Wisconsin and the Waters of Summer

Published in The Wisconsin State Journal on June 16, 2011 as:

The original water parks still beckon

Link to Wisconsin State Journal page: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/opinion/column/guest/article_429754f2-97b0-11e0-a36f-001cc4c002e0.html

Wisconsin and the Waters of Summer

I haven’t been to Waubeka, Wisconsin for years. But I think of that small, Ozaukee County communityas often as I think of my father. And I think of him frequently on days like Flag Day.

You may have missed Flag Day on Tuesday, June 14. It was a work day, after all, just as it often was for my father. And it arrived after the mosquito bites and sunburns of the Memorial Day weekend were becoming just an ordinary part of the ordinary days of summer.

My father and I traveled to Waubeka in an REO Speedwagon with “Cedar Grove Bakery” lettered neatly on its sides. He was the bakery’s part-owner, deliveryman and salesman. And since I was his passenger he was also my mother’s day care provider. Mornings and early afternoons he delivered baked goods to farms, country stores and village groceries scattered across Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Washington counties in places like Belgium, Boltonville, Dacada, Fillmore, Fredonia, Holy Cross, Newburg, Silver Creek, St. Michaels and Random Lake.

But he seemed always to arrange our lunch stop in Waubeka. When the weather was warm and fair the stop would be at Stony Hill School, above the North Branch of the Milwaukee River. From some mysterious place my father would bring forth sandwiches and something to drink and we’d sit by the school and he’d tell me about Flag Day and how the observance originated there.

And then we’d walk down to the river where we’d always be very quiet. My father had a reverence for water and I suppose that is why that reverence lives in me now. He’d emigrated across the Atlantic, from Germany, in the mid-1920s. He’d seen the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor from a perspective I’d never learn to appreciate during his lifetime. And he took his first job in West Bend, along the South Branch of the Milwaukee River.

Cedar Grove Bakery was located in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, close by the western shore of Lake Michigan. We’d return there mid-afternoon to refill the REO for a short, late-afternoon run to farms and the fisheries that thrived along the lake back when. The fisheries left with the Lake Trout in the 50s but I remember they had ponds where live trout were kept for sale. While my father went about his business I’d wander down to the ponds to watch the huge fish crease the surface of the water with their dorsal fins.

You will, perhaps, understand by now that water is central to my life experience, especially natural water, more particularly the natural waters of Wisconsin. So you might also understand that I get a bit edgy when a place claims to be the Waterpark Capital of the World in a state that arguably was the water park capitol of the world before there were artificial water parks.

You will understand, perhaps, why, with natural water readily available and modestly affordable in Wisconsin’s countless city, county and state parks; in its streams, rivers and thousands of lakes, I cannot understand why anyone would choose to immerse themselves and their family in chlorinated water enclosed by lurid plastic and fake stone, especially if that dubious choice cost them a bundle of ATM cash and credit card debt.

Maybe it’s time we got real about our state, got out there into its natural state so that we might begin to retrieve an understanding of what we have thrown away.

Copyright 2011 Karl Garson

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