Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know

Column 14 Published in the November 10 Warroad Pioneer

 

For as much as I’ve written to the contrary, the Angle can’t really be considered all that extreme anymore. We get mail three times a week. FedEx and UPS can deliver a dusty Amazon Fresh package directly to our doorsteps or docks. Electricity has been around since 1974, though it’s spendy and tends to go out when we’re hatching eggs in the incubator, have just sat down to a long-anticipated movie night or are in the middle of perfecting our lemon custard soufflé. (Just kidding. Nobody at The Angle bakes soufflés.)

Marine Band radio was replaced when regular phone service came in 1991, and today we have sketchy DSL internet and one decently reliable cell carrier. Notably, the gossip grapevine is only a tad slower now that we don’t have the loud crackle of a neighbor’s conversation in our living rooms.

Of course, I did not live here in those times, but I do remember visiting my grandparents and marveling at the novelty of it all. It felt special, quaint, exciting.

Moving here was not any huge sacrifice, nor was it a lofty transcendental quest. It simply felt right, or at least I wanted it something fierce. Wanting, as I have learned the hard way, does not always lead to wise decisions, however. And though I do subscribe to No Mistakes, or phrased positively Everything Works Out Perfectly, in hindsight I can see that there were easier, more sensible routes to my desire.

I am of the belief system that we’re here in this life to learn a select few lessons that we chose before we arrived, the exact ones necessary to move us along both the collective and our individual evolutionary path to the divine.

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know,” spiritual teacher, author, ordained nun and mother Pema Chodron said.

Not surprising to anyone who knows me, I am a slow and stubborn study in a lot ways.  There are life lessons I have had to repeat again and again and again, especially on matters of the heart. My in-process lessons in The Angle’s soft extremes seem so embarrassingly painful, and yet at the same time, I’m exhausted from taking them so damn seriously.

I’m craving a full-bellied laugh that cleans out my tear ducts in a wellspring from the depths of my tired soul.

Laughter is a release, after all, and letting go is so critically important. The anonymous saying, often wrongfully attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, has always spoken to my heart:  “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

The Angle seems a rough life, but there is an underlying gentleness that pulls and kneads at our awakening souls. By default of our very whereabouts–the forested land, the mighty lake, the gravel roads bumpier than they’ve been in their 40-year history, according to one old-timer a week ago—by those threads, we have a cautious connection to the raucous cacophony of the outside world.

We can shut if off at will. And we can escape back into it at the touch of a button.

From my window, I watch a small woodpecker working vigilantly despite the rain and the wind. The deer have arrived for their daily meal of the garden’s leavings. The migratory birds are all gone now and traffic at the feeders is slow.

My little one and I cleaned out her sandbox and put all the outside toys away for the winter. There was a sentimental finality to that somehow. Letting things lie until the spring thaw – there’s another hard-learned lesson for many of us.

Letting go and letting things lie are far from the same, of course. One will beget that soulful laughter a long time hence, and the other, regret.

The Angle, as she does, has let go of another beloved. Hard-working resort owner and lovingly-stubborn resident Norm Undahl passed away on October 30. I wrote of his wife, Joan, only a few columns back and want to pass on heartfelt sympathies to such a strong lady. Norm and Joan were an anchor couple on Oak Island and I’m sure residents would agree, it just won’t be the same.

Death is a final teacher of sorts. If I haven’t wrapped up my lesson-book by then, I’m sure it’ll take out its red pen and show me the correct answers.

Leaving to Come Home

Column 13 Published in the October 27 Warroad Pioneer

“It’s morning time, Mama,” my two-year-old says quietly, expectantly. The thick morning accent of half-awake and a sore throat picked up on our travels muffles her baby voice.  I wrap her into my robe and we curl expertly together, watching the sun warm the dark lake and the frost-covered muskeg on our first morning back at The Angle. We’ve been away for a week, and it feels simultaneously as if a lifetime and no time at all has passed.

Leaving The Angle is a big part of loving The Angle. Just like anywhere, I suppose, time away from our day-to-day is vital to remembering why we choose to stay where we are.

It’s a long walk in a different kind of forest, breathing different air.

Despite the new experiences and faces, the glimpse into other walks of life, the tastes of beautiful food not available at The Angle, the shopping – oh to spend an hour walking the isles of a big box store staring at sundries I haven’t seen or imagined in over a year – despite the warmth of seeing far-away family and the chance to meet new friends, new possibilities, it’s always the coming home that has the most impact.

Home becomes something most precious to those of us fortunate to have one, and perhaps even moreso to those who don’t. In Northern Minnesota, we don’t have to look the issue of homelessness square in the face like city-dwellers do or avoid doing. In fact, many of us have callous and unkind get-a-job attitudes about it without considering the soul of the human enduring that journey.

But everything we all long for centers around Home. It is at the foundation of all attachments and it’s the base-level fear when you break down each limiting belief.

