Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hidden Places, Summer 2017

Bayfield County, WI

Well, Cornucopia's not hidden and neither is the big-assed lake it hugs. Let's call those far reaches. And being summer I'd say the livin' was easy, as mostly it was. But the lively mosquitoes one morning at Bobcat Lake give me pause, even in contented retrospect.

I'd been gone from the Northwoods a month short of two years. Maybe the longest stretch since before my putative majority. Hard to say. That's a lot of life and things grow long. Heather was absent the Big Lake longer still. In other words and all things considered, too damn long.

Summer around Superior is a season of not always getting what I want, except when I let it, what's needed tends to find me. This year the lake stayed cold. Swam anyway.


Bayfield County, WI

Men went to sea in that. The boat and the men who on it daily risked their lives to fish share a rich and stormy story. Every time I look at it and even given being all worn out I think, We need a bigger boat. Small boat for such a big lake. Insubstantial even, what with the plywood and such playing bulwark against an angry sea.

Yet the boats went out. The men fished. As from Cornucopia they do still today.

Bayfield County, WI

You'll notice the boat's not so different. A squat, hardy vessel. Vulnerable looking with the back doors open wide as they must be, to run nets. Updated with an array of no doubt really handy gizmos and maybe better powered. To me a mighty small boat just the same, when out questing on cold, deep Superior and getting slapped hard for the effort. Then as now.

So if trolling the Bayfield Peninsula this coming harvest time, swing out Cornucopia way to consider the wrecks and the ships and the men. Then buy fish at Halverson's, no question where those come from.


Bayfield County, WI

Downstream of that (or upstream going in), do yourself the favor and take a brief walk through high quality woods to visit the Houghton Falls Preserve. This run of intermittent creek cuts through crazily precipitous rock so collected snow melt or rainwater can run as needed to the inland sea. Previously a hidden place, now given tender loving care and made convenient for casual visitors to boot. But should you think the little trickle down there's not so much, that logjam at the center speaks to fury and make no mistake.


Summer in the Northwoods is resolutely green. Some folk like it. Tourists mostly, though I happily defer to those who prefer the warm comfy season no matter where. For my money summer's high sun does neither the work nor the fishing any favors. And it's still all stinkin' green.

This is my favorite backwoods meadow. I've shot this meadow on and off for maybe 40 years and it remains a mystery to me. Between blinding deluges, the light was soft. The meadow's glorious in full flower. Maybe I've never seen it so rich, even with the years. The sublime, rolling architecture of the place is intact.

Gogebic County, MI

But I don't smell it. Can't hear it, not the insects or the wind or the profound quiet that often comes over the place. As much as anything, that brings me back. Guess I'll just have to try again.

Finally, not so long past the height of summer I found the harbinger of change that's always present in the Northwoods, no matter the season. Only winter ever gets seriously locked in and that not so regular or lengthy as used to be. Everything else flows quickly one to the other and sometimes due to the latitude and the embrace of Superior, verdant summer runs quicker still. Or seems to.

You just never know what you'll find around beaver ponds. Sometimes it's a whole other season. With apologies to my friends who live there, can't hardly wait…

Gogebic County, MI

Friday, August 4, 2017

Patrick O'Neill January 17, 1937 – July 31st, 2017

Pat O'Neill is dead. With that, a fierce voice for the Northwoods and stalwart champion of its young folk has passed. The poet Patrick O'Neill wrote:

Death is life.
It's why we're all here,
because of the dead.
Our homes, our clothing, our food, our compositions
are donated bodies of the once living -- gifts.
The dead are our primary caregivers.

But does a writer ever really die, so long as their words can be found? At any rate, I know some writers who hope not.

After a lengthy, productive life, poet and teacher Patrick O'Neill is gone. The Northwoods are the poorer for it. Pat didn't want any fuss. Far as I know, there won't be an obituary. I'm told there'll be a gathering tomorrow night at Nora's in Hurley, you'd best call before showing up. I'm far away from the Range, where news neither travels particularly fast nor necessarily remains sound over distance. Things change.

Should you care to read what I've written of Pat, go here. Should you like to honor him for a life well lived, go here and order one or more of his books. I have to believe arrangements are made so the sale of those will continue his good work for the youth of the region. More even than his poetry, that work speaks for Pat and will, for generations.

Patrick O'Neill spoke for himself, for the Northwoods and its many children about as fiercely and well as any man I've met. So he gets the last word here.

Save Godspeed, old man