Waning days of a beautiful Wisconsin summer

The end of last week brought us some of those spectacular Wisconsin summer days that make this place like no other.  Wispy clouds, a deeper and clearer blue in the sky, a crispness to the sunlight that highlighted the contrasting greens, yellows, purples and other colors of our Northwoods palette without making anything too sharp.  Pines, birches and tamaracks, rivers and lakes, red barns and rolling hills, all with just enough focus to spotlight their beauty, but enough softness to remind us of the fragility of those passing, perfect days.

We were fortunate to be able to share our Wisconsin with a niece from Texas.  She got to try Paul Bunyan’s donuts in Minocqua and camp at Copper Falls State Park, eat a garlic-asiago roll from Ashland Baking Company and a sub from Penokee Mountain Deli and Sausage, and run the trails and throw rocks into the water at Amnicon Falls State Park.

It was a fantastic time.  There aren’t suitable words or space to relate how wonderful it was and how blessed I felt to be able to share it with two rambunctious little girls — my 7-year-old daughter and her 11-year-old cousin.  There’s nothing like being around kids who are likely to burst into loud Christmas carols at the mention of the town of Rudolph or shriek with unbounded joy at finding a better stick to play with than the last one.

Stevens Point Realtor Neal Nealis claims there are no better summers than those in Wisconsin.  As a former Army brat and reformed Texan who has spent summers in Austin, Washington D.C., California’s Central Valley, the Flint Hills of Kansas, Germany, Costa Rica, and on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia, among other places, I agree.  Maybe it’s our long and cold winters (which, frankly, I love almost as much) that make Wisconsinites appreciate summers enough to make up a new festival for virtually every day.

Whatever it is, there seems to be a pureness and simplicity to these days that can’t be replicated, an innocence and beauty that’s best exemplified by the pealing laughter of a couple of young girls who, forgetting their electronics completely, splash around in a bracing Wisconsin lake.

It’s older folks like me who have to work harder to enjoy summers, because we know they pass more quickly each year.  It’s August now, and school is approaching.  For me, that means figuring out a new watered-down approach to tenure and faculty governance as a minion in the UW System, as well as navigating the swamp of local politics and trying to figure out what in the heck is happening to Wisconsin.

As wonderful as it is to pass the time in our state parks, it’s tough for a thinking person not to spend at least a few minutes remembering, while hiking in Copper Falls, that it’s a park where our sitting governor’s wife was greeted by protestors (just like he was at Devil’s Lake).

These parks are, after all, the people’s parks — OUR parks — and it’s easy to feel a bit of jealous guardianship of these places, as well as concern over their future.  We can’t help but remember that our politicians are dismantling the community structures we’ve so carefully put into place over the years:  our parks, education systems, and necessary (as opposed to misguided) transportation infrastructure, among others too numerous to mention.

I didn’t allow that knowledge to ruin a good trip, but as an educator and a dad, it’s my job to help make sure that someone is keeping watch while the fun goes on — so that it can go on.

I hope my niece, and my daughter, and all of you will be able to enjoy many more of these extraordinary Wisconsin summers.

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