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.
“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”).