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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.

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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.
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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.

The North Country National Scenic Trail. Another Section Completed

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Mention the Pacific Crest Trail or The Appalachian Trail and most people recognize the names.  There is another national scenic trail, however.  The North Country National Scenic Trail stretches from North Dakota to New York.  The route meanders about 4600 miles through the northern part of the United States with around 2100 of those miles certified as complete.  One of the great features of this trail is that it is very accessible.  Most segments are fairly short and easily completed as a morning or afternoon outing.

One part of the trail parallels the St. Croix/Gordon Flowage near our cabin.  Last fall, a new five mile long segment in that area was completed by the local trail association.

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The new section starts on Stuckey road,just a half-mile north of "resort row" on the flowage.

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Early in spring, there is not much color to the prairie.  The right picture was taken nearby later in the season a couple of years ago.

Just a few miles Northeast of here, the trail crosses a continental divide that separates the St. Croix/Mississippi River watershed from the Lake Superior watershed.  The short portage between the Brule River that empties into Lake Superior and the headwaters of the St. Croix was well known by Native Americans and French Explorers.  The recorded history goes back to at least 1680.

If you only have part of a day to spend on the trail, be sure to include a sunset.

If you have to choose a season, choose autumn.

Memories of Pagac's Pines Resort. Gordon Wisconsin.

It happens every couple of years or so.  A small boat pulls up at our dock on the Gordon/St. Croix Flowage near Gordon, Wisconsin.  Someone in their 50's or 60's climbs out wondering if they have found the right place.  A couple of years ago it was Lou from Amery.  This year it was Russ from the Milwaukee area.  Russ had brought his two sons to the Flowage to show them where he had spent a part of each summer, "back in the day."

Beginning in the mid-1950's , our lake home was the home and office for Paul and Rose Pagac's White Pines Resort.  The Pagacs had only five cabins for rent but built a very loyal clientele, mostly among Chicago residents.  I posted an entry back in 2008 that described a little of the history of the place.

Each time someone stops in who stayed here in the past, we pick up a little more history.  Russ and his sons brought a few pictures.

This one shows the office, now our cabin, from the first rental unit.
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Here is that first rental unit as it appeared from the main swimming dock.  The Pagac cabins were widely spaced and offered the "up north" atmosphere that many people were seeking in the 1950s.  A 14-foot aluminum boat and a ten-horse Evinrude were all that a family needed for a week on the lake.

Here, Russ and his mother pose alongside one of the cabins in 1960.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Springtime on the St. Croix Flowage

The first Saturday in May is the date for the Wisconsin fishing opener.  Opening weekend weather can be a little dicey.  Once, in my 34 years of record-keeping, there was even a bit of snow that fell on that date.  But there has never been anything like this:


Yes, that is ice on the lake!  And what is that little black spot under the red arrow?  Let's take a closer look.

Oh, just an eagle.

We headed down to the boat landing to see if there were lots of fishermen putting their boats in.  Nope.  In fact the "municipal dock" wasn't even in the water.
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So there is a first.  Opening weekend without a single fishing boat on the lake.

So, what should we do?  How about just watching the birds.  Those eagles, for starters.  They seem to have all the young ones with them.
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And the migratory birds were all passing through this weekend.  Ringneck ducks, Morganzers. Wood ducks, they were all there.
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Some birds were very cooperative, like this Flicker, showing us side and rear views.
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But this little guy, just wouldn't hold still for a picture.  It was constantly on the move, jump, jump, jump.  And it was hard to identify.  Fortunately, our next-door neighbor has a big book of Wisconsin birds.  We finally decided it was a Palm Warbler.