ST. JOSEPH, Wis. — After his children moved out, St. Joseph resident and landscaper by trade Joe Ebertz found himself with an empty above-ground swimming pool. Removing the pool left a large but perfectly circular mound of earth.
“Some people would view that as a problem, but not me. I realized that it wasn’t a problem, it was an opportunity,” said Ebertz, who lives north of Hudson near Willow River State Park. “I’m in love with maps, travel and the places that maps show us, as well as everything affiliated and associated with travel. Some of this travel might be wilderness travel, so you need a compass. I’ve had a compass all my life, so I thought ‘why not use the circle for a compass.’”
After nearly a year of working during his free time, Ebertz found himself with a stylized stone compass that was as true to the cardinal directions as he could make it. He used a compass, string lines and other such tools to get the compass to point as close to north, south, east and west as possible.
“The whole process was slow. I could see progress as I was working on the compass, but it wasn’t huge progress. I had a vision of the compass in my head, so I knew what I was doing, but I never wrote anything down or anything like that. I just did it,” he said. “I don’t have to brainstorm about things, especially not things that have to do with what I do for a living. I’m doing a version of this day in and day out. I don’t really have to think about it, I just have to do it.”
The biggest challenge for Ebertz — who has lived in his house for 16 years — was making sure he took his time on the project.
“When you are doing things for money, you have to move along. I was doing this for the love and joy of it, so I wanted to get it right and enjoy building it. This is a cool art project where I had a problem that I turned into an opportunity,” he said. “As the project started to take a little bit of shape and then a little more shape, I started to really believe in the project. The project exceeded my expectations and continues to do so every time I look at it.”
Ebertz used stacked stones of various sizes from a stockpile of stone remnants from his landscaping business to build the perimeter and then set larger stones in the center to make the compass needles.
“I’ve loved maps and anything associated with maps, including the travel you need them to do. And compasses go right along with that. I just kind of really love, really dig — however you want to put it — the four cardinal directions, too. They mean a lot to me,” Ebertz said.
Ebertz associates north with his yearly trips to Alaska that he has taken every summer for the last 10 years.
“We go up there and we paddle remote rivers. I’ve been north of the Arctic Circle several times. It is fantastic,” he said.
South means something completely different to him.
“I’ve been all over Central and South America. I’ve been in the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand. I’ve had amazing adventures in the southern hemisphere,” Ebertz said. “I used to be married to a gal from the Southern Hemisphere, in fact. And I’ve got a current girlfriend from the Southern Hemisphere. So south is a little more complicated, but it is all good stuff.”
As for west, he has traveled there extensively.
“I think the American West is the consummate definition of west. Places like Utah and Arizona, or further north, Washington and Oregon. These are fantastic places,” Ebertz said. “So I get excited about that direction too.”
When it comes to east, things get a little personal.
“I’m originally from Minnesota and grew up close to the Twin Cities. I moved to Wisconsin, which is east, about 25 years ago. When I’m leaving the Twin Cities in my vehicle — which is fairly often — and I’m heading east, it gives me a good feeling when I cross the St. Croix River,” he said.
“Every time I think about those directions, I think about what those directions mean to me.”
Ebertz has been a landscaper by trade for 25 years and owned his business for nearly as long.
“I like to work outside and love the great outdoors. Before I got into landscaping, I was working in another construction trade and worked outdoors. I like the physical aspect of it and like to work with my hands and body,” Ebertz said. “To me, that is quite satisfying. I also enjoy the seasonal nature of it. I have been taking winters off for quite some time now, and I really love that. It is a great time to travel.”