Crossing Death’s Door on Lake Michigan

On the Robert Noble ferry to Washington Island.

My coworkers and I crossed Death’s Door not one, but two times last week. And we lived to tell about it!

Death’s Door is a treacherous crossing of water off the tip of the Door Peninsula on Lake Michigan. Many a ship and many a life have been lost to its currents and weather. Our goal was to visit Washington Island, a six-mile-by-five-mile piece of land about a half-hour ferry ride from the mainland. We were on a field trip to check out some Sea Grant projects in the area and to interview a commercial fisherman to learn more about his trade.

While waiting for the ferry, we checked out a historical shipwreck sign our agency produced. After a gray and rainy crossing, we landed on the island and drove to our lunch destination, the KK Fiske Restaurant, where we heard you can eat fresh lawyers. No, we are not cannibals; lawyers are one of the nicknames for burbot, a cod-like fish caught in local waters.

A stuffed lawyer.

Appetites at the ready, we were disappointed to find they had no luck catching lawyers that day, so we’d have to make do with whitefish. That was pretty tasty, in any event.

We only had a couple of hours to spend on the island before we needed to head back to the mainland to interview the fisherman. Besides eating, we spent it driving to a state natural area on the end of the island, called Little Lake. There is indeed a lake there, along with a museum that features artifacts from people who used to live in the area.

Little Lake State Natural Area, Washington Island.

After a coffee stop and an unsuccessful search for the island’s lavender farm, we were back on the ferry. Once we landed, breathing a metaphorical sigh of relief that we survived the crossings, we headed toward Bailey’s Harbor.

We found Bailey’s Harbor Fish Company off the beaten path, where we interviewed Tate Stuth, one of the new generation of commercial fishermen in the area. He explained how this fourth-generation family business works, and shared some of the frustrations and unique aspects of their operation. I wrote a story based on the interview and you can read it here: I left the interview thinking that the industry is in good hands.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip for me was roaming around the fish yard after the interview was over. It held old net buoys and floats, rusty trucks, dry docked boats, nets drying on racks. I hope you enjoy the pictures!


Aruban Dreams (Part 3) – Beaches and Butterflies


Tourists ponder pelicans upon pilings, Druif Beach in Aruba.

My friend and I eventually came out of the caves in Aruba and into the sunlight. The first beach we saw was just outside our resort.

Used to the rootbeer-brown waters of northern Minnesota, my immediate reaction to Druif Beach/Divi Beach was to laugh at the impossibly white sugar sand and the turquoise water. I felt like I was walking through the living embodiment of a Caribbean travel magazine advertisement.

Druif/Divi Beach is in the low-rise resort part of the island, up the coast from Oranjestad, the capitol of Aruba. We spent a couple of afternoons and evenings on these beaches, which were a short walk from our resort condo.

Besides the ridiculously gorgeous scenery, the nice thing about this and the other beaches in this post is that you don’t have to fight for a spot under a cabana like you do at some resorts. No need to wake up at 6 a.m. and reserve beach chairs. We usually didn’t drag ourselves out of bed until 8 or 9 a.m., and often didn’t get to the beach until the early afternoon. We were always able to find either a cabana or a shady spot under a tree. Granted, the cabana might not have been the closest to the water, but it was nice not to have to strategize relaxation. This is a VACATION, after all.

Two drawbacks of Druif/Divi Beach are that it’s right near the roadway, and the scenery is marred by offshore oil platforms. Car motors compete with the sound of lapping waves. Baby Beach and Eagle Beach don’t have these problems.


Baby Beach wide-angle view.

Baby Beach is in a large cove on the southeast end of the island. The shallow waters and protection of the cove make it perfect for young children for swimming. It’s also great for snorkeling, although you have to swim out a ways to the rocky cove walls to find the fish.

One word of caution: bring your wallet with you (not into the water, though!) If you need to use the restroom, it costs $1. You also might want to spend money at the bar/restaurant and the beach equipment rental place.


Eagle Beach

Our last morning on the island was spent at Eagle Beach, just up the coast from Druif/Divi Beach. We were not disappointed by this decision. Eagle Beach is rated consistently high in polls of beachgoers in the world and in the Caribbean.

The beach is wide and the road is far away. There are plenty of cabanas for shade. The water is so clear, it hurts the eyes. And there’s not a rock to be found. I suppose all that nice white sand is like an underwater desert for marine life, but at least humans NEVER have to worry about stubbing toes or stepping on a sea urchin.

