Category Archives: Books

My Writing Teachers, This is for You!

Today’s guest-blogger is D.M. Aderibigbe, author of How the End First Showed, part of our Wisconsin Poetry Series. In this post he discusses how his teachers helped him get to where he is today in his career as a poet.

Of all human endeavor, mentorship is the most underrated. Here is the thing: I finished the first draft of what became How the End First Showed, while completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Lagos. I sent it in for a contest and came out as one of three finalists. Add that to the fact that the poems in the manuscript already appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, and RHINO, among others. As such I thought I knew everything I needed to know about poetry—at least my poetry. So much so that when I was hugging my grandmother at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, about to board a Marrakesh-bound plane en route to Boston to begin my MFA, all that occupied my mind were new poems. “I won’t touch anything from this manuscript.” I said to myself.

Then came the famous Room 222. Then came workshop after workshop. Then came the lessons. From Robert Pinsky, Karl Kirchwey and Maggie Dietz (my MFA teachers), I learned that when it comes to oneself, honesty is always farther than we think. From them, I learned that the destination is as important as the route. From them, I learned that nothing is impossible to let go.

These words gradually took over my mind like true love. I decided to step into the past. So when I sat to edit the manuscript again, I parted with several parts of me. It was hard. I hesitated. I cut. I re-added. Then cut. I tell you one thing: if it wasn’t for what my teachers taught me, I never would have been able to do this. Never.

Back to my first ever literature class in high school. As a matter of fact, my first ever class in senior high. The topic for the day was literary appreciation. My teacher, Uncle Titus wanted to tell us the major difference between poetry and prose. He picked up a chalk, drew something that looked like a bungalow on the blackboard. Then he drew something that looked like a road.  “If you are prose, you go straight,” he said. “But if it’s poetry, you’ll go round and round and round, until you arrive.” He made  what look like a circle with the chalk. To prove his point, he asked us to read two poems: David Rubadiri’s “An African Thunderstorm” and “ A.E. Housman’s “Is My Team Ploughing.” He asked us what we thought each poem was trying to say. As you might guess, no two people got the same reading. Not even close. “That’s what poetry is,” he said. “It has the ability to provide numerous roads for many people to arrive at a particular home.” And that home means different thing to different people,” he added.

 

D. M. Aderibigbe is a PhD student at Florida State University. He is the author of a chapbook, In Praise of Our Absent Father, selected for the New Generation African Poets Series of the African Poetry Book Fund. Born and raised in Nigeria, he earned his MFA in poetry from Boston University. His poems have appeared in the African American ReviewThe NationNinth LetterPoetry ReviewPrairie SchoonerRattle, and elsewhere.

The Story Behind The Book of Joshua

Our guest-blogger today is Jennifer Anne Moses, author of the new novel The Book of Joshua, a novel that portrays the challenges of mental illness. (Content warning: this post contains references to self-harm and suicide.)

 

Danny Greenberg was my first boyfriend. Our summer romance occurred when we were both seventeen and students at the same college-prep summer school. Danny was handsome, clean-cut, sweet on me.  In August, he returned to his home in L.A.  A year later, both of us enrolled in colleges on the east coast, we embarked on a friendship that would last only a few more years, during which Danny became oversensitive, depressed, and paranoid, convinced that only by taking on the world’s pain would the world’s sufferings abate.

He was, at times, obsessed with me. Just before I flew to London for my college “junior year abroad” he crossed the English Channel from France, where he himself was spending his junior year, to find me. How he did it I still don’t know, but there he was, waiting for me outside the cell-like room of my dorm in southeast London.

Then the shit got real. Back on the east coast and torn by psychoses, he committed what he later called “a blood sacrifice,” and, while staying at a YMCA in New York, poked out his own eye with—was it a wire hanger? A fireplace implement? A letter opener? I’m not sure I ever knew.

He survived his wounds and even graduated from college—in his case, Princeton. Afterwards, he moved back home, to Los Angeles, and did what he did.  Grad school. A serious girlfriend. Social work. Through the world of Jewish communal philanthropy, our mothers were friends, and now and then Mom would call me with an update. But by then I was too busy having babies to notice much of anything outside my own home. Then I was thirty-six, with two two-year-olds and a hyperactive six-year-old, and Mom called to say: “Are you sitting down?” After I assured her that I was indeed sitting down, she said: “Danny Greenberg killed himself. He lit himself on fire in front of his parents’ house in Los Angeles.”  Up until her own death, many years later, from cancer, Danny’s mother called me every year on Danny’s birthday. I always theorized that she wanted to talk to me, especially, because I had known him, if only briefly, before he was ravaged by the beasts of mental illness.

