Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wisconsin : Reflections from October 2006

It occurred to me recently that I should perhaps address my original Turangawaewae in this blog. Both as a reminder to myself of those original stirrings so long ago which culminated in my discovery of the Ruahines, and also to share it as part of this experience. I was born in Wisconsin, and it is a place, much like the Ruahines, I think about on a daily basis. Similar to New Zealand, during the spring and summer, in its lush green lustre out on the plains and rolling hills. Of course, many generations ago these farm fields in New Zealand would have been thick bush running all the way to the sea on one side, and the mountain foothills on the interior, cleared in the madness of colonialism. Though one could no doubt make the same argument for the equally vast forests of my native land being cleared for the very same reasons. However, this forum is not, as of yet, one to vent or expound my views of history and politics - though I imagine it will eventually get around to that! So, aside from that, Wisconsin has no real mountains, though it once did until they were obliterated by massive glaciers in the last ice age, leaving behind old worn down hills and moraines, replete with rich soils in which sprouted huge mainly coniferous forests. I can almost smell the aroma of pine needles, feel the sticky resin left on my hands from climbing amongst the branches. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

Wisconsin also has many wonderful deciduous, or leaf bearing trees, and in the fall, when the cycle of life ends, these leaves empty themselves of their last life giving chlorophyll. And depending on the type of tree, elm, birch, hickory, and especially the maples, the leaves turn simply an amazing and stunning array of colours. The fall was always my favourite time of year growing up in Wisconsin. The approaching icy and snowy winter, football, basketball, deer hunting, Thanksgiving and Christmas all not far away. But until I returned there after over 10 years a year ago last October, I never really knew deep in my soul why it really was my favourite time of year. It was the leaves. I returned and was lucky enough to be able to take two separate tramps amongst the peak colours, and it was stunning and emotional for me to come to that connection with my original Turangawaewae.

The above photo, and the next three as well, were all taken on a beautiful fall day at Kettle Moraine Forest Park. It is a geologically unique area as it was the termination point, more or less, of two different great glaciers which rolled over Wisconsin and so left the area buckled and dented from its massive size and pressure exerted. While the forest above looks relatively flat, this is very deceiving, as it actually full of moraines, or deep crater like depressions left behind by melting snow and ice. So that walking along in the forest is very much like walking on top of a ridge looking down into the steep moraines. The photo above was taken from a tower built on a highpoint and climbs high above the forest for an amazing vantage point. The leaves were turned and it was a glorious day. This is looking from west to east and in the very back ground of the photo is Lake Michigan, 42 miles away and one of the 5 Great Lakes along with Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario. My thanks to Jeff, Rick, and Gyro for their fine company.

We had walked over 3 hours in the forest, both on track and quite often off, and then emerged upon this plowed under corn field with the forest along the edges. This is typical of Wisconsin farmland. We arrived here at this spot perhaps a week or so early for the full array of colour but it was still very impressive.

I am looking up from inside a moraine at Jeff, Rick and Gyro, and I was still a long way from the bottom. John Muir proved that moraines were also created by plant life and trees actually sprouting forth in the remnants of old ice and thus creating the moraine as the ice melted away leaving behind these forested depressions.

Walking along the tops of the moraines, which are connected like ridges is quite pleasant. A bountiful mixture of deciduous trees along the way, all in various stages of fall splendour. It was a very cool 6 hour walk we did, the weather was perfect and I felt very much at home. We then drove to West Bend and Gyro's big rambling old farm house for a big Wisconsin grill fest and a reunion with more old friends. A very special day in my life.

This is another fall walk I did with my mate, Karl, a few weeks later, as can be seen by the even richer colours in the brush behind me. This was much further north, near Oconto, Wisconsin. It is a large section of land owned by family friends. I can trace my initial stirrings for a real love of Nature to this very Wisconsin land. My dad took me here as a young boy when he was helping our friends cut Christmas trees they grew here, and later on to learn how to hunt rabbit, quail, and finally deer. I spent a lot of time here and got to know it intimately. I introduced Karl to it over 25 years ago during deer hunting season and he still hunts here to this day, bow hunting during the fall, and with a rifle during Wisconsin's 10 day deer season. He knows it far better than I now do, yet it is still a special place for us both and it was fantastic to walk it with him once again. As can be seen by my attire it was much colder this day, and by the time we finished snow flurries had begun. Awesome!

