Welcome to another edition of that perennial favourite of the internet, my blog! Don't applaud all at once now, not that any of you are... at all... even remotely... not even a little bit... Anyway, moving on from that, I hope you enjoy this blog and all the ones that I write, because its all for you dear readers, every word.
A journey of much hardship lead me to the writing of this blog. Seriously, it has been hard work but then I always go the distance to bring you the highest quality blogs on the planet. Truly, it has been difficult.
I had to spend a weekend in a lakeside cabin, fishing off a pontoon boat, hanging out at a beach waist deep in the tepidly warm lake water. Now I can see you're feeling my pain, right now. It was extremely hard, dear readers, eating freshly grilled meats, fish and delectable cheeses by the still, still waters of a pristine lake.
So, maybe it wasn't that hard, but all sarcasm and humour aside, its maybe not to everyone's taste either. The cabin is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, there's no cable TV, there's no supermarket nearby, there's also no pub or bar either, so you have to bring your own alcoholic beverages with you, “fellas”. The lake's no swimming pool and the mosquitoes come out in the delicate hour between afternoon and night, regular as clockwork.
So this place isn't for everyone, but this is the sort of place, where a fair portion of the Midwest decides to holiday (or vacation to use the local vernacular) in. Now if you think about it, its not really a surprise, many Midwestern states are not covered by huge amounts of urban sprawl but large amounts of agricultural land, small towns, forests and areas which could easily be described as wilderness. Midwesterners are surrounded by nature (outside the big cities at least) and therefore filters by osmosis into their lives (which includes by extension, my life).
Here in the Mid-West, weekends and national holidays are made for lakes, cabins, fishing, canoeing, inner tubing down lazy rivers, camping and as Ratty said in “The Wind in the Willows” “simply messing around in boats!” As I was writing the first draft of this blog, I was further north than I normally am and was sat writing on a dock jutting out into the lake as my wife fished in her aunt and uncle's boat moored at said dock. The sun was still high although not as powerful as it had been earlier in the day. The breeze made gentle waves on the sun dappled surface of the water, fluffy white clouds dotted the sky and everything had descended into a level of quiet that we urban dwellers never experience.
It was a moment trapped in time, and although I was nursing a major cold throughout the weekend, it was a wonderful moment. There is something magical about this landscape, not witches and wizards or Native American shamen, but the magic that lies in stillness and peace and a world not overly interfered with by the hand of man.
This magical realm is on the edge of an area known as “The Northwoods”, a roughly defined area of the Midwest found towards the North of the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and if the Upper Peninsula is included, Michigan as well. This area does not appear to have any official borders or definition but it does have a unique feeling all to itself.
The landscape here, perhaps obviously, is defined by myriad lakes and dense woodland, with farmland dotted in between. This is a country on the edge of the wilderness, with an ancient feel. Little urban development has come here, save small towns with unfamiliar names and the services and fast food restaurants that grow up around exits on the inter-state. Once you escape the fast lane and start down back country roads you encounter a country that is much as it was when the Native Americans first fished here or when the French trappers, the “voyageurs” turned up in their canoes.
This is the land of Paul Bunyan, a legendary lumberjack of giant proportions who tramped around these parts with his equally gigantic blue ox, Babe. The lakes here are said to be the remains of his gargantuan footprints filled in with water. Mr Bunyan's likeness can be seen throughout Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is quite common to stop at a gas (petrol) station and see statues of giant lumberjacks towering above you, also at truck stops, roadside services and sometimes just standing by lakes. Giant cow statues can also be seen and huge chairs ready for Paul Bunyan himself to take a seat (or for tourists to take pictures sat on whichever is more likely to happen).
These are not the only emblems of the Northwoods. There are the town water towers easily seen from the road, rising high in the air decorated in bright colours like some medieval standard hanging high above their town. In Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, there is one even shaped like a fishing bobber. On the subject of giant fishing items, in Hayward, Wisconsin, there is 143ft long (that's 44 metre long) giant jumping Muskellunge, which people can actually walk around in and look out the mouth of. The Muskellunge is a huge fish native to this area of which more later.
That brings me to fishing and, as it happens, my mostly unsuccessful attempts at this pursuit. Growing up in the U.K., I never particularly warmed to the sport, as it there mainly seemed to consist, to me at least, sitting in the pouring rain by a pond for ten hours, then catching a fish put into the pond by humans for just that purpose, taking a picture with said fish and then throwing it back in the water. This (with apologies to British anglers) has always seemed to be an exercise in futility. Here it is different.
Fish here can be kept after they are caught, for one, which I'm sure probably does happen somewhere in the British Isles, here it appears to be the norm. That's not to say that they're aren't limits to the amount of fish that can be caught, there are, enforced in Wisconsin by the state's “Department of Natural Resources”. That being said, these limits are generous enough to allow for the catching of a myriad of the smaller fish, a small number of bass (so long as they're over a certain weight) and even Pikes which are often called “Northerns” here in the Mid-west.
I am not, it has to be said, in the habit of catching any of them, that is not to say that while I have been in the United States, I haven't tried. I have fished for many hours now, both at the cabin and back on lakes and ponds near Madison. However, I must confess, if there's such a thing as a fishing gene, I don't seem to be in possession of it. Maybe I don't have the patience for it or perhaps I just don't “set” the hook just right when I do get a bite.
My wife does a lot better, but then she was born in a town on the banks of the Mississippi and has been fishing, in some form or other, since she was a child. My wife's uncle tries to give me tips as we fishes off the side of his and Kelly's auntie's boat (its their cabin too), giving me rods with fancy lures on telling me what's wrong with my cast. I persevere but I don't think I'll be landing Muskies anytime soon.
Fishing is important in these parts, as I have mentioned, the abundant waterholes here are a magnet for anglers from across the world. The Great Lakes themselves bring fishermen in their droves. It's therefore fitting that the “Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame” (yes, there really is such an establishment) is located in Northern Wisconsin in the small town of Hayward. This is the reason that there's a giant muskellunge there that I mentioned earlier.
The Muskellunge is the fish that draws people to this area from across the world. The “Muskie” is the fabled “Fish of 10,000 Casts”, a massive fish of the Pike family, which does indeed look like a pike but a pike that has spent time training with Arnold Schwarzenegger (1970s ripped Arnie at his bodybuilding peak not the later “Governator” years). The Muskie is also the state fish of Wisconsin and is the ultimate “one that got away”. Some people may fish these waters for a lifetime and never catch one.
This, of course is something that adds to the elusive eeriness of this place. This is a place of light and shadows, not darkness mind you, but a quiet stillness that can make you feel very small and in awe of this landscape that has been this way since the dawn of creation. If you are up very early in the morning and the water is still on the lake, you might fancy you glimpse a hunting party of Native Americans moving through the trees on the shore or French “Voyageurs” crossing the lake quietly in a canoe. The sound of distant thunder is Paul Bunyan massive voice talking somewhere in the distance. These are the shadows of the Northwoods, echoes of eternity, glimpses of a past the land has not quite forgotten. A place to be still and reflect but also fish, hunt, boat and, in my case, sit and write by the water.
This is a place that brings peace, so its understandable that so many Midwesterners come here on vacation. In contrast many British people visit America, just to go to Disneyland or New York or L.A. I have to say that I think you're missing out, next time you're thinking of traveling here, trade in the House of Mouse and white knuckle rides for a cabin on the lake and a gentle splash around on the beach. Come on, you know it makes sense.
Until next time, Goodbye Geekranters.