Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yuletide Depression

It is always a bit depressing for me this time of the year, my 15th holiday season away from my original place and family. Not that my blueness stems from not having all the traditional Christmas trimmings around me, and certainly not the religious aspects of the season. Rather, and simply, thoughts of home, the Wisconsin winter, gentle snowfalls illuminated by the admittedly over the top lights, but still etched in my mind from youth. As I get older the past seems to take on more meaning, the future less in some ways. I find little joy or excitement in Christmas, except perhaps in that of my son Charlie. Even those reasons evolve around false conceptions only waiting to be destroyed for him as well. Maybe it is because now I am the one trying to figure out how to participate, and pay for it all, or worse, accept gifts I do not deserve.
I drive by the local mall here in Palmerston North during work and see it loaded day after day with cars and people out in droves buying stuff and more stuff. I read daily updates in the newspaper about how the retailers are feeling "the season" is progressing. If I walked into the Warehouse, our local Shopko type store, I am sure I would run out screaming within a few minutes.
I feel a bit depressed just writing this, knowing my words are more or less for my eyes alone. My attempts to share thoughts seem to have gone mostly unnoticed, or acknowledged with vague, brief emails. Certainly not the conversation starter amongst family and friends I had envisioned. It may be time to return to the old fashioned notebook. Plus I have been reading a few blogs which only serve to point out my shortcomings as a blogger and a writer. My friend Joe from Ripon college and his blog Gumption, and a fellow I wrote earlier about in this forum, Pete, whom I met at Iron Gate hut years ago. Both far more observant, intelligent, and more capable of stirring thought and response than I am.

I need a trip to the mountains. It has been too long, and though I have a 6 day trip in early January with John, I need even just a solo night out by myself before too much darkness engulfs my soul. I don't know why I am feeling this way to be truthful. In terms of how the year 2007 has progressed I would state miles ahead of 2006, perhaps the most single stressful, and strange year of my life. My marriage is probably as stable as it can be, which does not exactly fill me with confidence, but maybe marriage is not supposed to automatically fill us with confidence. In any case sitting here writing this I am not consumed by a need to rush off and listen to Tom Russell's excellent 2006 cd Love and Fear as I probably was last year. It has been hard work to bring us back from the brink. It is always hard work to recognize weakness or faults in ourselves that might contribute to a break down of a marriage or ourselves, even harder for two people to even think it is worth saving anyway. Yet I have wrestled, and continue to, with my personal demons, and Tara has undergone immense personal changes, finding a purpose and great passion in her soul in simply caring about people no one else seemingly wants to care about. Her sense of out rage at the treatment of the worlds indigenous peoples has made my life better - is that not a strange conundrum. My problem has never been being in love with Tara, but more so her loving herself. Now maybe my problem is allowing myself to be loved so I can love in return.

These are things I should be thinking about at Top Maropea.

I don't know if I will continue with this blog in the new year. Perhaps I am just better off with my notebook and pen. My friend Joe might disagree, as his passion is using technology to connect people, as he has done, and does for a living. Yet I have only connected with myself, and I can do that just as easily with an old note book, a cold beer, and some photos, so it makes me wonder.

Indeed it has been an interesting year. I awoke very early this morning, consumed by thought and having dreamt about my friend Kevin for the first time in a long while. He killed himself at 15, I still do not why. Last year while in the states I had lunch with an old friend, Julie. I had not seen her in over 20 years. She suffered from cancer after high school, and is now battling hepatitis C, a virtual death sentence. When we sat down she took my hand and said the first thing she needed to talk about was Kevin. I was blown away and for the first time in 32 years I cried for my friend with someone who knew him. I have had 32 years Kevin could have never imagined. Thank you Julie for that gift you gave to me.

My favourite music of 2007 :

1. We'll Never Turn Back by Mavis Staples

Produced and arranged by Ry Cooder, perhaps the worlds finest slide guitarist, this album would most encapsulate the changes Tara has gone through, it is a powerful work by one the finest woman singers America has to offer. She can stand side by side with Aretha, Etta James, Billie Holiday, any of them. And these so called modern diva's, well forget about it. These are mostly traditional black American songs of longed for freedom, oppression, and desire for equality, human rights, and general over view of not just southern America, but all of it. Also included are a few tunes written by Cooder and Staples, and the highlight a stunning version of the JB Lenoir classic Down in Mississippi. The songs do not date because the cause and meaning behind them have sadly not dated either. A powerful statement upon America by Mavis Staples.

