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    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
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    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

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Entries in growth (4)


Blue Highways: New Harmony, Indiana

Unfolding the Map

Making rapid progress to the end of Blue Highways, we stop for a while in New Harmony, Indiana with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM).  What is apparent to all of us, I think, is that a journey into the unknown, one where we don't know the road, might be a journey where we learn the most about the world and about ourselves.  To think that one of our first stops on this Littourati journey was just 10 miles north at Grayville, Indiana.  The circle is almost complete.  I find the Indiana state flag, at right, to be almost symbolic of this completion.  If you want to see where this little result of the attempt to create Utopia in middle America lies, please consult the map.

Book Quote

"Not far from a burial ground of unmarked graves that the old Harmonists share with a millennium of Indians, the mystical Rappites in 1820 planted a circular privet-hedge labyrinth, 'symbolic' (a sign said) 'of the Harmonist concept of the devious and difficult approach to a state of true harmony.'  After the Rappites, the hedges disappeared, but a generation ago, citizens replanted the maze, its contours strikingly like the Hopi map of emergence.  I walked through it to stretch from the long highway.  Even though I avoided the shortcut holes broken in the hedges, I still went down the rungs and curves without a single wrong turn.  The 'right' way was worn so deeply in the earth as to be unmistakable.  But without the errors, wrong turns, and blind alleys, without the doubling back and misdirection and fumbling and chance discoveries, there was not one bit of joy in walking the labyrinth.  And worse, knowing the way made traveling it perfectly meaningless."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 4

Downtown New Harmony, Indiana. Photo by Timothy K. Hamilton and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

New Harmony, Indiana

What is the point to know the way?

I'm sure that anyone reading this can point out a number of reasons why its important to know the way, and can reel off at least five.  Here's mine.  You don't get lost.  You save time.  There's comfort in the familiar.  You'll never have any surprises.  It's safe.  These are good reasons, but I have some good questions about them.

Yes, in knowing the way one doesn't get lost.  For instance, I knew backwards and forwards the roads around my hometown.  I knew how to get here and there.  When I lived in Milwaukee, I had all the best routes to this place and that in my head.  Same for San Antonio and New Orleans.  But what happened?  Once those routes were new.  I paid attention to what was going on around me, because I had to be aware.  Then, one day, I stopped paying attention.  I missed details in the surety of my route.  I ceased to notice little changes, so focused was I on getting from Point A to Point B.  I would never take an alternate route, and therefore I ceased to be surprised, to see new things, and I denied myself new experiences and a chance to grow.

Sure, in knowing the way one saves time.  It's not efficient to be driving or wandering about on streets that you don't know.  After all, if the goal is Point B, why visit Point C, D and E in the interim?  You have places to go, things to do, people to see.  But what happens when you take your time and explore?  You see things, meet people and experience things that you might have never allowed yourself to experience.  In all my life's journey, I have never seen much of a correlation between saving time and growing personally.

Of course, there will always be comfort in the familiar when one knows the way.  But my analogy here relates to bed sores.  When you look at a soft, downy bed, what do you think of?  Comfort!  That "aaahhhh"ness of pushing your head against a soft pillow, the warmth of the blankets surrounding you, that dozing feeling.  But what happens if you spend two or three straight weeks in bed?  That familiar feeling becomes your bane.  Without movement and change you develop bed sores, which are painful and difficult to treat.  Your comfort has suddenly become your curse.  We can always come back to the familiar, but we need change and new things to stimulate us and stave off an existential putrefaction.

Do you never want to be surprised?  Sure, there are bad surprises, and knowing the way will often mitigate the potential to be surprised.  The man with the machete hiding in the back seat of a car is not the kind of surprise any of us could want.  But how often does that happen?  Most often, surprises are the harbingers of change in our lives, and with change comes self-reflection and opportunity.  I've been surprised lately by many things.  A close relative's illness, a house that it appears I will buy, a nomination for an outstanding teacher award, and organizational shake-ups at my office.  Each has it's share of headaches and even heartbreak.  I hate to see my family member have to deal with a serious health issue.  The house has some maintenance issues that will cost money, as well as a major sewage issue that must be solved before I buy it.  To get the outstanding teacher award, I must write a teaching philosophy, track down letters of support, and find the class evaluations I filed away.  The change at my office has left me feeling unsure about my role.  But each change is a window of opportunity.  My relative's illness means that my family will have to change and may or may not provide a new avenue to dealing with our dysfunction.  Owning a house, after a lifetime of renting, will challenge me in ways I've never been challenged before and will be a new rite of passage in my life.  Just being nominated for the outstanding teacher award has given me new confidence in myself - imagine what I'll feel like if I win the award!  The change in my office will allow me to create my role, and maybe even expand it and my influence.  It may offer me a way toward further promotion and advancement.  It's all in how I choose to frame the surprises and the consequences that come with them.

