For the Birds Radio Program: Farewell to the Quarry
One of Laura’s favorite spots on the planet has been fenced off.
Farewell to the Quarry
For 30 years, Port Wing, Wisconsin, has been my favorite town on the planet. Over the years, I’ve seen more than 200 species of birds there, including almost 30 kinds of warblers and Wisconsin’s only record of a Western Wood Pewee. But the pleasures of birding in Port Wing far surpass a mere list. I’ve spent some of the loveliest moments of my life there. When my husband Russ and I first started going there, we had our first dog, Scout—half springer, half black lab. We lived in an apartment in Madison at the time, and Scout was never happier than when we drove up to Port Wing, where she accompanied me on 12-mile hikes, always several paces ahead of me, her tail held as high as her spirits. The one place we’d sit down together was on the rocks at the Quarry beach. I’d pull a couple of cookies and a milk bone dog biscuit out of my pocket, and we’d snack together, looking out on the lake while listening to the water lapping on the rocks all around us, the resonant thumps like the lake’s deep, irregular heartbeats, filling me with joy and wonder at the sheer power and restlessness of this splendid lake. I could hear Ovenbirds and redstarts in the woods behind the rocks Sometimes I’d stretch out on my back on the sun-warmed sandstone and look up at the sky, at loons and hawks flying overhead, as I listened to the birds and the wind, and above and below everything, that deep, resonant sound of the waves in the hollows of the rocks.
Soon after we buried Scout at my in-law’s place in Port Wing, we got a golden retriever puppy named Bunter. My daughter Katie and son Tommy learned to stand and walk by clinging to her, she put up with baby Blue Jays and other birds taunting her when I was rehabbing, and followed me everywhere in the house or yard like Mary’s little lamb. Bunter never complained, even though she had to put up with a lot, but it all seemed worth it to her when I’d take her on a walk in Port Wing. Like Scout, she stayed a few paces ahead of me, exuberantly checking out every scent, filled with energy and enthusiasm for every sight and sound and smell. And we kept the tradition of always stopping at the quarry beach and having a little picnic break on the rocks. When I’d lie back on the rocks, she’d rest her head on my neck—this is pretty much what heaven must be like.
After Bunter died, I got a new dog, Photon, a tiny Bichon Frise, who looks like a foo foo dog, but has much of the steadfast loyalty and happiness of Bunter. Although her tiny little legs have to work a lot faster to cover 12 miles, Photon’s happiest times are also her walks in Port Wing. And like Scout and Bunter, she loves that traditional lovely stop at the Quarry beach. Year after year, I’ve watched as the shoreline in Port Wing has become developed, but the one place I could count on for some peace from all that was the Quarry beach. It was one of my father-in-law’s favorite fishing spots, and after he died, we scattered some of his ashes off those rocks he loved so much. When I sit there, I feel so much of the pull of past years rooted to those rocks, so much of my own heartbeat in the deep, resonant throbbing of the water against the rocks.
The rocks are still there, but my 30-year tradition of sitting on them is now over. Apparently the Quarry beach was private land, and was bought by someone who fenced it off and posted it against trespassing. Like a splash of icy water, or a slap in the face, my world has suddenly grown smaller and darker. I feel helpless and bereft, mourning the loss of something that was never mine, yet somehow seemed to belong to all of us, like the Lake itself.