When I think of Wisconsin, I see it as if from a helicopter: intense greens, barn reds, white dots of cattle. It is a fat and prosperous land, the hills like velvet pincushions below me. There’s cheese down there–and Green Bay Packers.
The state is shaped like a mitten, a left hand pressed palm down into the rich earth. The thumb of the mitten is Door County, whose fifteen-mile width separates Green Bay from Lake Michigan: two bodies of water that create radically different climate pockets on the western and eastern sides of the peninsula.
Quaint whitewashed villages dot these shores. On the chill and sandy dunes of the Lake, there are Baileys Harbor, Newport and Northport (both abandoned), and Rowley’s Bay. “My” world, however, is perched on the limestone cliffs of the Bay and is comprised (from south to north) of Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay, and Gills Rock, with Washington Island just north of the “Porte des Morts” (“Death’s Door”) strait. The link between those pretty bayside villages is Route 42, which connects them like pearls on a string. These names sing to me of summer magic and fjord-like bays flanked by high bluffs, which once attracted Scandinavian immigrants to their shores, and whose descendants still rule this small fiefdom.
Our family’s actual stomping ground, on the other hand, was nothing like those villages. We lived on a white gravel road, one mile east of Highway 42–and five miles each way (south and north) from Egg Harbor and Fish Creek. In the 1960s, when our neighbor Gardner Orsted became the County Road Commissioner, our little road was suddenly paved, and a sign was posted at its corner with Highway 42. That’s when we discovered we lived in “Juddville.”
Our domain consisted of forty acres that rose to the top of a high bluff (named Brude’s Hill), giving us a lordly view of the valley below and the hills beyond, rising toward Fish Creek. We had come to own that little kingdom back in 1940 (before my time!) when my dad and his best friend Roby Bach had decided to build a commune, drop off the grid, and live on barter and the proceeds from any arts and crafts they produced. When Mama Bach (Roby’s mother) happened to find this land for $10 an acre, Roby and Augie (my dad) persuaded two other friends, Neva Bowling and Jerry Straus, to join them in the purchase. Each bought a ten-acre strip, stretching south from Juddville Road to Brunetsky’s woods, so that each strip had access to the road.
Sadly, Roby had been born a “blue baby” and died of a heart attack in 1951 at the age of thirty-nine. Neva and Jerry married and remained dedicated city dwellers, bound to their chic Mies van der Rohe apartment and glamorous lifestyle in Chicago. So Dad bought the other thirty acres from the survivors, and we remained the only ones of the group to inhabit our land (at least in the summers).
(Next: how the founding of the Peninsula Players brought us to Door County.)