“Change is inevitable but growth is intentional”

Column 24 Published in the April 12 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

It’s early still, in this change of seasons, but we’re impatient, we northerners, and we grumble as the snowflakes fall in April. They paint the roads muddy in their graceful descent and then insulate the frost boils for yet another weekend.

Birds are flocking, waiting, calling. We have very little for open water yet here at The Angle and we love to humanize their scouting calls. “Which feather-brained wing-nut made the executive decision to head this far north this early?”

The crows have long since arrived. The Canadian geese, snow geese and even trumpeter swans are on the move. The sandhill cranes return to their same haunts and walk gangly through the dead grasses and frozen turf, searching for a meager meal. Being close enough to see the swath of red across their forehead is nearly as thrilling as being surprised close-range by their freight-train bugle. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so high.

It has not been a spring of constant exploring for me as past springs have been. I’m on the hunt for pussy willow tufts but I’ve done little walking to find them. Moving house, making music and the recent Blandin Community Leadership retreat for a week in Grand Rapids has kept me scattered and on the move.

For now, The Angle rests, preparing for its next onslaught of visitors and the return migration of half its population.

As I worked beside fellow Warroad community devotees at the Blandin intensive, I was able to better appreciate how truly unique and yet inaccessible The Angle is. A new friend pointed out that he didn’t know when he’d be able to return to The Angle now that his only contacts had moved away, and it made me realize how exclusive (and not in a good way) my home is. Unless visitors have a reservation or friends with a cabin, there’s no place to have a picnic, no trails to explore, nowhere to even use the restroom without walking into a business.

Aside from the small church or the school playground, locals don’t have a neutral gathering place either.

The resorts and bars keep very open doors, of course, but if you’re a family on a budget and simply want to take a day-trip to The Angle to learn the history, grill a burger, or walk a trail you’re out of luck. Unless you know the right old-timers to approach, your questions about how they brought power to the islands, the travails of making the road, or the culture of living room marine-band radio gossip way-back-when will go unanswered.

And yes, you’ll be in the northernmost spot in the lower 48, but there’s not even an iconic marker to pose with for a picture. This designation is a surprising draw. Each year, many different groups and individuals journey to The Angle simply because it is an extreme geographic locale in the U.S.

I sure wish we had a better way of welcoming them.

Because it’s quiet now at The Angle, because we have time to refresh and refocus, because I was given a gift from a foundation intent on strengthening rural Minnesota, I feel so much more confident in writing about what I hope for my beloved Angle’s future.

I’m not a business owner, a land-owner (yet), or even a home-owner. Perhaps it’s the lack of those labels that allows me to see how a central gathering place that is business-neutral and yet represents all The Angle has to offer would help bring our tiny community together and serve its visitors in a landmark way. Perhaps it would become a draw for the next generation and positively impact our small economy in the long run.

I’ve written several times about my idea for a solution (Northerly Park), and now it’s time to step back from that and let the need do the talking. Oh, we’ll get our Greater Minnesota Parks and Recreation grant application in by the end-of-April deadline regardless, but in the meantime, now we’re prepared for a better conversation with those who loath change, those who fear the impact on their family-run business, and those who want The Angle to stay The Angle.

It is a changing of the season and a changing of the guard. We may grumble and groan, but we stretch and grow regardless.

Press Release: Warroad area residents complete Blandin Community Leadership Program retreat

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The more things change, the more they stay the same

Column 23 Published in the March 29 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Waking to a silent snowfall still feels magical, even after months of winter and years of winters. The gray windless dawn on this particular Angle morning revealed every individual branch and blade again attired in wet and heavy snow. Pristine in their new white finery, trees both miniscule and majestic were paused in a forced but graceful curtsy to Mother Nature’s royal whims.

It’s these still, quiet mornings that remain with me through the extra work of mud season, the wet beginnings of bug season and into the bustling summer fishing season. This early, there are no bird calls and the falling snow mutes all other noise, though there is very little of that to speak of this time of year at The Angle.

