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Monday, Aug. 18, 2008

Relative Freedoms

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   For tangible proof of water's life affirming significance one doesn't have to go very far; examining the continual rediscovery and reinvention of Milwaukee's rivers will suffice. Whether it's early settlers drawn to the rivers' abundance of wild rice and waterfowl, fur traders looking for profitable inroads into Wisconsin's luxuriant wilderness, feuding founders using the rivers as battlegrounds or city officials seeking to transform them into bustling industrial corridors, countless factions have left their stamp on the city's waterways. Today we are witnessing an avid interest in the rivers' real estate potential and alongside this, a more contemplative study of their role as an urban wilderness with the innate ability to enrich the lives of those around it.

  Championing the latter cause is local photographer, writer and activistEddee Daniels. His new book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, is part memoir, part travel poem and part photo essay. It serves as a poetic study of the Menomonee River and the varieties of flora and fauna it supports, lending the river a mystery and grace akin to Wordsworth's Grasmere or Thoreau's Walden Pond. The paths his eloquent prose trace don't just delve into the deep folds of his first forays in nature but probes the American psyche for traces of the fear, respect and fierce competition with which early immigrants pitted themselves against the vast, incomparable wilderness stretching out before them.

  Yet though he laments that the might and majesty of nature has receded into our consciousness, leaving us bereft of "the original measure of our civilization," he is far from a misanthrope calling for a hermetic commune with nature. In contrast to Thoreau's call for "absolute freedom and wildness" Daniels speaks of "relative freedom and wildness" where man's need for society and solitude can coexist. Perhaps it's all about bridges and their peculiar relationship with the rivers' history: Bridges built to exert the might of the city's founders, to dispel the segregation between the north and south side, to connect the city with the nation and now to connect the river's industrious past with a sustainable future.

  Daniels will read and sign copies of his book at Milwaukee's Central Library on Aug. 27, 6:30 p.m. and at the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Ave. on Sept. 24. You can also see photographs from Urban Wilderness on display at the Urban Ecology Center through Sept. 27.

  Near death experiences in hospitals and compassionate end-of-life care are among the topics addressed in White Coat Wisdom, a collection of recollections by eight Milwaukee doctors by NPR and Wisconsin Public Radio medical reporter Stephen J. Busalachi. Busalachi and several of the physicians will discuss the wisdom of their profession at the Italian Community Center, on Aug. 21, 7 p.m.

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