“Now, Voyager” is the third chapter in The Gaytheist Gospel Hour‘s seven part series “On Wisconsin.”
The beach was the star of our Wisconsin trip, and rightfully so. At the beach, big and beautiful as it is, we reconvene as creatures of nature. Reunited within the womb-warm water cradled by emerald bluffs under a beaming sun, we are children returned to a home we left thousands of years before. With that redefinition comes a sense of beauty by association, or at least a lubed-up, scantily clad disregard of shame and its attendant psychological fetters. With all due respect to the beauty bacchanal that is the beach, I’m comfortable with shame. I preferred the supporting players of our trip, the ones that typecast me as not so much a child of the earth as a visitor, agape at its countless possibilities: a visitor whose stretchmarks and body hair is kept safely under wraps.
The Village Booksmith Downtown Baraboo looks like the sort of place where a gent could procure a tin of jimdandy mustache wax. We strolled past Victorian storefronts of locally owned businesses, under unfurled canvas awnings. I experienced downtown Baraboo in full color at the time, but remember it strictly in sepiatone after the fact. The only prominent off-street concession to the modern age is an enormous analogue thermometer maintained well past the Kennedy era, which I remember in faded Kodachrome. It was here in this space/time wormhole we stumbled upon The Village Booksmith.
The Village Booksmith, like all quality used book stores, manages to be much larger on the inside than it is on the outside. Crowded from floor to ceiling with books and confusing in its labyrinthine layout, TVB is staggeringly expansive, bounded as it is by the bindings of unexplored horizons. A few feet of browsing is a journey of miles, a few hours can span decades, even centuries. Adrift in time, an old golden retriever naps indefinitely on an overstuffed chair a few feet from the self-service coffee bar. When I was finally extracted from the store, I was astounded to learn that the years I spent there, flew by in only two hours, which themselves felt like only a quarter of that amount of time.
Wisconsin’s Sci Fi Geological Origin: In Oils Geology has always been my least favorite science. It’s not about the dazzling frontier of outer space or the mind-warping possibilities of quantum inner space. It’s not about the fascinating variations of life on this planet. It’s about rocks. Outside of volcanoes, it has very little to offer in regards to drama. Outside of the puzzle-piece legend of Pangea, it has very little to offer in regards to intrigue. Besides, geology can kill you: consider the earthquake.
I blame my churlish attitude about geology on my educational background. It was a boring subject because it was taught in a boring way by boring people. That’s unfortunate, because at around the same time I was being lulled to sleep by my geological lessons, somewhere a few states away, some unknown genius was painting them in their rightful hues of Far Out.
His work (or hers?) is hanging in the Devil’s Lake Nature Center. In the span of this eleven-painting sequence, we see the story of the earth, carved out in the distinct silhouette of the state of Wisconsin. But it’s a Wisconsin unlike the one we know. The severe orange land, the malignant taupe skies–defying the pallet of this world, the unsettling edifices of unknown origin– his baby pictures of Wisconsin are the stuff of a Frank Herbert paperback cover.
The paintings turn time and place inside out. We learn Wisconsin in its childhood was punished by the sun by day and menaced by the moon at night. It was not a beautiful child, with its craggy terrain complexion like choppy surf. Wisconsin is soon effaced by a corrosive inland sea, and emerges softened; its sharp land-waves erode to ripples, yet a ring of rock remains: sacred in its eerie, artistically-licensed symmetry , like a Stonehenge. The ring stands as fortress harboring an improbable river. Meant to signify the bluffs surrounding the body of water that is to become Devil’s Lake, the ring upon which the tiny nature center is perched. When the flashpoint of that recognition illuminates your position on the rim of that very ring, you are shown the next portrait, the one in which you are consumed by a shroud of glacial perfection. Then you see the rock turned against the river in the aftermath of the Ice Age, amputating an entire blue leg, leaving a lake hemmed in by bluffs: Devil’s Lake. Your vacation destination.
I don’t know who painted these paintings, but my beat-up, sweat-stained Indigo Girls ball cap is off to him (or her?). I stand corrected: Geology is bad-ass.
Parfrey Glen hosts a geological phenomenon known as the puddingstone (a sort of two for one deal in which chunks of metamorphic rocks are layered within sedimentary sandstone). For those who follow the streamside trail into the tricky gorge, Parfrey Glen serves up a massive parfaits of puddingstone. As is the case with all things geological, puddingstone is bad-ass. My bad-ass family was naturally compelled to pay homage. Our trek into the gorge was fraught with blood (mine, because I somehow managed to injure myself with my own hiking stick), sweat (Kate’s–because she’s in the “hellfire crockpot” phase of her pregnancy), and tears (Mabel’s, because she’s five). But, dammit, it beautiful there and it was totally worth it.