Memories Made in the North

‘Up North’ is as much a state of being as it is a part of our state

V1 Staff

Brunet Island State Park
Brunet Island State Park

If you created a word cloud based around the Northwoods, it would be full of tangible nouns – water, forest, sky, campfire, cabin. It would also be peppered with less concrete vocabulary as well – relaxation, contemplation, togetherness – not to mention laughter. We asked Volume One’s contributors and staff members to share some of their favorite memories of the Northwoods, and they responded with tales of everything from hungry horseflies to fish who wouldn’t stop biting. Enjoy this dip into our collective nostalgia – then get yourself “Up North” to make your own memories.

“I remember a fishing trip I took with my father to Prairie Lake in Chetek when I was 8 years old. The fish were biting for me and me alone, and I kept bringing them in for my dad and uncle to remove from the line, which they would bait up and give to me to cast again. The bobber would immediately go down each time and I would chant, ‘In the boat, in the boat’ as I brought in the catch. This routine continued for a couple of hours, with the me continually reeling in sizable panfish and the grownups acting as attendants to my efforts. Other boats took notice and moved in closer and I had to cast out further and further to force them from encroaching on our prime fishing spot. We ended up with a massive take of panfish, totaling over 100 (bag limits were different in those days) and my dad and uncle were up most of the night cleaning and bagging fish to stock our freezer. This fishing trip took place around 30 years ago, but I still fondly recall it, reference it in many of my current fishing outings, and look forward to having a similar experience with my son.” –Neil Hodorowski


“The road to our friends’ cabin was winding and surrounded by tall trees, lulling me to sleep. I couldn’t get there now if I tried; I only remember what it felt like to arrive. The majority of our time at the cabin was spent in the lake. As a little girl, the waves felt enormous to me. They were gentle compared to forceful ocean waves, but we jumped with glee as they greeted us by the shore. My dad brought old tractor tires that we used as inner tubes to float on, all the kids jostling for the best spot. We always just stayed for the day, and I hoped I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom – which was just a bucket in a creepy little shed with no light fixtures. I spent those days at the cabin playing with friends who felt like cousins, and time only showed its passing in the sun as it set on the slowing waves.” –Briana Novacek


“When we went ‘Up North,’ it was usually just the uncles and kids. Moms often stayed home, as the cabin wasn’t very luxurious. To be honest, it wasn’t very finished at the time, either. We often had double digits kiddos running around, and uncles working on the cabin and drinking their cold beer. We didn’t do much that could hurt us, besides riding four-wheelers and building bonfires, but we were always careful. One fall, we were fishing by the southernmost Twin Lake in Upson, Wisconsin. Some were swimming, while others were trying to catch fish. Usually the fish were too small to write home about, but it was fun for us kids. This particular fall I caught the biggest catch of all. I went back to cast, and the hook caught my sister’s eyelid! So terrible, but so lucky. Somehow, the hook only caught the skin of her eyelid, leaving her eye unscratched, but she was quite scared. We hustled back to the cabin, where my dad tried to keep my sister and I calm. I was scared that I had truly hurt her, and she had a hook and line hanging from her face. We drove to the nearest hospital, which was a good 45 minutes away. Upon arrival, we found the ER and were told that we would have to wait. A young boy had crashed his four-wheeler and was severally injured. That’s when we knew we were truly Up North: A young girl with a fish hook hanging from her eyelid was put on hold to address more significant injuries. Today, my sister’s vision is just fine, and she barely has a scar to show for the experience. I certainly learned a lesson, though: When casting, look behind you, and hold that button down tight.” –Bryan Reynolds


“My cabin memory is new because my parents just built a cabin up north in a town called Cornucopia on Lake Superior. I went up for the first time last summer and absolutely loved it! Sitting on the beach watching the waves from the great ‘mini ocean’ crash onto shore is the most relaxed I feel. Walking the beach early in the morning is so peaceful and rejuvenates me – two things I absolutely must need when I am at a cabin, especially on Lake Superior!” –Caitlin Boyle


“Going fishing at Lake Wazee with my cousins when we were in 5 or 6. It was fun playing in the water while our parents fished, but after a while they noticed bite marks and blood on our necks. We were getting bitten up by horse flies! It was definitely memorable, but we now try to remember to bring bug spray with us when fishing towards the evening hours.” –Nicole Withers


“The first night of my annual Fourth of July trip to the whimsical Madeline Island started off with a bang. Only a few mosquitoes buzzed around as I gathered with friends and family. We sipped whiskey and danced to a 1970s cover band at the stunningly unique Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. A circus tent plays its part as “ceiling,” and the foundation is made up of old cars and road signs. We stomped on the creaky makeshift floor as we danced and drank the night away. Adoration for this nostalgic place ran deep as I soaked up the wild night air and headed back to my campsite. As always, on the island of misfits, it was a magical night.

“I woke hours later at the very beginning of dawn to severe booms of thunder. Cold rain dripped through my shelter onto my flannel sheets and exposed face. I shouted to my neighbors that it was time to pack up and take refuge in our vehicles. As I was about to step into the blanket nest I had created in the back of my hatchback, I reached into my cooler and popped an ice cube into my mouth. Hydration was at the forefront of my brain and took precedence over the cold downpour. It was a poor decision that cost me precious seconds I could have used to secure safety.

