Tuesday, September 29, 2015


John Hildebrand, Eau Claire, author of
"The Heart of Things: A Midwestern Almanac,"
visited with other passengers aboard
the Karfi, enroute to Rock Island.
Washington Island -

The recent 2015 Washington Island Literary Festival (also referred to in shorthand as the 'Lit Fest') was successful in many ways.

The number of participants is growing, the quality of author/presenters was outstanding, and the variety of venues made the weekend most enjoyable for both readers and writers.

September's weather during that weekend was also accommodating, allowing for pleasant outdoor events.

Comments received from writers and readers, and also from those who consider themselves readers and aspiring writers, praised what blended to become an intimate, enlightening and entertaining weekend.

Friday afternoon the Door County Land Trust co-sponsored an event
titled, Nature & Poetry Walk.  Madison poet Alice D'Alessio read from
her book "A Blessing of Trees" as several groups
made their way along wooded paths near the Stavkirke.

This prevalent, positive mood began with Friday's several workshops, optional opportunities to delve into fiction, poetry and life-writing, and an outdoor Nature & Poetry Walk that began at the Stavkirke.
A warm reception in the Farm Museum Barn brought together those from the workshops and the balance of the weekend's participants.  The centerpiece were Saturday and Sunday presentations by invited writers, with readings interspersed with personal comments about their work, several supporting slide shows, and back-and-forth with audience members.  Books by featured authors and poets were available for purchase at the Back Stage Bookstore (managed by Deb Wayman of Fair Isle Books).  Book signing opportunities with the writers were at an adjacent table.

Author panel led the Saturday morning presentations at
the Trueblood Performing Arts Center.  From left:
Peter Geye; Danielle Sosin; Lin Enger;  Hampton Sides.

Sunday morning's two presentations were held in the hall of the Rock Island Boat House, following coffee on the Jackson Harbor pier and a pleasant ride on the Karfi.   For those who participated in Sunday's event, the beauty and warmth of the Lake Michigan day were infused with author readings of Lake Superior-themes, and the sum total was certainly one of the weekend's highlights.   (Most photos shown here were taken during the Sunday event.)

Author Danielle Sosin read from
her book "The Long Shining Waters"
Sunday at Rock Island.

Next year's theme and dates

"Mystery and Mystique of the Midwest" is the theme selected for the 2016 Literary Festival, and as might be guessed, invited authors will include leading Midwest mystery writers.  This author list is currently being developed, and we hope to have word soon on the invited and accepting authors for public announcement.

The calendar dates chosen for the third weekend in September will generally follow this year's format, with an effort to hold the festival while outdoor events might be warm and inviting.

Workshops will expand, hallmarked by longer individual workshop length.  These will begin Thursday around mid-day on September 15 and continue Friday morning and afternoon, September 16.   The Festival itself will begin with an Opening Reception Friday evening.  Author presentations are scheduled Saturday Sep. 17 and Sunday morning Sep. 18, with longer breaks between presentations.   One committee goal will be to announce 2016 Lit Fest authors on a dedicated website page along with program outline and registration information, no later than early November.

Fees will increase slightly for 2016.   Workshops registration will be $75 (a reduction to $65 per workshop if two or more workshops are selected).  Lit Fest Weekend registration fee in 2016 will be $85.  A "late registration" deadline will be set for July 15th, and that fee increases to $100 for later registrations.  This, in part, is an effort to encourage earlier sign-ups and more efficient planning.

Visiting on the deck of  Rock Island's Thordarson Boat House Sunday
morning were:  Marianne Fons;  Bob and Deb Wayman (Fair Isle Books);
author Capt. Don, and Betty Kilpela, of Copper Harbor, Michigan.

Good vibes, positive comments

I've read several comments by invited authors who also mingled with attendees.  I think these are worth passing along to a general readership here, because of their unsolicited, supportive content.  These comments are well received, given that many of the authors are well-traveled, having attended larger, better established, and presumably more prestigious, literary festivals elsewhere.

John Hildebrand (The Heart of Things: A Midwestern Almanac): 

   “This festival had a sense of fellowship that extends beyond the readings and workshops.  There was a sense of everyone being at the same table that I suppose comes from being on an island.”

Anne-Marie Oomen (Love, Sex and 4-H, Pulling Down the Barn and House of Fields.):
   “This is a conference for readers and writers, for nurturing that connection and building a literary culture.  
  “Participants in my seminar (Life Writing Made Easy) were of the highest caliber.  And that’s exciting as a teacher to have that kind of commitment.”

Sue Wentz (Festival participant and winner of the first Norbert Blei Literary Award for Short Story;  author of The Bluff):
  “This was a great conference.  People have been wonderful.”

Peter Geye (The Lighthouse Road, Safe from the Sea):
   "I attend quite a few book festivals.  It's one of the joys of being an author.  But rarely have I enjoyed myself so much as I did on Washington and Rock Islands.  Between the graciousness of my hosts and the smartness and enthusiasm of the attendees and the generousness of the other presenting authors, I'd have to rank this experience among the very best of festivals.  Put on top of that the gorgeous islands and venues, and readers and writers of all stripes would be crazy not to consider attending the Washington Island Book Festival in the coming years."

Catherine Jagoe, poet, and winner of the first Norbert Blei Award for Poetry:
  "One of the things that struck me as so successful about this festival was the sense of community and ease between all of us there.  I was apprehensive about not knowing anyone before I went, but people were open to one another and it was easy to talk to strangers and get to know one another.
  "I hope you all feel very proud of how things went.  This was a jewel of a festival.  It will be a hard act to follow!"

- Dick Purinton

Baraboo writer Sue Wentz, winner
of the Norbert Blei Short Story Award.

In addition to a cash prize,
winners of the Norbert Blei Poetry and Short Story Awards (and
runners-up)  each received a framed print of Norbert's
"Angel of Literature" painting.

(Jude Genereaux photo)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Archivist Janet Berggren's page, ADVENTURES IN THE ARCHIVES,
became my favorite page in the Island Observer.

Washington Island -

I attended a meeting of the Washington Island Archives last Tuesday afternoon (which by coincidence also happened to be my birthday).

Everything went smoothly and routinely initially, my first meeting as committee chair since Eric Greenfeldt resigned as our long-term chairman in May, due to personal obligations that take him away from the Island. (Eric stayed on as a committee member, however.)

