No Mistakes

Column 7 Published in the July 28, 2015 Warroad Pioneer

We have a house full of visitors this week. The family has converged on the Angle for the wedding of the seventh sibling. I’m the fourth, if you go in order of age, and I’m the eighth, if you go in order of “having gotten married.”

Being single at the Angle isn’t something I’ve done for long, and, like backing up a boat trailer, it seems to gather an audience when you’d like one the least. Inexperience in any form here comes with a sharp learning curve, often costly repair work and either heartfelt empathy or a wizened guffaw depending on your chosen confidant. If, for example, a rookie housekeeper fails to notice a slightly cracked sliding door in the dead of winter on a condo that’s going to be shut down for the next two weeks. Or if a newcomer boats through a weed bed and doesn’t know to reverse and clear the prop. Or a new truck owner delights in the speed of his vehicle and the freedom of the gravel roads at the expense of the boat he’s forgotten he’s towing.

All true stories but only one’s mine, thankfully, or I may very well have tucked tail and headed back to the ease of city-living. Oh, there’s been countless other laughable offenses on my part since moving here, but if you’re a part-time believer in No Mistakes, as I am, these experiences should all be beautiful gifts, chances to grow and live life at a deeper level. I say “part-time” and “should” because life gets busy, ego takes over, and I forget.

I can hear one of our old rough necks saying it now, “there ain’t no room for ego at the Angle.” I think he might be referring to foolish pride and whether or not you’ve got capacity to swallow it when that time inevitably comes. Because it will.

The Angle is forgiving in some ways and utterly harsh and devoid of compassion in others. Make a “mistake” and people step up to help. You learn a lot. Build closer friendships. And then lend a hand in return. It seems the natural way of it.

Ever notice that there are no mistakes in nature? Not even the spotted fawn running in the opposite direction of its mother only to be mowed down by a beast of an RV is a mistake. The most valuable cellular memory a spirit animal can pass on to its kind is the fear of man and all our obnoxious trappings.

If nature could revile us and kick us out, it certainly has cause. We abuse the planet for our egoic gains and nature forgives and grows back slowly, persistently, and in more robust heartiness than before on the very scars we scraped across her back.

No, there is no inexperience in the plant world. They have it figured out. They don’t try to rally remorse when, for example, one of the signature great white pines on the way to the Angle, dying though it was, seemingly gets cut down too soon. There are no mistakes.

Or when small-town gossip teaches a lesson in advance of any probably-painful wrong-doing. There are no mistakes.

Or when motherhood, arguably the most difficult and important institution on this abused planet, becomes infinitely more complex when the label “single” enters the picture. No, there are no mistakes.

Abused planet? Nope. Not even that is a mistake.

We like to think we’re immune to most things here at the Angle. But in fact, we feel it all the more intensely, as is likely true of any microcosm. We have all variants of human kind in our midst, a check in each box on the social census, and at the same time we’re closer to nature and further from societal rules than most.

Does it make for easy living? In ways, yes. In ways, no. Does it ruin us for the outside world? Also, yes and no. It would be a great challenge to leave this place, embedded as I am, but we’re all as adaptable as the plant world, whether we know it or not. Grass will conquer pavement given time.

Does it make my visiting relatives wonder how in the world we can live here, just as I used to wonder? Of course. But then I see them raise an eyebrow at a real estate sign and I watch the wheels turn. Change doesn’t seem so awfully scary when I remember that there are no mistakes. And “mistakes” don’t seem so awful in general when I can view them with grace from a home like the Angle.

This Glorious Mess

Column 6 Published in the July 14, 2015 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Life at the Angle is messy.

Or perhaps I should say that MY life at the Angle is messy. Some folks definitely seem to have it all pulled together, packaged neatly and tied up with a perfect country plaid bow. But even the fastidious ones are not immune from that telltale marking mud on the back of their pant leg that comes from climbing in and out of dirty vehicles.

Muddy roads are a benign sort of messiness, of course. It’s all of the miscellaneous messes that slowly add up until sometimes it’s a downright sloppy situation.

Like always having digital clocks that are blinking because of the far too often power outages. Or showing up to a social event and inexplicably having sawdust in my hair or wood stain on my arms. My “good” clothes never stay good for long because something always needs doing and running upstairs to change isn’t time effective. We might live in the sticks, darn it, but I still like to dress decently.

There are things I don’t remember ever doing when I lived in the big city. If a tire needs air, an engine needs oil, a toddler needs holding, or chicken poop needs to be scraped off shoes, we do it, usually right then and there when it needs to be done. Popsicle stickiness gets washed off in the rain barrel. A neighbor needs a part, so we both rummage through a dusty, greasy well-used shop to find it. If I have dirt beneath my finger nails, it just means I had twenty free minutes to pull weeds and didn’t want to waste a bit of it going to get my garden gloves. Long hair smells of campfire smoke a couple times a week, and as a result the pillowcase does too. Sometimes sheets stay out on the line through the rain until they’re dry again. That’s all right by me. Our rains are decently clean here.

Did you know that if you move a turtle across the road you might just get peed on? I escaped that mess but only just narrowly. Defense mechanisms fascinate me. So do the ingenious ways that plants spread their seeds. Anyone who’s picked a hundred little cockleburs out of clothing or pet hair certainly sees the annoying grace in a plant’s subtle parentage.

