Justin W. Patchin Essays
In addition to my professional writing, I occassionally write essays about personal experiences and random musings. Even less often, these essays end up being published somewhere. If that happens, I'll post links here.

Running Though COVID-19:
Pandemic Creates Opportunity for Father-Son Bonding

VolumeOne, October 6, 2020

It was while running that I first began to grasp the seriousness of COVID-19. More specifically, I was on a treadmill in the basement of the McPhee Center at UW-Eau Claire on a frigid February morning. I ran as members of the UWEC football team bench pressed, squatted, and curled in anticipation of a season many months in the future. Through my earbuds a reporter from The New York Times spoke of a virus that originated in China that had made its way to the United States. A global pandemic was imminent, the reporter warned, and the likelihood of hundreds of thousands of deaths was high.

Clueless about proper pandemic procedures, I fist-bumped a sweaty football player as he walked by. Neither of us knew then that his senior season might never come.

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Finding the Unexpected When the Fireplace Fails:
Brick by Brick, A Homeowner Learns Rebuilding is More Than a Ton of Work – Eight Tons in Fact

VolumeOne, October 16, 2019

I wasn’t there when the deluge of water began gushing through the haphazardly-patched hole in the roof, but the expletive in the text message I received from my wife during a thunderstorm suggested trouble at home.

It started out a rehabilitation job, with some retribution built in. The fireplace had been giving me fits since soon after we moved into the house nine years ago. I spied the bricked beauty when we first walked through with the Realtor, and I was excited about the prospects of wood-fueled warmth come winter.

The first cold snap came early that year and I rushed to take the edge off the chill by building a blazing fire. Almost immediately, smoke overwhelmed the living room. Each time I tried to have a relaxing, crackling fire, the smoke alarms would inevitably scream. More puzzlingly, smoke was also finding its way to the basement. I thought smoke was supposed to go up, not down?

After numerous consultations with several local and online experts over the course of many years, no one could explain the problem with our fireplace, let alone offer a simple solution. Finally, I had had enough. It was cold and I wanted warmth – the kind of heat only red-hot coals from a renewable resource could create. I resolved to remedy the situation one way or another. In the end, there was only one viable option: dismantle the old fireplace and build anew from the ground up.

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Fathers, Sons, and Storms:
Defying Rain, Lightning, and Familial Fear to Get the Perfect Photograph

VolumeOne, September 19, 2018

“I think it would be a good idea if you got out of the water,” Dad implored as lightning brightened the dark sky above me. “Just a few more minutes,” I responded, as if this conversation had occurred 30 years earlier andhe was instructing me to come in for dinner. “The sky is incredible right now, and it’s not even raining yet!” Of course it wasn’t the rain he was concerned about.

It was an unseasonably warm spring evening and a thunderstorm was rolling in. It progressed purposely across the landscape from west to east, just to the north of us. The bolts of lightning were distinct and stunning. Amid all the electricity, I was waist-deep in the Eau Claire River.

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War and Peace With Animal Neighbors:
Living in the countryside is relaxing, except when it comes to critters’ destructive tendencies
VolumeOne, August 23, 2017

I live on a dead-end township road adjacent to the Eau Claire River. As such, animal sightings are to be expected, and are, for the most part at least, welcomed. But lately, it feels as if the animals are conspiring and coordinating their efforts to push us out.

In the nearly seven years my family and I have resided here, we’ve seen a menagerie of wildlife. The rare visitors are most treasured: the occasional otter swimming in the river; the mink silently sneaking along the rocky shoreline; or the dark brown fisher hunting red squirrels below white pines.

Last summer I arrived home late to see a large black bear lumber across the road in front of my neighbor’s yard. I have a trail camera photograph of a bobcat from right behind our backyard picket fence. These encounters are a part of why we moved here: to put some distance between us and the rat race of city life and instead spend time with, well, actual rats.

But what I didn’t count on was the destructive tendencies of fur and feather.

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Capturing The Perfect Shot
Wisconsin Life, July 28, 2017

[Note: this is an essay I recorded for Wisconsin Public Radio's "Wisconsin Life." You can listen to it by clicking below.]

