The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
db Conard-The Quill
The world without electricity
Northern Minnesota has been a constant retreat in the life of four generations of my family. Serving in the military for more than one generation leaves me, like most veterans, with no place to call home.
My father had many places that he could say he had lived, not only as a soldier, but also he was the son of a soldier, and you could count several dozen addresses, and even more for his father.
In the early thirties, my grandmother responded to an advertisement for remote northern land. She started a legacy, in that each of our families would always have a familiar place to come back to, and somewhere to be from.
No matter where they lived and no matter where their families were moved to, they always had the same familiar vacation spot where each of us have become deeply rooted.
This year when I arrived at the landing to launch my boat, it would be my 59th year since I first came to the lake.
I was now as old as my grandfather and recall the beginning of when I first got to really know him.
What he had taught me about canoeing, and the outdoors, was a lot of what I have shared with my own sons.
My first day on the water was cold and wet; there were whitecaps from the strong steady wind out of the northwest. I was cautious, because just days before, on a neighboring lake, several people had been killed when the wind flipped their pontoon boat.
Finding a way over the water while avoiding the worst of the wind has not been a part of my world for a long time.
It is different than finding your way in traffic. Yet years of memories carried me to my dock almost the entire distance sheltered and comfortable in the leeward-side of the shore of islands that stair step me "home," one after the other breaking the wind in an almost perfect manner.
Air that moves over water always tastes better to me and it makes everything else taste better as well. It is as though my senses have found something that rejuvenates them or wakes them up. Woodland air over the water is hard to beat.
Like an onion, the layers of civilization seem to peel away here and bring fresh sensations. It is a gradual thing that comes over you. An awakening to things that are all around you but too seldom noticed. To begin with, I found myself disturbed by every sound that isn't natural. A boat in the distance is an intrusion.
Many do not understand until they experience it, but it is wonderful here, because I am without electricity. There are no televisions and a lot of other noise producing tools and toys that many think they would miss.
But after awhile, the quiet starts to allow your own thoughts to be heard and you are more aware of everything around. Exercise is, by necessity, a part of every day living and your diet has to be thought out, if for no other reason than how much more complicated the hauling of supplies gets when it involves going over water, and climbing trails.
I am now finding what I call treasure, in what just weeks ago was a hard climb with many stops to my camp, is now becoming a quick stroll. When the sun goes down, my head hits the pillow with easy rest and comes up with the same ease when the sun rises. The junk food has been nonexistent and has been replaced with fresh blueberries that I only need bend over to pick. And the sights and sounds could be literally out of a nature film.
An eagles' nest is just within my sight, and there are more mink along the shoreline than I have ever seen before. Ravens have been waiting for "Quids" dog dish, and beaver are becoming a nuisance to my shoreline trees, yet can be seen every evening at twilight on their way to do their work. Deer can be seen swimming between islands, wolves are heard almost every night, and the bugs have almost forgotten how to bite, or it seems. Most unique is the song of the loons that can be heard throughout the night from miles away.
The other day when we had the meteorite showers, I found the widest expanse of open water on the lake and I let my boat just drift with the wind under the night sky. After midnight I lost count of the streaks across the sky. The constellations were right out of the astronomy book, and the Milky Way couldn't have been clearer. And all this goes on everyday as we stay busy in our workplaces with all our modern conveniences of home, such as air conditioning, television, computers that keep us inside and much too busy to really see such beauty.
Here on this remote island of northern Minnesota, there is also a price for all this beauty. No switches for instant light, heat and water. Temperatures the week before last in the 30's. The morning bath/swim is in 50 plus degree water, and 40 mile an hour winds can scatter a camp around a bit.
To write my column I have to find an afternoon of electricity and Internet connection at the local laundry room in town. But, the treasure in our Heartland that has become my theme, is the awareness that I find when I am able to separate myself from the distractions of all our modern day living, and sneak away on vacation and finally notice the profoundly unique treasures that surround us.