Overlooking Lake Wissota (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)
Overlooking Lake Wissota (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)

Sounds abound, especially the quietest ones that do the most healing

[Editor’s Note: We asked the UpNorthNews team to send a valentine to Wisconsin, telling us something you really like about living here. For Pat Kreitlow, it’s about what you hear… and what you don’t.]

There is no shortage of noise in Wisconsin, much of it happy, some of it industrious, with anything outdoors bound to be punctuated by the sounds of wind, water, or even cows lowing at sundown. The more I thought about my favorite parts of Wisconsin, the more I strayed from places or people or values, and instead I remembered the sounds that enveloped the best of those things.

There was the whooo and the ker-splash as my oldest grandson, now 13, let go of a homemade zipline and plunged into the swimming hole at my sister-in-law’s place near Lomira.  The squeals from his 5-year-old brother as he lifted rocks along the Chippewa River and found crawfish. The clack-clack-clack of the carnival rides at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair. And of course, the crickets and frogs as we all roasted marshmallows for smores.

Plenty of Wisconsin sounds are recognizable by millions. The first three notes of “Start Me Up” as the Packers get set for the opening kickoff. “Roll Out the Barrel” at Miller Park. That certain cheer from the student section at Camp Randall you hope your kids don’t ask you about. The potato-potato-potato of a Harley Davidson. The foghorns along the shorelines of two Great Lakes. A summer breeze through the leaves… a sound best experienced if the leaves are directly above your backyard hammock.

Thinking about the sounds of Wisconsin brought me back to a time and place that might sit highest on this list of acoustic experiences. It was the summer of 2012 and I had spent days preparing for some very big event –the details aren’t important– and while it went off without a hitch, I was drained. I was more than two hours from home and had to stay in the Ashland area anyway. So a good friend and her parents gave me the key to their family cabin on a small lake several miles west of town. It wasn’t deep in the woods, but just deep enough to escape civilization.

Now I have been to many cabins, and they’re all a treat. The Tiger Cat Flowage, the Chippewa Flowage, Lake Tomahawk, Blueberry Lake, Trout Lake — there’s just nothing like a cabin escape. But there was something about this particular lake –and like a favorite fishing hole, I don’t need to share the name here— that was even quieter than all those. One single outboard engine running very slowly in the distance. And as if on cue, as if hired by a recruiter with the local Chamber of Commerce, a single loon called out what I believe to be nature’s version of Taps. I sat on the end of the dock and promised myself to never forget the peaceful absence of almost any sound. And then I slept hard; Lord only knows the sound that made!

I couldn’t spend too much time surrounded by so much silence, of course. I’m the one whose dad stopped taking me hunting because I was physically incapable of sitting quietly in the woods! (Or to borrow an old Ron White joke: I had the right to remain silent, I just didn’t have the ability.) Ditto for fishing boats. Some might claim my favorite sound is my own voice, but I know the real story is that I cherish good conversations, especially by a crackling fire. And my favorite sounds are made by others — the fist giggles of my 10-month-old grandson, and those other two little guys I mentioned earlier who love running back and forth in Uncle Bill’s barn. 

There are so many great places to hear the sound of Wisconsin conversations — from sheepshead games to college bars to wherever older men gather in your hometown to order their “Senior Coffee” and solve the world’s problems by 9:00 a.m. Our state has no lack of places to gather.

But when I think of all the quietest moments to be had across the state  –the lake all to yourself, the cows in the field, a warm early Sunday morning in downtown Milwaukee, the silent realization you can actually hear the snow falling — those are the valentines Wisconsin gives to me all year long.