Outer Island Lighthouse and the Research Project that Wasn’t

Outer Island Lighthouse in 2012.

Last month, I meandered out to the most remote spot in Wisconsin: Outer Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior. Now, the folks on Washington Island off the Door County Peninsula in Lake Michigan might argue that they live in the state’s most remote spot. I guess it’s all in how you define “remote.”

The Milwaukee Journal gives Outer Island this distinction. However, the rest of the internet says it’s Washington Island.

To check on which place is really the remotest, I consulted with the Wisconsin State Cartographer’s Office. Jim Lacey, associate state cartographer, said he has not tried to define such a spot in the state yet. Is it defined as the farthest outpost of civilization that a person can easily reach, or is it the place farthest from any roads and the hardest to reach?

We went back and forth a couple of times about a worthy definition. Lacey agreed that it wasn’t very hard to get to Washington Island – all a person needed to do is pay for a ferry, drive their car onto it, and they’re set.

The spiral staircase that leads up to the top of the tower.

Outer Island, on the other hand, is twenty-eight miles from the port of Bayfield, Wisconsin, has no ferry and no roads. To get there, a person either needs to have their own boat, spend a couple days paddling a kayak, or pay a small fortune for a water taxi. A water taxi is basically a private motorboat ride. That’s how I traveled to the island last month.

Lacey said, “To sum it up, I’m afraid I don’t have a very satisfying answer for you! I think this is one of those situations where a deceptively simple question gets very complicated, very quickly.”

But, to my way of thinking, the difficulty of access and the lack of civilized conveniences makes Outer Island the “winner” for the remote spot title.

Anyway – I had a great time camping on the island. Visiting the place again reminded me of a research project, which never quite worked at the lighthouse, in part, due to the island’s remoteness.

Nine years ago as part of my job with Wisconsin Sea Grant, I accompanied Chin Wu, a researcher from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to Outer Island. His goal was to install a webcam atop the lighthouse to track the development of rogue waves and wave patterns off the island’s coast.

Hooking the webcam up to the solar power grid on the lighthouse.

The National Park Service was cooperating with the project, so they drove our small research team out to the island for the installation. Once at the island, the park service staffer let us into the lighthouse and led us to the top of the tower.

We installed the camera and plugged it into the solar power system atop the lighthouse. Thankfully, the day was calm and warm, so hanging around outside ninety feet in the air wasn’t too scary.

I took some great photos, but they were never published because the project didn’t pan out. Why? The webcam needed a cell phone signal in order to transmit the photos. Back then, the cell phone system wasn’t powerful enough on the island for this to work.

The doomed webcam.

Even smart people need to learn things the hard way, sometimes, I guess. It just goes to show that science doesn’t always work out despite the best of intentions. But these photos are too cool to waste, so here you go. Mr. Wu has since gone onto conduct other projects in the Apostle Islands, which were much more successful, such as this WISC-Watch website, which provides tons of info about wave and wind conditions.

The Plaque We Found Inside the Wall

Many people who were not fighting for their lives during the pandemic spent their time remodeling their homes. Just do a search on “home remodeling during the pandemic” and you’ll see what I mean. People had more time, motivation, and money to remodel since they couldn’t travel.

Russ and I were no exception. We decided to remodel our kitchen, a dark brown dungeon that was probably last remodeled in the mid-1980s. We didn’t have much room to work with, so we didn’t enlarge its footprint — we simply brought it into the current century by replacing the cabinets, countertop, sink, and backsplash. We also painted a few window frames.

It looks marvelous, I must say. We went for a modern farmhouse look, and I think we succeeded. However, I’m not going to post any photos because I feel weird about having you all know what my kitchen looks like.

What I will post a photo of is something mysterious we found inside one of the kitchen walls. One of our last jobs involved removing some old Z-brick tile (the stuff that looks like white bricks) on a furnace chimney that runs through the kitchen and retiling it with stone. We hired someone to do the work for us.

When we came back home from a walk, the tile guy said he had something he wanted to show us. He’d found it in the wall surrounding the chimney. He held up a dusty yellowing wooden plaque. It featured paper with burnt edges – a technique popular in the 1970s, with a picture and prayer associated with St. Francis of Assisi.

