Last Saturday dawned clear and cold in our neck of the woods. The temperature was a chilly -9 degrees when I left Clintonville at about 6 am, bound for a Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands (FOPPI) board meeting scheduled to begin five hours later on Washington Island.
While driving east on Highway 156 just west of Navarino I spotted the silhouette of a Snowy Owl perched atop a utility pole. I stopped the car and attempted to get a photo, but the bird quickly flew off across the open fields, lighting on a distant dead tree, out of range of my camera. The weekend was off to a memorable start!
Three hours later I reached the Northport pier at the tip of the Door Peninsula. The temperature had warmed to near zero and the sun was shining brilliantly. A group of school kids and their parents transferred from a Sevastopol school bus bound for an island basketball game. Snowmobilers and other travelers had the Arni J. Richter filled to capacity for this winter journey across Death’s Door.
During the coldest time of the year, the specially designed ferry makes two trips between the mainland and Detroit Harbor every day, weather permitting. The boat was built in 2003 at Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay and has a reinforced ice hull and propeller that made the icy passage in less than an hour.
Sea smoke rose eerily from the open water. The boat crunched its way through frozen areas with relative ease. Flocks of Goldeneyes landed in the ferry’s ice-free wake immediately after we passed. Pilot Island looked frigidly spooky in the distance to the east.
Ranger Randy Holm accompanied me to Rock Island in the afternoon following the FOPPI meeting. No wind and a temperature in the mid-teens made for a pleasant walk over the thick ice and the hard, wind-packed snow.
The distance from Washington Island’s Jackson Harbor to the Thordarson Boathouse is about a mile. We spent some time admiring the ice-coated pier. Deep snow was drifted in around it as well as the nearby pagoda. More impressive drifts were traversed on the spit near the island’s southwest corner.
Early the next morning, I made a quick side trip to the Stavkirke on Washington Island, an impressively handcrafted Scandinavian chapel tucked into the woods just off Townline Road across from Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. I trudged through knee-deep snow on the prayer path where I paused to listen for “God’s still small voice.”
I returned to the ferry dock via Old West Harbor Road. The fresh overnight snowfall had groves of hemlocks looking especially fine on this lovely morning.
A safe ride back to the peninsula left me with a hankering for Al Johnson’s Swedish pancakes. They provided me with the energy needed to make one last pit stop at Cave Point before heading for home renewed and invigorated by a beautiful winter weekend in Door County.
Tim Sweet is a public school librarian in Clintonville, Wis., who helped found two groups that have helped rebuild historic maritime structures and open them to the public – the Friends of Rock Island and Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands.