Wisconsin: Prologue

Wisconsin SunsetNot all of us know what it is like to love a wide-open prairie, a night so cold that your heart rate slows, or a lake so big that you have drink from it just to be sure it’s not the ocean.

Not every man has witnessed the path of the white tail deer splashed across a canvas of snow, a rafter of turkeys slipping through the tall ranks of the soldiering pine trees, or the saunter of a lone moose crossing his marsh.

Many of us have never even heard the impeccable silence of a thousand snowflakes or the haunting wail of a summer loon.

But I have. And each night before sleep overcomes, these senses call me back home.

Wisconsin.
I had always had the intention of leaving, but I never expected that it wouldn’t leave me. At first, I thought I could just swim across the Mississippi and turn my back to its banks. When that didn’t work, I swam across the Atlantic Ocean and wrapped myself up tight in the Rest of the World. I held up well this way for quite some time, but eventually, a small part of me kicked off its own continental shift. The tectonic plates of my heart began ever so slowly to scrape against each other, crying out for fresh cranberries, craft beer, and maybe even a little cow manure, I’m remiss to admit. There is something in my DNA that just refuses to be re-coded.

When I try to explain this curse of the red river place to Damián, I always circle back to its people. I puff up my chest and say things like: Do you know who is going to brave a blizzard in the middle of the night, at fifteen degrees below zero, and dig you out of a snow bank? A man from Wisconsin, that’s who. Do you know who is going to sit around the campfire, drink beer, and talk smart with you until the sun creeps up on the horizon? A Wisconsinite, every time. And did you know that there is a state where “being nice” will get your farther in life than any other virtue? Welcome to Wisconsin.

When I finish my speech, Damián just rolls his eyes with the kind of superiority that all globetrotting Argentinians have scrupulously mastered. He has seen enough Hollywood movies to know that “I’m from Wisconsin” is always a one-liner that guarantees laughter. Yet for all his Buenos Aires cool, there are little signs that he is breaking. Late at night, in the darkness of our room, when he is sure that no one else is listening, he will ask me for the names again.

“Milwaukee,” I say.
“Milwaukee,” he repeats.

“Ashwaubenon,” I dictate.
“Ashwaubenon,” he sneezes.

Mosinee.
Chippewa.
Waupaca.
Baraboo.
Menominee.
Kenosha.
Minocqua.
Mendota.
Monona.

We breathe the names of Wisconsin towns and geography back and forth to each other in order to feel their magic. They evoke a Wisconsin that neither of us know, one that belonged to the Dakota Sioux, the Potawatami, Ojibwe, and Menominee tribes, among others, and one that cannot be recovered; yet it’s precisely what’s left of that pristine natural land that lulls me to sleep each night. It’s what I miss most about my home. There were so many moments where I was still allowed to live close to the land…and so that is where this story will begin.

– Ashley

Wisconsin woodlands

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