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By Staff | Aug 5, 2011

My wife and I craved something different, so we headed for the door. Door County, that is.

Door County, Wisconsin, is a carrot-shaped chunk of land that juts up into Lake Michigan. Like all carrots it has some gnarly areas, but mainly contains good things.

Our first stop was Sturgeon Bay, which straddles the peninsula like a low-hanging belt. Sturgeon are ugly, primitive bottom-feeders. Sturgeon Bay, on the other hand, is clean, modern, and is picturesquely infested with vast numbers of bobbing boats.

One of our goals was to see lighthouses, so we took a sea tour of Sturgeon Bay. Our tour boat, the Harbor Lady, floated us at a stately pace to the mouth of the harbor where we espied a lighthouse. The excitement level was such that we began to feel a bit woozy.

With our first lighthouse tucked safely in our memory card, we decided to drive farther northward into Door County. A considerable number of cars shared the road, a level of traffic we country mice normally associate with such things as the state fair.

We passed numerous farms along the way and it appeared that every outbuilding had been converted into a winery, or a pottery shop, or an antique pavilion. The opportunities to purchase fine gifts and accessories were infinite.

Stopping at a farmers market, we bought a small container of freshly picked cherries. You simply cannot match the taste of fruit that has been allowed to ripen on the tree and was plucked from the branch that morning.

Our wanderings eventually landed us in Fish Creek. Since we had adopted a “while in Rome” attitude and since we were in a maritime town that was named for ichthyoids, we opted to sample – surprise! – the local fish. After all, these folks should know how to do fish.

In this case, doing fish involves a process called a fish boil.

It begins with a large pot of water suspended over a wood fire. Into this pot goes potatoes, followed by onions and fish. Just as the pot begins to boil over, the fish boiler yells “Boil over!” and tosses flammable fluid onto the fire. Flames and smoke roar upward.

The explosion of heat causes the pot to erupt like a miniature volcano, albeit one that belches fishy water. Braving the billowing steam and smoke and flames, the fish boiler and his assistant hoist the tray of fish and spuds from the kettle and spirit them away.

Dinner and a show!

I chatted with Matthew, the fish boiler at Pelletier’s Restaurant.

“I’ve been boiling fish for 29 years,” he said when asked about his background. “Fish boils are unique to this region. They were started about 150 years ago by the Scandinavians who settled here. It was a way to get together as a community, share food and stories and maybe have a beer or two.”

The fish boils at Pelletier’s traditionally take place four times each evening from May through October. The locally-caught whitefish is served with generous amounts of melted butter and cherry pie for dessert. We liked the pie part best.

The next morning we continued our lighthouse quest by visiting Peninsula State Park, a peninsula that has sprouted from a peninsula. The park is choked with arboreal life – pine, maple, hemlock, oak, sumac and many others. The park also contains numerous camping and picnic sites. Yogi Bear would have a field day.

We found Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, which was erected in 1868. The building is in excellent condition given its age and the fact that it’s located virtually in the middle of nowhere.

Our map indicated an Eagle Tower nearby. This sounded interesting and picturesque, so we drove to the alleged tower. I swiftly sized it up.

“This thing can’t be more than 20 feet high,” I told my wife. “I’ll quick climb it, snap a few photos and we’ll be on our way.”

After ascending several stories of steep stairs, I could see that my original estimate was a bit off; Eagle Tower must be more than 50 feet tall. Several flights later, with a good deal of tower was yet above me, I re-revised my height estimate to 100 feet. Only after finally reaching the pinnacle did I realize that Eagle Tower must be 1,000 feet tall!

Families with small children chattered as the observation deck swayed gently in an onshore breeze. I had to rest until my breathing became merely ragged, but, oh! What a vista!

The rippling canvass of the indigo lake lay below with the shoreline of the exotic state of Michigan off on the hazy horizon.

Being a lighthouse keeper certainly must have been a lonely job. But I could see where the position had its compensations.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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