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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Northwest Wisconsin - A Special Place

Northwest Wisconsin is a special place.  Once covered with tall White Pine, it was logged over in the late 1800s by the itinerant lumberjacks that harvested almost every tree along their route from Maine through Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota before moving on the Pacific Northwest.  What was left behind in this part of Wisconsin was a sandy soil with a short growing season.  This is not "America's Dairy-land."  Up here, there are scrub oak, Jack Pine and grass.  And, quite a few pulpwood farms.  It's an ideal habitat for deer, game-birds, bear and even wolves.

Germann Road Fire Map Gordon-1-3
In the springtime, fire is always a threat.  This year, it hit with a vengeance just a few miles east of Gordon, burning a triangle of land about two miles wide by seven miles long.

While I was searching the Internet for information about the fire, I stumbled onto this 1976 Sports Illustrated article about former Minnesota Vikings' coach, Bud Grant.  Tucked away in the article was an awesome description of this unique area:
The crossroads hamlet of Gordon (pop. 350, exclusive of bears and coyotes) straddles U.S. 53 about an hour's drive south of Duluth in the cutover pine plains of northwestern Wisconsin. The town consists largely of an IGA store, a post office, a gas station, the inevitable bait and tackle shop and a slew of saloons—the not-so-mythical mead halls of this Viking stronghold. The region, flat and swampy where it is not sandy and scrub-grown, was once a vast stand of Norway pines. Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe took care of that around the turn of the century. Some 85 lakes dot the immediate area, along with 187 miles of rivers and streams that support some of the finest trout fishing in America. This is deer-hunting country in the fall and a snowmobile playland in the winter. A lot of boys named Duane and girls named Joreen live here, hammering the back roads in pickup trucks, getting pie-eyed betimes on brandy and beer. Up here the girls still "get in trouble." To the north, rusty ore freighters plod the ice-blue swells of Lake Superior, the largest and cleanest body of freshwater in the world. Over the land hangs the smell of wood pulp, like a miasma of sour mash gone worse, intercut with the sad-sweet strains of country music blowing from roadhouses and pickup radios. This is a hard, plain, clean, simple, honest hunk of America—one of the best hunks left—and this is where Bud Grant comes when the football wars are over.
... County Trunk Y, a rhumb line of two-lane blacktop, bores straight east from Gordon through the pine barrens. Dawn is pearl gray today—the first cloud cover in nearly two months. The land seems to suck at the sky in hopes of rain. The other day a wayfaring stranger flicked a cigarette butt out of a car and a full section of Douglas County forest land went poof before the local press-gang of fire fighters could corral it. In these parts, every able-bodied man from 16 to you-name-it is eligible for duty when the woods catch fire.
Approaching Simms Lake, where Bud Grant's cabin stands, white-tailed deer bounce across the road in the early light, tails flagging and skinny-stupid heads peering back at no danger at all once the highway is cleared. Far ahead, a coyote crosses the road. "Brush wolves," they call them hereabouts. The dirt road to Grant's cabin debouches at lakeside—a small, dark-blue, chilly-looking northern Wisconsin lake. A rooster shakes itself sleepily and utters a fair imitation of a worn brake lining. A pair of ravens hop and croak in mock outrage, then flap down to the lakeside to look for dead fish. Mallards and Canada geese, some with strings of young 'uns in tow, splash noisily or stare and hiss.

Gordon-4 Gordon-3
Times have changed a bit.  The "slew of saloons" has diminished.  Only the Buckhorn and the bowling alley remain.  But that does leave three places in town to buy liquor, wine and beer.

And the spirit of the area remains alive.  Heading north to the next town, Solon Springs, we find a great hardware store.  And when you start down the liquor, wine and beer isle (you can buy liquor at your hardware store can't you?) you'll spot this cooler and sign.
Gordon-1-2 Gordon-2-1

And coach Grant?  Well the Minneapolis Star-Tribune sent a sports reporter up to check on him after the fire and found him as calm and stoic as ever.

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