Harrisville, Wisconsin – Home of Bratfest

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis past Sunday, the day before Labor Day, the little town of Harrisville, Wisconsin was overflowing with people who had come for the annual Bratfest. Madison claims to host the largest Bratfest in the world — and that’s on Memorial Day weekend , but if that’s true Harrisville is certainly giving our state’s capital some fierce competition.

It’s not just the brats which attract the crowds. And it’s not just the beer, though there’s plenty of that too. There are several bands performing throughout the day, a tractor pull, line dancing, softball and volleyball, a midway — with games and carnival rides, and free wagon rides through the town. You could even buy a Bratfest t-shirt in just about any size or color. As far as I know, all profits go to fund the all-volunteer Fire Department.

The first Bratfest was a community affair held in 1961, but people were looking for a “Last Hurrah” of the summer for the Labor Day weekend, so the numbers increased and more events and activities were added to appeal to various age groups. Oh yes, and the motorcylists turn out by the dozens. (Mostly Harleys but not all.)

My husband and I wouldn’t normally drive over 100 miles for a brat. ((Served with homemade potato salad and baked beans and ice cream, I should add.) But we enjoy the leisurely drive through the countryside from Fond du Lac through Ripon, Rosendale, and Princeton. And we enjoy walking down to the millpond and through the town. You can walk from one end to the other in 15 minutes.

Some things change over the years; others remain the same. The Town Hall, where the brats are served, used to be a one-room country schoolhouse. My Soiney cousins went there and their mom, Aunt Ina, was the teacher. The millpond is where I learned to swim and where Phyllis Frank tried to teach me to iceskate one winter. This past Sunday a woman stood alongside the bank, holding a fishing pole.

There used to be two taverns; now there’s just the Sportsmen’s Tavern, which my brother Vince claims to serve the best hamburgers ever. My friend Phyllis (now Phyllis Ingram) who still lives in the Town of Harris serves as the Town Clerk. Almost every Friday she and her friends eat the best fish fry ever at the Sportsmen’s Tavern.

That’s a long way to drive for a fish fry, but hey! maybe some day we’ll try it.




Let Me Introduce: Jeannée Sacken

On her website, Jeannée Sacken describes herself as “Writer, Photographer, Adventurer.” Three passions – and I am always amazed how she manages to include time for all three in her life.

Which first? From my own perspective, I will start with Writer because that’s where I met Jeannée. She was facilitating a workshop of writers at Redbird Writing Studio in Bay View, Wisconsin.

Jeannee Sacken

Jeannée, would you speak about “the writer in you” and how this passion has played a central role in your life?

Jeannée: My fondest memories from childhood are of my father reading me bedtime stories. The next thing I knew, at age six, I was writing my own stories and plays. The kids in our neighborhood would stage my one acts, and my schoolteachers would have me read my stories to the class on rainy days when we couldn’t go out on the playground. Powerful reinforcement that led me to define myself as a writer.

But in graduate school and later as an English and French professor, my creative writing gave way to the academic monographs and articles needed for tenure and promotion. When my father died, I decided that the creative writer in me needed to come back to life. As did my inner photographer. I resigned my tenure and set out to pursue the vocations that make me, me. This current phase of my writing is inextricably linked to my photography and to my travel. Judy Bridges, my longtime mentor at Redbird describes my writing as “visual.” Robert Vaughan, a member of Redbird and Red Oak round tables with me, describes my novels and novellas as “cinematic.” That’s a direct result of my photography and the way my inner eye sees the world and composes images that I capture, which I later transfer to the written word. Felicity Librie and Barbara Kellam-Scott, two of my writing partners, described my work as “stories of social justice”—a result of my travels and listening to the stories of the people whose portraits I make.

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In the Roundtable groups at Redbird Jeannée always kept her focus on the writers she was there to mentor. But we soon learned about her talent as a photographer. At one time, we were honored to have framed photographs of African women displayed on the walls in our meeting room.  We also were privileged to view public displays at various locations in the Milwaukee area. She has presented slideshow lectures at the Shorewood Library. Most recently, Jeannée was part of Milwaukee’s Art Gallery Night and Day, showcasing her favorite photos from a trip to Madagascar. These photographs and dozens of others are presented in five slideshows on her website: http://www.jeanneesacken.com.

Jeannée, many of your photographs feature people, but you also have a gift for photographing animals and landscapes. What personal and professional satisfaction do you get from photography?

