An Unexpected Wilderness

Written by John Suhar
    Wednesday, 02 January 2013
An Unexpected Wilderness

Last winter, I had the opportunity to spend a night in a tipi with fellow Urban Ecology Center employee Walter Sams. Below is a passage Walter wrote about our experience.  To experience the tipi yourself, check out the Family Program, Family Snowshoe Hike, or join us on Saturday mornings for Stories in the Tipi - Drop In Program.

I wake. My face is cold. The surface below me is unforgiving, this is not my bed, I am not at home. As I open my eyes I see the sputtering illumination from the dying fire in front of me. I look across the fire at the face of my companion, he sleeps soundly. I guess it’s my turn. I leave the warmth of my sleeping gear to add a few logs and stoke the fire. The new flames brighten the walls of this structure, casting my hunched over shadow along the off-white colored wall.


With the fire sufficiently stoked I make my way back to my makeshift bed. As I wrap my body and begin to trap my own heat I feel the warm embrace of sleep coming over me. The last thing I notice as I give in to slumber is the constant, soft crackle of the fire.

Suddenly, I’m awake again to a wailing sound. No less than three coyotes are howling within 100 feet of where I lay. The loud eerie sound does a great deal to get my adrenaline pumping. A mix of excitement and fear drives me to open my eyes. I look across the tent and my companion has been caught in this eerie sound’s grasp as well. I’ve heard this sound before, but I’m still surprised. As we recover from the mixed up feeling of being half asleep we put two and two together. What was fear at first quickly morphs to curiosity as we realize these creatures are no threat to us.

The tipi we’re sheltered in does much to block the cold of this February evening but does little to block the sounds of the world around us. We marvel at the abundance of life, and the joy of sharing this sort of wild occurrence. I wonder if any other ears are hearing this chorus. Is there anyone else around to know this song?

Our tipi sits on hard earth, surrounded by water loving plants on the green roof covering the garage at the Urban Ecology Center Riverside Park Branch. The noises we’ve been hearing are coming from the heart of one of the most densely populated areas of the state of Wisconsin. There are many, many people within ear shot of this nocturnal event. Most of them, if they’re awake, would enjoy the sounds, so long as they know to listen. This is urban ecology in Milwaukee.

Photo Credits: John Suhar

John Suhar

John Suhar

John serves as the assistant to the Executive Director at the Urban Ecology Center and as the Founder/Chairman of the Surfrider Foundation Wisconsin Great Lakes chapter. Prior to these roles, John devoted his time, talents, and energy to work with Kohl's, Jack Johnson, Just Coffee, Growing Power, and Mark Travel. In 2009, John thru hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, covering 2,200 miles in five months. Some of his interests include: living simply, adventuring, surfing the great lakes, reading, slacklining, acro yoga, fly fishing, cooking, photography, gardening, and learning new things!


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