But, as Janet Berggren concluded her Archivist's report, she looked quietly first at the table top, then at the ceiling lights, and drew a deep breath before announcing that she would retire at year's end.  

This was quite a shocker to those around the table, let me say!  (I have to admit it was "right up there" with the time I was elected American Legion Post Commander when attending my second meeting in 1975 (the other four or five men in attendance already had their turn and were waiting for new blood)... or the time I consented to take the role of Church Council President, only to have the minister resign a few months later, followed by the church furnace giving up a few months after that.   Unforgettable times, all.)  

We'll miss Janet when she leaves in late December.  She said she's looking "to carve out some 'retirement' time.  One can never stop learning, and I've learned that when it comes to Island history, the road is a seemingly endless path leading from one treasure to another."  I can't help but agree with her inclinations, and wish her nothing but the best.

Janet has great skills, including the talent to put together an outstanding, polished Archives page in the Observer, drawing us in with her humor and light mystery.  She'll be with us a few more months, and during that time we hope to select her replacement, someone who can benefit by working alongside Janet before she goes skiing, or whatever she has in mind!

On another note, the Island Archives lost a friend and a great volunteer in David Raup this summer, a man with tremendous career accomplishments in paleontology, yet someone most of us hardly knew because he was quiet and unassuming.  He kept the Archives computers humming by updating software and looking for suitable machines that still ran on his favored XP software.   Janet's remarks, delivered at Dave's Memorial Gathering on Saturday, Sep. 19, titled "Remembering Dave Raup," will be published in the next Island Observer issue.

Never static

Organizations are dynamic, always changing, and the Island Archives is no different.  It would be a mistake to believe Island events and committees run on auto pilot, seldom deviating from course, with little effort expended to keep the ship moving forward.

Established routines, understood job descriptions, and a history built around successful events helps, but in the end it is the plain, hard work of many members and participants that makes a success of Island events.   These highlights make a significant contribution to our "tourism summer":   the Birding Festival; Paddlefest; the Lions Club Fly-In Fishboil, and the Fair;  the Women's Club International Food Festival; Art In The Park at the ANC;   Scandinavian Dance Festival;  the Music Festival;  the Rec Run and Walk;  the American Legion Memorial Day Program and Fish Boils;  Death's Door BBQ;  the Friends of Rock Island picnic;  and the recently held Literary Festival.  I know I've forgotten many others, for which I apologize.

These are but the tip of the iceberg.  Lots of work goes into putting on these events, and I believe each one of those named above is sponsored by a non-profit organization and staffed by volunteers.  The cumulative effect is an Island that bustles with energy, ideas, creativity and promise.  It's captivating and contagious, and not just for first time visitors.   Residents often make up the bulk of the patronage at these events, both pitching in to help and enjoying the activity.

There's good reason we choose living here, beyond the beauty and awe of this natural world.   The closeness of a working community is a strong part of that reason.  There's nothing better than to be invested in your community, knowing that your work, using your hands and head, contributes to the overall economic and social well-being of the Island.

-  Dick Purinton    

Monday, September 7, 2015


Rock Island Park Manager Randy Holm posed with
summer-time naturalist and historian Richard Frost
before Frost returned to his LaCrosse home.
Washington Island -

The summer finale that is Labor Day Weekend is itself coming to a close.

The line of traffic leaving the island yesterday indicated there were lots of day visitors Sunday, the middle day of this holiday weekend.

Ferry crews managed to clean up the line by dark, but we'll see a repeat today when those who've stayed here overnight head back home for school and for the remaining days of the work week.

All of this bodes well, we believe, for the Ferry Line and the Island economy, a peak weekend of the year when all crews, all ferries run at full bore bringing people and vehicles back and forth.

I had the pleasure of operating the Karfi to Rock Island this weekend, and by a rare circumstance in scheduling I worked with son, Hoyt, who was my crew.  Saturday we spent the most time together since traveling to Iceland in June!

On the boathouse pier, waiting with backpack and belongings to depart the island, was Richard Frost. Richard was the naturalist and historian on Rock Island this past summer.  His enthusiasm, patient manner of teaching, and his ability to listen and learn quickly made him an asset to Rock Island's visitors and campers.   Evenings he slept on Rock Island, where he also served as campground host and point of contact when Randy Holm and his staff completed their work day.

I had the pleasure to visit with Richard on several occasions, during which time we exchanged information about Thordarson and Rock Island history.   I do hope the Wisconsin DNR park management people recognize the contributions Richard added through enhancing the experience for campers and day visitors.

The same can be said for the many Friends of Rock Island volunteers who take turns occupying the lighthouse one week at a time, in exchange for receiving and guiding visitors through this historic home, daily from 10-4.   Although anticipated, the stream of visitors is no small interruption of one's daily "vacation" routine, accompanied by frequent and often repeated visitor questions.   The rewards, however, (I should think) might include observing the expressions of surprise and reverence on the faces of those who enter the building for the first time, the finely remodeled and furnished home of Rock Island's light keepers.

Heading up this state park and its many facets - and this job includes occasional unpleasantness such as trash hauling (it all goes to the Washington Island recycling station), toilet pumping, and people management (not everyone listens, obeys, or is docile!), and public safety - is Park Manager Randy Holm.   I've come to respect not only Randy's range of activities and responsibilities, but also his proven understanding of Rock Island's history.

While Randy's responsibilities are wide-ranging, with a restricted park budget he's often short-handed, and for that reason you'll find Randy on the Island most days throughout the season (including many of his days off) during the park's generally accepted open/closing dates.   He's made it a point to be on the pier to personally greet arrivals - or ensure that one of his people are present - to welcome visitors and also to set the tone, should there be misconceptions that this is not a managed park experience.

At an Island coffee shop one morning in June, I met two ladies who had crossed on the Karfi a few days earlier to Rock Island.  One commented to me how surprisingly pleasant it was upon her arrival to be welcomed to Rock Island State Park.  She couldn't get over that gesture, which Randy has made into a hallmark of his tenure as Park Manager.  A seemingly small thing, but it can mean a great deal to visitors, and it may encourage repeat visits in future years.  (We encounter many campers who are proud to let us know the number of consecutive years their family - now in the fourth or fifth generations - have camped on Rock Island, a sign of how deep the experience runs.)

