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Heather Berklund never envisioned herself as the Chief State Forester.

She had worked for the DNR forestry division for two decades in the Northwoods, but didn’t have her mind set on the top job.

“I would say it was never on my radar that I would ever be talking to you in this role or be in this position,” Berklund said on a recent interview, conducted while snowshoeing through the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest near Woodruff.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

It was 1957, and Rhinelander’s Leona Forth laid eyes on Marv Schumacher for the first time.

“That’s how we met, on a blind date,” she said. “That was it.”

She knew right away. The outgoing, smiling, happy man would become her life partner.

“He was the most generous,” Leona said. “He was the best guy in the world.”

The couple took over Leona’s family business, running Forth Floral for decades.

On their 25th wedding anniversary, they bought themselves a treat.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The words “Mellen State Bank” are etched into the sandstone façade over which Jeff Peters ran his right hand on Tuesday.

“It feels like history,” he said. “It almost feels like the history of connecting this area.”

Those carved words and the one-story façade look just like they did when the Mellen State Bank opened in 1902.

The sandstone was quarried on Basswood Island in the Apostle Islands, the same sandstone used to build fashionable brownstone homes in East Coast cities.

Michelle Reed

Pandemics are nothing new to Ojibwe people. Neither are isolation or cold winters.

“Long ago, the arts and crafts, they kept our people from going stir-crazy,” said Greg Johnson, a Lac du Flambeau artist. “Our culture was definitely there for us. It’s almost like insurance for bad times.”

The current pandemic has put that spirit on display for Ojibwe artists. It has led to a resurgence in cultural exchange, Johnson said. A glance at traditional moccasins being produced and dances being taught makes that clear.

And it’s all happening online.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The World Bank has offices in more than 130 places and staff from more than 170 countries.

Starting more than a decade ago, one of those staff members worked from a wood-paneled office overlooking a small lake outside Mercer.

He was among the first telecommuters in Iron County, Wisconsin, a part of the first wave of work-at-home employees whose number has now spiked in the area.

Gary Theisen had lived for years in Washington, DC, working at the headquarters of the World Bank and traveling internationally.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The cabin sits on U.S. Highway 8 between Crandon and Laona.

When Johnnie Aschenbrenner was growing up, it was his home. Despite being on a major highway, there were no power lines until 1962, so the family used generators for electricity.

Nowadays, the cabin has an updated yet rustic feel, and Aschenbrenner rents it out as part of his small resort on Wabikon Lake. It’s literally connected to the tiny bar Aschenbrenner also owns. All told, resort guests can expect a pretty modern experience, DIRECTV included.

Except for one thing.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The internet connection was working as expected at Coontail Market in Boulder Junction on Tuesday.

The grocery, convenience, and outdoor sports store could accept credit cards and access its servers.

But it’s not always like this.

At least once a week, said owner Steve Coon, there is some sort of internet issue.

“It happens way too frequently with DSL, which is the product, of course, that most rural areas have,” he said.

Coon said internet service is not only slow, it’s unreliable.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Earlier this month, Isaiah Miller and Ryan Van Dyke made their very last home solar installation until the spring, just in time to avoid the harshest cold and snow.

They climbed a slanted, shingled roof in Rib Mountain to install a few more solar panels.

“We are currently setting down the last seven modules for this system,” Miller said as he braced himself against the roof’s slope.

The system will be able to generate 4.3 kilowatts of solar power, which could be enough to provide electricity to the entire home.

Erin Gottsacker/WXPR

Ed Steigerwaldt’s last name means 'walk in the woods' in German. It’s an appropriate name for someone who grows trees for a living.

Steigerwaldt started growing Christmas trees with his father when he was just a kid.

“That’s what I grew up as,” he said. “As a little boy, I used to follow him and help him out in the woods. And I loved the work.”

Now Steigerwaldt owns 15 tree farms in Northern Wisconsin. With rolling hills, his farms are home to rows and rows of fir and pine trees.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

To Scott Williams, most drones are just toys.

They can fly high and take photos and video, but can’t do much more.

But his drones? As he sees it, they might change the world.

“If we could put a flying cell tower [up] there, then we could do computing, we can do whatever right off of this thing,” said Williams. “We need a flying computer. We need this network that we can put anywhere and just let everyone compute off of it.”

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

On a sunny day last week in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Kevin Sundholm picked up a small handful of marble-sized pellets of iron ore from the ground.

“Those pellets would go through there and they would get baked,” he said, gesturing at the abandoned foundations of the former Groveland Mine complex near Felch, in Dickinson County.

“You can see the remnants up on top of the silos there,” Sundholm said.

He knows the lay of the land. He worked here more than 40 years ago.

On a recent Saturday, Bill Sherer carefully wrapped fine thread and colorful chenille around a hook. A handful of fly-tying learners watched and copied the move with the materials in their own hands.

Sherer has been teaching these classes at his self-proclaimed “throwback, old-fashioned” fly-fishing shop, We Tie It in Boulder Junction, for years.

“Here in the Upper Midwest, we have fishing season and we have fly-tying season. It’s a great winter activity,” Sherer said.

But for this winter’s round of classes, Sherer is the only one in his shop.

Marshfield Clinic

Over the last few years, members of the Washington D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center visited Marshfield Clinic in Minocqua, seeking a window into rural healthcare in America.

Rural areas like northern Wisconsin face hospital closures, physician shortages, and a struggle to access telehealth services, the Center found in a comprehensive report.

Some of the issues facing rural health care have only intensified since the pandemic started, especially telehealth.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday, time for Aaron Schofield to load up the Lakeside Pharmacy and Grocery minivan.

He’s about to depart from the Lakeside store in Antigo.

“I just kind of hop in the van, head out, go to the address,” he said.

Aaron makes a circuit of Antigo at 3:30 every day, delivering prescription medication to the doors of customers. The number of deliveries are never constant, but never zero.

“Could be anywhere from three to four like today, to 15 to 20 [on other days],” he said. “You really just never know.”

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Sandy Maki looked out at rows of workstations, all of which have been empty since this spring.

“There’s usually about 35 people in here at a time with supervisors to assist,” she said.

She’s the managing supervisor here, at Global Response in downtown Iron River.

Maki is used to seeing and hearing up to 5,000 incoming calls a day to her call center employees.

“Sometimes you hear people [say], ‘Thank you for calling.’ They end a call, and they’re right on to, ‘Thank you for calling,’ starting a new one. Sometimes it can be back to back,” she said.