Winter has begun to set in. We are still in the transition period of nightly freeze and daily thaw; the period of first snows that are soon melted in briefly warming sunshine. It is a good time to notice and consider water as soon it will be silenced and hidden beneath ice and snow for months.
Wisconsin is home to water. It is just not possible to drive more than a mile or two without crossing or skirting water, whether it be a lake of note such as Winnebago, or a small pond; whether it be a river of note like the mighty Wolf, or a small crick cutting through the back forty of a farm.
There are a number of theories as to how the word
Wisconsin developed and what its meaning is.
Most trace varied histories of Native American and French missionaries,
explorers and fur traders. The meaning that
I prefer, for its poetry and appropriateness if not its accuracy, is:“The
Gathering of the Waters”. Historians do agree
that the land derived its name from the river that cuts through over 400 miles
of granite and sandstone from Lac Vieux Desert in Vilas County southward to
Prairie du Chien where it joins the Mississippi River. The land was named for the river; the river
was not named for the land.
This land is twice blessed as Superior and Michigan –
two of the Great Lakes embrace it. Along
their shores lie sun bleached stretches like Schoolhouse Beach on Washington
Island - made up of limestones rounded from relentless wave upon wave year upon
year; they are smooth like the stones that David used in his sling to face
And there are thousands and thousands of smaller
inland lakes. It was on the beach at Lake
Namakagon that my son Nathan – just shy of three years old at the time, lay on
his belly, chin propped in his hands. He
was gazing intently at something I did not see.
“What are you doing, Nathan?” I asked.
“Just thinking,” he replied.
“Thinking about what?” I probed.
“Just thinking about sand,” he answered with a wisdom well beyond his years.
Sand – at Namakagon is mainly pulverized quartz - each grain is a
miniscule particle of some enormous rock ridge of cooled magna that succumbed
to eons of rains, and snows and freezing and thawing ice sheets. Water reminds us that God works in God’s
time. God is patient with us. Even the hardest rock is changed, so too can
the hardest heart.
The lakes are an invitation. Entering water is like entering into
communion. In the lake you sense the
enormity of water; it can completely take you in. Plunge in and feel the coolness envelop
Then, there are the rivers – Peshtigo, Oconto, Wolf,
the Pine and the Thunder and others too numerous to mention that laugh loudly
in rushing water that gurgles and giggles, spills and slides as it literally cuts
winding pathways through the granite spine of the north country.
In the river you encounter the sheer power of
water. If you visit any stretch of a river
over a course of years you will see that the place is always changing. Wade out and lean into the force of the flow;
you will better understand how the waters of the river constantly make all
Water washes us clean, physically and
spiritually. Water is pure. Water is lifegiving. Water quenches our thirst.
I know that I will miss the running water most of all.
His Peace <><