Then and Now: Hatchery Creek

I’m not done recording details about the visit to Hayward, Wisconsin. The Chamber should be paying me for this…

then (1987)
Now (2016)

It was thirty years ago but I remember it  like it was yesterday. Two moms, one with two little boys and one with two little girls, needed the kind of break from routine and stressful lives that only nature can provide. They were campers so they loaded up and traveled to an out of the way spot. It was an abandoned fish hatchery, state land I suppose. The cement tanks that had been embedded in the ground to harbor the young fingerlings had been removed and the field grasses had grown to cover the areas. The small road, two tracks with grass growing in the middle, crossed a stone bridge which covered a creek, Hatchery Creek. Chalk it up to mid-westerners to avoid having to name things, by just calling them what they are.


I was one of the moms. I had driven down the road one day looking for a place of childhood memories.

Sundays, with the whole family in the car, my dad would stop on the way home to look at the fish, in particular the large sturgeon who lived in his own special tank. Other tanks were rippling with the motion of the young fish waiting to be released into northern Wisconsin lakes and streams.

But in 1987 it was obvious that the program had been discontinued and the sign indicated that the natural stream that ran through the property was being restored as a trout habitat. There were no buildings left, no signs of recent activity, just a beautiful meadow surrounded by hills decorated with hardwoods and pines. It was the perfect place to camp. I could hardly wait.

In this day of protected lands, designated camping spots and required permits to camp, it is hard to imagine someone just picking a place in the woods and deciding it’s the place for them. If we were trespassing, I didn’t know it. Plus, we were gutsy women who loved to make independent decisions, and we made the decision of where to put the tent, where to make our campfire and told our kids where they could explore.  That’s what they did all afternoon.


There is something so compelling about a creek. It’s more personal and approachable than a river. Rippling and clear, musical, fordable, a creek begs you to follow it up river because it has to start somewhere. What would that look like? This particular stream was easiest to follow if you got in it. The banks were sometimes purposely undercut to provide hiding places for fish and the grass and bushes on the banks were tall. A person who didn’t know the stream was there might have a hard time finding it. But you could walk in the middle in water never more than knee deep and every now and then there would be stones or boulders to stand or sit on. The kids were having the greatest time and we were watching, with cameras in hand.


I had to work my way through head high foliage to get to the place where it looked like water was welling up out of the bottom of the creek. It may not have been the birthplace of the stream but it was certainly adding the major portion of the flow. I have a weird fear of holes spewing an endless flow of water. If I stepped in there would I disappear, falling endlessly like Alice down the rabbit hole, only this hole is full of water which kind of rules out being able to breathe?

I’m again back in childhood, ice skating on the farm pond and hearing Dad tell us to stay away from a certain area where springs kept the ice thin. Springs were mysterious, like faucets that never get turned off.


The rest of our camping trip was spent cooking supper, sitting around the campfire with visiting grandparents, and sleeping through the night with one eye open. It was “that season” of the year and our tick phobia was full blown by the time we left, nevertheless it was a memorable time for me, and that is why I revisit Hatchery Creek most every time I go home to Hayward.

Two weeks ago daughter Esther and I went to the area where we had camped and observed the ritual of wading in the creek. She was the youngest of the four children present and does not remember the time and the place as clearly as I do. It has changed. It is now an access point for a series of trails including the Birkebeiner ski trail. It is used year round by many people who want to hike or single track through the woods, or skiers practicing their hill climbing and cross country skills. People do not camp there and I feel a bit sneaky (and smug, and fortunate) for having done so. The creek is still flowing, although it seems to have taken second place to the footpaths through the woods. I know where that spring is. I still find it mysterious and I still wonder how it keeps coming, and coming, and coming…

A short walk up a trail
woodland beauty
even in death…

There Is a House…

wp-1471628511978.jpgIt sits at the top of a hill in a midwestern town. It has been there for a hundred years or more and I can imagine the stories that took place within its walls and grounds. I think I want to live there.  Maybe not forever, but for long enough to see if I love it as much as I think I might.

In this large house with stairways and many bedrooms I would have places for all my favorite guests, and I would have some secret places just for me. I know it must have at least one hidden room somewhere.  I would make each bedroom special with places to sit, to sleep and to read while looking out a window.

It has a large kitchen with lots of light coming in numerous windows. A cool breeze blows through the central hallways because it’s on a hill and surrounded by shade trees – the currents of air are refreshing and full of magic smells like clover flowers and mown grass. Outside the kitchen door would be a garden with a pool. I would grow herbs and salads and water lillies.  On my tall fence I would grow grape vines and in late summer there would be a lot of grapes.


