Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Sept. 2, 2005

Lucky 13

It's funny how a seemingly small decision can have a big impact. A gift certificate for a two-week vacation in the Wisconsin North Woods that I gave my husband for Christmas years ago turned into an annual adventure that is as much a part of our summer as hot days and hot dogs.

Art had told me many times how much he enjoyed his family's summer days spent near lakes in Wisconsin when he was growing up and how he thought it would be neat if our girls could have a similar experience. So in the fall of 1992, I went into action. I obtained a list from the Three Lakes' tourist bureau and then called Art's cousin who lives in the area to see what advice she had, crossing off the ones she said were a bit "iffy."

The woman who answered my first call seemed very nice and responded immediately by sending me a brochure. Without hesitating, I reserved a cottage for two weeks for late July 1993. We enjoyed the experience so much that we bought one of the cottages a year later, and we've been back every year since.

On the first trip, Mariya had just turned 7, Katie was eight months old and Art's Mom Donna - who joins us every year - was a mere 83. That year and the following few were spent getting acquainted with the area. Art found local trout streams he liked, we checked out areas where wild berries were in plentiful supply and we tried the local restaurants. We visited museums, attended timber shows and watched water ski programs. In subsequent years, we took day trips to see sights a bit farther away - Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior, waterfalls in Wisconsin's northernmost counties and others.

Over the years, we have each found our own vacation rhythm. Art fishes every other day, the girls swim and read, Art's Mom works crossword puzzles, plays Solitaire and gives advice and I write, organize photos and read.

This summer's trip - the 13th - seemed to be a particularly good one. Or maybe I'm getting like Art's Mom, who always says that the most recent trip - or Christmas or reunion - is "the best one yet." This year we welcomed Nadja, a 16-year-old German exchange student, to our family. We arrived in Three Lakes at 2 on a Saturday afternoon and picked her up two hours later at the Rhinelander airport.

The first few days were unusually warm so we spent them in and out of the lake. Art did his usual routine of trout fishing every other day, which meant we enjoyed several meals of trout steamed on the grill.

On the days when he wasn't fishing, we headed into the Nicolet National Forest to pick berries. This definitely was the best year yet for berry picking. We picked enough to freeze more than seven pints of raspberries and nine of blackberries with enough extra to have fresh berries with ice cream almost every night. Talk about heaven on earth!

The girls and I continued our tradition of traveling through the channel of lakes with Karl, Art's cousin's husband. The day on his boat was sunny with hardly a breeze to disturb the water. Dragonflies buzzed through the wild rice and lily pads. It was the best year yet for observing water birds, too, because we were lucky enough to spot adult and baby eagles, ducks, geese, a heron, gulls and adult and baby loons.

Our day trip involved driving to Ontonagon, Michigan. Again, it was a perfect sunny day and Lake superior's cold waters were warm enough we could take off our shoes, roll up our pants legs and wade into the water. We toured a nearby copper mine and then drove to Porcupine Mountain State Park to see Lake of the Clouds. The mountains were named by the Ojibwe, who thought they were shaped like woodland porcupines.

Another bonus was seeing the Tamburitzans, a group from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Our expectations were not high, but the performance turned out to match most we've witnessed at McCain Auditorium. The program included songs, dances and costumes from various Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary and others.

Some folks think the number 13 means bad luck. I don't believe them as this year's cottage vacation was lucky 13!

Maple Lake 2003 (left): Mariya and friends Chris and Brian in boat, Donna and
Katie on bench, Art in water above pier. Nadja (right) with her Maple Lake catch.

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