At First Dandelion

Column 25 Published in the April 26 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

 

These past many weeks have been a delicious yet over-long Saturday morning sleep-in here at The Angle, and now with the rains and winds of spring upon us, she awakens.

Angle Bay – the inlet – is free of her icy cloak and it’s only a matter of minutes before Young’s Bay and beyond will welcome its first boaters.

The sleepers are emerging as well.

Residents are spotting black bear and the frogs are once again serenading us at pitch-perfect volumes each dusk. My three-year old saw a snake warming itself on the gravel road, a creepy crawly, as she has somewhere learned to call them. The migrating birds rightfully steal much of the spring glory as they fill the skies with their trips’ end chatter.

We hermitting locals are sloughing off the thick skin of winter. After a shortened tourist season, fast and furious in its activity, it’s been a long and quiet thaw.

Even the lake is heeding the yawn and stretch of spring.

On Tuesday, April 19, the body of lost boater Keith Ayers was discovered in the water off Powder Island. Missing since October 3, his sad homecoming brings closure to a most determined mother The Angle had become too familiar with. I will remember her small hands clasped around the mug of hot tea she drank each evening after completing another cold and lonely day of searching for her son. The many agencies involved in the search for Justin, Cody, and Keith did what they could, and she did more, staying until the ice forced her off the lake.

How do you ever look at the lake again, knowing what it took from you?  How do you ever associate anything but grief with The Angle, remembering the time spent here? Miss Carol, should you feel the draw to come this way north again, I hope all of we Angle folk welcome you as you deserve. Your quiet reserve of fortitude makes you one of us now. Nay, more than us. The Angle wishes you well, and we won’t forget.

Life, in cruel fashion, goes on. We can tell apart the does carrying fawns now. The nest builders are hard at work. Wood ducks waddle to and fro, feeding from the flowing ditches and gathering soft material for their swampy abodes.

Nature certainly got the jump on we hibernating humans up here. I feel as though I’ve been indoors for a century. The gravel roads are drying out, though in places the frost heaves and boils its last reserve of moisture up from the depths, as if Hades itself were belching from its final heavy winter’s feast.

I’ve moved house and spent a straight month working and organizing whilst living in something of a construction zone. Outdoor excursions are back to a daily routine now that I have a compost pile to turn. We don our mud boots and find the puddles, my little love and I. The deepest tire ruts still trip her up, and the cold and wet beget screams that are placated only by a return to the warmth of indoors.

All that and she is still begging to go barefoot already. “At first dandelion,” I always reply. Bring me a bowl of dandelions just as I did for my mother, and then you may leave your shoes to their lonely summer selves.

Mine was a childhood of stained feet and toughened soles, and I wish that same joy, freedom and character for her.

Joy comes now for me in the simplest ways.

She still, at times, wraps her tiny fingers around one of mine as she sleeps.

My fingers get to make music with my father, a blessing I never knew could be so precious. Our loud band, The Knight Lighters, plays this coming Saturday, April 30th, at the Williams’ Liquor Store starting at about 8:30.

My hands gathered its first spring bouquet on one of our recent walks: bright red willow stalks, pussy willow buds and the dormant browns of an unknown shrub. We found a rusted watering can in the woods to serve as a vase, and voila, the perfect Angle arrangement.

Not everything is perfect, far from it, but the forgiveness of spring opens a hardened heart like the plentiful tree buds popping here and everywhere. Life feels big and grand and new.

And that first dandelion will mark a beginning, a perfection of its own, once again.

“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

column-24-blandin-group

 

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!

 

 

Dating at 40 at The Angle

 

Column 22 Published in the March 15 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

There is a vast plethora of dating advice online for the 40+ crowd: horror stories, “rules”, self-help nonsense and even hilarious personal grooming advice. I found myself clicking and chuckling for a good hour before I got back on task when attempting to start this piece.

But as I started to analyze (read: overthink) being single at The Angle, the situation started to look quite grim.