Which brings me to the last reason for knowing the way that I want to question.  It's safe knowing the way.  Being safe is fine.  We all want safety and security.  But safety and security, while prolonging well-being and maybe even life, can become a prison.  People can hide behind safety and security and never allow themselves to see beyond the walls and disarm their personal defenses.  And what good is that?  I've been there, and I've decided that to experience and see things different than what I know, to open myself to other viewpoints and opinions, is the best way for me to grow.  It's earned me a reputation of being eclectic, maybe even a little weird in my tastes, but I like it.

New Harmony symbolizes the end of a journey of Utopians, who thought that they could tame nature and their own shortcomings, and in the strength of togetherness create harmony, unity and a sense of unchanging peace in the middle of a wilderness.  However, to grow we often need disharmony and disunity to provide us with challenges.  As the two utopian experiments at New Harmony prove, drastic and catastrophic change often messes up the best of plans and desires.  The people creating utopias at New Harmony planned their way, they had their philosophy, they created what they thought was safety, and they still couldn't overcome rapid moving challenges.  Had they gone in with flexibility, knowing that there isn't one way but many, and it's when we try to force things to conform to us rather than allowing ourselves to experience and adapt that we get in trouble, they might have survived.  LHM learned that his trip had meaning precisely because it wasn't planned, it wasn't familiar, it wasn't safe, and it sometimes wasn't comfortable.  He even got lost a few times, and found himself afraid, but he traversed the labyrinth of his journey, survived, learned and grew.  May we all allow ourselves, at least once in a while, the opportunities to get lost, make time, be uncomfortable, be surprised, and take risks.

Musical Interlude

I've used this song before, but I had to use it again here.  Youngblood Brass Band, featuring Ike Willis, with Something.

If you want to know more about New Harmony

Historic New Harmony
Indiana State Museum: Historic New Harmony
MaxKade: Historic New Harmony
Posey County News (news site)
Robert Owen and New Harmony
Town of New Harmony
Wikipedia: New Harmony

Next up: The End of the Blue Highways


Blue Highways: Cheshire, New York

Unfolding the Map

We head into the Finger Lakes region - a beautiful region that I was lucky to visit in years past.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) makes a longer stop here to recharge with an old friend.  He feels like he needs it in order to continue onto the remainder of his trip.  I envy his ability to reconnect with his friend, as you'll read below.  Greg Brown provides a musical interlude.  To reconnect with where we are on the journey, get back in touch with the map.

Book Quote

"Chisholm rolled a fat round stone out of the trees.  I grabbed and pulled.  I was capable of lifting it, but it was so close to the limits of my strength, I didn't want to try.  Working with someone I knew less well, I would have picked it up, but with this old friend I could concede my limit and let the boulder take my measure.  Nothing showed our friendship better than that rock I walked away from."

Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 2

"We passed a foundation of a barn that had collapsed, a toppled chimney, and a weedy depression where an icehouse had stood.  'These are all dreams we're walking over,' I said.

"Chisholm looked at me strangely and went quiet for some time.  When he spoke again it was about the dogs.  Afterward, I thought I understood his silence:  I had undercut the stone wall we had built, our accomplishment.  The wall looked enduring, and it would serve for a while, but there would come a time when it would be a pile of rock to no end.  I had undercut the biggest dream of all - the one for permanence...."

Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 4

Hamlet of Cheshire sign in Cheshire, New York. Photo hosted at the Cheshire Canning blogsite. Click on photo to go to host page.

Cheshire, New York

Recently I have been examining my friendships.  I am a naturally introverted person, so making friendships in the usual places people make friends outside of institutional settings, such as school, churches, or other settings where one is forced to get to know people, is very difficult for me.  I can't just walk into a bar, approach someone and strike up a conversation.  That's not in my nature.  Nor do I like to draw attention to myself though I do like good attention when I get it.

Making friends, therefore, has been for me a painstaking process built over years, and I often wish that once the friendships are cemented they can remain static.  I sometimes wish time and distance didn't matter in friendships, and I used to think they wouldn't.  A friend for life is a friend for life, I believed.

