Opening Letters

Time to Love Wisconsin

mauls, oak logs, and a reason to stop complaining about the cold

Eric Rasmussen, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier |

A few weeks ago, I received one of those warm fuzzy feelings, like when a stranger helps you with a door while your arms are full of groceries, or when your cat is considerate enough to puke on the linoleum instead of on the carpet. I was standing in front of my class of freshmen, and like I always do on Mondays, I asked them if anyone had done anything exciting the previous weekend. As usual, the students and I apparently have very different definitions of the word “exciting,” because they were sharing stories of marathon video game sessions and endless sports practices. This particular Monday, I also stretched the scope of the word “exciting” as I described my weekend, which involved many magical hours of splitting wood with my father.

Immediately after bringing up my time spent turning large pieces of wood into numerous smaller pieces of wood, a student raised his hand and asked, “Did you use a maul or a splitter?” I sheepishly and almost apologetically explained that we used a splitter, but we had, like, 10 face cord to get through, and we never would have done it with a maul. Plus, dad had borrowed a 20-ton splitter from a neighbor, so at least it was loud and heavy and manly, even if we weren’t swinging at each individual log. After this explanation, I paused. A thought had occurred to me. I asked the class, “How many of you have any idea what I’m talking about? How many of you have ever split wood?”

Of the class of 30, well over half raised their hands. And that’s when the fuzziness hit me. That’s pretty substantial; first of all, that that many of us shared this particular common experience. But more than that, how many other places around the country share wood-chopping weekends with us? I don’t imagine many of those big-city people spend much time tearing knots out of birch logs so they can be stacked, and then you have all the plains states without any trees, and maybe I’m being naïve, but isn’t it always warm in the south? Do they have a lot of fires down there?

So, I was standing at the front of the room glowing with a cultural connection only provided to those in the northern Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and northern New England. I made some comment about it to the kids, but they all stared at me blankly as if I had brought up subordinate clauses again. Even if the average freshman doesn’t revel in a little bit of Wisconsin pride, we have reached the time of the year where state pride is running at its highest; winter is the aspect of life around here that separates us from most of the rest of the country.

Maybe I’m feeling this way out of necessity, because without some sort of positive spin on the cold temperatures and impending bleak whiteness, I would collapse in a puddle of sunlight and Vitamin D-deprived tears. Or maybe the anticipation of soup, blankets, and winter hats is something significant in itself, which prevents us from renting a U-Haul and heading to Oklahoma.

Either way, I highly recommend getting in touch with your Wisconsin pride. If you are one of those people who are already excited about putting on some green and gold, charging up the snowmobile battery, and building some snowmen, I am with you. Seriously, whoever you are, sitting there reading this magazine, I feel connected to you. Isn’t that cool? I don’t even know you, but we have this bond. Let’s just take a minute to appreciate that… sigh…

For the rest of you, try getting in touch with your inner Badger. If you are one of those people that have been complaining about the temperature over the past few weeks, head out the to the mall or one of our department stores and buy a thick sweater. A really thick sweater, and then the first few times you wear it, reward yourself with some chocolate. That way, the positive association will carry through your sweater into the temperatures. And those of you already complaining about the snow, you just need some positive association of your own. Buy some snowshoes, or start eating Sno-Cones now, or maybe hide dollar bills in the finger of all of your gloves.

I understand that some people just are not cut out for winter life around here, and maybe those people really should figure out how to move to New Mexico, where they can find cultural connections and state pride with people down there over scorpions or tumbleweeds or something.

But I really think the vast majority of us, if we really think about it, enjoy the cycle of seasons around here, along with all the facets of Wisconsin life that come with them. Despite being incredibly sore, I will be chopping more wood next weekend. A lot of it’s oak, which is pretty stringy, but I think there’s a bunch of poplar, which has this great smell. You know what I’m talking about.