We left to peaking fall colors and came home to the grays and rain-turned-snow of the coming cold season. The bird bath and rain barrel are crusted over with ice each morning, and the world is taking on that familiar quiet that ushers in the restful sleep of winter.

Resorts are mostly shuttered and we’re back to minimal traffic, the steady movement of the deer and a quiet and resigned wait for the ice.

Halloween is our next happening here at The Angle, and mothering turns it into more wholesome, memorable fun than ever before. On Friday, October 30th, we’ll join the school kids for their afternoon party, fully costumed and ready for games and sugary treats. That evening, Jerry’s Restaurant and Bar will host the Wilderness Feast, which is a wild-game potluck, and its annual party, themed this year Hairy Scary Halloween at The Angle. I wonder how many yeti punk rockers will show up. Locals, take note: it’s not on Saturday the 31st because that would conflict with trick-or-treating, and hey, we can change things up like that if we want to. It’s The Angle.

Rural trick-or-treating is an exhausting adventure for everyone. We usually have an advanced count of how many kids will show up, and the goodies are grand because there are so few. Mr. Barrett usually has some taxidermied atrocity subtly hidden that scares the adults more than the kids. And the houses with the full-size candy bars are always remembered. The same cars criss-cross The Angle, hitting all of the regular stops, and by the end of the evening costumes are destroyed from or lost in the chaos of getting in and out of a vehicle so often.

There are about 70 households counting the islands, and we’ll knock on at best ten doors. It takes all night.

We’ll fall asleep to a sugar low and wake again to light across our beloved lake, the same waters that still hide the body of 28-year old Keith Ayers. May his family find what little peace they’re able to knowing none of us have forgotten. When we see the beauty and give thanks, we also pray he is taken Home before the ice comes, leaving The Angle one final time.

 

 

 

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.

column-12-helicopter-air-search
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.)

A Man’s World

Column 11 Published in the September 29 Warroad Pioneer

 

The Angle is undeniably a man’s world. It is a land of extremes governed by a hearty few who have toiled under back-breaking conditions to make it the civilized mess it is today. I have read the dry and distant history books of this place; I have visited on end with the old-timers; I have thrown myself into the community jumble as much as anyone can, and still I know nothing.

My future at the Angle is as up in the air as the wind-riding pelicans. I am still very much a newcomer, and now I may be a short-timer. There are less than a handful of single ladies at the Angle, and suddenly there’s a new demographic, one single mom, or as my weathered ex likes to say “a single mom at age 40 who still lives with her parents, has no job and no car.”

It’s all truth. I turn 40 in November, live with my parents in their large unfinished B&B, and my hand-me-down Angle vehicle barely runs; I have to air up the tire and reconnect the battery every time I want to use it. I’ve never really had a fulltime “job” here at the Angle, but I do make a sustainable income, and, unlike some, I keep track of every penny and report it on my taxes each spring. Normal jobs for women at The Angle involve slinging drinks, flipping burgers or cleaning cabins. Jobs for men are in fishing, heavy equipment and construction. There are exceptions on each side, of course, for the lucky few (or unlucky, depending on your vantage) who sit behind a desk at home or manage to be a Jill of All Trades.

Regardless, we keep busy in a man’s world. Everything and everyone is commoditized, especially women. In this world, our worth is measured first by our appearance, second by our helpfulness and third by our survivability, because yes, The Angle way of life can certainly be a test of extreme survival in a matter of moments if someone is careless or disregards intuition.

Driven by the desire to learn and honor, I’ve started to dive in to the stories of the amazing women who shaped The Angle. Earlier this summer I interviewed Joan Undahl, a gracious and lovely lady who can, but doesn’t, claim the title of The Angle’s first (and only?) woman fishing guide. She seemed completely oblivious to the power, leadership and compassion that came through in her voice. She is an islander, a more challenging life-style by far than simply living on The Angle mainland.

I assumed we were all one community, and that is how Mrs. Undahl told the story as well. But while the feminine unites, the masculine seems to divide. As I watched my recent relationship crumble, I heard again and again the words that I couldn’t get on board with how “half the Angle does things.” Apparently there are two different worlds up here: it’s not the stodgy landlubbers vs. the hard-living islanders as he might have had me believe. Rather, it’s those who want to keep themselves and The Angle growing forward in a positive direction vs. those who resist change and insist on the old ways.

Drinking and carousing seem to be written into The Angle rule book by the very men who built this place, the same ones who now complain about it following its natural evolutionary path that they helped kick start.

It was Marilyn Monroe, the most commoditized of all beauties, who said, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.” I came to The Angle and danced in my long pink hippie skirts. I let my hair go curly and natural. I brought a bubbly little blonde force of feminine energy into this world in my out-of-wedlock child. And we love it here.

Around the world, people are aware that life is changing. The feminine is rising into partnership with the masculine. And The Angle is no different. Human beings are undergoing a massive change and turning away from old perceptions and ideas. In 2009, at the Vancouver Peace Summit, the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the Western Woman.” Our natural gifts of intuition, healing and building community will be the foundation of that saving grace.

