Wisconsin Nature Writers at the Fox Cities Book Festival: Apps, Berry, Dewitz, and Miyazaki

This year’s Fox Cities Book Festival provided a great opportunity to be reminded of the great work coming out in Wisconsin at present which helps us explore and appreciate nature in Wisconsin – and how we make use of it. This also increased my appreciation for the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, and our public support for it – since they actually published the books which each of these four authors presented on!

To open my festival experience I had the chance to see Wisconsin favorite Jerry Apps, sharing stories from his just-released book Whispers and Shadows: A Naturalist’s Memoir. His folksy charm, and mixture of details of rural nature with amusing anecdotes (oh, the pets kept by one of his neighbors!), was appreciated by the audience – a good number of whom, based on questions Apps asked, had rural roots. Along with his his nonfiction books on history and rural life, Apps also explores our relationship to nature through novels, which he feels allow him to more effectively explore multiple sides of issues like frac sand mining. It was inspiring to hear how popular Wisconsin Public TV’s programs based on Apps’ work have become, throughout the country; a lot of people are interested to hear about rural life in Wisconsin! (My favorite Apps project, though, is The Quiet Season: Remembering Country Winters, and the related Wisconsin Public Television program; since I am Milwaukee’s Ambassador of Snow, it is great to see someone helping us appreciate what Wisconsin winters have to offer!)

Bill Berry discussed the history of Wisconsin environmentalism, and the work he did to research that topic, in a presentation based on his book Banning DDT: How Citizen Activists in Wisconsin Led the Way. Berry demonstrated how individuals from a variety of occupations got involved, particularly due to concerns about birds and health. The cast of Wisconsin residents he discussed included UW-Madison scientists, journalists – and of particular importance, female activists including Laurie Otto. Understanding the impact of DDT, and the value of native plants, required collaborations between people working to spread the word, people developing knowledge (and questions) through experience with their local environment, and cleverly designed scientific studies.

While birdwatchers were the key group of nature-users Berry discussed, Travis Dewitz got to know hunters. Dewitz said that in his overall work as a photographer, he has learned to appreciate the diversity of perspectives people have to offer, as he gets to know the subjects of his photos. As a community, we should appreciate the diverse ways we look at nature. Working on this particular project, Blaze Orange: Whitetail Deer Hunting in Wisconsin, he learned a lot about the knowledge that is gained through hunting, and ideas about hunting which are broadly shared amongst Wisconsin hunters.

Meanwhile, photographer Kevin Miyazaki’s subjects in Perimeter: A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan are a variety of people who use Lake Michigan; and the lake itself. He looked at the lake through the eye of a photographer concerned with the aesthetic qualities of his shorts; and at his human subjects through the eye of a portrait photographer hoping to capture the ‘glow’ he feels people have. So his book provides a look at what the lake means by giving us glimpses of the lake, on its own, from a variety of locations around the lake – and by giving us a sense of the variety of people who use the lake, and the variety of ways in which we make use of the lake and the lakeshore. His collection includes images of a surfer, swimmers, steelworker, farmer, and more.

In Wisconsin, we are hunters, farmers, and longshoremen; we are surfers and people who landscape our yards with native grasses. We know nature by keeping an eye out for birds and deer, to shoot with bullets or cameras, or just to watch in local nature centers. We also know nature through the work of those who carefully study it using the methods of science, in our DNR, university system, and elsewhere. Through these experiences and forms of knowledge, Wisconsinites like Frances Hamerstrom, James Hickey, Aldo Leopold  and others have made important breakthroughs in understanding how we shape nature through our actions, through clever management but also through unanticipated consequences. (And again, we learn from the Wisconsin Historical Society helping us understand our history!) Our public lands and lakes provide wonderful opportunities for a variety of ways to enjoy nature, and enjoy connecting with others while doing so.

