Just about twenty miles Northeast of the Wisconsin Dells along a strip of road known simply as G, you will find a small somewhat figure 8 shaped body of water called Jordan Lake. It is literally in the middle of nowhere, and the nearest towns of Oxford and Briggsville have a combined population that is probably smaller than my daughter Stephanie’s high school graduating class. As Maureen would describe it, it is way off the grid system. But it has also been one of my favorite places for more than 30 years. My sister Marney simple refers to it as The Happy Place, and my entire family has a lifetime of memories to support that title.
Recently, we spent a week at The Happy Place, a very quiet week filled with doing almost nothing and eating and drinking way too much. My mom and dad own a home on the west end of Jordan Lake, where the sunrises, should you happen to be up early enough to see them, are breathtaking. But the spot where the house now stands wasn’t always our families vacation home. Back in the mid-seventies when we made our first trip through the cornfields and back roads of Wisconsin, the west end of the lake was scattered with old one and two bedroom hunting cottages belonging to The Clearwater Resort. This was our first vacation spot on Jordan Lake. Each year, we would take a one week family vacation along with a number of other families, who’s only connection was a grade school and a neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. These were my mom and dad’s friends, and eventually they and their children became as close to my sisters and I as any real family. And those un-air-conditioned cabins, the lake and the surrounding woods would become our summer playground. We all grew up on the lake, and now our children are also growing up in the tides of the lake.
On our recent visit to Jordan Lake, one of my sister Laura’s friends commented on how lucky we were to have had this place for all those years, and it was in that moment that I realized how unique our years there have been. It never occurred to me that others did not have this same closeness or fondness for a simple part of the world were all your troubles really do seem to melt away in the sun as we relax and do pretty much nothing. We literally sit in the water across the lake on lawn chairs, talk to friends, eat a sandwich or two, and drink a few ice-cold beverages. We watch the sun move across the sky all day, and then sometimes with a slight tingling from the sunburn or beer we head back in and start dinner and make a bonfire.
Although the shore of the lake has changed over the last thirty years, Clearwater Resort burned down and all the hunting cottages have been replaced with much bigger homes, the lake itself really has not. It is still out there in the middle of nowhere, although a little easier to find thanks to Google Earth and cars equiped with GPS devises. The lake still has that outdoor lake smell, and the sand still gets so hot in the day that you have to quick step across it in your bare feet. At night the sky is still so clear that you can actually see all of the stars and not just the brightest that make it through the light pollution of the big cities. And it still has the most spectacular rainstorms you will ever see.
We were blessed with one of those storms a couple of weeks back. We could see the storm forming while still on the lake, but the good stuff really didn’t kick in until much later. Maureen and the kids had already passed out from the long day, and I was sitting on the couch working on the puzzle Molly wanted to put together. She always wants to start a puzzle, but then quickly loses interest as Maureen and I and my dad usually finish it up. I could hear the thunder getting closer, and the sky was starting to light up, so I moved to the back porch to watch the show. The lightning was spectacular and I could feel the electricity in th air as the bolts danced across the sky out over the lake. There would be a flash as bright as daylight followed by blast of thunder that shook the house. The rain was pouring so fast and hard that the outside lights on the house next to ours kept turning on because the flow of the water from the sky was registering on the motion detectors the controled the bulbs. I was safe in my own little world under the roof of the screened in deck, but still close enough to smell the damp air and feel the water splashing at my feet and legs. Then after a while, as the storm moved on across the lake and the flashes came further and further apart and the thunder was now a gentle rumbling, I closed my eyes and listened as nature lulled me to sleep with the still constant flow of the rain and a slight breeze kept me cool. I am not sure how long this old man was snoring before I headed inside to move Maureen from the couch to the bedroom. I checked on the kids, and the storm seemed to be having the same effect on them as it had on me. As I lied in the darkness the distant thunder calmed my mind and soon I was back off in dreamland once again.
We have really been very lucky to have this place for so many years. Just like the rest of my family, I could not imagine life without the lake. It has always been there for us through the good times and the bad, and I hope it will stay there for years to come. I would like my kids to realize what a wonderful gift the lake has been, and that we all need to get away from the computers and cell phones and video games every now and then. It is a place of solitude that can help replenish the energy and the mind. Because every now and then, we just need to sit in the water and take in the sun. Let life go on a few days without you. That is what Jordan Lake has been for me for over thirty years.
It really is The Happy Place.