It was Sunday, August 14th, 2016. I was sailing on a beautiful lake in Northern Wisconsin. After a bit of afternoon rain the day before, this day was 75 degrees and partially cloudy. They were those big, round, Toy Story looking clouds that grace the skies of the northern Midwest in late summer. It was a wonderful day in the state of Wisconsin — as is every day in such a blessed state of woods, fields, rivers, lakes, and dairy.
I was all alone out in my boat, captaining my prestigious 11-foot Kool brand cigarettes promotional styrofoam sailboat with the kind of koolness known only by seasoned veterans. It’s a boat I am more than familiar with, as it is my boat and why wouldn’t I be familiar with my own boat? Now, I am not the best sailor in the world, but I can still snake my way through the wind similar to how I imagine a lot of my Norse ancestors did back when the world was still wild and the winds were untamed. However, no matter how good I am at harnessing raw, powerful nature to make myself move across the Six or Seven Seas, there was almost no wind, so my sailing session was more of a sitting session.
I was deep in thought out there on the water. The world might now be tamed, but my mind is not. I was reflecting on many things, as one will do from time to time on such a fine summer day. Where I am; where I want to be; what I am doing; what I want to do, who I want to be; what I want my mark on time to be; what I want my empire to be; you know, all that sort of sweet, smart, existential crap.
I looked up. Though my brain was moving, my 45 square foot sail was not. It was stiller than a barn. Barns do not move. Or they shouldn’t, at least. Tornadoes are very dangerous. Anyway, as I looked at my saggy, windless sail, slightly annoyed with my Scandinavian forefathers for cursing me with the devilish looks of a viking and the love of the sea, as well as an expertise in fishing and merriment, not to mention eventually coming to America so that I could be born and raised here and also my great jawline and contagious love of life, I realized that there is more to the world than just me and my excellence. I am just one man, out in one little boat, sitting below the heavens on one lake, here in the greatest country in the world. A country founded on hope, opportunity, hard-work, love, an appreciation of the past, and an eagerness for the future. One whole bunch of amazing things, all to describe one amazing country.
The United States of America.
A bald eagle soared around overhead, far above me, far beyond the tip of my sail beam, or mast as other sailors call it. Boy, that bird was something else. That bird was beautiful. I call it beautiful, but that’s just because no words can truly capture the aesthetic splendor of such a being, because words are a people thing and I don’t know what birds use but to properly label said eagle splendor one should probably use bird words or whatever birds call them. Something something squawk-caw, I bet.
That bald eagle and all bald eagles are the national bird of the United States of America. How fricken sweet is that? The greatest bird in the world is the spirit of the greatest country in the world. Bald eagles are amazing. They can go anywhere they want, do anything they want, love anyone they want, and be anyone they want, like a firefighter or a doctor or a professional baseball player or the President. Bald eagles are like American citizens, except birds. We’re all kind of bald eagles, if you think about it.
As I marveled at that marvelous American hero floating around up in the sky, I began to get frustrated, as my incredible ancestors also blessed me with a short temper and a constant need to be doing something. Why does he get to fly around up in the sky even though there’s no wind? I thought. Is it something to do with thermoclines? I think it has to do with thermoclines. Wait, are thermoclines in the sky or in the water? Are they both? Man, why can’t I push my Kool sailboat with a little thermocline, I thought. I bet Knut and Tormund and Magnus and whatever other names my great, great, great-grandfathers had never had to deal with this lack of wind. They were such mighty men that they could muster up a gust and push an entire fleet. I bet they’d be proud of how tight of a spiral I can throw, though, I thought.
Meanwhile, that bald eagle just eagled on up in the sky, as eagles are known to do. Eagles really are awesome. Ben Franklin wanted our national bird to be a turkey. How dumb is that? It’s a good thing the rest of those revolutionaries shut him up on that one. Ben Franklin probably couldn’t throw a very tight spiral.
In the flash of a QB sneak, a huge gust blew across the lake. The bald eagle cruised out of sight, right past the top of my sail beam.
Or so it appeared.
My sail beam actually was just rotating away from the sky, toward the center of the earth. That big wind filled my sail so quickly, so fully, so surprisingly that it flipped my boat.
I reached across the Kool brand cigarette sailboat to try and shift my weight and right the ship. However, I was too late, even though I have amazing reflexes and great control of my finely tuned body, just like those Nordic-turned-American beautiful bastards before me.
“Jesus Christ!” I shouted as I catapulted into the sea (lake).
Those were the last two words I would ever say.*
My world went from sunny, warm, floating American greatness to underwater, wet, not-floating American greatness. My feet searched for the lake bottom as my hands reached for anything on the surface. Both were left empty-handed and empty-footed. Water enveloped my entire body like an envelope envelopes a paper letter. I was sinking. I was drowning. It was 4th and long with 0:01 left to play, and I couldn’t pull a Hail Mary. I was dying.
* * * * * * * * * *
There’s a certain calmness found at the depths of the sea (lake) that is only paralleled by that which belongs to bald eagles up in the sky. It is quiet, still, and completely encompassing. Only fish live in this calmness, except they are not calm because they are constantly being eaten by each other. However, in that moment, as I was drowning, I too lived in that calmness. It was nice. It was… quiet, still, and completely encompassing. Did I mention that already? My bad. You see, it becomes hard to remember the details as one is drowning, because the oxygen is depleting from one’s brain, leading to death. I may have been living in that calmness, but I was also dying in that calmness.
