Sunlight filters through the yellow curtains of my cabin bedroom, filling the room with a warm, diffused light. Loons call hauntingly from the lake, as a cool morning breeze finds its way through my open window. I stir slowly, turn over and stretch, noticing the smoke smell from last night’s camp fire on my clothes, draped over a chair in the corner. This is typically how I wake up when I spend time in the north woods of Minnesota. I go each year to Big Balsam Camp. It is a place my wife’s parents started going to in the late 1950’s. They were farmers and when they got their crops in the ground in Spring the headed north for a week of fishing. The kids enjoyed it as a vacation but to John, my wife’s Irish father, it was for fishing. To bring back as many fish as the state allowed was to put more food on the table. He taught Ann how to spot sunfish beds during spawning, how to drive a boat, clean a fish, bait a hook and tease a fish just right so they take the bait. She was a fisherman farmers daughter, and proud of it.
Last year’s trip, the first without my wife was bittersweet. We celebrated her life and were so glad we could all come to the lake. We left her ashes there. This year, only my youngest son Thomas and my oldest granddaughter Brenna were able to go. Never the less, we had a good time. Thomas regaled us with 1930’s swing music and stories of his work and the latest video games while Brenna texted her boyfriend whenever she had a weak phone signal and took pictures of everything that held still long enough and some that didn’t. She’s becoming quite a good photographer. We fished, we took road trips, and evening rides on local back roads looking for wild life. You don’t have to look far. There are plenty of deer everywhere. This year there were a lot of spotted fawns and instead of running into the woods when they see you they are more curious than anything. They’ll stand and stare or race along side your car while you drive. We take the top off the Jeep and Brenna stands on the passenger seat taking photos of everything. And we saw a family of baby foxes this year. They are fuzzy, playful and cute. We weren’t able to get good pictures of them, however.
This year the three of us went to Ely. Ely is in the Vermilion Iron Range of Minnesota and is known as the Gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. While we were there we visited the North American Bear Center and The International Wolf Center. If you ever want to go to where the road ends, Ely is the place. The highway that leads there ends a few miles beyond Ely at a parking area in the woods at a lake. You can drive no further. Beyond is lakes, streams and woods. No motors allowed. So the only way in is with canoe’s or kayaks. It is one of the few true wilderness areas left in the U.S.
The Bears and Wolves in their respective centers live in areas where they have several acres of woodland to roam. This year the bears were getting an upgrade to their pond so they had to be kept in penned in areas when we saw them. They eat peanuts right out of the workers hands and have to contend with chipmunks trying to steal them!
We also spent a day in Duluth. Duluth is the terminus of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and is the furthest inland port in the world. The day we were there they were getting ready for the Grandmas Marathon. Grandmas Marathon has taken place since 1977 with runners from all over the world competing.
The lighthouse with the red roof is the spot where I asked Annie to marry me. She said yes! The lift bridge raises up and down everyday letting boats and ships from all over the world into and out of the harbor.
We had a nice relaxing time in the north woods. Remembering our past trips, relaxing around the fire and generally just taking life easy. In August, one part on Annie’s family goes to Big Balsam Camp and occupies every cabin in the place. The world famous artist, Mary Pettis is Annie’s cousin and she will be there too. Brenna and I may go back then. It always takes me a day or two to get back to normal life when I get back from up north. This morning when I woke up I listened for the loons to call across the lake. Remembering then where I was, I realized I wouldn’t hear them. Instead, I heard a car drive by my house. Heavy sigh.