Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
There is a certain peace to being out in the woods in the early morning hours, and Jim Blanchard took the time to enjoy it a little. When he’d been the same age as the scouts on this trip he liked to sleep late too, but the army had broken him of that over a decade before. So this morning he was up with the birds and enjoying their calls. He was the only one up; even Dale was still asleep.
He grabbed a few sticks left over from the previous night’s campfire, and got a small fire going to perk some coffee. Only he and Dale drank it, and Dale not that much. They wouldn’t need a big fire this morning, and not on most mornings – they mostly got along on cereal for breakfast, although the makings for a couple of warm breakfasts were packed away in the food boxes. If they hit a rainy day or two, a warm breakfast would be welcome.
While the coffee was perking, he took a stroll over to the bluff overlooking the river again, to light his pipe and just let the morning come to him. This was going to be a good day, if on the hot side, but there had been a lot of hot days recently and people were at least a little used to them.
He made a mental note to make sure the kids had enough water to drink. He could remember a day when they’d drink spring water and not worry too much about it, and not worry much about the fact that everyone on the trip wound up getting a serious case of the trots, either. That was something else he’d learned in the Army – bad water could kill you, and kill you easily in some of the places he’d been.
They had brought plenty of Halazone tablets with them, and he had harped on the kids again and again to use them, even if it made the water taste of chemicals and hardly worth drinking. At least today they’d be going through a small town, Warsaw, that they’d seen from the train the day before. There was a small country store there, and he’d give the kids a chance to drink a little pop. They’d also fill their water canisters there again, just so they could drink well water and not have to put up with the chlorine taste of the so-called purified water.
Before too long, the coffee was ready. He poured himself a plastic cup of it, remembering how his old Army aluminum canteen cup could burn his lips. This was lots better. He took a sip; it was too hot, but it always was right after it was done perking.
By the time he finished his coffee it was time to get everybody stirring. It was going to be a long day today. Of course, there were groans and complaints as he went around the little group of tents, getting everyone going, but soon kids were out of their sleeping bags and pulling themselves together. Most of the kids made trips over to the straddle-trench latrine they’d dug the day before. While they were doing that, Jim made up a jug of dried milk and water – not a good substitute for the real thing, but good enough for a trip like this. The milk and cereal the kids ate didn’t last long, either, and soon they were tearing down the tents and getting the canoes packed.
While they were getting ready to go, Jim hunted up the Rathburn kid. “How are you feeling this morning, Bob?” he asked gently.
“Still a little cruddy,” the kid replied. “My back is a little sore, I think from sleeping on that air mattress.”
“It takes a while to get used to,” Jim agreed. “My back always gets a little sore the first night or two out, myself.” He put his hand to the kid’s forehead again – it still seemed a little warm, maybe not as bad as last night. Whatever it was he had, apparently he was getting over it. It was tough to be sick on a trip like this – tough on the kid, and tough on the rest of the group, as well. Hopefully it was nothing to worry about.
It felt good to be out on the river again. It was wider than it had been the day before, and moving right along. It wasn’t immensely swift, just a good steady flow, and what mild rapids there were proved to mostly be just shallow spots where the canoes would occasionally drag the bottom, but otherwise not any problem. One of the things Jim had been looking for when planning the trip, was freedom from rapids that would challenge his young canoe trippers – even the more experienced ones were a little green for some of the rivers within reach.
Out on the river they saw a blue heron take flight as the lead canoe came up on it. It took to the air, flew around the next bend and apparently landed, because they scared it up again as soon as they caught up with it. The bird went on around the next bend, and they frightened it again – not once but six times over the next mile or so.
Not long after that the heron finally wised up and circled back over the trees and went upstream, and they got back to lazing around on the river. About an hour afterward they saw a bald eagle just sitting up in a tree, staring down at the water. All of a sudden the eagle took flight, dropped down like a dive bomber, grabbed what looked like a trout in its talons, and flew away with its lunch. The boys were all amazed at that – most had never seen anything like it before.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen that myself,” Jim told the scouts at a rest break they took not long afterward. “Back before the war we’d often see eagles, but there aren’t as many of them around as there was then. I don’t know why that is, either.”
“Wow, am I glad to see you,” Dr. Harold Brege said to Dr. Herman Luce the next morning before patient hours got under way in Dr. Brege’s office. “I’ve been working until all hours trying to get to everyone who wants to see a doctor.”
The two of them were sitting in the private office in Dr. Brege’s practice, in one half of what had been a personal residence just up the street from Sanford Memorial Hospital. The other half of the building held what had been Dr. Halford’s office, which Herman knew he would be taking over. He’d known from his last trip up here that the two practices were separate, but they shared the building to save expenses and to sometimes help each other out.
“I imagine it’s been very busy for you,” Dr. Luce agreed. “I understand that it’s going to take me a while to get my feet on the ground here, but I’ll try to take some of the load off your shoulders as soon as I can.”
“That would be very much appreciated. I want to start sending what I can of Dr. Halford’s patients over to you as soon as you’re ready. How long do you think that’s going to be?”
