That’s just one of the possible stories that came out of my trip up to Milwaukee yesterday to join the Wisconsin DEN for a day of Discovery. We went for a short sail out on Lake Michigan aboard the three masted schooner, S/V Denis Sullivan ("S/V" stands for sailing vessel, BTW). It’s modeled after the wooden cargo ships that were the “semi trucks” of their day and that made the economy of the Great Lakes so vibrant. But it wasn’t built to teach economics. It’s a floating classroom designed to put students of all ages in touch with the life and the resources of Lake Michigan. For extended learning trips, it can even sleep twenty-two. And those three masts are a story unto themselves. Refusing to sell trees that big because they bear witness to the spirits of their ancestors,
the Menominee nation gifted them to the shipbuilders as a way to honor those ancestors and a way of life that respects and cares for our natural resources. We also all got a good picture of just what a “slacker” is as we tried to work in unison hauling on the lines to raise the sails.
Our hostess, Jeanine Brennan (no relation and all n’s properly accounted for) made sure we were all equipped to document our day by lending out her media bags (just $1 at the Dollar Store): each containing a digital camera, voice recorder and a GPS unit. She shared how similar learning trips had started with students recording their first impressions and expectations and then finishing with a PhotoStory record of the day. Perhaps the students’ cleverest use of the GPS device was monitoring the speed of the school bus. We also got to use it for a little geocaching exercise that took my team to a very unique kite shop and kite flying area right on the lake.
P.S. On a personal note, I was born and raised in Chicago. I was just marginally aware of the schooner trade that laid the foundation for our port cities of Milwaukee and Chicago to become great industrial centers. I am the fourth generation of a family that was more familiar with and dependent on the railroad and the steel mills. Just a little over a decade ago, my knowledge of the ships and people who sailed them was expanded when we saw the debut of “The Christmas Schooner” written by a friend that our son had acted with. I don’t know if there are ever any productions outside of our area of the Midwest, but I heartily recommend it as a way to celebrate the season by learning about the people who made that old German tradition of the Christmas tree a possibility for every home by sailing them down from one end of Lake Michigan to the other.