This is a view of Pallette Lake from our Escanaba Trail hike.

July 18th

I left off in my last page on Sunday afternoon (day 4) after dropping my photos off at the Manito Art League Show in Manitowish Waters (If you’re in the area between now and Sunday, stop in and see the show).  There are many amazing photographs, but also a lot of interesting art work of all styles.  Tonight we attended the “Patron Preview” and got to rub shoulders with the other artists and sponsors of the show and their guests, with food provided by the Blue Bayou Restaurant (which is right across the bridge from the Community Center where the show is.  The community center is right next to the airport!  The Blue Bayou is a nice place for dinner when you’re up here and get tired of fish fry and pizza.

As I always do towards the end of my trips, I need to work backwards to tell you what has transpired over the last few days.  Tonight would be day 7 according to the way I am counting the days of the trip.  As I mentioned, we drove from BJ (Boulder Junction) over to Manitowish Waters (30 minutes) and then returned for dinner at our resort.  This is not the night to miss dinner:  The kids are all gone; out on a cook out (They are back now and screaming on the playground though it is nearly 9:30pm).  Since it is also the night before everyone leaves, it is the evening we go from table to table saying good bye to new friends we have made.  This year there are many – thanks to Mr. Congeniality (my husband).

We’ve met a great family of 5 from Illinois who we hope will visit us in PR:  He a professor, she a doctor, three little boys; A very nice woman from Beloit (that’s south of Janesville!) who introduced us to her son and daughter.  Helen and her husband John were sponsored for membership here by my dad:  and, I know this is as important to you as it is to all of us here; her daughter Susan caught a 44” muskie today (the picture of her with this fish, of course, circulated the dining room).  Now stand up and hold your hand just 4 inches short of 4 FEET and that is the size of the fish she caught!  Not too shabby!  And my feminist heart beats a little faster knowing that her husband, though he caught three this week – could only manage 32, 34 and 36 inches!  The biggest muskie caught this week (did I tell you that BJ is “the muskie capital of the world” – no exaggeration!) was 51”.  That absolutely floors me since I thought those monster muskies were only the stuff of legends at this point in history.  This is just one of the many marvels of modern fish management. (PS All the muskies are catch and release.)

Prior to the muskie excitement in the dining room and the art show, we spent a grey afternoon working on pictures.  This summer vacation has been synonymous for us with experimenting with our cameras and picture taking, including HDR (high dynamic range) and focus stacking.  It has been fun and has justified our carrying the tripod around with us when we’re hiking.

My Trusty (Life) Companion hoisting the tripod at Cathedral Point on Trout Lake.

We were working with pictures we took this morning at “Cathedral Point.”  I have to put that in quotation marks because I want to signify how special a place it is.  For me, and for every Osoha girl out there, Cathedral Point is THE ultimate cook out place and NOT because it is across the lake from Red Arrow.  Cathedral Point has a mystique all its own.  In fact, even now I am not sure there is any other place quite like it in my experience.  You drive in on a long driveway, get to some 20s or 30s buildings that house the forestry offices (we’re in the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest still), and then keep going to a parking lot.  It is like a trip back in time, which adds to the sensation of “otherness” you experience when you get there.

Once parked, you walk from here on in.  Above you, tower pines so stately they seem to have been there for ages. (They haven’t!  Northern Wisconsin was logged to barren back in the early 1900s.)  Still, the trees have a dignity about them, rooted as they are in the rust-colored carpet of their dry needles and decorated in green for the summer.

The very light is different.  You’re up high.  You have to walk down steps or, careful of sliding out of control, walk sideways down to the level of the lake. Looking back, the trees seem like giants.  Now, before you South Trout Lake stretches off to your left and North Trout Lake, to the right.  Trout Lake is one of the most desirable lakes in this part of the Northwoods (I am talking property values here).  It is big, clear and deep.  (Deep is good for fishing.)  Red Arrow Camp is fortunate enough to be on South Trout Lake so my sons get to spend the summers in one of the really special places in the northern Wisconsin.

The Trusty Companion giving an idea of scale on a typical northwoods road.

Back to Cathedral Point, the site of many Osoha cook-outs, the best ones being the breakfast cook-outs with pancakes crusty from frying in butter, often dotted with wild blueberries found along the trail.

