Lake News

Jay’s Journal – Winter 2018


We could see the black shape of the wolf through the rare January fog. Overnight, the fog had frozen and painted the landscape with hoarfrost. The wolf watched us calmly as Kaley and Lona started a fire. I took a break from the ice auger and returned the wolf’s stare.

“Hmmm…I wonder what that wolf is up to?”

“Oh Daddy, that’s probably just Wolfy….Charlie’s wolf…maybe he wants to play with Rainy.”

“I’m sure” I replied as my gaze drifted to Rainy, our oblivious tennis-ball crazed dog.

The “Charlie” my daughter was referring to is a mythical Ojibwe hero from my own childhood. He traveled the wilderness alone helping both people and animals alike. My dad told me so many stories about him that he undoubtedly shaped a large part of my backwoods ethics. I doubt this was my dad’s intention when he pulled Charlie from his bag of bedtime tricks, but fortunately for all of us, Charlie was a good man.

As I stare through the icy fog at the black wolf, I am struck by how comfortable my daughter is with all of this. She is busy imitating her mom and adding sticks to the fire. She is standing on a frozen lake in a remote wilderness with a wolf watching her from less than one hundred yards away.

It occurs to me, now, that her mom and I are largely responsible for all this. What we do with our time and the traditions we keep reflect our values and ground us in our perceived normalness. The stories told to me by my dad are now stories being told by me to my own daughter. This tradition makes me proud yet slightly worried. Hopefully, looking up to Charlie, the wild woodsman of the north, doesn’t scar her too deeply at some point in her life. Realistically though, I doubt that Charlie’s tanned hides will hold a candle to the inevitable Disney princess-dressed line up to come.

My stiffening hands work sluggishly at rigging our fishing lines as my eye catches something distant. The wolf is now trotting across the narrows and towards the distant shore. Lona is following her mom onto the island for roasting sticks as Rainy drops her tennis ball into my ice hole. Business as usual. Rainy’s ears suddenly perk towards the east as a low, mournful howl drifts down from the jackpine ridge. “Don’t worry Rainy”, I whisper with a smile, “that’s just ‘Wolfy’ saying goodbye.”

The next morning at the cabin, we are mixing up sourdough pancakes. Sourdough used to be a staple amongst northwoods types and has always been a Sunday morning tradition in my family. The original sourdough starter of my family’s came from a lady who lived on Hoist Bay of Basswood Lake. It has been alive for longer than I have and has undoubtedly made many thousands of pancakes.

“Oh Daddy, Oh Daddy, don’t forget to make some for Ralph!”

“I won’t.” I reply with a smile. Ralph is a bird….a Canadian Jay who visits Wilderness Bay during the lean fall and winter months. Ralph loves sourdoughs and will likely eat them right from your hand. Of course, he will also eat groceries from a bag or your lunch from a picnic table, but that’s alright. Right now, I am just happy that Ralph is here at the cabin. And I am proud that our daughters’ reality has such star players as Ralph and traditions such as sourdough Sundays.

To all of you who have made visiting Wilderness Bay a part of your family tradition, thank you. We wouldn’t exist without you.



Jay Hotaling

8 thoughts on “Jay’s Journal – Winter 2018”

  1. Hey Jay! This was a great read and I miss you and your family immensely! I hope one day to return so we can meet again along with our families! Take care out there!

  2. Jay,

    Love the story. Miss the wilderness, the peace, the tranquility. I visited Wilderness Bay as a kid and still visit Quetico and the northwoods bi-annually. Our pictures lace the books with the Mortons/McGoughs on the rooftop and driving the speed boat with you back in the early 2000’s. Your dad and mom built a special unmatched place. Keep the magic alive up there. Hope to make it back soon.


  3. Been awhile Mon Ami. Krist and I have continued our journey, but always think of a return to the land of Francis Lee Jaques and Sig Olsen. I thoroughly enjoyed your journal entry and am looking forward to reading the rest. I put our check in the mail today for our visit in late August. Spoke to your Mom earlier this year. Bad bear Spring I heard. How did she fare with her errant four-legged neighbor?
    Anyway, so looking forward to the visit.

    Greg Livingston
    Krist Seckinger

  4. What a great story and a wonderful way to be able to pass along such a rich tradition to your daughter. We should all be so fortunate to be able to share in nature beauty as in those sacred moments that happen upon us in the north woods!

  5. Enjoyed reading this. Wish I were there. Brought back memories of visiting your dad and you in the winter. We had to walk half way after we got stuck on the lake driving.across. Your dad hauled us the rest of the way with his pick up. Keep writing. You do a great job!

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