Precious Life

Resorts are shuttered or getting close to it, now. Traffic has slowed. Boats are being pulled. And the leaves fall like manna for hunters and 4-year olds, though the end of our fall color is already nigh. We raked the biggest pile simply for her diving delight one day, and within minutes I found myself in it as well. I have fond memories of playing in the leaves as a child and it seemed only fitting to give her that same experience.

The portly black bears are braver now, scavenging closer and closer for their final meals. We smiled one morning to see our compost pile dug through and muddy black paw prints across our deck.

“Mom, do bears eat people?” she asked me on one of our dusk walks. Continue reading “Precious Life”

The Roughing-Up of Fall

The pelicans are long gone. The caterpillars are crossing the roads, and the snakes, when it’s sunny, are sunning. The Northern flickers are caucusing and the ravens are ever talkative, chortling every chance they get at their fair-weathered friends who fly south for the winter.

Even in these fall winds and crazy rains everything feels, well, right as rain…even as we move the mortally wounded snakes to perish somewhat peacefully in the grass, and shoo the uninitiated babies back to the sidelines of the gravel roads. Nature so gently and unassumingly reminds me that everything is as it should be, always.

Then I read the news. Continue reading “The Roughing-Up of Fall”

Year of the Wolf

Column 18 Published in the January 12, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Spending any amount of time in these north woods means that sooner or later you’ll encounter a wolf or wolves. I’ve watched one cross our front yard. I’ve seen them traveling across the ice or along the road. I’ve come across tracks, a kill site and have listened to their mournful calls under cold and clear skies a handful of times.

Encounters are rare but not exceedingly so, and even passing visitors may happen across such a gift.

There was a time not too long ago when the popular sentiment in this anti-progressive area was “shoot to kill” at the very sight of a wolf, even when the animal was simply being its animal self, not posing any threat to human, pet or livestock.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, wolves in the sub-boreal forests of northeastern Minnesota independently kept the wolf population alive in the lower 48 states for many years. And after a reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, wolves are finally being understood for the ecologically important species they are, changing even the behavior of the forests and the rivers.

In Minnesota, the wolf population hovers around 2,000 wolves and in 2014 they were again listed as endangered and thus protected. Since that time, there have been more unofficial moose sightings again in this area than I can recall in recent history. That may seem counter-intuitive to some, but in truth, it’s not. Wolves are connected to everything in our natural world.

Since moving to The Angle, I’ve found wolves weaving themselves through my experiences and my writing, symbolizing for me a metaphysical return to the wild, to my intuition and the great wide open that our wilderness and our lifestyle freedoms imbue.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in her impactful tome “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” a truth that rings through my psyche even today: “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”

I first read her book on my gloomy commute to and from the chilly halls of Microsoft when I lived in Seattle. There then came a point in my city existence when it became abundantly clear that I needed to get back to the land, back to the water, back to home.

And so I did.

Every creature on earth returns to home. Home represents protection and freedom. We as humans understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature, and so we create refuge for all sorts when it is needed. We embrace their wildness, and yet we quash our own. Just as we pushed out the wolves, we have pushed out our own wild nature, fled from our homes and denied our intuition, thereby killing our voices, our creativity, and our natural inclinations to empathy and compassion.

This returning to home and habitat for me has been a journey back to an earthy intuition and reclamation of self and soul that has made me nearly unrecognizeable to many who thought they knew me. But no matter. As I read in Women Who Run With the Wolves, “It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”

Bringing it back to the wolves, I wanted to share a short vignette I wrote after a simple but magical encounter a few years back. May we all run with our hearts and minds gifted to the winds, to the wilds, to the wolves as this new year breaks, passes and is soon forgotten. Happy 2016 all.

***

“Wolf,” he said softly, unnecessarily, breaking the long quiet on our early commute to town. My eyes had already been following the loping animal for several moments and even from a great distance it had registered quickly that this was not a deer or fox.

The wolf changed direction and crossed our road, still at the comfortable gallop that lent it both nonchalance and regality. As it reached the tree line, my eye caught the outline of its partner sitting alert and stoic. “Two wolves!” my heart whispered.

They met then, and the running wolf stopped and turned back to watch us as we crossed its original trail. I could see the rich grays and whites of a thick winter coat, its dark eyes and wide paws.

These were healthy wolves, aware and unafraid, perhaps on the hunt or simply traveling as wolves do. Their trained eyes burned into us as we slowed just slightly, watching, meeting their gaze. When the eerie, hair-raising feelings of years-ago experiences and learned expectations didn’t arrive, I was gently and instantly flooded with warm gratitude at being in their presence, at having witnessed a moment of their journey.

They would assign no meaning to this briefest of encounters, would not recollect beyond the noises and associations with the road, the vehicle, humans. Even that, who knows.

But for me, the vibration of it rang sweetly and clearly for many miles. The grid lines of connected experience flashed visible for another instant. I felt right and true on a path that has offered small support and only minimal delineation of late.

Seeing little point in miring myself in those gray thoughts, my mind stayed with the Wolves, running on their wooded trails, crossing silent, snowy fields, following just the idea of a scent.

Joyous, without labeling it joy. Free, without defining it so or understanding its opposite.

I whispered my thanks to the trees as our vehicle sped on, trusting they would keep my message until it could be passed on to the rightful recipients.

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.

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.

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.