Apps suggested that the greatest environmental danger facing Wisconsin is when view the environment as only an economic asset. If we do so, we are denying ourselves much of what we, and our ancestors, have used to shape our identities; and we will misunderstand and mismanage our environment. We should take pride in our connectedness to nature, our ability to understand nature both through research and through experience, and our history of awareness of the importance of nature in Wisconsin. Thanks to the Book Festival and the Press for promoting the work of authors who remind us of this!

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Review: Stephen Dewald, “Under a Poacher’s Moon”

Interested to see what it is like to be a game warden in Wisconsin? In the dangers a warden faces, the moments that leave them shaking their heads, and the friendly connections a warden makes? This book’s stories provide a chance to see that. (Dewald published a sequel, Under a Poacher’s Moon 2, in 2013, which promises more of the same.)under a poacher's moon

Dewald, a warden with the Wisconsin D.N.R. from 1990 to 2011, has a strong sense of sympathy for those who use resources properly. He is a conservationist who seeks wise use of our resources, particularly game species. Thus, Dewald is disappointed when an animal is “taken without fair chase, without respect,” (20) and the book demonstrates his efforts to enforce good sportsmanship. He defends those whose property is damaged by poachers (sometimes landowners grow afraid of those who invade their property to hunt illegally). His sense of justice extends to inclusion; he wants to make sure all residents have a fair chance to take part in hunting, and critiques those who he fears would limit access (fearing “European style hunting where only the wealthy will have the opportunity to hunt.”) (135)

The key focus in the book is on the challenges that a warden faces. (On the other hand, Dewald does not spend a lot of time describing the nature he encounters – his attention as a warden is elsewhere.) Might a warden get shot? What kind of effort does a warden have to put in to ‘stake out’ a suspected poacher? (Also, what kind of effort do poachers put in to deny their responsibility for… what the warden has just witnessed evidence of! You’ll shake your head, too.) What are the dilemmas a warden faces, and how do they respond to them?

This book sheds light on tensions as communities in a democracy determine shared standards for using nature recreationally. I found it a little unsettling to realize just how often people try to evade game and safety laws. Despite his concern for justice, this is a field of law enforcement where there’s still a fair amount of sympathy for the guilty, too, given the ample evidence he provides of leniency the legal system offers these criminals. The leniency sometimes is intended to develop good will in a community for the future, for managing land use cannot rely on wardens, it must include a fair amount of self-enforcement.

Although hunting and fishing are the main sources of his anecdotes, Dewald demonstrates that wardens have a lot of other concerns – particularly involving boats and boater safety. (He expresses frustration at legislators, legislation, and political interest groups which he feels interfere with the develop of property safety standards for boating and snowmobiling.) He also discusses how some use the outdoors as a dump –polluting their own water supply. Dewald also played another role in government, working on legislation to help address issues for which a solution had not yet been found.

The book has 36 short chapters, so focus is on relatively quick presentations of stories. Many chapters function as snapshots like a crime show might present, ‘mysteries’ for wardens to solve. Sometimes, there is a lot of tension as he confronts poachers. At other moments, the tone is fairly light-hearted, often when he makes light of the failed efforts criminals put in to attempt to cover up their actions. The primary foci of the book are on the perspective of the warden, and the work they do to identify and arrest criminals – this is a good read for those interested in hearing those stories.

Under a Poacher’s Moon: Stories of a Wisconsin Game Warden, Steven Dewald (2012)

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Time to enjoy fall at its… falliest!

Crisp air, crunchy leaves, bright colors – now’s the time, folks, so lets enjoy it!

I am a huge fan of winter, in part because of the subtle differences one can notice each day. We are now in another time of peak change. Each day, a different palette of colors to enjoy! Each day, different trees in height of green – or starting to change – or in full fall-burst mode. (And then, after the ground is transformed as the leaves fall.) Keep your eyes open to enjoy as many different moments as you can.

Natural beauty does not come on our schedules. To catch it peaking, we need to fit our lives into its schedule. What are we doing at this time of year? We can take time out, to get air and exercise and beauty appreciation in, by walking outside.

Is the sun bright? That might be a particularly good time to go out and observe. The leaves are there throughout any kind of weather, but if we want to see the colors on display in a way that springs out, that flowers within our view, we need to be open to observing when the light is best for us.

