Here’s to moms, neighbors and taking our time

It’s impossible to be outdoors without experiencing the changing of the seasons and the passage of time, and we are now officially past the Time of Mud and transitioning into that fabulous season we all know as summer in Wisconsin.

Something in the summertime light and air makes it particularly compelling, and despite our awareness of the season, time occasionally seems to stop, or maybe even go backwards.

There are always two or three or even more days when everything is perfect and it feels like you’re much younger, almost as if you’ll live forever.  If you’re lucky, the realization that you won’t do so stays dormant for a couple of hours or so.

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Sandhill Wildlife Area offers a smart weekend choice

Of all the things that can delay getting outside to recreate, I didn’t expect last weekend’s to be my 15-year-old son being smarter than me.

We were itching to get out on his new clearance-sale cross-country skis, but weather and other circumstances haven’t cooperated. A half-foot of snow early in the week gave us another shot, so I rousted him from bed Saturday with a request to eat quickly, as the sun was brilliant and temperatures climbing.

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Short day at McMillan Marsh long on satisfaction

author’s note: this is the original version of a piece I shortened for use in the March 9 issue of the Portage County Gazette

Deer tracks across the marsh

“How long do you think they can run like that?”

The question was posed by my frequent hiking companion Chris Sadler, who for the first time was filling the role of cross-country skiing buddy.

We were watching eight deer streaking across a flat, icy expanse of McMillan Marsh Wildlife Area, about a hundred yards southeast from where we glided along a low dike, heading back to Chris’ car.

The dike road ran between the marsh on our right and the forest on our left, where the Little Eau Pleine River winds about on its way toward an affiliated reserve, the George Mead Wildlife Area, before ultimately draining into Lake DuBay more than 20 miles to our east.

It was a perfect winter day. The midday temperatures were hovering around 10 degrees with westerly and northwesterly winds hitting no more than 10 miles an hour – enough to chill our faces thoroughly but not bring any substantial discomfort.

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Leopold Center, Portage good bookends for Ice Age Trail connector

Marker at Aldo Leopold Foundation

The holiday-weekend photo of a corpulent governor lounging on a New Jersey state-park beach, closed to the general public through government shutdown, seems an apt metaphor for both our political and natural environments.

Greed can be described in many ways. A pithy one is, “He would skin a gnat for its hide and tallow.”

Aldo Leopold, a great adopted Wisconsinite, had the rare ability to go both short or long when describing our relationship to nature.  He said, “Industrial landowners and users, especially lumbermen and stockmen, are inclined to wail long and loudly about the extension of government ownership and regulation to land, but (with notable exceptions), they show little disposition to develop the only visible alternative: the voluntary practice of conservation on their own lands.”

Whether one’s preference is brevity or a more drawn-out elegance, we see that selfishness and lack of community spirit keep business, government and individuals from working together on important things in life.

Public lands, Leopold, limited access, and pesky little critters are this week’s topics while recounting  another jaunt along a section of the Ice Age Trail.

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Setting the record straight on “Waupaca”

“Menominee Morning Song” by James F. Frechette, Jr. Photos by author; permissions courtesy of Mike Hoffman and UWSP Museum of Natural History

Seeing clearly often means going directly to the source, and when it comes to native Wisconsin terminology, there’s none better than one of our few remaining speakers of the Menominee language.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about a hike on the Waupaca River segment of the Ice Age Trail and devoted two short paragraphs to the puzzle of why the Waupaca River is named “Tomorrow” on its upper half. In doing so, as I noted in a later column, I passed on some incorrect information regarding the meaning of the Menominee word “waupaca.”

The mistake did give me, however, a chance to visit with Mike Hoffman, a Menominee elder who is one of perhaps a dozen remaining fluent speakers of Menominee. We conversed over coffee in June to talk about the Waupaca, among other things.

Trying to get to that place  

The dual-named river is the result of a great deal of storytelling and misinformation. Incorrect or inaccurate interpretations of the name are published in multiple places, including the main web page of the Waupaca Historical Society (which notes that it is a Menominee word meaning “tomorrow” or “pale water”).

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