Note: This column was written late Saturday afternoon, before fresh snow fell and covered the sidewalks, the side roads and trails.
We're walking southward, the dog and I, alongside M-26 past the hulking industrial buildings with corrugated steel walls that nearly blend with the heavy gray sky. Cars and trucks roar past, but the wind muffles their sound. We have asphalt underfoot. There is occasional litter in the sand-crusted snowbanks off to one side: a tall Old Milwaukee can, well-flattened; empty Seneca cigarette packs; an empty glass Five O'Clock vodka bottle.
In Hubbell, walking on concrete sidewalk now, we pass a surveyor's office. Antique implements of that trade are displayed in the front windows. This is fitting because these are the tools that have shaped the environment so far: the highway with its level grade and its straight white lines; the sidewalks; the buildings on their rectangular lots, facing perpendicular to the road.
The top of the old Ahmeek ore stamper comes into view. We make a right turn on Sixth Street, head uphill on Golf Course Road. This seasonal road is where the transition starts. Where it is not covered with snow and ice, the road surface is a patchwork of old asphalt before it fades away completely into sand, clay and gravel.
We turn left, onto the railroad grade, where four-wheeler ruts are frozen in snow and ice. On the grade, the work of the surveyor and the engineer are still clearly in evidence. The grade curves gradually and evenly toward the bridge that towers over Hungarian Creek.
There is no sound of traffic up here. The wind is hushed, somewhat, by the bare tops of the birch and maple trees on either side of the grade.
Reaching the bridge, we make a right turn; scramble up a steep, slippery hill; head back toward Hungarian Falls. Where it is not covered in snow, the ground underfoot is now a mix of red sand and clay. The bare ground is littered with aspen leaves, all a uniform pale tan color, damp, slicked flat to the ground. Instead of brick buildings or ones clad in corrugated steel, trunks of trees rise on either side, mostly birch and aspen with an occasional white pine.
On the left, on the edge of the creek ravine, stands a remnant (an outpost) of the engineer's trade. This is a crumbling bridge abutment, made of Jacobsville sandstone.
This sand and gravel trail back to the falls has been shaped by the feet that have trod it, by water, and by the roots of white pine trees. The trees surrounding the top of the lower falls are nearly all pines. Their tawny needles blanket the ground.
The falls are going like it's spring run-off time. Rushing water drowns out the wind.
We stand on solid sandstone now. Down alongside the creek, wind stirs a few dry leaves still clinging to the thin branches of a very young oak tree. Water roars over the edge, drops onto ice below. We stand for a while, looking out on the expansive view that opens to the east.
Walking back down Golf Course Road, on the ice and the snow and the patchwork pavement, I see a sign off to the right alerting snowmobile riders the intersection with Sixth Street is approaching. It is made of plywood. Its paint has weathered. Where the yellow paint has flaked away, moss has grown on the bare and weathered wood.
Back in town, in Hubbell, an uneven sandstone retaining wall props up the front edge of a vacant lot. Some of its stones have fallen out of place. Clumps of grass, sapling trees, grow out of the spaces between its stones. Nature claims outposts of its own.