Dragons and pirate ships raced across the sky, their billowy white in contrast with the purest of blue on this glorious October afternoon. The morning had been spent with Mighty Mouse and Popeye the sailor until four-year-old Tim was chased out of the house by his mother. “It’s way too nice a day out to spend it indoors,” she admonished, so Ginger, the cocker escorted the young boy out to the big leaf pile out front.
Mazomanie was a much smaller town then. Ginger kept Tim out of the street even though the traffic was of little concern. There was no burning ordinance so giant piles of leaves grew along the edges of the lawn in this season of pumpkins and brilliantly colored maples. Giant black clouds of shrieking blackbirds roosted in the cottonwoods along the stream out back. Mothers warning to “stay away from that crick” contradicted their allure! Life was so purely good for this young man and his guardian spaniel. What better thing could there be to life than lying in the fresh smelling leaves and watching the clouds change shapes, chasing each other across the autumn sky? What little Tim didn’t realize was that he was to fall in love for the first of many times on this glorious afternoon.
As the sun peaked out from behind a most fearsome dragon, its’ first elusive rays sparkled on a particularly stubborn leaf, high in the crown of the front yard maple. The sparkling reflection was more beautiful than the diamond on his mother’s hand. This captivating gaze was jolted with a breath of wind, plucking the leaf, which floated back and forth, spiraling downward into his young hand. This leaf, mostly yellow seemed to be spattered with blood in an intricate pattern; more beautiful than anything this small boy had ever seen. The intricate system of veination added an almost human quality to this woody being in the front yard. This fine fall day was one that Tim would never forget. It was the day he fell in love with the trees.
A young man is fortunate to be taught about the outdoors and Tim had two mentors, both his father and his grandpa. Hunting and fishing were the sports this small town family enjoyed so many were the days of walking through the big Mazomanie marsh in the bottomlands of the Wisconsin River or over the hills of their family farm in Dunlop Hollow. These days were spent studying relationships between the plants and animals encountered on the way. It was grandpa Pete who gave the first lessons of woodland ethic to Tim. “Life wasn’t given to us to be wasted, either plant or animal. If you harvest a living thing, it should be used. Never kill just for killings sake,” the old man instructed. In the fall, Pete would collect the walnuts that clattered down the tin roof of the machine shed and planted them at the farm. His hands would remain black until Thanks giving. He also made sure that both his daughters received a jar of the nutmeats in hopes that this would yield a batch of chocolate chip cookies with the walnut meats baked in. His simple acts were to eventually result in a mighty walnut forest at the farm. Tim continued to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, camping and hiking in the many wilderness areas across the globe. Early memories were etched into the growing young man so much that Pete attained a form of immortality as these teachings were carried on in his grandson long after his days were over. Other lessons of carpentry deeply steeped in work ethic carried on into Tim’s future in the years after High-School graduation.
One memorable October afternoon, a 22 year-old Tim sat atop a tall concrete form waiting for the crane to swing another bucket of wet cement into the young mans guiding hands. Clouds chased each other across the autumn sky over what once was some of the best rabbit hunting land that Tim and his beagle had ever known. Another shopping mall was to be the permanent legacy of this bit of the earth and all was not well in the mind of this young man. “There must be something better for me than partaking in this awful process,” he thought to himself as the sun set through the yellow smoke that belched forth from the heating plant to the west. He quit his job and went back to school the following semester vowing to make the world a better place.
Five years later he actually did it! Tim had graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Horticulture. Now he could go into the business of making the world a better place. Cleaning up after the building process and turning the ravaged land into beautiful garden settings sure did beat pouring concrete. A deeply ingrained work ethic helped the business grow into a very large concern where many messes were cleaned up and put into order. Nature however was order with diversity and the manicured lawns seemed to be devoid of the natural processes he had grown to love. . Besides, who was really running the show? The developers and bankers really were the bosses in this cancerous process of urban sprawl. These bosses had but one incentive it seemed, money. Tim soon realized he was but a pawn in the hands of money hungry land destroyers and had become just as much a part of this sprawl process as any of the other players. Bluegrass sod and potentillas were no more than lipstick on the corpse. So Tim became dissatisfied once again.
Change has a way of flowing through our lives like a river. New experiences and opportunities lie around every bend. How could Tim make the world he loved a better place. Protecting and restoring the natural world that he was taught to love seemed to be his purpose. At least it felt good to enlighten another human being with introductions to the natural processes that Pete had shown him now long ago. The business was sold and a new life begun at Edgewood College. Not only was he able to nurture and restore a beautiful and historic campus on the shores of glistening lake Wingra, but also he could introduce the natural world and the environment to legions of students. By turning these students towards the green, Tim was able to make much more of a difference to the natural world than he was ever able to do with a shovel and 27 trucks. Perhaps this will be his calling. At least there seems to be direction in this stretch of river for a long way downstream.