We weren’t quite sure what to make of this find. We aren’t Catholic or particularly religious. Russ, for one, was disappointed they didn’t find a hoard of gold instead!

After cleaning the plaque and pondering on it for a while, we decided it would not go back inside the wall. But we wouldn’t throw it out, either. That would seem a shame since it’s part of the history of the house. Instead, on the back of it, we wrote in sharpie marker when and where the plaque was found along with our names. We plan to hang it up in the attic so that it will remain with the house – it will be hidden, but not too hidden.

I wonder how many others who remodeled their homes this past year found unexpected treasures in their walls?

Turning a Magazine Story into a Poem

My poem, “Ojibwe Horses” was just published in “The Nemadji Review,” a literary magazine published by students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. If you’d like to read my poem, look for it on page 8 in the PDF found here. As far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that a horse is on the cover.

You may recall that I wrote a story about this rare breed of horses for “Lake Superior Magazine.” (Read about that process here.) It’s become one of my missions lately to increase public awareness about these lovely animals and their plight. To expand the reach of my magazine story, I decided to write a poem based on it. I had never done this before. Shrinking a 2,560-word story into a 290-word poem was not easy! But it was a fun exercise and it reminded me about the differences between poetry and prose. How could I distill the essence of my experience with the horses? How could I offer captivating images and feelings? What was most important to say?

Getting the poem to this point took several rewrites, one rejection, and more rewrites, but I think it works. I sent it to one of the Ojibwe horse owners who I interviewed for my story, and she loved it, which is the best compliment I could ever hope for.

This is the first time I’ve been published in “The Nemadji Review.” We had a virtual book launch reading for the journal recently. Seeing the young crew who worked on it made me feel like the love of literature is alive and well in the next generation. It will be exciting to follow the careers of these talented students.

Back in the early-1980s, I was part of a group of students at the University of Minnesota who started a literary magazine for undergraduates. To the best of my recollection, we named it “Undercurrents.” It was a small publication, 5 x 7 inches, with a blue cardstock cover and a stapled binding. It contained art, poetry, and stories.

I only worked on the first issue. I can’t remember if “Undercurrents” continued after that or not. I think I stopped participating because I wasn’t satisfied with the process we used to choose the journal content. The process probably wasn’t objective enough for me, or maybe poems I really liked didn’t make the cut, or maybe both! But that initial experience is probably what made me comfortable stepping up to coordinate literary contests later in life for the Lake Superior Writers group.

I just did a search, and the U of MN has a literary journal for undergraduates now, called “Tower.” I’m glad to see what we started has continued, even if it has a different name now.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the poem. And if you’re a writer, I would encourage you to connect with local community colleges and universities – many open submissions to their literary journals to community members, not only students. It’s a way to support learning by students and could lead to a nice publication credit on your literary resume.

My Mouth is Full of Plastic

My discard pile of ill-fitting aligners.

My mouth is full of plastic and I’m happy about it! I am also not alone.

A few years ago, I noticed I wasn’t able to chew my food like usual. My back teeth didn’t close all the way. I sometimes also bit my tongue. Ouch! A few of my front teeth were getting chipped, which began to worry me.

My dentist suggested I see an orthodontist. My dentist thought my front teeth were chipping because I was using them for grinding my food instead of using my molars. Front teeth aren’t made for that.

So, I went to the same orthodontist who put braces on my two teenage sons. That felt weird. Here I was, a 50-something lady seeing an orthodontist. I thought I was long past the age when I would need to do that.

Mr. Orthodontist said my front teeth were too straight up and down, which wasn’t allowing my back teeth to close all the way. Now, you need to understand that as a youngster, I had 16 teeth pulled so that I would not need to have braces. Some were baby teeth, and a few were permanent teeth. I didn’t have them pulled all at once. It was more like four per year every few years. This gave enough room in my small jaw for my big teeth. My permanent teeth grew in straight and lovely.

But now, forty years later, I couldn’t chew! Somehow, I felt betrayed – as if my parents’ plan for my young teeth hadn’t worked. But, I guess it did. The original plan lasted forty years. That’s pretty good.

If I had to have braces now, so be it. The ability to chew one’s food is sort of important.

At first Mr. Orthodontist thought I would need metal braces. But after hearing my somewhat vocal protests to this idea and taking all sorts of scans and x-rays, he decided that Invisaligns would work. I was so relieved! If I had to have braces, I would rather not have the metal ones. Looking like a teenager at my age just did not float my boat.

