There’s Much to Be Thankful for in Wisconsin—the Places and the People

There’s Much to Be Thankful for in Wisconsin—the Places and the People


By Mary Bergin

November 25, 2020

Our travel writer offers reminders of what we have and what will still be with us after this most unusual year.

The search for blessings

Ends under my feet. Look what

We take for granted.

One haiku a day is what I’ve written since the pandemic began, mainly because my last international trip was to Japan in late 2019. The poetic exercise in wordplay—useful on multiple levels—challenges me to sum up life in 17 syllables, over and over.

How easy it is to dwell on the dismally obvious. How uplifting to identify and appreciate simple, unexpected treasures. I’ve had many this year.

A college housemate calls, after disappearing for decades. 

The kitchen smells like apples with cinnamon, or stew simmering. 

A November day is warm enough to visit a friend, lawn chairs parked far apart. 

A dozen turkeys gather below the bird feeder, like they own the place.

All these little joys and comforts are welcomed diversions from ongoing virus spikes, political discord, social isolation, and other upheavals of life’s normal rhythms.

Much remains fragile during this week of Thanksgiving, especially if we choose to see our world through a lens that magnifies losses and shortcomings. Another option: Give thanks for all that remains good, including all that makes us proud to call Wisconsin our home, regardless of our differences.

Plenty of people dismiss us as the vanilla Midwest and flyover country: predictable and boring because we lack dramatic oceanfront, mountaintops, and Hollywood-style trendsetters.

Much as I value our good Midwestern neighbors, we should never be mistaken for Iowa or Ohio. Here’s why.

Look at how much water forms most of the Badger State’s boundaries: Lakes Michigan and Superior to the east and north, Mississippi and St. Croix rivers to the west. Inland are 15,000 lakes and nearly 2,500 trout streams. We are rich with lovely waterfront views.

About one-sixth of Wisconsin’s 35 million acres is publicly owned. Eleven sovereign nations are environmental stewards for another 500,000 acres, including almost all of Menominee County. We demonstrate a healthy respect for land preservation.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s 800-acre Taliesin estate in Spring Green—a UNESCO World Heritage site—is a testament to the iconic architect’s life, work, and progressive soul. Little in the world symbolizes the rebel more than a Harley, and the motorcycle manufacturer’s headquarters since 1903 is Milwaukee. We are ground zero for creative, independent thinkers.

No lake sturgeon population in the world is larger than Lake Winnebago’s; hundreds of volunteers protect the ancient fish’s spawning sites in spring. Only the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo raises all 15 types of crane, including the endangered whooping crane, and staff pursue species preservation worldwide. Our commitment to wildlife health runs deep.

We are endearingly quirky and good-natured cheeseheads who not only support the Milwaukee factory where the headgear wedges are made but we’re also proud of our many master cheesemakers, who combine art and science to routinely win a glut of awards nationally and globally. Others might make fun of pungent Limburger cheese, but we’re proud that a Monroe factory is the only one in the nation still making it.

Who else operates a museum shaped like a giant musky, in Hayward? Or one devoted to accordions, in Superior, or mustard, in Middleton? We have personality in spades, and now I’m having flashbacks about feeling lost after closing time at House on the Rock.

We sidestep politics to cheer as one for our Badgers, Packers, Bucks, Brewers. Some of us get misty-eyed at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, regardless of whether it’s football season. We’re also glad New Glarus Brewery’s Spotted Cow ale isn’t sold across state lines in this everything-everywhere world.

Online, without attribution, you are likely to have already seen these wise words: This is not the year to get everything you want. It is the year to appreciate everything you have.

What we have is a lot. This odd year of 2020 is offering us basic lessons in gratitude, and for that, I am thankful.

Half empty. Half full.

Why choose bleak, bitter karma

When much unites us?


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