“There are places I’ll remember all my life. Though some have changed. Some forever, not for better. Some have gone and some remain. All these places had their moments.”

— John Lennon, The Beatles, “In My Life”

I remember lakes, hills, valleys and creeks from the beginning of my life.

I fish many small lakes tucked away in our great north Wisconsin country, some as small as 15 acres, few larger than 200. Some of the large lakes around here that I fished in my early days I haven’t fished in many years. They have changed, most forever, not for better.

The same could be said of some of the north country I cut my teeth hunting on. Some of those places were held in private ownership, but in many cases the owners cared not if a 12-year-old tramped through the woods looking for a partridge. Most of those have changed, not for better. Some of my favorite spots were held in state forest ownership and some of those have changed, in some cases not for better and yet, some even better.

Then, there are those little lakes, small creeks, sections of hills, valleys and ridges where an old guy can still wander on a hunt or float on a piscatorial pursuit feeling all the joy and beauty that has been there since the last Ice Age.

All those places, the hidden nooks in the woods, the little lakes where hungry fish swim, the creeks where water still tumbles noisily over rock-strewn bottoms, those are the places that remain and always will remain. All these places have had their moments.

One of those places I remember is a small lake, about 100 acres, where a 12-year-old shot his first duck. It is one of those places that has changed, in fact changed many times since the 12-year-old first saw it.

The 2-acre cattail island that once sat mid-lake has long been gone. By his teen years, the youngster had seen what a gale wind could do. One such blow had broken up the island before moving a half-acre piece of it into the very northern tip of the lake. The teenager brought home quite a few ducks while hunting from a blind in that new location. 

Later on, more wind moved the island some more, breaking it into a smaller piece which settled on the far east side where it nearly entirely blocked a rustic boat landing from which many a fishing and hunting adventure had been launched.

Wild rice crops have come and gone on that lake, sometimes with rice growing in abundance, sometimes almost disappearing completely for several summers in a row, depending on drought, torrential rains or the work of busy beavers.

The lake has changed, sometimes not for better and sometimes for better than ever. I suspect it will continue that way forever. It has held many moments for me and though I, some considerable years ago, gave up hunting and fishing there, it still draws me back many times each year in all seasons, mostly just to paddle its waters, maybe back-country ski across the ice that winter covers it with and oftentimes, in the spring, just to sit and watch the ducks, geese and swans using it as a stopover on their annual journeys north.

There are places in the forest country we live in that I remember all my life. All have changed, some not for better, all continually in a state of change. Forests, after all, live in a state of flux. Except for wilderness tracts where forests aren’t logged the landscape always changes.

Across the road from my house is approximately 6 square miles of woods I have roamed from a very early age. I know it all, as I often tell people, like the back of my hand.

In my very early years, there were no logging roads, only a few abandoned railroad beds from the first great lumbering years of the late 1800s and early 1900s. If you wanted to see what was over the next ridge or down in the next valley you cut cross-country and you had better sight your landmarks well or you might spend considerable time finding your way home.

Until the late 1950s, that piece of forest mostly belonged to my brothers, me and my cousins, except for deer season when locals and downstaters would tramp through it. When the first logging of the ’50s began so too, of course, did the first logging roads appear. When I was 12, I began roaming those logging roads with a dog named Ike and together we brought home our share of partridges.

No longer was it an over-mature forest with little cover or food for deer, partridges and the like. Some pieces of pine plantation were clear cut, while most of the rest was selectively cut. New vistas appeared. Coverts holding partridges were in abundance with fresh young growth of many plants and trees producing excellent sources of food.

More logging was done over the next decade-plus and more logging roads were punched in. Road hunters found a paradise for a while and the changes I saw were not for better, though thankfully not forever either.

For nearly 40 years, vehicle traffic has mostly been shut off through that country. I have to admit, I helped bring many thousands of people into it when I founded Razorback Ridges ski, hiking and mountain biking trails. The good thing is those users left the land as they found it, as did the partridge and deer hunters who used their own legs to get back “in there.”

And the woods grew up again. Oak, birch, maple, popple and pines matured, some beyond what a healthy forest needs. Logging started again about 15 years ago, in sections and all selectively cut. Old vistas that had disappeared, reappeared. Fresh food sources reappeared for the wild critters. The forest changed again.

It is a place I remember all my life. It has changed; it will always change. Constancy is the only thing that won’t be forever. Some things have gone, some remain. Those that have gone will someday come back again. All these places have had their moments in my life. All will continue to do so as long as I am alive to see them.

Thanks, John Lennon.