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The Better Place

Not quite 50 years after "The Summer of '36" events took place, another summer resident recounted her family's family's experience in moving to their Green Lake home on the north shore on a permanent basis, typical of many such moves, theirs in the second week of January 1984.

The winter was unusually cold that year, and almost every night the pipes in the house froze. Lonnie Olson's early morning arrival, a blow torch in his gloved hand, became the fixed point of the day. By 10:30 a.m. he would have water again flowing through the pipes and the fire in the fireplace would be burning brightly, making their hearts happy and their rooms warm.

She had arrived, expecting Green Lake's January world to be a touch melancholy; the woods naked, the winds wailing against the north walls, but things were instead unusually lively.

There was a village of brightly painted fish houses in front of their place with roads and cars racing in, out, and across the frozen water. Close to the windows, sparrows, chickadees, and nuthatches flocked to the feeders. Sun dogs filled the daytime skies, and one cold night, when it was unusually still, she saw a moon dog, something she'd never known existed. The stars were brighter than ever they had seen.


Sandy Ehler's painting of Spicer

The silent dawns, of early February, became filled with crow calls, and soon after, the snow began to melt upon the lake's more exposed southern banks. Ten feet of water flowed, by mid-month, along the north shoreline. Common and hooded mergansers arrived, and one morning four muskrats played in the icy water. They were often awakened, in the deep of night, by the cries of wild geese, and one day they saw two fuzzy caterpillars, black with rich rust stripes dividing their backs, warming each other on the sun baked drive. It seemed, even in the year's coldest month, that the earth's adrenaline was pouring out upon itself, giving courage to the joy and rhythm of the coming spring.

March brought snow, robins, blizzards, juncos, ice floes, and hawks. Six eagles began working the water's edge, and red squirrels and gophers appeared around the wood pile. Late in the month the season's first great blue heron crossed above, and rabbits began to show themselves in the yard. Finally, on March 3 1, the husband heard the long awaited trumpets of swan flying over head. He counted 39 of the huge birds as they flew eastward across the lake, appearing and disappearing in the steamy vapor that filled the early morning sky.

Birds returned by the thousands in April; and deer, sensing the safety of spring, crossed the road and drank at the lake's edge. By month's end, she had brought bouquets of pussy willows, bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches and a single yellow cowslip into the house. On April 29 the marsh marigolds that grow at the nearby spring had burst into bloom, and that evening 150 double-crested cormorants, not once breaking their V-shaped flight pattern, flew three feet above the water's mirrored surface the length of the shoreline.

The world exploded in May. Sunrises, on the back marshes, were noisy with the territorial calls of the red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds. White pelicans arrived, and on May 3, they saw nearly 300 black waterfowl land mid-lake. Soon these were joined by seagulls that dived and darted, catching the small fish stirred up by the larger birds' arrival. They thought the blackbirds were cormorants, but upon sighting them in the binoculars, they realized they were watching 300 loons. It was, upon making such a discovery, impossible to return to work; consequently they spent the rest of the morning spying on the males as they enacted their mating rituals for the females. The loons, dividing into smaller and smaller groups, flew away by noon, leaving only eight pairs behind.

Five weeks after watching the Great Loon Show and six months after they had first arrived at Green Lake, Sandy Ehlers wrote the following in her journal:

"June 9, 1984

 I have slowed down considerably in the last months. I sometimes, after finishing breakfast, can gaze silently for a full 30 minutes at the lake. Tom recently asked me what I was thinking and I said, Well, I began with seasonal changes, then moved on to yearly cycles, and now I'm considering cosmic rhythms!' We laughed and talked about how we are each arriving at a different viewpoint than ever we've had before.

"We find ourselves musing over our relationship to nature, to every thing that lives, to the universe itself. It is as if we are beginning to hear a new song, to sense a harmony that runs through the spirit of all things. It isn't that the harmony wasn't there before; it was just that we had become too distracted to listen for it."