“Let’s celebrate your birthday with a hike around Devil’s lake,” I told my husband of forty-four years. “Josie needs to get some exercise.” (I’ve learned that I’m more likely to get a Yes if I mention the adventure will make our Cockapoo happy.)
“Why Devil’s Lake?” he asked.
“I was looking at photos the other day and remembering some of the great times we had there.” I mentioned I’d bring a picnic supper including blueberry pie, and my husband was onboard.
We started our journey from the north shore. I noted several young couples strolling, chatting, and laughing together. Intent on each other, they gave us brief smiles, but then focused back on one another. Frank and I, forty-four years ago, pleased to be getting to know one an-other, would have done the same.
Early in our Devil’s Lake visits, I asked him about the geology of the area. Being a science teacher, he knew about the ice age and glaciation, and impressed me with his knowledge. After the glacier receded, the ice dam failed, sending millions of gallons of water rushing through deep sandstone gorges we now see in the Dells.
During that first visit to Devil’s Lake, I marveled at the uniqueness and took pictures of the purple quartzite boulders, Balanced Rock, Devil’s Doorway, and the ancient, sacred effigy mounds.
As a teacher and a mother, I returned to the park with kids many times. I showed them the effigy mounds. “You mean there could be bodies buried under there?” my daughter once asked.
I nodded. “They were often buried near the heart of the animal. The mounds were also used for meeting places.”
“Meet me by the bear mound,” I recall one of our kids calling before joyously running off.
On this September afternoon, parents continue to share the wonders of the park with the future generation. Will they, too, think about how ancient people walked on the same path they’re on and realize the importance of caring for this amazing place?
Frank and I have reached the sandy “dog” beach on the south shore. Frank throws a stick into the lake. Tail wagging with happiness, Josie runs into the water, retrieves the stick, drops it, and wags her tail to let Frank know she wants to keep playing the game. For a moment, the out-side world passes away and it’s just the three of us, focused on one another.
We indulge Josie for several minutes, then continue our hike on the tumbled rock trail. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the engineering feat continually amazes my husband and me. I take pictures of the huge boulders. Gnarled tree limbs frame the foreground while the serene lake with a lone kayaker and the impressive East Bluff completes the background. These photos will be archived, a reminder of this day.
Turkey buzzards and distant birds show off their aerial acrobatics. My favorite time to visit the park is in spring when we can park in the CCC parking lot and step outside to witness the return of the spectacular great blue herons. Their rookery in the towering pines consists of over fifty nests. The viewer is awestruck by the herons’ size, over four feet tall, and how they
can land on the tiniest of branches. “Whitewash” covers the area and the quanks and raucous bird calls are deafening.
Whereas I’ve never been lucky enough to witness an adult regurgitate a mushy fish to its young, I have witnessed a spine-chilling sight. It was late spring and the young were close to fledging. A mass of twenty or so turkey vultures waited in nearby trees. I imagine they hoped that a youngster would launch itself out of the nest. Without the protection of its parent, the vulture could attack. I left early that day, but the ominous feeling has remained in my memory.
I think of the herons as Frank and I pause to read a sign explaining the lake’s name. Settlers brought with them superstitions about spirits that dwelled in nature. Unexplained noises (herons?) echoed off of the bluffs and added to the mystical aura of the gorge. Thinking in terms of evil spirits, people would soon corrupt the name “Spirit Lake” to “Devil’s Lake.”
Near the end of our hike around the lake, Frank, standing in front of a sign, starts laughing. “Come here, you have to see this.” The sign, encouraging social distancing at Wisconsin state parks, says, “Keep one cow apart.” I join his laughter.
Intent on one another, husband, wife, and puppy dog complete the circle. We arrive at our car hungry, tired, and happy to have this amazing park and one another.