Whereas above the water my mind was racing, thinking about all kinds of impressive stuff, here, below the water, my mind was slow. That’s a lot because of said depleting oxygen and consequential diminished mental abilities, but also because of the calmness. Underwater, in my watery grave, the same watery grave where a lot of other great and dead men drowned, my mind was slow. I only had one thought.
It’s bad for Wisconsin that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t eat dairy.
This was my thought. This was my dying thought. This was my drowning thought. This is how I died.
* * * * * * * * * *
A strong hand grabbed my hand. Now, before one gets all worried and screams “zombie!” or “possessed free-roaming hand!”, know it was attached to a strong, handsome arm. That arm belonged to my friend Cecil. It still does to this very day.
Cecil pulled me to the surface, saving my life.
I was not dead. Actually, it turns out I might not have even been that close to dead, but I was certainly underwater for a while, living down there amongst the fishes and the ghosts of my drowned ancestors. My ancestors are all dead, and perhaps, so am I, in my own unique way. “What is dead may never die” is the saying of the Drowned God, religion of the Iron Islands in Game of Thrones. Isn’t that a cool saying that supports what I just said about me maybe actually being kind of dead? You know what, let’s just agree that I did drown and came back to life but am also dead.
“Thanks for saving my life. You are a great friend and a true hero. We are both very strong and inspirational people,” I didn’t say to Cecil but man would it have been cool if I said that.
Our other strong, brave, and fun friend Ben also swam out and helped save me. I didn’t say anything to Ben about how thankful I am and how very strong and inspirational we are, but he knows. He knows!
As a trio, we swam my Kool brand cigarettes promotional styrofoam sailboat in to shore. We rolled it upright, drained the water, and pulled out the sail and sail beam. Neither the boat nor sail were dead, nor were they broken. Just like me, just like how I am dead but may never die.
By the way, I wasn’t quite alone on the water the whole time. Cecil and Ben were just sailing in a different boat. But they weren’t that close to me and also their boat wasn’t a kickass styrofoam one!
* * * * * * * * * *
But all of this is not the point. My might, my perseverance, my strength; the good-lookingness of my friends, the closeness of our friendship, and the inspiration of our actions is not the point of this story. The super fun day we continued to have is not the point. The bald eagle is not the point, although he is a very good part of the story. Arguably my favorite part.
The point of this story is my drowning, dying thought.
The point of this story is that it’s bad for Wisconsin that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t eat dairy.
Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. He seems like a great guy and he plays for a great team. Wisconsin loves the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin loves Aaron Rodgers. He is our guy. He is the face of our franchise.
However, much like how the bald eagle — not Aaron Rodgers — is the face of the franchise (dynasty) that is America, Aaron Rodgers is not the face of the franchise (dynasty) that is Wisconsin.
Dairy is the face of the franchise that is Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland. Milk, yogurt, cheese: all the good stuff. Especially cheese. Wisconsin makes a lot of cheese. Over 600 types of cheese produced in 127 cheese plants. On top of that, 90% of Wisconsin’s milk is made into cheese. Need even more proof of how important cheese is to the state? See: mascot and identity of the Green Bay Packers.
Wisconsin likes cheese. Wisconsin loves cheese. Wisconsin is cheese.
Everyone in the land of cheese knows that Aaron Rodgers made a huge, controversial, shocking decision this offseason. In an effort “get healthier,” Aaron cut dairy out of his diet. He has switched from dairy to “more of a vegan diet.” In doing so and in hopes of extending his playing careers, he’s dropped down to about 218 pounds.
But at what cost?
Dairy is a $43.4 billion part of Wisconsin’s economy, about half of the state’s entire agricultural sector. It provides 40% of the 420,000 agricultural jobs in Wisconsin and pumps about $80,000 a minute into the state economy. Dairy is huge. And tasty.
Select pop-nutritionists can say what they will about dairy, but here’s a quick fact that speaks to the health benefits of eating dairy: nine out of ten American Olympians grew up eating dairy.
Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the world, but he isn’t an Olympian.
* * * * * * * * * *
Wisconsin is a great state with a great football team that has a great quarterback. Wisconsin is also a great state with a great history and culture that has some great food products. Milk. Cheese. Dairy. Delicious.
Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t get kicked out of the state or anything crazy like that for choosing not to eat dairy. He’s still Wisconsin’s quarterback. His non-dairy decision simply serves as a reminder. A reminder to make your own decisions for yourself. A reminder to do what’s best for you. A reminder that sports are just one part of life. A reminder that every great leader has flaws. A reminder that football is a very tough sport but dairy is a very good food.
It may be bad or at least look bad for Wisconsin that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t eat dairy, but it’s not the end of the Wisconsin world. Wisconsin is still doing great and will keep doing great, is still making and will keep making a lot of cheese.
* * * * * * * * * *
Somewhere, up in the sky above Wisconsin, up beyond a sweet sail beam and next to some big, round Toy Story clouds, a bald eagle soars around. That bald eagle lives up in the sky, up in the airy calmness. It is a different calmness than that below the water where fishes live, but it is similar. That bald eagle can be whatever it wants to be, can go wherever it wants to go. Yet this bald eagle is flying above Wisconsin. He is flying above all those woods, all those fields, all those rivers, all those lakes, and all that dairy.
* “Jesus Christ” were not the last two words I would ever say. I wrote all of these words and probably will write some more. I might even write some bird words, if I ever learn them. However, perhaps someday, those will be the last words that I ever say. Because someday, I will actually die.**
** But then again, “what is dead may never die,” so I will never truly have any last words, for I will never truly die.***
*** I bet my ancestors are proud of the tight spiral I throw and I bet Aaron Rodgers’ ancestors are proud of the tight spiral he throws, too, but I know my ancestors are proud of me for eating dairy.