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