Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church

Field Trip: Madison

February 21st, 2012 by Pastor David Echelbarger

News018 Field Trip Madison

For December 1, 1989.


Pastor Dave wrote the following article December 1, 1989 for a newspaper column.  Pastor Dave had lived in Marinette for about two years, having moved there from Waukesha.  Not long ago he told the story of the “Leopard Lady” in Sunday’s adult education as an example of the vice of vain glory – where we attempt to find meaning simply by having people notice us.  He promised to look for it, and he found it.  Here it is:



Field Trip:  Madison


People should travel.  Better yet people should take field trips.  A field trip is an encounter with the “out there” not yet personally experienced.  Field trips tend to broaden horizons because they cast light in two directions: forward and back.  We get to charge forward touching, feeling and tasting the novel, but we also are allowed to see how the new experience reflects back on where we come from.  This happens when we discern the spiritual essence of a place.  It is much like panning for gold.  We wash lots of sand through our screens until we have a few nuggets from the new frontier that enrich our lives.

For instance, I had never experienced life on a large university campus until I took a field trip last week.  I was attending the University Extension Service at Madison for some continuing education.  This in itself would not have qualified for a field trip, but I did not confine myself to the classroom.  I hit the streets, looked into peoples’ faces, went where they lived, ate, studied and tried to intuit for myself what life at the University of Wisconsin Madison would be like.  Casting my flashlight forward into this new world, I dashed into an environment I had not previously experienced. Following are some of the nuggets I panned.

Madison is exhilarating.  There were people everywhere dressed in anything.  Imagine bulletin boards stretching a hundred feet filled with layer upon layer of past events.  Few remove out of date notices.  They simply staple over them.  What an archeology project!  This bulletin board would be enough to fuel a thousand page book for some future Michener.

Bulletin boards attract people, all kinds of people.  There was a street preacher at 7:30 in the morning dressed in a Bucky Badger sweater shouting out his message in the chilly air.  It didn’t matter that no one was listening, or even that I was the only person in the court yard.  He went smashing ahead, decrying organized religion, Richard Nixon and trying to equate the two.  His voice seemed to stay with me as I strode rapidly away.  I turned to glance over my shoulder only to see him cupping his hands to his mouth and yelling all the louder, aiming his words over my head so they could cascade down on me like spray from a garden hose.

One should never look over their shoulder in Madison.  I tripped over a bicycle anchored firmly to a parking meter right on the side walk.  Or at least that’s I think it was a bike.  Apparently bikes aren’t safe in Madison.  The handle bars had been removed by the owner, as had the pedals, brakes, both wheels and the seat.  It would have taken a paleontologist to reconstruct what this bike fossil might have looked like.  There were many bikes in the same condition.    People were walking by as if it were nothing to carry your bike seat, wheels, along with your books.  Ho hum.

Everywhere there was something new to observe.  There was a young artist clutching a canvas bag which harbored a painting.  I wondered what kind of art she painted, what style?  I tried to judge by her face.  Whatever it was she prized it as she carefully manipulated the bag to avoid the fossil bikes and people in her path.  Even a new born infant is handled with no more care.

And then there was the lady in the leopard suit.  You don’t see that north of Green Bay.  It was like someone had skinned a leopard and she stepped inside.  You might even mistake her for a zoo escapee if she would have penciled on some whiskers.  This definitely was a head turner.   The Madison natives, however, seemed unimpressed.  I was the only one whose head was on a swivel.  Perhaps they had seen Leopard Lady before.  After a time one takes radical novelty for granted.  Ho hum.

Leopard Lady was looking intently into the face of every person she saw, trying to gauge their reaction, trying to see in their face some response to her costume.  She reminded me of a butterfly in a meadow, flitting from flower to flower trying to find some nectar to draw into her being.  For whatever reason, she needed to find meaning in a stranger’s eyes.  She needed to have people think: “Yes this is most unusual,  this leopard lady, you must be a most eccentric person, perhaps very intelligent, but whatever you are, I notice you and I confirm the fact that you are alive, and I am quite taken with whatever you are.”  In my eyes the leopard lady found what she needed.  I never saw a leopard lady before.  She lingered a while before walking into the bank past an eight person line waiting to use the Tyme machine.  These people were not smitten by costumes.  Perhaps you have to be on a field trip to be smitten.

Well it was exhilarating, and I wondered if I would want to live there someday as I ate marvelous pizza in a very interesting setting.  I watched a veteran pastor and one newly ordained debate some issue over their sausage and cheese with extra sauce.  The steam rose between them as they leaned into each other, fog forming on their glasses.  There were discussions, works of art, interesting happenings everywhere.  Just don’t trip over dismembered bikes.

I stayed with a good friend who loves Madison, but also loves Marinette.  They have a cottage here and every opportunity they return to it like a ball on an elastic tether.  You can’t get too far away without being snapped back.  He fishes Green Bay in his boat Grey Beard.  There is something here in the north that he needs.

It came time to return from the field trip with my gold memory nuggets.  Driving, I found that the north country was pulling me back where I belong.  Madison illumined Marinette in a new way for me.  Even though I enjoyed Madison, something about the experience had me longing for home.  I was trying to understand the feelings as I drove on in the night on County Y. The stars were shining over the Bay and its marshy edges.  Flying over head were the blazing northern lights, dancing spikes of green and white, a crown over the woods and streams proclaiming that: “This place is royalty.  We’re short on leopard suits, but for those on field trips there nuggets to be found in this land and on her waters.”  Madison was phenomenal but now I was glad when the long pine fingers reached out and welcomed me home.  A forest holding me in the palm of its hand.


David L. Echelbarger

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