Sometimes the mess arises simply from trying to do too many things at once. Multi-taskers are us, right? All the research points to the folly of multi-tasking, which I wrote about once for a software company in Southern California while sitting at my desk in tiny little Angle Inlet, Minnesota. Moving here, I truly thought a simple life would help quell my insatiable need to be reading six books at once, for example.

Most mornings I awaken with the bird song, knock over a couple books on my nightstand and stumble to my computer to get a few more things done for Angle Days or log a couple hours on a freelance writing project. When the rooster starts crowing it’s time for a morning tea or bone broth or green smoothie or fresh eggs fried in butter with homemade sausage and a thick slice of tomato dusted with pink rock salt.

Speaking of pink, it has been the year of the lady slipper. I make the drive to town several times a week for the UPS run, and each day on that long lonely stretch of road through Canada I marvel at the literal thousands of these rare pink orchids. They’re just past their peak now, but they are a sight.

If I’m not UPS’ing, I’ve been known to pick up a shift at Jerry’s, serving breakfast or beer (only rarely at the same time) to fisherman and locals. It’s a nice way to stay connected to the ebb and flow of the Angle. We’re missing our favorite pancake-eating, Twisted Tea-drinking biker dude Jon Kleven these last few weeks. His passing wasn’t sudden but it was impactful. On our drive to and fro, we can still look lovingly at the mess that is his yard and was his Angle life. He was both a rare orchid and a cocklebur, that one. Rest in peace and ride on, Jon.

Certainly, messes don’t get cleaned up without hard work. And hard work often makes a mess. It’s a frustrating cycle, but one I wouldn’t trade. Each day life gets a touch more orderly, or perhaps I’m learning to mind the chaos a little bit less, I don’t know which one. Either way, the sun continues to rise and set on my glorious mess, and for that I am grateful.

Part of the Earth, Part of it All

Column 3: Published in the June 2 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

The mosquitos have hatched. The trees are in full bloom. The gardens are planted, well almost, and the Solstice will be here before we know it. As daylight continues to increase incrementally for now, Angle-ites and our visitors alike are taking advantage of the sunshine and the reportedly excellent walleye fishing so far this season.

I write this during a much-needed break from the beautiful weather. The rain pours, the robins forage and hopefully the docks float a little higher by nightfall. The lower water levels have already come up some 13 inches but we’re all anxious for more precipitation. It spurred me to look up the Lake of the Woods watershed area (another item on the list of things I never knew I would possibly care about before moving here). Turns out, we’re in the far northwest corner of the watershed, so when it rains on everyone east of us nearly all the way to Lake Superior, this year we thank you for enduring.

One Angle resident and at least two more part-timers graduated from WHS on May 22nd. My holy terror toddler’s big sister was in cap and gown, so we were seated in the front row right next to a convenient exit to the bathrooms. Believing I was quite prepared—I had snacks and a toy and a Grandma just a few rows away—I froze in indecision when she escaped me. If you were in attendance, you likely remember the blonde two-year old who stormed the stage area, dancing in her freedom and stopping front and center to clap as appropriate when a graduate’s name was called. It came near the end of the ceremony, thankfully, and though the amusement of the audience was apparent, I was too busy being mortified to see the cuteness. Looking back, I should have snapped a photo of the little escapee as she unknowingly entertained a stadium-full. If anyone has a good one, I’ll gratefully (and a tad revengefully) put it to good use 16 years from now when she’ll likely be crossing that stage herself.

In my limited view of the world, raising a child at the Angle has a lot of advantages. Not the least of which is that pre-schoolers are often included in the activities of the one-room school house. We’ve joined them for story time, outside playtime, holiday parties, and most recently an interactive field trip to Steinbach’s Mennonite Heritage Village. All are an exercise in patience and humility for me as a first time parent who takes everything much too seriously. But having the opportunity is still a blessing.

A silent ambulance came and left the Angle also on May 22nd. Despite the intense efforts of one of our best volunteer First Responders, a Canadian friend and neighbor departed this earth on a bright and sunny Friday morning.

I had met him but did not know him, and of course the news travels like wild fire in a small community such as this. I couldn’t help but wonder about the role this remote location plays in it all. Would a life have been saved in a suburban or metropolitan area under the same circumstances? Would a life be as lively if you didn’t take a risk by coming to a place like the Angle if that’s where your heart lies?

Wrapping heads and hearts around death seems a greater challenge when everything else is blooming and hatching. The Canadian goslings, in all their muskie bait glory, are hopefully sticking very close to both parents. We’ll start getting glimpses of new spotted fawns soon. Out morel hunting on Flag Island this time of year a few springs ago, I stumbled upon two sparkly new ones, still wet from birth. The mother crashed loudly through the brush a handful of yards away to distract and deter me, and I quickly took her hint.

Animal or human, there is danger and risk here, but the draw to this place can be profound, beyond what might seem prudent when you’re not in good health. And it is a magical place for our little ones. I hope I can keep that magic alive for her just a few moments longer than if we were living elsewhere. Nine or ten decades from now, perhaps she’ll take the same risk and choose to come Home to the Angle to be with the bird song, the soft sounds of wind through the poplars, and the same earth that warms her tiny toes this magical summer. I want to go back to that earth when I’m gone. Back to the wiggly centipedes that we captured and then quickly lost in the dirt. Back to the trees and the grasses and even the June bug turned grub worm that we examined and buried back up. I would be so lucky, so grateful, to become part of it all that way.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to the friends and family of David Glead. Rest in peace, fellow traveler.