I’ve been around the world and back, a couple times now. I’ve seen only a thin ribbon of it, had only the tiniest fractions of experiences along that ribbon, and can’t even come close to grasping the Human and Earth systems and stories underlying it all. Around the world twice, all over our country, and I know nothing. All I know, all I am sure of after all this wandering, is that Wisconsin is The Shire. Yup. Where Frodo and Bilbo lived. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire.
Wisconsin will gently hold you, rock you like a babe, provide for your needs. It is a fertile land. Literally, the soil is fertile like few places on Earth. And it rains upon that soil, and the sun somewhat regularly shines upon it. It is a fertile place for the mind as well. People have ideas here and our land and cities manifest those ideas in reality. The cabins of the Northwoods, the family farms Central Wisconsin, the unmatched small business and manufacturing vigor of Greater Milwaukee and the Interstate 41 corridor – these are all manifestations of dreams, sprung forth from this magnanimous land.
Wisconsin is a kindly and benevolent mother. A lot of you have probably known this for your whole life. I didn't figure it out until later - about 2 weeks ago. I always need to see over the next ridgeline, so before I could recognize and love Wisconsin for her gentle and generous character I had to be blown from 13,000 ft ridgelines, freeze and cook in bipolar dune fields, watch hail smash glass and ruin yet another year’s fruit crop, melt under the equatorial sun, creep away from the rattle of a coiled snake, meet corrupt officials, see police dogs in action against a crowd, and become just another unknown face in just another Chinese town of just 10,000,000 souls. I doubt all of that is over with, but I’ve gotten in enough of it to finally know – it is damn good right here. I’ve been all over, and it was good everywhere, but right here is as good as anywhere. I am back Wisconsin-home, indefinitely, no particular plan or intent to be going anywhere else, and it feels so right and good.
Welcome to Backyard Adventures 2020. I think it is true for most everyone, but I'll speak for myself until I show it to be true - I have adventure for a lifetime right here in my backyard. This place and time is ripe for adventure. Wisconsin may not make it onto Instagram or into Outdoor Magazine as often as the Rocky Mountain states, but I am thinking more and more that may be an injustice. We shall see. I am set out to adventure in the backyard every week for 52 weeks. I am going to write about some of this Backyard Adventure. Some of it might worthless, while other bits may be worthy of the 0s and 1s they are printed on, possibly providing humor, education, inspiration, pretty pictures or other entertainment.
Recently I had been writing about linear adventures, epic outings with a clear goal. That was the American West. Before that I had been writing about haplessly meandering into beautiful and unexpected encounters. That was China. Now I don’t know what I’m writing about. I don’t know the format, the themes, the tone. Am I writing linear adventures, educational public service announcements, satirical commentary or jolly musings? I don’t know. I don’t even know the adventures. I just know that adventure shall be had. The fields, forests, streets, homes, pubs, cities and town are abounding with them, I am going to find them both looked for and sprung upon me, and I am going to share them in one way or another. Here is the first of the Adventures, given in a most brief telling of the tale:
4 PM New Year’s Eve I was surprised to find myself northbound, driving through sleeping farm fields covered in 12” of their evening-blue winter blanket as the daylight drained right to left from the sky.
A couple hours earlier, I had made a “Hey man.. What’s going on tonight for the New Year.. I might be interested in doing something, in going out… Or I might just stay in…” The most annoying kind of checking-the-options, try-and-persuade-me phone call. This weak act and a good pal thus pulled me from the doldrums and into the first backyard adventure of 2020 - three days of a powerful good time in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
“Shut the computer pal! Don’t be like that, come on now! We’re going. We’re leaving in an hour. I’m packing up the ice fishing gear right now.”
There were New Year’s Eve games, little bacon-wrapped sausages, a houseful of welcoming new friends, a beer or few, my first fish through the ice, towering pines, clean cool air, quintessential up north bars, loud tunes, quiet nights.
The remarkable and recurring part of all of my Wisconsin Northwoods experiences is the “shrinking of the universe”. Head north and I am finally fully present. The here and now is all there is. Milwaukee seems as distant as Milan or Manchuria. The people right there with me, the same faces each evening and morning, they are all of the people in my world. The crunch of ice underfoot, the fire on the lakeshore – it is the only scene in my world. 2019 was around the world and back again. It was “good to be here” everywhere and everyday along the way. The calendar has ticked over, and I cannot imagine a better start to Backyard Adventure 2020. Wisconsin-home, the universe simplified and shrunk to a lakeside scene, it is good to be here.