Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Wisconsin part 2... Lambeau Field

One of the highlights of our return to Wisconsin was to be able to attend a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field. The day was flawless, perfect blue skies and a beautiful fall day. By the time the game finished in the early evening the sun had gone down and the night autumn air had become decidedly chilly. But the warmth of sharing this day and experience with Charlie, family, and so many friends made our smiles broad and our hearts warmed through...and a Packer victory at Lambeau of course helped a bit too!

Charlie and I before the game at my sisters house. 
To grow up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is to be a Green Bay Packer fan. Much like my current home of New Zealand, lives and dies by the actions of our rugby All Blacks, Green Bay is dominated by the presence of the Packers and the ultimate symbol of that is the looming forbearance of Lambeau Field. For a city the size of Green Bay, the population of which even now struggles to reach much over 100,000, to even have a professional team, much less a gem of a stadium like Lambeau, is an amazing story in itself. And if you have grown up there, suffered and celebrated the lows and highs, but have always loved and supported our team regardless, it is a story we actually feel a part of in our hearts. The team and stadium are without an actual owner and instead are an incorporated part of the city itself. It is a unique and special relationship between city and team.

Charlie had watched many a Packer game with me in New Zealand. I took him out of school when he was 7 in 2010. The Packers were playing in the Super Bowl. Far more important than a day of school in New Zealand. It was his heritage and history. He has seen me rant and rave at the television as I despair at times and delightedly roar at others. He has become familiar with his own favourite players, and tracking the results on his own. But for every story I can tell, and I can tell a few, for every game we can watch from over here, nothing speaks more than a trip to Lambeau itself on a game day. A world class sporting experience. The pageantry, the place, the people, the sights and sounds of 75,000 people in such a place. To be able to share that with my son from halfway around the world is a whole series of dots I needed to connect for him. For me.

Our tickets. 40 yard line behind the Packer bench. I sat in these seats on a snowy Christmas Eve with Charlie's momma in 1995. One those dots I wrote about above.

My sister, Trish, Charlie, Robb, and brother in law Steve in the Lambeau parking lot. What a day to tailgate!
The one part of this which I cannot explain to my son is how deep this connection reaches into the lives of those of us whom have grown up in Green Bay. Even those few whom are not football fans are certainly aware of the Packers and Lambeau, especially during football season, but also in our daily lives when our travels bring us down to the south west part of town and Lambeau comes into view. It is always there casting a giant but quiet shadow over the events of our lives....such as this event I commented on before the Super Bowl in 2010. An event that rocked my world and still does....

 1975 Bishops Charity Game Packers vs. Giants:
 It was summer 1975, I was 15 about to be a junior in high school and though school had not yet started two a day football practices had. My friend Kevin, who was born and lived across Tommark street from me his whole life, was out for football but was injured and had stopped attending practice. kevin and I had been best friends from day 1, but in the past year or more we had grown apart. Well more like he was just in a different orbit than me, a faster crowd, a better athlete, better looking, he had just moved beyond me in the stratified teenage world. SoI was surprised and delighted when he rang me that hot summer evening and said he had gotten to tickets to the Packer game that night and would I go with him. We walked from Tommark street to Lambeau Field , 15-20 minutes, one of the beauties of a small town having an NFL team. I recall now being almost overwhelmed at how happy Kevin seemed to be in my company, laughing and talking about old times, things we had gotten up to in the neighborhood with our mates, and how much fun we were having at Lambeau Field watching a meaningless exhibition game sitting high up in the stands. It is a beautiful place to watch a football game, and that night it was spectacular, warm, a gentle breeze, and in the company of my best friend. After the game we walked back to our street, and as I had practice at 7:00am bid Kevin goodnight. But he insisted I come into his house and we sat around his kitchen table, as we had so often done, and continued talking. I finally insisted I had to go, and it was almost reluctantly Kevin walked me to the screen door leading to the garage and street. As I walked out the door he suddenly grabbed his very cool brown denim jacket and handed it to me, telling me he didn't need it anymore and wanted me to have it. I remember walking across the street to my house, the street lights casting those golden shadows and thinking what a great night.
A couple days later the phone rang around 5:00 am. As my bedroom was downstairs and had an extension I picked up the phone at the same time as my mom did upstairs. All I heard was Kevin's mom screaming to my mom that Kevin had shot himself and was dead. I hung up the phone and went to sleep, as if refusing to believe what I had just heard. I went to football practice as if nothing had happened, and it was not until Coach Miller gathered us around as a team an announced what had happened ad he broke down, that the truth of it, the enormity of it hit me like a sledgehammer blow and I lost it. It is still hard for me to write this. I still miss my friend. The last time I shared with him was at a Packer game. My life unfolds and the Packers weave in an out as a constant presence, marking good times and bad. That is how it is when you grow up in such a place. It doesn't matter if you like football or not. The Packers mark time and events in our lives and that is one of the reasons I hold them so dear. I will think of my friend as I watch this game, and I will remember him.