“Searing pain ran through my body as lightning struck. My left side was instantly paralyzed. I was unable to stand and fell backwards onto the muddy earth. As I laid there, I rapidly replayed the shocking event (no pun intended) over in my mind and concluded my arm was now useless deadweight attached to my torso. Seconds later, I was hauled up by my courageous brother-in-law and sobbing younger sister. She saw the blinding blast of light hit and was terrified by the unknown effects of the strike. Ironically, I comforted her with humor as my body shook with adrenaline. I laughed as I used my good arm to flop its useless counterpart around, like a struggling fish, until we reached medical help at the ferry dock.

“The island’s volunteer paramedics were relieved that my vitals were not only normal, but great. I smirked as I watched them look at each other in confusion and delight. My heart was healthy and happy. Pins and needles slowly pricked my arm as it came back to life. And as quick as it happened, it was over. This was by far my most life-altering experience with the great northwoods. Mother Nature has a spectacular way of reminding us how magnificent she is and what a wonderfully wild, wild Midwest we live in.” –Jessica Mahlum


“I’ve always been an indoor person, particularly as a kid, so joining the Boy Scouts help open me up to experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Among them was a weeklong trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area the summer after seventh grade. Early one June morning our troop paddled into the wilds of Minnesota and away from the trappings of early 1990s civilization – chief among them indoor plumbing and electricity (not to mention my family’s recently purchased personal computer). We glided across the glasslike water in our canoes, settling quickly in the quiet rhythm of paddling. At some point during that first morning, I looked down to discover that my digital watch had slipped off my wrist, presumably disappearing into the depths. At first I was dismayed, but soon I realized the loss was an unexpected gift: Without a device to digitally divide my time into arbitrary units, I was free to recalibrate to another kind of clock, a more fundamental timepiece that was wired inside the sky, the water, the trees, and myself. Our little band stopped paddling not when our wristwatches told us to, but when we were hungry or when the day grew long and it was time to find a campsite. More than 25 years have passed since this brief, timeless period in the Northwoods, but the experience still profoundly impacts how I think about time.”  –Tom Giffey


“My family has been going ‘Up North’ to the same cabin every summer for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the Milwaukee area, my ‘Up North’ was actually Door County, which is really more ‘over east’ to us here in Eau Claire. “It was a time that my parents, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles all got together to enjoy the quintessential ‘Up North” experience: spending all day out on Kangaroo Lake boating, tubing, water skiing, kayaking, or just relaxing on a floatie tied to the dock. Every day was followed by nights of pool and arcade time at the center down the street, roasting marshmallows by bonfires at Grandma and Grandpa’s cabin right across the lake, game nights for the parents, and slumber parties/movie watching for the cousins all snuggled on the same pull-out couch together. Movies of choice included Mrs. Doubtfire and Tommy Boy. Over and over and over again ... 

“My dad and uncle taught us how to be ‘tough’ by showing no mercy when it came to tubing ... I can recall returning to the dock for lunch or at the end of the day with a couple of bloody noses or broken fingers that the moms weren’t too pleased with. Lunch and snacks were always a big part of the week and – because we started going there when we were so young – traditions started early and were held dearly. The pre-shopping trip to Sam’s Club was a sight to be seen. Staples included Now and Laters, freeze pops, mini cereal boxes, and my mom’s famous pulled pork. Forget any of that and there would certainly be hell to pay. “These days we all get there a lot less often, especially all together, but those memories are something we’ll always cherish and will always be a huge part of our childhood.” –Lindsey Quinnies


“I remember the first time my sister and I went out ‘hunting’ with dad. It was opening day of deer season in 1995 and dad deemed my sister and I old enough to join him out hunting for the first time. My sister was 8 and I was 6. My dad wrapped us up in his old blaze orange hunting jackets, giant hats and gloves, snow pants and boots and we trudged out to the deer stand, singing songs from Pocahontas the whole way. When we arrived at the deer stand, dad told us it was called ‘The Castle.’ “We scurried up the steep staircase and climbed into a simple box made out of plywood with a propane heater and a little bench. It was magical. Dad poured some hot chocolate from a thermos and we ate cookies and looked for animals. We saw bunnies and turkeys and my sister even said she saw a coyote. We had regular visits from my dad’s hunting buddy, Mr. Red Squirrel. He said that when we weren’t there, Mr. Red Squirrel would talk to him and fill him in on the recent gossip around the forest. Dad relayed what Mr. Red Squirrel was saying and I was so impressed that my dad could speak squirrel. “We enjoyed this special time in this special place with this special man for probably only a couple of hours, but those few hours are one of my favorite memories with my dad and sister. We stayed until we drank all the hot chocolate and our little noses started to get cold before dad brought us back to the house.” –Janae Breunig

Up North is sponsored by:

Green Oasis - Lawn Care, Irrigation, & Landscaping
1403 122nd St.,
Chippewa Falls, WI

Up North is sponsored by:

Green Oasis - Lawn Care, Irrigation, & Landscaping
1403 122nd St.,
Chippewa Falls, WI