This morning hundreds of families or couples are packing up their cars at the conclusion of breakfast (or folding their tents, if camping on Rock Island) and heading toward the ferry dock for the first leg of their drive home.

We appreciate all of these Island visitors, for their participation in the various planned activities that in turn boost our local economy, and for planting seeds for future visits.

 - Dick Purinton

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Author and captain,Don Kilpela and
his wife Betty in Copper Harbor, Michigan.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

It's been nearly five weeks since my last blog entry.  Several readers expressed concern for my health (I'm fine) and other were just curious as to "What gives?"

Busy with things, is my best answer…tours; trips on the Karfi; scraping and painting; getting my motorcycle back in order after a flat rear tire when riding below the hill, near Bethel Church; family gatherings; presentations and readings; selling a few books... and all of the activities typical in summer.

Hey, I'm retired!  I'll do what is necessary only for so long!

But having first vented, with this blog I'd like to highlight the upcoming Washington Island Literary Festival, of which I've become both a supporter and an active committee member (co-chair this year).  We have a fine slate of authors who will develop this year's theme in poetry, fiction and non-fiction:

I've placed a photo of friends Don and Betty Kilpela at the head of this blog, mostly because I think it's a handsome photo of one of the featured authors and his wife.   I took this on their Copper Harbor pier in front of Betty's shop a few years back, when Mary Jo and I were starting our 'round Lake Superior motorcycle trip.

Don has been primarily a commercial passenger vessel owner & operator with a file full of humorous events and customer comments concerning their 60-mile, open water trip between Copper Harbor and Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior.  I believe it's the longest off-shore small domestic passenger vessel trip in the U. S.  (If I'm wrong here, please correct me!)  But he's also an excellent writer, as well as dabbler in several business ventures during his lifetime.

Don had the itch to buy an oil tanker in the Caribbean years ago, and the impact of multiple, sometimes seemingly unavoidable, decisions on his family's future are clearly and unabashedly outlined in his book: "So You Want To Own An Oil Tanker."  Don's example shows show far chutzpah and self-confidence can take you, but it resulted in a nearly disastrous outcome for his family and their financial future.   It was his ability to resolve his mistakes, and even the events that happened beyond his control, that make this memoir a good guide for anyone with an impulsive itch to change their life's direction.

But Don Kilpela is just one of many fine authors who will join with readers and fellow writers at this third Washington Island Literary Festival.   For the full program and registration information, go to www.truebloodpac.com

Click on the Literary Festival link highlighted in blue.

Featured author this year is Hampton Sides, who is also an editor for Outdoor Magazine.  We're most excited to welcome Hampton to the TPAC stage.   Hampton wrote, In The Kingdom of Ice, a gripping story of Arctic exploration at a time in the 1800s when at least a few significant scholars believed there was a warm Arctic sea inside a ring of icebergs.   With this misinformation as their beginning point, explorers, who we today believe should have intuitively known better, set off for one of the globe's few remaining unexplored locations.   Hampton will present his book along with audio/visual on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 19th.

Workshops, too!

Registrants who are also poets and writers may find one of four workshops offered Friday Sept. 18 to be of interest.  An additional workshop fee is made based upon the length of each offering.

The reason for underscoring workshop registration here is that several workshop leaders offer the opportunity to review work submitted in advance for evaluation.   Information concerning those workshops follows:

The Washington Island Literary Festival:  Workshops, 2015

The Washington Island Literary Festival, now in its third year, will offer four writing/poetry workshops on Friday, September 18, in addition to the Sep. 19 & 20 weekend presentations by noted authors.

Participants can register now for these workshops by going online at the Trueblood Performing Arts Center (TPAC) website.   Workshop descriptions and times, along with associated fees, are as follows.  (Registrants will be informed of locations on the Island Festival sites prior to Sep. 18, 2015)

Five Rivers:  Life Writing Made Easy (Sept. 18, 10:30-12:30) – Anne-Marie Oomen
This workshop is for anyone who wishes to explore the past. Using their five senses, Anne-Marie will guide participants through a clear and simple approach to writing a life story, and development of structure for memoir.  For all ages, all walks of life.  Participants are encouraged to bring pens, notebooks, and laptops (if they wish) to  embark on life writing.   Workshop fee:   $45

Discovering Your Inner Poet (Sep. 18, 10:30-12:30) – Poet Alice D’Alessio
This workshop is for beginner and intermediate writers.  Alice will lead discussions of water and woods as sources of inspiration, what makes a poem, what provides inspiration, and how poems differ from prose.   Write a few lines or a complete  poem, inspired by your surroundings.  Learn about special touches to lift your poem above the ordinary.  Bring along several of your poems, if you wish, for critique and editing.   Workshop fee:  $45

Fiction Workshop:  Share Your Story, and Improve Your Craft with Tools that Work (Sep. 18, 1:30-4:30) – Fiction Writer Elizabeth Sachs
Have you ever wondered, “How could this story work better?”  Fiction doesn’t just happen; it’s also shaped, with strategies anyone can learn, apply, and improve.  In this forum, participants will submit work in advance, and read work of fellow workshop members sent to them.  Then, in a directed workshop, all members will learn strategies applied to their own, particular situations.  Dr. Elizabeth Sachs is a published, agented author, and a professor of creative writing and literature.  Target date for submission of work in advance is 20 August, but later-coming work is also welcome.  Contact Elizabeth Sachs (esachs5262@aol.com) for further details.  Workshop fee:   $60

Poetry Workshop:  Share your Poetry, and Improve Your Craft with Tools that Work (Sep. 18, 1:30-4:30) – Poet Rebekah Keaton
Craft tools can easily be applied to poetry, to improve its impact dramatically.  Dr. Keaton, a professor of poetry and literature, has published work in numerous literary journals and is a Pushcart Prize nominee.  Participants are encouraged to submit 3-5 poems in advance, which will be mailed to the whole group, for workshop attention applied to your work in particular.  Target date for submission of work in advance is 20 August, but later-coming work is also acceptable.  Contact Rebekah Keaton (rakeaton@hotmail.com) for further details. Workshop fee:  $60

*       *       *

We hope to see many of you here for the Island Literary Festival.  It's great fun, and also a good learning experience, in addition to the opportunity to meet and visit with notable authors and poets.

