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Spring Break At Turtle River In Mercer With Daily Animal Show

March 20, 2009

In case you have wondered what happened to this blogger over the past week—well, thanks for noticing my absence.  James and I left behind the morning newspapers, the internet, TV, and mail; in short, we let go of the back-and-forth of daily life to take up refuge on the Turtle River in northern Wisconsin during spring break.  Prior to leaving, I called it “roughing it” while James told all of our friends that we were “running away”.  It is all a matter of perspective, I guess.




Our friends had built their cabin located right on the bend where Pike Lake drains to the Turtle River in Mercer, Wisconsin.  That was about 18 years ago.  Though it looks like an old-fashioned cabin placed amid the endless trees way off the road, I am not sure ‘cabin’ best describes a place with three bedrooms, a full kitchen, and hot running water.  After a week there, I began to think the term ‘heaven’ a more apt description.  The warm and cozy décor with a Northwood’s charm was the ticket for casting off our cares of the world.


Life can be so fast-paced that when it comes to taking a vacation we need the first day or two in order to adjust to the slower pace.  We need time to get used to the new surroundings of where we plant our feet.  Only then can we finally wind down and relax.  For me that moment of contentment and breathing deeply took place 24 hours after we arrived at the cabin.  Under sunny and cloudless skies, with temperatures pushing 60 degrees, we found ourselves one afternoon on the highway not far from town, where a sign made note of a road to a boat landing.  With deep snow still covering the countryside, and the tall pines beckoning, we followed the turn in the road. More ice and standing water than blacktop greeted us as we wound our way toward the river.  At some point the blacktop turned to dirt and it was, at least according to this driver, just too much mud for Azure (that’s the name of our little blue Beetle, of course) we were forced to turn around, and that was still fine. The going was slow, and as no one else was on the road to poke me along, we saw not one single reason to hurry.  The world just all of a sudden slowed, and we put windows down to smell the air, hoping for a scent of pine of heavily wooded areas.  That road woke up the senses and made me aware that we had really escaped the city to re-charge the inner soul in the pines and beauty of northern Wisconsin.


Relaxation had come.


Behind the Wible’s cabin a series of wooden steps lead down to the rocky banks of the ever-moving river.  Down on the banks we moved two deck chairs, unpacked our paperbacks, grasped our mugs of hot tea, and found the entire noisy world of the city just fade away.  Only the gurgling water that sloshed under the ice along the banks, the spring chirps of countless birds, the sharp tones of excited squirrels, and the scattering feet of chipmunks were to be found.  Nature may not be quiet, but she sure is a lot more pleasant.




To be very honest, the only sound that was not of Nature was the one made by this blogger who took a heavy shovel and chopped on the ice breaking huge chunks and sending them down the river.  The boy inside of me is never far away from surfacing. The river is open and flowing, but the banks are frozen and I felt needed a helping hand to usher in spring.  But the largest chunk, resembling a twin-size mattress, was broken off by James.  It was great to see it start to crack and move away from the shore.  I would have kept watching had it not been for James finding himself knee-high in the frigid water as the ice also had broken off under his feet.  No fret…just climb up to the cabin and get dry clothes and footwear.




Your blogger with Mother Nature.


As we watched the sunset early in the week, there was one discordant noise.  From our deck chairs on the bank of the river we watched the water reflect the subtle changing hues of the crepuscule.  For several minutes we followed the flight of a magnificent eagle as it swooped out of the trees not far from us and watched it soar, disappear and return again.  As it glided in flight it found another bird out for an early evening trip over the river.  The sound that resulted was anguishing for a second.  The eagle captured the bird in mid-flight.  Oh my!  The eagle had found dinner.  It was Mother Nature at work, and the sight thought unsettling on some level, was also most remarkable to witness.


Over time, we saw a collection of eagles nesting in the opening of Pike Lake.  Eagles tend to build very large nests, some about the size of a queen-sized mattress.  They must require a fair amount of repair.  The morning after we saw dinner being caught in mid-air, we were at the riverbank again.  This particular morning an eagle swooped in from the opposite side of the river.  From about the length of a football field away we watched as the eagle used its talons to lift off a 4-5 foot piece of thin dead branch from the top of a poplar tree and carted in off for a nest.  The sight and sound of the branch as it was lifted away was impressive.  It rubbed the other branches as if to say farewell and provided us with one of those sights that you just have to be in the right place to experience.  Mother Nature puts on the best shows.  And they are free!


