My above-pictured collage, simply titled “North”, tells a story—an account of eight years when my husband and I lived, year around, north of Highway 8 in the Wisconsin Northwoods. Included in the collage are photos of our lake and the Big Elk River around the bend, snippets of my cropped art, bits of aluminum foil, Japanese lace paper, some cheesecloth, lots of acrylic paint, and a favorite quote from a beloved American author: Henry David Thoreau: “I had three chairs in my house . . . one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.” Walden
People who know me may laugh when I share this favorite quotation. They know that: 1) I have far more than three chairs in our home, as well as far more than three of most anything else. I’m a collector of everything! and 2) My idea of “society” is a lot more than three people. We have a gargantuan family. All are welcome to come and sit on our multiple chairs—although many are still in the stage of running around rather than just sitting. (My “up north” friend Sandy commented after viewing a photo of our family, “That’s not a family; that’s a tribe!”)
Meanwhile, aside from Thoreau’s eastern philosophical views, I love most everything that he wrote. His chair quote, to me, symbolizes an inner peace and unswerving stability. A true Yankee at heart, Thoreau was never swayed by customs, crowds, human opinion, or even his own precarious health issues. I have his complete diary spanning 24 years and two huge volumes. Right up to his last entry, when Thoreau was dying of tuberculosis, his focus remained on the wonders of creation and the intricate details therein.
The wonders of creation predominate around our home in Northern Wisconsin, along with solitude and an undescribable stillness. Black bears abound. Despite the fact that they tore up a few bird feeders and pulled a screen off our front deck, I loved the bears (but my husband did not!). Perhaps the most unique thrill of all was seeing timber wolves on the ice in front of our pier. The wolves brought unforgettable excitement to a minus 25° morning. (That’s 25 degrees below zero, folks!) But nature’s wonders notwithstanding, my most precious memories of up north have to do with the friends we made—friends forever. As always, I was thankful to have more than 3 chairs in my home!
Now we are back in the Southern part of our state, where much needed medical care is within 13 minutes from our door. And family! In recent years, 16 great-grandchildren have appeared on the scene and we live close to 9 of them. We are watching the little people grow up. We attend their school concerts and some of the birthday celebrations. I attend church with children, grandchildren, and 7 of our great-grandchildren. When out-of-state family members visit, we are all together in one county—so tribal gatherings are easily managed. Joe and I enjoy our condo home, my little gardens, the good neighbors on our lane, the park and woodlands beyond our door, and quick access to great restaurants and bistros. A new grandbaby is due in June—within rocking and cuddling distance.
Yet now and then on hot summer nights—when I lounge outdoors on the patio while viewing the hazy moon and scanty stars over our nearby metro area—I recall those northern night skies, plastered with millions of stars. I often think of my friends up there, and I’m thankful that we stay in touch.
We never really lose the beloved people or places in our lives. There’ll always be a part of my heart labeled, “North of Highway 8”.
Margaret L. Been, ©2013