A writer offers an intimate look at life on and around a Wisconsin lake

Some of us lucky souls don’t have to wonder what it’s like to live on a small lake in Wisconsin. Those who do not enjoy such settings (and even some of us who do) will likely enjoy a new book released earlier this year by Wisconsin Historical Society Press. “Here on Lake Hallie,” by Patti See, is subtitled, “In Praise of Bar Flies, Fix-it Guys, and Other Folks in Our Hometown.” There is (as the subtitle tells you) a lot about people in this book, but also quite a bit about lakes and lake living.

Lake Hallie, 79 acres with a maximum depth of 13 feet, lies in northwestern Wisconsin, near Chippewa Falls. As See tells it, Lake Hallie and the village of the same name are home to an assortment of interesting folks, including members of the See family. In 39 essays that run to about four pages on average, the author takes us on an extended tour of the Lake Hallie environs, describing her neighbors and acquaintances with a sensitive touch. They include, in no particular order of importance, her handyman, her septic guy, The Eagle Man of Eau Claire the Bird Man of Chippewa Falls, and some of her seven siblings (she is the youngest of eight).

See writes of composing the obituary for her father, who didn’t care for long treatises in those final tributes: “Dad will never know the difficulty I had in condensing ninety-plus years into three hundred words until only the most precise details remain: He gave blood religiously, and he voted in every election. His shirt was always tucked in.” As for lake life, she describes a body of water narrow enough to shout across to and somewhat easily converse with those on the opposite shore. She notes the collection of nearby taverns and supper clubs. She tells of leisurely pontoon boat rides, of lakeside campfires and fireflies, of ice fishing and some inadequately cautious souls who broke through.

In her essay, “On Thin Ice,” she reports, “Once I saw a guy in a bright red jacket pedaling a black mountain bike in knee-high rubber boots. I could only watch, dumbfounded, as he pulled a child splayed out on his belly on a saucer sled. This was mid-December and we’d recently had rain. I would not have set foot on the lake, much less ridden a bike pulling a kid. I could have called social services, but we all have our memorable stories about being on thin ice.” I guess I would have to say after reading See’s book (which I did in a series of short, extremely pleasant intervals) that there are lots of memorable stories there on Lake Hallie.

Patti See’s writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including a regular column in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram. See also has been a regular contributor to the “Wisconsin Life” program on Wisconsin Public Radio.