As I mentioned above, I was not alone. Apparently, needing braces in your elder years is a “thing,” especially in Hollywood. I am in the company of famous folks like Faye Dunaway and Tom Cruise. They all had braces in their adult years.

And, according to the American Dental Association, in 2012, one million adults had seen an orthodontist in the U.S. and Canada. This was a 40% increase from 1989. In 2014, that number increased to 1.4 million.

These stats made me feel a bit better. So, I got my first sets of plastic aligners, but of course, it was not to go smoothly. There were several sets and I was to wear each for two weeks. At the orthodontist’s office, after affixing some teeth-colored “anchors” to my teeth, the technician put in my first set of aligners. She had a hard time getting the top one to fit on my back upper right molars, but after some futzing, she made it stick.

When I got home and took my aligners out to eat lunch and then put the back in, I couldn’t get the top one to fit on those pesky back molars. I tried a bunch of different techniques, to no avail. After a few days of this, I called the orthodontist’s office and relayed my plight. They told me to just keep wearing the tray with the back molar part flapping around for two weeks. Sometimes the trays came with small defects, they said. They were sure the next trays would fit.

So, I wore the defective set for two weeks. I eagerly freed my next set from its small plastic bag and tried them on, only to be met with dismay. The top set didn’t fit either! I immediately called the ortho office and complained. They set up an appointment for me. When I went to the office, they couldn’t get the second set to fit, either. This relieved me. At least my technique wasn’t the problem. They also had me try the third set on.

Those didn’t fit, either.

Now it was time to bring in the big guns. Mr. Orthodontist himself was called over.  He watched the technician try in vain to fit the tray to my top teeth. He sat back, flummoxed. “I’ve never had this happen before!” he said.

He asked if I had worn my aligners when I drank anything hot. No.

He had no choice but to order me another set. The technician scanned my teeth again. She also made a plastic retainer for my top teeth and had me continue to wear the second week’s aligner on my bottom teeth. The technician said it would take about a month before my new aligners were ready.

Ugh!

When the day of my new aligners finally arrived, I approached the orthodontist’s office, full of hope. That hope quickly disappeared when they couldn’t get the new aligner to fit on my upper teeth. After some frustration and futzing, we decided the problem was due to the weird shape of one of my teeth. The technician shaved off the associated offending divot from the aligner, and presto – it fit!

She also shaved off the same part from the next few sets of aligners. To make up for lost time, the orthodontist put me on an accelerated wear schedule, switching from two weeks per set to 10 days.

So, the good news is, my aligners fit now, and I can already tell my bite is better. Now, only another 16 months to go!

Post-Vaccination Reunions: Why I Expect my Grandchild to Run Away From me

The adorable, incomparable Francine in 2020. Image credit: Amanda Jo Dahl-Sales

Videos that show happy reunions between grandparents and grandchildren keep popping up on my social media feeds and in newscasts. With the Center for Disease Control’s blessing, once grandparents wait until their immune systems are fully protected by their vaccinations, they have the green light to hug their children and grandchildren.

Many of these reunions happen outdoors. The grandparents surprise their grandchildren at a bus stop or on a sidewalk. The children pause a moment to realize what’s happening and then run with squeals of joy into their grandparent’s open arms. I always tear up at these.

I am looking forward to such a reunion myself. My target date is April 15, two weeks after my second vaccination. But I have no illusions that my grandchild will even recognize me. I expect she may even scream and run away!

Francine was less than a year old once COVID hit and we all retreated to our individual lairs. Since then, we’ve visited a couple of times outdoors with masks on. We’ve computer Zoomed with Francine and her parents at least monthly, sometimes more. But it’s not the same as spending in-person time with a young grandchild.

Most of the grandchildren in the happy reunion videos are older. They had time to bond with their grandparents before the pandemic. Poor Francine was too young for that, and I expect there’s at least half a generation of other grandbabies who have had their grandparent-bonding interrupted.

We saw videos of Francine’s milestones – learning to walk and talk, but it’s not the same as being there. It sucks and it’s been so hard. And I don’t know about you, but I have a bad case of Zoom fatigue these days. For work and play, I’ve had at least two Zoom meetings every weekday for the past three weeks. Today, I didn’t have any, so that’s why I think I have energy to write this post.