But time and distance do matter, as does the effort and energy each friend puts into the friendship.  I was naive to think that all my friendships would remain the same.  Of course they've changed over the years.  I've made new friends, I've lost track of some friends.  I haven't put the energy into some friendships when I should, and they have drifted away.  I have put energy into other friendships where my level of commitment wasn't returned, and the friendships gradually became more superficial, shallow and in the case of some, eventually faded.

This is on my mind now because I am negotiating my way through what feels like immense personal change - change that will make me a better person.  My world feels like it is transforming around me and even people who I considered longtime and very close friends seem to be drifting away and new ones are starting to come in.  I have been very nervous about change throughout my life, and very hesitant to let it happen, so my instinct is to try to fight and hang on to what I had with dear life.  And I'm combating this instinct very hard.

For example, I have two friends, one on each coast.  One is a friend from my undergraduate institution.  I have always felt very attuned to this friend.  To me, it was as if we had a window into each other.  We are both introverted, thoughtful, curious about the world, willing to examine tough questions, and open to exploration.  Yet I found that to maintain the friendship, I had to make most of the effort.  Many phone calls I made would go unanswered.  His response to my annoyance was that he felt that at whatever time and whenever place we connected, we just always picked up comfortably.  To him it didn't matter when or where.  However for me, I wanted that connection and I wanted it more often, and I wanted him to show some commitment to our friendship.  I have given up complaining, given up making efforts, and I am letting that friendship drift.  It is sad to me.  I like him a lot, and have always felt more than friend with him, almost as if we were two spiritual mates seeking answers to similar questions.  But I can't wait any longer for him to share my commitment, and will let him seek me out if he wishes.  I just cannot put extra effort into the friendship any more because I just get too disappointed.

Another friend is very similar.  We are of different temperament.  He's a bit more extraverted than me.  We were thrown together in a community setting, and we became close.  We are both very competitive in our own ways, and occasionally clashed on that score.  I was best man at his wedding, and am godfather to his daughter.  I saw him often when I went to the East Coast for business.  However, since I've gotten farther from the East Coast, and my visits there far less frequent, I've seen him less.  I made efforts over the distance to maintain the friendship, and he has too though his family commitments made it more difficult for him.  In the past year, since I stopped being as proactive as I used to be in communicating, we have had only one exchange by e-mail.  Some actions, bad choices, in my personal life a couple of years ago, perhaps disappointed him in me but I don't know.  Part of my personal growth has been to try to rectify those personal issues that led me down paths that were destructive but I haven't been able to share that with him.  That friendship, one that was very important to me, seems adrift now and I don't know what to do about it except let it go where it will.

I'm not trying to make myself out as a good friend all the time.  I have two people that I was getting to know and that I like very much that moved away and I haven't been proactive in contacting them.  I have not kept up with some other people that are important to me.  Perhaps the disappointment I feel in my other friends are something that these other people feel with me.

I've also made some new friends who have become close.  I've learned that friendships are not static as much as I would like them to be.  They change, they grow, they fall apart.

But I'm struck by LHM's quotes, above, where he just enjoys a friend's company and the easy way they have with each other.  He makes it very clear that they have no need to impress each other, but are just fine being themselves in each other's company.  To me, those kinds of friendships have been inestimable gifts, and is at the root of why I'm sad they are changing.  LHM underscores change by using the metaphor of a wall to show the different perspectives that can be taken by each party in a friendship.  LHM marks the impermanence of what humans construct, include friendships that once seemed as solid as bedrock.  He acknowledges change, based on the changes in his own life.  His friend is troubled by that notion, rooted in the solidity of his lifestyle as it is now.  In the midst of my change, I am more willing to notice and acknowledge change around me.  I am at once filled with hope and terror at the same time.  I don't want to lose the friendships I have built over time, but my own growth might make it inevitable.  I love my friends, but I can't imprison them, nor myself, in my past if I am to move forward.  Maybe the love I have for them is the only thing that I can hold permanently, even as they slowly disappear into the distance.

Musical Interlude

One of my favorite songs, a bit melancholy, is Greg Brown's The Poet Game.  It is an acknowledgment of our own choices, life's changes and a reminiscence of people who made a mark on our lives and for whatever reason have moved on.  One lyric which right now is especially poignant to me is the following:

I had a friend who drank too much
and played too much guitar -
and we sure got along.
Reel-to-reels rolled across
the country near and far
with letters poems and songs..
but these days he don't talk to me
and he won't tell me why.
I miss him every time i say his name.
I don't know what he's doing
or why our friendship died
while we played the poet game.

