Archives for posts with tag: nature

When I went camping, I took some pictures.  We camped in a state park called Wyalusing, which is one of Wisconsin’s oldest and I would guess probably one of the most popular.  They have group sites there so many local schools will take students there for a few days for nature education (I did this in middle school).  What always made the park so memorable were the amazing views from its bluffs.  And they were even more vast than I remembered:

Meeting of two waters

In the above photo you can see where the Wisconsin River (that’s the run moving  from the front  right of the picture) meets with the Mississippi (if you look closely you see it running in front of the far bluff).   Many historians think this big water convergence might be the root of the word Wisconsin (which could mean the meeting of waters in some of the native languages).   The other bluff in the picture belongs to our good friend. Iowa. They are across the Mississippi.

Incidentally, our bff, Minnesota, returned some islands back to us.  Apparently we lost them a few years ago and assumed they belonged to Minnesota.  This is how islands are like  $5 bills.

Then we met a cave

It looks like the human-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors.

We explored the surprising wealth of the Dousman family:

Villa Louis

And were followed around by some staff people with keys

Time to close the museum

On the way home we met Dinky in Fennimore

Dinky

Then these windmills worked hard to turn on lights for us

Don Quixote also met windmills. That's all I know about him.

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I was here but then I wasn’t.  Well the week flew by.  The real reason for my few days off was that I was camping.  No Appalachian Trail euphemism, but real, in-a-green-A-Frame-tent camping: the warm lull of a campfire, being outside all the time so that doing nothing qualifies as doing “something”, the loud rush of wind through trees, the strange threat of cackling racoons, the food.  Oh lord help me, I love campfire food.  I have to; I’m a vegetarian.

The amazing secret of the classic wood-fire camp flame is that it makes fake meat taste AMAZING.  I’ve been a vegetarian nearly 10 years  and I’ve suffered through some terrible faux meats.  Many of them microwaved (which is a great way for a fledgling vegetarian diet to permanently fail). At best, the most ubiquitous tend to be merely bland seasoned protein patties that cook all dry and rubbery.  But smokey campfire crisps away the rubberyness and encourages the substitute meat to crackle on the outside and to become, dare I say it, juicy on the inside.

The following  have led to some of my best experiences:

1. Tofurky Beer Brats

In vain I had searched for some kind of veggie brat that remotely replicated some semblance of the beer brats my father made for us when I was growing up.  Beer Heritage! These on a campfire were the first thing that came close.  I have yet to actually try marinating them in beer, but the fact that they taste decent without that process makes me quite hopeful of the result.  Please do not microwave or charcoal grill these after you have had them on a campfire.  That is a foolish, cruel thing to do to yourself.

2. Field Roast Grain Meat Co. – Smoked Apple Sage Vegetarian Sausage


Although I am a happy vegetarian (meaning, I enjoy what I eat and don’t get all bitter and make others miserable as I judge their lack of food ethics) brats are my Achilles Heel…my soyfood meat-substitute Achilles Heel. In fact, before I discovered that Tofurky Beer Brats were yummy on the campfire, I was starting to allow myself one well-chosen brat a summer so that I would no longer resent all my fellow Wisconsinites for their horrible, delicious lack of food ethics.  But the campfire changed all this.  I have food summers again!

Then this past weekend I tried Field Roast vegetarian sausages on the campfire and they might be even better than the Tofurky.  The inside was flavorful without the off-mark, almost peppery spiciness that I sometimes taste with other fake meats.  But the topper was that their vegetarian sausage actually was juicy on the inside, almost succulent.   More products like these, please!

3. Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips

These are one of those vegetarian-substitute products that may bewilder newbies with their almost inedible appearance.  As my camping partner described them: play food.  But didn’t you always want to eat your toy food as a child?  Now you can.  And it  gets nice and crispy on the fire.  The flavor is salty and similar to bacon-chips.  It’s a nice finger-food to compliment coffee and eggs on a slow morning in a collapsible canvas chair.  True bacon lovers may not be satisfied with the close-but-not quite flavor, but the advantages over the real thing: less fat and no grease.

