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COLUMNISTS

The haunting of the Buena Vista moor

Justin Isherwood
As Sherlock Holmes knows, moors, marshes, bogs, peats, lowlands are strange places. And the Buena Vista moor in Central Wisconsin has had its share of sinister tales.

The great moor of the Buena Vista is one of Central Wisconsin’s more abidingly empty places, some believe lonely is the word, some think creepy is a better fit. To suffer a flat tire on these moors or run out of gas is a long walk to the next house. Besides which, what sort of person lives in such a place? 

As Sherlock Holmes knows, moors, marshes, bogs, peats, lowlands are strange places.  A landscape as cannot abide the innocent pedestrian, the straight and level, the classic point A to point B because a wet spot intervenes, as agriculture well understands. Nights are darker on the moor, winters colder, autumn comes earlier, summer never quite.

The Buena Vista has multiple hauntings, in other places called ghosts, if they are less ghosts as just strange, eerie, occasionally sinister acts, mostly of demise. To say this again, mostly demise. Some few escaped their fate if never quite, you know, normal again, what this auld moor can do to a person’s sense of being well any time after dark.

There once was a farmer who rather than submit to a complex and likely futile cancer surgery went to the moor of his childhood, this on a snowy cold winter day, there he shed his coat, shed his shirt and quite bare-chested sat down and leaned back against an elm tree older than dirt and soon froze to death. Discovered later still against the tree with what deputies recounted the damnedest smile on his face.  A smile is rare on a corpse. No ghosts, no ghouls, if still haunting.

Was a farmer innocently off to a late evening chore chopping corn who caught his yellow fleece glove in the maw of his brand new Allis Chalmers single row ensilage chopper, quite the amazing contraption. It seems the man did not believe the manual’s specific instruction “disengage the PTO when servicing,” for he soon after joined the rest of that corn fodder in the chopper box. It was, of course, a closed casket service, if better than average protein silage. No ghost, no ghouls of him, at least none reliably observed, if still, you know, haunting.

Then there are the lost trout fishermen, some were fisherwomen, legions of them who are lost souls anyway as can happen with trout fishing. Being a good trout stalker means, you know, the correct gear, split bamboo, high-end Kingpin Zodiac something the other side of a thousand dollars, a chest of dry flies, old-fashioned line grease, waders, pliers, gloves, lunch, and if you really want to strike a pose, a  briar pipe, everything it seems except an aqualung. 

Then there are the lost trout fishermen...who unknowingly step into a hydraulic sink in the stream and are gone without a trace.

They who have fished the Flume, the Tomorrow, the Poncho – good trout streams all –streams with bottoms, nice rocky, pebbly bottoms. Fishermen who may know topless but not bottomless. Not the waters of this moor where streams emerge quite magically from beneath the ancient moraine, streams with an artesinal mood as Kevin Masarik of the UW-SP water lab has observed.

Technically just a positive hydraulic beneath the otherwise calm if brooding moor.  The consequence of this hydraulic comedy in places on the marsh where trout streams have no bottom, at least none you can set a foot on. It gets worse.

Some of these seeps, these hydraulic vestibules, have been in the same place for eons, all the sand grains churning, bubbling, have been pulverized, ground to itsy bitsy. It gets worse.

Tiny bits rounded off by centuries of tumble and churn, the erosion to resemble microscopic ball-bearings. Think slippery. All in the same spot, indistinguishable from any other spot on the stream where brookies rise in the early dark which is a creepy time to fish anyway but if you are serious about trout, creepy doesn’t matter.

In fact, so intent on the trout rise not to notice the spot near the bank without vegetation, there where the water moves in a strange hypnotic way...that funny swirl. A hundred years in that same spot, maybe a thousand. Of course, they step into it.

In an instant down to their waist, another instant their chin. So sudden, so abrupt, no chance to cry out. Who’d hear it anyway? In the next second their best Filson floating downstream without them.

At least in theory it is possible to escape such a hydraulic sink. If you fish trout naked.  To say unencumbered, no more equipment than a bamboo stick and a bit of line, not geared to the nines from the L.L. Bean catalogue.

As the author was instructed to fish the Buena Vista marsh by his grandfather, he instructed by the Indians before. You can swim in duck soup the same as tomato soup, but not when weighed down by hip-waders and 15 pounds of gear, flies, landing net, bug spray, lunch and best all-leather trout fishing vest, costing the same as a good Holstein, should milk prices improve only a middlin’ Holstein.     

The elapsed time is about 1.46 seconds from stepping in that souse hole to the fishing hat floating downstream. The body is never recovered, if the site does bubble strangely for awhile.

As for ghosts, ghosts are a piece of cake, nothing more than unemployed spirits who could use some college credits … hauntings are something else.

Justin Isherwood

Justin Isherwood of Plover is a fifth-generation farmer and the author of Book of Plough,Christmas Stones & The Story Chair, and Farm Kid: Tales of Growing Up in Rural America.