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Shangri-la


By Loni Kemp

Fri, Jun 6th, 2014
Posted in All Columnists

We pack a lunch, wildflower book, camera and bug spray to be ready for anything, and head over to Choice, the tiny settlement on County Road 43 between Mabel and Rushford. There we meet up with several carloads of Harmony Garden Club members and their families, all excited for our big adventure hike to Cabbage Rocks. We gulp our coffee and then caravan another mile or so up a dirt road, down a long driveway, and park at the start of a long descending wagon road.

Many have heard of Cabbage Rocks, but few have been there. A “remote, idyllic hideaway, where life approaches perfection” is the dictionary definition of Shangri-la, and that fits this place perfectly. It is not noted on any map, and is located in a large and nearly inaccessible part of the Big Woods, part of the Richard J. Doer Memorial Hardwood State Forest. You can get there from several dead end roads, but only an experienced guide can show the way. I have been there a half dozen times over the past decades, yet the nearly two-mile hike through twisting valleys and stream crossings, up hills and down, has me stumped when I try to remember the way. Fortunately, a founding member of our garden club and native to the area will be guiding us this day.

We say hello to the landowner who comes out to greet us, and are off like a herd of turtles. If you’ve ever been on a wildflower hike, you know that we move slowly, bending over each little beauty, discussing and photographing every diverse flower we see along the way.

Even though we postponed a week, spring is still in its early stage this May morning, and the trees are just beginning to unfurl their intensely yellow-green leaves. Anemones of all types are identified and straightened out, including rue-, false-rue-, and wood, plus the related early meadow rue. Wild phlox, spring beauty, mayapple, wild ginger, and yellow flowered bellwort are a few of the old friends we greet along the way. Before the day is done we will identify 52 native plants.

The kids are charged up from helping us elders hop the rocks over one stream and then another. We traipse down a long valley, disturbed to see the amount of invasive garlic mustard showing up, obviously spread by the June flood of 2013. At first we pull a few plants and hang them on branches to dry out and die, but then the enormity of their numbers sinks in and we give up.

Our trusty guide keeps glancing up to the right, looking for a grove of evergreen trees high on the hilltop, and she spots it just as we come to our final stream crossing. Then we are facing the point of a long ridge, which we ascend, noticing as we climb that the flowers seem to go back in time, with the earlier hepatica and bloodroot still blooming here. We reach the top of the ridge and move along its narrow spine, glimpsing the wild valleys along either side. We cannot see a sign of human life.

At last someone yells, “Look up!” There the first Cabbage Rock rises, a gnarly pinnacle of limestone atop the ridge, followed by another and another. The kids race forward and some climb the rocks, leaving nervous mothers below.

Here at last is the flower lover’s treasure—the fabled amethyst shooting star. The flowers are just emerging, showing a bit of the shocking pick that will open after a few more warm days.

Another prize is found on top of a large boulder—the only habitat of the ancient walking fern. It sets new plants at the tip of each older leaf buried in the moss. Miterwort and Dutchman’s britches also thrive on the airy rocks.

After snacks and group photos backed by the towering Cabbage Rocks, we turn to make our way back. Returning to the present day world of cars, barns and roads is a gentle awakening as we appreciate the lovely Choice Valley.

Knowing that Shangri-la is always there, beautiful but lost in time and place, makes us hold the memories close.

Fried Eggs with Asparagus

Cook asparagus the way you like—either grilled or pan-fried in oil, or boiled for about 4 minutes. I like to cut them into bite-sized pieces first, although long spears look more elegant on the plate.

Fry eggs gently in two tablespoons of butter until the yolk is warm and runny, but not set. Over easy for a few seconds helps set the whites. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the egg over a mound of asparagus. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve. With a sausage links and toast on the side, this makes a nice brunch, lunch or dinner.

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