Book 5: A Stone’s Throw

To most people, Wisconsin’s Door County doesn’t go beyond the peninsula. Did you know, though, that the Door in Door County comes from the narrow water passage called Death’s Door? Grandpa Mike explains how the open waters of Lake Michigan to the east and Green Bay to the west crash into each other here. Stormy weather makes this stretch of water particularly dangerous. Seven-year-old Mallory searches in vain for a floating door in the water as the ferry makes its way to Washington Island. His twin sister Melody is more interested in islands.

It’s early evening when the Maloney family arrives at the inn where they’ll be staying on the Island. Perch is the dinner special, and the twins’ Dad suggests they order the perch prepared five different ways to share with each other.

They learn from Mr. Tom, the inn’s owner, that Schoolhouse Beach is only one of five beaches in the whole world that doesn’t have any sand. The twins think, “What good is a beach without sand?” Mr. Tom senses their disappointment and explains that you can build castles out of the smooth rocks; their flat surfaces also make great skipping over water. During dinner, the twins figure out the farthest you can be from water if you walk a straight line from wherever you are on Washington Island.

New friends are formed the next day at Schoolhouse Beach. The four boys and two sets of parents are regular visitors to Washington Island. Mallory and Melody practice skipping stones and explore a “stone city” with the boys while their parents get acquainted. The group decides to visit Little Lake. It’s the only inland lake on the island. Native Americans lived here more than 3,000 years ago. The “old timers” point out different sights, including a floating bog and all sorts of different plants and birds.

Sand Dunes Beach is the group’s next stop. When talk over their picnic lunch turns to Death’s Door, Grandpa Mike uses a simple technique to teach the children some advanced physics principles. They may not remember Bernoulli’s name, but they will remember how air and water behave under certain conditions. Mallory learns from his Mom how to do a cannonball into water after learning the hard way about how flat belly-flops into water feel like hitting concrete.

Rock Island has no lodging, so the Maloneys plan to take the first ferry out the next morning and catch the last ferry back to Washington Island. They bring lunch and empty bottles to fill with water when they get to the island. Melody is particularly excited about seeing the lighthouse at the far end of the island, and Mallory wants to make sure they take the whole trail around the small island. When they get to the lighthouse, their Mom points out that you can stand in one place and see the sun set to the left over the water and then see the sun rise the next day to the right. Little did she realize…

A tour of the lighthouse reveals how lighthouse beacons shine so brightly: Fresnel lenses that look similar to the rings of trees, except the rings are all angled toward the center to focus the light.

Grandpa Mike trips on a stone and badly sprains his ankle. Fortunately, they were close to the lighthouse and some guides helped Grandpa Mike back inside. The bad news is that there are no available boats large enough for everyone to return to Washington Island. The good news is that several of the guides volunteered to take the ferry back so that the Maloneys could stay overnight at the lighthouse.

Making the best of the situation, everyone joins in an oldies sing-along following a healthy dinner. Melody and Mallory get to check a compass to identify the sun’s setting angle and the next day’s rising angle. They also get to watch the International Space Station as it crosses overhead, moving far faster than the stars in the night sky.

Grandpa Mike’s swollen ankle heals overnight, thanks to Melody’s cool hands as she cupped his feverish flesh. They make their way back to the ferry along the trail they originally planned to take the previous afternoon. So much to do, so little time! The family makes a quick trip to see a Stavkirke (Norwegian stave church with lots of levels of roofs) once they return to Washington Island.

A whirlwind of activity follows, with visits to lavender fields, a maritime museum, a deer-counting game, and, of course, a fish boil. Fish boils are a colorful Door County tradition, and the twins’ Dad offers his own colorful story to match the flames of the overboil. Floating buoys and another lighthouse offer new sights on the trip back across Death’s Door and down through southern Wisconsin.

The next book is Catch of the Day.

This book has 72 pages and more than 20,000 words. $18.

The table below offers an at-a-glance look at the topics and subtopics covered. Many of the original resource links are no longer available and had to be removed. We will be adding additional resource links in the future.


Resource Links

Helpful Hints

Earth, Space Science: Door County, Wisconsin

Chapter 1
Where is the Door in Door County?

Earth, Space Science: Death’s Door; Green Bay; Lake Michigan; sandless beach History: French exploration; island family history; Physics: light reflection in water; skipping rocks on water; Work, Careers: chemistry; wellness instruction; Chemistry: rock composition; Health: nutrition; Math: calculating the middle of a location; Social, Society: removing natural objects; Life Skills: cooking

Chapter 2
Washington Island: First Explorations

Earth, Space Science: Schoolhouse Beach; Little Lake; underground springs; Death’s Door; Social, Society: making friends; Physics: air and water movement through narrow openings (Bernoulli’s Principle); flat vs. narrow impact on water; History: native Americans; Biology: animal habitats; Human, Family Values: trust; Health: nutrition Little Lake Nature Preserve
Bernoulli’s Principle

Chapter 3
An Even Smaller Island

Earth, Space Science: Rock Island, Wisconsin; Engineering: hand water pumps; History: Pottawatomie Lighthouse; purpose of lighthouses; Physics: Fresnel lenses; gravity; Language: word derivations (docent); Arts: poetry; Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Rime of the Ancient Mariner) Wisconsin’s Icelandic Outpost
Docent program at Pottawatomie Lighthouse
Lighthouses and fresnel lenses

Chapter 4
An Unplanned Delay

Health: cooling to reduce swelling; Social, Society: helpfulness; polite terms of address; Human, Family Values: sharing; helping with chores; Earth, Space Science: International Space Station; night sky; compass reading; Arts: music, writing poems

Chapter 5
Another Day at Rock Island

Biology: rapid healing; extremophile traits; Earth, Space Science: compass reading; Arts: music, writing poetry; architecture design; Human, Family Values: gratitude; behavior; sharing; History: rutabaga crop; Icelandic immigrants

Chapter 6
Back on Washington Island

Language: play on words; History: Nurse Nightingale; Math: Use of statistics; counting; Engineering: Stavkirke (stave church); Social, Society: Scandinavians; Earth, Space Science: Northern Lights; Washington Island sights; wetlands; Health: recreation Florence Nightingale: Saving Lives with Statistics

Chapter 7
Fish Boil, Boiling Chips, …and Extremophiles?

Earth, Space Science: animal habitats; bird sanctuary; environmental protection; History: growing lavender, potatoes; Chemistry: water density increased with salt; oil floats on water due to its lower density; use of boiling chips; pH; Language: story-telling Density of fluids compared to water

Chapter 8
Crossing Death’s Door a Second Time

Social, Society: learning new things about people you know; Engineering: buoys, weather research; Language: word pronunciation and spelling (buoy); Technology: data transmission to satellites Clickable map of buoy location

Chapter 9
On the Way Back

Earth, Space Science: Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Breakwater Lighthouse; Physics: setting sun reflection in sky, water

Chapter 10
Next Adventure: Discussing the Loch

Work, Careers: retirement; Health: nutrition