Whenever someone in the Triangle finds out that I was born and raised in a relatively rural area in Wisconsin, it seems like his or her first reaction is to think of what I must’ve lacked while growing up: shops within walking distance of home, public transportation or—the real kicker—number of days in a year where I could go outside without fear of frostbite.
What most people who are used to the luxury of walking to the grocery store don’t realize, however, are the things that Wisconsinites have in abundance (well, except for cheese—I swear that some people down here think the reason that Wisconsin developed a cheese named “brick” is so that we could build small cities with it).
One memory that’s stuck with me since my early days in the South occurred during my first semester of college at Carolina. I’d gone for a walk around campus, and, right as I was about to cross Stadium Drive near Carmichael Hall, I realized that it truly felt like fall for the first time in nearly a year. The air was cool and dry, the sun hung low in the afternoon sky, and I was about to enjoy one of my favorite autumnal traditions: taking a deep breath of fall air for the first time in months. Since fall—or, at least, the feeling of fall—starts considerably later in the year in North Carolina than it does in Wisconsin, this moment was long overdue.
Back in Wisconsin, the autumn air has an almost euphoric quality. The temperature is perfect: cold enough to refresh but not cold enough to chill. The air is almost pristinely fresh, and, as the humid summer begins to give way to a bone-day Midwestern winter, the air becomes so crisp that it actually develops an almost physical bite. I don’t think that I really have the words to do it justice, but take my word: it’s refreshing, it tastes wonderful, and it’s just enough to give me a big, goofy smile whenever I get the chance to experience it.
As I was standing there on campus, I fully anticipated that exact same feeling; after all, I’d never experienced fall outside of the Midwest. What I got, however, was complete, utter and heartbreaking disappointment.
To give you an idea of what I experienced, imagine your favorite crispy food, whether it be a potato chip, cracker or some kind of wafer. Now imagine that you haven’t had a chance to eat this particular treat in nearly a year, and, rather unexpectedly, you come to realize you happen to have a nearly inexhaustible supply within grasp. You grab the first one, you go to take a bite…
…And you find that your usually crispy delight feels like it’s been soaked in tepid, stagnant water for an hour. It’s not just that it tastes bad—it’s that it feels entirely wrong. Instead of that satisfying crunch you were so eagerly awaiting, you get mush.
Seriously, imagine a mushy, lukewarm potato chip. It’s disgusting, and it’s exactly how the air felt and tasted in that moment.
I really don’t expect to live there again, but I could never choose to skip out on being a born and bred Wisconsinite. While, sure, it would’ve been nice to have less than eight months of winter growing up, and, yeah, the difficulty of developing plans with your friends who lived forty-five minutes away from each other was a bit of a pain, there are a bunch of things about growing up in Wisconsin that I could never give up—especially those deep breaths of autumn air.