We are in our pre-spring lull.

Only a few brave working souls are traveling on the ice still, and we may see out-and-about the hearty fisher folk who know both the secrets of the lake’s spring bounty and the dangers of the currents and ice that warms and cools repeatedly.

Like the black bear stretching in her musty winter’s den, we are feeling the twinges of season change. The itch to tidy-up, pack away, and purge the excess that winter inevitably collects tends to overtake the need to cozy up and keep warm, even though The Angle is still under a lot of snow. Resorts, after a bit of deep-breathing, amble into spring cleaning mode. Lull-time construction projects get underway. Ideas that spent the winter months in gestation are being born with a strength gotten of winters’ survival. We are the whitetail deer, sloughing off the hollow-haired coat and under fur to ready ourselves for what comes next.

The Angle is growing.

Our small all-volunteer fire department recently purchased new vacuum equipment for our one water tanker-truck and will be purchasing additional floating “donut” water pumps for better distribution around the islands. Maintenance of the on-island pumps is soon to be taken over by the NW Angle Landowners Association, which will help ensure more regular upkeep. We’ve added another AED (Automated External Defibrillator) for the west end of the Angle to be housed at the church, and purchased new batteries for the existing AEDs. That brings us to four known AED’s at The Angle; including one at Angle Inn on Oak Island, Jerry’s Bar & Restaurant and St. Luke’s Church on the mainland, and Lake Trails Base Camp has their own that is available should anyone in that area need it. We’re also in the discussion stage to pursue a federal-level capital improvement grant for a new fire department garage and equipment maintenance fund.

The Angle one-room school house is on the docket of the Education Finance Committee down in St. Paul. It’s possible that the school district will receive a monetary grant for a small expansion to give these youngsters a safer place for more active indoor learning. Community uses of the expansion are also being explored. The upcoming referendum (please vote YES on May 17) will also positively affect our little school. Follow the goings-on of these amazing students, teacher Linda LaMie, and Teacher’s Aid Samantha Shoen on Facebook at Angle Inlet School.

The Girl Scouts have arrived! Sara Magoon and Bre Gjovik founded Troop #20814 The NW Angle Shooting Stars. There are five Brownie-age girls at The Angle and 100% of them signed up and have been participating in weekly meetings where they learn and create.

New Angle Airport plans are still underway and though construction may still be a ways out, it IS happening. The area will benefit not only from better access to emergency medical services but also economically with the creation of a new route of entry, not to mention construction and maintenance services in the future.

The Edge Riders snowmobile club will be making decisions soon about a new equipment garage and meeting center. The location has been unofficially secured and club members hope to get plans finalized in the coming off-season.

A new campground on the banks of Pine Creek will be opening (while still under construction) this coming season, which is good news for all the RV owners currently on an estimated 5-year wait list at other Angle campgrounds. Land owners Ward and Crystal Knight, who also own Dahlias and Dirt, The Angle’s greenhouse, have dedicated much of their spring to working on their new property.

Angle Outpost owners Lisa and Jason Goulet were hard at work dredging the channel to their harbor, as is necessary every few years. They also report they’ll be doing some shoreline work this coming spring and summer.

Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant is undergoing exciting renovations. Brian and Jenny McKeever have tackled many projects in their three years of ownership to update the landmark building. Stop by in a few weeks to see an entirely new floor, new bar and renovated bathrooms.

The “Northerly Park” plans, which would create the northern-most park in the 48 contiguous states, will go back before the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails Commission in April in hopes of receiving regional designation and subsequent Regional Parks and Trails Legacy funding request. Joe Laurin and I continue to be the main points of contact on this project.

Long-time Angle business D&S, which offers boat and vehicle service and storage, may be changing hands soon. Details were not quite ready for public consumption at press time, but I have it on good authority that all parties are working diligently to make the sale happen.