“Probably not too long. My wife Penny and I need to look for a place to live, and make some arrangements. We were at the Lone Pine Motel out on the highway last night, and it’s not exactly the nicest place I’ve ever been.”
“I understand there are some rentals around,” Dr. Brege suggested. “How long do you think it’s going to take you to move?”
“Probably not long. Penny and I brought everything we own. We’ve only been married since a couple of days after I finished my residency. We were living in my furnished apartment down in St. Louis and it wasn’t very nice, but it suited me at the time I rented it. We’re hoping to find an apartment or a house here, but we’ll have to fill it with furniture ourselves.”
“It’s been a few years since I’ve had to go looking for real estate, but I think you’d probably be wise to go talk to Tom Rufner at Northwoods Realty. He seems to have more signs out on lawns than anyone else.”
“That’s sort of what I observed,” Dr. Luce agreed. He and Dr. Brege weren’t on a first-name basis yet, but it probably wouldn’t be long. “I figured that would be our next stop. So what do we have to do to get Dr. Halford’s old office set up?”
“Really, not very much, but it’s going to be up to you. I had a woman come in a few days ago and give it a thorough cleaning, so you won’t have to worry about that. All his records are over here, but I can run them back over there quickly. I don’t know about what there is in the way of medical equipment and supplies, so you probably ought to check it out, see what’s there, and see what you’re going to need to order. Staff, I don’t know. Tom’s wife worked as a receptionist and aide over there. As far as I know she doesn’t want to do it any longer, but she’s still around town if you need help with something.”
“Well, I brought my own staff with me, at least. Penny is a nurse, and the plan is that she’s going to help me out for a while before we start a family. By the time that happens, I ought to have turned up a replacement.”
“I think that ought to help you a lot in getting started,” Dr. Brege agreed. “I’ll find a minute today to give Willie a call and ask if she can help get you started.”
“Willie Halford. Her name is Wilhelmena, but she doesn’t like it very much. You can probably guess why.”
“No fooling. My wife’s name is actually Penelope and I understand completely. Anyway, that would be appreciated. I’m really more concerned about getting to know the town and my patients than I am the actual medical end of things. After some of the things I’ve seen in St. Louis, it’ll be good to get back to sniffles and broken arms and delivering babies.”
“It gets a little more complicated than that,” Dr. Brege shook his head. He reached out to get his pipe out of a desk drawer, and waved it around in his hand. “Realistically, we get just about everything here you would see in an urban hospital. It’s just that we don’t have the uncommon things very often, and we aren’t very prepared for them. This is a country practice, Herman – I can call you Herman, can’t I?”
“Fine, please call me Harold,” he went on, starting to pack his pipe with tobacco. “Anyway, as I was saying, this is a country practice so we have to be ready for anything. The same goes for the hospital. If something tough or complicated comes up, we usually send them on to Camden General in Camden, or sometimes to St. Mark’s up in Marquette. Don’t get me wrong. We can handle a lot, and sometimes we have to. For instance, I’m not a bad surgeon, but I’m not a specialist, either. I can handle a hot appendix or something fairly simple like that and not worry about it much, but I know my limits, too. If in doubt, I send it on to a specialist elsewhere.”
“I figured things would be more or less like that. I could handle an infected appendix if I had to, but I only had a few months in a rotation in a surgical unit, so I’d just as soon not get too involved with it if I can avoid it.”
“Sometimes you can’t avoid it, Herman,” Dr. Brege said. He paused long enough to light his pipe, then went on, “There are areas where I’m weak, and I know I am. Delivering babies, for example. I can handle a routine childbirth, no problem, but I tend to get a little worried when things get hairy, like a breech birth. I just haven’t had to deal with them that often. I never delivered a baby between 1939 and 1951. I was an army doctor, and then later worked in a VA hospital. While I got a lot of experience dealing with gunshot wounds, I never was much more than a meatball surgeon, either. After I got out of the Army, I came here and I’d almost forgotten what a baby was. Fortunately for me, Tom handled most of that, and if I ran into trouble I knew I could call on him.”
“I can probably help you with that at least a little. I’m no obstetrician, but I spent a fair amount of time on OB when I was both an intern and a resident. I just had what I think was a reasonably well-rounded training to be a general family physician.”
“When you get right down to it, that’s what we need here in Spearfish Lake. Look, I’d better get started dealing with patients or I’m going to have them lined up out the door. Why don’t you go over, check out Tom’s office – I mean, your new office – then grab your wife and go looking for a place to live. That ought to keep you busy for today. Swing by the hospital around eight in the morning and I’ll show you around there, and introduce you around. By the time you get through with that we ought to have some idea of when I can start shipping patients back over to you.”
The scouts on the canoe trip got to Warsaw a little before noon, just about the right place to stop for a lunch break. They pulled up on a landing near an old Pratt truss highway bridge close to town, and dug into their food containers for bread, peanut butter, and jelly to make sandwiches. Jim let the kids go to the little country store a quarter mile up the road in two shifts, and of course the kids loaded up on candy bars and pop – not exactly the best canoeing food, but kids will be kids, after all.