Please consider your registration today!     -  Dick Purinton

Monday, July 13, 2015


Photo of the Green Bay chart reprint includes (top left) the early
settlement at the mouth of the Fox River with symbols representing
dwellings along the east bank of the river, and
Fort Howard shown on the west bank. 

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

This morning we awoke to rain and overcast, a perfect morning to straighten out my desk and to report on a package we received late last week from Eric Bonow.

Eric seems to have a nose for out-of-the-way documents and maps and in his searching he came across a very early "Chart of Green Bay" that was based on surveys under the direction of CAPT. W. G. Williams, assisted by Lieut. J. W. Gunnison, Corps of Topograhical Engineers, in 1845.  This chart was then "Reduced from the original Map in the Topographical Bureau" by W. B. Franklin, Lieut. Corps Topographical Bureau, in 1846.

The body of water of Green Bay is shown horizontally in order to include as much of the bay from the settlement at the mouth of the Fox River (Green Bay) to the very southern point on Washington Island, including the all-important passage of Porte Des Morts.   It's a shame Rock Island was not included, as it would have shown the first federal lighthouse in the northern Lake Michigan area, Pottawatomie Light, established in 1836.

Rock Island at the time this chart was published quite likely had a more sizable population with people of European origin than any other location north of Green Bay.  Large encampments of natives along peninsula shores of the bay had already disappeared following a treaty between the Menominee Indians and the United States, ceding a huge area which included present day Door County and "all the islands on Green Bay…"  (Rock Island, p.8, published 1969, Conan Bryant Eaton, Washington Island, Wisconsin.)

According to the late Island historian Conan Eaton,  by the time this 1846 chart was published, shipping would have relied on the lighthouse built on Rock Island's northern bluff.   The settlement of Rock Island's fishermen around that time, though small, would continue to grow over the next ten-to-fifteen year period, making Rock Island the setting where Washington Township was then organized in 1850 before the population rapidly declined in the late 1860s and 1870s.

Aside from the Green Bay settlement, long a trading center and a military fortification, no other settlements are shown or named along the entire peninsula.   There is a "Little Sturgeon Bay" and a "Big Sturgeon Bay" to denote shoreline indentations, but no villages named.  For instance, you will find "Eagle Bay" and "Eagle Hard" (the bluff that we know as Eagle Bluff), but as of that date no Ephraim.  

Bay water depths are shown with quite extensive soundings, and navigational features that showing bays, outcroppings and rocky shoals, well-depicted but generally without names.   Exceptions that are shown are:  Hat Island; Chambers Island; Strawberry Islands; Horseshoe Island and "The Sisters."   In Porte Des Morts we see the early name given to today's Plum Island but with the original and correct spelling of "Plumb Island."   This word "Plumb" which can be found on other early charts, denotes this island's location as dead-center, in the middle of the passage, between the peninsula and Washington Island.

The only named feature shown on the 1846 chart on the Lake Michigan shoreline was Baileys Harbor, "discovered" as a harbor of refuge a few years earlier by a Capt. Bailey, who then bought land there for the purpose of logging and quarrying.

The Sturgeon Bay Portage is depicted using a horizontal
scale of "1000 feet to an inch," while the
vertical scale is "20 feet to an inch."   The
highest elevation separating the two waters
was about 20 feet, then, and nearly all sand.

An interesting feature added to the chart was the "Profile of the dividing Ridge at Sturgeon Portage."  We conjecture that by 1846 not many travelers found it necessary or productive to portage across the sandy separation between Lake Michigan and the eastern end of "Big Sturgeon Bay." In earlier centuries, natives and then French voyageurs and pioneers would have carried their canoes or small boats from one waterway to the other.

It would be approximately 35 more years before a canal would be dug and completed to connect the two waterways, providing an economic boost to Sturgeon Bay's prominence in trading and shipbuilding, short-cutting the longer and sometimes treacherous route around the tip of the peninsula. In 1846 the peninsula itself was not yet named "Door Peninsula," but rather, "Wisconsin T.y" for Wisconsin Territory.

The 1846 sailing route around the peninsula and through the Door passage could easily have added a day or more to reach a point but a few miles to the west of Sturgeon Bay, a sailing route that also required avoiding many islands and shoals, none of which were yet marked by federal navigational buoys or markers.

 - Dick Purinton

Friday, July 3, 2015


Ken and Barbie go camping!  A sampling of the
toys and gear hauled to Rock Island on the Karfi
to make a family's camping experience complete.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Schools are out, weather has finally warmed (although it was in the 40s two days ago), families are here on vacation, and our ferries are on their full summer schedule.

Karfi, loaded with gear, campers and hikers
for Rock Island State Park.

Aboard the Karfi we carried many families headed to campsites for their Fourth of July weekend.  Saturday, near the Thordarson boathouse, there will be a picnic for the public, sponsored by Friends of Rock Island.  It's their annual fund raiser and opportunity to attract new members and supporters.

This noon picnic follows a popular morning pancake and sausage breakfast held at the Island Fire House, an annual event sponsored by the Washington Island Fire Department and Rescue Squad, as much a social event as fund raiser.

Then, there's a ball game scheduled for Saturday afternoon at the Island Ball Park.  This is a departure from the traditional Sunday afternoon ballgame.   If you still have an appetite when the last inning's been played, you might want to drop by the annual Fourth of July Fish Boil at the American Legion Hall, a little further up Main Road, serving from 4:30 to 7:00 pm.  When the Legion fish boil winds down, children will begin to line-up for the Fourth of July Children's Parade, on the roadside in front of the Legion Hall.   Parade time this year is 8 pm, which assured time enough for Legionnaires to change from serving attire into uniform, and to position themselves as standard bearers at the head of the parade.

Four ferries ran steadily from Northport
Thursday in the buildup to the Fourth weekend.
Around 9:30 pm, once darkness finally sets in, nearly an hour of fire works begins, volleys lit off by Volunteer Firemen from locations behind centerfield fence, and a few of the largest mortars from the depths of the nearby Hagen gravel pit.  In all, this will be a day filled with activities, with hopefully enough time in between to rest or enjoy other activities.

