Category Archives: Nature

On the island – The final chapter

Before turning in, we could see a frenzy of snow flakes flitting through the lone light in the parking lot. The weatherman was right!

By morning there was a foot or more of snow on the ground and on our car. We were glad to see that someone already had plowed the parking lot and shoveled the sidewalk.  At least we weren’t snowed in.  However, the snow continued to fall and was predicted to do so all day.

After a breakfast of donuts, we decided to drive around a bit to see how the roads were.  We had a shovel and some sand with us, so, as long as the roads were plowed, I wasn’t too worried about getting stuck.  The first task, however, was to excavate Rhonda.  (Doesn’t everybody name their cars?)  I started out by giving her a snowhawk, but she eventually emerged with her chrome dome charisma restored.

It was still snowing quite heavily, but it wasn’t windy.  Main Road, hidden under the most recently added snow, was in good condition.  After receiving greetings from Death’s Door and driving slowly past the quiet log-cabin police station, we saw that the Bitters Bar (Nelsen’s Hall) was closed but the Middle Bar and Karly’s were open.  Mann’s was open, no surprise, and it looked like the Island Cafe and Bread Company had some customers.  The drive was peaceful and the snow seemed to muffle all of the noise.  We drove on.  In my head The Eagles were singing “I got a peaceful easy feelin’.”

The beauty of the snow-covered trees kept distracting me.  It was like the Lorelei was singing her siren’s song, tempting me to swerve off the road into the woods.  I did that — sort of — by turning onto a narrow side road.  I was able to finally get out of the car and experience the snowfall the way it should be experienced, with “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.”  That just might be one of my favorite things!

Then we headed to the ferry dock.  Even in the summer I like to go to the ferry dock because, well, I just like to.  (Is that a guy thing?)  It’s interesting to look around and see what’s going on and I like to photograph some of the details of the ferries.  Snow-covered details could be just as interesting.  When we turned the corner into the loading area, men were shoveling snow off of the Arnie J. Richter.  It was about 11:30 AM and they were already preparing it for the 1:00 PM departure.  The Eyrarbakki was tied up nearby, presumably waiting out the winter.  A few blue hawsers added a bit of color to the otherwise black-and-white scene.  Further away the Washington and Robert Noble were also frozen in the ice.  A heavier snow was coming down now and the wind decided to join in.  Not really a blizzard, but a really good snowstorm! 

After warming up with a nice lunch at the Island Cafe and Bread Company, we returned to Findley’s Holiday Inn to try some cross-country skiing.  It was a challenge for me to break trail in the deep snow and I kept getting my skis tangled up in branches buried in the snow.  Knowing that discretion is the better part of getting old, we changed our plans.  We returned to the Stavkirke to see what it looked like in the fresh snow.  That was a good decision.  No one had been there all day and when we arrived at 3:30 PM, a soft white quilt of snow lay knee deep over the boardwalk.  It was still snowing and the trees we had admired the day before looked even more vibrant and alive now.  The walls of the church seemed to hide in the shadows and the roof was lost under its newly acquired covering, but the trio of medieval looking crosses stood out proudly over the entrance.

The sky was getting darker as we returned to the car.  Across the street stood the Trinity Lutheran Church, the owner and caretaker of this beautiful structure and where the idea for the Stavkirke was born.  As the snow continued to fall, the blue and white lights from the electric candelabra in front of the church provided a soft setting for our departure.

Tuesday morning — the snow had finally stopped; blue skies and bright sunshine greeted us outside the window.  We would be taking the 1 PM ferry, but still had time to see another sight or two before we had to pack up and depart.  Some amazing icicles had formed overnight, almost completely blocking the lodge doorway.  Only a couple more inches of snow had accumulated so it was easy to brush off Rhonda.  We drove back to Little Mountain.  As with the Stavkirke, no one seems to have visited since the snow started.  We had to park on the road because the driveway and parking lot were under about 20 inches of snow, a little more than the 13 inches that had been predicted.  Snow had started to fall from the trees, coaxed out by the sunshine, and it left erratic lumps and holes on the surface of the snow, as if we had just missed a huge snowball fight.

The trip to the top of Little Mountain is a long flight of steps.  Walking in the deep snow made for awkward footing on the steps.  So, before taking each one I cleared some snow off with my boot.  At the top of the hill, the snow sparkled as the sun smiled through the trees.  The journey’s not quite complete because an observation tower awaits, begging to be climbed — the final leg of the ascent.  The view to the north from the tower was wonderful —  frozen lake and islands in the distance, forest and fields in the foreground, all topped off with white snow against a backdrop of blue sky.  We stood there quite a while, not saying much.

Even with our unplanned extra day, or probably because of it, we didn’t feel ready to leave.  But we were looking forward to one aspect of our return trip, another ferry ride through the icy waters of Death’s Door. 

So long Washington Island. See you in July!

*  *  *  *  * 

Many of my family and friends have been to Washington Island, so it was difficult for me to edit this story down.  As a reward for making it this far, here’s a little history that might provide some smiles. 

My late brother-in-law (Harold “Pudge” Sustachek) loved Washington Island.  He started going there as a child and every year he caught a bad case of “island fever” and looked forward to “another day in paradise.”  He left us thousands of photos to remember those years.  Here are a few that he sent me in an email quite a few years ago. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I first went to the island in 1967.  The two photos above on the left are from that trip.  Since I’m easier to spot than Waldo, I won’t bother to point out which one I am in those photos.  The body of water in the first picture is Jackson Harbor, which shows up in a few photos in the earlier posts.  I would like to point out, however, that the sweet, smiley, wonderful blond in the third picture first came with me to the island in 1968.  She is still by my side.  I am truly a lucky man.

And finally, if you add 50 years to the 1967 picture, you end up with the group that made it to Washington Island in 2017.

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