Thursday, July 26, 2012

To go barefoot

Forest urchins, an alley, and a classical lesson

It's been hot out, so to help combat the inevitable bucket's worth of sweat each day, I've been wearing shorts and sandals as much as possible. Sometimes, rather all the time, sandals get on my nerves though as I don't feel as agile as I'd like to while walking around. Fixing this problem has left me with the choice to either adorn shoes and sweat it out or forego footwear altogether and walk around barefoot, which was my solution last weekend.

The grass was not a problem, and I didn't mind walking over the gravel all that much until day two, when I stepped on a pinecone. All at once I was reminded how perfectly engineered those little forest urchins (think sea urchins) are for piercing the undercarriage of fleshy human feet. I grimaced a little, and complained of the pain, then retold the tale of how this wouldn't have bothered me years ago, how I used to run around barefoot all the time as a kid, how I used to be so tough.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Northwoods

You can keep your concrete jungle

Someone once said that in every human soul there is a harkening to a particular geography, whether that be seas, mountains, lakes, rivers, wooded highlands, or wide open prairies. I cannot recall where I heard that, but I will never forget it, because I believe it.

I have come to recognize this trait within myself, this gravitation towards a particular shape of nature, and it is now a way in which I identify myself. I have swam in the Atlantic, and I have explored the Rockies from east to west. I've traveled many, many times through the plains of the Dakotas and lived my share of time next to the Mississippi. I have developed an absurd fondness for Lake Superior (which I will always consider a second home), but the one place that keeps me coming back time and time again is the wooded landscape of northern Wisconsin.

Commonly called the Northwoods, this region is known by many as a vacation in the middle of nowhere. To Madison, Milwaukee, and everywhere south of there, this land is sparsely populated, uninfluential, and wild. When you look at a map of our great state, you see the interstate highways end at its midline, and in their place dark green patches that mix with specks of dark blue paint a picture of expansive forests and hidden lakes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Building cabins

A clear view atop 40-foot scaffolding

Last weekend was a scorcher under the sun. Not optimal to be atop 50 feet of scaffolding, covered in dirt and sweat, climbing, lifting, nailing and caulking together a SIP panel cabin. And while that may sound like a form of torture, I was there by choice.

At the (rather vague) invitation of a close friend to help with constructing a cabin, I’d signed away my Saturday and Sunday of swimming and fishing for sweating and working. You know what though, I didn’t regret it once, not even when the baseball cap I was wearing was too saturated to absorb any more sweat, and the salty streams began to leak into the corners of my eyes, and the absolutely blinding sun seemed to reflect off everything, and my head was pounding and splitting, and I was spitting sand out of my mouth every couple minutes. If the job wasn’t finished, I wasn’t about to be the first to quit, so I kept working, just the same as 14 or so others, ferociously chugging water every 15 minutes to stave off heat exhaustion.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fishing and solitude

A personal preference for cracked oars

I don't want to use an outboard motor on the lake I frequent because they are too dirty, and the water is too pristine. I don't think the nesting pair of loons out there would like the noise, and I don't want that racket either. I don't want to see gas and oil reflecting the sunset, or for that matter pay for and maintain yet another machine. So I use a pair of old, cracked, chipped, grimy, wooden oars to propel the 14-foot jon-boat in pursuit of fish over 65 acres of clean, clear Northwoods lake water.

The lake treats me well - it is my refuge, my sanctuary, my peaceful place, and it has never disappointed me. I am dedicated to ensuring it is treated properly, appointed myself steward, and concerned myself with treating the water and the land around it with respect and gentleness. The lake has taught me patience, perseverance, and gratitude. It is a living, evolving organism, and I am symbiotic with it.

Some of my favorite memories on the lake involve very little fishing at all. Don't get me wrong, I always have a line in the water, but the sentimentality arises from other things. I recall the breeze, the clouds, the sunlight off the trees. I think of the silence when the water is placid, or the choppy swells as a front is moving in. I think of all the stories spoken in low voices with close friends, and I like to remember the times we'd fish until it was too dark to see the dock, and how we'd wait until the moon came out from behind the clouds before making the rowing trip back to shore.