His story gripped me—because here was an unusually sunny boy, a popular and gifted and beloved boy, who, even before he struck that match, had been destroyed by a cancer so much worse than cancer, because cancer merely destroys the body, whereas mental illness destroys you, claiming your personality and mind and soul as its own. I wrote a short story called “This Danny of His, This Most Beloved,” that was vaguely sort of kind of about my  Danny.  I didn’t think it was that good a story, though. I was surprised when it was published.

Years later, I started writing about a Danny-like figure again, only in this case, the protagonist of the book that eventually became The Book of Joshua, would have hope. In real life, Danny’s parents had long since endowed a program called “Daniel’s Place,” hoping to give to others who suffer from mental illness the light and love that their own beloved son wasn’t able to find.

 

Jennifer Anne Moses is a multigenre author whose many books include Tales from My ClosetVisiting Hours, and Bagels and Grits. Her journalism and essays have appeared frequently in Time magazine, the New York TimesWashington PostWall Street JournalUSA Today, and other publications.

When Nature Bites the Hand that Tills It

Today’s guest blogger is Brian DeVore, author of the new book Wildly Successful Farming: Sustainability and the New Agricultural Land Ethic.

Tyler Carlson farms near “Gopher Prairie,” the fictional setting for Sinclair Lewis’s 1920 novel, Main Street. In the book, Lewis, who grew up in the real Gopher Prairie, otherwise known as Sauk Centre, used biting satire to poke fun at small town life. On this summer day, Carlson is finding the havoc burrowing rodents are raising in his part of central Minnesota less than amusing.

“Some of the vision of this farm is really trying to make agriculture work alongside wildlife and wild ecosystems,” he says to me while examining a three-foot-tall white pine tree that’s listing to one side in a pasture, its roots gnawed off by gophers. “But wildlife are pests in certain instances.”

That’s a harsh reality for someone who studied restoration ecology in college before moving onto this 200-acre farm in 2012 to launch an operation that includes practices like “silvopasturing” — a system combining tree production with rotational grazing of livestock. Carlson saw silvopasturing as an economically viable way to re-build soil, combat climate change, contribute to cleaner water, and support wildlife and pollinator habitat.

Six years later, the 32-year-old farmer is still committed to producing ecosystem services, but reality checks like root-chomping rodents have tamped down his enthusiasm a bit, prompting him to readjust how he reaches his environmental goals while staying economically viable. Carlson, pictured below, has accepted the fact that farming with nature utilizing the principals of diversity, biology, and interdependence—rather than attempting to bring it to heel with iron, oil, and chemistry—means exposing oneself to a world that can be pretty unforgiving. This is the reality of being an “ecological agrarian,” someone who is unwilling to separate a working farm from a working ecosystem.

As I show in my new book, Wildly Successful Farming: Sustainability and the New Agricultural Land Ethic, ecological agrarians are using everything from managed rotational grazing and cocktail mixes of cover crops to the integration of native perennials and annual row crops to blend the wild and the domesticated on agricultural landscapes.

Ideally, these wildly successful farms strike a balance that provides practical benefits to the farmer while countering the negative repercussions of industrialized agriculture: dirty water, eroded soil, loss of wildlife habitat, and greenhouse gas emissions. A healthy soil ecosystem, for example, not only sequesters carbon but allows farmers to better manage precipitation while providing free fertility for crops.

Ecological agrarians trust that a healthy ecosystem will eventually produce a healthy working farm. Some may argue that by placing their trust in the ways of the wild, farmers are abdicating control over their own destiny in a way that’s no better (or is worse) than allowing human-centered technology to call the shots. But during my thirty years as an agricultural journalist who has interviewed a wide range of farmers, I have observed that ecological agrarians are continuously on the lookout for a better way—the opposite of being passive recipients of whatever life tosses their way. When a corn and soybean operation is reliant on petroleum-based inputs and technology developed in a biotech firm’s laboratories, events far from the land determine that farmer’s destiny. War in the Middle East can disrupt the flow of oil; yet one more consolidation in the biotechnology sector can limit the availability of affordable seed. But building a healthy, functional ecosystem starts and ends with a farm’s local terra-firma, literally from beneath the ground up.