It’s business as usual for the other resorts and businesses around The Angle. Sage’s Angle West, Prothero’s Post, Anglewood Builders, Young’s Bay Resort, Angle Inn Lodge, Sportsman’s Oak Island, Flag Island Resort, Sunset Lodge, Island Passenger Service, NW Angle Island Freight Service, J&M General Store, and NWA Services, Inc., all report the typical spring cleaning and maintenance projects that help make The Angle go round.

It amounts to growth and change in order to help keep The Angle the same Angle that we all know and love. Happy Spring, everyone!

 

 

The Long Goodbye

Column 19 Published in the January 26, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Is the long goodbye a Minnesota phenomenon? A product of isolation? Here at The Angle it’s seems quite natural to keep talking as you stand at the door, hand on door knob, still visiting for an hour after you’ve said you better get going. Then we’ll chat on the front porch, follow you out to the car, and visit through the car window until you finally inch away. Be sure to look back, we’ll be waving as you turn out of the driveway. Continue reading “The Long Goodbye”

Our feathers don’t dictate our flock

 

For the last many weeks, I’ve watched the birds gather for their long migrations south. The northern flickers, Canadian geese, black birds, winter wrens and even trumpeter swans know without knowing to gather together in times of transition. It is born into them that isolation is unsafe and unnatural at these critical life junctures.

For the most part, in times of great change humans naturally follow this same flocking instinct as well, but there are those of us who buck that norm for whatever reason. Change often keeps company in our minds with grief or anger or mistrust, which can compound to send us spiraling into loneliness.

The Angle tends to gather all kinds; those seeking connection and those seeking separation. It is a place that almost encourages isolation, escape and a disquieted seeking of solace and respite in nature. I’ve watched the lifecycle of my own false sense of moral righteousness in living close to the land, getting back to the Earth.

But the longer I stay at The Angle, the more certain I become that it is the currents of the Earth in all their great mysteries that are pushing us back into connection with our people.

Greater Minnesota already knows about the three missing boaters who left Sunset Lodge on Oak Island, Lake of the Woods, late on Friday, October 3rd but didn’t make it to their cabin an island away. Their 16 foot Lund was found the following day capsized on the NE corner of Flag Island, about a nautical mile from Sunset Lodge. As of this writing, the body of Justin Haugtvedt, 22, was recovered and the two other men remain missing.

When tragedy happens, communities like The Angle rise up and band together. People spring into action to help however they can. Isolation is set aside and replaced by neighborliness with a sense of urgency that remote and extreme lifestyles like The Angle’s understand well.

But in this particular case, it has been a long and lonely week. Now, in the latter part of the search, there are a few volunteers in the ranks, but for the first many days, help from the locals had been refused by the agencies in charge. Seasoned guides, knowledgeable about the lake and its currents were asked to leave the area. Land owners near where the boat was found and where the men may have made it to shore were not enlisted to help search, despite knowing the land and shoreline and having access to all-terrain vehicles. News bulletins repeated the sentiment that “County Law enforcement is being assisted by several agencies and is not looking for civilian volunteers.”

If something should happen to my daughter or me, let this serve as a call for anyone who wants to help to be invited and welcomed. At the behest of the lost, all agencies involved must deal with the chaos that we civilians bring in exchange for our resources, manpower and depth of knowledge of this remote land and its unforgiving waterways. This is not said out of mistrust for any officials but rather a wholesome knowing that we would fight for life and we would hope anyone who could help would indeed be allowed to do so. South of here, the search for the missing Monticello man was aided by volunteers, and it was indeed a volunteer who found his body and helped bring closure to the family.

This is, of course, one Angleite’s perspective after speaking to a variety of folk around the area, and it seems like an achingly lonely conclusion to come to. I hope others have had a different experience. Gratitude is definitely owed to the hard-working officials who have been involved in the search to date, but the Angle works best when our people work together and being refused the chance to help feels so opposite of all that we stand for.

