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.

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.)