2. Leaving Paradise by Tama Waipara

An Aotearoa offering by a New York Kiwi. Not favoured by all I know, but I think it is outstanding, if not simply for one song alone, Leaving Paradise. It transplants me to the Ruahines and that says it all..

3. Mischief by Beoga

This an offering by an Irish band, which puts a somewhat different slant to traditional Irish sound, sometimes jazzy, sometimes bluesy, but all good. A very cool cover of Dirty Work by Steely Dan.

4. Dirt Farmer by Levon Helm

The wonderful Levon Helm's first offering in 25 years. Levon suffered throat cancer in the late 90's and resigned himself to never singing again. His studio burnt down, and his long time friend and brilliant musician Rick Danko died. Helm fought through the depression wrought by all this and rediscovered his voice - not the powerful timbre of The Band days, yet still wholly recognizable and fitting with his choice of music. That is mainly old timey music from his youth and the inescapable line drawn to the tunes world changing music of The Band. Sounds like The Band unplugged having a jam.

5. Try Me One More Time by David Bromberg

Another 25 year between drinks offering by a maestro acoustic guitar, violin, and mandolin player. David tired of the music scene in the 1980's and retired to Chicago where he took up mandolin and violin making. He became one of the most sought after instrument makers in the world before, as he says, finding his mojo again, and putting out this stunner. I was literally shaking as I put this on and was not disappointed, entirely Bromberg on his own and every second a gem. An American musical icon, if unheralded among us common folk, he is certainly revered by his peers, story teller and player extraordinaire.

I feel better just writing words about music. Well that is it from me. Might see ya again might not. Happy Yuletide to one and all. I leave with the words of Edward Abbey:

"May your trails be crooked, winding, and leading to the most amazing views. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds..." - taken from Tom Russell's amazing cd Hotwalker, song 10, Benediction : Edward Abbey. Anyone who thinks they understand, or should understand, or wants to understand, even a little bit about America needs to listen to this cd from top to bottom without disturbance. Ka kite.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


John gazing across Parks Peak ridge and Makaroro valley to main range

It has been awhile since I have ventured forth into the mountains. My solo journey to Maropea Forks and blizzard enforced stay at Top Maropea back in early August being my last adventure. I must remedy that and have felt inspiration from other places to do so very soon. Part of the reason for my absence has been a lingering and persistent pain in my hip, which has been now diagnosed as arthritis. At least knowing is some relief, and now I must simply learn to live with it. The only way for me to find out how much it will truly impact my life is to find out in the mountains. It has been bothering me for over a few years now, so it is not a new element for me to deal with there, just that I now know what it is. No doubt it slows me down a bit, but this has never really bothered me, as at the best of times I was no speed tramper, and I find a slow steady pace gets me there almost as fast anyway. Besides, what's the hurry?
For the past six years I have done an annual summer tramp of a more substantial duration, and having RTC member John Nash here last weekend - for Tara's birthday celebration, we began planning the 7th Annual RTC Summer Tour.
The first was 2001 when Rick and Steve came over from the states and we did a 5 night trip into the Ruahines, highlighted in an earlier post. Since then every summer has brought an extended Ruahine visit, one with Nigel and John, and the rest with John. We have it down pretty well by now, and the biggest decision to make is what route or destination to choose.

Last year we spent 5 days in the Makaroro valley and Parks Peak ridge. We planned to cross the main range to Ruahine Corner, but wicked gale force winds turned us back to Upper Makaroro hut. Which was no great hardship, it is a very cool spot to sit out gales. And our emerging philosophy is to enjoy an area fully, rather than just push through to another place. I suspect with my hip, this philosophy will be not only a wise one, but also a necessary one.

Above is photo of me standing on the open tops of the main range just above Totara spur. It looks like a beautiful day, and it was, except for the wind! I am leaning into the wind trying to stay upright. Hence our decision to return to Upper Makaroro rather than battle such winds for three hours or so. We saw no clouds for three days, and not until our last evening did the more customary Ruahine cloud and mist roll in. Just above is John tending the wood stove in Upper Makaroro hut. During the day we were sunning and swimming in the river, but when the sun moves beyond the narrow valley it cools down very quickly, even in summer. A very cosy hut. I have stayed here in winter when the sun goes past by three in the afternoon, but with plenty of firewood about and my trusty saw staying warm is not a problem.