In the winter I would sit in the great front room by the fireplace with my wool and knitting needles. I would invite women to come and knit with me. In the summer I would sit on the front porch. I would call to my friends walking by and ask them to sit and have ice tea with me. I would flavor it with mint from my garden.  There would be a bouquets of hydrangeas everywhere.


But being old and full of stories, means that this house is drafty, poorly wired and has some floors that are not quite straight or level. It would need lots of paint, and constant attention to the roof. It’s fireplaces and chimneys would need cleaning, and it’s plumbing would be less than desired. Would I love all that? I don’t know, but I would like to live in it and see.

Just a dream…


Lake a Day Challenge: Company Lake

This is the last post of my challenge since this visit to the northwoods has come to an end.  This lake was a surprise for me. Although the road my sister-in-law and I were biking had been around forever, and was named Company Lake Road, I hadn’t been aware of how pretty it was or of the lake it was named for. The lake was breathtaking in the morning light when we came past it. Unfortunately I had forgotten my camera and had to come back later in the day for photos. It was still pretty gorgeous.

I have to say that this spot is typical of the beauty in the Hayward area and the northwoods in general.  These small lakes, marshes and streams are common. Fish, frogs, turtles, cranes, crows, eagles, geese, ducks, swans, chipmunks, skunks, badgers, otters, beaver, fox, wolves, bear, deer… you name it, it’s here and can often be seen close up.  I will admit that I did not get wet in Company Lake but I have an excuse. I will suffer with mosquitoes, but I will not go close to poison ivy, and the bank where I took these pictures was full of it.  Just enjoy these pictures of late summer in north Wisconsin and know that it is a wonderful place to be.


Lake a Day Challenge: Nelson Lake and Totogatic River

Another creative place name as we approach Nelson Lake Dam

There is a large lake a few miles north of Hayward and grandfather’s farm that has a story connected with it. I loved hearing my dad tell me about the days when there was a valley there instead of a lake. He was very young when conservationist Frank Nelson proposed a dam to be built on the Totogatic River to create “a lake or backwater, suitable for fish and which would furnish a refuge and breeding ground for all kinds of wildlife.” Dad had memories of accompanying his father who was helping to remove as much timber from the land to be flooded as possible.  The dam was completed in 1936 and Nelson Lake was created. It’s hard to imagine the valley that lies beneath its waters now.  Much of the shoreline is wild and undeveloped and the lake is known for excellent fishing.

This wild jumble of blooms completely obscured the stair down to the restrooms.

The park at the dam has been a favorite picnic spot for my parent’s generation, for my generation and hopefully for the next generation. I have done my part by taking my niece and nephew there to explore. It was a “must visit” spot for my lake of the day challenge.

Not real sure about the green water…

Mom and I drove out and found the park a little overgrown but much the same as we had known it. Wild sumac and flowers covered the bank by the dam and the boat landing was busy with fishermen coming in from a day on the lake. There was a lot of algae bloom in the water which made it a little uninviting as far as swimming was concerned. I stayed with the one foot dip. But the views were fantastic and after reading some of the history of the lake here , I was more appreciative of the part the lake and its accompanying flowage played in local commerce.  There is a large island in the middle of the lake accessible only by boat and I think exploring it is going on the list for my next visit.

Nelson Lake behind the dam, island in view.
Water is high now and there is good flow going over the dam.
The Totogatic River downstream from the dam and highway bridge.

Lake a Day Challenge: Spider Lake

A spider is probably not anyone’s favorite image to attach to a memory or a place, but when you grow up calling a place Spider Lake, you eventually quit thinking about real spiders and just think about the lake.  This lake is really a chain of lakes, four to be exact, connected by short rivers.  For many years one of my cousins has owned the Spider Lake Golf Club and Resort and it was only recently I learned that it is actually located on Clear Lake in the Spider Lake chain.  Big Spider (ugh!), Little Spider and North Lake make up the other three.

Me and Spider Lake in rustic setting

My visit this summer was prompted in part by a reunion of my cousin’s family, as well as my own. This was the day we met at Spider Lake Golf Club for a wonderful dinner cooked on the grill and lots of family fellowship.  Cousins from as far away as Alaska and Florida (me) got reacquainted with each other, and fed mosquitoes. It seems the mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with everywhere near the water or woods in Wisconsin. The young people hunted frogs, played catch and got underfoot. The rest of us visited and ate.  It’s kind of a standard theme among us. Always have food.

