I have always liked to can fresh produce in the fall for my family's winter enjoyment. I have also always liked cranberries. One year I decided to combine both of these, but I never knew that wanting homemade cranberry sauce would bring a friend and I into a life and death situation.
My best friend and I went on a mission to find out where the cranberries grew and to bring them home to make into sauce. Neither one of us knew how or where they grew, both of us being city girls, but we did have directions on how to get to a cranberry farm. Following these sketchy directions, we made our way into the depths of Wisconsin. It was a rainy and gloomy day for two friends to be out and about, especially when the two of us tend to make each other rather excitable. Onward we went, driving and driving, in what we hoped was the right direction. Finally, after driving for a couple of hours we found a landmark that was listed on our direction sheet, a big old oak that was split down the middle.
We turned off the main highway and drove onto a true country lane. It was barely passable in some spots for one car let alone for some of the logging trucks that we passed. Often we had to pull over and stop to allow the big trucks to go on by. The shoulders were a bare minimum in size. The road was slippery from the day's rain. Our nerves were beginning to fray. This small wet dark road led us to another landmark, a blue mailbox. We made a right turn, which led us to a dirt road. This road had a hill at every turn. There were many turns. We drove slowly because not only did we have the feeling that we were given phony directions and were lost but because of all the rain this dirt track was a sucking swirling mess. We were almost ready to give up our goal, turn around and go home, when we found our next landmark; a street sign that read,"Bog Trail." We were not sure what that meant but our directions told us to turn there and we did.
This was paved road and fairly level. It was made treacherous because of the other drivers. I am sorry if there are any Wisconsin drivers reading this but the next is just a statement of my own beliefs and observations of that day. We discovered a few things that day about Wisconsin drivers. They don't know the meaning of posted speed limit signs, they think that "reduced speed ahead -- 45 m.p.h." means 45 m.p.h. per head in the car. Wisconsin drivers also prefer to take their half of the road out of the middle. We were at the end of our tethers and were relieved to know that we were getting close because "Bog Trail" was the last road before we got to the cranberries. We thought the name was unusual for a road that was tree lined on both sides but we figured what did we know. Not much as it turns out.
We saw a large sign that said, "CRANBERRIES." A shout of victory went up in the car. We turned off the road, into the driveway. We knew it was a driveway because of the lawn, patio furniture and the house. Our directions explained that the driveway would wind up a short hill, that the processing shed could be seen at the top of the hill. We could easily see the shed off in the distance. All we had to do was stay on the driveway, drive up in front of the shed, and someone would be out to assist us.
The main drive gave way to a much narrower driveway. My car, which was small barely fit on it. Our nervous excitement suddenly gave way to a sickening dread. Right in the pits of our stomachs. On either side of the car was water. Not water as in mud puddles from the rain but as in mini lakes. Each lake must have been 20 feet across.
The lakes seemed to follow the driveway wherever it went. Driving on this was like driving on some crazy maze. I would ever so carefully make a turn only to realize that it dead ended. I then had to back up and do a semi-turn around. My friend was my lookout to make sure that I did not back off into a lake. We were beyond nervous by now and were laughing so hard it made driving even more difficult We were just a little punchy from the arduous trek through Wisconsin. It was either laugh or cry. The smaller driveways went every which way without seeming to ever end or lead back to the main driveway. We drove like that for what seemed like 15 hours but was probably more like 15 minutes. Finally, we saw a straight stretch of road that looked like it would lead us back to the main drive.
As we were nearing the wider, safer drive a man came toward us. He appeared to be happy to see us and was waving in welcome. He was standing at the beginning of the maze. My friend looked at me and said, "It's about time someone came out and took care of us." We were relieved that our adventure was coming to an end. We were also feeling a sense of excitement. Our excitement quickly turned to fear when we met up with the gentleman at the start of the main drive.
Very quickly it became clear that what we thought were waves of welcome and friendship were really waves of rage. He was not very welcoming at all. I pulled the car up next to him and rolled down the window. He hollered, " Shoulda known it woulda been a woman driver. Don't have the sense God gave a toad. Shouldn't be allowed behind the wheel." He then screamed, "What did you think you were doin' drivin' down there? You coulda been drowned. That isn't a driving place. That's the bog!" With nerves on the edge of breaking, being tired, and hungry I let loose on the unsuspecting stranger. I told him he needed to give out better directions over the telephone, that he had better teach his fellow Wisconsinites how to drive, and it might be a good idea to learn how to control the weather. Then just for good measure that if I wasn't supposed to drive down there he should put up "Do Not Enter" signs. With that he pointed to a 5 X 5 foot blaze orange sign that said, "Not a driveway, Do not enter." My anger deflated, I was shamefaced, and I hung my head. The fear in our stomachs reached into our hearts and we began to cry. His anger abruptly dissipated when he realized that he was responsible for our crying. As he showed us the way to the processing shed he went onto explain what we had spent the day wondering, how cranberries grew.
Cranberries grown close to the ground on a viney plant. While growing and ripening they are covered by the plant. They are not easily seen. They stay that way until they are ripe. Where the cranberries grow is filled with water once they become ripe. The cranberries float to the top and are skimmed off. The machine used for this operation sits on either side of the bog, the part we thought was a road. After being skimmed, they are loaded onto a truck. Then they are taken to the processing shed, where we were supposed to be.
The flooded areas are called bogs, which explained the road sign. The bogs are 7 to 10 feet deep. The "roads" we were driving on are only 7 feet wide, my car is 5 1/2 feet wide.
While I was driving and turning around, I brought us very close to a watery grave. If, during one of my turns I had miscalculated and we slipped into the bog we very probably would have drowned. Once again we dissolved into tears. The kindly farmer tried to console us. He became much less angry and way more nervous. His wife came out of the shed to see what was going on and she yelled at him for not ever having put up a locked gate at the beginning of the bog. The farmer and us both learned a valuable lesson that day.
He learned that when his wife said to do something he had better pay attention. Our lesson was even more basic. It was and still is, if the road looks as wide as the car, it probably is not a road.
We both still enjoy canning in the fall, and each year we still go out to the cranberry bogs, except now we stick to the main roads.