(Just another aside here:  My kids loved, and yours might too, a breakfast cook-out.  When we had our house on Kinderhook Lake in NY, and Gerry and Oscar were small, and I had a canoe, we would paddle from our dock out to the island (50 yards max) and have a breakfast cookout with pancakes and bacon (cooked woven onto green sticks).  There, there really were wild blueberries to put in the pancakes (I exaggerated above about the Osoha cookouts, because blueberries don’t really grow under pine trees…).  Believe me; pancakes will beat hamburgers any day, hands down.)

Back to Cathedral Point:  My friend Arlene, also an Osoha girl, when asked if she ever went to church on Sundays, replied “No, but I have been to Cathedral Point.”  That comment, to me, speaks of the specialness of the place.  So, Gerry and I, armed with tripod, filters and cameras descend upon Cathedral Point to try to capture its specialness – we can’t do that, but we take pictures anyway!  We also hiked covering a mere two miles in an hour and a half. (Obviously, we stopped to take A LOT of pictures!)

Wintergreen. This plant has wonderful memories associated with it. Break the leaves and take a deep inhale. You won’t get my memories, but you will get a fresh scent of mint!

After Cathedral Point, we stopped in at the Trout Lake Station Limnology Center of the University of Wisconsin College of Arts and Sciences.  I had always been curious about the place and as recently as yesterday thought about going in to see what it was all about.  Well, it is all about the health of water ecosystems (ponds, lakes, bogs – you can see why it is located up here in the midst of 900 lakes and their adjacent wetlands).  A very interesting place.  Though we arrived without an appointment and the place is not really “open to the public” the scientists there were very helpful.  Gerry was actually interested in identifying a particular plant that has shown up in our pond in southern Wisconsin (turns out it is ANOTHER invasive…as if we weren’t fighting them on several fronts already).

This is birch bark (still on the tree). Birch bark is iconic of the Northwoods…ask any Osoha girl!

So much for today.  Yesterday was a red letter day because we were graced with the company of our children for dinner.  Anticipating this wondrous event scheduled for the evening, our day was somewhat mundane.  It involved going in to town to do the laundry and to walk the flea market (every Tuesday in BJ).  The flea market is an interesting mix of other people’s cast-offs antiques, oddities and cheap socks, sunglasses and gloves.  There are also artisans and artists in about equal measure.  I happened to get into a conversation with a photographer, who, lo and behold, also had work in the Manito Art League show.

The day was cold (for me) and a bit drizzly, so once the laundry was done, we were all too happy to get back to our snug little cabin.  Rain, of course, meant that there were no screaming children on the playground or in the water in front of our cabin. Yeah!

After lunch, and the requisite attempt to take a nap, we read until it was time for me to go pick up Gerry at camp.  Oscar was on a day off with two other friends and he had the car that the boys share at camp.  Gerry just had what they call “an early night” meaning he was off right after dinner, so I drove over to RAC to pick him up.  He came bearing laundry, of course, friends in tow.

So we had quite a jolly dinner, with our table full of big boys, and caused quite a sensation in the dining room.  Here we were, little mousy Betsy and Gerry, the only people in the dining room without beaucoup de kids at our table, and shazam! We’re on everybody’s radar… especially the radars of the young ladies from Eastern Europe who are waiting on tables here this summer.  This is the perfect place to entertain one’s grown children and their friends – especially if they are boys.  The dinner is prix fixe – but no alcohol and no limits on food, so it comes out as a real bargain.  The four of them downed 6 entrees!

They stayed talking after dinner until about 10, so all in all, we got our kid fix.

Would you ride your bike on 5 miles of this? (BTW, see Gerry in there?)

