In northeast Wisconsin, winter can be almost shamelessly beautiful.
Not only is the snow plentiful, it's that photogenic, see-me-sparkle kind of snow that looks so good draped on pine boughs.
Skiing the Escanaba Lake Trail near Minocqua one February, exchanging hellos with passing skiers, all of them smiling, I had the feeling I must be in a magazine shoot.
In a little village in northern Wisconsin, muskie probably is still king.
Back in 1971, city boosters got the U.S. Patent Office to make Boulder Junction the official Musky Capital of the World. After all, the surrounding two counties have the world's densest concentration of lakes, and they still yield 4-foot fish.
But times change. Now, this former logging town deep in the middle of state forest has gained fame as a playground for another kind of trophy hunter.
In northeast Wisconsin, Minocqua is all things to all tourists.
It's been a boating destination for more than a century because it's on a chain of lakes and nearly surrounded by Lake Minocqua. In fact, it's Nature's Original Water Park, and the town has the trademark to prove it.
But summer is short, and these days, tourists like to keep busy. That's why you'll also find water-ski shows, lumberjack shows, boat tours, wildlife parks, bicycle trails, city-style shopping, golf and, in the middle of downtown, mini-golf.
In a quiet corner of Wisconsin lake country, Ojibwe culture lives and breathes.
The French called this place Lac du Flambeau, lake of the torches.'' To the Ojibwe it was Wa-Swa-Goning, the place where they spear fish by torchlight.
Violent protests shattered its north-woods serenity in the 1980s, when the courts upheld spear-fishing treaty rights. The backlash traumatized the community, but also strengthened its commitment to tradition.
In Minocqua, you have to get in a boat to go on a historic home tour.
In the first part of the 20th century, captains of industry streamed to this village in northeast Wisconsin, called the Island City because it is nearly surrounded by Lake Minocqua.
Their estates are hidden in the trees, but the boathouses were built over water, fanciful structures with gables, balconies, towers and turrets.
In 1920, northern Wisconsin already was a playground for people from Chicago.
And when Prohibition flung open the door to organized crime, its remote lakes and forests became even more attractive to a certain kind of Chicagoan.
Al Capone had a fortified summer home on a lake near Hayward, to which hydroplanes flew whiskey from Canada.