To most of us, Wisconsin means cheese, milk, fishing and hunting, mosquitoes, and the real backwoods. When you stand in Wisconsin, and look up at the sky, there’s a feeling of “true North” in your soul. The beautiful, lazy, Americana-down-home summers are juxtaposed with harsh, mountain-men-winters. Its people are so sweet and friendly as if they were always your neighbors.
I’ve had the luxury of visiting many of the states in our nation, but the one that grabbed me, almost like going home, was Wisconsin. My first trip up there was by motorcycle. I rode from Woodstock, Georgia to Lacrosse, Wisconsin in about 19 hours—straight through. I remember as I headed up from Madison, the state capital, to Lacrosse, it was the middle of July, late at night, and the air was very brisk. There was an all-encompassing fog, and the night was darker than any night I’d ever seen. I was headed to a campground, and I was exhausted and ready to get some sleep. The thought of setting up a tent in my condition was similar to having my toenails pulled out with a set of pliers. I decided that I would find a hotel.
I was never much of a camper. My idea of camping is in a K.O.A with showers, a pool, and a place to do laundry; however, on this particular trip to Wisconsin, I decided to rough it in a tent. So the next day I packed up my gear and set out to do some real camping. I had heard jokes about mosquitoes being called the “state bird” of Wisconsin, so I made sure I brought some Deep Woods Off and went to put my tent up.
Later that evening as I was heading back to my tent, I saw a couple of guys from the group of campers in my area walking around with smokers, dropping a thick layer of smoke on the ground at our site. I shrugged and went about my business.
Life can be comical at times, and I’m a guy that laughs at stuff that isn’t supposed to be funny. In fact, I was always getting into trouble for laughing when I got in trouble at school. Getting caught with your pants down, or in this case, with your mosquito nets down, would have probably been a knee slapper if it had been someone else, but it was me—and it wasn’t funny.
As the slightest indication of dusk spreading its shadowy apparition across the site, a large fighter squadron of mosquitoes, seemingly the size of small pterodactyls, began to dive bomb me from 12 o’clock high. As an infantryman in the midst of a mortar attack, I dove for the smoke filled areas the men were laying across the field. The smoke choked me, and I couldn’t see, but I fought through the blinding fog to find my can of Deep Woods Off, and I began to empty it on myself. Yes, it has been confirmed, the state bird of Wisconsin is, in fact, the mosquito.
I returned to a cozy, clean motel the next night. In spite of Wisconsin’s lack of commercialization, they do have an abundance of hotels and motels because of tourists. Or could it be the mosquitoes?
I was surprised to find out that Wisconsin has a thriving tourist industry. The majority of the state, unless you’re in Madison or Milwaukee, is nothing but backwoods and country. As I rode along the highways, I saw thousands of acres of dairy farms, wheat fields, and corn. The cities and small towns are like stepping back in time. There is no McDonalds on every corner or a convenience store on every block. I envisioned myself back in the mid-20th century. Small country towns and real, salt-of-the-Earth people seem to make up Wisconsin’s population.
The most extraordinary sight I had was the first time I saw a Bald Eagle. I was on the Mississippi River in Lacrosse. The river moved slow, meandering ever downward to the Gulf of Mexico some 2,550 miles away. I sat on a rock staring at the water which had the same hypnotic quality of a campfire at night. The curling ripples and swirling pools made my head bob in a sleepy nod, my eyes barely open. I was shaken awake by a sound I didn’t recognize, but it sounded like someone unfolding a sheet or a tablecloth—it was the sound of massive wings pushing air. I looked up, and at first glance only saw the blazing white head and tail of this massive bird of prey.
My patriotic heart was a flame. The American Bald Eagle is an incredible sight to behold. Like hearing a beautiful voice sing the national anthem at a ballgame, the Eagle hits your I-love-my–country bone. A tear formed and ran down my cheeks as the huge bird soared and then screeched as it crossed the navy blue, cloudless sky.
I then realized it was headed for a nest at the top of a line of Birch River trees along the water’s edge. Suddenly I saw more Eagles—dozens of them. I was in awe. I laid back down on the river bank, under the Birch trees, and became still as a stone. I watched the Eagles until I fell asleep in the fresh breeze of the day.
When I woke up from what amounted to about an hour long nap, I fired up my Harley and drove away. Most never believe this story, but it’s true. As I headed down the highway, off about a mile away, I saw the great white head and tail of a Bald Eagle. I was headed straight toward his location as he soared, not flapping his wings. He was about to cross my path on the highway when suddenly he turned straight down the road directly toward me. As he reached me, he maneuvered a sharp turn and soared directly over my motorcycle for about 500 feet and then flew away. I’ll never forget it.