Eleven years ago, I moved to Northwest Wisconsin, a region called the Wisconsin Indianhead because it is shaped like the profile of an Indian chief I live just east of the nose.

After a career of publishing magazines and editing newspapers in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, I decided to take a retirement job editing a newspaper in a small Wisconsin town of fewer than 2,000 people. How pleasant it would be to leave the hustle, bustle, and high crime of the city! No more daily struggles with traffic. A place where I could retire in the quiet beauty of rolling woods and lakes. I even rented a cabin near a lovely little lake eight miles from town, where my young collie and I could commune with nature.

But it didn’t take long to discover that Northwest Wisconsin was a foreign country, totally unlike anyplace I had been before. And my idyllic surroundings soon revealed some problems. There were wood ticks, not the regular kind, but tiny little deer ticks that passed on Lyme disease if you weren’t vigilant in getting them off. The collie got Lyme disease and could barely walk until I took him to a vet for treatment. The dog also tangled with a porcupine and got quills in his nose, got sprayed by a skunk, and raccoons kept swiping his dog food after carefully washing each piece in his water dish. A sturdy, determined, and large family of mice who had been making the cabin their home for a couple of years defied every attempt to get rid of them. A gentle doe and her two fawns came to visit frequently.

The next thing I discovered was that editing a newspaper in a highly volatile community wasn’t exactly a piece of cake. If I printed anything that people disagreed with, I received an angry phone call. Some letters to the editor would have been the basis for a libel suit if I had printed them, and w hen I didn’t print them, I received more angry phone calls. I had half of the town mad at me one week and the other half the next. Fortunately, the previous owner of the paper, who had been the editor for many years, stopped by daily for coffee and helped me avoid many pitfalls. I also discovered I did not have a nine to five job. I started receiving calls at my residence as early as 7:00 A.M. on Sunday.

Many people assume that if you are here, you have always been here, and therefore you don’t need addresses or directions—other than “turn where the old cheese factory used to be, you can’t miss it.” For most of its lengthy lifetime, the paper had run ads without addresses, and I met some resistance from the staff when I insisted on an address for each ad. After all, I explained, some dumb out-of-towner like myself might want to find the business, and the area could use the tourism dollars.

My first deer-hunting season was memorable. Close-shaven men suddenly turned into bearded characters sporting flannel shirts and boots. As I was living in a densely wooded area, I was warned by the natives to wear orange and tie an orange scarf around my collie’s neck. Or, better yet, stay indoors. When die season started, I felt like I was in a war zone. Bearded men wearing camouflage suits and blaze orange hats and carrying guns passed through my yard. Guns went off in the distance, and a few were entirely too close. I wore a bright orange sweatshirt to travel the 20 feet from the cabin to the garage. The dog was scared to death. Hunters who had shot their deer draped the animal on the fender or put it in the back of the pickup truck and stopped by a saloon in town to do a little celebrating and show off their trophy.

Then winter settled upon the Northwoods. I had only moved 90 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, but that short distance added two months to winter, it was snowing by the end of September, and die ice was still on the lakes at the first of May. The first day that the temperature was way below zero, the bathtub in my rented cabin spouted a gusher of ice and dead leaves from the drain. When I tried to call the owners, their sou told me they were on a sailboat trip off the southern coast of Florida. It seems the bathtub and laundry tubs drained through a pipe onto the ground alongside the cabin. A little heat tape fixed the situation. The electric heat was a bit iffy, too, and I often came home to a very cold house. I spent a lot of that first winter on the couch covered with a heavy quilt. Sweatsuits, long underwear, wool socks, and a pair of Alaskan reindeer slippers were standard at-home apparel.

But native northwestern Wisconsinites who are snowmobilers love the snow. Snowmobile trails, all carefully groomed and marked with miniature highway signs, crisscross the area and connect with other trails in northern Wisconsin. One hearty group of men made an annual 200-mile snowmobile trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The restaurants and bars near the snowmobile trails do a land-office business during the snowmobile season. Rural dances bring the snowmobilers out, and I have watched them dancing the polka in their snowmobile boots, their snowmobile suits unzipped to the waist to allow ventilation, their empty sleeves twirling to the music.

