I have always loved waterfalls with the adventure and serenity they offer. As a little kid, while visiting Grampy and Grammy in Mason City, Iowa, we would walk to East Park. My brother, sisters and I would fish and play in Willow Creek, which winds through the park and flows into the much bigger Winnebago River. We were to stay away from that river unless an adult was with us.
There were man-made concrete spillways along the creek, dropping about three feet. We called them waterfalls. On the bank, upstream from the falls, we would cast stones trying to make them skip across the water’s surface. If you were any good at all, you could make your stone jump the dam and continue into the water below.
Sometimes, when visiting our Minnesota cousins, we went to Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. A much higher and far more impressive falls, but we weren’t allowed to play in them.
When my wife and I started coming to the North Shore of Lake Superior, abundant with waterfalls, I became spoiled: Gooseberry, the Beaver and Cross Rivers, Devil’s Kettle on the Brule River, Kakabeka Falls in Canada; they were all part of the lure for us to move north. Now we can hear the roar of High Falls, Illgen and Two Step Falls, along the Baptism River, from our house.
The High Falls on the Pigeon River, create a natural boundary line between the United States and Canada, as do the Niagara Falls in New York. Both are spectacular, although Niagara Falls is a bit too touristy for me. The lines you wait in to see them remind me of an amusement park. From the very large and powerful, to the small and tranquil falls, I love them all.
Just the other day, I was traveling along Highway 28 in northern Michigan, working my way toward home. It was getting late in the night and I was getting tired, when I came upon a lot of emergency vehicles at the scene of a bad accident.
I knew I wasn’t going to make it all the way home and the accident served as reminder to me of what can happen when driving while fatigued. I pulled into the next wayside park along Highway 28 to catch a few hours of sleep.
Tioga Wayside Park, is a place I often stop to rest. At night, with the windows open, I can hear the soothing sound of a waterfall somewhere off in the woods. When I awoke in the morning, I thought about walking into the woods to find the waterfall I often hear – but have never seen.
Not far from the parking lot is a small walk bridge where water rushed through large rocks on the little Tioga River below. I met a nice couple there and we enjoyed some conversation. They told me it was only a short walk into the woods to the Tioga Falls, so I started walking the trail.
The falls were small dropping only a few feet, but they certainly create a large, comforting sound. I stayed there for a few moments thinking about life and wondered how much more peaceful the world could be if more people were able to spend time near waterfalls? I took in the serenity for a few more minutes then went back to my van.
Traveling west on Michigan 28, nearing Bergland, by Lake Gogebic, I came upon an orange sign that read, “Road Work Ahead.” Another said, “One Lane Traffic” and a third had a picture indicating there would be a flagman. Great! Not only was I going to be delayed, but they were putting tar in the cracks on the road and then sand over the tar. You know, the stuff that gets on your car, shows really bad on white paint and is really hard to remove? I know they’re just preparing the road for winter, but come on – isn’t there another way?
Luckily, I was the first car in line at the stop sign. I pulled up to the man holding the sign and rolled down my window to tell him exactly what I thought of his tar business. He walked up to the passenger side. I pointed my finger right at him and said, “You guys are doing a great job!”
He smiled, “Thanks man!” He said, “I’m used to people yelling at me about the tar getting on their cars.” He pushed the button on the side of his little walkie-talkie and said, “Hey, I got a pedestrian stopped over here who just told me we’re doing a great job.” He said it with a lot of pride.
A voice came back over the radio, “Uh, a pedestrian would mean they’re walking.”
We shared a good laugh about that. The man blushed. He seemed flustered, then spoke into the radio. “He is a pedestrian, but he’s driving a van right now.”
The voice on the radio laughed, then said, “I’m sending three your way. The last one is a red Ford truck pulling a camper.” Once that truck cleared, the man turned his sign to read SLOW. He wished me a good day and waved me on.
On the other end of the work zone, I hollered out my window to two men with the stop sign, “You guys are doing a great job!”
They waved their hands high in the air and yelled back, “Thank you!” followed by a good ole “Woo Hoo!” Their reaction made me happy.
I could have been a Debbie Downer, complaining about the tar, but honestly, what good would that do? These guys are just doing their job, sealing the pavement; preparing Michigan Highway 28 for the winter months ahead. Instead of bringing them down, I felt like I lifted their spirits. I continued down the road feeling pretty good about that.
About twenty miles farther down the road, Michigan 28 takes a wide sweeping turn to the south coming into the town of Wakefield, then curves back to the west. It wraps around Sunday Lake, following the shoreline, then after one more, smaller curve to the south, 28 comes to an end, intersecting Highway 2 where I would turn right to go home.
Coming into town on the first curve brings me to the northeast corner of Sunday Lake. There is a small man-made dam with a triangular concrete spillway. As I rounded the curve, I spotted a Michigan State Trooper parked on the side of the road. Thinking he was running radar to catch people who didn’t slow down coming into town, I smiled. I was doing the correct speed so there could be no ticket for me today. Then I noticed a trooper climbing around the chain-link fence that surrounds the spillway.
He had a pole of sorts in his hand, with a loop on the end and a rope tied to the fence. He started to rappel down into the spillway. This was too much for an old radio news broadcaster to pass up. I had to stop and see what he was doing. Certainly, there was a news story here. I wondered if he was looking for evidence someone had tried to dispose of by throwing it in the lake, or maybe a body of someone who had an accident.
I parked the van and hurried over to see what he was doing. The pole in his hand turned out to be a fishing net, so that ruled out looking for a body. He wouldn’t be fishing in his uniform, and besides, fishing with a net is illegal. He must be trying to retrieve evidence.