And this:

Sirens wail above the fields -
another soul gone down -
another Sun about to rise.
I've lost track of my mistakes,
like birds they fly around
and darken half of my skies.
To all of those I've hurt -
I pray you'll forgive me.
I to you will freely do the same.
So many things I didn't see,
with my eyes turned inside,
playing the poet game.

Lyrics from Greg Brown's The Poet Game
off of his album of the same name


If you want to know more about Cheshire

This is about the only thing I could find remotely connected to Cheshire:

Cheshire Community Action Team

Next up: Hill Cumorah, New York


Blue Highways: Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

Looking for a place to stop for the night, William Least Heat-Moon begins to get irritated.  We'll see his irritation over the next couple of posts.  The truth is, when we seek inconvenience and find it, it sometimes isn't pretty.  Take a look at the map to locate the source of the irritation!

Book Quote

"....The map promised Moose Junction, Dairyland, Cozy Corners [sic] - towns that proved either no longer to exist or to be three houses and a barn."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 11

Sunset near Moose Junction, Wisconsin. Photo by Rick Techlin and hosted at the Light from Light blog. Click on photo to go to host page.Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner, Wisconsin

Disappointment, frustration, irritation.  Do you see the pattern that is unfolding in this set of posts?  We all get to such places where we just want things to work right, and for all the elements to fall into place, so that we can put an end to the task or chore we are working on, or put an end to the day and knock off until tomorrow.

Douglas County is not proving to be a positive place for LHM.  In fact, this whole series of posts is about irritation.  He begins his Wisconsin segment in Superior which doesn't have much that's interesting for him.  He breezes on through in Ghost Dancing as it is getting dark, and begins looking for a place to sleep.  But Pattison State Park drives him away with a large sign of rules and regulations.  All he wants to do is find a place to pull in and settle down for the night.  He doesn't want to undertake an expedition or camp down for a month.

Now his irritation is growing.  He looks at the map.  As always, he is interested in going to those out-of-the-way places on the blue highways, particularly if their names are different.  Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner seem to promise "interesting" with the practical and the promise of comfort.

How disappointing, then, to find nothing there.  Moose Junction is a small, unincorporated township outside Dairyland.  Dairyland is a crossroads of Highway 35, Town Road T and County Road T that consists of a small cluster of buildings that give no indication that the town has 186 people in it.  You are certainly not going to find a motel or campground there.  Cozy Corner, despite its promise of comfort, is still another crossroads, where County Road T, School Road and Highway 35 meet.  There's not much there besides the people who live in the area.

Of course, we all deal with irritations and disappointments.  In fact, LHM will later say that part of the purpose of his trip is to be inconvenienced.  However, Douglas County will put that conviction to the test.  We often say we want to be challenged, but when a challenge comes, how gracefully do we really respond?  In my case, more often than not, my response is not with aplomb, but with a lot of whining.

I recently read an article written about student education.  You may think this falls far afield from Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner, but the article had everything to do with challenge.  The author argues that if we are exposed to challenges at an early age and we are encouraged to respond to them with the idea that they are essential to learning, it appears that we carry that empowerment into later life.  The article lists a study that was done with students.  As we know, some students' IQs are higher than others.  Students that demonstrate early academic aptitude AND are reinforced with the notion that they are gifted and smart often, when confronted with challenges, do not respond well to them.  They give up if the answer does not come quickly, and see their inability to solve a problem as a failure.  Students who are presented with problems as challenges that are interesting and fun not only throw themselves into problems but also eventually work them out.

Take two groups of students.  In one group reinforce students' through statements and praise.  In the other group, present students with problems and encourage them to view problems as fun challenges.  At the beginning of the experiment the students' should be about the same in their ability to solve complex problems.  But over time, the students that are encouraged to view challenges as fun most likely will show significant increases in their abilities whereas the other group of students will not.

This is reinforced by Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, where he does a profile on a man with an extremely high, genius-level IQ.  This man has, despite his genius, done nothing spectacular with his life.  He knows he has way above-average intelligence.  Yet he has won no Nobel Prizes, holds no academic posts - in fact, he struggled in college because he had trouble playing by the rules and felt stifled.  Perhaps, had he learned to accept struggle and challenge as something that could lead to growth rather than as something that is irritating and unnecessary, he might have achieved an outcome in life that better reflects his genius.