One of the most interesting activities at our gathering was making an African Praise Poem about mom.  Mom is one of three surviving siblings in her family of seven and a favorite among all the cousins.  After dinner we “poets” and mom talked together about the important events of mom’s life and the memories we had surrounding those times. There were tears. All these recollections were recorded and will be arranged, poetically and mysteriously, in the form of the African Praise Poem. We’ll all get to see it when daughter Esther puts the finishing touches on it. We asked mom how it felt to be the subject of an interactive poem like this and she admitted that it felt a little like being at her own memorial service, but not a bad thing overall.

I think Spider Lake is known for being a good fishing lake, and there are resorts and cabins available there still. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful lake.

Poet and photographerfor this shoot, my daughter Esther
Possibly the oldest, my Uncle Wendell (with two l’s) and the youngest, Hazel Erikson.
Frog hunting
Family, food, fun.

#5: Lake Hayward

It’s not just about the lakes here in northern Wisconsin. It’s about the whole outdoors experience. Part of it, for those of us who grew up here, is berry picking. I’m talking about serious berry picking, where you gear up with two layers of pants, long sleeves, a belt to hang your berry bucket on, head protection against the deer flies, lots of bug repellant and your sixth sense of where not to go, where not to step, what not to touch.

We went berry picking this morning because my brother had reported seeing bountiful berry patches on our farmland near Round Lake. He had been cutting trails in the overgrown woods and fields with his flail mower (he does this for fun, yeah???) and wanted to take us out in his Kubota tractor to where we could just stand in the trail and pick all the blackberries we wanted. Sounded good. We went early because of forecasted severe weather coming our way.

Beautiful fruit. Wicked, brutal thorns.

Mom and I drove out to the field/woods in her SUV and met my brother and his wife. We were startled by a graceful buck deer that ran across our path. We were also aware that there were bear in the area, as seen on my brother’s woods cam, but thankfully we didn’t flush any of them out this time. We also saw large flocks of Canada geese and several sandhill cranes in the harvested oat field we drove through. After hunting for a while we did find what we were really looking for, berries, hiding amidst the goldenrod and pines. Unfortunately, the storm found us and we had to cut our picking short. But now we know where they are, and we’re not telling.

Goldenrod. I’ve never seen so much of it in one place.

Today’s lake is Lake Hayward, which is formed by a dam on the Namekagon right in the town of Hayward. Here the town has its beach park and I remember many picnics and swims in this spot. I remember it being a lot larger than it really is, oh well. It is close to another Hayward landmark, the “big fish”.  Hayward being the Musky Capital of the World someone had to build a giant muskelunge for tourists to get the full experience.  If you want to, you can climb the stairs and view the town from the fish’s mouth, something you don’t get to do everyday.  Today’s photo credit goes to Mom who accompanied me. wp-1470860401413.jpg

Both feet wet in Lake Hayward, holding lilypad.
The mouth of the fish (nightmare material, maybe)
And the tail, with a person in the picture for perspective. It’s big. 

#5: Namekagon River

Hayward started as a logging town in a river valley. The river was and is the Namekagon, now part of the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway. It’s about 100 miles long and has its name from the Ojibwe Indian word for “river at the place abundant with sturgeons”. The lumberjacks used the river to float logs down to the mills for processing, which of course is no longer necessary since we have roads and trucks. All that’s left of this part of history is the logrolling competitions and that championship contest is usually held in Hayward.

a great use for old railroad beds

My trek to the Namekagon started at Par Place Condominiums where I am staying. These condos are built on the “used to be RoyNona Golf Course” which is also the “used to be Roy Smith farm”. Roy Smith was my grandfather.  The river is fairly close to the farm/golf course/condos, so my sister-in-law MP and I decided to bike there.  Our route started down a trail on an old railroad bed.  I actually remember when trains ran the tracks there and the engineer would wave to me and blow the train whistle.  It hurts to say this.

These trails are all over the Hayward area and are used by snowmobiles and skiiers in the winter, bikes and hikers and ATV’s in the summer. The trails circling the town are paved, unlike this one, which is unpaved,peaceful and straight, lined with goldenrod and blackberry bushes. The breeze rattles the leaves on the poplar trees so there is a steady, soft white noise which belies all the motion you see when you glance at them. About half a mile on the trail brought us to Airport Road (another creative place name). Another half mile and we were at a small park on the river, across the road from the small, mostly private airport.

wp-1470862537949.jpgWe parked our bikes and walked down to the boat landing. The Namekagon is a great river for canoeing, kayaking,  tubing and fishing, although I do not vouch for the fishing part. I have done the other three. There has been a lot of rain this summer, and even some flooding, so the river is high and swift. There are a few white water places but a great deal of it is like this picture – tranquil appearing. Any time we do a river trip we see wildlife, eagles, deer, otters, and bear.  And wildflowers are everywhere. Floating down the Namekagon is one of my favorite things to do.

