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Tornado Warning Sky

Tornado Warning Sky, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

One of the things we miss living in Utah are the thunderstorms and freakout weather that can hit the Midwest. It was dark a bit early Saturday evening, with nearly pitch black skies just after 9:00 p.m. Ben and Meghan called us out to the deck to watch a lightning show above. Then, Ben’s fire pager went off: ‘potential tornado at Nelson Lake (8-10 miles)’ and it was heading our way.

Being in the calm of a storm is like a trance. The air was still, but the sky was electrified with seemingly thousands of bolts of cloud-igniting lightning every second. We looked to the north to see an eery sky.

The next 15-20 minutes bounced from fascinating to scary, not knowing the patch. Weather radar showed its path heading just east of us, likely over Round Lake and the Chippewa Flowage.

The sky boiled in the darkness with its menacing green tone illuminated by the flashes of lightning.

We gathered first on the deck, then the driveway. I clicked away, making photograph after photograph of the pitch black sky – using the lighter digital images to showcase the story of the terrifying sky.

Soon, it was calm again with the lightning storm passing to the east. It was reassuring to the young kids, who didn’t know whether to watch in amazement or fear.

Such is the power of mother nature!

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Trumpeter Swans, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

No one really knows how to pronounce Totagatic. Our friend Kathy, whose family had a cabin in the Totagatic wilderness, calls it Tobatic. I’ve always known it as Togatic. But whatever you call it, this sprawling wilderness extending from between Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin west to Minong has always attracted me.

When I lived in the Northwoods, it was one of those mystical places to take the fishing boat, navigating lily pads and cattails, with northerns comping for a spoon on every cast.

Sunrise photos were hard for me in the Northwoods this trip – too many trees and early morning clouds. So Saturday morning I retreated to Totagatic, ever mindful of bear (none) and deer (plenty) around every corner.

Arriving at the rustic boat ramp, I spotted two trumpeter swans floating lazily amongst the reeds, just cruising at their own tempo. Birds flew overhead as the sun crept over the trees, illuminating the steaming, foggy swamp.

This is what the Northwoods is all about on a peaceful August morning.

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Deep Fried

Deep. Fried, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

There are very few questions to be asked at a Wisconsin fish fry. When our perennial schoolteacher turned waitress Darlene comes by our table at The Waterfront near Hayward, the only thing you have to say is ‘deep fried.’

Friday Fish Fry is a Wisconsin tradition. We schedule entire vacations around it. It’s so popular at spots like The Waterfront on Grindstone Lake, that lines are already forming by opening time of 4:00 p.m. Six hours later, as many as 400 people may pass through the tiny Northwoods bar.

The menu is simple: deep fried cod, french fries, cole slaw and rolls. For the record, you can also choose broiled fish and baked potato (or twice baked). But that would not be in tradition. Nearby Pine Ridge is also now including chicken – sacrilegious yet popular.

There are many legends on the origin of Friday Fish Fry. Being Catholics, we tend to believe that it grew out of the former ritual of no meat on Friday (now observed only during Lent). Friday Fish is a popular church or civic group meal even today.

Each community has its favorites. And those favorites change! When I first arrived in the Northwoods in 1977, my memory is going to fish at Dick-Sy Manor on highway 77. A few years later it was Lost Land Lake Lodge. And we spent many a Friday at Trailways.

In more recent years, our son-in-law’s family’s restaurant, The Waterfront, has led the way in Hayward.

The Friday of our Hayward vacation we thought we would beat the crowds by arriving before 5:00 p.m. There wasn’t a single parking spot in the lot, and boats were arriving like a flotilla. An hour wait – not bad, actually. By 5:30 p.m. there wasn’t a square inch of space on the bar or out on the patio.

In the tiny kitchen, Diane was rolling through the orders while another cook kept the deep fryers going with batch after batch of beer battered cod and fries. As always, Darlene kept one step ahead of us on beers and fish, snaring a plate of extra deep fried fillets for the table to share.

Fish fries are more than just the food. It’s about socializing and sharing stories, watching the kids jump off the dock to swim and relaxing with a Leinies while watching the sun set over the lake. It’s talking about the Badgers and Packers, while trash talking the Vikings and Bears at the expense of the tourists.

You leave stuffed but rejuvenated, with a reminder of the hospitality that made Wisconsin famous.

Wisconsin Fish Fry Resources

Fish Fry Wiki

Classic Wisconsin – Fish Fries

Wisconsin Fish Fry Blog

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Memories of the Merrimac Ferry

Merrimac Ferry, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

Any visit to my hometown comes with some kind of drive in the country. Madison is still surrounded by the same rings of farmland and small villages which have kept their character for many decades. Some of the close-in areas are now populated. But get out to places like Mt. Horeb, Waunakee, Lodi and more, it’s still like I remember growing up.

One of our favorite trips was always up to Devil’s Lake via the Merrimac ferry. I remember the days of Colsac I, a wooden ferry that held either four or six cars. It was clearly sketchy! It was retired in 1963.

We spent many a Sunday in the lineup stretching a mile or more on the Merrimac side, anxious to get across to Okee – counting cars to see how many ferry loads it would take.

Today, it’s pretty much a drive-up and on – especially weekdays. What’s amazing is that it still exists, offering free passage on highway 113 across the mile or so of Lake Wisconsin – 24/7 all summer long! It was even added to the National Register of Historic Places recently.

There’s still enough of us to keep lobbying for the service to continue, bringing back memories of a more peaceful time, when travel was measured more by the experience than how the GPS routed you.

The kids were initially mixed on the journey, but eventually thought it was pretty cool to stand on the deck. It wasn’t only about the memories, it was introducing yet another generation to an old form of travel that still serves a function today.

P.S. GPS databases don’t treat the ferry route favorably – they route you dozens of miles away.

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Bee on Final Approach

Bee on Final Approach, originally uploaded by tomkellyphoto.

Our Tour de Heartland has landed us in Wisconsin, with an entirely new set of weather and wildlife from our native Utah. While, yes, we are the beehive state, there’s a bit more pollinating to be done in the Midwest.

Today’s journey took us to Token Creek Park outside Madison. It’s a wonderful preserve that was initially built about the year I left town in 1977. It was my first trip, although mom and dad went out there often.

Our short hike took us along Token Creek (named for an Indian Taukanee) through amazing vegetation ripe with monarchs and other flying creatures.

This particular set of wildflowers was brilliantly lighted against a dark backdrop – perfect for a closeup photo. But what I hadn’t planned on was the bee activity.

While I have an entire set of great photographs, this shot of the bee on final approach was special.