Wild Things in our Daily Lives

I looked out our kitchen window one morning and saw what looked like the front legs of a very large dog in the yard next door.  I went to another window to look more closely and was startled to see a doe standing there.  Very shortly thereafter, the doe ran off — leaping across the street out front, presumably on her way to find a place more wild than someone’s backyard.

We live fairly close to the 1200-acre UW-Arboretum and every so often we see creatures from “the wild” around the neighborhood:  a fox, wild turkeys, a baby ‘possum (in our window well), a ground hog (ugh), ducks, racoons, and — just that one time — a deer.

I felt a kind of thrill at seeing the doe that morning.  For those of us who live in urban settings, there is something about spotting a comparatively “wild” thing on our home territory that stirs excitement.  I told my deer tale to a number of people on that day. [And here I am, telling it again!]  My friend Melinda, wanting to share her moment with the wild things, posted a picture on Facebook of five wild turkeys that wandered into her yard one day last year. Our son and his family live in a nearby residential area on the edge of Madison and they tell us about turkeys and at least one fox walking through their back yard regularly.  Recently, a turkey roosted on their garage roof for the night, providing a new novel detail for their turkey tales.

Robert Macfarlane wrote a book about his journey to find the wild places that still exist in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales (The Wild Places, Penguin Books, 2007).  The book is beautifully written.  In the book, Macfarlane says this:  “Wildness . . . is an energy which blows through one’s being, causing the self to shift into new patterns, opening up alternative perceptions of life” (p. 209).  He searches back into ancient Chinese history to describe the more than 2,000 year old concept of a love for the wild.  He speaks of this love as a quality of aliveness, a “self-ablazeness.”  What a fantastic word!

One day, when I was still on faculty full-time, I was walking along University Avenue to get back to my office.  University Avenue is a very heavily used roadway that cuts right through the University campus.  It has a bus lane, two bike lanes and three auto lanes.  It’s always busy.  As I was walking, I suddenly heard a screeching of brakes and some commotion back behind me.  I turned around to look, and saw a car that had come to a halt sort of crosswise on the Avenue, blocking other cars from going through.  And then I saw what had prompted this driver to put himself in such a dangerous situation — a mother duck and her baby ducks were in the middle of University Avenue, making their way across the road, directly in front of the car.  It was a transformative moment, it seemed like everyone held their breath as the little family calmly went about getting across the street, up the curb and then finally heading toward the nearby lake.

ducks on roadway

These are the bits of wild things that come into the lives of those of us who live in urban settings.  For some people, it is not enough.  They buy a cottage on a lake up north to escape to during the summer days, anticipating refreshment for body and spirit.  One young family I know has a canvas yurt permanently located in Upper Michigan to which they retreat regularly.  Some people just go for drives or hikes in the country and others pull up their city roots and actually move to the country.

Aldo Leopold, a Wisconsin son and one of the world’s greatest naturalists, has said, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” (A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University Press, 1949, p. vii).  Maybe so.  But to live without any wild things would seem like a bleak and wanting existence.  Even though we are limited to “bits” of wildness in our urban settings, we do at least have occasional moments when our spirits are lifted and we feel “ablaze.”




Technology Run Amok

It’s Friday morning of last week.  Ed comes into the kitchen and tells me that he is having trouble getting into his e-mail.

Instantly my heart sinks.  Yup, sure enough, I couldn’t get into my e-mail either.

First line of attack:  Call DoIT, our campus technology trouble-shooting line.  After a series of questions from a no-nonsense computer science student, I am told that the problem is not with the e-mail account.  The problem is with the “network.”  We are “off-line.”  We have no internet signal.  For us, that means we need to call AT&T.

Ed makes the call later that day, and spends the next hour or more on the telephone with the AT&T customer care person. Try this, try that.  Look behind the modem, look behind the computer tower, unplug the blue cord, plug the blue cord back in, turn everything off, turn everything back on.  Finally, exhaustion sets in.  Ed gives up.  “I don’t think I can do any more. Please, please send someone out here to help.”  Okay, tomorrow morning.

Sometime after hanging up the telephone, we gradually discover that it’s not just the computers that are off-line.  Since we have our technology “bundled,” everything is out-of-whack — the TV, my iPad, and my iPhone.  We are full of angst in our limbo of time before the AT&T technician comes the next day.  How is it that we have become so accustomed to this daily life with our various devices that to be without them leaves us feeling way out of kilter and “at loose ends?”

After a restless night (really!), the next morning comes and with it the visit from the AT&T technician to our house.  He asks some pointed questions, and quite quickly hones in on the problem.  “See that little red button on the back of the modem, down near the bottom?  Hold that button in for about 15 seconds, the modem will reset, and you will be back in business.”  And holy cow!  It actually worked!  We are amazed.  We are ecstatic.

thumbnail_FullSizeRenderAnd the story doesn’t end there.

On the next day, Sunday, I get a call from my good friend and piano partner Melinda.  She’s having trouble with her computer, her TV, and her iPhone and she is aware that I have been having problems of a similar nature in the last day or two.  Do I have the help number she can call to get assistance from AT&T?  Well . . . I can do better than that.  “See that little red button on the back of the modem. . . ”   Two minutes later she calls me back;  “It worked!.”  We are ecstatic and amazed all over again. Melinda, too, is back in business!

Daily life is back to normal.

***Photo courtesy of Melinda


The Emerald Ash Borer

All day long we heard the buzz of the chainsaw in the neighborhood.  As it turned out, over 20 trees were being cut down on the streets around us.  The emerald ash borer has been wreaking its havoc.

Especially sad for us was, and is, the loss of the Autumn Purple white ash trees on our street.  This graceful tree created a beautiful leafy arbor of deep lavender over the street every Fall.

Autumn Purple White Ash

The late G. Wm. Longenecker, professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, introduced this cultivar in the 1960s.  At some point in recent years, the emerald ash borer found its way to the United States — likely on loading pallets from China. In this country, the borer was first noted in the city of Detroit, and from there it has been gradually spreading in all directions.

In the past decades in the United States, we had Dutch Elm Disease, which nearly wiped out the American elm trees.  Next came the gypsy moths which attacked our white oaks with a vengeance (the moths were really ugly creatures, too).  And now it’s the emerald ash borer.

Daunting to think of what might be next.