This next part is a bit of a secret.  Shhhh.  Don’t tell the Wibles.  If you have been reading my blog for any time, you know already what a softie I am for feeding the critters outside of our Madison lakeside home.  Well, I couldn’t resist here either.  I bought some day old bread from the small and homey Snow’s grocery in town and James pulled it into small hunks on the snow.  After we came back from a lunch in town and then a drive to a county park with a dam and rock falls, I noticed that my new friends had found the bread and were learning that city folks can be very understanding.  I wondered if the small chipmunks had a code for “Hey tell the critters over the hill to come over for dinner–there is bread here.”  James thought I was going a bit over board when the next time we visited the market, I asked him to load into our cart a fifty-pound satchel of shelled corn.  He said to me, “If you think we are having tortillas tonight, no way!”  We laughed because we both knew what my designs were on the bag.




On Wednesday night we bundled up as the colder winds of a weather front blew in; nothing was going to stop us from watching the sun set, and the stage show starring the full ensemble of the animal kingdom.  The show became for us a nightly event, and nothing interrupted in it.  Not even dinner.  Within minutes we spotted again the large pure white birds we had seen earlier in the week.  They were trumpeter swans.  Elegant and immense, they possessed poise in the water.  They had first come to our attention earlier in the week by the noise they created when flying.  They were camping out in the tall grasses and flapped their expansive wings creating a ‘whacking’ sound as they beat the air.  Gracefully, the swans floated by our riparian perch and returned to the lake opening where we had heard them previously.  Magnificent.


Soon two Canadian geese flew onto the river and it was obvious a courtship was under way.  Despite a full court press the male was not winning the effort at amoré.  Soon thereafter a group of 10 grouse ambled down the hill to the banks where they took sips of the water.  Farther up the ridge a much larger and slightly more colorful grouse, which I assumed was the male, seemed to keep watch.  From the other shore two deer commenced walking out into the currents, and though the water was chilly, they braved the flow.  They strode to the other side where they sauntered within feet of the grouses.  The birds hardly looked, and continued with their time at the water’s edge.  They must be old friends.  The deer went up the hill and disappeared from sight.  In time the grouse followed each other up the ridge, turned and then with a running start down the hill each took off in flight before their tail feathers reached the water.  One…two…three…each in turn took the same flight plan as if the ridge were a major international airport.  They headed off in the direction from which the deer had originated.


With the sun down and the cold starting to bite, we turned and started up the steps heading up the ridge to the cabin.  As we got closer we noticed fresh deer hoof prints that had not been in the snow when went down to the lake.  We knew then that the deer we had been watching had circled around and had been looking down on us from the ridge as they made their way in the early evening.  The viewing of the “the animals” had come full circle.  A thoughtful surprise was cooking in my head.  “Ah ha,” I thought, “this looks like the perfect spot for a few cans of corn.” 




James relaxing with a read.


Before leaving the cabin, we signed the cabin’s guest book–a small hard bound book with the inscription, “May this cabin and these guests combine to make many many happy moments and years for you.”  It was signed simply “Mom Wible”.  We certainly hope that Mom Wible, who is in her nineties and doing well in Indiana where she resides, is able to make it back to the cabin sometime soon.  While previous guests listed the animals that they had seen or the activities they had enjoyed, and expressed their gratitude for the chance to stay in the Turtle-head Lodge, as it is affectionately known to its owners, James penned a short poem and offered it in return for the Wible’s good will.


Springtime Auguries


The North Star points past the corner of the house.

The Big Dipper refreshes the trees below.

Our days like our nights everlasting,

We mine the silver scintillating on the river’s flow.


Hush.  A comfortable silence envelopes us.

A mother’s lament heard in this primeval wood,

The startling sight of leaves blow across our path,

We listen ever closer, because we know we should.


She entices us not just to reach to the heavens,

past where the constellation reign,

And scoop up the distant candles chanting,

But to listen to our hearts beating in refrain.


What loneliness and winter have wrought

Are themselves transformed from isolation into works of art.

We are beckoned to do what no one else can–

Enter the same river twice and cleanse our spirit in gentle currents.


Aurora’s color marches up the hillsides to the door.

Gentle breezes strike the keys of that riparian piano;

The gold of the morning sun echoes in ragtime ripples;

O’ Love!  We offer up these treasure of the shared road.


  1. Marion permalink
    March 23, 2009 9:59 AM

    correction to my other blog:
    The web site for the peregrine falcon is
    The other info is what you click on in the site, wildlife is the title and the the web cam section. Sorry for not checking it out first.

  2. Marion permalink
    March 23, 2009 8:29 AM

    If you like the wild life..check out the web site in Maine [] It’e live online video recording a rare peregrine falcon laying an egg.
    This site also records the eagle cam.

  3. Thomas J Canton permalink
    March 20, 2009 9:58 PM

    Sounds like you and James had a really good time this week and enjoyed some great scenery.

    Glad you got the vacation time.

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