof.

But I digress. Joyce, when asked if she’d be interested in traveling with us boys to Wisconsin, responded with enthusiasm. When queried if such a gathering were possible, M&D responded that they had 3 guest bedrooms, and we were welcome, as long as we didn’t expect them to entertain us, aside from providing us all with some really fine dining experiences, thank you Dewey. We accepted the challenge to be ideal guests, scheduled 5 nights in Ferryville, with plans to return to Chicago, spend another 6 nights there, then return to Philadelphia on Tuesday May 28, a fortnight on vacation in the midwest.

And so it happened. After 3 nights in the Windy City (indeed it is) the mod squad of 3 old friends packed our stuff into Joyce’s Subaru Forrester and headed west, past Madison, to Prairie du Chien, where we turned north on route 35 following the course of the mighty Mississippi to Ferryville. On the left lay the Father of Waters, on the right the bluffs carved out by the river in days of yore, rising hundreds of feet above the water, limestone bluffs usually topped with trees. On the outskirts of town a roof protruding slightly above the top of one particular bluff caught my eye, and I thought “how cool to have a place up there with such vistas.”

As it turned out, that roof spotted from the river road below belonged to the home that was our destination. Soon after driving through the small burg of Ferryville, population less than 200, we turned east away from the river via a county road into the interior, which led up to the ridge-road that sat atop the bluffs overlooking town. Finally, at the end of that road – Eagle Ridge – we arrived at the amazing octagonal house that M&D call home.

The views from the property are spectacular: high on a 500 foot bluff overlooking the majestic Mississippi River, which runs 3 miles wide at that point, just south of the causeway bridge to Lansing, Iowa on the western shore of the river, a few miles south of where Minnesota sits atop Iowa. And the house itself is surrounded by wonderful gardens.

Saturday morning I set up my newly acquired French easel in a lovely spot overlooking the garden and river, and painted the view you see above. After a few hours, the shady spot where I was painting turned very sunny, so I decided to call it a day, found a shadier spot, and made plans for a new painting on Sunday.

Stay tuned tomorrow…



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