Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I was born in Wisconsin. I grew up knowing how to milk a cow and catch a lightening bug in a mason jar but my knowledge of the word didn't go much beyond what Dane County had to offer. I learned where Bruges was in my fifth grade geography book. My traveling was done by my index finger trailing over the pages of National Geographic. You could trace the exotic places I had seen on a map with a one-inch string tethered to Madison. Until I went off to college in Central Illinois I never made it much further than Wisconsin Dells or a trip or two to Chicago. Northern Wisconsin was a vacationland for a different echelon of traveler. Northern Wisconsin was to Chicago what the Adirondacks were to New York City. The roads to get there were not the interstates of today. Travel time involved a day on the road or a private propeller plane.
The leggy balsam trees that planted their stilettos in a chorus line along the shores of Cranberry Lake, Otter Lake or Catfish Lake were not for the son of bread deliveryman with two weeks paid summer vacation. It wasn't even on our radar. It was for families that summered as relief from their country club suburban homes plunging off rope swings into crystal clear lakes and having dinner served by tuxedoed waiters under paper lanterns as the dance band backed up a pompadoured crooner.
It took almost six decades but my invitation to the North woods finally arrived, a weekend at our furniture manufacturer's cottage on Catfish Lake in Eagle River. After more than a month of plane travel to Italy, Ireland and New York City a leisurely drive through the rolling landscape between Madison and the world's largest chain of fresh water lakes was an adventure I was too exhausted to think I could enjoy. I was so wrong.
The Sweeney cottage sits at the end of a dirt drive lined with a mix of homes most only open for the summer season when the lakes shimmer with the reflection of a warm summer sun.
Dating back to the twenties and thirties the clapboard main buildings with their detached guesthouses surrounded by magnificent pines and yards littered with beds of needles exude a bygone charm.
Stepping out of the car it was the crunch of those needles under foot that sent the fragrant message of the woods into my nostrils where the scent of balsam remained long after our leaving.
The season in Eagle River is short. It was the first week in August. We had a broken cloud cover that kept the temperature in the cool sixties, too cool to dive in to the Muskie rich water but perfect for sitting on the dock and watching the patterns the sun and clouds played on the lake.
It wasn't too late in season for all the flowers to be gone but their petals were beginning to fall.
Terry had a boy scout's knack for building fires. During the late afternoon we'd curl up with our books in front of the blazing logs and doze off before it was time to eat.
We grilled salmon and ate a blueberry crisp Rick had put together the morning before we left.
It was just as the sun was getting ready to fall below the tree line on the opposite shore, a time when the light deepens to a golden glow and the sky becomes an artist's palette of rich pastels going into electric shades of neon. I had pulled out my iphone to capture the sky when one of Eagle River's magnificent eagles spread its six-foot wing span and glided out from a canopy directly over my head.

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