According to eHarmony contributor and relationship coach Bobbi Palmer, there are 45 million single men over the age of 35 in the United States, and those are just the ones using online dating. Palmer also says that if I live anywhere close to a major metropolitan area, there are 2,000 single men within 20 miles.

We’re eight full hours from a major metro. We’re an hour north of the whole state of Minnesota. And in my best guess, there are about a dozen single men living full time at The Angle. Of course it’s my choice to eschew a normal city life and live where I live. I wouldn’t trade it; this is truly where I want to be right now. This is where I want my little girl to grow up, go to school and learn to be a good and strong human being.

But dating? Here?

There are hundreds, nay, thousands of men who come to The Angle each season. Loads of them (not all, mind you – I’ve met many-a perfect gentleman here) conveniently forget they have wives or girlfriends at home and act as if they’re 21 and in Vegas for the first time.

When I was mired in the pain of the demise of my last relationship, watching the behavior of these men and often being negatively impacted by it and even afraid at times, led to quite a lot of male loathing. I felt marginalized, mistreated, and objectified.

But a funny thing happened along the path to healing. The better I felt about myself and about being newly single, the better men started treating me and behaving around me. Just recently, when an intoxicated male tourist roughly grabbed my arm to get my attention, there were three trusted Angle men beside me in an instant.

When I put my car into a snowbank on a slick Angle road corner, six different Angle men stepped up in various ways to help get me to work, cover for me while I was on my way, and rescue my car.

When I’ve needed truck or trailer or muscle to help haul something for our community events, I need only ask for help and the Angle men appear.

When I’ve needed advice and friendship, they’ve been there as well. For a long while, I didn’t believe these types of stereotypical masculine men could be friends with single women. They are outdoor sportsmen, often roughnecks, with more pairs of muck boots between them than dress shoes. They’re callous-handed and wear beards, not because it’s trendy but because it’s darn cold here in the winter months and they’re outside a lot doing what it takes to live and play here. They often don’t realize a work-inflicted wound is dripping blood until someone else points it out. They don’t waste words, and when a clumsy compliment is offered I can trust it took nerve and came from a place of goodness. They’re soft-hearted, gentle-souled and are more afraid of women than bears.

They make good friends. They know how to listen, or at least pretend their listening. They’re not complainers. They’re realists. Most of them are politically and socially conservative and yet they tolerate my liberal feminism a little bit better than I tolerate their views.

Re-entering the dating scene is going to be yet another Angle adventure. Now that the ice is on its way out, we’ll be back to one, count ‘em, ONE spot to go out for coffee, dinner, drinks, pool, darts, music, etc., without risking life and limb to get there. The experts, i.e., everyone, believe ice-out will go fast considering the late and mild winter we’ve had, so hooray, that means potentially dating by boat!

Fishing dates. Shorelunch dates. Mushroom foraging dates. Hiking on a Canadian island dates, for which we’ll have to call in to Customs so there’s no hiding my birth date, not that I’d want to. I briefly tried dating someone quite a bit younger than me, and surprise…there actually is a lot we learn in our 30’s. I’ll stick closer to my age-range from now on.

Dates in mud boots. Dates on four-wheelers. Dates with an hour-long drive at the start and the finish. Dates that are awkward and funny and covered in bug spray.

Was I really thinking the situation looked grim just a short time ago? I feel quite optimistic now thinking about all of the upcoming fun.

I admit I labeled and judged our men, and they somehow keep gloriously proving me wrong. How refreshing! Maybe the best thing about being 40 and dating again is that there are surprises around every corner that I’m better equipped to deal with than ever before.

Nah! The best part is that I don’t feel the need to wait on a man anymore. So who should this Angle lady ask out first?