I am going to head out this coming week for a couple of nights on my own. Looking at these photos again makes me think a return here would be a pleasant destination. I will give the matter due thought.

Summer Tour 2007's final days brought back more normal Ruahine weather. Particularly in the Parks Peak area, where in my 8 visits there the norm has been far more the misty grey shroud than clear blue skies. I will take it either way. At times I have seen zero visibility from the hut door. I love the mist and the silent blanket it invokes on the environment. On this day John and I stood silently in the forest and swayed along with the beech branches as they creaked and groaned with the westerly wind buffeting over us. I walked up from Upper Makaroro to Parks Peak on my own early in the afternoon while John remained to enjoy the ambiance of the river. It is also a way for us both to experience a bit of solitude and I am sure will be an approach we will again use. I wandered down towards the track turn off about the time in the late afternoon I expected John to arrive, camera in hand. I arrived to find him sweating and puffing, resting a bit so as to appear non plussed by his efforts when he got to the hut. Yeah right! We had a good laugh. It is a very steep climb out of the valley to the ridge top, leveling out in the middle section for a wonderful stretch of big beeches, then climbs again hard to the ridge. It is always good to see those green and yellow signs.

How pleasant it is to wander about in the mountain environment when the days walk is done. The gear is scattered about the hut, dinner waiting to be prepared, fire wood chopped and sawn, and nothing to do but be part of the moment.

Above John scopes the main range with map and compass and I am just enjoying the view as we watched the low cloud settle and drift about across the Makaroro valley.

The anticipation of another trip grips my soul. Just thinking of moments like above cause me to get up and gaze out towards my garage where my gear lies in wait. I will get maps out shortly to put together some ideas for a route. It has been too long.

My last journey to the Ruahines was this past August. I ended up having to hunker down at Top Maropea for an extra night after a blizzard rolled in while returning from Maropea Forks. Even the next day the wind was ferocious, and the above photos I took in protection from the wind in a gut on the route up the spur towards Top Maropea. I have done this route 23 times now and know it pretty well. I have been knocked over by gales along it, so even though it is relatively short it is not to be taken lightly. Cloud would never bother me on this route, but the wind has prevented me crossing it many times. I love this place, this is the first Ruahine spot I stayed over night, Top Maropea, and it will always hold a significant meaning to me. Returning there this coming week is a distinct possibility as well, for once in there I am home. And the amazing Maropea Forks lies not too far away! Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


I never consciously set out to explore the meaning of solitude. It was thrust upon me by being the only way I could continue roaming the mountains. After years of constant travel there accompanied most often by Nigel, and at times others from further away, I was forced to re-examine my love for the Ruahines by the simple reality that Nigel moved away, first to Australia, and later to his new home in Korea. This was a difficult period for me. I had always traveled with Nigel, had come to rely upon a finely developed communication and decision making ability we had developed. I learned the rudiments of navigation, map reading, and began the more intuitive relationship with the ranges I now possess. Nigel and I could, and often did, tramp for hours saying few, if any words, yet with no sense of disconnection between us. Often this was due to the fact Nigel was often much fitter and his pace much faster than mine, and I took no offense to walking on my own. When he left, however, I realized how much I had come to rely on that relationship to pursue my own love of the Ruahines. The planning, the gathering of supplies, the fine details, all were now left solely to me to work out. More importantly, the courage and will to go out on my own, to challenge myself and see what my skills allowed me to do and develop into. For if I wanted to now roam the mountains I either had to wait till John was available, which was a few times per year, or the even more infrequent trips with visitors from overseas, or simply go on my own. So it was a new chapter of solo travel which I had to accept or decline. Perhaps even more troubling then was the fear of discovering my blossoming love of the Ruahines was not really connected to my soul as I thought. That without having someone else, particularly an excellent partner like Nigel, that I was not capable of mountain travel into remote tough country. I knew this was a real cross roads for me, for who I was as a man, and what I stand for and believe about myself. Looking back now, it was a challenge on many different levels I knew I had to accept.