Tyler Carlson and his partner Kate Droske have modified their silvopasturing system and made it, if not exactly ecologically pristine, at least a benefit to the environment. And the forage being produced by building their soil health between the rows of surviving trees is good enough to consistently produce quality beef, which is important economically.

And on a farm where the borders between the wild and the tame are porous, opportunities for making mid-course adjustments abound. If injecting a little bit of woodland into a domesticated pasture doesn’t pan out, why not reverse polarity?

At one point, Carlson leads me over a fence to an existing stand of bur oak, ash, ironwood, elm and aspen on a hill that slopes down to a pond. Invasive buckthorn has been set back considerably with the help of a chain-saw (Carlson has also thinned out bigger trees to let in more sunlight). In glade-like spots between trees, red clover and orchard grass Carlson had seeded are making use of the solar energy. For the past few years, this woodland has been a part of his rotational grazing system. Grazing among the trees isn’t as productive as running cattle through open pastures, but it is a low-impact way of attaining ecological goals in a financially viable manner. The cattle have a cool place to graze during hot weather while they help control buckthorn. Opening up the woodland hasn’t just benefited forages—recently Carlson noticed oak seedlings sprouting; in 2012, there were few oaks under 75-years-old here.

This woodlot has been abused and neglected for over a century. But through the introduction of innovative farming practices that involve disturbance and rest, it is being revived as a key ecological component of a working landscape. Transplanting a little nature into tame pastures has been surprisingly difficult, but reversing things and introducing domesticated beasts into an unruly corner of the farm is paying off. When the wild bites back, it doesn’t always hold a grudge.

“It shows that if you let it, nature can be pretty forgiving,” says the farmer as he makes his way among the trees in the dappled sunlight.

 

Brian DeVore is a contributor to farm and conservation magazines and an editor with the Land Stewardship Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up on a crop and livestock farm in southwestern Iowa and, while serving in the Peace Corps, managed a dairy cooperative in Lesotho, Africa.

Vanishing Independence

Today’s guest blogger is Charles Benjamin Schudson, author of the book Independence Corrupted: How America’s Judges Make Their Decisions.

They all agreed. Bret Kavanaugh and every senator on the Judiciary Committee agreed that independence is essential to judicial fairness, and that, to maintain independence, judges and judicial nominees must not forecast their positions on issues that could come before them.

So like all supreme court nominees, Judge Kavanaugh “answered” many questions by explaining that, to preserve at least the appearance of independence, he must promise only an open mind.  The senators agreed.

How surprising that neither Kavanaugh nor any senator mentioned that independence is no longer the fulcrum on which decision-making rests.  How disturbing that pundits and policy-makers don’t seem to know that, since 2002, America’s judges have been free to forecast their decisions on every issue – abortion, guns, executive privilege – even if they do so pandering for political support.

What happened in 2002?  The US Supreme Court decided Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, invalidating the “announce clause” of Minnesota’s Code of Judicial Conduct.  Like the judicial ethics codes of almost all states, it prohibited judges and judicial candidates from “announcing” their positions during their campaigns.  Thus, the Court upended America’s law and tradition of judicial independence.

Before 2002, when I ran in Wisconsin for both the trial and appellate bench, I campaigned – door-to-door, in bowling alleys and churches, and even at labor, corporate, and partisan gatherings.  But I could not offer opinions about abortion, guns, or other subjects I might be judging.  Even when vying for endorsements and financial support, silence was golden.  And if I violated that standard, I could be suspended or removed from office.

Starting in the 1960s, all fifty states enacted such codes.  But while almost all judges complied, some candidates rebelled.  Propelled by personal beliefs and political ambitions, they campaigned on controversial issues; they soon found themselves in court fighting the disciplinary prosecutions of their conduct.

One of them, a candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court, sought an injunction to stop the ethics board from disciplining him.  Minnesota’s Republican Party joined his cause. They argued that the code violated his First Amendment rights and denied voters what they needed for informed voting.  The US Supreme Court, 5-4, agreed.