Just like a tanning bed fan, the prevailing winds keep you cool and keep any bugs away. (No damn biting sand flies like in Minnesota). There are Zika mosquitoes in Aruba, but we never saw even one because of the wind.

Another activity for nature-lovers in Aruba is the Butterfly Farm — housed in a low-slung building across from the high-rise resort district. Lush greenery, flowers and butterflies will fill your senses. Knowledgeable guides give tours and can explain all the different butterfly types and life stages. I also went to a butterfly farm on the island of St. Martin, and the guides in Aruba were even better.

Bonus: your entrance fee is good for an entire week, so you can visit more than once if you want. The farm opens early in the morning sometimes for people who want to see the chrysalises hatch. The time was too early for me to rise during VACATION, but I was tempted. I bet it’s inspirational.

Up next in part 4: Getting personal with underwater sea life on DePalm Island Resort.


The Gathering of the Orbs


A girl and her orb.

Today is the time when all the ice orbs for the Lake Superior Ice Festival are gathered. The orbs I contributed are the colored ones in the photos (and in the bucket).

The water is frozen in water balloons, and the balloons are removed later. A group of Headstart children from Superior, Wis., participated in this community art collaborative, and it was so fun to see them enjoying the outdoors and learning about water and ice.

dsc03803City of Superior staff are arranging the orbs in the shape of Lake Superior in the city park on Barker’s Island to highlight the importance of fresh water. Each orb represents a day that water is important to us. The goal is to create 365 of them to represent a year.

Take a moment to consider how important fresh water is to you!


My bucket o’ orbs.

Snow Boat


It’s funny how having a camera in your hand makes you see things differently. I walk by this boat on an island in northern Wisconsin every day but didn’t really SEE it until I was wandering around with my camera.

Lost Lights


My grandchildren
will never see
the lighted tunnel
with the penguin for wishing.
(Rub its head.)


Image by Amanda Jo Dahl.

They will never see
the sugarplum fairy
high in the tree;
the unicorn that changes colors;
Cinderella’s carriage
bedecked with white lights.

They will never walk
the driftwood path
to the dark and quiet lake;
the stars overhead
dimmed by green laser lights on the sand;
city lights pulsing on the hillside beyond.


Image by Amanda Jo Dahl

They’ll never drink hot cider
in the garden house;
never roast marshmallows
in the outdoor fire here;
never laugh at their reflections
in the low slung, slanting mirrors.
When they are older,
they will never kiss that special someone
under this frosted mistletoe.

My grandchildren
will never know this tradition
I spark the light
behind their eyes
with words.


This is a tribute to a Christmas lighting display on Park Point in Duluth, Minn. Marcia Hales (seen lighting a wish lantern in my photo from 2015) has invited the public to enjoy the display in her yard for years. She recently announced that 2016 will be the last year for her display. I wrote this poem very quickly after spending last evening in her lights.


UPDATE: Jan. 7, 2107 was proclaimed Marcia hales Day in Duluth. It was supposed to be the last day for people to visit her light display, but after the proclamation reading, Marcia announced the lights will go on! She’s getting a lot of community support to keep them glowing into the future.

Wedding in a Barn!


Bloom Lake Barn, Lindstrom, Minn.

Last weekend, I journeyed to “America’s Little Sweden,” otherwise known as Lindstrom, Minn. The reason? My niece was getting married in a ceremony just outside town.


The Swedish coffee pot water tower in Lindstrom, Minn. Image courtesy of

Lindstrom was settled by Swedish immigrants just north of the Twin Cities. In 2015, the Minnesota Governor indulged the town’s heritage by signing an executive order to restore the “umlauts” (ö) over the “o” in the Lindstrom city limits sign. The founders’ influence can even be felt in the artwork on the town’s coffee pot water tower.

I can’t believe that in all my years as a Minnesotan, I had never visited Lindstrom. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of lakes and wetlands in the area.

My niece’s wedding was held in the Bloom Lake Barn, a venue large enough for several hundred people. Dusty sunlight filtered through the large windows and cracks in the walls, alighting on my niece and her intended as the ceremony commenced on the upper floor.

I got a couple nice shots of rachels-wedding-2016-020the ceremony, but my favorite is one I took when I ‘snuck out back’ during the reception. A mother was pushing her son on a big swing that hung from a tree.


You may kiss the bride!