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Not so happy trails

June 22, 2012


The best part of any job is the people you work with. The worst part is letting them go.  Even when you know that their moving on shows growth on their part and some small contribution to their growth on your part.

After two and a half years as our Assistant Editor, Chelsey Lewis is leaving Wisconsin Trails for a position with UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts.  Our loss is going to be their big gain.

The selfish part of me wants to say ” I hope you stink at your new job and they think you dress funny and they fire you on your first day and you come right back to Trails! ”

The part of me that knows what’s right wants to thank her for the intelligence, passion, and character that she brought to the magazine and to our friendship.

With a maturity and patience far beyond her years, the things she helped me with are countless and I am so grateful to her.  She was definitely the adult in our relationship.  Miss you already kid.

Chelsey Lewis


Funny Business

June 7, 2012

n my bizzaro reality the magazine business works both ahead of the calendar and at the same time behind the calendar.  Sound weird? Living it is weirder.  The picture below is from a fall shoot in 2011 in Door County, for a fall 2012 issue, that I’m retouching in June.  It’s strange to be shooting something in fall that won’t see daylight for a year then open the images in early summer when it’s going to be 90° F over the weekend.  So in other words I shoot ahead for far from now to get things in early enough for my editors and art director to work their magic in the present so that things are on time in the future of what I shot in the past.

Maybe the funnier thing is that I feel some of these pictures.  That picture of the pumpkins in the cherry orchards?  Here in June’s present I shiver a bit looking at it, recalling October wind and red ears and my nose running and wishing for gloves.  Which messes up my already mussed head when you say ” It’ll be the Fourth of July before you know it. ” Because a part of me is a couple of days away from Halloween.

On Memorial Day

May 29, 2012

A year ago I wrote a post called ” A Year, a Month, the Summer Girls and a Triumph Motorcycle ” about losing two really good friends, and worrying about losing another.  Well, this weekend the one I was worrying about, our dear friend Bruce, ran out of road, losing his battle with cancer.  We spent part of the weekend in the hospital with his wife Kerry, feeling as most of us do in that situation, inadequate, powerless.  But as the poet John Milton said ” they also serve who but stand and wait.” Though numbed by medicines of grace, Bruce kept saying that he wanted to go home.  Sunday he got his wish, a truck came and we set up for hospice in their home, a hospital bed in the living room, and an oxygen machine next to it.  Small things in terms of size yet giant in how they change the landscape of someone’s life.  Bruce came home soon after.

Bruce was one of those people we didn’t know for a really long time, he and Kerry having moved across from us just a few years ago, yet we became fast friends, feeling like we had known each other forever.  He was especially kind to my grandsons Lukas and Finn, Bruce taking serious and frequent action in filling what he saw as a void in their intake of candy and ice cream.

My grandsons are from outside St. Louis and Lukas is a diehard Cardinals fan.  His favorite player has always been Albert Pujols.  Last summer Bruce, Kerry, Sherry and I went to Summerfest and we lost track of Bruce.  I found him in a sports memorabilia tent where he was handing the guy money.  He was  buying a framed four-card set of Albert Pujols baseball cards.  I said ” Aw, Bruce you don’t need to do that. ”  In typical Bruce fashion he grinned his crazy grin and said ” Ah, well, ya know, Lukas…”  Lukas was of course thrilled, and that framed set is on the wall next to his bed.

Some prayers are really hard to send up, but as I sat by Bruce’s side Sunday night I sent one up, asking God to let Bruce fly away home, so he wouldn’t have to be in pain anymore.  Yesterday morning, on Memorial Day I was headed to shoot a parade in Mequon, when my wife called me.  Bruce had passed, a prayer answered.  Sometimes the very hardest things to ask for, when that prayer is answered it breaks your heart, but ends up being the kindest moment of grace for someone else.

Bruce died on Memorial Day, ironically, just as his father did.  I thank him for the profound kindness he showed our family.

Albert Pujols was traded to the Angels, and yesterday, so was Bruce. I believe he’d been playing on their minor league team for a very long time.

Getting Ready and the Ghost of Nick Adams

May 23, 2012

I talked a couple of blogs ago about gearing up for camping, and my slight obsession with the packs, tents, and stoves that go with us into the woods. The gear is very important, but I go through another gearing up, a different getting ready.  As late spring leans towards summer, I begin to load the backpack of my mind, finding things I always put in from the past even as I load a real backpack in the present.

For a few decades now, in late spring before I camp for the first time, I re-read Ernest Hemingway’s short story Big Two-Hearted River. Nick Adams is the only character in the story and in it he is by himself on a camping and fishing trip.  I was a junior in high school the first time I read it and I’ve read it every spring since.  It gets my mind ready to camp, to see and smell, to be, as Hemingway writes of Nick,  ” in the good place.”

Here is a taste of Big Two-Hearted River:: He started a fire with some chunks of pine he got with the ax from a stump. Over the fire he stuck a wire grill, pushing the tour legs down into the ground with his boot. Nick put the frying pan and a can of spaghetti on the grill over the flames. He was hungrier. The beans and spaghetti warmed. Nick stirred them and mixed them together. They began to bubble, making little bubbles that rose with difficulty to the surface- There was a good smell. Nick got out a bottle of tomato catchup and cut four slices of bread. The little bubbles were coming faster now. Nick sat down beside the fire and lifted the frying pan off. He poured about half the contents out into the tin plate. It spread slowly on the plate. Nick knew it was too hot. He poured on some tomato catchup. He knew the beans and spaghetti were still too hot. He looked at the fire, then at the tent, he was not going to spoil it all by burning his tongue. For years he had never enjoyed fried bananas because he had never been able to wait for them to cool. His tongue was very sensitive. He was very hungry. Across the river in the swamp, in the almost dark, he saw a mist rising. He looked at the tent once more. All right. He took a full spoonful from the plate.