"Observation on the River"

Your flawed elegance astounds me

Ramrod straight

as if proudly displaying

Your Wounds

Scarred by Time

Battered by countless storms

Your very Soul

Precariously Exposed

Eroded by what also

Sustains and Nourishes

Yet Possessing a Strength and Depth

I cannot fathom

And You Hold On

Living Each Moment

Until You are Claimed

To Finally Join the Dance

of the Endless Flow

It is Me
written outside Ngamoko hut on the Pohangina river, November 2005

There are many moments of significance I recall while being on my own in the mountains. The above, for instance, I distinctly recall the river rushing by, the wind rustling overhead, standing out in front of the hut with a cup of tea, and I noticed across the river this huge beech tree clinging to the bank high above the water. Yet it did so with such dignity and hidden strength, in spite of it's relative precarious hold on life. I strongly identified with that tree in that moment. Synchronicity to my own life, at least as it was back then, and is never far away from being again. I suspect that tree is still there, and will be for some time. A measure of the things we cannot see in nature, or in ourselves. Had I been with someone else that moment might possibly have escaped me, on my own I recognized it and relished it.

My flaws as a man are many. Just ask my wife. My anger, impatience, and selfishness never seem far from the surface, though I try to keep it all in check. I do believe, as a man, I have grown to accept my flaws, to recognize them and at least some of the time, grow beyond them. Much of what I am becoming I owe to the mountains, what I have learned there, the people I have traveled with, observing and growing. Even more so, for me, is the time I have spent there by myself. Taking responsibility for my own actions and choices, overcoming fear of something new, and simply slipping deeply into my own self. Who, after all, am I to get angry with, or impatient with? Nature? The Ruahines, as much as I would like them to care, are completely neutral to my presence. A beautiful day, or a stormy day are simply the results of the weather patterns, not my wishes or desires. How I deal with that result is my choice, to travel, to find a route in cloudy conditions, to stay put, to find some other useful way to utilize my day, these are all my reactions to something I have no control over. There is no place for anger, impatience, jealousy, hatred, or intolerance. What I have learned there is that I love myself and the world I am in while there. The hard part is bringing that back here to the world I spend far more time in. I am a work in Progress.

"Alan Watts Blues" by Van Morrison

Well I'm taking some time with my quiet Friend
Well I'm taking some time on my own
Well I'm making some plans for my getaway
There'll be blue skies shining up above
When I'm cloud hidden
Whereabouts Unknown

Well I've got to get out of the rat race now
I'm tired of the ways of mice and men
And the empires are all turning into rust again
Out of everything nothing remains the same
That's why I'm cloud hidden
Whereabouts unknown

Sitting up on a mountain top in my solitude
Where the morning fog comes rolling in
just might do me some good

Well I'm waiting in the clearing with
my motor on
Its time to get back to the town again
The air is sweet and fresh in the country side
Well it won't be long before I get back
here again

The first solo trip I ever undertook was back in September of 2002. I recall some stressful times at work being the catalyst, exactly what those were now escape me, and I felt a need to get some perspective. I had a new tent and climbed high up onto the Hikurangi's to camp. It was rainy, windy, I was feeling unfit and tired, and happily climbed into my tent hoping it would not blow away in the gales. I woke up before the dawn, and in the grey mist packed my tent and made my way to Mc Kinnon hut, glad to see it in the enveloping cloud. I cooked up a huge breakfast and with the rain beating down on the roof climbed into my sleeping bag and fell fast asleep. I awoke a few hours later, to virtual silence, no rain, no wind. I stepped out the door of the hut and literally had my breath taken away, first by the view, and also by the fact it was now a superb brilliant blue sky shining above me. I was content to stay there in this magnificent alpine setting and enjoy the day and evening, when for the first time I heard this voice inside my head speak to me, and say pack up and go! I have since learned to listen to this voice without question, but back then I was not so sure, either of what I was hearing inside my head, or of any inclination to go! Yet this sense of something else waiting for me was very insistent and after a few cups of coffee I did indeed pack up and left. I went down into the forest, the play of sunlight on the bush and trees illuminating the way, the gentlest of breezes stirring the beech leaves, and soon I could hear the river below me. As I climbed down to the Kawhatau river I could see it glistening in the sunlight, its flow reassuring and welcoming on this day. I got to the river and sat on a moss covered log for quite some time drinking in the scene of a dark gorge below me - which I have since climbed out of - and a sunlit path leading up the river. It was a serene moment. I then traveled up river to Crow hut, a stunning location just above the river, and spent the loveliest afternoon in the sun, swimming in the river, writing my thoughts, and brimming with an energy that flowed through me. Everything I did seemed very deliberate and focused and my presence here was part of the moment. As the afternoon progressed and the sun began its journey over the wide valley and to the west, I sat still and watched it paint the mountains above me, the greens fading to first a darker green, then purple and majestic, the brown tussock of the tops painted in brilliant golden hues. I was nothing, yet I was everything as I moved and swayed with the breeze, heard every note of the rivers song, and relished a rare connection with a perfect moment. Later on, I started a small fire outside the hut, set up my tent, and continued my celebration. When I awoke in the morning the storm had returned. It seemed like a dream.

