The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is far more than the rugged beauty of the iconic sandstone sea caves, the many moods of cold and clear Lake Superior, the pristine beaches, the island forests and the wildlife. The park is also a treasure trove of human history… stories of hope and hardship… of adventure, discovery and of celebration.
As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.
This is the first in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees. Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.
Susan Nelson first came to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore as a college intern student in 1979. The next year she returned as a park aid and then worked as a park ranger from 1982 to 1988. She had many wonderful experiences working in the park, but the story she tells most often is how she met her future husband. Susan currently works at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest as an Interpretive Services Specialist.
What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently? How I met my husband, Bobby. Yes, its true, and we still laugh about it today! It was really funny how it happened. I had just come off the Kiwatin after a 10/4 schedule (that schedule may have saved the park travel $$ but was really exhausting!)
I took my gear and headed for the Madeline Island ferry (I was living at my parents summer home on Madeline). I saw a couple of guys on the beach near the ferry landing. They were preparing net poles used to string gill nets under the ice in winter. It was Bobby and Deanie Halvorson. Bobby looked over my way and whistled. I was getting on the ferry with a friend from Madeline. I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and said “Neanderthal….” We both laughed and got on the ferry.
Later that day I took the ferry back to Bayfield to meet some friends for dinner at Maggie’s Restaurant. This same guy was sitting at a table nearby and kept looking my way. Then he came over and started talking with folks he knew. They introduced us and the rest is history!
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job? When researchers came to the island, I had a chance to interact with them and learn more about their research projects. I even helped them if it was a slow day at the lighthouse.
What is the most fun experience you had in the park? Talking with visitors at the Raspberry Island Lighthouse, touring them through the buildings and playing croquet on the lighthouse lawn. I got really good at this game and often won!
At the close of every tour, I recited Edgar Guest’s poem “The Lighthouse Keeper Wonders”. I can still recite it perfectly to this day. People returned and brought guests to the lighthouse. I’d close each tour with this poem at the top of the lighthouse. They always waited in anticipation for this poem!
Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride. Touring dignitaries through the lighthouse and sharing the history of this special place and closing each tour with Edgar Guest’s poem.
The Lighthouse Keeper Wonders by Edgar Guest
The light I have tended for 40 years
is now to be run by a set of gears.
The Keeper said, And it isn’t nice
to be put ashore by a mere device.
Now, fair or foul the wind that blow
or smooth or rough the sea below,
It is all the same. The ships at night
will run to an automatic light.
The clock and gear which truly turn
are timed and set so the light shall burn.
But did ever an automatic thing
set plants about in early Spring?
And did ever a bit of wire and gear
a cry for help in darkness hear?
Or welcome callers and show them through
the lighthouse rooms as I used to do?
‘Tis not in malice these things I say
All men must bow to the newer way.
But it’s strange for a lighthouse man like me
after forty years on shore to be.
And I wonder now – will the grass stay green?
Will the brass stay bright and the windows clean?
And will ever that automatic thing
plant marigolds in early Spring?
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park. There are so many….the sunsets, the storms, wildlife and the people. As an intern student I was helping Bob Brander with a deer study at Sand River. We spent long days tromping through that area, everything was so over browsed it looked like a bonsai garden. One day we were walking past an old dilapidated cabin to a new area that he was studying. Suddenly Bob said, “wait here”. He dashed into the cabin, there was rummaging around, I could see through the windows as Bob was dashing back and forth. I really didn’t know what the heck he was doing! Then he reappears with two porcupines, one in each hand, dangling by their tails. He talked about the porcupine study he had worked on. Then he released them and unfortunately 7 quills got into one of his right legs. He instructed me to cut the tip of the quills to release the air pressure, then pull them out. I could feel the pain he was experiencing, but knew it had to be done. Yikes!
What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park? 76 Red-tailed hawks fly over the Raspberry Island Lighthouse towards Raspberry Bay. They were reported at Devil’s Island earlier, so I was on the watch. They did not disappoint! It was migration season. That was an amazing sight!
What, if any, ’something’ from your time at APIS was an impetus for your chosen career or life path? I always knew this was my path, it did help drive me towards my goals of permanent employment with a natural resource agency.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? Bobby is an “inholder” and I’d have to say Rocky Island at the Nelson cabins. Walking over to the northwest beach with our favorite dog, Jack.
We would like to thank Susan for adding her memories to the Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing future logbook entries with you in the coming weeks.