Wherever you are, enjoy the Fourth of July celebrations in your communities!

-  Dick Purinton

Crews were ready to receive early Friday morning traffic.
Coulton Valdez and Christian Foss decked on the first shift
aboard the Arni J. Richter for Capt. Joel Gunnlaugsson. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Westman Islands are spectacular, especially when well-lit
as they were by the June sun on this day.  Birds nest in the
cliffs, and sheep are seen grazing on the uppermost
grasslands. The town of Heimaey with its well-protected
harbor is seen within.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Here's more about our trip to Iceland.

So many have commented on how they enjoyed the photos and commentary I posted on our trip to Iceland that I've decided to extend this topic.

Many points of interest are within an easy several hours' drive from Reykjavik.  Many tour companies will pick you up and return you to your hotel after an outing in the countryside.  But I would encourage any traveler to Iceland, if you have time, to also overnight outside of the capital city.  The major roads are good roads and are paved, sometimes with small or no shoulders.  Graveled roads that we encountered were a bit rough, but not unexpectedly so.  You drive on the right hand side, which makes it easy.   Icelanders speak English and Danish as second and third languages.  You'll have no problem communicating.

Not everyone enjoys riding, or riding on trails along steep cliffs,
but just the same, you have to admire the view.  Evy was the only one
in our group to see a Puffin that day, and a first for the season
according to her trail guide.  A tour boat is in
the distance, and other islands of the volcanic grouping
of Westman Islands.  (Taken by her trail guide.)

Our general impression of Iceland was one of extremely friendly and helpful people.

There must be exceptions, but we didn't encounter them during our stay, although we passed close by Iceland's national prison at Litla Hraun, less than a mile from Eyrarbakki and, coincidentally, the  address used in letters mailed to Arni Gudmundsen by his sister in the 1880s when it was farmland.

This prison might well be the major local employer.  This is where Iceland's most hardened criminals are housed, and razor wire and fencing aside, the prison farmyard gives off the look of a work farm.  We learned later from our driver on our way to the airport that there are about 80 cells in this prison, with another 40 being planned for the future closer to Reykjavik.

Reading online information, Iceland has 137 prisoners in all, on average, per day, some held in smaller prisons elsewhere than Eyrarbakki.  The average is 43 per 100,000 population, as compared with USA's 756 per 100,000.  Why the rather low number of incarcerated prisoners, we wonder?  One reason may be, if you are given a prison term, you could wait from several days or weeks up to five years to serve your term, whenever a cell opens up.  Descriptions I've read for the prison facilities posted on line describe it as "not quite four-star," but not rough, either.  Prisoners are encouraged to make the best of their time by either working or enrolling in education classes.

The women's prison in Reykjavik has approximately 40 cells, we were told, and until recently women prisoners were allowed out on Fridays, from 9 to 4, for shopping.

Our driver translated a couple of expressions into English for us.  Here is one:  If I say I want to "kick his ass," I say, "I'm going to take him to the bakery."  Putting it into English, that's about as sweet a deliverance could be.

Years ago, according to the sagas, vicious crimes were settled through agreed payment of silver, cattle or horses to the offended surviving family, and ultimately, banishment by the Althing court, sending the violent offender from Iceland for three years.  Could there still be an unwritten form of societal banishment practiced, in lieu of incarceration?

Horse riding - a popular pastime

Horse riding is one of the easiest ways to get around such a rough and tumble countryside, and stables can be found in many locations.   Evy took the opportunity to trail ride on our trip to Westman Islands. As it happened, she was the only rider that afternoon.  She was picked up and dropped off at the ferry by the woman whose family has the stable, maximizing her time on the trail.   And because of her experience, she was given a chance to ride one of the owner's personal mounts.  Along the trail there was plenty of time to compare the similarities of life on Washington Island with Heimaey, the largest of the islands in the chain.  (With approx. 5,000 population)  As it happened, along one trail Evy came within 20 feet of a Puffin.  It was the only Puffin the owner has seen this season thus far.  More birds will arrive later in summer for nesting.

Birding is a popular activity, both for locals and for visitors.  Besides sighting birds, there is a tradition on Heimaey and neighboring (and otherwise uninhabited) islands to collect Puffin eggs, and also Puffins.  This tradition goes back many years, and it appears to be closely regulated.   Young men practice swinging on ropes, a technique they use to gather eggs.   Puffin is served on some restaurant menus, although we didn't try it.  During their tour of the island, our grandsons had the chance to try the rope swing, tutored by their guide.

On our way to and from the port we did see many sea birds that I thought were terns or gulls nesting in the thousands of pockets within the cliffs.   The lone houses built on top of the cliffs are there as dwellings for the sheepherders and egg collectors, and establishment of a dwelling also goes with ownership, the right to collect birds and eggs.

This Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit was looking
for food in the tall grasses near the top of the crater,
along a trail frequented by hikers.  Cropping the
original photo has reduced the definition.

A day or so earlier, while overlooking a crater, I spotted an unfamiliar bird with my binoculars.   Later, I learned it was an Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, fairly rare, at least to non-Icelanders.  This is a long-legged, long-beaked coastal wader that nests in grasses, usually in the lowlands.  Judging by its bright, rust-colored head, this one was a male.

According to a birding site at www.arkive.org, this bird has a most unusual migration characteristic that allows it to mate:

"Black-tailed godwits meet in Iceland from mid-May to mid-June to breed, and in an amazing act of fidelity and timing, faithful pairs meet after over-wintering up to 600 miles apart. Arriving within three days of each other, pairs mate, breed and incubate their eggs together. The male remains with the hatchlings for a short time after the female has left to migrate back to her winter home. At the point the male leaves, he is unaware of the location of his partner, and so migrates elsewhere. This monogamous lifestyle can continue for up to 25 years and is only broken if the male and female fail to arrive within the same three days. There is, as yet, no understanding of how the pairs time their migrations with such accuracy."

Hot dogs, anyone?

Said to be a modern day Icelandic national food, our family members found the excellent Icelandic hot dogs available at small stands in various locations.   One such place was a franchise stand in the center of Selfoss, discovered accidentally one day while on the way to the grocery store, and altogether six return trips were made by Hoyt, Thor and Chad.  These hot dogs (we think they may be lamb hot dogs) are typically served with mayonnaise, onions, sweet mustard, and maybe ketchup, on a toasted bun.

Thor had to have one last hot dog at the
Keflavik airport before flying home.
The only thing better than biting into one of these is to have a second hot dog at the ready, for when the first one disappears.

Woolen goods

Few who live in warmer climates can resist the beautiful woolen wear one finds for sale in many Icelandic shops.  The wool is known for its high lanolin content, it is soft, and the colors are generally natural, undyed colors.  Look carefully, though, as some sweater garments we found were knitted in China, or elsewhere, using Icelandic wool.  Nice, but nothing like having a sweater knit by Icelandic fingers.

Co-ops, in addition to many retailers, sell woolen goods produced by local knitters.  Prices may seem steep, but not for a warm sweater that will wear like iron, shed water and sleet, and help keep the wearer dry by wicking away body moisture.  There are no fleece products quite their equal.  There are fine wool dresses, jackets, and other stylish wear for ladies, in addition to the unisex sweaters.  You will see these sweaters worn everywhere, especially outdoors and when horse riding.  (Rain clouds are never far away.)   I got mine, a 3X found in a rack at the Gullfoss (waterfall) souvenir shop.   Here are Evy and son Atlas sporting hooded sweaters.

Thor, Mary Jo and Evy alongside the Gullfoss gorge.

Evy with son, Atlas.
So, we'll wrap up this extended Iceland visit with a few more photos, encouraging anyone who is able to visit Iceland.

Looking toward Westman Islands from black sand beach near the ferry jetty.

A poem by Eggert Olafsson (1726-1768) -

  We have traveled far across the land
  deserts, lava, sand, 
  glaciers, rivers, mountains steep, 
  caves, cliffs and chasms deep 
  - a comfortable journey from start to end.

-  Dick Purinton

View toward Eyjafjallajokull glacier.  

Monday, June 29, 2015


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Recent postings have mentioned C. H. Thordarson and his renown for producing electrical equipment, and we fielded interest from people we met in Iceland who are familiar with his name and his reputation for invention and manufacturing.  We don't know just how much the Thordarson Electric Manufacturing Company contributed to the electrification of Iceland, or America for that matter, but reputation and his company's impact seems to have been far-reaching.

Friday, as we waited to board the ferry Washington in late afternoon for our return to the Island, we met  Paul Grieger, a man who occasionally come across items bearing the Thordarson Electric Company name as a collector.   He pulled from his car a piece of test equipment manufactured by the Thordarson Company that he was delivering to Rock Island for donation to the Thordarson display located in the northeast room of the boathouse.   He intended to camp on Rock Island for several days, his first visit there in 20 years.

Paul Nelsen Grieger holds a Thordarson Condenser Tester he
picked up at an auction, "The best one I've found so far."
Paul is a truck driver from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and he has a side business called, "Paul's Cool Stuff."  He specializes in antiques, collectibles and vintage paper.   This Thordarson test unit is the best in terms of its condition of any he's come across, he said.  

I regret not asking him if it's still in working order, or if by "best" he referred to the condition of the face and case.   I also neglected to obtain the date of manufacture.  I'll have to visit the exhibit on Rock Island to learn more.  

Then, on Sunday morning, I drove out to meet the Karfi as it returned to Jackson Harbor.   I saw Tim Sweet getting off the ferry, ending his week as docent, along with his wife, at the lighthouse.   I asked Tim if he met the man with the Thordarson piece.   "Yes," he said, and it had been given to Park Manager Randy Holm for display in the boathouse.  Filing of paperwork is required before the state will provide official acceptance, but once this process moves along the public should be able to see this piece on display among other Thordarson artifacts in the near future.

 - Dick Purinton

Monday, June 22, 2015


A visit with cousins at Hotel Fron in Reykjavik.
L to R:  Thor, Gudney, Dora, Bjorg, Mary Jo, Chad Dick Hoyt, 

Evy and Kirsten.  (The young boys had already eaten and 
skedaddled to their room to play games.)

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

When thinking back on our short stay in Iceland and the variety of things we did, it's hard to pick one activity or moment over another.  But in wrapping this up, and in an attempt to avoid recreating our entire week on the internet, I find it hard not to include a number of photo highlights here.

I think we would, as a group, rate our visit with Icelandic Gudmundsen cousins as the best, and most meaningful.   We hope it won't be too long before some of us visit them again.

And I have mental images, too, (better than photos in many ways) filtered for their pleasant, special memories.  One such image was of a golfer as he walked over the hill, bag over his shoulder, and passed close by our building, which happened to be alongside a golf course as well as sheep and horse pastures.  Our location wasn't far from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano and mountains, with a glacier for a backdrop.  The surprising thing, it was 10:30 in the evening, and I was taking a peek at the golden light outdoors through curtains before turning in.   That brightness compared with our mid-day sun at home.

While we got our first hours of beauty rest, Thor and Hoyt drove our bus twenty minutes or so to a rural road that led into the mountains and then hiked a half-mile or more alongside a warm stream in order to take a dip in Iceland's first swimming pool.   (Built with the intent on teaching people how to swim.)  They reported good swimming, joining other tourists in the midnight bathwater.

Atlas, Chad and Zander posed in front of a crater after climbing down
to the bottom.  Where there are volcanoes there will be craters, and this
one, rather small, was caused by implosion of material falling into
a pocket of molten lava, rather than exploding outward.

Near our Hellisholar hotel dining room 120 Icelandic horses were pastured.  They belonged to a 60-person riding group that was on a 3 or 4 day trail ride.  They had double their number in horses in order to trade off mounts when necessary.   Those horses certainly caught Evy's attention, and so did two lambs that had found an opening in the fence and wandered off along the roadside looking for their mother.

It does make me want to hug the lambs when I see this photo.  After hanging around for a short bit, they were off.   It was not uncommon to encounter sheep and lambs outside their pastureland, alongside the road,  one danger we were warned about when we rented our vehicle.

  *    *     *     *

Joining us as a host for our visit in Eyrarbakki was Linda Asdisardottir. She also took photos for the Selfoss paper.   It was Linda who made pancakes with whipped cream for desert, and they were delicious.  Little Magnus ate four of them before we knew it!

Desert is served!  Linda Asdisardottir with Thor and Aidan.
Behind the museum, in one of three small buildings found there, were fish drying on hooks.  Evy took a photo representative of the once common activity of drying cod along the shore.  At one time, dried cod was a major export, but I believe that much of today's catch caught by modern trawlers is either shipped fresh or frozen.

While on the subject of fishing, we were determined to try whale.  Iceland is one of the few countries that still hunts whales, and it is available in stores and on certain restaurant menus.

Our opportunity came on our final night in Reykjavik, at a restaurant with menu items that ranged from lamb (a common Icelandic  dish) to escargot and minke whale.

The boys, who opted for hamburgers and a tenderloin, sampled the escargot (thumbs up from all!) and they loved the taste of whale.  Sliced into small strips and cooked medium rare, this minke whale compared with the finest beef anywhere - "The other red meat," Thordur called it.   Next time we won't wait until our final day to order whale.   Reading the news, Iceland ships much of its catch overseas to Japan (sometimes through a broker nation).  Iceland's whaling ships have been under pressure from Greenpeace, but they remain resolute as a nation to continue a practice they've long enjoyed.  However, Iceland also tracks the numbers and types of whales sighted and caught, and it is believed the balance shows an increase in the minke population.
Cod drying in museum shed in Eyrarbakki.  We noticed an
absence of insects, flies especially, one reason
why this method has worked so well for centuries.

Magnus and Aidan ponder the menu.
Among the traditional Icelandic dishes we tried was cured shark.  This delicacy we would not rate highly, and except for me, none of our family was able to get beyond the fishy stench the ripened shark gave off.  Naturally high in ammonia, the shark's meat is buried (we didn't find out for how long, but it seems it could have been buried a bit longer).  It is sliced into small cubes, and it remains about as pungent as anything I've ever eaten.  Most off-putting however, was the chewiness, a texture like super-gristle that refused to break down under my molars. 

After the fourth or fifth cube, my mouth warmed as if a nasty chemical had been released from the shark bits.  Shark would not be recommended other than to say, "I've done it!" and it requires a fair amount of chaser afterward, which is perhaps the point, after all.   

We can imagine viking ships off on long voyages, stormy weather or calm extending their days at sea, having only a sack or basket full of shark bits in reserve to keep them in good health.  That would be a last resort protein item, we should think, but a food that would last through any voyage.
Shark bits were pungent, and they had to
remain outside on the balcony before they  

wound up in the dumpster.  We didn't
find out where the nether parts of ram 

pickled in whey were sold, but that's a 
delight for another trip.


A news item we heard concerned the Russian training ship Kruzenshtern.  This large, four-masted sailing vessel arrived in port on our second day in Reykjavik.  Upon departure from the pier, before it had even cleared the innermost harbor, it rammed broadside two of Iceland's naval vessels.  Those ships were moored side-by-side at a pier not far from the municipal wharf where the Russian had ship spent the evening.  There was plenty of open water to maneuver and no undue weather to blame.   Upon its departure, whether from human error or mechanical failure, the world's largest sail training ship T-boned the naval ships, inflicting enough damage so that Iceland's navy would be declared unseaworthy until repairs were made.  Our driver on our way to the airport joked, "This has wiped out 2/3 of our navy."  The third naval ship is apparently the vessel on permanent display at Reykjavik's Maritime Museum, veteran of the famed "cod wars" against Britain's fishing fleet decades ago.

Putin will make good for repairs, we should hope, to soften this aggressive action!  (You can see the ships on impact by trolling through the web media titled, "Reykjavik Grapevine.")

-  Dick Purinton

After 70 years, now would be a good time to stop 
boastingand build bridges instead.   The 376-ft. bark Kruzenshtern 
was built by Germany in 1926, and it was seized in war 
reparations by the Russians in 1945.   


Eyrarbakki waterfront in 1900 with sailing ship and small
fishing boats, and a long, sloping stony beach.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

When reading Njal's Saga, several times it is mentioned that a ship came ashore at Eyrar (Eyrarbakki). For a long time, this was the only port on the southern shore of Iceland.  From there, the main character described in the saga rode his horse to his farm, or north across the level plain to the Althing at Thingvellir to seek redress for wrongs to him or his family members.

This is the scene as we drove south to Eyrarbakki for our visit with folks at the museum:   flat, green fields with sheep or horses scattered here and there, the mountains visible behind us, the open sea ahead.  Eyrarbakki never had what one would describe as a well-protected harbor, but instead, as the historic photo above shows, it took skill and knowledge to navigate the entrance and slip behind the outer reefs, to find moderate protection at this small coastal village.  The Atlantic is open to the south, the next points of land being Scotland and Ireland.  And yet, this was Iceland's main shipping port for centuries for exporting woolen products, fish, and for bringing foreign goods to Iceland's people.  Only much later did Reykjavik (which does have natural harbor protections here and there) become a major port and the leading city of Iceland.

We learned from Audur Hildur Hakonarsdottir's explanations that there were many reasons for why the first Icelanders emigrated to North America.  Those four men who left in 1870 (Jon Gislason, Gudmunder Gudmundson, Jon Einarson and Arni Gudmundson - who later took the name Arni LeGrove to avoid confusion with the Arni Gudmundson who came afterward to Washington Island in 1873) did so with purpose and intent.  William Wickman during his time as an employee in the Danish trading center in Eyrarbakki, came to know young men of the area, and when Wickman was later established in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a number of years later, he encouraged his friends to join him there.  Letters and documents indicate that these men then tried to find jobs such as fishing from Milwaukee, but that the method of fishing with nets and the language barrier proved too much.  Wickman, feeling an obligation to help them, persuaded them to cut wood on his property, recently purchased on Washington Island.  This island location and the opportunity to work and earn a living appealed to them, and their letters home spoke positively of their Washington Island experiences.  This led to more young people - men and women - to consider emigrating to North America.  Washington Island became their destination, at least initially, with its known benefits and a group of countrymen to greet them.  And so, in 1872, another group departed Eyrarbakki which included Arni Gudmundson (the second of the two Arnis by that name).

Eyrarbakki in 1885.   The main street in Eyrarbakki was said to be the first in Iceland.  
Here the buildingsare of turf, stone, board and batten.  Later, around the 
time of WWI, lightweight and durable corrugated steel sheets replaced 
wooden and turf exterior materials.

