Thursday, October 14, 2021

A whole new spin on being at death's door.

     "What have we been doing all these years?" my wife asked, incredulously, as we worked our way under the towering limestone bluffs along the Eagle Trail in Peninsula State Park.
     I knew what she meant. She wasn't asking for a point-by-point recapitulation of our 38-year relationship, but wondering how we, who like the outdoors, like nature, like to hike, had nevertheless managed to miss Door County until this week.

     My fault, surely. First, because most things are. And second, I do recall her mentioning a desire to go to Door County, one that I shrugged off because a) I had worked my first internship in Green Bay Wisconsin, from January to March, 1981, which did not leave me with happy memories of the place b) a few years after that we had gone to the Horicon Marsh in Fon du Lac, which I assumed was the same place, or near enough, but is actually 150 miles away and c) I tend to shrug off most things that aren't staying right where I always am, doing what I'm always doing. 
      Well, we're here now, at last, making up for lost time. We got a $38 annual Wisconsin State Parks pass, which might seem imprudent given it is mid-October, but hit the state parks four days in a row, so came out the better for it. Rain was predicted all week, but it politely retreated into the wings during our hikes, though once starting to sprinkle as we approached the van after a two-hour hike, just to show us what we were missing. I'm not going to write a travelogue—not while we're in the midst. But we're staying in Ephraim, a pleasant if touristy spot—like a wee Wisconsin imitation of Bar Harbor—but with plenty of authentic fun, like the fish boil at the Old Post Office. We drove up to Sister Bay yesterday for lunch at the goats-on-the-roof place, Al Johnson's (the goats, alas, had the day off because of the aforementioned rain. Union rules). Excellent coffee, excellent herring, and Swedish pancakes with lingonberries that I assume were excellent. As I don't believe I've ever eaten them before, I don't really have a point of comparison. I finished them all.
      Being me, I started wondering where the "Door" in "Door County" comes from. I assumed it had to be from some person—Frederick Door, an early pioneer perhaps—or because the place is the entryway somewhere. It actually comes, quite spectacularly, from Porte des Morts, "the Door of Death," a name given to a region offshore where Lake Michigan meets the waters of Green Bay that many Native-Americans supposedly lost their lives traversing. I don't want to say it was worth coming just to find that out—it was the hiking, the hanging-out-with-my-wife, and the not-being-at-home-working parts that made it worth coming. But I was glad to learn it nonetheless.

Door County Headlands 


  1. Boy, I sure envy both of you. Sounds like a wonderful trip. I have fond memories of Wisconsin. My dad loved fishing and we use to go to Hayward for a week and of course Wisconsin Dells was always fun. So you were at Death's Door,scary.

  2. For your next hiking adventure, you should try Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the eastern part of the UP of Michigan. There is a long trail network along Lake Superior that is either challenging or reasonable. But, since you have made reference in the past to going to the UP, maybe this has been done before.

  3. My memory of Green Bay Wisconsin, which I visited a few years before Neil, beside the frost bite bestowed on my nose by 40 degrees below zero, was a place that featured bowling scores on the front page of its newspaper and an impressive row of Pabst Blue Ribbon signs on Broadway that seemed to go endlessly off into the horizon.


    1. A disaffected Packer who left for a team in a more metropolitan market described Green Bay as a place where the best dressed man is a guy who owns 10 bowling shirts. We have a cottage on the shore in the more rural and less touristy part of Door County, south of Sturgeon Bay. We sometimes go into Green Bay for our more sophisticated shopping, which in that part of the world means the bigger Walmart. We particularly like being there for a few days at a time in the winter, when the Bay is frozen over and the silence, except for the occasional snowmobile, is deafening.


  4. We went up to Washington Island and then over to Rock Island for many years from the time I was a teenager. Would pass right through door county and not even stop it's beautiful but it was crowded and there was a lot of commercialization.

    Then when my wife's son moved to Chicago the public school options were so limited and she couldn't see paying the money for the private school so she took them and moved up to sister Bay.

    I spent a lot of time up there for those 3 years and we even opened a coffee shop
    I think it's still there and her former partner does well with it it's called bearded heart .

  5. My first wife's grandparents lived at the southeast tip of Sturgeon bay for a number of years, and had their own private beach that charged an admission fee to fisherman, because it was such a prime spot for smelt fishing. So my ex was very familiar with Door County while growing up. We had an October honeymoon up there, and in the blistering summer of '88 we escaped Chicago by spending a week near Ellison Bay, at The Clearing, a well-known adult educational facility and retreat.

    Situated on 128 acres, and overlooking the waters of Green Bay, the Clearing was once the summer estate of famed Chicago landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951), who not only helped to create the Forest Preserves and most of the major parks on Chicago's West Side, but who also designed the grounds of the homes occupied by Henry and Edsel Ford, Greenfield Village, Ravinia Park, and parkland at the Indiana Dunes. I will always remember their oatmeal breakfasts, and watching the sunsets from our windows, on the longest days of the year.

    Got to get back to Door County pretty soon. Maybe we'll take the car ferry from Ludington to Manitowoc. Sure beats driving through Chicago.


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