Stevens Point, Lizard Mound, Hero Poles and good beer

Not ready for college
I was not ready to go to college when I went to college. My father was very supportive, but he had no experience with higher education. I didn’t have any close friends or older siblings who went to college. I was a stranger in a strange land with only a vague notion, not even a formed idea, about what I should do.

So I drank beer and “partied.” It is hard for me today to understand the young man I was. I had no real concept of my future, or even that there was a future that would include me. The odd thing is not that I felt like that, but that I don’t recall that it even bothered me. I guess I kind of lived in the present and had confidence that the future would sort itself.

I think today the school would have wanted to do some sort of intervention and sort me out. My 1.6 GPA would have been one indicator of trouble. But I am glad that I got to sort it out myself and with the help of friends. I don’t trust professionals on this sort of thing.
I stopped off at Stevens Point today and walked around on the campus and in the woods. They have done a good job managing the woods and wildlife. The forests and fields north of campus are the laboratory for the students. There were bunches of kids looking for bugs. They were assigned to find and study the diversity.

Lizard mound and ancient Native Americans
Some things we will never know in detail and maybe there is not all that much to know. We don’t know who build the lizard mounds. We can speculate about why, but we really don’t know. Some things are lost to history, or in this case prehistory.

Lizard Mound park doesn’t get many visitors, although it looks like they bring school groups here. There was one guy sitting at the picnic table. He was making art out of pieces of birch bark. Seemed a pleasant enough guy. He said that he had previously lived in his vehicle, but now had a place to live. He said that he works enough to make money when he needs money, but does not need to work that much. I asked him if he needed anything, but he said no. Maybe he is just content. He gave me a flower made of birch bark and I gave him one of my tree farm mugs. The park includes mounds shaped like animals. What significance these had we can never know.

Never know. That is an interesting concept. We like to think that in the fullness of time, with new technology etc, but absent the invention of a time machine, we will never know. And maybe it does not matter. It is nice to have a feeling of mystery.

We know that these mounds were built between AD 500 and 1000. No mounds were build here in the last 1000 years. What happened to the people is unknowable. Well, we might be able to speculate if we took DNA. I walked around the mounds. There are few markers. If you didn’t know they were mounds you would not think much about them. It was very quiet, however.

The birch bark guy told me that I was lucky to come this week, since until a couple weeks ago the black flies and mosquitoes made a comfortable walk impossible.
My walk was pleasant. Pictures are from around the walk. I like the old fashioned pump. You don’t see them around very much anymore.

For your freedom and ours
On the way into Stevens Point is a monument to Casimir Pulaski, hero of Poland and America. For those unfamiliar, Pulaski came to America to help us during the revolution and was killed by British grapeshot while rallying troops in Savannah. He volunteered to fight for America and died in our cause.

I stopped off for a closer look. It is mostly about Polish-Americans who found for Poland during WWI. About 300 from Northern Wisconsin and Michigan went to fight for the old country.

Point Special Beer

A visit to Stevens Point would not be complete w/o a visit to Point Brewery. I drank a lot of that beer when I was at UWSP. I did not much like it, but it was cheap and available. It is not great beer, but it is one of my traditions. I have some rituals.

They do make a decent IPA. I bought a twelve pack of Point Special (tradition) and a six pack of IPA (actually good).

Good fast food
Speaking of actually good, I went to Rocky Roccoco and A&W. They share the same building, so I can have Rocky’s pizza and A&W Root beer. I like Rocky’s pizza a lot and I would go there even if it was not a tradition.

I am staying at Comfort Inn on County Trunk V near Baraboo. Tomorrow I will meet people at Aldo Leopold. The exit at County Trunk V has the Rocky’s, A&W and a Culver’s. A little bit of heaven.

My pictures show the Pulaski monument. Next is the Point Brewery and then Rocky’s and A&W. Last picture is a pine and a birch. This is relevant because Aldo Leopold’s essay “Axe in Hand” talks about birch and pine.

WPA builds parks
Just a few more pictures.

I visited Iverson Park in Stevens Point. It was created during the 1930s and the structures were build by the WPA. Very attractive.

The first three pictures show Iverson Park. When I first went to UWSP, we had a party there and I swam in the Little Plover River. I was so surprised that you could swim in a river. At that time swimming in the Milwaukee rivers would have been unthinkable. Penultimate picture is the College of Natural Resources at UWSP. Last is a white ash tree beginning to turn. As I mentioned in previous posts re ash trees, the green ash and allied tend to turn brilliant gold. The white ash turns more purple.