Monday (now I am back to day 5) was the hottest day we have had up here this vacation – 97 degrees.  We, fortunately, were hiking in the woods! It was hot, but the shade from the trees and breeze off the lakes kept us from the worst of it.  We had box lunches provided by the resort and so decided to tackle the Escanaba Trail.  The Escanaba Trail, like the Fallison Lake Trail, is one of the 9 or so named and documented trails in the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest – from here on to be referred to as NHAL. (Unlike Fallison, but like Cathedral Point, there are clean, if basic, “facilities” at the trail heads (good thing, too!)).  According to my guidebooks, the Escanaba Trail is supposed to be the most scenic trail of the forest.  I am not so sure about that…maybe it’s a seasonal thing.  In the height of summer, all you can see is the dense forest on either side of the trail.  According to the maps, it winds around 5 lakes, but to see a lake, you really need to leave the trail and blaze your way through the forest to the lakeshore.  I bet it is best in spring or fall.  (They also groom it for cross-country skiing in the winter, which I think would be gorgeous, but little to no chance that Gerry will ever see that…)

Now here, I have to digress again.  Northern Wisconsin is beautiful.  Beautiful lakes, wonderful forests.  But you know what?  Like a desert, the beauty of the place is in accepting its sameness.  Deserts are gorgeous because of the sand and the curves and the sky.  But a desert is all sand, curves and sky.  The beauty of Northern Wisconsin is the lakes, the trees and the sky – and really, all there is are lakes, trees and sky.  Every lake looks the same in my pictures.  Every road looks the same as you drive from place to place.  Yet, everyone will tell you how beautiful Northern Wisconsin is.  Curious, right?

A forest denizen. At one point, we were hopping around trying not to step on all the tiny (tiny!) toads on the path (about half the size of your little finger fingernail.)

So Monday, as we hiked the Escanaba Trail, we were struck by the sameness of every vista along the way.  We struck out for the lake, to get some relief from the trees, and followed the shore for a while.  To get back to the trail without going backwards, meant bushwhacking our way through very rough terrain and trees grown together like spider webs.  We never would have made it out of there alive except I pulled out my GPS, pedometer and maps and forced my husband to follow my orders. (You know how men are about directions…they won’t ask, but they know it all.)  Anyway, there was no one to ask and, disdain notwithstanding, I forced the technological solution.  I was really not prepared to let someone’s male pride take us around in circles in the middle of the forest, scrambling over tree trunks and ducking under branches.  Later, we discovered that the trees exacted their revenge on us by grabbing my filter holder off my camera (Yes, Joanne, the one you gave me for Christmas!).  Unfortunately, when I discovered it was gone, it was too late to go back and try to find it (even if we could have retraced the route we took off the path).

We had our lunch high on a bluff overlooking the Pallette Lake, with a strong breeze keeping us cool and the bugs away.  The only people we saw on the trail we met right after lunch at the “shelter” on the trail.  A cyclist (what is it with these people riding on bumpy rock and root strewn trails in the woods?) waiting for his buddy, who roles in a little later, limping and bleeding.  He didn’t seem interested in our hearing the story of how he got that way, so we said goodbye and went on our way.

All together, the section of the Escanaba that we hiked was only 5 miles, but by the time we got back to the car, we were tired, hot and thirsty.  What better excuse to treat oneself to a root beer float at the local “drive in.”  So we did!  It was wonderfully, decadently caloric!

The site of the forbidden fruit (root bear floats!).

Friday, July 20th

Now, I am back down state, but I’ll just tie up the end of the trip before I leave you for my next adventure.

Just after I stopped writing the entry above, I got into bed to read and developed a muscle spasm in my back.  Traitorous body!  After all I do to keep it healthy (or was it the root beer float?).  Anyway, hours of agony and oodles of drugs later, I finally was able to fall asleep about 5 am.  Still groggy from muscle relaxers and lack of sleep, we paid our bill and headed home early.  A quick stop to say good-bye to Arl, a quick visit to RAC, hoping for a hug and a kiss goodbye (which we didn’t get) and dropping off dirty clothes left behind on Tuesday; and finally on the road.  Again we were provisioned with a box lunch apiece, so we decided to take a new route home – this time driving down US 45 to Fond du Lac.  (The connection there is that we didn’t need to plan to stop at Culver’s in Steven’s Point for lunch.)

My back behaved fairly well, so I treated it to a “toe warmer.”  (I was looking for something to use as heat on the muscle and couldn’t find a hand warmer. Wrong season, lady! I settled for a toe warmer, which did the trick quite nicely.) It was a cold (60s), gloomy day on the drive down, sometimes actually precipitating, but given the drought in southern Wisconsin (along with two thirds of the rest of the country) the slow hours of drizzle were badly needed and rather than a cause for depression, were really quite uplifting!

The End  (Finally!)

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