The result:  judges and judicial candidates now are free to forecast their positions on any issue.  Thus, since 2002, judicial elections have morphed from low-financed yawners to high-financed screamers about abortion, capital punishment, gun control, same-sex marriage, and “tort reform.”

America’s judges now are more vulnerable to litmus testing and political pressuring than ever before.  Voters and interest groups may demand, “What would you decide?”  And now, like never before, judges and judicial candidates calculate their answers according to endorsements and dollars.

Without taking sides on the First Amendment merits of the Supreme Court’s decision, all can acknowledge its enormous consequences.  After all, approximately 99% of America’s court cases – from child custody to medical malpractice, from multi-million dollar disputes to murder – are decided by state judges.  And thirty-nine states, accounting for almost 90% of America’s judiciary, elect their judges.

Thus, except for Marbury v. Madison, the 2002 case may mark the Supreme Court’s most significant decision on judicial authority and conduct in American history.  The fairness (or at least the appearance of fairness) of all state judges may never recover.

Two hundred years ago, Chief Justice Marshall declared that “the greatest scourge an angry Heaven ever inflicted upon an ungrateful and sinning people, was … a dependent judiciary.”  And in a 2015 decision, Chief Justice Roberts implored, “Judges are not politicians.”  Perhaps.  But now we must ask whether America’s judicial independence can continue and, without it, whether our democratic republic will survive.

 

Charles Benjamin Schudson, a Wisconsin Reserve Judge Emeritus, served as a state and federal prosecutor, a trial and appellate judge, and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin. From 2009 to 2014, he was a Fulbright Fellow teaching at law schools abroad.

WISCONSIN FICTION AUTHOR JIM GUHL SHARES INSIGHTS ON DEBUT NOVEL

 

Today we present an interview with Jim Guhl, author of the book Eleven Miles to Oshkosh. As the Vietnam War grinds on and the Nixon presidency collapses, Del “Minnow” Finwick’s small world in Wisconsin has blown apart. His father, a deputy sheriff, has been murdered by the unknown “Highway 41 Killer.” His mom has unraveled. And a goon named Larry Buskin has been pummeling Minnow behind Neenah High. Minnow must seek justice by partnering with unlikely allies and discovering his own courage.

* * * * *

Q. Why did you choose the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin as the setting for your debut novel, Eleven Miles to Oshkosh

A. There are several reasons. For one, I grew up in Neenah-Menasha and learned to love the heartbeat and vitality of the place. Winnebago County is a very interesting region, flush with shallow lakes and wetlands, mills and foundries that never quit their churning, and a rich history that goes back to Nicolet, Chief Oshkosh, and the naming of Lake Butte des Morts (Hill of the Dead).

Q. What do you hope that people will get out of the book?

A.
Pleasure mainly—but also an appreciation for the history, geography and social evolution of the Fox Valley. At its core, Eleven Miles to Oshkosh is a coming-of-age story about an unlikely hero, the scared-of-everything fifteen-year-old, Del (Minnow) Finwick, who seeks to resolve his father’s murder and find courage along the way. Young readers will enjoy the kid’s magnetism for trouble and his willingness to stick up for what’s right. Baby boomers will enjoy images of a simpler time when a single-speed bicycle and access to Grandpa’s Chevy Apache truck keys were enough to get a kid to every nook and cranny in the county. I’m confident that readers will relate to the lively characters from a collection that includes the first black girl at Neenah High, a homeless Native American, and an assortment of bad guys.

Q. How did you get interested in writing fiction?

A.
Even though I worked a full career in the field of engineering, I’ve always had a leaning toward creativity. I enjoy painting, woodcarving, lapidary and guitar. About ten years ago I spotted a small ad in the community section of my local newspaper, inviting people to participate in the Pen & Think Writers Group of Hudson, Wisconsin. I joined up and have been writing short stories and memoirs ever since. About three years ago, I shifted into fourth gear and turned hard on the steering wheel in the direction of full-length novels. I absolutely love it and have no plans of stopping.

 

Jim Guhl grew up in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin in the 1960s and ’70s. He now lives in Hudson, Wisconsin and is a writer and visual artist.

 

#SeptWomenPoets Book Giveaway!