Another one foot dip. The water was cool and the mosquitoes were fierce so we didn’t stay long. wp-1470862505619.jpg

#4: Smith Lake

wp-1470693279926.jpgI’ve often wondered why people who name lakes can’t come up with something a little more creative than Round Lake or Smith Lake.  They probably weren’t thinking long range.  Since Smith is my maiden name I’ve asked if Smith Lake had any connection with our family  but there doesn’t seem to be, in spite of it being so close to my grandfather’s farm, just outside Hayward.  It’s a small, but beautiful lake that seems to be lined up with other small marshes, creeks and ponds.

Mom and I were due for a trip to the library and Smith Lake was in the same direction.  We made it our outing for the day’s challenge.  We drove to the small park with a boat landing and I took off the shoes, once again unprepared to actually swim.  I quickly waded in while my photographer snapped a few pics. Walking out, I  noticed a not so great smell which led me to examine the drifts of weed that had washed up on shore.  Large, black snails in great numbers were decomposing among the detritus, looking a little like a plague of some sort. We didn’t stay long.  (I’m thinking this was a temporary, seasonal thing and it wasn’t keeping others from enjoying the lake in their kayaks.)

The snails didn’t make it into the picture.  Well, maybe a few of them did, in the foreground.

On our way home we drove by one of the marshy areas that has been a cranberry farm for years.  This area has several cranberry marshes and a neighboring town is even known for its Cranberry Festival in the fall.  Not many things grow well enough in this part of Wisconsin to provide a financially reasonable crop but cranberries come close.

#3: Boating on Round Lake

wp-1470780259001.jpgWe had a gorgeous day for this outing – clear sky, warm air and warm water.  My brother had agreed to take some teens tubing on our favorite lake.  Round Lake is a large, deep, spring fed, recreational lake about eight miles west of Hayward.  Our family farm was  only a quarter mile from Round Lake and our childhood memories are pretty much dominated by the times we spent there, swimming, skiing, fishing and boating.  It is known for it’s clear, unpolluted water.  I don’t know it’s present status but when I was younger, it was known to be clean enough to drink.

We met the kids at the boat landing and put the tubes in the water. I don’t want to say that my age is responsible, but within ten minutes of being there I had gotten my leg tangled in the tow rope and fallen down in the shallow water, clothes and all.  But, hey, I was there to get wet, right?

These girls play hard…

The tubing was fun to watch and the kids had a great time being viciously competitive. After they learn how to hang on, the only real excitement is in knocking someone else off or flipping their tube over.  At the mid-point of the afternoon we parked the boat out in the middle and spent some time diving off the bow and swimming. It was as refreshing as any of my memories, and that is unusual since memories often take on a life of their own.



This time I really got wet.


#2: Delta Diner and the White River

A couple of years ago my family started talking about trips they had made to the Delta Diner, a restaurant in a streetcar, out in the middle of the woods. I had never been there so Mom had it on the list of things I should do this visit. We got right to it – breakfast on Day 2.

My sister-in-law MP, Mom and me, arranged in increasing size.

Since I’m mentioning breakfast, I will tell you that the Delta Diner is not just another greasy spoon place by the road.  It is a destination.  It has gotten media attention and been touted as one of the most interesting places to eat in our neck of the woods.  It is small (duh, it’s a streetcar, really) with a bar overlooking the grill, and a row of booths on either side of the door.  People wait outside on picnic tables for their seating.  We came for the breakfast menu, which also included some sandwiches and desserts.  I had been waiting to try Mom’s favorite, Norwegian pancakes with jalapeno.  I was not disappointed in them either.

In calling this “lake a day” challenge I have to explain that I have a very loose meaning of the word lake. It is any body of water, excluding mud puddles or the kitchen sink.  Today it was all about a stream called the White River.  It is small in some places but since the watershed looks really big on the map I’m sure there are some wider spots.  The place where our road crossed over was definitely not a park, but just a place where the pavement allowed us to pull over without obstructing traffic.  There was a view of the stream that was flowing swiftly into the largest culvert I have ever seen which carried the water under the road.  A canoe or kayak could easily ride through. wp-1470585404474.jpg

I was not the first person to make my way down to the water’s edge but I wouldn’t say there was a path either.  Up here in the northwoods we always have to think about poison ivy.  There is also the possibility of losing footing and sliding into the stream and I was very aware of that.  Photo credits on this day go to my brother Dennis who was handicapped by the direction the sun was hitting us.  This was another one foot dip, although the water was clear and only about four feet deep. I need to start wearing my swimsuit everywhere I go and traveling with a towel.

The sun is bright, making me very white. One foot in the water…