A Distinct and Perceptible Shift

 

Column 9 Published in the August 25 Warroad Pioneer 

The Shift occurred a week or so back. I was out walking the gravel roads, and for the first time in months felt the tiniest bit under-dressed and a keen desire to rush home and curl up with a good book. I love how subtle it can be some years. And I love how it announces itself with exclamation points other years. The nights are colder now. The dew seems heavier and of ill intent to our rain-stunted garden. The fast-growing trees are losing their first leaves and a back-to-school buzz floats on the winds of summer’s-end.

The hardier fisherman have arrived. The partiers and the raucous atmosphere they lend to our lives have mostly gone back to the default world. And all around the Angle, the fall prep work begins. We’re like squirrels gathering our acorns with a sense of urgency that wasn’t there mere days ago.

We’re watching new driveways take shape, and the well diggers have been here for weeks now, boring new access ports down to the iron-rich waters that feed this place. The spotted fawns, while still gangly legged and dependent, seem more confident and curious.

My first fall here four years ago, I reveled in the manual labor that seemed to me to define this lifestyle. Having just left a corporate desk job, commuting by aluminum fishing boat with a 25 horse tiller engine to move a woodpile on a Bear River homestead was the ultimate in mindful worship.

I remember walking the tree-lined streets of Seattle practicing awareness with purpose, with presence. One would think it would be so much easier here amidst the stillness, amidst the slow intentional way people live their lives here, without the push of in-your-face consumerism, without the traffic and the harried commuters. We have one 3-way stop on our Angle roads. Only once in my four years here have I witnessed three vehicles pulling up at it simultaneously. Each of us laughed and waved in disbelief, seeing it for the anomaly that it was.

Now I practice mindfulness with toddler in tow. We stop to move the still squirming mortally-wounded garter snakes from the road so they may die in the quiet of the grasses. We count the geese when they gather on our driveway. We name the bird calls. We loot the garden. We sing each step up to the top of the one-room schoolhouse playground structure.

We make-up songs of doing chores and cooking meals, and the bedtime stories she requests of late are about deer and frogs. “The baby deer don’t live with their papa,” she quietly pointed out to me as we watched a mama and her twins cross the road in front of us.

Each season is one of change, but the coming of fall has a distinct and perceptible air of necessary death. The arms of the woods will yield once more to our traipsing about, and I hope I can loosen my mind in the crunch of the leaves. I hope.

A Goulet and a Butler youngster head south to college. The newest generation amasses a few more with the arrival of the Carlson Schoen littles, the Anderson’s and hopefully the Edman’s soon. The Colson boys are alive and well after a close call with a vehicle and a black bear. My youngest brother and family are home from a three-year station in South Korea, and his wife and three children will be temporary residents for a short time. School teacher Mrs. LaMie will be as busy as a queen bee and that play structure will feel a lot of love.

If I had to choose, the fall is the most beautiful time of year at the Angle. Winter can crust the world over in harsh temper and hard tasks, if I’m not mindful, if I’m not seeing the beauty in a slumbering world.  But for now, a few more fall marshmallow roasts, a few more pleasure cruises on the cooling lake, a few more weeks of harvesting and canning and then the idyllic slow season will be upon us.

Suddenly, it will be fall.

The World is Too Much With Us

Column 8 Published in the August 11 Warroad Pioneer

It occurred to me some time ago, as I watched my two-year old run joyously up and down the grassy ditches of our driveway, that this glacier-smoothed prairie land isn’t flat to her. She has mountains to climb every day, valleys to explore, caverns and arroyos. There is no cellular longing in her for the great pines that used to anchor the soil and the wolves here. No ancestral guilt for the unchecked logging of a century ago that left us with only the fast growing birch, popple and balm of gilead. “Junk wood” as I’ve heard it called by the old timers. When you’ve survived sixty some winters on the sweat of your own labor cutting, hauling, stacking, and tending to the fires, I suppose you’ve earned the right to judge the wood that warms your family.

The land feels flat to me of late. I walked the road, and the curing crunch of gravel underfoot offered up only a minor healing tonic. “The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth knew. He saw clearly the growing disconnect with nature. My distracted mind can’t see the summer moss and mushroom patches. The wild lilies bloomed and broke, and I barely noticed.

This place, this Angle drew me home four years ago this September and never have I regretted it. But the worldly world still pulls and tugs and busy-ness erodes the rhythm of deep, barefoot breathing. The sunrise and sunset of the harvest blue moon sang quietly through my window as I worked diligently at my computer, its ghastly light interrupting sleep patterns and dream therapy.

We’ve moved from one reactive happening to the next this spring and summer. Northerly Park grant planning, a friend’s death, a sibling’s wedding, a 300+ person community event, and oh  my  gosh, potty training. Why did no one tell me it’s so hard!? I read a how-to book, for goodness sake, and felt like a fool doing so, but I’ve been at my wit’s end too many times these last many months. Still it drags on.

Our Angle Days event will be behind me when this goes to press, but now, as it breathes down my neck like a disorganized dragon, I wonder how it always comes together like it does. Each year, we bite off more and more, plan bigger and broader, invite, advertise, market – all in hopes to share this place, this simple beautiful life.

And as the stress roils, the Angle works its silent magic to gently bring me back.

Today it was the east wind and a soft blanket of rain that reminded me, brought me home. I stared over a flat gray lake and let the mist meet my skin just as I used to in the monotone winters of the Pacific Northwest.

You have forgotten, the wind breathed to me. This is The Angle. This is the truth of life. Somehow, someway it all always works out perfectly. Everything is as it should be. Even the spending and getting. Even the flatness.

You have chosen to remember, it said, sweeping across the miles of rocky shorelines and untouched islands of Lake of the Woods, bringing the cleansing rain as easterlies always seem to do. Remember you are home. Remember you are whole. Remember you are enough.

Now go. Get up. Run with the wolves again. Show your little one just how majestic these flatland hills truly are.

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.

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.