The water spilling over the dam was only a couple inches deep; down in the spillway it was slightly above his feet. The trooper, in his perfectly pressed blue uniform and shiny boots, walked carefully across the slippery concrete to the far side of the dam. A long board, maybe twenty-feet-long, spanned from the dam to the floor of the spillway. It looked like a ramp or something from a construction site. There was a small board fastened perpendicular to the top that caused the plank to get caught on the dam. Maybe he was going in to remove it, but why would a state trooper be doing that instead of someone from public works? The trooper walked around the end of the board to the very far side.
I assumed there was a gate on that end that can be lowered to reduce the water level in the lake if needed. The water seemed to have a little more velocity coming over the gate. The trooper walked closer to the falling water; close enough that the water was splashing up, getting the bottom of his trousers wet. He began pushing the fishing net through the falling water. Whatever he was looking for must have been behind the falls.
I was quietly rooting for the cop. For all his effort to get into the spillway, I hoped he would be successful in finding whatever he was searching for. After the third or fourth attempt, he pulled the net back from the falling water. There was something dark in the net, but from my distance, I couldn’t tell what is was.
He walked with his net around the long board, then got closer to wall of the dam. He lifted the net above and over the wall. “What is he doing?” I asked myself. The trooper lowered the evidence into the water above the dam, then turned the net over and lifted it, releasing the evidence that he had worked so hard to find. The evidence floated on the surface of the water for a moment, then drifted against the current, away from the waterfall. The evidence was... I squinted my eyes. The evidence was a small duck? I started laughing.
The trooper walked carefully back to my side of the spillway. Using the rope, he pulled himself up and walked up the wall like Batman would scale a building. When he reached the top, I walked his way. I reached my arm up and he handed me the net over the top of the fence. While holding onto the fence, he shimmied along the top of the narrow concrete wall and around the end until he was back on dry ground. We had quite an interesting conversation.
He told me there were two ducks. “They got too close to the dam and the current pushed them over the wall, into the spillway.” He said, “They can’t fly for some reason and can’t get out, so they just swim circles in here.”
The trooper told me he came down on his own time and built the wooden ramps. “I put small slats across the top surface so they could get their footing and not slide backwards. They haven’t figured out how to use the ramps yet, so about once a day, I come in and set them free.”
I was impressed. Very impressed by his compassion; taking time daily as well as using his own time (and material) to help a couple of ducks in need. I introduced myself and found out a little more about him. He had only been a State Trooper for about a year and a half. Before that he served in the United States Marine Corps, then he was a police officer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before joining the Michigan Highway Patrol.
Michigan State Trooper Paul Maxinoski, you certainly have gone above and beyond your call of duty! I really felt like a better person for having met him. Seeing the example he set through his actions made me want to go out and do good things, too. We said our farewells. He got into his cruiser; I got into my van and we both pulled out onto Michigan Highway 28. He turned into the post headquarters and I continued on.
On the west side of Wakefield, there was a concession truck in a parking lot; “Taco Dan,” was the sign on the side. I was hungry and it was close to noon, so I pulled in for lunch.
A young couple was at the order window ahead of me. The man was handing his cash to the gal inside the window. Still being on a natural high from meeting Trooper Paul, I said, “His money is no good here today.” The lady was confused as was the man. I explained, “I want to get their lunch today.”
“Really. Are you serious?” They both asked. I told her I was serious and she handed his cash back to him. Confused, his girlfriend asked what was going on? “Honey, this man wants to buy our lunch for us.” They thanked me and said, “You really just made our day!”
I placed my order and started to dig in my pocket for my credit card when I noticed the sign on the truck, “CASH ONLY.” Oh my, this could be embarrassing. I never carry much cash with me. I pulled out the cash I had from my pocket. Eleven dollars wasn’t going to cover the bill. Then I remembered before I left town, I took my dog June to the pet wash in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
After a bath, I always drive to the credit union across the street to get a little cash. Actually, it’s just an excuse to take June through the drive up. “I’d like to withdraw twenty-five dollars,” I said to the teller, “and June wants to know if she has any bones in her account.”
The teller laughed, “She has a lot of bones in her account.” The drawer came out with a dog treat and twenty-five bucks in an envelope - plenty to pay for our burritos in Wakefield.
I paid the cashier at Taco Dan’s truck, then ate my meal with the young couple. “What’s the occasion for buying our lunch?” One of them asked.
I explained to them the story about the Michigan State Trooper saving a duck. “You know, it made me feel so good seeing what he did, it inspired me to do something nice for someone else, too. Just paying it forward as they say.” We enjoyed a nice conversation while we ate.
We finished eating and I was getting ready to leave when a State Trooper pulled into the parking lot. He got out of his cruiser and walked toward the Taco Dan truck. “Long time no see.” He said, waving to me. I smiled, noticing the legs of his trousers had time to dry out.
“I was just telling these guys about you and how cool it was that you rescued that little duck.” I said. I wanted to offer to buy the officer’s lunch, but I don’t know if they can accept gifts like that and I only had five dollars left after buying lunch and leaving a tip. We said our farewells and I got in the van to head out.
After thirty-five years in radio broadcasting, I’ve met and worked with a lot of law enforcement officers. People who know me, know I sometimes drive a little too fast, thus I tend to meet even more officers on the side of the road.
I looked at the clock. It was 12:40 – Forty-five minutes since I left Trooper Maxinoski at the spillway on the other side of town. I started laughing out loud. “Forty-five minutes, eh? That’s the longest it’s ever taken a State Trooper to catch up to me.” Still chuckling, I turned onto the highway, “But he’s pretty new on the force – I’ll bet he’s a lot faster next time.”
All in all, it was a real good day on Michigan 28.
…looking for evidence…maybe a body…
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!