Poet Shara Lessley launched the #SeptWomenPoets hashtag (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) as a way to create an online book club where readers share selections and covers from books by women poets. The challenge has encouraged readers to showcase and discuss some of their favorite poems and poets across social media. Here are some University of Wisconsin Press collections we encourage you to consider for your #SeptWomenPoets TBR pile:

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We are giving away a bundle of recent collections by some of the talented female poets published in the Wisconsin Poetry Series edited by Ronald Wallace, including an advance copy of a book publishing later this fall (entry form and guidelines below).

One winner will receive a copy of:

Enter your email address in the form below before September 30th for a chance to win!

A River Runs Through It

 

Today’s guest blogger is Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of the new book Lava Falls, a collection of twelve stories.

A deep canyon divides this continent, our country. I’m not talking about the political divide, but rather an actual geographical feature. The Grand Canyon, however, can also be seen as a massive metaphor.

The National Parks are as American as baseball and apple pie, and Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps the most iconic of them all. It’s no surprise this gash is at the center of so many American conflicts.

The current administration in Washington is enthusiastically embracing lobbyists aiming to roll back the environmental protections on our nation’s 640 million acres of public land, including that surrounding the Grand Canyon. Uranium miners are particularly eager to get their hands on new ground and have already succeeded in grabbing parts of Bears Ears and Escalante National Monuments. Environmentalists and Native Americans, such as the Havasupai who live in the region, are fighting back.

But environmental threats are not the only trauma rocking Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River corridor has been at the heart of a sexual harassment disaster ripping through the National Park Service, with a years long history of female guides and rangers being physically attacked, propositioned for sex, and retaliated against after reporting incidents. The isolated environment of the Colorado River corridor, where small groups of travelers are dependent upon one another for literal survival, makes an unfortunately perfect habitat for predation. National Park Service managers knew for years about the sexual harassment in the Grand Canyon and failed to take action. The scandal resulted in the resignation of park superintendent Dave Uberuaga, and also reportedly left the river corridor unpatrolled for at least two summers.

It is in the context of these stories of abuse—of the land itself and of the women who love it—that I wrote my novella, “Lava Falls.” As a way of reclaiming the majestic red walls of the Grand Canyon, and the sparkling emerald river running through it, I sent a group of six women on a rafting trip, each with her own story for why she’s making the journey.

As the trip progresses, the women discover secrets in the canyon and encounter the sources of the contemporary conflicts gushing through it, all while trying to survive the desert and monster rapids, including the famous Lava Falls rapid.

I wrote “Lava Falls” because I’m interested in the layers of earth’s history revealed by the Grand Canyon, the way they mirror the layers of human history. People have been living along and inside the Colorado River and Grand Canyon for thousands of years. There still exists a rickety bridge across a gap in the canyon wall built centuries ago by the Anasazi people. Compare this to the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams bracketing the canyon today, not so rickety, and yet sure to eventually crumble and wash away.

Our country is deeply divided, by our political views and by a gorgeous canyon. I hope that one day soon the national parks, especially the stunning landscape of the Grand Canyon, will return to its role as the crown jewel of America, a source of spiritual renewal and nourishing water, a reminder of our short and precious history on this planet.

 

 

Lucy Jane Bledsoe is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels A Thin Bright Line and The Big Bang Symphony and the adventure essay collection The Ice Cave. She has traveled the length of the Grand Canyon, skied through Yellowstone National Park, kayaked and hiked in Alaska, and voyaged several times to Antarctica. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Blind Entry, Bittersweet Exit

Today’s guest blogger is Lee Zacharias, author of the book Across the Great Lake, a haunting novel of nautical adventure, love, ghosts, and tragedy.

I’ve never written from an outline. My first novel, Lessons, began as a short story about a sixth grader whose mother signs her up for the school band.  But as the story grew so did my sixth grader. The adult Jane Hurdle becomes a classical clarinetist, and to research the novel I audited a year of music theory and attended a summer’s worth of orchestra rehearsals at the Eastern Music Festival, where each day I lunched with the musicians, immersing myself so completely in their world that when I finished I was shocked to realize I can’t play a note.

My new novel, Across the Great Lake, grew out of research for an essay about Frankfort, Michigan, which still bills itself as the home port of the Ann Arbor railroad car ferries, though the ferries stopped running long ago. As a girl I had visited Frankfort once. Coming as I did from the industrial Calumet Region at the bottom of Lake Michigan, I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever been.