It took a while to get back on the river. They still had several miles to go today; Jim wanted to make it as far as Pinewood Campground, where there was supposed to be a pitcher pump, which would get them away from the Halazone tablets for a few hours. More importantly, Pinewood was only a couple of miles before the river flowed into the large Spearfish Lake. That worried Jim a little – a lake crossing in canoes was not exactly the safest thing in the world. If they could get a good start in the morning, before any wind came up, they ought to be all right as long as they stayed close to shore. He wasn’t about to attempt a crossing, not with this group. It would mean going the long way around to get to the lake’s dam, but once they portaged around it they’d be on the Albany River, which was big and placid – and would get more so before they got to their takeout point in more than a week.
It was getting late before they made it to Pinewood Campground, and they’d had to push a little hard to do it. For once, it seemed like the scouts had had enough canoeing for one day. There was a good place to pull the canoes up on shore, a nice, open campground with picnic tables, and best of all, that water pump. It didn’t take the kids long to get out looking for wood; they were hungry and looking forward to a good dinner, even the ones whose tummies were a little upset from too much candy back at Warsaw. Two or three of the kids got the fire going to cook dinner, while the rest turned to putting up tents, blowing up air mattresses, and the like. There wasn’t much agitation to go swimming, and there was a part of Jim that was just as glad.
It wasn’t until after dinner before Jim managed to catch up with the Rathburn kid. “It looks like you did pretty well today,” he observed. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m pretty stiff,” Bob replied. “I think I did a little too much paddling today.”
“Just between you and me, I think we all did,” Jim agreed. “So how are you feeling otherwise?”
“Still pretty lousy,” Bob admitted. “I’ve been coughing more, I’m hot and I have a pretty tough headache.”
“Let me get you some aspirin,” Jim told him. “Maybe that’ll help.”
“I sure hope so, Mr. Blanchard,” the kid replied. “Feeling lousy is taking a lot of fun out of this trip.”
“Well, maybe you’ll feel better tomorrow. It’s no fun being sick on a trip like this, I know that.”
Jim went over to his canoe, where there was a first aid kid in a supposedly waterproof box. While he was trying to stay upbeat in front of the kid, he was getting a little worried. It was pretty obvious that the kid was getting worse, not better, and Jim was getting close to the limits of his medical knowledge.
There was one good thing. Tomorrow they’d be going past the town of Spearfish Lake. Jim knew they had a hospital there, so presumably they had a doctor. If the Rathburn kid wasn’t feeling better tomorrow, maybe he ought to run him in there. Most likely a shot of penicillin or something would bring him right back to normal so he could enjoy this trip without being sick all the way. One sick kid could louse up the trip for everyone.
It had been another hot day, but Hekki Toivo was glad to see it over with. Like a lot of people who lived in the country around Spearfish Lake, Hekki had to do a lot of different things to keep his family fed. He worked off and on harvesting pulp logs for Jerusalem Paper over in Warsaw, and occasionally for Clark Plywood in Spearfish Lake. He also had about forty acres of potatoes, which grew well in the sandy soil of his Amboy Township farm. Strawberry season was long past, but he had about three acres of berries that had sold well earlier in the summer. On top of that, he was a pretty good mechanic and welder, and helped people keep logging equipment and farm equipment going. It took all that and more to keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of his wife Heidi, and their three kids, Jody, Henry, and Betsy.
Both Hekki and Heidi had been born in America, but their parents had all been Finnish immigrants back in the busiest of the mining days up in the Keewenaw Peninsula in Laurium, best known as the home town of George Gipp, the Notre Dame football great. Hekki could even remember his father talking about meeting Gipp, and working with his father. Neither his folks nor Heidi’s ever learned to speak much English, so that meant the couple retained a lot of their Finnish heritage. Still, they were proud to be Americans, so they’d named their kids with fairly common American names.
Jody and Henry, eight and six years old respectively, were outside kicking a ball around in spite of the heat when Hekki walked into the house, but Betsy was on the couch in the living room, not looking very active. “Hi, Betsy,” Hekki said when he saw her. “You sleepy, honey?”
“No, Daddy,” she replied. “My head hurts.”
“It’ll get better soon,” he told her, and went out to the kitchen where Heidi was putting supper together. “So what’s da deal wit’ Betsy?” he asked.
“She’s been running a little bit of a fever,” Heidi reported. “She sure doesn’t seem ta be feeling good.”
“Kids get dat sometimes, I guess,” Hekki replied, some of his residual Finnish accent acquired from his parents showing through. “You tink it’s anythin’ serious?”
“Probably not. You’re right, kids get these things.”
“You know, it’d probably be a good idea if we was to go heat up da sauna.” Being of good Finnish extraction, Hekki and Heidi both shared a belief that a good bake in the sauna was the ideal way to cure almost anything.
“I thought about dat,” Heidi replied, “but I don’t know how bad I want ta sauna as hot is it is already today.”
“I got ta say you might be right at dat,” Hekki replied, wiping the sweat from his brow; the heat in the kitchen didn’t help any, either. “She probably be better tomorrow.”