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…

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.

Life’s Greatest Truth and Hardest Lesson

Column 2: Published in the May 26 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

The walleye season is upon us. And simultaneously, our lovely Slow Season here at the Angle comes to a close. Resort owners may not label it “lovely”, as they toil with cabin and dock repair, lengthy spring cleaning check lists and “no money coming in,” as one of the long-timers so succinctly (and rather grumpily) summed it up.

But certainly, if you’re all about the money you don’t live at the Angle. I know I’m not the only one who lets out a long, full-bodied sigh when everything quiets down. The land itself seems to sigh in transition as the world either makes ice or melts it. During the off-season, I can walk the gravel roads for miles not encountering a single vehicle. If I do, it’s another local who either waves vigorously or stops for chitchat about what’s keeping us both busy and if the weather is cooperating with said plans.

The silence and solitude that many of us chased all the way to the Angle is so much more with us during these lulls. Nature seems louder. Our breath goes deeper. And a weary gratitude bonds neighbors while we work at the same tasks at the same time.

But with the change from slow to busy, winter to spring, ice to mud, also comes an energy that reinvigorates the whole soul of this place. We get to show off our home. People travel from near and far to visit Lake of the Woods, to catch fish, and to be at the Angle. Those few who choose to make a permanent home here, where everyday life is decidedly less convenient than most elsewhere, are stewards of the place. We are the welcomers, the accomodaters, and even if we’re not business owners – I’m not – who eek out a living by catering to visitors, we each do still get to cater to visitors.

“Get to.” Key words. It feels like a new and exciting privilege every time I answer questions about the Angle, every time I give someone simple directions or tell the story of how I ended up here. Some two decades ago during my ignoble and prideful 20’s, I often visited my family here, and whenever I encountered those who made this their home, I judged them so harshly. I couldn’t fathom that it was a choice. They must all be stuck. They must be uneducated. They must not know what I know of the wordly world.

Ha! I can only shake my head.

I see now that I’m barely scratching the surface of learning what they’ve known all along. Everything is a choice. Of course it is. Paraphrasing the words of author Matthew Kelly the fact that everything is a choice is life’s greatest truth and hardest lesson. It’s a great truth because it reminds us of our power, the untapped power to be ourselves and to live the life we have imagined. It’s a hard lesson, because it causes us to realize that we have chosen the life we are living right now. That can be frightening if we don’t like what we see, but also liberating because we can now begin to choose consciously.

It seems easier somehow to make conscious choices when I’m walking barefoot on a worn trail through the woods or in the black earth of our garden or on the smooth clay that our gravel roads become after the busy season’s traffic. And so I try to choose joy in the short list of things that keep me busy. I laugh and wrestle both with my 2-year old and with my patience. I make natural home and body products to feel better about our chemical-laden world. I create art of some sort, any sort, at all times; the latest is jewelry from deer antlers. (Try this when you’re in a sullen mood sometime. Not the deer antlers per se, but anything, just sit down and start creating as if there is no wrong way to do it.)  I also help a couple of resorts with spring cleaning. And in a week or so, it’s time to start planting the garden and planning Angle Days.

Keeping busy isn’t the choice I’m making, but it is a happy byproduct of having many options that bring joy. What are the choices you surround yourself with?

Next time you’re at the Angle, let me show you what I make out of moose poop.