Thursday, October 24, 2013


The mass of memories I have behind a dirty windshield
on old cars and trucks making their way down cracked and crooked
back roads in northern Wisconsin is immeasurable and irreplaceable.

Highways and forest roads

Growing up in rural northern Wisconsin was difficult for a lot of reasons, but one of the hardest things to cope with was the lack of activities for high school age kids. If you were not in sports, you were pretty much out of luck.

Instead, my friends and I had to come up with our own thing. We organized get togethers over video games, paintball, music, films, and fast food.

For whatever reason, I remember spending a lot of time in parking lots. Stores that had lots along the highway were prime locations as anyone could venture past on the road and stop to say hi. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure we congregated in those lots because one of us was usually working in the store the blacktop was in front of.

I guess we just had different interests than were offered by the school. We used to make short films, music videos, trade music, listen to music from whoever's car was parked in the lot. We laughed a lot, did impressions, picked on each other.

Another popular thing to do back then was drive the back roads outside of town. You know, the Wisconsin county trunk highways. Driving all those winding routes through the woods and meadows, past lakes and rivers, finding what linked up with what, hitting dead ends and back tracking to civilization. A lot of trial and error and beautiful sunsets. It worked good for dates...

I suppose I could have learned my way around by looking at a map, or now, Google Earth, but the old way was more fun. Bumming around in beat up Fords and Buicks, figuring out what roads connected where. It put me in tune with the area I grew up, helped me make a mental map of where I was going and where I had been.

Driving up to an intersection on those roads, I wasn't always sure which way to turn. Sometimes you think a road cuts over the land towards the sun when really it dead-ends in a swamp or you go in a big circle. Don't even get me started on all those crisscrossing forest roads with three numbers, marked by tiny brown signs. Seriously, who's idea was it to make those brown, itty-bitty wooden signs?

There are many crossroads in a person's life, and they're rarely marked. We ride up on them in a variety of ways, but when we're sitting there at the four-way stop, idling, the road before us either changes direction or continues in the same manner. Check your rearview, your side mirrors, and look both ways, but once you put your foot on the gas, you better be committed to it. There's no point in driving a road you don't want to be on.

That is, of course, unless you're taking a particular route because of what's at the end of it. Maybe this time it's the end that justifies the means. Then again, is that ever the case? If there is no journey, was it worth it?

Maybe the highway brought you there faster than the back roads, but did you see any of the country? Did you run into anything unexpected? Stop to smell the roses? Enjoy the nuances and learn the place a little better? Did you at least get lost in the Chequamegon-Nicolet for half a day?

Most likely not. If you took the straight-cut highway, the wide, four lane one that someone else already cleaved open the earth with, it's more likely you didn't notice a thing; it's more likely your only memory from the trip was the occasional, simmering road rage towards almost every other driver.

Listen, I get it - sometimes it's just about getting home or finishing a job. Efficiency is key because it's painless and quick. What we miss doesn't concern us because we've been this way a thousand times before. Fair enough, stay the course.

If, however, you're at one of life's intersections and you find a glimmer of adventurous spirit, a slice of intrigue or the need for a change - a little push to venture outside your comfort zone - you really must make a turn. These moments don't always present themselves when we're ready for them, but if you learn to trust yourself as the driver of your own life, you'll be in good hands.

"Lately I'm beginning to find that when I drive myself my light is found."
-Brandon Boyd, Incubus

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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