I’m running late. By the time I show up, the sun has already sunk beneath the horizon. Despite my best intentions, it appears I have missed the opportunity I was hoping for.

I’ve always loved sunsets, but I only recently discovered a joy in photographing them to preserve and share with others. On this evening I hike to a spot on the Eau Claire River to capture the sun setting over a meandering section of the stream. I came across this place previously while boating and thought it’d be an interesting location to take a picture. Though I didn’t realize at the time what it would take to get there by foot.

(listen here)


The Journey to Grandmas: Even a marathoner needs a team and a coach
unpublished, June 15, 2017

“No thanks,” I told the man on the other end of the phone line all those years back. “I’m a hockey player, not a runner.” It was a few weeks before my junior year of high school, and the cross-country coach was calling to ask if I’d be interested in going out for the team. I told him no.

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Opening Weekend: The First Morning of Fishing Season is Usually Cold, but the Memories Formed Couldn’t be Warmer
VolumeOne, May 3, 2017

The opening weekend of walleye fishing season is practically a state holiday where I grew up in northern Minnesota. And I suspect the same is true for many folks here in western Wisconsin. I rarely miss an opportunity to get together with my dad to fish “the opener.”

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Turn Your Eyes to the Skies: I Don’t Waste an Opportunity to Experience the Northern Lights
VolumeOne, November 2, 2016

A little over a year ago in this space, I wrote about my transformative experience viewing and photographing the northern lights in our area. Since then, I’ve observed the aurora borealis quite a few times, both from here and points further north. And I’ve become somewhat obsessed. Some people are fixated on the Packers; others, on craft beers. For me, it’s observing the luminous effects of sun-sent electrons blasting the Earth’s atmosphere.

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Morning Glory: In a Wisconsin Spring, the Early Bird Gets the Best Show
VolumeOne, April 20, 2016

I looked up from my breakfast bowl, which was filled to the brim with milk-soaked Frosted Mini-Wheats, and noticed through the sliding glass door which faces east from our house, through the decades-old white pines a sky so bright red that it gave the impression that the needles had been set aflame. The vibrancy of this pre-dawn color was jolting, especially against the backdrop of early spring drabness. I dropped the spoon atop the miniature bales in the bowl, jumped up from my chair and sprinted for my camera.

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It Seems to Me: Public Universities Need Support
Leader-Telegram, April 17, 2016

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt recently released some troubling, though not surprising, information detailing the consequences of the latest round of reductions in statewide support for public higher education in Wisconsin.Specifically, the state now contributes just 20 percent of the funding to my institution’s operating budget (down from 59 percent in 1975). This begs the question: If the public contributes just one-fifth of the funds to support the school, is it still accurate to refer to it as a public university?

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Inspiring Art: Living in the Valley’s Art-friendly Environment Can Spur Anyone’s Creativity – Even Mine VolumeOne, August 19, 2015

I never thought I’d find myself sitting alone on the southern shore of Lake Wissota at 2 in the morning with a camera – affixed atop a tripod – pointed skyward. But there I was, a few weeks ago, trying to make a permanent portrayal of the famously ephemeral aurora borealis. Like many in western Wisconsin, I was giddy with excitement that the northern lights were visiting us here with such vibrancy, so far from their typical range. But my goal on that particular evening wasn’t merely to see the lights, but to record them in a way that spoke to me, and perhaps others, long after they had retreated back to the arctic.

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Roaming the Icy Rivers: Learning and Re-learning About the Attractive Dangers of River Ice
VolumeOne, March 4, 2015

At dusk, I take my two German shorthaired pointers for their usual after-work walk. They need this daily discharge of pent-up energy. Especially the puppy, whom my father has nicknamed “Zip-code” because of her penchant for pursuing far-off places.

Truth be told, I need this walk too. It’s an opportunity to defrag my brain and straighten my spine after hours of sitting in front of a computer screen. Plus, it’s February, so any time spent outside is time well spent.

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