1978 wasn’t actually a bad year, or even a slow year. Much of it was spent floating around the Great Lakes region searching for myself in unlikely places. Not seeing much redeeming value in our system of “higher education”, at the end of 1976 I managed to get kicked out of The University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire after a single semester. For purely academic reasons. I didn’t do anything wrong exactly, just never went to class again after one fateful canoe trip down the Chippewa River on the second weekend of the school year. I still consider the adventure educational, just not in the traditional sense.
So on the world burned. I hung around my home town of Waukesha until spring, hooked up with Scott, a fellow ex student who happened to be on that canoe trip, packed up my ’72 Buick Skylark full of tents, camping gear, fishing poles, a bow and arrow set, cooking implements, a few good books, and this rather illegal but fanciful crossbow, and drove North toward the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the big lake they call Superior. We planned on finding some out of the way, off the beaten path hideout and “living off the fat of the land”. We were clueless. A week and a half later we found ourselves living off the generosity of the local jail house, caught red handed hunting and fishing without a license. Perhaps needless to say, our chances of shooting or catching anything to eat were immeasurably feeble, and we were getting mighty hungry. If we had had just a little more energy I’m sure we would have been dancing all the way to three squares.
In the slammer there in Ontanogan, we met a guy who knew a guy, and after five days on the inside had ourselves a quaint little octagon shaped cabin in the woods overlooking a beaver pond, and working for this guy milling Cedar logs and splitting them into shakes. In return he brought us groceries and cases of Leinenkugels beer, from Chippewa Falls, on the banks of the good old Chippewa River. Life was good. Porcupines, whitetail, beaver, and even bear shared our little seclusion in the trees. Some evenings, about dusk, we would run down to the Little Iron River, free a rubber raft from its ties, and paddle down stream in total darkness to Lake Superior. Now it was getting on late summer and the Smelt were running. A simple net dipped into the waters at the mouth of the Little Iron and we had a feast ready for the cooking. This was simple enough as well. Build a driftwood fire, nothing burns so sweet as sun baked driftwood on the beaches of Lake Superior, drip a little oil in a cast iron skillet, cut most of the way through from the back of the head of the tiny fish, pull off the head, the guts would follow, roll the little guy or gal in a bowl of flour, and delicately plop it into the pan. Pop open a couple of Leinenkugels and kick back against a log for the light show. The opening act, the stars. The second act, meteor showers. And the final act, the grand finale, the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, the mysterious dancing green and red ribbons of pixey dust, like clockwork, would come on stage just around midnight. Life was good. Then I called home.