Economic times in Iceland were not flourishing in the 1870s, and opportunities may have been limited to earn a living or even to own land.  But according to Hildur, these were for the most part men with an education who could have made it had they stayed in Iceland.  It was equally the adventure that drew them to try something new, she believes.

In other parts of Iceland, especially the north and eastern fjords, increasingly cold weather prevented the grazing of animals that depended upon natural grasses that grew in higher elevations.   Arctic drift ice then blocked harbors in summer, an unusual occurrence that made fishing and vessel transportation more difficult.  The situation of a few who owned land leasing sections to tenant farmers discouraged the desperate who could see no future.  Women, despite sometimes being very well educated, could not obtain permission to marry unless their future husband owned land.  Society was structured so that landowners had the privileges, and yet even some of them found the 1870s and 80s so difficult that they seized on the advice of steamship company agents and purchased tickets to sail west.  Many of these Icelandic immigrants found their way to Canada (the Winnipeg area especially) and northeastern North Dakota, where land was readily available.

Hildur's display follows the first four young men, and then also the life of Arni Gudmundson of the 1872 emigration.  Arni's father, we learned, was a man with a recognized status in the area, which may have led to Arni's later being fondly referred to on Washington Island as "the Squire."  He served for many years as Washington Island's Town Treasurer and Justice of the Peace, similar to a position his own father would have held in the Eyrarbakki area.

Audur Hildur Hakonardottir explained the events
depicted in her museum display at the Eyrarbakki House.
Museum Director Lydur Palsson is at left.

The history of Eyrarbakki, then, strikes close to home, with Arni Richter being a grandson of Arni Gudmundson (also spelled Gudmundsen).  But old Icelandic history as told through the sagas brings interesting connections as well, even though many of these sagas were written around 1200 and describe early Iceland settlement of a century or two before that.  They tell about the way of life in old Iceland, the turf dwellings, the difficulty of raising animals for sustenance, the jealousies and differences with neighbors (and even relatives) that often resulted in severe penalties or bodily harm to one another.  A tough time in which to live, for sure, but yet there was a common support for a system that recognized the importance of independent living, on the one hand, and allegiance to the law of the land.

This photo of the Danish merchant's home that is now the 
museum appears in the book, "Husid A Eyrarbakki" by Lydur Palsson 
in 2014, and also on a postcard sold at the museum.   Man standing 
third from left has been identified as Thordur Gudmundson, father 
of Arni Gudmundson.  (Year is 1884.)

Our modern day visit to Thingvellir brought shivers from historic drafts:   the dramatic cleft in the earth where the continental plates come together;  the "Law Rock" where Iceland's laws were recited aloud and court was held by chieftain judges to resolve the differences brought forward in law suits by its citizens;  the fast-flowing Oxara (Axe) River that empties into Thingvillevatn (Lake Thingvellir); and the broad plain below the rocks where horses were pastured, children would have played, and commoners would have set up their tents during the two-week annual event.

Hoyt stands on walkway that leads through dramatic rift at Thingvellir.

At a location of great prominence, within several hundred feet of the Law Rock itself, we viewed the foundation remains of the booth (as they were called) of Snorri Sturluson, the noted poet and writer and perhaps the most powerful of all Icelandic Chieftans in his day.  Such booths, of which several foundations can still be seen, were small dwellings made of rock and turf (which over the centuries have settled to low mounds) and wooden poles for rafters, over which cloth or skin tops were spread as a roof.  Such a temporary summer abode would have been reclaimed year after year by its owner who attended this special event.

In the year 1,000 the Althing convention voted become Christian, a remarkable transformation. Those who did not follow (according to the saga) could be killed, but in fact paganism continued to thrive alongside Christianity for a time, and even today, superstitions and beliefs in trolls and elves still is a part of the Icelandic culture.

Many Icelandic converts of means made pilgrimages to Rome in the centuries that followed the island's conversion, and a few volunteered in the Crusades.  Today a Lutheran Church stands in the valley below the rocks, and I believe that the minister assigned there is, more or less, caretaker and manager for this historical setting.   (We received a rather lengthy and detailed historical explanation from the then minister there on our visit in 1987.)

On the descriptive information for Snorri's booth we read the text that included the explanation of     "… translation by Dick Ringler."   Ringler is a Professor Emeritus of the UW-Madison Scandinavian Department, and he frequently visits Washington Island with his wife, Karin (Erickson) staying at their family's cabin in West Harbor.  Together, the Ringlers spent a number of years in their younger days on an Icelandic farm learning the language and culture, and Icelandic history and literature became Dick Ringler's specialty.

Hoyt and foundation remains of Snorri's booth.
In 2012, when working on the Thordarson and Rock Island book, 

I was given assistance and advice by Dick Ringler, along with a 
copy of his book:  Bard of Iceland, Jonas Halgrimsson, Poet and Scientist.

Saga Center

In preparation for our trip to Iceland I began reading Njal's Saga, to help me gain an understanding of life in early Iceland, and more importantly because we would stay in the general area where much of that Saga took place.   Our lodging for two nights was in Hellisholar, under the shadows, so to speak, of the volcano Eyafjallajokul.   The eruptions of 2008 that spewed ash into the air and shut down flights across much of northern Europe for weeks have been quiet, and what we saw against a deep blue sky was a white dome of ice and snow.   (Tee shirts and mugs sold in area souvenir shops proudly state that Iceland got the best of Europe…in rather graphic language.)

Example of a "High Seat," or place of honor
often accorded special visitors to a farm home,
displayed in the Saga Center.

Just a few miles away in the town of Hvollarshollar is the Saga Center, and displayed are early artifacts along with modern day landscape photos and descriptive artworks that relate to pertinent paragraphs from Njal's Saga.   This museum experience brings this particular saga to life, especially the realization that there are many geographic and farm name references still existing today, and that a significant portion of the fictional saga accounts were based on real people, places and events.

-  Dick Purinton

Another view from Snorri's booth.  According to the sagas, disputes 
would sometimes be settled by sword duel on the grassy island in the Oxara River.  
Lutheran church is in background.
Sword and shield on display at the
Saga Center.