Some might say that airing dirty laundry in public is unbecoming. But once upon a time, we were all down by the river washing our rags on the flat rocks of love and connection.

Today, I prefer to cleanse mine through all manner of therapeutic remedies and then hang it out in the gale force wind to dry. For the most part, these beautiful, thick-skinned Angle folk would simply chuckle if the winds of change blew something unmentionable across their lawn. It might be a man’s world, but it does indeed need saving. Thankfully, some of us have the energy and inspiration to change our own lives and help make a difference outside of ourselves as well.

Home is where the Heart Breaks and Mends

 

Column 10 Published in the September 15 Warroad Pioneer

Most all of us have been through heartbreak. It’s a pain that is as real as any physical injury pain, and the internal stress it causes our body has been proven.

I moved to The Angle for love. I was full of hope for the potential of the relationship and the simple, back-to-the-earth lifestyle that the Angle could provide. We kept a long distance courtship going for nearly two years before I was ready to leave the bustle of beautiful Seattle and the false feeling of importance a corporate job at Microsoft gave me.

Once here, the “when-in-Rome” attitude became apparent immediately. People come to resort communities on vacation, and the unmeasured majority of those people incorporate drinking into that vacation. And so, for the small number of permanent residents and temporary workers, alcohol is a big part of this way of life. The fishing guides drink with their clients after a day on the water. Resort workers take their meals in the bar. The only gathering place on the mainland is a bar/restaurant, and it’s where we hold our community potlucks, our holiday and birthday parties, and most every other social gathering.

It takes a toll. Drinking, both of ours, destroyed our relationship.

According to Allen Carr’s book, “The Easy Way to Stop Drinking,” 90% of US adults drink alcohol and an alcoholic will spend, on average, $116,000 on booze in their lifetime. Claiming the label of “social drinker,” I have long faced my own battle with this deadly drug, but only recently have I noticed the prevalence of the social messages that glorify drinking. When I heard a group of sweet 15-year old girls singing “I’m getting’ drunk on a plane,” I wanted to weep. 95% of today’s country songs mention alcohol, bars, or being intoxicated – which was my own unofficial tally after tuning in for 1.5 hours to one of the three radio stations we receive here at the Angle.

There is no tally of how many of us have waited, tired and broken, for a relationship to become what we wanted it to be. The collective psyche, or “pain body” as Eckhart Tolle calls it, of those who have tried is a heavy weight upon humanity. Alcoholism is another. Turns out, as it always does, instead of expecting external circumstances to change, I should have started from within.

Now, with scary freedom in front of me, I get that opportunity, and here at The Angle of all places, an epicenter of quiet, healing energy not far above the force of bedrock that keeps this place so unchanging and untouched. There’s a thousand miles of forest on one side and a million miles of lake shore on the other. (Thereabouts. A girl can exaggerate when it’s warranted.)

So the healing and growth plan started right after Labor Day, my very own back-to-school of sorts. I began a physical cleanse. I started a gentle workout routine. I’ve sworn off even the innocent social drink until Halloween and hopefully beyond. I’ve submerged myself in the lake as often as I can, even as the water temperature plummets. I listen to uplifting audio books on my long ride to and from town. I’m sharing readings and self-care tasks with a soul sister. I sit with a tree and soak up whatever wisdom it has to offer, a task assigned by said soul sister. She, in all her earthy intelligence, has become my bedrock, my shoulder. She’s experienced the power of The Angle. She’ll be drawn here too someday.

I understand that the drinking way of life isn’t about to change any time soon, here or elsewhere. It’s one of the more powerful and poisonous drugs out there, and it’s completely legal after a certain age, which happens to be 18 in Sprague, Manitoba, the only waystation on our trek back to Minnesota proper.

I also recognize that it is a large part of our livelihood and the resort life here at the Angle. Criticism isn’t my intention. I’m speaking openly in hopes that it will spur accountability and better choices on my part in the future.

Because heartbreak is hard; it’s the stuff of aching songs and soulful suffering. It’s the howling of the wind on the coldest night of the year. It’s the yearning for peace when the waves crash madly against the rocks of my mind, night after night after night.

It’s time for me to be still and quiet, like the deep waters and the untouched forests of this place. It’s time to feel further into the heartbreak, to know it and be it until the suffering becomes love and forgiveness, until the pain becomes gratitude, until the loss and grieving become grace and growth. Home is where the heart breaks and mends. Home is here, now.

 

(This is the only column so far that the wonderful Editor and Publisher of the Warroad Pioneer helped me edit. We had a lovely conversation about it, sharing tears and our own personal histories. I’m so grateful to be able to write for them. In the paper, there was also an Editor’s Note added at the end listing out local resources to help deal with alcohol or substance abuse and the financial and social repercussions that can accompany them.)

 

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.