Monday, February 06, 2006

How in the hell did I miss this?

Not only the was the book from the seventies completely off my radar but the recent movie as well... I have spent at least a portion of every summer in Black River Falls, WI since birth (I was a mere two months old on my first camping trip, according to my mother.) First it was campgrounds, then cabins, then hotels. My father was actually born there. My grandparents (my paternal grandfather and his 2nd wife) lived there until they died a few years ago. Generations of Bowens are littered throughout the area. Everyone on my Dad's side makes one pilgrimage per year (at least) to Hatfield population 100, winter, 1000 summer, which is a few miles away. It's the home to most of my childhood and adolecent outdoor summer memories. Even this summer we spent a weekend in August at the Arrowhead, and there's a restuarant on the road to Hatfield that has the most heavenly battered shrimp I've ever tasted. Whenever I say I'm going to Wisconsin, that's where I'm going.

So imagine my surprise when doing a little research on the Midwestern gothic tradition, to find out the existence of a strange little book of weird and wacky things, plagues of madness, murder, oddness right there in good old Black River Falls. It was apparently imspired by an archive of photographs from a local photographer and newspaper clippings from the 1890's. We had three copies upstairs, so it's not some strange, unknown out of print thing. How have i not come across it before?

It's funny, but when I was working on the beginnings of the novel that has become mydulcetproject, that was exactly my setting...a strange little summer town isolated in the wilds of Wisconsin, those endless rows of white pines that are so dark even hours before sunset. Those trailers and broken down shacks that emerge from the rolling hills and forests suddenly.

Alot of it is still like that, surrounded by state forest, a few Indian reservations (and now a casino and a walmart). Years ago it was still very small town --a place where I endured the most mundane 1989 4th of July parade/fair featuring tractors, farmers daughters, and livestock. The main stretch, which twenty years ago was sort of run-down with empty storefronts, has had a boom of antique stores and restaurants since the casino brought more tourists a, plus there's a huge atv and snowmobile crowd each year for the surrounding trails. On the outskirts a number of hotels and campgrounds.

It's interesting how often poems take place there. All the fire poems are set there. When I was fourteen and on our way to Black River we got caught in the middle of this huge fire that burned over several counties which had started in a rest-stop somehow. 1988 is known for being a bad drought year, and it was only one of several that burned in the state that summer. They were just about to close the road, and we were one of the last cars to get through, but the fire was burning on one side of the highway and was already jumping to the trees in between the lanes. The firemen were working to keep it back, but it did in fact later jump the highway and burned for another two days. We made it through, but it was slow going and when we were about ten miles away in Mauston, where our tire went flat because of the rapid heating and cooling it had endured. It was probably more dangerous a situation than I realized at the time. We did manage to get a new tire and were on our way to our rented cabin no harm done, but by the time we traveled back through a weak later everything was charred and decimated. It was odd every year to watch it slowly growing back every year, and finally to not be able to tell anymore where that spot is.

Black River itself, a few years later, was hit by a massive flood in 1993--not as devastating as the Misssipi floods that year, but half of downtown was under made the national news after part of the damn broke. In Hatfield, which was hit worse and on lower land, I remember seeing pictures of the roller rink and the corner store up to their roofs in water.

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