Though at twelve I thought my life would be perfect if I could only live there, more than forty years would pass before I visited again, a short detour on my way from my mother’s house in Hammond to Traverse City, where my husband’s cousins were holding a reunion. There was the beach, just as I remembered, the house where we had stayed, the restaurant where my family had eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The only thing missing was deep, evocative call of the foghorn. I bought a copy of Ninety Years, the history of the Ann Arbor railroad car ferries, and was plunged into a world of tricky currents, fierce storms, and ice, so much ice. Soon I was reading everything I could find about the lake, the ferries, the history of the area. I finished my essay but couldn’t let the material go.

The first sentence of the novel, “We went to the ice,” came to me without a clear sense of who was speaking or when. In the first chapter I learned it was a five-year-old girl whose father was thecaptain of a railroad car ferry and that he was taking her with him because her mother was dying, but I didn’t know her name, which I found as I sat on the porch at Wildacres Retreat in North Carolina tossing names back and forth with a friend until we both said, “That’s it!”

I chose this adventurous little girl, Fern, because everything aboard would be new to her. The narrator couldn’t be one of the crew because I didn’t know what his story would be, and I panicked when I realized I had no idea how sailors talked among themselves. “Just have them tell Ole and Lena jokes,” a former student from Wisconsin suggested, and as soon as Axel began a joke I’d found online, his voice—their voices—seemed as natural as if I’d been listening to them my whole life. I settled on 1936 because it was one of the coldest winters on record. No radar. Things came together. I finished the book. But the world I’d lived in for the last three years wasn’t mine, and I felt its loss nearly as acutely as Fern feels the loss of her childhood home. To write a novel is to create a country for yourself that you will one day leave with the homesick backward glance of an exile.

 

Lee Zacharias is the author of four previous books, including The Only Sounds We Make and Lessons, a Book of the Month Club selection. Her work has appeared in the Best American Essays series. Born in Chicago and raised in Hammond, Indiana, she is professor emerita of English at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Read more about Lee Zacharias at www.leezacharias.com.

 

 

Six Great Things to Know about Your Favorite Lake

Our guest blogger for the day is Ted J. Rulseh, author of the new book A Lakeside Companion, an accessible guide that helps readers understand the magic of inland lakes—the life in, on, above, and around the water.

When you look out on your favorite lake, what do you see? Beautiful blue water? A place for a refreshing dip on a summer day? A surface on which to paddle a canoe or kayak? Favored spots to catch fish for sport or dinner?

Your lake is all this, but also much more. A lake is a fascinating living system, full of mysteries and things to discover, if you look closely. Here are six things you may not know about the world beneath the waves.

It all starts with the sun. That’s right, the walleye you fry up for supper owes its existence, first and foremost, to the sun. It’s sunlight that enables plants and algae in the lake to manufacture food through photosynthesis. The food these primary producers make forms the base of the lake’s food chain.

Your lake’s water is a thin soup. The water is the broth; the meat and vegetables consist of tiny organisms called plankton. The vegetables are the cells of algae that float freely in the water; they’re called phytoplankton. The meat is made up of small creatures, called zooplankton, that swim through the water, feeding as they go. They feed on the algae and in turn become food for fish in the very early stages of their lives.

Your lake has layers. The water is not a pool with a uniform temperature, at least not in the warm months of the year. As spring turns to summer, the lake separates into layers. Cold water lies at the bottom. Warmer water, being less dense, floats on top. The zone where warm water meets cold is called the thermocline. You can experience the thermocline by swimming out into fairly deep water, then doing a feet-first surface dive. When your feet reach a depth of about 12 to 15 feet, you will feel a sudden change from warm to cool. You’ve penetrated the thermocline. Click here to watch a video where you can learn more about lake stratification.

The waters are all connected. There are lakes, rivers, and the vast resource known as groundwater. These are not really separate entities. They are all part of the same system. The top of the groundwater is called the water table. In an important sense, a lake is a depression in the land that intersects and exposes the water table.

Your lake has a “skin.” You’ve seen the rounded shape of water droplets on a lakeside leaf. What gives that droplet its shape is something called surface tension—it’s as if the water had a very thin, invisible skin. That’s why the insects called water striders can skim across your lake’s surface on their long, spindly legs: The surface tension keeps them from sinking.

