I grew up loving the woods thanks to my ability to get to a 40 acre “wild” area we called “Down the Hill”. (Great name huh?) There we saw my first frogs, snakes, toads, owls, raccoons, etc. It wasn’t a really wild place but it’s all we had and it was enough to spark a lifelong relationship with nature.
Beyond that, one of the places and experiences that will forever be on my mind was my first solo hike in the Wisconsin northwoods at Pattison State Park. About forty of us that were working at a summer camp near Minong went to spend a day there one weekend. Within this state park lies two of Wisconsin’s most picturesque waterfalls. Those waterfalls attracted most the attention.
Half a dozen of us worked down the steep walls of the canyon beneath the highest waterfalls. With a drop of 165 feet, it was easier getting down than going up so rather than work my way up directly, I meandered down river to find a more gradual climb out. Step by step the roar of the crashing water faded behind me as I walked, though perhaps jumping from boulder to boulder would be more descriptive.
Each bend of the river just kept inviting me further and further downstream, I couldn’t get myself to turn around! Eventually the boulders gave way to rocks and sand bars and I was able to study the tracks of the animals that had passed the same way I had. At first, there were a few boot prints in the sand but after half a dozen bends of the river, it was pretty obvious that I was alone with the wildlife.
It’s a really neat feeling to have willingly pursued that level of solitude. Since that time I’ve been to other wilderness areas by myself but none had the impact that one did. Those were the days of no cell phones and had something happened to me, I’d still be there!
Not long after I went home from that camp, that experience influenced me to write the only poem I’ve ever written.
All Alone in the Wilderness
All alone in the wilderness, not a sound around me
but the leaves being rustled by the wind
and the babbling brook flowingly whispering its peaceful tune.
There are tracks in the sand but none from the foot of a man.
I feel eyes peering at me from the depths of the forest
and a cool chill creeps over me.
The stream flows slowly by, the trees tower over me
the shadows close round about me,
the sounds of the night begin to cry.
An owl makes its presence known and a loon cries his enchanting song.
A wolf sends his encompassing howl echoing through the hills
and I interpret their lonely cries to say, “you are all alone in the wilderness”.