I have been up and down the Great River Road during the past week and folks, this is where it’s at. I mean right now. The bluffs are in full bloom with autumn’s splendor, and frankly it’s so beautiful I find myself almost too distracted to drive. Right now, at this moment, thousands of maple, birch and basswood trees are on the brink of a full-out explosion of color and it is nothing short of magnificent. By this weekend we will be peaking, a crescendo of color that can only be compared to Ode To Joy, the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In fact, if you could actually play Ode To Joy in your car while you are gazing up at our bluffs it would seem like the hills themselves were making that music. Heck, it’s like Beethoven was here when he wrote it. Which he probably wasn’t. If he was, though, he’d have probably written something even better.
Okay Beethoven Festival lovers, don’t get in a tizzy. Everything Beethoven wrote was really, really good. I’m just saying this kind of beauty would have been inspiring and… well you know what I mean.
And we have apples. Oh my gosh. This region is particularly well suited for the art of apple growing, with some of the best loved varieties in the state taking root in bluffs and valleys a stone’s throw from Winona. The bounty includes something like 30 varieties of sweet and tart and sweet/tart… it’s dizzying how many kinds of apples you can find in roadside stands right now. What this means is if you were going to eat an apple a day like the doctor says, you could have a different kind of apple every day for a month. I think that makes apples sound endlessly more attractive if you’re going to have to eat one.
Who better to celebrate our apple culture down here than the Polish, people who have found more uses for the apple than, well, Adam and Eve. The second Sunday of every October the Polish Museum hosts the Polish Apple Festival, a festive shindig with ice cream and Polish crafts and demonstrations of apples prepared in just about every way you can imagine. I popped into that festival this morning to find it has grown enormously, sprawling out from the Polish Museum and Annex onto Liberty Street with a farmers market, and music and samples of all sorts of Polish cooking. I’m not Polish, but I wanted to be today after I saw the rich culture these people celebrate. And the way they cook. Holy cow.
If you have never been to the Polish Museum, that alone is worth a trip down to Second and Liberty streets. The brainchild of Father Breza, the museum holds the last vestiges of the memories of Polish immigrants to Winona, and it is an interesting and touching experience to see the tale of that immigration told with pictures and artifacts. It’s even better when you can catch Father Breza himself for a tour, as no man knows more about the Polish heritage of this community and no one has been more passionate than him about preserving it.
The other thing going in high gear right now in the shadow of the golden bluffs is the Winona Farmers Market, where you will be able to find much of the region’s bounty through the month of October. Held at the base of Main Street next to Levee Park, the market is brimming with more than 40 vendors offering locally grown and made produce, jams, breads, honey, candy – just about everything you can think of. What better way to celebrate this community than to take home something created here? It’s like the punctuation mark on a visit to Winona in all its colorful, tasty autumn glory – but you need to come now or I promise you are going to sulk for a year that you missed it.