Something To Do

Column 21 Published in the March 1, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

“What do you do here for fun?” he asked me from across the bar. I was serving coffee and eggs to fisherman and snowmobilers, enjoying every minute of it, and though I wanted to say, “This!” I understood he wasn’t asking about quasi enlightened joy or the bliss that can envelope a restful presence even as life dances its swirling intricacies around it.

He was legitimately concerned about what in the world people do for fun in a place where there’s seemingly not much to do other than fish and drink, as many of the visiting tourists would believe.

“I would love to live here,” he began again. Those familiar words heard by locals countless times, no doubt, are invariably followed by “but I worry that…” or “but I don’t see how this, that and the other matter would work itself out…” or any number of other fear-filled wonder.

Before they begin to form questions about the grand How of making something this big happen, I wonder if they subtly intuit that so many of us are experiencing joy in this simple lifestyle, even when we are grumpy crocodiles, as my three-year old calls it. Grumpy when bombers break down, when groomers get stuck in the slush, when the minerals in our well water continually wreck appliances and turn our hair a brittle, coated rust color, when a needy, entitled lost soul brings their unhappiness here to dump and replenish themselves as we bear the brunt of their bad mood year. (Oh wait…that was me.)

Do they see that we have the creature comforts we need and not many more, and that’s fine by us? I wonder if, as the gravel road unwinds itself (and them) all the way here, do they feel the blood pressure lower, the racing pulse slow, the kaleidoscope mind ride away on the coattails of the whirling snow devils.

A well-intentioned friend recently tried to convince me I was wasting my life living here, that I was bigger than what The Angle had to offer me, that I didn’t fit here and never will. When the initial two seconds of defensiveness wore off, I couldn’t help but feel flattered: he wanted me to be like him. How genuinely kind of him! He wanted for me that sense of self-importance that he feels from being in the game, from collecting the latest game-playing equipment, from gathering with other players of the game and recounting feats of bravado and mercilessness.

More and more I can only see it as running a race that never ends. It takes time to get a treadmill-type existence out of one’s system even after living here for years. I know because I’m still working at it. In the beginning, I often had the bizarre sensation that I was a self-appointed member of The Angle’s recruiting committee, as if we were some gated community that wants only a certain sort of neighbor. Good people, the best people, often float through The Angle for a weekend or sometimes a season at a time, and in some cases, in my “people-should-have-what-I-have” mind at that time, it seemed vitally important that I sell this place and this lifestyle to them.

That is broken thinking of course. The Angle will collect those who belong here and usher out those who don’t, all of its own accord. We third and fourth generations of gatekeepers and stewards needn’t do a thing. Anymore, I simply smile at a question such as his. If they “get it” even just a bit, they’ll see the burgeoning knowing behind that smile, welcome the subtle invitation, and hear and accept the question as to whether or not they can hack the learning curve. The Angle’s not for everyone, we like to say. And not everyone’s for The Angle.

“This and that,” was all I could truly answer, and through his sly smile in return I could tell he knew the particulate beginnings of what I’m just coming to know more in-depth.

Three nights later on a whim, after my little one is tucked in soundly with Grandma and Grandpa, I’m out riding the roads with my brother in a well-worn plow truck. We might survey his new land. We might make a shopping run through The Mall (our refuse and recycling center). We might go visiting or stop at Jerry’s for a nightcap or not. We might recruit a few friends and head out on the ice-road in an ethereal snow shroud suspended between a fresh blanket of powder and the weight of the cold air above. We might solve all the world’s problems as a wolf-mother moon rises over the frozen lake only to remember as it clears the treeline that there’s no such thing as a problem. We might stop for stargazing above fifteen feet of soft water and two feet of hard. We might stop in at the only other places shining a light. We might meet a few tourists and either befriend or befuddle them – the choice is always theirs. We might find a jukebox or a private spot to spin some vinyl and a few more yarns, talking and laughing and dancing like no one’s watching because indeed no one is.

We might have game night. We might find live music or make live music. We might drink tea and craft. We might work on a friend’s frozen septic pipes until we’re exhausted and frozen ourselves.