I have since learned to welcome that voice and these moments. This, for me, is the Spiritual side of my mountain experience. Some may scoff at such a notion, travel for days amongst the mountains from point a to b and never get beyond, or want to, the physical aspect of the journey. That is fine, but my experience is mine alone, though I choose to share it here with the few who care to read it. I do not seek these moments out, do not attempt to define or name it beyond my own reasoning, and I suspect, would still enjoy mountain travel even if I never had experiences like I do. But I do, and that is my benefit!

"Wonderful how completely everything in Nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent of us. The sun shines not on us but in us. The river flows not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell and the substance of our bodies making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love" John Muir

Above is the view from the door of McKinnon hut, looking out towards Rongotea on the Mokai Patea range.

The experience of solitude invokes many emotions through out the journey. Unabashed communion with Nature as above, feelings of freedom and choice, heightened awareness of what is around, and also heightened sense of what is inside of ourselves. Which is really cool when all is well in our lives, and fairly intense as well when things are not. Yet both types of that sort of solitude offer value. I have had times fleeing to the Ruahines when my personal life has been under tremendous strain. Those have been the hardest journeys to undertake, as along with the normal anxieties of solo travel, is the emotional weight hanging around my soul. The fear I may not find the serenity I seek, the calmness in which to sort my feelings and emotions, or find the same beauty around me. Yet I always do. Nature, and the mountains seem to have a way of both soothing my wounded soul, and pointing out the mere processes I am part of and under going. My life will continue in spite of other things, and when it ceases I am merely part of the whole. Simplistic it may be, and does not solve problems, or even make hurt disappear, in and of itself, but it helps, and has helped me more than a few times.

For I have never truly been alone in my solitude. Perhaps in moments lonely, but never alone. Whatever I carry inside of me is there with me, good or bad, the memories and thoughts of my many loved ones are always with me, that "other" voice inside my soul my constant companion. And even on the mountain breeze are the echoes of those who have loved these ranges as much, or more, than I. My own voice, I hope, will one day flow with the mountain rivers and wind as well.

Above is a self portrait I took this past August late in the afternoon at Top Maropea hut. It was minus 7 Celsius in the hut, and a blizzard outside was raging. While I had managed to get up high enough through the forest to get a text message to Tara, there was no way I could go any further. I had seen no one for over 4 days, and I discovered my digital camera did have a self timer function. So I snapped off this photo, which I think aptly reflects my dilemma and my solitude. My first priority was to build a fire, and with no wood readily available, and the scant supply around very wet, this was no easy task. So I ventured out into the blizzard and forest in my wet gear to gather what I could, and with a candle stub and wood shavings eventually built a big roaring fire, enough to dry my clothes, and while not warming the hut exactly, certainly warmed my soul. I have spent over 23 nights in this place, it is special and familiar, the thoughts of many also warmed me. I was never truly alone.


My footsteps are left here for the first time

The solo journey always adds to the Remoteness

Yet I know deep inside I am not alone here

That for various reasons

This rugged valley in the mountains

Has touched many

Their voices echo off the steep valley walls

Their succint memories etched briefly

Yet Beautifully and Poignantly

As they return here

After far too many years gone by

As if knowing Time grows short

And so return to the places in their lives

Which meant the most to their Youth

Listen to the River!

Listen to the Wind!

Their Voices Dance with Mine

And though I have seen no one for days

Only Ranted and Raved

And Spoken the Truth

to myself

I have never felt Alone

How could I?

The Echoes are all around

Nov. 2005 Pohangina valley

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.