Thursday, July 03, 2003

Our somewhat slapdash front-loading washer is attempting to dislodge large chunks of Wisconsin from my clothing, the logical follow-up to what turned out to be a terrific five-day trip despite its having begun and ended in Chicago-area traffic jams. It was fun to return to the Mad City Masters after a four-year absence; being able to team up with Eric and Tom put the finishing touches on the experience. We took second place in an eight-team field; we also managed to defeat the first-placers (Andrew, Subash, and Paul) in the round robin. (For those just tuning in: Usually, nobody beats Andrew, Subash, and Paul.) Thanks to Brian for a great tournament, Eric and Tom for being such incredible players as well as so eager to hunt down terrific ethnic eateries in Madison, and (once again) Andrew, Subash, and Paul for one of the wittiest, most enjoyable academic packets I've ever played on!

The return to Mad City also meant a return to Devil's Lake State Park. (Where did you think the large chunks of Wisconsin in my clothing came from? Did you think my team spent the short breaks between tournament rounds mud-wrestling with Andrew, Subash, and Paul?) The place is certainly my favorite natural area, and besides five-year-old sharp cheddar, the reason I love Wisconsin so much. The best part of Devil's Lake, though, is that, within reason, most fun activities are allowed there without bureaucratic hassles, except for some IMO quite reasonable restrictions mostly related to providing quiet campground nights and clean beaches. If (unlike me) you enjoy rock climbing, there are wonderful bluffs along the lake that make it a favorite regional climbing spot. Pick the outdoor activity, and someone does it there. Hiking, fishing, tent camping, RV camping, swimming, scuba diving, bug-chasing, bird-watching, botanizing, barbecuing, canoeing, or just hanging out on the beach grilling hot dogs and getting a tan -- it's all available. If you want to drink a beer with those hot dogs, it's legal. You can't drink it in the concession building, but you can buy a six-pack there and bring it out to the beach. If you want to swim with a mask and fins, or let your inner or outer children play with rafts or floats, there are no fun police waiting to give you a hard time. There are amenities there (plumbing, showers, concessions, prepared trails), but you can contrive to be as close to or as far away from them as you like.

Also, if you want to clamber out onto the rocks beside the Tumbled Rock Trail at the base of the west bluff and jump off, no one hassles you about it. We noticed that one particular rock was a popular rendezvous point for high-school age daredevils, so of course we had to join them. The drop itself wasn't more than ten feet, and the water was deep enough for safe jumps. If the take-off point had been a pier, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. However, it wasn't a pier; it was a difficult-to-reach, very much non-flat rock, and it was wet from the dozens of dripping adolescents who had made repeated jumps from it. So, of course, Rick wanted to jump. So, of course, we both crawled out there. I'm not sure how I made it out to that rock, except to keep telling myself a mantra Rick taught me: Your father wouldn't have wanted you to do this.

A digression is in order. My father was for the most part a nice guy, self-effacing almost to a fault, in fact. He was also more overprotective than Bob Balaban's character in A Mighty Wind. Other high-school girls could bring down their fathers' wrath by going out drinking and getting stoned, or running around with bikers. In my own teens, I never actually had to do anything so dangerous. All it took was a trip outside with wet hair. Even in July I was mournfully accused of courting death by pneumonia this way. (Apparently they didn't teach the germ theory of disease when my dad was a schoolboy. The fact that he swam in the Connecticut River as a boy, and slept in tents when he was in the army, didn't seem to register.) Anyway, he lived to be 84 on a regimen of dry hair and rarely having a good time, so I guess it worked just fine for him.

So I crawled out to the end of this rock, sharp edges and all. The trick is to lurch off the end with a bit of a spring, so as not to (a.) brain yourself on the rock itself or (b.) slash up your limbs so badly on said rock that you go home in a cast with 200 stitches under it. If you do it correctly, you're fine. It doesn't have to be pretty. I'd already seen a dozen kids jump off and live. One of them was Rick. Twice. So I crouched on the end of the rock, then launched myself with my best possible grasshopper-legged jump. The estrogen has long since kicked in, so the flashes have ended, but everything was still hot, and the water was cold when I landed. Some went up my nose. It was great. I bobbed up to a nearby rock to pull myself out, and realized that I was still burning with adrenalin. I stayed in that chilly water for a long time, waiting for Rick to make one last jump, and whispering a very quiet Thanks, Dad. We told the kids they'd just seen two 46-year-olds spring off the rock. They took this with friendly equanimity mixed with confusion. We wished them well, hauled ourselves out of the water, and hiked on.

More on Devil's Lake will follow after I get additional sleep, move some of the camping mess out of the living room, finish the laundry, and transfer some of my newly collected ants to vials. In the meantime, here's some light summer reading -- a good link explaining why mass aerial spraying is a poor first defense against West Nile Virus. Take it to the beach, and enjoy.


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