The earliest place name ever recorded for where I live has a deep power to transform that the current name, Wisconsin, barely tells me about where I am. In spite of the immense heritage that has been passed down to me from the many and several generations that make up my forebears. The cheese culture that some of my readers have become privy to, that many more, all too frequently, have grown up with and never had cause to consider. A visitor once commented that, “It’s true what they say…”
“What?” we asked.
“that you all eat cheese by itself.”
We have so many other cultural elements besides cheese! The drinking, the driving big trucks out on ice, even the bowling traditions, football and deer camp. The origins of many of our ways directly reflect a relationship with nature, how we see our place in the landscape and what we expect from ourselves and one another. It may be hidden under a few layers, but at core, Wisconsin is more about universal qualities than specific ones.
Meskousing relays even this in our modern and processed milk eating days, the eternal nature of Wisconsin is still Meskousing. Place where the waters course determines how we travel and think about place. Land of plenty, land of seasons, land of cooperating with one another if we hope to make it through next winter, or more importantly, this one! Meskousing!
It embodies all the slogans and trivial admonitions of the tourism board, the marketers and the purveyors of circuses could ever declaim. We are the place of beginning and of ending with more than we could have done anywhere else. You see,we would be no other place, because few places could be better. The funniest circumstances have brought this naming process to mind for me. I am starting to grapple with waves of perception, much like the riffles and waves that might come to shore from a vast ocean. The waves I grapple with are ideas about how we choose to define ourselves and the ways that those choices shape who we become. Like a pebble, many of us become polished and annealed by our constant abrasion on the sand. Others seem to retain their prickly nature even though they are buffeted in the same environment.
The very sound of our place name reverberates the sounds of the snow shovel on concrete, it starts with the sound of the arc of a car battery being attached to jumper cables, rises like the earth rebounding after it’s release from the weight of the glaciers and ends with the sound of rivers singing their way to the sea. The sound of this ancient moniker holds fascination for me because it hints at the near silent click of knitting needles deftly producing a scarf or sweater and simultaneously the sounds of long cooled fires and the insistent tapping of the woodpecker. How the ancients knew this name cannot be proven and is perhaps best not considered, but I tend to go to questions like this with the attitude, If not us, who? If not now, when?
When people knew that they were part of the environment, perhaps the nature revealed an essence that is poorly described by our words, or perhaps not even hinted at. In the name I feel the fall mists that cradle you like a damp hanky, incredibly thick for air, but not yet credible enough to be considered water. Fog as some might call it that creeps by slowly, or forms at the edge of the inland seas or in the hollows around waterfalls just lying in stillness waiting to be reabsorbed by the atmosphere. Water is hinted at again because the water courses ever downward, bubbling and gurgling, making a gentle clatter, lugubrious yet directed, as by an unseen force.
We may be under an extreme disadvantage if only for having to rely on our modern words for eternal forces. I urge everyone to work back through time to try to find what the original people called your place. The blessings inherent in this simple name might transform your understanding. Gems beyond value may result, I know they have for me.