4.  MorningStar Farms Veggie Sausage  Links

Similar in quality to MorningStar’s veggie bacon, this product appropriately replicates the taste of real sausage links (perhaps a little over-spiced, but not enough to be off-putting).   The smell is pleasant to wake up to, and again, not greasy so it’s easy to tool around your campsite while munching on these.

5.  Nature’s Bakery Veggie Burgers

I couldn’t write this entry without  acknowledging Nature’s Bakery’s scrumptious veggie burgers.  Complex, moist, flavorful–these are everything one could want in a veggie burger.  These don’t make the mistake of trying to replicate a meat-hamburger, but demonstrate that the otherness of veggie alternatives can be delightful when judged on their own merits. These are probably the best packaged veggie burgers I’ve had.  Nature’s Bakery is a local coop so their products are only available in Wisconsin and a couple of select locations in Illinois and Minnesota.  But do try if you have the opportunity.

Finally, as far as campfire failures…

I finally tried vegan marshmallows over the weekend and it wasn’t quite the revelation I had hoped.  They certainly tasted like marshmallows, but had nothing of the crispy-gooey combination that makes popping roasted marshmallows off a stick such a delight.   If anyone reads this and has recommendations, I would love to hear them.  Occasional gelatin (I try to limit it) is one reason among many other aged, cheddar-flavored reasons that I could never imagine undertaking veganism.  Go ahead and judge.

Today was such a fortunate, glorious day–perfect blue sky spotted here and there with little puff clouds. By far the best thing was the temperature (upper 70s) and low humidity. After days and days of heat advisories it was nice to have a perfect summer day with no obligations. My big treat was getting in a bike ride around one of the lakes.

It had been over a week, maybe two, since my last bike ride and it’s always striking how the vegetation changes so quickly. In Wisconsin we are currently at our most overgrown and overleafed and it something to be savored.  To be out and about with a crisp breeze this time of year is to be amazed at how loud everything is: the leaves, the bugs, the grass, the flowers, the branches, the lake water.

But the early crispness in the air also reminds me that autumn is only a few weeks away. There were surprising few people out, which triggered some feelings of loneliness.  I recalled all the last glinting days of childhood summers:  the excitement of starting a school year, the the anxiety of holding on to fleeting time.   I also recalled my first summer after college when I worked into September, well after all the school years had started. I was starting an opportunity in October, but missing my first school year after nearly two decades worth, made me feel as those the entire world was populated with school children who were starting something new and leaving me behind. Perhaps that loneliness was a first burden of adulthood, the anxiety of entering it in the first place and knowing that I would never leave.

Here’s where I begin to write a poem. My little bike-ride and the images conjured triggered strong feels with many possible meanings. If I were to write a poem, I would start by compiling images. I would think about the sounds I heard: the leaves like breaking waves, the creaking branches (one that sounded like a screen door). The blue of the lake–surprisingly it was the same color as a porta-potty parked next to it.  What kind of images–how do they set the tone?  I would let them write themselves and see if they could answer that for me.

This is also when I would think about the sounds this poem should make (do I want it to feel jagged, or smooth–to move quickly or stutter when read out loud? Should I mimic the sounds I hear or play against a reader’s expectations?). From there I would just take time to put down words (I would work with a dictionary to help keep myself surprised) and to see if those words lead anywhere.

But when it comes to nature, do I really need to write when everything’s been written already, the emotions already so well conveyed? As one of my bosses would say: something to noodle on.

Here’s a nature poem from the 13th or 14th century–my Norton anthology is not very sure. The notes (in parenthesis) are annotations courtesy my Norton anthology:

Fowls in the Frith (Birds in Woods)

Fowles in the frith,
The fisshes in the flood,
And I mon waxe wood: (must go mad)
Much sorwe (sorrow) I walke with
For best of boon and blood.

(According to the scholars at Norton, the final line could read “the best” or “beast” of bone, which means it could be religious or erotic or both!)

So the beast of burden here is our mortality, our limitations, the futile desires we walk with that the natural world, in its instinctual perfection, never encounters.  Humanity is once again betrayed by its complexity.  This was seriously written 700 years ago and this is essentially the question behind nearly every nature poem ever.  Although I wonder if anyone has ever taken on a porta-potty.