Making ice is hard work. Your lake can take a long time to freeze, even with a number of cold and wintry days and nights. Because of a property of water called the heat of fusion, it is eighty times harder to freeze a given volume of water than to lower its temperature by one Celsius degree. Put another way, a drop of water has to give as much energy to freeze as it would give up to lower its temperature by 80 Celsius degrees.

The closer you look at your lake, the more you’ll discover, and the more you will treasure and want to protect that natural wonder.

 

Ted J. Rulseh writes the newspaper column “The Lake Where You Live.” An advocate for lake improvement and protection, he lives in the lake-rich region of northern Wisconsin.

The Story of Tommy Thompson

Today’s guest blogger is Doug Moe, coauthor of the book Tommy: My Journey of a Lifetime. He penned it alongside the subject of the memoir, Tommy G. Thompson, Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor.

I suspect many readers will come to former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson’s new autobiography, Tommy: My Journey of Lifetime, which I coauthored, looking for details on major policies he helped initiate, like BadgerCare in Wisconsin, and, on the national level, Medicare Part D.

The details are in there, and they are often fascinating. When Thompson, as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, helped push through the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, it took a call to the White House from the House floor at 4:30 a.m. Sec. Thompson was there advocating for the bill, and one congressman insisted on talking to President Bush. Every vote mattered, and Thompson put the congressman on the phone with the president. The bill passed narrowly. At nine the next morning, President Bush called Thompson.

“Two things, Tommy,” Bush said. “You did excellent work. Congratulations. But never, ever call me again at 4:30 in the morning.”

I think my favorite passages in the book may be the humorous moments when quirks of human nature are revealed. For instance, during the first campaign for governor in 1986, the Democratic mayor of Kenosha, John Bilotti, let it be known he might consider backing the Republican Thompson for governor in the race against Democrat Tony Earl. The only problem was, Bilotti didn’t want anyone to see him talking to Thompson in case he decided to back Earl, as everyone expected. He insisted Thompson park behind City Hall in Kenosha. Bilotti emerged out a back door, his collar pulled up, trying to be incognito.

“I’m going to go back inside,” Bilotti said. “I will leave the side door open, and I want you to come up the stairs. Don’t talk to anybody.”

Relating this story to me years later, Gov. Thompson said, “See what I had to put up with?” Still, he eventually gave Bilotti a job in his administration.

Then there was the 1988 meeting in Washington D.C. between Gov. Thompson and his top aide, Jim Klauser, and Lee Iacocca, head of Chrysler. The auto giant had recently purchased a large share of American Motors, which operated a big plant in Kenosha but had plans to close it. Talking to a reporter in the days before the meeting, Klauser remarked that Iacocca was “a strange man.” The meeting did not go well. Gov. Thompson felt Iacocca had assured him the plant would not close. Iacocca denied ever doing that. After only a few minutes, Iacocca exploded, and lunged across the table at Klauser, hollering: “I am not a strange man!” American Motors left, but Chrysler agreed to pay $25 million, much of it for job training for displaced workers.

As HHS secretary in Washington, Thompson lost 15 pounds and encouraged everyone in his department to get healthier. He would police the grounds outside the Humphrey Building and occasionally take cigarettes out of people’s mouths. At one point, Sec. Thompson recalled rounding a corner and seeing a man he recognized, a longtime HHS employee, with a lighted cigarette in his mouth. The man was so unnerved seeing the secretary that he took the cigarette out of his mouth and stuffed it in his shirt pocket. The man retired a year or so later, and the day he left, he thanked Thompson and told him he’d changed his life.

“How so?” Thompson said.

“After that day I set my shirt on fire, I never smoked another cigarette.”

Often these humorous stories would emerge while I was interviewing Gov. Thompson – we did more than 30 hours of interviews – about more serious matters. They lightened our conversations, and I hope they lighten the narrative of “Tommy.” It was, in any case, a privilege to help Tommy Thompson tell his life story.

 

Doug Moe is a longtime Wisconsin journalist and biographer. His numerous books include The World of Mike Royko and Lords of the Ring: The Triumph and Tragedy of College Boxing’s Greatest Team.