Peterson: A life less traveled, but not for lack of maps
I have lived in the Midwest all of my life.
Which is not to say I haven’t traveled.
When I was 10, my family drove to Canada, on the other side of the Minnesota border. In high school, I was in the Spanish Club, and we flew to Mexico. A few years later, two friends and I saw the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. I have been as far east as Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Which is to say, I have spent my entire life in the Midwest, save for those few months of cumulative lifetime travel.
Which might explain my fascination with maps.
In the middle room where my computer sits, I have a world map, a U.S. map, an Illinois map, and a Wisconsin map on the walls and door; a basketful of state, regional and National Geographic maps, and tour guides; and a globe. That’s not counting the baseball-size frosted glass globe, where the glass is clear for the continents, which lights up with a 4-watt bulb.
In the living room, I have the 2012 Rand McNally Road Atlas, the 2009 Oxford Atlas of the World, the 2007 Northern Wisconsin All Outdoors Atlas and Field Guide, the 1945 New International Atlas of the World, and the 1916 Essentials of Geography. Nearly a century of traveling covered.
When you add them all up, and I kind of just did, it seems a bit extreme, given my travels. In my 54 years, I have lived in seven counties. Most of that time has been in four counties in three states.
I don’t have a passport.
And I should know Midwest quirks.
You would think by now that I would have gotten used to the weather patterns that make up the Midwest experience. We have four full and varied seasons, when temperatures can pass 100 degrees and plunge into the minus-20s. We have it all, gloriously.
But I can’t tolerate what the weather has thrown at us for the past couple of weeks. For crying out loud, it was 100 degrees this week. And 100 has been couched in daily highs that circulate in the 90s.
If I wanted that, I would live in Houston. Or Baghdad.
And I count my blessings that for the past seven years, I have lived in a house with central air conditioning. All those other years? Open windows, and fans, and sweat. All of that heat training should have conditioned me.
As much as I love Iowa, the county we lived in – Lee – is the southernmost tip of the state. The thermometer settles in the 90s all of July and August, and it regularly moves into the 100s. I never got used to it. So I moved to northern Wisconsin, where I needed a blanket every summer night. Ah, joy.
And so, we have a recorded temperature of 100 in northern Illinois on June 27? June! Egad. Pray tell, what does this portend?
I embrace below-zero readings. I embrace snow. Blizzards? Bring them on. It can’t get cold enough or deep enough. No white-out has driven me into a ditch.
While my bum knee currently holds up my biking, I ordinarily bicycle to work, which is 2.3 miles from home. And I bicycled home from work in the Feb. 1, 2011, blizzard. “Bicycled” might be an overstatement. I now know why the Iditarod in Alaska uses dogs, not bicycles. You can’t bicycle in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of the night. I proved this to be fact.
What you do is you drag your bicycle into blinding, sheering snow. A walk that takes 40 minutes took more than two hours. And much of the last half-hour as I neared home, I was lost, as hypothermia began to set in, clouding my thinking.
As much as I like snow and cold, that was among the stupidest things I’ve ever done.
Maybe the most stupid was insulating the attic of our house the year earlier. In August. When the temperature was in the 90s, and the thermometer in the attic stopped measuring at 150 degrees.
Heat madness. That’s what it was.
All those maps and atlases certainly point north. But most are for reading from afar.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate and freelance writer. He is a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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