Exodus: An escape to the north woods

Millions flock to the pristine lakes and woods
Exodus: An escape to the north woods

We are now in the season of The Great Escape.

Soon millions of us will seek comfort in the beautiful woods and pristine lakes of our great state.

We long for that change of scenery, a respite from the workaday world we inhabit for eleven and half months a year.

As a seasoned escape artist who never misses a chance to blast north for the quiet of the woods and the soothing waters of the lake, I watch with delight as friends and family avail themselves of this luxury in the summer. There is ritual that accompanies these summer jailbreaks that is as predictable as it is entertaining.

It goes something like this …

Phase One: Escape Planning. Wherein visitors ask the following questions of themselves or their hosts: Who has the sunscreen? Insect repellant? Beer? Wine? Vodka? Ice? Do I need to bring a pillow? Sheets? Towels? Are there ticks this year? What kind of ticks? Have you seen deer? Bear? Wolves? Should I bring rods? Bait? Did you say there were ticks?

And the most important question of all: Should I bring buns?

Phase Two: “We’re Here!” Exit car or van. Inhale deeply. Express joy at finally being here. Unload clothing and, most importantly, lug in three coolers filled with anything and everything known to man that needs cooling, from beer to baby bottles to steaks to more beer to the last cooler, which is cooling only five bags of ice and nothing else. Phase Two then proceeds with staking out sleeping quarters, a fine art that practiced hands do well by finding the darkest cubby hole free from traffic. Then follows the first promenade down to the lake. There is another exclamation of joy, a serious examination of the waters for fish and the wonderful moment where you slip off your shoe and dip your toe in the clear waters of the lake and pronounce, “It’s not that cold!”

Phase Three: Launch. In this phase, the full vacation begins. The kids change into swimwear and launch themselves into the lake with squeals of rapture. Adults sit and chat, catching up. Eventually the adults decide to swim. The majority of adults enter the water slowly, allowing themselves time to acclimate. The women are sure to issue “icks” if the lake bottom has even the slightest bit of muck or weeds. And then that one uncle launches himself off the pier with the howl of a banshee and splashes anyone within a half mile of his dive. Happens every time.

Phase Four: Let’s Eat. All food on vacation is done on the grill by the men because no self-respecting woman wants to do anything in a kitchen during a vacation. The men all fuss over the lighting of the fire, as we must have done long ago in caves after bring home a flank of mastodon. Every single man present has an opinion about how to start the fire, if the coals are “ready” and when the burgers, chicken or brats are officially “done.” Every man must at some point poke the coals. It’s mandatory.

Phase Five: The Campfire. This is the best moment of the vacation. Instead of repairing to separate rooms, televisions or digital devices after dinner, the smart vacationers head down to the shore and build a campfire. It is here where the elders teach the next generation about kindling and dry wood. And then, as the summer sun sets, flames light the faces of those you love as they gaze at the moon, stars and now-still lake. The children oooh and aaaah as the loons greet the rising moon. And then there is reconnection. We talk to each other. Laugh. Sing. Remember. No one but infants are put to bed. These warm summer nights are meant to be shared by all for as long as possible, for these are the moments we dream of in January.

Phase Six: Departure. Sometime during the vacation, you begin to count the days. And then it comes. Time to leave. To return to the noise and hustle. Time to once again be subjected to the constant man-made din of the city and leave behind the sounds of the natural world that soothe us. Clothing isn’t packed. It’s wadded up and jammed into a bag. There are hugs and kisses. A last walk down to the lake to say a final good-bye. A great friend told me that at the end of their northwoods vacation, his father would stand on the pier and shed a tear, saddened he had to bid adieu to such beauty and peace.

And then the car drives off. An hour later comes the predictable call from your guests to request that you bring home the seven things they forgot at the cabin. One is always an iPod.

And then you are home. Rested. Happy. Reconnected as a family.

There is only one thing left to do.

Check for ticks.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.