I’m not the only Minnesotan with Zoom fatigue. I just read a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that proves it. By tracking geotagged tweets, researchers found that Minnesotan tweets led the nation in phrases like, “I hate virtual meetings” and “I hate Zoom meetings.” Some of the reasons posited are that the Zoom communication style goes against Minnesota culture. More eye contact is required, plus, watching yourself on camera can be “cognitively tiring and anxiety provoking.” Then there are those awkward pauses so difficult to negotiate. Minnesotans prefer a more indirect communication style that simply doesn’t work well in a virtual world.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we at least had Zoom to work with. I don’t know what we would have done without it. We won’t ever get this year back. I am fully prepared for Francine to take time to warm up to me. But I’m sure going to enjoy making up for lost time.

Letting go of the Past

I bet you’re expecting me to write something deep about how to recover from past hurts and abuses. No such luck. I’m writing about getting rid of an antique that I used to be trapped inside as a child: the elevatorized Baby Butler.

Yes, the marketers at Guild Industries really used the word “elevatorized” to describe it. Just what is this curious device, which was manufactured out of oak in the late 1950s and 60s? It’s a combination highchair, bed, and play table for young children.

I’m not quite sure why it’s considered elevatorized – perhaps because the seat is adjustable. Elevators had been common for decades by then. I guess it was just a 1950s marketing buzzword.

When we were growing up, my mother strapped my brothers and I into it for meals. The Baby Butler also came with a blackboard cover for use when the seat was removed – thus, the play table part.

My butler is missing the metal seat. I think I threw it away because I didn’t realize it went with the rest.

I associate the device with conflicting emotions: the comfort of food, and the frustration of feeling trapped. I feel a twinge of sentimentality toward it, but that’s about it — the kind you’d feel toward a jack-in-the-box you played with as a kid. The music was nice, but the “jack” jumping out of it was unpleasant.

I inherited the butler when we moved my parents into an assisted living facility. I’ve kept it about a half-dozen years, thinking I could sell it as an antique. A lot of them are for sale on E-Bay. But when I discovered mine no longer had the seat, and that the green blackboard was marred by a black marker, I slowly came to the realization the Baby Butler needed to go.

Before I tossed it, I read through the instruction booklet, which my parents had also saved. I love how marketers used to write:

Dear Mother and Dad: We take pleasure in welcoming you as one more happy family in our ever-growing circle of Baby Butler friends. . . The new and improved Baby Butler supplies the answer to your needs, and it satisfies the most discriminating tastes with its beauty of styling and workmanship.

Sorry, Guild Industries. I’m no longer part of your circle of friends.

Do you still have relics from your childhood that give you mixed feelings?

The Five Top Stories of 2020 on Marie’s Meanderings

If you’re reading this, you survived the year that was 2020. I won’t offer any inane or overused platitudes about this year. We all know how it went. While I did write a few posts about the coronavirus and other 2020 disasters, everyone else was, too. So, I tried to keep my topics unique and personal. My most-popular list reflects that. Here are the five top posts from this year, along with a couple of overall popular posts since I started this blog seven years ago.

But first – a couple of more numbers: views almost doubled again this year, with 27,960. My blog has about 520 followers. Thank you, followers. I value you all!

A girl makes friends with an Ojibwe horse at Quetico Provincial Park in Canada.

#1 Revisiting my Horse Mania – This is a relatively recent post (from November) where I reminisce about the love of horses I developed a child. I was able to revisit my passion as I researched and photographed a story in Canada for Lake Superior Magazine about a rare and endangered breed, the Ojibwe horse (also known as Lac La Croix Indian Ponies). My story, “The Horses Nobody Knows” describes how the breed was saved from extinction in the 1970s, and what the horses mean to the Ojibwe people today. The story is only available in the printed magazine (Dec-Jan issue) right now, but the magazine intends to post it online in Feb 2021. I’ll try to remember to post a link here once it’s up.

#2 Bog Birding Bust – This story’s high ranking surprised me because it’s about something that DIDN’T happen. After years of anticipation, I finally went to a local bog that’s a legendary birdwatching site. I hardly saw anything! So, this post was a lesson in the worst time to see birds in the Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota. I guess failure is sometimes much more interesting than success.