A brilliant small maple set off against the pines. This section of pines was originally planted as future Christmas trees, but have remained unharvested due to market decline and so reverted back to a wild state, which the deer love. The branches, no longer trimmed, intertwine, and become Wisconsin's version of leatherwood, though it doesn't seem to bother the deer.

Small Norway pine trees. In the stunning array of colour I found the muted pale green needles to have a very calming appearance in this "garden".

Another colourful shot. To the right is the now wild section of Christmas pines and to the left wild pines which then run into a sloping hardwood forest which terminates in a swampy bog. Once again loved by the Whitetail deer whom sneak out to the nearby corn fields for a feed and take refuge in the swamp. We have taken a few deer right in this spot, which is an old track which circles around the border of the tree farm area.

My friend Karl amongst a large stand of open pines where he frequently bow hunts. When over 25 years ago I brought Karl here to hunt and he found the same qualities to the land as I did, it cemented a fine friendship that has stood up over time. We have hunted here together often, other times, such as above, simply enjoying a walk in nature, and a few memorable adventures cutting our own Christmas trees - with the owner Mike's blessing I might add! Karl is a keen outdoors man, a fine hunter and fisherman, and a man who simply appreciates being out amongst Nature's Gifts. A fine friend.

Another Wisconsin city and area which holds much meaning in my life is Madison. I went to university at, and graduated from, the University of Wisconsin. It was an interesting time in my life and I formed many important and vital friendships which are relevant in my life to this day. I was fortunate to be able to visit Madison last October and roam around its huge campus and outlying woods along Lake Mendota with 3 old cronies from my Madison days, Jeff, Rick and Aaron. Jeff still lives in Madison, as does Aaron, and we enjoyed his hospitality along with his wife Sarah and beautiful daughter Zoe. I have known Jeff since 1980 when we met while both attending Ripon College, both of us eventually ending up in Madison. Jeff is pictured above in his garden on campus property at the edge of campus where there is a large area of garden plots. He had a very bountiful harvest!

From Jeff's garden it is about a 2 hour stroll along the lake side path back to the main campus. Jeff, Robb, and Rick are pictured beside Lake Mendota, enjoying a libation, and the fine company. The campus, and the main part of Madison, are located on a large isthmus between this lake and Lake Monona. Incidentally, Lake Monona is where Otis Redding died in a plane crash back in 1967.

The original part of the campus is Bascomb Hill, which dates back to the mid 1800's and is still the nerve center of this lovely campus. Rick and I are in front of North Hall, one of the original buildings and was a building I spent a lot of time in as it is now the political science building which I majored in. More importantly, in its early days as a dormitory it housed John Muir during his under graduate days. Muir left Wisconsin after a few years at the university to roam the natural world. So did I in a much more insignificant way.

Rick, Aaron, and Jeff, high up on Bascomb Hill looking back at State Street, which culminates in the state capital, which can be clearly seen in far back ground. Just to the right of Jeff is Sterling Hall, which in 1972 was blown up by a huge bomb during the height of the anti war movement, and this part of the campus was the focal point of the many student riots during the 1960's and early 70's. Even during my time in the early 1980's the mall area below us was always alive with political activity and activism. You can almost sense the pulse of history beating here. I love it!

As I started going through my memories of this first visit home since late 1995, I realized that for my own benefit, and anyone who cares to read this, or know me, that there was far more I needed to share about this trip than just my interactions with nature. All the people pictured in these photos are part of me, part of who I am, and I love them all very much. The above photos are my beautiful mother and sisters, June, Kathy, and Trish. My older brother Steve died in 1993, and my father in 1987. I miss them too.
I took this through a glass frame in my old house, now my sister Kathy's place. It is my dad coaching his Green Bay West basketball team in 1967 and me next to him on the bench, pretty heady stuff for a 7 year old! Next to my dad is Jerry Tagge, who was my personal hero at the time, and went on to play at Nebraska, winning 2 National Championships, and later for the Packers and in the Canadian league where he had a lot of success. He was the most amazing high school athlete I have ever seen. Great memories from my childhood. I have no idea what has become of Jerry Tagge. This was my true quality time with my father. The sound of a leather basketball bouncing on a hard wood floor, the echoes of my dads shouts and whistle blowing across the empty gymnasium. Sneakers squeaking, Converse Chuck Taylors. The smell of sweat and boys, the sound of showers and my dad and his assistant coach discussing the merits of the practice. He was paid next to nothing! He coached because he loved it. He was a better coach than he was a dad. He is in the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, which means as a coach he was exceptional. As a father he was average. Sometimes I miss him most of all. I always swell with pride thinking of him with my boys. He would have loved these boys, they would have adored him as well. None of what I put with in loving him. At least physically, but am I any better any way else? I wonder, as I also remember so many cool moments with my father. I love you dad, I understand so much more now I wear some of the same shoes.

