My first experience with sea smoke came in a bottle of Pinot Noir from California. While it’s an elegant, earthy Pinot— the real deal over Lake Superior is far more impressive. Sea smoke (or Arctic fog) results from very cold Arctic air moving over warmer water— it’s pretty amazing to think Lake Superior is at least 35 – 45 degrees warmer than the air. It’s unbelievably cold for December, the night-time temperatures have been below zero for days, but the lake hasn’t cooled down enough to freeze yet. Perfect conditions for a photo safari.
We’ve been creatures of Northern Wisconsin long enough to laugh in the face of sub-zero temperatures, put on our layers, wool socks and Sorels and head out for a sea smoke photo safari. We started in Bayfield but decided we should be a little more adventurous and head up towards Cornie and check out the open lake.
It was a dual purpose trip— Will needed practice diving on icy, snow-covered roads and I needed to practice diaphragm breathing and not freaking out. In the midst of imagining the worst case scenario if we went into the ditch, Will said, ‘what’s in the road up ahead?’. There is nothing better to distract me from imaginary car wrecks than two yellow labs ambling towards our car— Will pulled over, I hopped out and, with a little coaxing, they hopped in. We drove about a 1/4 of a mile to the first house we saw and luckily, that’s where this adventurous pair lived. Six dogs would have been too much, right?
Driving to Cornucopia was a good call, the lake was stunning. The wind picked up right after we arrived and the sea smoke started to twist and dance off shore.
I took these last three shots this morning at Bayview Beach. The kids groaned when they saw the camera in my hands as I made my way to the car, made me promise they wouldn’t be late (they are more timely than their Mother) and didn’t start rioting until 7:56 am. They weren’t late, I didn’t have to speed to school and I spent 6 minutes kneeling on the beach catching the rising sun through sea smoke. Complete and utter bliss.
‘It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.’
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Foster Falls was near the end of our fall magical, mystery tour of the waterfalls in Northwestern Wisconsin and it was a good one. Again, I had a general idea of where to go but a ‘general idea’ is in no way related to good, solid waterfall directions. When we stopped at the O’Dovero’s for some beef, I asked Wendy for directions to Wren Falls (our first destination) and she gave us the inside scoop on how to get there. Except, I didn’t write anything down and tried to commit it all to my ‘not quite firing on all cylinders’ memory. I remembered everything up to, ‘turn left on Casey Sag Road and look for a fork in the road’.
It turns out there are two forks in the road and we took the first one. Our handy-dandy cell phones were in ‘no service’ land and I figured the best way to find a waterfall was to find some water and we did— the picturesque Potato River (without a waterfall in sight). As we walked back to the car, we noticed an ATV trail that went alongside the river and Charlie suggested he run ahead and scout out the situation. He came running back with good news— there was a trail (marked by a beer can on a branch) and a waterfall straight ahead. You’ve got to love good old Wisconsin way markers— beer cans (empty, of course) skewered on branches.
As I got closer, I realized we had taken the wrong turn at the fork because we were at Foster Falls (our number two destination), not Wren. It was a good wrong turn, Foster Falls is remarkable because you can walk up the edge, sit on a flat piece of basalt and feel the water and spray as they move down the cascade. Foster Falls is on the Potato River, a principal tributary in the Bad River Watershed and is upstream from Potato River Falls. While it’s lacking the serious wow factor of Potato River Falls, it’s still an impressive waterfall— 25 feet of tannin stained, pristine, rushing water down a chute of basalt. I can’t wait to go back on a spring day, I bet the rocks soak up the sun and warm up nicely— a perfect spot for a picnic.