birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

One stoplight town

My home town is a town of 4,000 people in rural Wisconsin. It has one stoplight.

I was born in the hospital in town and grew up in the country, outside of town. The winters were very cold, and the summers were hot and humid. I grew up surrounded by acres of corn in almost every direction, and I am allergic to corn pollen.

I grew up waiting for something to happen where I lived. Nothing ever really did. I dreamed of living in one of the exotic places we saw on television, like Southern California.

I left to go to college and, while I visited after that, I did not really go back.

The last time I went to my hometown was about eight and a half years ago. It was January, the weekend before the first Obama Inauguration, and we went for my mother’s funeral.

When our flight took off from LAX it was 80 degrees. When we landed in Wisconsin it was 20 degrees below zero, and the wind chill was 40 degrees below zero. We changed planes in Saint Louis. When we went up to the gate we told the attendant we wanted to go to Madison, Wisconsin, and she said, “Are you sure?”

We arrived and it was cold, dark, and pretty empty. Driving through the frozen, snowy landscape felt like driving across the surface of the moon.

We saw my sister and my cousin the next day and my wife Gayle acclimated to winter in Wisconsin. The next day was the funeral at the church were I had grown up.

Over the weekend I saw quite a few people I had not seen for quite a few years, people I had known as a child. A few people did not recognize me.

Almost every single person with whom I talked asked me the same question, “How can people live in California?”

They see California as a place of earthquakes, landslides, brush fires, traffic, and a lot of people who do not look like them.

I finally decided the best, safest answer I could give was, “Yesterday morning, when I woke up, it was 80 degrees.”

One of my sisters and I took Gayle on a tour of my hometown, which did not take much time. We even drove past the hospital where I was born and the house where I grew up.

Where I live now is, in many ways, about as far as you can get from my hometown.

Excess Baggage