When the ice thickens, ice-fishing shacks appear on the numerous lakes in the Wisconsin Indianhead region. A large lake near where I live hosts the Wisconsin state ice-fishing tournament, which attracts 1,200 fishermen. Each person is allowed to drill three holes in the ice; they may bring sleds and portable icehouses as well as their vehicles. A beer garden, weighing station, and bratwurst stand are also set up on the ice. I was extremely nervous that first winter and wouldn’t drive my car out on the ice. I really expected to see the entire entourage sink into 90 feet of water, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I lived through that first winter, bitt the cabin was sold in the spring, so I bought a 100-year-old house in town and rehabbed it. Then the newspaper was sold, so I found other work, but I staved in Northwest Wisconsin. There are too many things going on that I would miss. There are still bears up here, and while I have only seen one (from the safety of my car), I had empathy for the man in Cameron, Wisconsin, who let his poodle out early in the morning and had a bear grab the dog from the deck. The owner tried to defend the poodle but got mauled himself The bear took the poodle into the woods, and the dog hasn’t been seen since. Another man had his dog out for a walk near Spooner when he heard the dog running up behind liim at top speed. The dog ran right past him. When the man turned around, he found himself face to face with a black bear up on its hind legs. The man pushed the bear; the bear took a swipe and scratched him; but they both ended up going in different directions. More recently, a 14-year-old Boy Scout had to have 196 stitches after a bear hauled the boy, his tent, and his sleeping bag 78 feet into the woods.

Weddings in northwestern Wisconsin are social events. Some get carried away. A bachelor party at Murphy’s Bar and Grill in Dresser, Wisconsin, turned into a 50-man bar brawl that led to 16 arrests by officers in nearly 20 units. The Dresser police chief got punched while trying to break up the brawl. There was no report on how the wedding turned out.

But newlyweds here are practical. The local Farm and Fleet store that sells farm supplies, work clothes, lawnmowers, and dog food features a bride and groom registry that is very popular. Their ads proclaim: “At last, a place for the groom to register too!”

This area still has church suppers, potlucks, barbecues, and a popular regional dish of bratwurst smothered with sauerkraut. There are old-time dances: I attended one on a farm on the Fourth of July. It was over 90 degrees, but Mr. Morgan, a one-man band, kept playing polkas, two-steps, and waltzes from his stand in a pole barn. Despite the heat, the people kept dancing—and Mr. Morgan kept playing.

The Ceska Opera House in Haugen, Wisconsin, has been in operation for over 100 years. It features variety shows by local talent, from a violin player to a college professor completely decked out in a Scottish kilt playing the bagpipes. My favorite was a lady dressed in a black cow suit, dangling a shocking pink udder while she played a trumpet solo.

Even more astounding to an out-of-towner is the way the folks up north raise money for charity. My first “chicken drop” fundraiser at a rural saloon was an eye-opener. I grew up on a farm in South Dakota, so I am familiar with the personal habits of chickens—I just never expected to be betting on them. The floor of a fenced area was marked off into numbered squares, and the participants bet on the numbers. Then a well-fed chicken was placed in the pen, and whatever numbered square the chicken relieved itself on was a winner. Since that time, I have seen a “cow drop” in a parking lot divided into squares, and a bunny drop, which was a little less predictable.

What really makes northwestern Wisconsin a special place is the people. Many are descendants of the loggers or farmers who struggled to survive in this area a hundred years ago. There is ethnic diversity, yet a proud clannishness as well. I live in an Italian community that has some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten. Another community features “Scandinavian Saturday” where the best in local Scandinavian food and crafts are on sale. People quietly work on their rural acreages growing berries, raising produce, building boats, painting, woodcarving, making pottery, designing crossword puzzles, or carving out a new golf course. There are as many stories as there are people, and it doesn’t end. For a photojournalist, it is a wonderful place to be.