North of the Tension Line
Musings about Washington Island by musician Julian Hagen
It’s just a different pace. When you get on the boat at Northport, a weight is just lifted off your shoulders. North of the Tension Line is what they call this place. And there’s something about when you get on that boat, to come here, or to come back. It’s hard to define what is magical about Washington Island; it’s the people, or the nature, or the silence. It’s hard to put into words, but there’s something about certain little towns, they have a quirkiness, and a magic, you just have to spend some time here.
We’ve often presented ourselves as an artistic getaway, and artists still come to write or to work; to create. Musicians come to write songs or record albums. It’s a great place to write; there’s plenty to write about. It a lot of ways, Washington Island is how Door County was 35 years ago. The summer time up here is how the county used to be. It’s more laid back.
Part of the magic of the island is getting out at night. We don’t have the light pollution the main land has, so when it gets dark you can really see the stars and the northern lights. You can take a walk on the road in the evenings and still enjoy relative solitude. And, there’s a night life here. People don’t always realize that.
Visiting for two hours for a tour, or coming over just for a day is a great starting point. You’ll get to see some of the highlights of the island, but you don’t really see the magic of the island at night; there’s something strangely romantic about it. The Granary/KK Fiske has music Fridays and Saturdays, and other nights sometimes in the summers; the Irish pub, Fiddlers Green has music on two or three nights, and jam sessions where we all sit in a circle to play. In summer and fall, there are almost always goings on weekends.
You can enjoy nature from just about anywhere here. Break it into seasons if you must; each season has something different to offer. From February until May we hunt, fish, snowmobile, ski, have parties. The rec center stays open. We read and write, have potlucks, build things; there’s always something.
In summer of course there’s a lot going on; from music and theater, to golf when the course opens, hiking, biking; there’s even soccer and little league, and often the teams let visiting kids play if they want to. In fall it’s the colors that people mostly want to see, but there’s also the Fall Fun Fest and Cider Pressing Party, a really fun family weekend.
In the winter, there’s a bird count to participate in and the Fish Derby in February. If there is ice, it’s similar to down in the county, there are ice shanties on Detroit Harbor, there’s ice skating. When there’s snow, it’s kinda like Peninsula Park, you can pretty much ski anywhere as long as you know where the fences are and are respectful. And from the Jackson Harbor Ridges State Natural Area you can walk there on the ice or take a snow mobile to the 950 acres of state park.
With all the wildlife and the beauty of the land, this place is a photographer’s dream. Anywhere you look, there’s something. You could spend a week just taking pictures, only to see the season change giving you a whole new, irresistible landscape.
We like to say, you haven’t been to Door County if you haven’t been to Washington Island. And, you haven’t been to Washington Island if you haven’t tried Lawyers. I believe this to be true. Unless of course you have a fish allergy – but most people who try Lawyers, even people who don’t like fish, can’t get enough of them. In most other place, they’re throw away fish, but on the island we don’t waste if we don’t have to. And Lawyers are very mild, they’re not fishy in taste or texture, and at KK Fiske, they’re breaded, deep-fried into golden, bite-size pieces, and served with sauce.
There’s not a lot of shopping to do up here, there are the necessities of course, but the island isn’t about shopping so much, it’s about the experience. But if you’re looking for something fun and unique, The What We Do In Winter Gallery offers hand-made art and useful things made from re-used items. It’s what they call up-cycling. Things can be harder to get on an island, so often we work with what’s at hand.
People come here for the peace and quiet, you know, and it’s an island – you can sit and look at the water from so many different places. And you can find it on the mainland too, but up here it’s just a little more at your fingertips. Maybe its a little Shangri-La thing that happens, you can settle in and relax and be happy. You just gotta spend some time with us.
Winter is when the locals spend more time conversing, maybe talking about each other as much as to each other! Strangely, that’s the main thing to do. Even though the Red Cup is only open two hours a day in the winter, during that two hours its a bee hive. Here (KK Fiske) there’s a group that shows up early, then a little later, and Nelsen’s has a similar routine I’m sure, but it’s kinda like Al Johnson’s where people sit and talk like that. A lot of it here year round, the magic of Washington Island is built on conversation. People just talk to each other a lot. Or read, and write. But it’s really built on conversation. It seems easier to connect with people here. People are willing to share more – it’s something about an island, they talk about their lives, their past. If you want to get to know yourself, or your family, or even the people here that you cross, this place is kind of disarming in that way. The magic of the island is intangible, it really is a feeling.
Musician Julian Hagen has lived on Washington Island his entire life, with brief departures for Fish Creek, Nashville, Ireland and other favored places. He has just released his third CD, a compilation of his own folk-country-blues compositions, “It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.” Largely record in Nashville, the new CD is available at Base Camp Coffee in Sister Bay, Red Cup Coffee on Washington Island, other fine retailers throughout the Peninsula, and online at www.julianhagenmusic.com.