There is a lot to do here, too much in fact, and it’s almost as varied as anywhere else and maybe a little more worthwhile.

Whatever it is “it’s something to do,” so many of us say. And we’ve gotten really darn good at having fun doing it.

Life’s Vexilar

Column 20 – Published in the February 16 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

A comfortable settling-in happened here at The Angle just recently. Seismic shock waves of normalcy have this roller-coaster-ready girl reeling in unexpected surrender. Surely others must have felt it. Surely it’s the reason fishing is so slow.  The steady drip, the slow, evening out of life, now that I see it, seems about as dramatic a change as the world turning white with the first winters’ snow.

I usually can’t predict when a shift is about to happen because I’m mired in the blackness that precedes it. It’s as if a trip around the dark side of the moon is necessary in order to fully appreciate the beauty and the light of our blue green planet.

Full blown depression gets me good still. It has for decades. But being at the über wise medium age of 40, the means and ways I’ve learned to work through depression seem a lot more purposeful, more productive.

It isn’t until I’m on the other side of it that I can come to understand why I needed to go through it. Still, I look forward to the day when the signposts are clearly visible, and instead of slogging right on in to the middle of the slush, I can cautiously and quietly walk the edges, placing no blame on potential stuckness, holding no judgement over that which teaches me.

Dealing with depression at The Angle isn’t all that different than dealing with it elsewhere. Only here, when I need to be still, I can watch the deer instead of pedestrians. I can walk in silence for an hour before meeting anyone. I can melt into the backdrop of our white world like a painted pony in a Bev Doolittle piece. Of course, life’s chores and now parenthood keep me functioning and moving forward, but the pace simply isn’t as frantic. On a recent morning commute, I met four cars. A record high so far this winter season.

And so, this shift, this settling-in feels as refreshing as our well water tastes after a weekend away in some fluoridated, chlorinated city. I went to sleep one long night ago as a girl, and somehow, woke up as a wellspring of a woman with a voice that isn’t afraid to be heard, with hips that suddenly remember what it is to walk as a woman should, with shoulders thrown back in soft readiness, and eyes that need only wait and see.

It doesn’t feel like “settling,” not in that loaded definition of the word. It’s not a slumping into an easy chair, but rather the rightness of good posture, a lengthening of the spine until I feel a tingling in the crown of my head, as if I’ve suddenly grown up into new air. And indeed I have. How does one go through life measuring 5’2 and ¼ inches and then suddenly in my late 30’s grow nearly another inch?

The patient parent that is The Angle has been steadily, almost stealthily, nourishing me with a diet of fresh air and black earth, old sorrows that are the sweet manure of change and growth, and a surprising abundance of new and good people and experiences waiting in the ready for when my eyes could finally see them.

The challenge it puts forth now is to help me slow down even more. To not rush head long into the waiting vigor, but rather saunter with gaining confidence. I read a quote by the Persian poet Hāfez recently: “Run my dear, from anything that does not strengthen your precious budding wings.”

And I found truth in the thought of this settling-in actually representing the growth of wings. “The Angle will provide,” as we like to say, anyone with any opportunities that anywhere else can. It may not take the same form or shape, but the lesson to be learned is as sharp and useful, gentle and healing, wholesome and all-encompassing as the ones I would have learned had I chosen somewhere else to usher in this shift.

But no, I won’t run, as Hāfez counsels. Running from something has meant that I’ve had less time to understand and choose where I was running to.

No, I think I’ll walk. I think I’ll make a snow angel or two along the way. I think I’ll learn to sing. I think I’ll stop from time to time to string words together in composition celebrating that which I find beautiful, joyful. I think I’ll sway a full-hipped sway and relish being a woman in this unbalanced masculine world. I think I’ll learn to look at men differently, with gratitude and honor and respect for what they go through. I think I’ll settle-in and get to work.

But first, I think I’ll go fishing.

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”