#3 That Time I Organized a Sea Lamprey Taste Test – This was a trip down memory lane from when I worked for Minnesota Sea Grant in the late 1990s. We received funding for a demonstration project to determine whether there was an overseas market for a Great Lakes invasive pest – the sea lamprey. To promote the project, I organized a media event, which included a taste test by local luminaries, including the university chancellor, the mayor, etc. The event was a hit – leading to national and international stories. The project was also a hit, until further testing showed the lamprey were too high in mercury for safe consumption. So, it turns out, despite my concerns at the outset, I did a darn good job of promoting something that can contaminate people.

#4 The Many Faces of Buddy – As if this year wasn’t sucky enough, my dog (who was a frequent contributor to this blog) died. To know Buddy was to love him. We still keenly feel his sudden loss.

#5 A Mini-Minnesota Vacation: Lake Vermilion State Park – Despite travel restrictions, Russ and I were able to meander around a bit, close to home in our Scamp trailer. One of the first trips we took was to a new state park in northern Minnesota. Read my post for some pros and cons.

Overall, my blog’s most popular posts continue to be a tongue-in-cheek story I wrote about writer’s bumps (17,300 views this year!) and another about how crappy Iams dog food is.

Best wishes to you all in 2021. May your coronavirus vaccinations come quickly and with few side effects.

The Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game – Marie’s Version

Greetings! I hope all my dear readers made it through Thanksgiving in a healthy and happy way. But if you are getting COVID-isolation crazy and want to let off some steam, I humbly suggest you try the Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game. I heard about this from a coworker and it sounded too fun to pass up.

I got together with two people from my COVID bubble and we watched “Christmas at Grand Valley,” available for streaming from Amazon Prime. In this scintillating saga, which is cast in the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries series, Kelly returns to her Wyoming hometown (from Chicago) and becomes involved in an effort to save the town’s beloved lodge. In the process, she falls for a handsome widower sent to decide the fate of the lodge.

I’m not sure why this movie is considered a mystery. The only inkling of mystery comes in the form of, “WHEN ARE KELLY AND WIDOWER MAN EVER GOING TO KISS?”

Whenever certain things happen on screen, viewers must take a sip of their drink, or two sips, down the whole thing, or take a shot. I *think* (memory is fuzzy) I ended up drinking a whole bottle of wine between supper and the movie. It was great fun, plus I thought up some new rules, which are the ones posted in red.

Happy Holidays everyone!

RULES

Take one drink whenever:

  • A reference is made to a dead relative
  • The “Mayor” appears on screen
  • The main character’s name is related to Christmas (Holly, Nick, etc.)
  • Anytime someone disses fake Christmas trees
  • A newcomer partakes in an old family or town tradition
  • Hot chocolate, apple cider, or eggnog is on screen
  • A big city person is transplanted to a small town
  • Christmas caroling, a tree farm, or baking cookies appears
  • Mistletoe is on screen
  • A character makes a magic deal with Santa or an angel
  • Any time you hear “Jingle Bells”
  • The town is named something Christmas-y
  • A cisgendered character appears

Take two drinks whenever:

  • Characters experience a ‘near-miss’ kiss
  • An obvious product advertisement appears
  • A snowball fight or ice skating happens
  • An ugly sweater or tie appears
  • The characters are snowed in
  • A “Pride and Prejudice” reference is introduced (a character is named Darcy, a place named Pemberly)
  • Someone with slicked-back hair expresses their hate for Christmas

Finish your drink whenever:

  • The cynic is filled with the Christmas spirit
  • It snows on Christmas
  • Someone selects a Christmas tree
  • The main characters bake/cook something together, or Christmas-themed food is mentioned
  • Bad art appears or a literary reference is made
  • Dissonant architecture appears (for instance, a lighthouse in Wyoming)
  • Accordion music happens, especially if it’s playing Jingle Bells

Take a shot whenever:

  • The movie stars Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert, or Andrew Walker appear
  • The main characters fall in love
  • The main characters kiss

Snowshoe Moon

The moon was too gorgeous to be denied. We went out to greet it on a frozen lake.

We snowshoed past this cozy cabin with a little Christmas tree in the middle window. You can almost see the tree in in this night-blurry photo. Silent night. Inspiring night….