Chris Fink

History Repeats Itself

Jun 27, 2017

When I was in middle school, I climbed 30 feet up into weeping willow by the banks of the Kishwaukee River. A branch broke, and I plummeted head first to the ground.

I broke both my arms, enjoyed whiplash, compression fractures in my spine, and a concussion. I also carved all the gums off my bottom teeth. It was a gory sight. When he came to see me in the hospital, my wiseacre grandpa said, “What were you doing climbing a willow tree? Don’t you know willow trees have soft wood?”

A Summer Dream Disappears

May 23, 2017

I know something is wrong with my bluebird. He sits on the edge of the bowl picking at his mealworms. Puffy and lethargic, he ignores his brood -- five nestlings waiting open-beaked in the nearby nestbox.

Scientists warn against anthropomorphism -- ascribing human characteristics to animals -- but I know a sad bluebird when I see one. I’ve been feeding this bluebird and his mate since mid-January, and today is Mother’s Day.

Seasonal Firsts Bring Joy

Apr 18, 2017

In a completely unscientific way, I’m fascinated by the science of phenology.

Phenology -- with a ph -- is the study of cyclical and seasonal phenomena. I think of it as the science of first arrivals.

The end of winter is the time to watch for such arrivals. For instance, on or about March first every year, I see my first bluebird. Except for this year, when I saw my first bluebird on January 17.

Who's The Giant In Your Back Yard?

Mar 21, 2017

I love to go to the Beloit Public Library and pick out books with my daughter Iris. It’s especially fun to find books that I had read as a child. One book I remembered loving, but couldn’t find in the library, is called Backyard Giant.

I recently ordered a used copy on the Internet. Backyard Giant, as I recalled it over the space of 40 years, was a book from the perspective of wild animals like a rabbit, a squirrel and a blue jay. Each page revealed just the shadow of a menacing giant and yet another animal fleeing in fear.

The Magic Of Making Maple Syrup

Feb 21, 2017

My sap is running. And, oh, it feels glorious.

Out my window I see my Norway Maples dressed in blue synthetic skirts. Those blue skirts hang from half-inch spiles, and these spiles drill into the sapwood of the maples, delivering the goodness drip by drip into the blue receptacles.

A Cold Assessment Of Winter Sport

Jan 24, 2017

Ask me why I ice fish, and I’ll tell you it’s because I’m deranged and masochistic.

Ice fishing is definitely a poor choice for you. You would certainly not enjoy it, and it would be a grave mistake for you to try. You would hate pulling your sled out over the early winter lake and finding you had the whole water body to yourself. You would miss the summer lake cacophony of leaf blower, jet ski, outboard motor and house music.

Picture What Might Have Been

Dec 27, 2016

The other day I looked out my living room window and saw a most unexpected sight: A pileated woodpecker was working up the trunk of a Norway maple, not twenty feet away.

I’ve only seen pileateds before in the north woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota. They’re crow-sized creatures with bright red mohawks and thin, almost dainty necks. Imagine the marriage of a downy woodpecker and a pterodactyl.

This Chore Yields Many Rewards

Nov 29, 2016

I started heating with wood half a dozen years ago as a way to forestall the propane truck. I keep doing it because it’s in my blood. I grew up helping my dad cut firewood, and I feel destined to inherit his wrecked back.

A Sad Note To Northwoods Lore

Nov 1, 2016

This summer my family stayed in a plywood cabin on Low Lake, near Ely, Minn., just outside the boundary waters canoe area.

Every decade or so, a significant weather event helps shape the landscape and lore of this remote wilderness. The big blowdown of 1999 laid down millions of mature trees across half the boundary waters, and the Pagami Creek fire of 2011 turned much of that tinder to ash.

On July 21, another big storm hit the Ely area, with 80 mph winds that blew down hundreds of thousands of big trees. Two boundary waters campers lost their lives in the storm.

Same Haircut, Different Experience

Aug 4, 2016

I get my hair cut at the same place every time: Austin’s Barbershop in downtown Beloit. I love that barbershop, and Rod, the barber, gives me a good haircut every time.

I’m not a very regular customer, and sometimes I’ll go two months without a haircut, and sometimes I’ll go four months. I like coming into the barbershop and telling Rod, “I’ve got a big job for you,” and hearing Rod chuckle and not complain.

Train Revives Childhood Memories

Jun 10, 2016

A train track runs through the Rock River Valley below my house, and a couple of times a day a short train rolls through. Sometimes, just the engine, a red one, chugs by.

When I hear the train coming I yell, “Chooch!” and my four-year-old daughter Iris puts down her book and comes running. Then I scoop her up, and we run out to the edge of the yard, where we can look down through the trees at the red engine.

We wave at the engineer, and yell, “Hi Chooch,” but the engineer never sees us.  He does give a little toot when he crosses Bass Creek Road.

A Tiny Bird And A Metaphor

Oct 28, 2015

Last week, a hummingbird flew into my house through the front door, which someone had left ajar. It hummed about for a moment, and then it tried to fly through a skylight. I ran to get a ladder.

The Link Between Nature And Neverland

Sep 23, 2015

  This summer, my wife and I and our four-year-old daughter Iris visited Ely, Minn., near one of my favorite places, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

One day we explored a tiny trout lake nestled in a red pine forest where granite outcrops—what Iris calls mountains—expose themselves graciously, and ochre pine needles carpet the forest floor. Clambering around the shore, Iris could barely contain her glee. “It’s like that Neverland place,” our Peter Pan fan exclaimed.

Chris Fink

Sep 23, 2015

Chris Fink is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Beloit College. He is the author of Farmer's Almanac, A Work of Fiction. A new book of his stories is forthcoming in September 2019 from the University of Wisconsin.

He was a founding faculty member of the Master of Fine Arts program at San Jose State University, where he taught for five years. He received the 2003 Silicon Valley Artist’s Grant and founded the John Steinbeck Award for the Short Story.