Soon, we will be moving on into late fall. When more of our buildings are on display. This is our last chance to catch the leaves of many trees on display – until almost half a year from now. Enjoy these views while they last, enjoy the blending of human and natural contributions, before late fall comes and the balance shifts.

Where can we enjoy this? Part of what is so wonderful about fall colors is how it reminds us how, even in our cities, that we live amidst a broader world, that we live amidst beauty. I recently enjoyed observing colors in a variety of ways – driving on the interstate and looking over farms, biking through the city and looking at trees in peoples’ yards, walking through public parks and enjoying the mini-forests there. There is much we have done to create spaces where people can enjoy fall colors close to home, and we should appreciate that.

Many others have described the beauty of fall colors better than I could – many photos online try to catch it – those in Wisconsin are familiar with it. So I won’t try to describe it, other than to say that it is a wonder we have to enjoy in Wisconsin. This is part of what makes the cycle of seasons so magical!

 

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New book on Wisconsin nature and history!

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I enjoyed having coffee with Milton Bates a few years ago, and hearing about his work. I am glad that more people will have the chance to see Southeast Wisconsin through his eyes!

” “The Bark River Chronicles” reports one couple’s journey by canoe from the river’s headwaters to its confluence with the Rock River and several miles farther downstream to Lake Koshkonong… For the two voyageurs who paddle the length of the Bark, it is a journey of rediscovery and exploration. As they glide through marshes, woods, farmland, and cities, they acquire not only historical and environmental knowledge but also a renewed sense of the place in which they live.”

http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whspress/books/book.asp?book_id=395

 

 

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What does our current heat wave have to offer us?

A key question that I hope this website helps answer is: how do we connect with nature, in all kinds of weather? How do we keep those connections strong, how do we understand what is characteristic of a season, how do we see the benefits and challenges which a particular kind of weather provides for those with which we share the planet? In the case of this summer, how do we understand what it is like for others to experience unusual weather – hot, dry – and how do we focus on what intriguing sounds and sights we can find in it?

 I admit that I have more experience closely watching winter weather than summer weather (I started with a site on appreciating winter, after all). But I want to help people appreciate what summer – what this summer – has to offer. And to spread the word about those who are exploring that question more deeply than I can.

 It can be a challenge to go out for extended periods in this weather. Be careful, don’t overheat, and drink enough fluids. But these are clear days, dry, sunny. There is a lot one can see. Other than the responses of our bodies, there is little in the weather (little rain, or mud, or cloudiness) that limits us from appreciating what is out there. So don’t forget to keep connecting! This is the world we have now, it is the world we have the chance to learn about and to become aware of our connections to.

 I can certainly think of a lot of examples of nature writers, and photographers, depicting themselves struggling with heat in the desert. But most of us don’t live in the desert. The heat we deal with is not one which we are compensated for by solitude, epic vistas, or unusual sights in a place where water had little recent role in shaping the landscape. So the task in Wisconsin is to feel the heat in places we are familiar with. Perhaps to go for walks later in the evening (or early in the morning), when things are cooler. I have been gratified to see the number of people out in the parks and on the bikepaths recently, coming together in public places to share the experience of being out in park nature.

 We can appreciate what shade and breeze have to offer. We can see how other species deal with the demands of the heat. Our many lakes offer a place to cool off near to, or within.

 What else can we do? I welcome suggestions…

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Starting a new resource page

In the past, I wondered where I could look to find a list of writers and artists interested in depicting Wisconsin nature – so I thought I might start up a page devoted to that topic.

This webpage is merely intended to serve mostly as a list of information about those who use writing, photography, painting, and other art forms to depict Wisconsin’s nature. I also am starting a Facebook page,

https://www.facebook.com/WisconsinNatureWritingAndArt

to test as a means of sharing news and updated information.

 

Let me know what you think! And if you have work that you would like to share – post a link on the FB page, comment here, or find another way to let me know.

 

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