Wisconsin and Land Grant Universities

One of the best pieces of legislation ever enacted was the Morrill Act of 1862 that created the land grant colleges. As with most successful developments, this was both a continuation and a break with tradition. Universities had been elite institutions for the study of things not very practical. Then there were trade schools that were nothing but practical. The mission of the land grant schools was to study and promulgate useful arts and sciences, like agriculture and engineering. This merged the thinkers with the doers.
It is said of intellectuals that they are not happy with something that works in practice until they understand it in theory. This is usually meant as a put down, but I would consider it a compliment. Understanding the theory of something helps you make improvements. An outcome may be the result of good or bad luck. Only if you understand something of what is supposed to happen can you tease out the causes. On the other hand, theories that never have manifestations in the real world are a type of mental auto-eroticism. We need a cross fertilization and land grant colleges did that.

Much of America’s prosperity today is the result of this wise legislation. and of the enthusiasm that recipients took of the opportunity

I thought of this as I walked around the University of Wisconsin. I noticed the faculty of soil science. Imagine all the good that came from these generations of scientists studying what others dismissed as dirt. I also passed a plaque to Fredrick Jackson Turner. He was a Wisconsin guy too. His contribution to history was the frontier thesis. It is out of style these days and there are flaws, but his was a bold step in understanding our national character.
It was great being a student at UW. You could find somebody who studied almost anything. They even had a class in Hittite. I thought of taking it, but then thought harder.

My first picture shows the Frederick Jackson Turner plaque. Next is the faculty of soil science. The third picture shows the high water on the lakes, higher than I recall ever seeing it. Second last is the old history building. I was so excited to go there that I even claimed to like that hideous building. Last is the Wisconsin State Capitol, modeled on the U.S. Capitol but shorter. No state Capitol is allowed to be taller than the U.S. Capitol.

Note the picture on the banner near the history building. Pink flamingos. That has some history that is not well known, but I recall personally. Student government at UW had fallen into ruin and leftist control in the late 1970s. One of the parties that ran in the elections was actually called “Smash the State.” Enter “Pail & Shovel”. They were some clowns, literally, who ran on the platform that “Student government is a bad joke. We will make it a good one.” Among their promises was to put thousands of flamingos on Bascom Hill. They won the elections and kept their promise. One day when I came to class, I saw the hill pink with those plastic birds. Some said it was a waste of money, but considering the general track record, not so much.

Last group of Wisconsin – Madison photos. The top one is a little scary. It is like big brother watching you, except that the Badger Eyes are on you. “Our Badger Eyes are everywhere.” Don’t like the idea.

The others are things I thought were interesting and the last one is an candid selfie. I was trying to take a picture of the path, but the camera has a turn around feature.

Down the middle of America

Heading home from Baraboo right down the middle of Wisconsin and Illinois. Got my last slice of Rocky Roccoco and headed south and east.

My first photo shows the Wisconsin River flowage, Lake Wisconsin. You go slower on the country roads, but you can see more. Next is a walking path at a rest area in Illinois. The windmills are taken from that same stop, as is the photo of the linden flowers. I just love that scent.

The last two photos are the world famous Morrow plots at University of Illinois. They have been planting crops on that spot since 1876 to learn about fertilizer, crop rotation and soils. These are the oldest such plots in North America, but they are not that easy to find. Seeing as how they are probably the biggest tourist draw in all of Urbana-Champaign, you think they would make bigger deal.

Trains, ships & Medusa Cement

We noticed when we were in Oak Park and Elmhurst that many trains went by on at-grade tracks. Trains are a key to our prosperity, but they are largely out of sight.

America has the worlds best freight train network, facilitated by the Staggers Act or 1980. This fact comes as a surprise to most people, since American passenger rail is not very good and that is what experience most directly.

You can see the power of freight when you watch a train go by. Today they often carry containers. This is intermodal transport. The containers can be moved by ship, train or truck w/o being unloaded or reloaded.

The intermodal revolution – and it was a revolution – happened in plain sight starting around 1970. Before that time, something moved by ship required unloading and reloading at the port. Something shipped by train required loading, unloading and reloading all along the road. The same for trucks. Each step created delays, damage and “shrinkage,” i.e. stealing. This is the “fell off the back of a truck” idea.

I was in the Longshoreman Union back in the 1970s when I worked at Medusa Cement. We were in that union because we had a dock, although I never worked on ships.

Longshoremen were hard workers, but the episodic nature of the much of the work meant they did not need to be very consistent. It was possible to be a good worker AND a drunk. In fact, some of the hardest workers were drunks. There was also a fair amount of fringe benefit or the “falling off the truck” sort. And there was lots of unskilled or semi-skilled work to be done. All this changed in the 1970s. Containers require many fewer workers and most of them need to be skilled at operating heavy machinery, i.e. shaky drunks cannot do well.