the next generation

Or this memory...................
I was 27 when my dad died. Like all fathers and sons we had our ups and downs, he had his demons, I have mine. Sport was the one thing that always connected us, the Packers were always a big part of that.
He died a few months before Christmas on a holi
day with my mother in South Carolina. I had to fly from Minnesota where I was then living to SC to pick up my mom, make some arrangements, and drive mom back to Wisconsin, a near 20 plus hours drive, then go through the funeral. Before I knew it, I was back in Minnesota at work, and wandering around in a sort of a daze wondering what all that had been about. Christmas came, and it was a not a happy time as I recall, I was still not really together, it was our first Christmas without our dad, my mom's without her husband. For those whom have lost parents or loved ones you understand the difficulty of those first holidays - a representation of life ahead, of change, of moving on, of acceptance.
Christmas day came, and early in the morning there was knock upon the front door. I answered it sleepily, and probably a bit hungover, and there stood my old wood working teacher from West high where I attended school and my dad taught. I could see he was a bit nervous and uneasy. In his hands he held a great big package. He said, "Robb, I don't know how to tell you this, but this is a Christmas present for you from your father. He gave it to me shortly before he died to be made into this". He handed it to me with his eyes tearing as I stood there stunned, said "Merry Christmas" turned and left. I sat on the couch alone and opened it. Inside was a beautiful wooden plaque upon which was mounted half a genuine real Packer helmet, and below which was mounted two pieces of the original goal post from the very first Superbowl the Packers won in 1967 and that my dad had procured and saved all these years. It was if he reached out and hugged me, and I could finally let my tears go and miss my dad. I still miss him. It was the best present he ever gave me. Go Packers Go!

My friends Greg and Phils on my left. They had driven the two plus hours from Milwaukee without even having tickets. They were coming simply to enjoy the pre- game tailgate atmosphere and knew I was in town from New Zealand. great friends. I have attended many games over the years with these fine gentlemen. On my right is my old comrade Rick Parduhn. A fine man and I have shared many adventures with him near and far.

On the way into the stadium we ran into many old friends. This is James, and high school friend and former team mate at Green Bay West high school. He is now a teacher himself.

My beautiful sister Trish surprised Charlie, myself and Rick by getting us passes to actually go onto the field prior to the game. A pretty stunning development. I have been at many many games at Lambeau, seen some of the all time great players and games over the years. There has never been a time when I have walked from the stadium atrium to the actual field that I have literally not gasped at how incredible it really is in person. The fabulous green of the grass, the colours and sight of the chalked lines and uniforms of the players. The massive lit up scoreboard. It always feels like the first time. To share that moment with Charlie, and then be able to actually go onto the field was spectacular. A moment we will always have together. Lambeau Field!

Charlie with a couple of the Packer Cheerleaders. Look at that smile!

nephew Max and Steve  in their seats

In our seats with my other nephew Benjamin. Family and friends. What a spectacular day!
It was a great game! The Packers were not playing particularly well but stayed in the lead as the Chargers marched up and down the field. The warm afternoon faded into the slightly windy and growing cold of an early fall evening. The crowd grew restless as the game came down to final play from the Packer 3 yard line. See the video link below the last photo to see what happened....

A few days later we were privileged to dine with and meet the Packers coach, Mike McCarthy. I have been honoured in my time in Green Bay to meet such Packer greats as Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Ray Nitchske, Tony Canadeo, Charley Brock, Ted Fritsch,  Dave Hanner, Fuzzy Thurston and a host of others. It is always a pleasure and they have always been accommodating and kind. Must be a bit of a fishbowl experience for them at times so I appreciated the coach making my son feel a bit special. Go Pack!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wisconsin Part 1...The Fall

 I sit here now in somewhat bittersweet contemplation of the journey back to my original place. Even Charlie commented to me while I was driving him to school, and me to work, this past Monday morning, on how it seemed almost unreal that time had passed so quickly. I am glad he made that connection and gets it. It seems a bit surreal to me as well. We had some amazing experiences which I will try to unravel in a series of posts here....

  The one part of this trip that impacted most significantly, and certainly more so than any of my past trips home over the last near 24 years was my sense of place. My Turangawaewae, my place to stand. As much as I love and feel connected to the Ruahine ranges here in Aotearoa, I am still manuhiri, or visitor, there. That does nothing to diminish the connection I feel when amongst them roaming, indeed, one of the gifts the Ruahine have given me is the Powerful sense of connection I felt to Wisconsin on this trip back. The Ruahine have bestowed within me far more awareness of my own place than I ever had when I was actually there. Wisconsin! I love just saying the word...

