Something told the wild geese it was time to go.
The poet Rachel Field, whose poem set out that immutable rule of the seasons, was right, as the poets we read as children many decades ago often were. For there, up in the leaden skies, was the telltale "V" of birds in flight. Her premonition ("something whispered 'frost'") was redeemed ... and soon the rural roads shone in a confectioners'-sugar white (snow).
The change in season came with a rush here politically as well.
The last days of the 2020 campaign have been a blur -- of candidate visits, of poll results, of stuffed mailboxes, of advertisements. The two campaigns have spent $120.1 million in advertising since the party conventions, with a $33.7 million advantage to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Ordinarily, that would dominate the conversation, along with the Green Bay Packers' strong NFL start and maybe a debate about the best recipe for deep-fried cheese curd (2 cups buttermilk, 2 cups lager beer ...). Not this year. The presidential campaign is being conducted amid a deadly coronavirus spike that has set Wisconsin apart; at one point in the last week, more than half of the nation's top 15 cities, as ranked by virus cases per capita, were in Wisconsin.
This is a campaign steeped in symbolism -- and in overtones of the past. The presidential contest is a proxy for a deeper fight here. On one side is the progressivism of Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, a governor, senator and Progressive Party presidential candidate whose notions of political and labor reform spilled beyond Wisconsin's borders. On the other is the outlook of former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who personified the resurgence of Ayn Rand-style conservatism in Washington, and of Gov. Scott Walker, who left the Madison statehouse last year but sowed a new, muscular conservatism in Wisconsin.
And one other element of the past looms large.
Four years ago, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- perhaps responding to favorable poll soundings, perhaps overconfident, perhaps just in oversight -- did not campaign in Wisconsin. Trump came here six times. For Wisconsin voters, the Clinton sin of omission stung, though a later study published by University of Dayton political scientist Christopher J. Devine in the The Forum, a scholarly journal of contemporary politics, concluded that it was "unclear" whether Clinton "would have gained votes, or even won, in Wisconsin had she campaigned in that state."
No matter. Biden, determined not to make Wisconsin a twice-told tale, has set down here several times.
There are very few undecided voters here but many uncertainties:
Will the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the subsequent civic unrest in Kenosha add urgency to the Biden campaign or fortify the voters who respond to Trump's law-and-order entreaties? What will be the effect of early in-person voting, which began Oct. 20 ... What was the yield of the efforts of the advocacy group Opportunity Wisconsin, which set out to convert Trump voters to the Biden camp?
And this: Will Black voters who did not rally to the Clinton campaign, especially in Milwaukee, flood the polls for Biden?
Beyond Milwaukee, much of the focus is on Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties that sit outside Milwaukee and have a history of Republican affiliation but are populated by the college-educated suburban women who are part of Biden's base. Before Trump visited there last week, Biden released a statement pointing out the death of 47 Wisconsin virus victims in a single horrific day, arguing that "the sad truth is that it didn't have to be this bad." Trump hours later told supporters in Waukesha, which he won by 59% in 2016, that the country was "rounding the corner" on the virus.
The two men will continue to debate that, and much else.
Here ... The Democrats are struggling to hang onto the remnants of the New Deal coalition, frayed as manufacturing jobs drifted away. The Republicans have supported initiatives such as the FoxConn project, which Trump and Gov. Walker prominently backed to bring high-tech jobs to southwestern Wisconsin.
Though it was 18 degrees in white-crusted Eau Claire the other day, politics in Wisconsin remain white-hot ... for as Field, who died in 1945, wrote, presciently, "Something told the wild geese/It was time to fly,/Summer sun was on their wings,/Winter in their cry."