Luck and resilience matters, home and away

So much of what happens in life is a matter of timing, and so much of it is out of our hands.

It would not have taken much, during our recent 10-mile hike into the Grand Canyon, for laughter to turn into agony. While absorbing – literally and visually – an isolated waterfall, our group of 17 just missed being pinned under the branches of a cottonwood tree. The snap of a thick limb that easily exceeded 100 pounds came unexpectedly and quickly.

Three days later, carefree vacations turned into nightmares when a disturbed motorist plowed onto a busy Las Vegas Strip sidewalk, killing two people and injuring a dozen others. We were less than a half-mile away.

The same day, we watched CNN’s coverage of the Jet Blue airbus that hovered above Los Angeles, with emergency units ready to react on the ground. Stuck landing gear stayed intact, and tragedy was averted, with an anxious nation as the real-time witness.

Flashbacks came later that week, during the last leg of our flight home, when the pilot announced our need to head back to Memphis. There was an air flap problem that would require a longer runway than the Madison airport provided. No need to worry – we have practiced this type of landing, the pilot said. And if you see fire trucks, don’t be alarmed – that’s just a precaution.

The landing proceeded smoothly but seemed to last forever. It was another blessing for another day that ended as an inconsequential speck of history.

Luck – at some level – is a factor in everything, but resilience counts more for the long haul. We only have to stray to Wisconsin Rapids for a couple of fine examples.

During a stay this month at Phil and Mary Brazeau Brown’s Stone Cottage, on their Glacial Lake Cranberries estate, we were glad to cross paths with George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, near Baraboo. George and friends were bird watching; the Browns alerted them to an unusual species spotted on their marsh earlier that day.

It was a glossy ibis and a rare visitor to Wisconsin, George decided, after seeing the creature. It was dark and long-necked, about 20 inches tall, with a slender and curved beak.

The more likely habitat? Florida wetlands, we were told. Why here? Maybe it got off course because of the hurricanes, speculated our enthusiastic ornithologist, also recognized as a world expert on cranes.

George likes visiting this part of Wisconsin because of its rich avian mix. That is particularly true during this time of year, as bogs are flooded for the colorful cranberry harvest.

Mary, who captured the ibis on her camera, doesn’t want visitors to think the bird will be around long. “It will readjust and head home,” she predicts. “It’s like they have an internal GPS.”

For another example of resilience, head a few miles northeast, to the Little Pink Restaurant, a few blocks from the Storo Enso paper plant. Melvin and Helen Ponczoch, who have been married 63 years, still run the show.

For her, that includes baking a dozen giant loaves of bread each weekday. Get a slice with an egg for $1.75, or buy a whole loaf for $3.50.

On Fridays, Helen makes cinnamon rolls, too, and you’re advised to call ahead with your order. They go quickly.

Do you ever go behind the counter, Melvin is asked. “Never,” he deadpans. “Helen won’t let me get around the money.” It’s not unusual for her to be at work by 3 a.m.

For more about The Little Pink, as the locals call it, call 715-421-1210. It is open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays.

For more about Glacial Lake Cranberries and its seasonal cranberry marsh tours, go to www.cranberrylink.com or call 715-887-2095. A record-setting cranberry harvest is predicted for Wisconsin.

There is more evidence of challenge and resilience farther from home, too.

We spent a part of last month at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Society of American Travel Writers. Hurricanes had a way of bringing this membership closer.

Four dozen boxes of clothing and toiletry donations were filled during a relief drive. The SATW board voted to match up to $5,000 in members’ post-hurricane contributions, then upped it to $10,000 because of a quick $8,000 in member responses.

How else can we be helpful?

“Three-fourths of Louisiana is open for visitors,” responds Gerald Breaux, who heads the Lafayette (La.) Convention/Visitors Commission. “If this word does not get to consumers, we will face a second economic situation.”

Farther north, Stacy Brown of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Board says her area has picked up convention and group tour business because of the hurricane.

“If the business can’t be kept within New Orleans right now, as least we can try to keep it in Louisiana, to keep up our tax base” from lodging taxes and other tourism revenue.

At least one music heritage tour itinerary has shifted to include Shreveport, which is where Elvis got his start. Stacy says five movies, previously set for filming in New Orleans, also will come to her area. (That includes one about Alaska. Go figure.)

Keep your eye on www.after-katrina.org, a developing guide about which southern state attractions and accommodations are open to visitors.

“The Rebirth of New Orleans: Ahead of Schedule” is the slogan at www.neworleanscvb.com. Progress reports are updated often at this website, and myths addressed.

Although the next Sugar Bowl won’t be at the wind-damaged Superdome, for example, football fans are being reassured that the structure won’t be torn down.

And although parts of the French Quarter have reopened, most visitors so far have been relief workers in need of a break.