“Chrise,” Nick said, “Geezus Chrise,” he said happily.

The writing is taut yet so descriptive I can taste Nick’s experiences as he makes his camp and then flyfishes in a cold northern river.  Gets my blood going.  Every year.

 Big Two-Hearted River is about more than camping, but scholars seem to agree that a lot of it is about the restorative qualities Nick finds within nature.  I, too, feel restored by the woods, by the deliberate making of a camp, by the simple cooking of food over a fire.  A couple of weeks back we set up a camp for a photo shoot going in the July/August issue of Wisconsin Trails.  As a cast iron skillet full of beans began to steam over the fire my editor Kristen said ” Those look good! ” I grinned on the outside, and on the inside I said to myself ” Yeah, Nick would think so, too.

Spirits of the forest

May 12, 2012

Last week the Wisconsin Trails crew set out for a photo shoot to illustrate the camping guide which appears in our upcoming July/August issue.  We had all the gear and food that you’d bring if you were going camping.  It’s always great to be out of the office, but truth be told, we all felt somewhat ripped off being at beautiful Kohler Terry Andrae State Park and not actually camping.  The Everywhere Spirit seemed to want to soften that blow somewhat as ten minutes after we started setting up our faux camp we got an unusual blessing.  From the tops of the pines came the raucous sounds of crows.  We looked up to see the departing crows and a flash of brownish white.  I thought the flash of color was a hawk as we often see crows chasing hawks pretty much everywhere.  Then we looked closer and saw that it was something much more elusive and rarely seen than a hawk.  It was an owl.  As we watched in amazement, there was movement in the pine boughs around the owl.  Two more owls.  Unbelievable.  We stood smiling, childlike with wonder. 

To put this into proper context I’ll tell you that I haven’t seen an owl in the wild since 1980 or so.  I was walking through an Illinois forest at night , when I unknowingly walked right into a branch that an owl had been perched on.  The owl flew right towards my face and then off into the blackness.  Before that I’d guess it would be somewhere around 1968, I was seven and fishing at high noon on an Alabama creek bank. My grandfather wandered down the creek to fish another hole and a few minutes later I looked up from my bobber to see a great horned owl staring at me from a tree limb on the other side of the creek.  I blinked my eyes to make sure it was real. When I opened them he was gone.  I told my grandfather about it and he raised a doubtful eyebrow. Time has moved on, yet I can still see that owl in my mind’s eye, but a part of me still wonders if it was my imagination. 

I spend a lot of time in the woods for Trails and I usually get to camp about three or four times a year.  I often hear the hoots of the owls, but until last week I’ve never seen one in the wilds of Wisconsin.  I’m not sure I’ll ever see one again, but seeing three at once was pretty special.  It was worth the wait.







Gearing up, geeking up

May 1, 2012

For those who are wired like me, who already have more outdoor gear than they can actually use, this time of year poses a significant domestic challenge.  The challenge goes like this: Me: ” Packs are 20 % off at REI this weekend! ” Wifey: ” You already have three packs. What do you need another for?” Me: ” I need a bigger one.”  Wifey: ” Why?”   Me:  ” Well, not so much a bigger one, but one with a separate sleeping bag compartment.”  Wifey:  ” Why do you need that? ”  Me:  ” So I can stay more organized.”  Wifey:  ” You mean organized like how I asked you to organize the basement?”  I lose almost all of these discussions.  But between the ones she lets me win and the pre-Wifey gear that I’ve had since Boy Scouts ( think Watergate era ) I have more gear than I need.  Doesn’t stop me from poring over the catalogs that come in the mail or checking out all the specs that are online.  ” Stove X boils a gallon of water in under a minute!!!” ” Tent Y has an external mosquito and bear repelling coating!”  I believe it all, and I want to try it all.  I’ll get almost nothing, because as I said, I have pretty much all I need.  But I snuck in an item on our Wisconsin Trails bucket list to go camping with my grandsons.  Being 10 and 5 they don’t have much in the way of gear.  Which means they need a lot and I need to help them with their decisions…and they are the only two of my gender that my wife hasn’t figured out how to say no to.

In a league of her own

March 29, 2012

A camera is a camera, a job is a job, but when a camera is your job it becomes something more akin to a passport.  Sometimes that passport not only gives access to special places and interesting people, it opens a door in time.  These doors in time are framed not in wood or steel, but rather in flesh and bone.  Joyce Hill Westerman of Kenosha is one of those doors that opened for me.  Remember that movie ” A League of Their Own ” about the All American Girls Girls Professional Baseball League?  Joyce was one of those girls in real life, from 1945-1952 she, her skirt, catcher’s mitt and bat moving around the midwest, playing for the Grand Rapids Chicks, South Bend Blue Sox, Fort Wayne Daisies, Peoria Redwings, and the Racine Belles.  She told stories of girls baseball,  including the now-funny idea of the girls being required to go to charm school and have chaperones.  Lucky for me, she held onto not just her memories, but also a treasure trove of memorabilia from her baseball career.  Thanks, Joyce for letting us go back with you.

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