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'Driftless Dreams': John Gurda discusses how nature cannot be tamed

 A small blue house with a red roof in the center, surrounded by green pasture and trees
Courtesy of John Gurda
From 1975 to 2007, this was John Gurda's home in the "Driftless Area" of southwestern Wisconsin.

While you may know John Gurda as one of the go-to Milwaukee historians, you probably do not know that he also tried his hand at homesteading for over 30 years.

In 1975, Gurda bought a plot of land in the “Driftless Area,” a region in southwestern Wisconsin with a steep topography more akin to Kentucky than the rest of Wisconsin. Gurda, who had spent some of his childhood in the area, said he wanted to “get back to the land” and reconnect with his familial roots.

However, the next 32 years brought an “eviction” of cattle that backfired, a pond turned home for “approximately a thousand toads,” and an accidental fire that burned 130 acres.

“We failed to reckon with the awful fecundity of nature,” he says.

Gurda sold the land in 2007, and despite all of the challenges he says he does not regret the experience. He had a “front row seat” to witness how nature works, and life-long family memories were made.

“We had three kids, and from the time they were in diapers to high school, that was a favorite place for them,” he says. “Those were really treasured times for our family.”


Sam is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.
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