In front is my cousin Roger, without question my oldest friend in the world. We don't see much of one another anymore but he is always in my thoughts, and even after more than 10 years we picked it right up. It was like that with all the people in the photos, and to me, that is a true measure of quality in my life.In back are my brother in laws Don, Kathy's husband, and Steve, Trish's husband. A look at the clock will tell you how we were feeling, it was night, not afternoon!

Above is my Aunt Jean, always and still a beautiful woman, along with my her daughter, my cousin Nanci in the middle picture, and just above is Nanci's husband Jim. We have shared so many happy times, and so many sad ones as well. Jim and Nanci had not long before lost their son Adam, a young fireman at age 23. To share this evening with them up in Green Bay, and the memory of so many shared in Chicago, the warm and embracing hospitality, is the essence of family.

The next generation of my sister's side of the family are pictured above, my nephews Ben and Tony, 14 and 16 now, Trish and Kath's sons. In the middle is my niece, lovely Kristin, now 18 and a freshman at UW Stevens Point. Last we have Max and Rufus, Max, about to be 5, is on the left and was a little shy about what Rufus was up to on his porch, but he made friends soon enough. And last is Max again getting one of the many cuddles I gave him while away from my own 4 year old Charlie.

The Warner brothers, Craig, Quinn, and Mitchell, my oldest and dearest friends going back over perhaps 35 years. Craig flew up from his home in Texas as a surprise and just blew me away. One of many magical evenings, far too short, far too quick, but each second relished.
Tony Maio and I go back to 1978 as freshman at Wisconsin La Crosse, he was a cross country runner and I played football and we became fast and true friends, and have been through the years. Doing a little walleye fishing on the Fox River above, no luck, but we had an enjoyable afternoon and evening! Tony Maio and I often do not even have to say much at all but we understand each other perfectly, and man, we have had some laughs!

Another fantastic evening in West Bend at Gyro's old farm house. Gyro on left, Rick, myself, Todd Pollesch, Jeff and in front is Phils. Gyro, Rick and I got back to West Bend for a cook out and libations when up out of nowhere came Todd, Phils and another old friend Mike Revane. It was very emotional for me as I had not seen any of those three in over 15 years, and at one time we were all very close. In addition, not long before Mike had lost his wife Sylvia to a tragic and sudden death. Amazing what trivialities can be put aside when true friends are in need. Mike and I go back to 1980 as well, we have camped, canoed, run a marathon together, amongst other things, and to reunite with him, as well as Todd and Phils was superb. What a night!

This is Mike and I at Lambeau Field. As a conclusion to this now lengthy entry, another thing I love about Wisconsin is the mighty Green Bay Packers. I was fortunate enough to land 50 yard line seats through Trish's husband Steve, and seats for Rick and Gyro as well! It was a perfect day, as if it was meant to be, eventhough the Packers lost. Mike, Todd, and Phils also joined us, and along with Trish and friends and their fantastic tail gate party, all I can write is WOW!!

That Rick is everywhere! New Zealand RTC Member, Madison, Kettle Moraine, West Bend, Green Bay, Alaska, Tasmania, out west, one never knows when the retired accountant will appear, and he is always welcome at my door. We were having a bloody mary prior to the game when up rode Mitch, who is a paramedic and rides a bike around the parking lot keeping an eye on the early morning boozers - like us.

Not many words need to be written here. Just look. Those dark circles under my eyes are not from sun glare! Virtually three straight days and nights of reunions, laughter, and even a few tears, takes a toll. It was a hell of a run and all those people pictured above made it happen. I thank them, and I love them all.


Gustav said...

Great job on the Wisconsin reflections - the pics of the trees and forests of Wisconsin bring back many memories. I have not seen the fall colors in many years.

The pics of friends and family also brought back many memories of time spent in Wisconin and also made me reconnect with everyone.

Thanks for the memories and perhaps we can make a few more memories over the next few decades...


Gustav your Viking Brother

Ruahines said...

Cheers Gustav,
Wisconsin is also a beautiful and important place in my heart, my original Place.
Interesting it took me a year to sort through all those photos and memories.
The days were full and the nights even fuller. Not a second was wasted.