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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 06/2/23 – Devils Lake, the Star of the North and Its Healers

The first time I ever heard of Devil’s Lake, I was around 13 or 14 years old. I can recall my grandfather saying that when he passed, he wanted his ashes spread from the back of a moving train as it passed through Devil’s Lake in Baraboo Wisconsin. Baraboo is also known as the circus town. The winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. He had a certain panache about him. He had a flair for the dramatic. He was a man of many stories. He claimed to have played cards with Winston Churchill and FDR on a train ride, which was quite possible due to his serving on the train that was equivalent to Air Force One today, US Car #1. One of the interesting stories in my family, another was the one my mom never told me about a joy ride in a jet over Chicago and a dropped espionage charge. I understand why she never told me that one when I was young. I would have never let her live it down! Both of them (pictured below) are gone now. Devils Lake is their final resting place along with my maternal grandmother.

During the last Ice Age, 15,000 years ago Devils Lake was at the terminal moraine, this was the edge of the continent encasing sheet of ice which was up to one mile thick. Rock pushed by the ice like a bulldozer got dumped in the area that valley that formed Devil’s Lake, and was trapped here. I know what a moraine is as several hundred miles away, in a park near my home in PA is another terminal moraine, in a place called Hickory Run State Park.

When my grandfather died, he got his wish as did my mother and grandmother. I always wanted to see it. I had never been to Wisconsin. As fate would have it, I was asked to present with a colleague on substance use stigma a very short distance from this lake, a place I have this deep connection to. Life had a funny way of creating such opportunities.

I learned that the lake is also called “Tewakącąk” or Spirit Lake. Indeed, it is that. It is a special place. It is about 50 feet deep at its bottom and surrounded by hills covered by large rocks, some of them balancing at the edge of the ridge overlooking the lake. It was an experience walking through the park along the railroad tracks. I only had a little time there, so I did not get a chance to see the ridge or the balancing rocks. But I did feel very grounded there.

Nature is the most significant healing force I have found to help me stay well. The APA is researching the links between being in nature and our mental health and even sharpen cognition. I know it works for me. I am grateful for the stewards of the past era who made sure places like this park exist today. They are vital resources for our wellbeing.

I did not get to see the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. I have never been a circus fan, although in my youth I worked with carnies pretty regularly in setting up festivals. What I wanted in my early years was to be a roadie. The Ringling Brothers combined with Barnum Bailey in 1918 and operated through 2017. As PT Barnum once said, “unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.” Roadie was not in my cards, but I did find vocation and the road. I love to see and experience new places. I am grateful that the opportunity to train and present nationally, which has allowed me to see the broader country we live in and to meet new people and understand their perspectives. The opportunity to experience diversity. Life comes full circle.

While we certainly have a great deal of challenges in respect to substance use and addiction across our country, we also have a deep reservoir of people from diverse places with diverse experiences who are committed to helping people and communities heal. I had some great conversations and had the opportunity to learn about things they are doing in Wisconsin in relation to the spectrum of prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of really great people from Wisconsin, the star of the north. I am heading back there in a few weeks to do a presentation in Green Bay, another place with people that will be new to me. A new opportunity to learn.

I have found that remaining teachable and trying to take in all the experiences I am provided is a key to remaining vital. Keeping a child’s eye as I age. Connecting to this special place in the Dells region of Wisconsin, having some in depth conversations and learning what other states are doing to help others like me heal all fit together for me in ways that are hard to express in words. I suspect that as my life plays out, the things I learned and experienced here will come back in ways I cannot foresee now. In my head, I can hear my grandfather talking about his wish to spend eternity in this place. Life afforded me the opportunity to walk on this special ground, meet some special people who are helping other families heal from this thing that has had such a profound impact on people I have loved over the course of my life.

I am grateful to have had the opportunities afforded me over the course of my life, including many of those that have arisen out of what seemed at the time to be significant challenges. I can draw a line between the difficult challenges that life presented me, and the opportunity afforded me to visit this place. The key was to keep moving forward despite whatever. I am grateful for the chance to keep moving forward.

What are you grateful for today?

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