Jeannée:  I’ve been incredibly fortunate with my photography. Galleries in Milwaukee, New Jersey, and New York have mounted my exhibits. The Shorewood Public Library featured a program on my trip to Madagascar. Having people view my images, listen to the stories behind the images, and then purchase a photograph to hang in their home—it doesn’t get any better.

Some of my images are the result of a split-second, but most take hours to capture. Hours of talking with people, getting to know them, putting them at ease until their guard is down and the real person emerges. Or hours of  studying how elephants or lions or leopards or penguins interact with their group and making sure I’ve become invisible. Those are the moments I treasure: when an elephant calf I’ve been watching for an hour goes running head-over-heels to the mud wallow once the matriarch bellows it’s his turn, when the Maya woman in “Stringing the Loom” brings her hand to her forehead in relief because all her strings are tangle-free, when “Maya Girl with Corndolls” offers her Mona Lisa smile because I turn my camera away from her brother and toward her, when a schoolgirl at L’école des Saphirs in Madagascar glances back at me over her shoulder, when 90-year-old Marie takes off her glasses so the camera can capture the wisdom in her eyes and reveal her life experiences on the Navajo Reservation.

And those moments inform my writing in all kinds of ways. In fact, I’m currently working on a novel about a photographer whose professional and personal lives are inextricably linked. May I also say that the incomparable Dave Blank (http://www.dave-blank-website-design.com) is the creative force behind my website.

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Jeannée’s third passion – adventure – is often synonymous with world travel. As you explore her website, you will see references to Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Alaska, Japan, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, and Madagascar.

Jeannée, in your travels, you are no mere sightseer. What does the word adventure bring to mind when you reflect on these travels?

Jeannée: When my husband, Michael, and I travel, we follow our hearts and don’t hold back. We’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, sea-kayaked with thousands of seal pups in the southern Atlantic, trekked through rainforests in Madagascar and Panama, and canoed the Zambezi River through hippo and crocodile alley. On photo shoots, we’ve jumped off a train in the Honduran Mosquito Jungle, lived with the San in Botswana, and ridden horseback to mountaintops in search of images of women and children.

For me, meeting and photographing people with vastly different life experiences from my own is key to my travels, to my writing, to my life. People cultivating bananas on communal plantations in Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania, a seamstress surviving the war years in Guatemala, or grandmothers and granddaughters throat-singing in Petropavlovsk, Russia, get me outside my comfortable life in Wisconsin and open me to life in other parts of the world.

Sometimes our adventures test us. Although we take precautions, things happen. We’ve endured a car accident in Costa Rica, our lodge burning down in Namibia, an emergency helicopter medevac out of the Kalahari Desert, and a hospitalization in Maun, Botswana. No matter what we encounter, we do our best to stay in the moment—and remember those moments. Adventure travel certainly gets our adrenaline flowing, but more important, it gives us the chance to see some of the most beautiful places on earth and the opportunity to meet and honor the people who live in those countries.

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Jeannée, Could you tell us about your next adventure?

Jeannée:  We have two trips on the horizon. In a few weeks, we’re off to Mongolia: a week in the capital, Ulaan Bataar, then a week in the far-western reaches of the country for the Golden Eagle Festival, followed by a week in the Gobi Desert. Our reason for going is to photograph the festival where hundreds of nomadic Kazakhs will congregate to display their eagle-hunting prowess. Although this used to be an exclusively male undertaking, young women are starting to take part—as seen in the documentary The Eagle Hunter. We’ll also saddle up and ride with Kazakh hunters across the steppes! In 2018, we’ll be returning to southern Africa to photograph the great elephant migration from Chobe in Botswana to Hwange in Zimbabwe. I’ll be photographing these magnificent animals from toe-level blinds, kayaks, jeeps, and mountain bikes. This expedition is in concert with Imvelo, an organization that works with local Zimbabwean and Botswanan communities to ensure conservation of endangered species.

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Thanks for the interview, Jeannée. We’ll follow you on your website.



Meet Me at the Corner

I used to write a blog for Community Newspapers in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. I called the blog “Meet Me at the Corner” and I still like that name. To me it brings up the image of two friends agreeing to meet at a designated spot. Although I picture a sidewalk with street signs (say, the corner of 4th and State Street) a meeting in the world of the Internet doesn’t demand an actual corner. Wherever readers meet me on these pages will be a little “corner” of the world.

I have lots of thoughts and stories to share, though I plan to steer clear of politics and controversy on these pages. Sometimes I’ll write about interesting people I meet; other times I’ll share stories — both real-life stories and fiction. You’ll be sure to find posts here on writers and writing. Mostly, though, I want to write about things that will lighten your day and to give you food for thought.