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WOW Day Two: Wisconsin Dells and Sioux Falls

We began our day reading through the Acts 2 passage in The Family Bible Devotional over breakfast. Elvis read the verses while Henry and I finished eating. 

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” (Acts 2:38 NLT) Elvis read, then said, “That’s what I need to do.”

I don’t know why I always hesitate to invite my kids into reading Scripture with me. I guess I’m worried they’re going to think it’s dumb. Or cheesy. Or a waste of time. Even though I have never once given them this impression, nor have they once resisted the idea, and all three of them seem to love God in their own ways, I still anticipate mocking, or hesitation, or complete rejection.

But pretty much every single time we turn to the Word as a family, I end up blessed.

Of course this is the case!

The passage in Acts goes on to describe the tremendous community that emerged after Pentecost. It was a counter-cultural movement that bucked societal norms and chose instead joy, peace, equality, freedom, and the sharing and celebration of each other’s gifts and contributions to that community, all in the Spirit of God’s Love.

We set off from Illinois into Wisconsin. The itinerary for the day was: drive. That’s it. Just get to South Dakota.

But eight hours or so of straight driving is just too much when none of your passengers have been west of Indiana, so I searched for natural attractions in Wisconsin, specifically along our route. The Dells of the Wisconsin River came up.

Not to be confused with the waterpark capital of the world, the Dells of the Wisconsin River is just beyond Wisconsin Dells, the tourist exit we drove through to get to the river.

The Chapel Gorge Trail is an easy 1.6-mile hike down through pine groves, deciduous trees, and ferns covering the forest floor to a quiet sandy beach. The dells are miniature cliffs, some of which appear to drop off straight into the river. We had to work our way down one such cliff to access the beach. There, I said my obligatory WOW while Henry used his GoPro to capture footage of a family of ducks along the shore. Elvis came and saw and left the beach, not impressed enough to hover there and look. His domain was the cliff, which he climbed and appeared to conquer.

From Chapel Gorge we went back to town. The vending machine outside the grocery store sells Cokes for 50 cents, so we must now be back in the 1990s. We made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ate Ruffles, and drank our cheap pops on a picnic table in Bowman Park, a quiet green space with a beautiful pavilion, playground, amphitheater, and new restrooms in the middle of town.

No one was around, except a family chasing their labrador, a man taking lunch on a picnic bench, and a couple of preschoolers on the playground with their parents. We finished eating and then made our way back to the highway. The route took us into downtown Wisconsin Dells, past the Museum of Historic Torture Devices and the Wild Fun Zone, past DooHickey’s Souveniers and Gifts and The Haunted Mansion and Oodlesmack Popcorn and hundreds, no thousands, of people, shopping, buying duck boat tour tickets, and eating. After the peace of the trail and the quiet of the park, the noise and scurry of the downtown just wasn’t for me.

I like kitschy stuff well enough in its small doses, but sometimes I wish we would stop trying to manufacture wonder and thrill and just climb a dell.

Anyway, enough judging other people’s vacation choices. Onward through Wisconsin, the landscape began its boringly captivating shift from forests to fields to oop not done with forests yet then back to fields and then what, hills?! then the Mississippi River (WOW) and then fields and fields and fields. Little groves of trees encased homes and farms across Minnesota, which I decided is even more boring to drive through than western Ohio. How do people live here? I thought, at least once, trying to imagine the solitary life and long drives between fields to get anywhere at all.

I listened to the latest Hidden Brain podcast episode, hosted by Shankar Vedantam. It was “Separating Yourself from the Pack,” and it analyzed the power of the group to make you think, believe, and act in ways that seem out of character, and how quickly and powerfully our mindset can shift from “you and me” to “us vs. them.”

The bulk of the episode considers the negative effect of group dynamics but concludes with some positives. How can we break through group think to be able to see the other as an individual instead of their stereotypes? The answer lies in narrative. The Hidden Brain’s guest, Psychologist Mina Cikara, encourages people to tell their stories and to imagine the details of other people’s lives instead of only seeing their group identity.

So then I remembered that I’m driving through food. A pile of people are responsible for this great swath of acreage filled with freshly cut hay waiting to bale, wind turbines for clean energy, and corn, miles and miles of corn. Someone planted those outcrops of trees to break the wind’s insistent gusts across the evolving plains. The land, at least half of it, anyway, was likely in their family for generations. They’ve lost crops and gained crops. They’re taking risks and feeding the world.

I imagined my family along the strip in Wisconsin Dells, poking their heads in windows and wanting caramel popcorn, just looking for something fun to do to pass the time after our long day doing whatever.

This “crooked generation” turns itself inside out to define how we aren’t like them. I don’t know what Elvis was thinking of that made him consider Peter’s words for himself, but there’s plenty of ways I need to be saved from this crooked generation, too.

I made another stop just east of the South Dakota / Minnesota border to fill up on gas and squeegee the bugs off my windshield. I killed all of the bugs in Minnesota on my way through. I’m sorry, local ecosystem. Once we got settled into our campsite, we drove into Sioux Falls to go to Falls Park, where the Big Sioux River cascades over a magnificent cropping of quartzite rocks. Shirking his fear of falling and fear of heights, Elvis bounded like a mountain goat across the rocks, with Henry in close pursuit, capturing footage on his GoPro. 

“If you like this, buddy, you’re going to love what comes next,” I told him. It’s only day two. It’s only day two!!

The sun began to set, and we returned to camp, surrounded by loads of campers and RVs, everyone tucked inside in the A/C, watching TV. I thought about judging them for not being out here, out in the open, listening to the cicada that sounds like a car alarm. Okay, so I judged a little. But crooked generations pit each camp against each other. Acts 2 invites us into a “one another” kind of life. I’m going to try to live into it.

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