 One of the questions I am most frequently asked in Wisconsin is what do I miss most about America, about the states, about home. I think most people might expect me to say a kind of beer, or food, or the Packers, and so on. It is far deeper than that. It is the place itself, and unequivocally at a certain time of year. The Fall. The dramatic and stunning change to the seasons, the exchange between the lush greens and heat of summer to the subliminal softening of the landscape building into the booming crescendo of the full bloom of autumn. The heart is light and not yet grasping the reality of the long cold months ahead but rather delighted in the beauty and change. We caught it perfect and I spent a lot of time walking in the woods and forests with Charlie, other friends, and mostly on my own.

Above is a moment at Devil's Lake State Park, or Manitou (Spirit Lake), as originally named by the Indian tribes which lived around it. This is a glacial lake formed 12,000 years ago when both ends of an ancient river that flowed through were blocked off by glaciers depositing terminal moraine boulder fields on either end. The hills around the lake are thought to be over 1.6 million years old and though now called the Porcupine Hills were once mountains towering higher than the current Rockies. The lake is surrounded by quartzite bluffs up to 500 feet high. In the company of two fine and treasured friends we spent the whole day tramping, climbing, and taking in the splendour of such a place. These ancient hills seemed to be nudging me and reminding of the Ruahine, that how in comparison how youthful and full of vigour and restlessness they are in comparison to these eroded giants now melting back into the earth. Yet no less significant.

Indian Summer! Helped an old friend check out some new ground for the upcoming deer hunting season. Over 35 years ago I took my friend to land I was allowed to hunt on owned by family friends. 500 acres. Some a Christmas tree farm I worked at during summer trimming season, and then a beautiful hardwood forest and ridges running into a lowland bog. A lot of deer were taken there. Karl got to know the owners and hunted there for decades after I left. Eventually the owner died, and the land was sold. No more hunting. We are mere caretakers of the land. In any case we scoured this new public land for deer sign and trails. On such an amazing day it was easy and fun. The company even better. It reminded me how I discovered on that Christmas tree farmland that I never really cared that much about the deer. I just liked to be in the woods. Rave On!

A long walk in the fall woods today along a trail I used to cross country ski upon back in the day. 6 miles through the birch, pine, and maple forest. A real adult portion of Wisconsin woods. The leaves which a few weeks ago were brilliant oranges, yellow, and the colour of spice, cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric, now fallen. The trees now mostly bare except for the occasional splash of remaining fall hue. A stark and bare scene, different than the full bloom of fall, yet still beautiful and stunning in ways equally smile inducing. The trees themselves seemed to be sunning themselves on such a day. As if knowing the approach of the long cold months ahead. The leaves on the forest floor have accrued the crunch and papery sound of completeness. A fall walk in the Wisconsin woods.

The autumn carpet. On my first walks the leaves were still soft and resilient. The winds blew gently through on the Indian Summer breeze and the leaves floated to the ground. We tried to catch three falling leaves for good luck as they swerved, swayed, and danced to the ground. I never did.

Above Manitou on the bluffs looking below the southern moraine terminal. Just beyond here lies Parfrey's Glen...

Parfrey's Glen is a spectacular gorge carved out of the prevalent sandstone interspersed with quartzite boulders and rock from the retreating glaciers. Spent a lot of time here back in the day hiking around and through and cross country skiing nearby during winter.

That's the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn't matter much whether you get where you're going or not. You'll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home."
-  Edward Abbey

At Manitou Lake with my friends. A moment with Jeff, one of my oldest friends and one in particular with my relationship was built and continues to be through nature. We have walked, tramped, skied, paddled, wet lines, listened to music, and played an awful lot of basketball together. He, like Mike who observed this moment with his camera, have both come to New Zealand and tramped in the Ruahine. Days like this, even though overcast, still shine very bright. It felt like somehow the circle was now complete.

I enjoyed most just lingering behind Jeff and Mike and watching them walk and interact ahead of me. Gesturing, laughing, and earnestly discussing one subject or another. Even in my lingering I felt part of it, connected, knowing, and understanding it all. The smiles and hugs from that day still warm me. Kia ora!

Charlie loved this sign along another old cross country ski trail we walked one fine day. The possibility excited him. Me too. We never saw him or her, chances are the bear would have smelled or heard us far before such an encounter. Good to know they are out there. Charlie said on the way out the bear was me. I liked that...

Te hei mauri Ora!