My pictures show some of the trains. The first shows how many trucks can be carried on one train and the next (look closely) shows trains going in both directions. In front are bulk hopper cars, in back containers. I have enjoyed watching them go by since I was a little boy and still do. The first photo, however is Medusa’s cement ship – the “Challenger”. It is now owned by St Mary’s, so it is the St. Mary’s Challenger, but I think it is the same boat that my father used to unload. The last photo is a water tower in Oak Park, Illinois. They were more artistic in those days.

Aldo Leopold Foundation

I attended a program at the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo. We discussed conservation and how to communicate it with a more general public. The sessions are based on Leopold’s thinking and also his methods. He believed in learning actively. Observe – participate – reflect – observe … repeat.

 I like it. It fits in well with my mindful boots-on-the-ground philosophy. You have to go to the places, experience them. You gain knowledge through practical experience, and it is always contingent on what happened before. That is why you need to absorb the context. However, while experience is mandatory, learning is optional, which is where the reflection and thinking comes in.

Anyway, the picture is our group photo. It was taken just before our work pulling invasive plants out of the prairie to get some of that hands-on experience. That is why some of us have gloves. Right after we finished the field work, we discussed Leopold’s essay “Axe in Hand” where he talks about making choices in conservation and understanding how we are affecting the land. The work helped with understanding and internalizing the essay.

I am in Baraboo at a two-day seminar at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Leopold is the founder of an important stream of conservation, although I am not sure he would have taken credit for it.

Leopold’s “land ethic” is both simple and profound. We all live in the natural world and should be mindful of the choices we are making, both actions and inaction. Things we do that tend to improve the biotic communities on the land are good and those that harm them are bad.

The profound and ostensibly paradoxical part is that Leopold wrote that you cannot write a land ethic in a book. A land ethic has to be written on the land. You leave your signature on the land you manage and you learn from the land you are walking on. You learn from being involved. It is a melding of thinking and doing.

Observe – participate – reflect – observe … It is circular and endless, but even when I write it in this order it is misleading, since they overlap and merge in the practice.

The other point that Leopold made about the land ethic applies to most sorts of practical philosophy. It is dynamic. The process is constant; the conclusions are mutable depending on the interactions and the circumstances. I am thinking about this and I don’t suppose I can explain it in writing. But I think I understand some of it from my interaction with environments all over and from working on my own land.

I have owned my forest land for more than ten years now. I have seen many changes on the land and changes in how I view land, my own and others. I appreciate Leopold’s thinking on this more than I did, more than a could have, before I had the responsibility on my own property.

Anyway, Leopold summed up ethics by explaining that acting ethically meant that you did the right thing even when nobody is looking, even when doing the wrong thing is perfectly legal and maybe acceptable to others. Of course, he did not originate this thought, and never claimed it was original. But it is good to recall and reiterate.

My first two pictures are the Leopold Foundation buildings. Much of the wood is from trees Leopold planted. The buildings are designed to use lots of natural light and take advantage of the site for climate control. The third picture is a sedge meadow in Stevens Point. This is a wetland dominated by grass and forbs, generally w/o trees. Standing water is present only episodically, but the soils are generally saturated.


North Point changing woods

A few more forest pictures. When I first explored these woods 40 years ago, there were lots of little jack pines. Most are gone now. They grow after fires. In fact, the cones don’t even open up unless exposed to heat. They were very common in years past, but are becoming less and less so absent fires. They do not live very long, easily blow down in the wind, are not very attractive trees, nor a very good timber source, but they play the important role after fire.

The woods north of UWSP was open when many of the trees grew, as you can tell by my second picture. A white pine would never have that form if it grew in a tighter woods.

Picture #3 is a kettle pond near Eagle Wisconsin. As I explained yesterday, a kettle comes from when a chunk of ice left over from the ice age melts and leaves a kettle shaped hole. It is a nice wetland. They fill up over time. Lakes of all sorts are ephemeral features on the landscape. They are silting up and filling in from the moment they are formed. That is why there are so many little lakes where the glaciers recently (in geological time) made them. In the south, lakes tend to be flowages from rivers or ox bows.

Picture #4 just shows a bent tree, bent by another falling. In time branches will grow up and if it survives long it will be a very interesting thing to see.


Point Special Beer

Point Special Beer was not my favorite when I was actually in Stevens Point, but today it is a tradition to get some. I went to the Point brewery to get some Point Beer. They are now classified as a craft brewery. I bought a case of Point Special (the blue bullet) and one of the craft beer variety pack.

