After several years of experimenting with blogging, primarily through a multimedia journalism class I taught at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, I narrowed my focus to a single theme that still encompasses most of what I’d like to accomplish with my life and career. In 2015, Words are Roads replaced my classroom-oriented blog dr. shill. It allows more of what’s important to me: examining the impact of words, exploring how we can use them more effectively, and striving to present them more effectively myself, but having a lot more fun doing it.
The path I’ve been on since has been literally rocky at times (which is good, when I’m hiking), and figuratively rocky at too many others (not so good). But the blog is still here and still fitting.
I took the blog’s title from a course I developed to study — and celebrate — the Yellowstone Trail in Wisconsin. While the class has unfortunately been mothballed, perhaps permanently, planning the course rekindled an excitement for teaching that sometimes cools considerably as my students and I struggle to accomplish all that we plan each semester. That course also took me in new directions with my writing, especially as an outdoors columnist for The Portage County Gazette from October 2015 until April 2018, when the column was discontinued by the paper’s new corporate ownership, along with the work of other local writers.
I frequently tell my students how much I’d like them to find a passion for reporting on issues of their choice. This blog will now be my best shot at taking up my own challenge. Too often, I’ve let my role as teacher, adviser, researcher and servant of the university keep me from being a journalist and commentator.
The commentary will be important, because thinking critically, encouraging discussion, and occasionally speaking out are at the heart of what both journalism and education do. As a very active participant in UWSP’s successful push to enact a tobacco-free campus policy in 2014 and an outspoken proponent of a university faculty’s traditional role in shared governance, I’ve spent a fair share of my time debating important public issues in recent years. After ending my second two-year term in the also-mothballed UWSP faculty senate, I have redirected much of that energy to writing about such issues, but also many others — especially the outdoors.
My past blogging topics have ranged from the Yellowstone course and all it entails (including the tensions between economic development and environmental protection and enjoyment) to journalistic technology, from university life and shared governance to sports and camping. For the foreseeable future, my primary focus will be Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail, for which I set up a separate page during an ongoing reorganization of my blog.
In the time since my blog started, I’ve left university governance and come back to it, left again, and been through two major job changes with my current employer (with more to come). I have walked more than 550 miles of the IAT. I’ve watched my state and my country go through tremendous turmoil. On this page, I’ve had to change some present-tense verbs to past tense. Through it all, I’ve found solace and pleasure in the ability to put words to the digital page, pop in some photos, and move on to the next topic.
This blog will continue to be tied to, and tied together by, the meanings of words. The lessons they teach us and places they take us are a major part my identity; they are much of what takes me from here to there. I won’t always know where “there” is, but I look forward to the journey and invite all readers to take part through comments and sharing as they see fit. — Steve Hill (updated April 17, 2018, and Jan. 30, 2021)