There is another way. Please consider donating at http://www.gofundme.com/lotwboys to help the families with all expenses incurred during this time of waiting. Our community heart goes out to the friends and families of these young men, Justin, Cody and Keith, as well as heartbroken Baudette, MN.

Despite the many who live here in solitude and quiet unspoken loneliness, there is an age-old Angle recipe for Being. Despite the propensity toward addiction, which I’ve written about in previous columns, and other domestic and emotional malaise that are a byproduct of loneliness, that recipe for Being centers on connection. Despite our odd collection of all ways and walks of life, this Angle community could and would come together with such compassion and force that it would surely make a difference in whatever event served to unite it.

We are like the birds, some of us busy wrens, some of us stoic flickers, some of us trumpeter swans. But unlike the birds, our feathers don’t dictate our flocks.

We may be separate in our minds, but there is a greater knowing here that we are indeed all One. Mother Earth wants only that her children should come back together, and she will make it so, with our cooperation or without. It is on us to heed the migration call and rise up through grief and loneliness, in grace and goodwill.

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A U.S. Border Patrol Air Unit conducts an air search at the Northwest Angle for the three missing Baudette men. (Both photos courtesy of Joe Laurin.)

Change is the only constant

Column 5 Published in the June 30th, 2015 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Synchronicities. Gotta love ‘em.

I braved the mud of the garden to snip cilantro this evening and noticed that my sorel/kale/arugula/spinach mix has popped up nicely but is as lacy looking as a new bride’s underthings. Something’s been eating my greens!

After dinner, I relished a few quiet moments to read a bit from “Birch Waftings,” a collection of old Warroad Pioneer columns written by Oak Island resident Joyce Newcom in 1969-73. A dear neighbor had loaned it to me just that afternoon. One of the first entries I turned to was an anti-pest recipe: “1 strong onion (or 2 less potent ones) chopped; 4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed; 4 Tbsp cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil in 1 gallon water. Strain. Pour into spray bottle and apply to plants….spray often and watch your garden carefully.”

I’ll be making this tomorrow and likely pinching my nose with a clothespin, as Mrs. Newcom suggests.

“The Angle provides,” my friends and I are often caught saying. Usually it’s in reference to a fabulous dump find at the Angle’s community shopping mall. But just as frequently of late, the Angle has provided in many different ways and even in advance!

Two gargantuan felt display boards came my way after several exchanges of hand a few weeks back. I had no idea how I would put them to use but hung on to them just in case, as any practical Angleite would. That use presented itself shortly thereafter when I needed a medium for the Northerly Park vision board to bring to the Lake of the Woods County Commissioners meeting.

Northerly Park, you ask?

There is a small, small group of devoted residents who are working through a grant application to build the most northern park in the lower 48. We have a grand vision and an even grander bureaucratic slog ahead of us, but we are optimistic. My FYI community outreach about the grant application may or may not be complete before this publishes, so if your lacy underthings have just bunched up, Fear Not. Everyone will have a chance to weigh-in.

That said, our application is due June 30 and we won’t know anything more until late fall. It makes me smile to see that the state government runs on Angle Time as well.

The new airport is all the talk these days. Even a border agent grilled me for several minutes about the Commissioners meeting and the likelihood of it all coming to pass. The car in line behind me surely assumed I was getting the third degree for the muddy state of my vehicle.

Yes, the airport is a reality, moving slowly forward on Angle Time of course—not unlike the grading of our gravel roads—but it is happening. A site has been selected just south of Jim’s Corner, away from most residential areas. We’ll still wake up to the throaty bugle of sandhill cranes instead of the buzz of a twin prop. Our little ones will still point skyward at the anomaly that is a passing aircraft, and we’ll finally have faster access to medical attention when emergencies arise.