I'm reflecting on these matters because, in a sense, I too follow the same kind of pattern.  I got my PhD at the University of New Orleans, and was perceived to be one of the more promising students who came through the program.  I took to statistics easily, came up with interesting arguments and did well.  But I didn't land a job in academia.  I work on the staff of a medical school and not in a political science department.  I tried a year on the job market and got very disappointed in the dissonance between what I thought I should achieve and what I was offered.  I gave up, and whether you find me to be retroactively justifying a failure or simply reorganizing my priorities in life, I now question whether I really want to be in academia at all.  However, a big part of my disappointment was the constant reinforcement that I was a great student, one who would go places.  When I met a challenge in the job market, and found I was just another guy with a diploma looking for a job in academia, it didn't translate into what I thought about myself, and I struggled.

In contrast, a colleague of mine felt that he struggled all the time in school.  He is from a Catholic neighborhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  He came to the United States because his parents didn't want him mixed up in "The Troubles."  He told me once that he didn't have the smarts that I had, that everything seemed like a slog to him.  Yet he got his PhD, went on the job market, and took a job at a small state university in an area of political science that wasn't even his main concentration.  His choice was purely utilitarian - he could get a job faster if he took it in a field of political science that didn't interest him as much.  He's now an assisant professor, and quite possibly an associate professor, in a political science department.  He tended to look at challenges as something to overcome.  He'd done it his whole life, and it worked.  He continued to apply it, and it netted results for him.

I'm not saying that we can't be irritated sometimes at our challenges, but meeting them depends much on the perspective we bring to them.  It's taken me a long time to learn that.  I hope that beyond learning, I can reorganize my outlook and apply a new perspective, one that embraces challenge, to the second half of my life.

Musical Interlude

I don't know why this song came to me.  I like the Indigo Girls, but never really listened to a lot of their music other than the songs I knew.  But their peppy, upbeat song called Hammer and a Nail, about avoiding stagnancy and meeting challenges ahead seems to fit both my mood and this post as I write.  I hope you agree.

If you want to know more about Moose Junction, Dairyland or Cozy Corner

Wikipedia: Cozy Corner
Wikipedia: Dairyland
Wikipedia: Moose Junction

Next up:  Somewhere in Douglas (or Burnett) County, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Superior, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

We have crossed into Wisconsin, a state with which I am very familiar, as we continue our eastward trek with William Least Heat-Moon through the northern part of the U.S.  We'll breeze through Superior on our way south into America's Dairyland.  To find Superior, look at the map!

Book Quote

"On Superior Street I ate smoked cisco, then crossed the bridge above St. Louis Bay into Superior, Wisconsin, then down broad and empty Belknap Street running from the ore docks past old walk-ups and corner taverns, on to route 35, and out of the city."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 11

Downtown Superior, Wisconsin. Photo by "Thundertubs" and posted at Click on photo to go to host page.

Superior, Wisconsin

Wisconsin is special to me for many reasons.  For the first 22 years of my life, I was a California boy.  I rarely left California.  In fact, the only time I was outside of California in that time was in 1979, when my parents decided to take advantage of cheaper prices and bought a cruise to Alaska out of Vancouver, British Columbia, for our family. 

An interesting side note to that trip - when we took the cruise the Soviet Union had just begun to occupy Afghanistan and the ship we were to take, the M.V. Odessa, was a Soviet-flagged cruise ship with a huge hammer and sickle on the smokestack!  As a result, our vacation was not as cool as it was supposed to be, because the U.S. shut off ports and the iconic Glacier Bay to our ship except for the port of Skagway, Alaska.  All we could do was cruise om and out of the Western Canada fjords (which we could do because the ship had side screws allowing it to turn 180 degrees in one place).  I developed a heavy crush on our Russian meal server, Larisa (who kissed me when I left!  My heart still flutters remembering that!).

But I digress.  After college, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I lived there for nine years.  To date, besides California, I haven't lived anywhere else for a longer period of time.  22 years in California, nine years in Wisconsin, seven years (and counting) in New Mexico, six years in Texas, four years in Louisiana.  I anticipate, barring a complete life change, that my years in New Mexico will overtake Wisconsin sometime, but Wisconsin will remain special to me because it was my first break with what I knew.  Wisconsin gave me a chance to discover myself, address issues I never knew I had, provided opportunities for personal growth, and introduced me to new challenges.  Without Wisconsin, I would have never developed the adventure for travel and exploration that I did.  I wouldn't have thought about living anywhere else outside of California if I had not taken that step to live in Milwaukee's inner-city, volunteer in an inner-city school and for unemployed people, and make it my home.  It was a home that was very difficult to leave when I eventually did, and I still look back upon the state with a lot of fondness and wistfulness.

