Does anyone outside of Wisconsin know what the term “Up North” means?* To me, Up North is the northern third of Wisconsin where residents of the lower two thirds go to fish, hike, boat, hunt, and water ski. The city of Wausau is not far enough north to be Up North, but Minocqua is the heart of Up North – so the demarcation line must be somewhere in between.

My cousin Tom owns a small-cabin-on-the-lake resort Up North, and Manyu and I stayed there last week. Because the value of waterfront property has skyrocketed, most of these mom and pop resorts have been sold, razed, and replaced by either high end resort hotels or private second homes. Tom and his wife are in their late 60s, so I’m not sure how much longer their relic will survive. 

Nothing significant has happened on this trip, which somewhat is the point of such trips. Clare came up for a few days before she starts a new job in Madison. There has been a moose sighting in the area, the first in over a decade, but I haven’t seen it. On Tuesday, Manyu, Clare, and I drove over to the UP (pronounced you-pee) to see my sister’s and her husband’s new second home.  Paul, my brother-in-law, said the neighbors have already welcomed them in, as the assumption is that they have to be friendlier than the previous owners. UP stands for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In my mind, “Up North” has always meant Wisconsin and “the UP” has always meant Michigan, but in terms of forests, lakes, and trout streams, the two are indistinguishable.

I fished at least a few hours every day during the trip. Manyu came with me a couple of times, which is something we haven’t done together for years. We noticed that the panfish out of Tom’s lake have more of the small black parasites than the bluegills at home on the Mississippi River. The free-floating larval stage of these parasites do not do well in moving water, and that may be the difference. While the parasites are harmless to humans, Manyu asked that I not bring fish back to the cabin to eat. 

One of my favorite restaurants anywhere is a place not far from Tom’s resort called Jacobi’s. Before we left La Crosse, Manyu and I debated whether we were ready to dine in a public setting. We have not eaten indoors at a restaurant since the start of the pandemic. I was leaning toward going to Jacobi’s, Manyu was not, and we’d not made up our minds before driving up. The decision was made for us, as Jacobi’s closed during COVID and has yet to reopen. The pandemic, combined with new immigration policies that prevent businesses from hiring international college students as summer staff, has been a hardship for tourism everywhere, but especially Up North. 

*A friend informed me that Minnesotans also says “Up North,” although they also say “To the cabin” and “To the lake.” When I lived in Minneapolis, my friends usually went to the Boundary Waters, so they said they were going to the Boundary Waters.

Steven Simpson