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.