The Northwoods of Wisconsin has a special place in my heart and always will. I spent a year there back in 93-94 as part of a college-based wilderness program called Wisconsin Wilderness Campus (WWC). There were about 28 of us in the program that year and, to this day, I am still good friends with everyone from the program that has wanted to remain in contact – only lost track of a handful of people.
I went back in February for one final reunion – the program is closing down after 25 years of continuous operation. Twelve people from my year were able to come, representing South Carolina, California, Africa/Michigan, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maryland. Even after all of these years, we all came together as if we hadn’t spent the past 20 years forging our own paths in this world. People who are as close as we are will understand – there are some people who you can pick up the conversation with so many years later as if no time has gone by at all.
So what am I writing about here? I’ve hesitated about sharing my experience because of this odd phenomenon that I’ve come to understand over the years – anyone who didn’t experience this year together really doesn’t understand what it’s like to have this kind of experience, doesn’t understand the lifelong bond that I’ve forged with these people, just doesn’t get it. [Have you seen the documentary “A Map for Saturday“? This phenomena is discussed here, too.] So I find it hard to write about.
That being said, we all had a wonderful time! I brought my oldest son, Thing1, with me. I enjoyed being able to share the Northwoods with him and give him a little glimpse into a very important part of my life. He enjoyed playing on the mountians of snow and running around on Lake Owen’s solid ice surface. I think he also really liked missing a couple days of school. I was surprised by how much he’s been paying attention to my life. He asked where my room was on the campus and wanted to go upstairs to see it. He even wanted to know how I kept my furniture. He also asked if I knew Daddy back then and if I was married. He had a lot of good questions – he was trying to figure out when in my life I was here. He knew it was before he was born.
He and I stayed at Telemark Resort (home of the International Birkebeiner Ski Race) rather than opt for the army cots on campus. Honestly, I have an income now, and a back that appreciates a real bed at night, so we went a little “luxury” on this trip. The first thing that I thought when we checked into our room was “1973”! My boy thought this was the most wonderful hotel room he’d ever seen. It was rather large, had a balcony overlooking snow capped trees and fields (and snowmobiles), and had a fold out couch just for him. He claimed the table and chairs for his “office”, and made a fort out of the couch cushions and pillows. He also LOVED the arcade room down the hall. For me, all of this was perfectly fine. I kind of enjoyed the big hearth fireplace in the lobby and the long, wood-lined hallways. It was a change for us to hear snowmobiles driving past at night instead of trains, different from home.
We did a lot of STUFF. There are two gyms on campus that house equipment for gymnastics, freestyle BMXing, and skateboarding, so we had a great time playing. Thing1 liked to jump into the foam practice pits and enjoyed sliding down the ramps. I jumped in one pit and then discovered how difficult it was to get back out again. [Then I got preoccupied thinking about potential dead mice in the foam, truth be told.] Outside the upper gym there were mountains of plowed snow. I think that Thing1 would have spent his entire weekend being king of the snowpiles if it wasn’t so cold outside. We played modified hockey on the lake ice as well – one of my favorite games. No skates, hence the “modified” part. Others stuck to broomball, but I didn’t want to get killed, lose a knee, or get brained in general. I tried to get Thing1 a ride on a snowmobile, but that didn’t work out. We did, however, help a snowmobiler flip their sled back over after they wrecked right in front of us. I think he found this perfectly acceptable.
I spent a lot of time catching up with people and eating, sometimes both at the same time. Thing1 got a little bored with this nonsense, but I had packed him a To-Do bag filled with crayons, paper, toy airplanes, a few new packs of Redakai cards, snacks, and so on. I knew going into this weekend that he and I would have different interests. 🙂 He was a good sport about all of this, though. An excellent travel companion!
One night a group from my year went out to Lakewoods Resort and had dinner at the bar. This turned out to be fortuitous for Thing1 becuase the bartender let him play Wii Sports on one of the tvs. He was so involved in this that he pretty much forgot to eat the ice cream sundae I got for him. At one point he inadvertantly hurled the Wiimote across the bar, nearly clocking a patron’s backside. After that he had to wear the band on his wrist.
Our favorite adventure was in Cable, WI where we discovered a beautiful, new museum: the Cable Natural History Museum. We took off one afternoon just to have some mama-boy time and headed here. Thing1 was in heaven – the current exhibit, “Star Power: Energy From the Sun”, is all about energy, electricity, photons, wind power, and so on. Of course the museum is filled with Northwoods wildlife and environment displays, too. I would expect no less. They had this cool system where each visitor wears a “photon” necklace, basically a wooden rod with a ball on top. Most displays had a hole in which to put the photon stick. Once in, some part of the display turned on. I though that this was rather inventive. Thing1 ran around trying to find all of the photon holes for a while, then settled into seeing what each display was about. He particularly enjoyed the hands-on area where he could crawl around like a bear in a den, make crayon rubbings of natural objects, and pull out drawers that reveled a different thing in each – feathers, claws, bird wings, insects in boxes, and so on. We also discovered how to make a realistic loon call with a frisbee and string. All very cool.
We were invited to attend the wedding of a man who was seven years old when I lived in WI. He was getting married on Lake Owen. Yes – On. The ceremony, though short because it was -11F outside, was as perfect and as beautiful as the Northwoods themselves. I’m so blessed to have been there for this event.
I was pleased to discover that my favorite coffee shop in Hayward, WI was still there, albeit around the corner from its original location. Backroads Coffee had expanded and modernized, and looked like a thriving business twenty years later. When I went in to get a mocha-soy-decaf-no-whip for the road, the Backroads was teeming with people on a Sunday morning.
I think that the best part of this trip for me, beyond having a weekend away with Thing1, was the opportunity to spend time this one last time in a place that has been so meaningful to me throughout my life, with the people who shared this experience with me. There were, I’d guess, around 200 graduates of the program there for the weekend. Despite the fact that the vast majority of these folks were strangers, there was an immediate kinship felt between all. I didn’t have to know their whole life story because our lives had already intersected at this one point – WWC. We had all gone through similar experiences and bonded with our classmates. Everyone’s experiences have been different, yet there is this one commonality that binds us all together. I am very glad that I was able to introduce my son to this experience in some way, even though he is young and can’t really comprehend some of my feelings that this trip invoked. He was able to meet people that he now refers to as his aunts and uncles. He, in his own way, was brought into this group too.
And so, I leave you on this note:
“All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body
Nature is, and God the soul.” – Alexander Pope