Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The #Midwessay: L. L. Wohlwend, Soup Town

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     

Soup Town

L. L. Wohlwend


Soup Town
Urban Dictionary; Soup Town: A bar infested, drunk haven port town in North-West Wisconsin next to Lake Superior. (Soup-erie-or). 
Example: Hey, bar closes at 2 a.m. in Soup Town.
I grew up in the city nicknamed Soup Town.
     When I was young, I thought the name referred to the many foggy days that blow in whenever there’s a strong easterly off Lake Superior. A hot July afternoon can drop 25 degrees in less time than it takes to pull on the sweatshirt that’s always nearby. Like a lot of Midwestern towns, it’s a place where small talk about the weather is good manners, not a sign of boredom.
     Except I’ve never really thought of my town as particularly Midwestern—perhaps because of our inland lake whose high crashing waves mimic the sea, or because of the large swaths of boreal forest that surround us. Our landscape does not conjure the stereotypical images of cows, cornfields, and churches: the three Midwestern C’s.
     But it does share its decline. If you were to ask most residents about our city’s nickname when I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, you’d get a joke about the dismal bars, the cold weather, or the graying downtown. When city officials came up with the slogan, “Superior, We Make It That Way,” my friends and I would scoff whenever we passed its bold proclamation on a tall metal archway near the central library. As a child, I didn’t know that Superior wasn’t always run down. Its decay was what it was and would always be.
     But what is it now? It’s a question I keep asking myself since returning home during the pandemic. The town has seen growth. New restaurants and businesses have come into the area, but nearly just as many have failed. Perhaps I should ask: What could it be? Neighboring Duluth stands as a model. It fared better over the years, making use of its old industrial areas, most notably Canal Park, which was reborn into a tourist draw before the world knew of Covid-19.
     The answer likely lies in the city’s topography itself with Lake Superior’s churning waves and white sandy beaches that turn up driftwood and ring-billed gulls alike. And the answer lies in the local university and the abundant city trails that spread throughout the third largest municipal forest in the country. With climate change encroaching, places with ample access to open spaces and clean water will likely see populations rise. Yet what cities like Superior will do about that remains to be seen.
     Out on a walk recently, along a closed winter road, I spotted an ermine—the first I’d ever encountered. Its coat was shockingly white except for a tail dipped in ink. The ermine sprinted in and out of the road as I walked, playfully leaping into crushed snow paths, before scampering back to the trees. A simple encounter, it was everything I needed on a long pandemic day, and a reminder of how quickly optimism can pirouette back into our lives. A Midwest city that truly values its natural resources: this too could be the Soup Town I grew up in.


L.L. Wohlwend is a writer living in northern Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in Passages North Writers on Writing Series, Midwestern Gothic, and other places. 

What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

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