One thing I remember about Wisconsin, and Milwaukee in particular, is the corner tavern.  LHM mentions the corner taverns in Superior in his quote.  I don't know if Superior is like Milwaukee, but in Milwaukee you could live anywhere within the city, it seemed, and be steps away from a corner tavern.  In Wisconsin you'd see Pabst, Schlitz and Old Style signs beckoning you into the smokey environment within.  When I walked into a corner tavern, there was often four or five people at the bar, maybe 2 together and the rest drinking alone.  Sometimes there might be someone playing pool, darts, shuffleboard or some other gaming amusement for the patrons.  A TV might be on in the corner, showing the Bucks, Brewers or Packers, but silent, to make way for music from a jukebox.  Or the place might be silent save for the clink of the glasses.  What was a mystery to me was how these places stayed in business, because if I went back even months later, often the same patrons were there, and nobody else save for the one non-regular guy like me who was just looking to duck in and have a beer.

It didn't matter in the neighborhoods I lived in whether I went out my door and turned right or left.  At the end of any corner was the tavern.  It was a bar, but it was always more depending on what you needed.  It could be a shelter from the weather, a place to bide your time if you needed a place away, a psychotherapist's office if you needed to talk to someone, a place to meet friends, a place to meet potential dates, a place to forget the troubles of the world, or a place to rail about the troubles of the world with perhaps a sympathetic ear.  It was a place for politics, for religion, for love, and sometimes a place for anger and fighting.

Another thing I remember about Wisconsin was how guarded people were about themselves.  You could tell that Northern Europeans were the main early settlers of the state because everyone tended to avoid outbursts of emotion and anger, and were hard to read.  I didn't think about it much while I lived there, but it only made an impression on me when I had lived in Texas and New Orleans for awhile.  Texans are big and boisterous, filling up the space around them because there is so much of it and so much of them.  New Orleanians are outgoing and industrious people with an opinion on everything.  Ask a New Orleanian about the New Orleans Saints, the local professional football team, and you're in a for an hour-long discourse on everything that is good and bad about the team, detailed opinions on what the coach did well or did wrong, and prognostications on what will happen in the rest of the season or next year.

In contrast, we visited Door County, the long thin peninsula that stretches out from Wisconsin into Lake Michigan.  It is a beautiful area, especially in the fall when leaves are turning.  We walked into a shop and were perusing things, and my wife tried to strike up a conversation with the person behind the desk who was wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey top.  Brett Favre, the quarterback at the time, had just set the record for touchdowns thrown in a career.  "Pretty amazing about Bret Favre, huh?" my wife said.  "Yep," the shop owner said.  That's it.  Nothing else.  It doesn't matter whether the issue is something exciting or something deeply personal.  Wisconsinites tend to maintain a flatter aspect about things in general.

Which is why it is always surprising when you hear about major protests taking place in Wisconsin, like we heard of this past summer in the state capital of Madison.  Yet, Wisconsin has a history of political innovation, populism and protest that belies the pastoral images that comes with being "America's Dairyland."

For what they keep under their vests, Wisconsinites are very generous and very giving, but like I learned in Germany (which to me Wisconsin most resembles), it can take a while to develop relationships.  However, some of my best relationships and friendships were forged in Wisconsin.  The state is an integral part of the colorful tapestry of my life and I will always treasure the time spent there and the people I knew there. 

Most importantly, it was in Wisconsin that I met my wife and where we married in 1995.  For all these reasons, I can heartily say On Wisconsin!

Musical Interlude

Another thing I remember about Wisconsin was the awfully dreary winters.  I seem to recall that during the month of January or February, one could go a month or more without seeing the sun, just a gray dark overcoat in the sky above.  Joan Baez sings a song of northern Wisconsin called The River in the Pines where she makes mention of "Wisconsin's dreary clime."  It also references the lumber industry that was so prevalent in that area of the country.  It is not a happy tale.

If you want to know more about Superior

City of Superior
Superior Telegram (newspaper) Superior
University of Wisconsin-Superior
Wikipedia: Superior

Next up: Pattison State Park, Wisconsin