1,631 words of outdoor thankfulness … and counting

Many faithful Gazette readers know the TV listings are now gone.  When Gazette managing editor Nate Enwald and I first talked about this column, he mentioned that at least for a few weeks, I could write up to 1,500 words if I wanted.  It would help fill the void when those listings faded to black.

Footbridge over the Eau Claire River, Marathon County

Footbridge over the Eau Claire River, Marathon County

I keep waiting for Nate to tell me to tap the brakes, but the last time I checked he said I should keep the pedal down.  That means, because it’s that time of year, I’m writing 1,500 words of thanks.

First things first: I’m thankful for the opportunity to do this column, meaning much appreciation goes to the people at the Gazette, a locally owned publication that covers real local news with local folks.

I’m writing for two reasons.  I love to write, and I love to get outside.  I don’t do either one enough, but the Gazette encourages me to do both.

And here’s a point of gratitude that needs to be right out front.  I’m thankful for the life and work of Gazette co-founder George Rogers, who I never met and who passed away in 2013, but whose influence on the community and on people’s love for the outdoors was clearly enormous.

I can’t say that he was a journalist first and an outdoors writer second, because he was genuinely both, and he was a man who was bigger than labels.

I know this, even though I’ve only been doing the column for two months, because I’ve heard George’s name a dozen times from sources and readers.  He was the subject of a nice feature in the Stevens Point City-Times recently that wrote of his dedication and tremendous work ethic as a journalist.

George is watching all of us and expecting that we take care of this community of ours – its governance, its jobs, its homes and families, and especially its parks and rivers, its wildlife and all its outdoor places.  He left it up to us to take on this awesome responsibility.

I’m thankful for that opportunity, and especially thankful that there are so many people here to help, because it may take all of us to accomplish a fraction of what he did.

Can’t beat a short walk on a chilly day

I’m thankful that some folks are still living up to George Rogers’ legacy, making nature accessible and enjoyable while giving a nod to traditional values.  I suspect he’d appreciate the effort that’s gone into the County Y bridge over the Eau Claire River in Marathon County, which I wrote about in my first column in October and which I decided to check up on in the cooler weather that’s blessed us lately.

The bridge is now back open, as the county highway folks promised, with raised and much-safer sidewalks, along with ornamental railing. The old-stone façade is yet to come, but it’s good to see progress.



It was also good to see some ice on the river and a setting autumn sun putting its last golden light on the trees. I walked all the way down to the end of the public-park section of the Ice Age Trail in the Dells of the Eau Claire.  When I saw the sign about the trail recommencing through private property and a reminder that it was deer season – and realized I was wearing a nearly buckskin-colored outer jacket – I apprehended that it might be time to head back through the rapidly darkening forest.

I only saw two other folks in the park the whole time.  No deer.  And I have to say that I’m thankful I’m not a deer.

It’s good to have the university here

In addition to being thankful for getting to write this column, I’m very happy to have a job that encourages me to take on outside professional development opportunities.  Because I teach journalism, it’s not such a bad idea to get out and practice a bit of it, and I’m most appreciative of all of my colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for supporting that.

Shoot – I’m just thankful to have a job in today’s Wisconsin, period.

I’m thankful for all my students, even when they drive me nuts.  I’m probably even more thankful for my former students, because they’re out doing great things in this community and others.  They somehow manage to teach us all a thing or two.

Take, for instance, Nate Woelfel over in Sheboygan Falls, who did a thing I swore I’d never do this weekend.  Because of it, he has me reconsidering my hard-line stance against social media in the outdoors.

As I was sitting in my warm house the other day, listening to my Sunday-morning playlist of songs that make me think of home and family and all the important things in life, Nate was in his deer stand.  His Facebook picture of spindly trees casting shadows over a light dusting of snow in the woods was posted while he was hunting, and he attached a brief note about the spirituality of being out in the woods.

Nate’s a heck of a writer who kicked around sports journalism full-time for a while before taking on a higher-paying gig.  He was a guy who worked harder than any dozen journalism students during his time in school, and he used to pop in to ask professional questions all the time – about things that were happening in his freelancing jobs or how to handle talking to editors.  Every now and then he would even ask a question about class.

I confess to telling him to do what it took to get by in school, because his sports writing was already getting him noticed, paying the bills and keeping him almost busier than he could handle.

His post about being in the woods transported me out to where he was in that tree stand, and we had a little Facebook conversation about heaven while Nate was waiting for the next deer to come by and offer itself up as sausage.

Because I’d realized a day or two before that I wasn’t going to be able to head down to see the folks in Texas for Thanksgiving, I’d been kind of mopey and maudlin.  Something about Nate’s photo and the music and the upcoming holiday season struck a deep chord within me about loved ones and the world we live in.

So I’m thankful for Nate and all my other former students, whom social media allows me to keep in touch with.  I miss ‘em and am thankful that they’re out there sharing their love of nature.

Give me a four-day weekend with only some light grading and I might even start appreciating some of my current students more.

In the meantime, I also am especially thankful for one particular part of the university.  The College of Natural Resources has probably taken a greater hit than the rest of us during these combined environment-bashing and education-bashing times that we’re seeing in Wisconsin.

The college and its faculty, staff and students do all sorts of great things for the state and the country, and they’re probably the primary reason the university is a household name around much of the United States.  I’ll be writing a lot about their projects in upcoming columns. We should all be thankful for those folks.

Don’t forget Schmeeckle, the Green Circle, and REI

Of course, nothing the College of Natural Resources does may be better appreciated around Portage County than administering Schmeeckle Reserve.  When we can’t get out of town, there’s no substitute for a brief stroll around Lake Joanis of any of the reserve’s fantastic trails. Holidays are a particularly fine time to get out in the early morning for some peaceful reflection

The gun-hunting season will be winding down by the time this column is out, meaning we can get back out on all sections of the Green Circle Trail.  While the Moses Creek section is closed until Nov. 30, along with all county parks and county portions of trails, it will be back in business for us soon.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder of both family and forest.  I appreciate the fact that the Green Circle will still be there when I come back to it.

I’m thankful to REI, the outdoor-recreation cooperative that’s not in our community and won’t allow me to shop there on Black Friday.  I wasn’t planning to go to Madison or the Twin Cities to do so, but it’s heartening to know that while a horde of other businesses are requiring their employees to spend even Thanksgiving Day working, REI will encourage its employees, and everyone else, to “opt outside” for the weekend.

We’ve got enough orgies of consumption going on.  A few folks will gently chastise us for that during the holidays, and we ought to listen to them more.  It’s not all about profit.

I had coffee the other day with an influential person in the community who was complaining that the current Common Council doesn’t care much about business because it values parks, green space and recreation above all.  I’m pretty sure that’s not true.  I’m often no friend of administrators and those in governance, but by gosh, if our council makes folks think they’re a bunch of raging hippie treehuggers, then Happy Thanksgiving to our aldermen and alderwomen.  Keep up the good work.

I’ve already gone past my word count, but there’s always next year. I’ll close by noting that I’m thankful for all the folks who have already helped me write this column. In just two months, I’ve called on friends old and new for all sorts of help and information.   You all know who you are.  Thanks for keeping Wisconsin a great place to live.


Author’s note: This is my Thanksgiving Day column for the Gazette.  This version is slightly different than the one appearing in print.  Apparently the TV listings issue is still a little too sensitive for some Gazette readers. so that part has been edited out for the print version, which I have yet to see. But I figure none of the really upset people are reading my blog.

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