Change is the only constant, as Heraclitus said some 2,500 years ago. But at least it happens at a snail’s pace here at the Angle. Even the crankiest of us have time to get used to an idea.

The June rains have not disappointed boaters and gardeners alike. Fishing has been great until the recent lightening, which does something inexplicable to their appetites or just plain spooks them. The bugs seem to have been beaten down a bit by the consistent rains, but I hear a menacing forewarning about the coming month in the ever-present buzz and hum.

Better add extra cayenne and garlic to that lettuce spray.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves

Column 4: Published in the June 16th issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Unless we count the times a bear or varmint gets into our garbage, there is no curb-side trash collection at the Angle. Recycling is even more of a beast. We have a designated place to dispose of frying oil, used batteries and propane cylinders, old mattresses and furniture, dead appliances and every kind of scrap wood and metal you can imagine. Glass, aluminum, tin cans and old paint all have their place.

But plastic, the material that most desperately needs to be recycled, has no nearby home to retire too. Mostly to appease my conscious, my household has started saving and hauling the appropriately numbered plastic containers the hour+ drive into Warroad to use the recycling facilities beneath the big blue water tower.

We keep vast quantities and varieties of unrecyclable plastic bags and containers in our home and use them however we can, but more plastic than I care to admit still ends up in the trash. Every time I throw away a plastic bag, I picture it tumbling in the wind all the way to the coast to join its petroleum-based brethren in the massive trash swirl in the Pacific Ocean. Harder to think about for me is the fact that more animals and marine life than we’ll ever know are incapacitated or killed by our errant trash.

I moved here from Seattle, where everyone is snobbishly greener than thou. It comes from the best-intentioned, most organic of places, of course. Chief Seattle, in his long-forgotten wisdom, once said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Unless you are a hermit deep, deep in the woods – which used to be possible here at the Angle, not so anymore – it’s impossible to live a plastic-less life. It is everywhere, in everything. Those little scrubbing microbeads in the beautifully marketed toothpastes and face and body washes? Yeah, they’re plastic. And they can’t be recycled. Once they’ve gone down the drain, there is literally no way to remove them from the environment. Wildlife aren’t just ingesting them; we are as well now too.

Kinda sorta makes you want to be a hermit, doesn’t it? If you live at the Angle, you most certainly have the hermit gene running through your blood. Here, when the time calls for it, and far beyond what is healthy in some cases, we can hunker down in our homes and our stories, avoid nearly all social interaction if we so choose and put that time to work on dissolving whatever is clunking around in our minds. Hermiting is not glamorized as it may have been thirty years ago when stories of the Angle’s Philosophical Hermit were newspaper worthy. “Uncle Houston,” my siblings and I called him. I remember him getting ice cream in his beard after he’d eaten a third heaping helping of Grandma Grace’s spaghetti.

We nearly had another true hermit resident this past winter. Through the January cold and into our lives he walked, on foot–as walking tends to happen–bringing with him a new conversation topic and a new cause for uproar in our tiny little nest of a community. “The Woodsman,” we called him. He could talk for hours. He used plastic bags. When he wasn’t borrowing the shelter of the church building or looking for $10 worth of chores to do, he lived in a den he had built in the woods. Fire was cancer-causing, so he used body heat alone to weather the cold nights. The next day he’d walk down to Jerry’s for a cancer-free double cheeseburger and fries.  

I was so rooting for him to settle in and play his cards right, partly because I root for people and partly because I love a good story and an interesting character. He seemed a lost young man with glimpses of solid Angle potential. But as more and different stories emerged, background checks revealed and personal interaction confirmed, our exclusively inclusive community realized he didn’t fit.  it was decided by the squeaky wheels that his time here was up. We ran him out of “town” politely and humanely. I cried. And then I felt grateful to not draw the curtains and lock the doors once more.

At the very least, it was a far cry better than how we handle a nuisance bear getting into our garbage. But there I go getting political again…