You can see the picture of the brewery. The steam engine in nearby, unrelated but interesting.

University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point

I got my undergraduate degree from UWSP in 1977, a long time ago. It has not changed that much, physically. Some of the buildings and all of the trees are bigger. The buildings expanded mostly sideways, a few new wings. They completely shut off one of the main streets. As I said, the trees are bigger. I arrived at UWSP at the tail end of the big Wisconsin university building boom. The buildings were new and many of the trees just planted.

Some of the views are nearly identical to what I saw so many years ago. I don’t suppose that should be too surprising. Buildings are supposed to last more than a few decades.

Picture #1 is exactly the same view I used to have when I stepped out of my dorm. The difference is that back in those days they burned coal in that power plant, so there was smoke. Next is the view down the street. It is a lot longer walk, or seems that way, in the very cold winter. Picture #3 is the College of Natural Resources, UWSP’s specialty. Picture #4 shows a good example of “choice architecture.” They had trouble keeping kids from cutting through the grass and making paths. Simple solution is to make little mounds. Cutting across is no longer as attractive. My last picture is the gas station with Rocky Rocco’s and A&W. I wanted to go to each of them and found them together. So I got my slice of pizza with root beer.


Old World Wisconsin

Old World Wisconsin is an open air museum that shows daily life in Wisconsin immigrant communities in the 19th Century. The buildings were moved from various parts of Wisconsin and reassembled on site. There are reenactments who explain how things were done on the farm or in the forge.

Life was often very hard. Even the well-off had very little space. They worked hard all day and everybody was what we would call “food insecure” almost all the time. But they built America with all that hard work and sacrifice and hard as life was in America, it was better than what they left.

We often think of immigrants as urban. We can picture the neighborhoods of Italians, Irish or Chinese. In the 19th Century, however, most Americans lived on the land and most immigrants went directly to farms. Nature provided the discipline and the assimilation. They brought with them skills that improved life and productivity and despite their apparent isolation became integral parts of the American system. Americans were a practical people. They asked if the newcomers could do something useful. They new people usually could.

Wisconsin was really a land of immigrants in the 19th Century. The majority of the population was German at some points. (Wisconsin is the only state to have had a majority of one foreign nationality.) Other prominent nationalities included Norwegians, Swedes, Finns & Poles. They are represented at Old World Wisconsin.

Consider “assimilation”. To most people that means that the newcomers become like the host nationality. This happens, but it is not a one-way operation. The immigrants from the Old World created a new world Wisconsin, with its own particular culture.

Germans, for example, brought with them their belief in education and rule of law. Crime rates dropped and education improved when Germans moved in. They brought kindergarten (as the name implies) and the American university system was to a large extent build on German models, especially the land-grant universities. Of course, beer, brats and pretzels are among their prominent contributions.

My first picture is one of the German farms. Next is the Norwegian cabin outside and inn. They raised three kids in that little space, three kids and one pig each year, notice the pen. They spent a lot of time outside. Picture #4 is a Polish cottage. It is not build in a Polish stye. It is made of short logs put in sideways and cemented together. It used a lot of wood but was easy to construct. Last picture shows one of the fields. They have animals. You really could not have a living museum w/o farm animals.

They have craftsmen and farm animals at Old World Wisconsin. The blacksmith explained how they made tools and horseshoes. They kept the shop a little dark so that they could see the color of the hot metal to assess the temperature. He uses coking coal, which is hotter and makes less smoke. It does not conduct heat and you can touch the coal next to the fire w/o burning yourself.

The guy in the German section explained how they built houses. They did not use nails for the main construction. Instead they made pegs (as you can see in the photo) and fit the parts together. They started the construction in the woods, picking out the right trees. Home Depot had not yet opened.

Milwaukee in the park

Milwaukee has lots of good things. Among them are beer, brats and parks. We went to a Chill on the Hill concert by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at Humboldt Park. They now have a beer garden in the park and there were lots of places to get food. You had to pay for the beer and the food, but the park and the music were free. As I wrote up top, Milwaukee has lots of good things. Sometimes great weather is not among them, but it was today. The temperature was just perfect with low humidity and a wind brisk enough to confuse the mosquitoes.

There is a long tradition of these sorts of concerts. I used to go to them as a kid. They also have plays and other programs. We went to lots of plays by local high schools. These sorts of events are signs of civic virtue. They are put on by the community and people working in voluntary association with local authorities. The large crowds are well behaved and include individuals of all ages, families and pets.

A big crowd showed up, as you can see from the photos. Many were too far away to hear the music, but were having a good time nevertheless. It was just a nice, friendly and pleasant crowd enjoying the end of a wonderful day in Milwaukee.