In Our Own Backyard
Fifty years ago, Catherine Marshall’s book Christy had a profound effect on me. In my idealized view, I wanted to be just like Christy and help children who were dealing with poverty and other serious issues. When I ended up getting my first teaching job in the Dells, I quickly found out that I didn’t need to go to the Appalachian Mountains to help students dealing with life challenges. I could contribute and make a difference here in my own backyard.
My husband and I like to travel. One fall we headed to the Smoky Mountains, near Christy’s Cutter Gap, to take in the gorgeous color. We had a great time hiking up Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and watching a mother bear and her cubs, but truly, the colors were not nearly as pretty as the trees around the Baraboo Hills or North Freedom. For fall color, it’s hard to top the scenery in my own backyard.
In my lifetime, I’ve had many other idealized views, many of which involved distant travel. I longed to vacation along Maine’s coast and enjoy fresh lobster. I pictured dining with a view of the rocky shore and rolling waves. After traveling by car for days, I did get to a lobster shack on the ocean, but after seeing my lobster tossed into boiling water and ten minutes later, handed to me, and realizing I needed to scoop out the inside intestines, my romantic bubble burst. Now when I want to splurge, I can buy lobster at the grocery store and pack a picnic lunch to share on a Wisconsin shoreline, less than 50 miles from my own backyard.
Several years ago, my husband and I traveled to Canada’s Sturgeon Lake to fish northern, walleye, and trout. We did catch fish, but neither of us would include that trip in our top five fishing adventures. My top fishing trips include trout fishing as a child with my father in a remote, scenic stream only miles from my grandparents’ home; salmon fishing in Lake Michigan near my family’s home where I landed a whopper; Wisconsin ice fishing where I abandoned my pole and instead peered down the hole to watch the gently undulating vegetation and the occasional blue gill swim by; white bass fishing in Freemont, Wisconsin, as a family and having my mother pull out a celebratory flask of blackberry brandy; and watching my grandson’s eyes light up as he caught his first fish, a blue gill, less than 100 feet from our cabin’s backyard.
When my daughters were in their twenties and I suspected they’d soon become busy mothers, I arranged for the three of us to take a last carefree vacation. We visited Ireland, the Emerald Island. I was especially excited to take in the glorious sight of the green rolling hills. Driving past a herd of sheep contentedly munching on that lush grass was a sight I won’t forget, but truly, taking a drive to North Freedom or on country roads to Hillsboro is even more glorious. Likewise, I have also romanticized about the three of us backpacking around Europe or riding bikes through the Scottish or English countryside where we could take in the scenery. But realistically, it would be hard to snatch them away from their busy lives. So instead, we settle on day trips and truly, it would be hard to beat the scenery while biking on the 400 state bike trail near LaValle, just 20 miles away from the Dells.
If you enjoy beautiful scenery but don’t want to or can’t travel far, treat yourself to a local Wisconsin River boat tour or kayak the upper or lower dells. Reflect on how you’re seeing old-growth forests of hemlock and oaks sitting atop ancient Cambrian sandstone. Let the scenic cliffs, the sculpted sandstone formations, and the moss-lined glens fill your soul. Spend time on a sandbar, wade in the water, or just pause along the Riverwalk and take a moment to soak in the beauty.
The teenager who romanticized about her life as another Christy 50 years ago didn’t realize that all of her life, she’d be surrounded by chances to make a difference and to soak in nature’s beauty—all in her own backyard.