Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Great North Sea

The north shore of Minnesota has long held a deep fascination for me. As long as I can remember there was an inexplicable allure with its vast ocean and deep woods that seemed to beckon my wandering imagination. It fed into my youthful fantasy of traveling around the world on a tramp steamer. Anyone remember that pop song ‘Brandi’? Later on, it provided the basis for two screenplays and numerous poems among other artistic ventures.

In my wandering youth, that old harbor town Duluth and Lake Superior were distant destination points for Susan and me in my less than dependable VW. There were wine picnics on Hawk Ridge while listening to the ‘Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald’ and youthful musings about travel and life and what the future might hold for the two of us.

Interest in northern Minnesota was further fueled by ownership of an octagon vacation rental on Spirit Mountain called the ‘Mountain Villas.’ There were weekend family sojourns exploring the coastline for rocks and gulls and threatening waves. It once meant training with Melanie for the Twin Cities marathon – 18 miles one Saturday morning.

Recently we revisited the great Northland once again. Two welcoming invitations to the land of the loon, quiet lakes and huge eagles sailing overhead.

I could see that Duluth is finally coming into its own now long after the mines closed back in the early 80s. There are new buildings going up in downtown. A more progressive mayor and city council are encouraging growth. New businesses seem to be spouting up every day. It’s been years since I’ve ventured up there yet the sights and sounds of that coastal city continue to draw me back.

Canal Park is busy as ever. Buskers are the newest attraction on the lake walk. Buskers are street performers who entertain visitors each day and evening. In addition to all kinds of music, dance classes are also held along the boardwalk. Its great entertainment and symbolic of the freedom of expression that is so predominant in that ocean city.

Our first invitation came from an old high school classmate who has retired on a small lake ten miles outside of Duluth. He and his wife are now enjoying the quintessential northern Minnesota experience. It’s a Minnesota thing. 

Our second visit was to Lake Vermillion, even closer to the Canadian border, with its pristine lakes, deep woods and abundant wildlife.

What ever happened to the little cabin up north? They’ve become modern day castles in the woods. Even as old turn-of-the-century cabins made way for much larger structures the old title of ‘cabin’ has strangely stuck. Perhaps it’s a lingering handle of times past or simply a less subtle way to describe the family compound up north.                      

At first I thought the owners were being a bit euphemistic in describing their second or third homes in the woods. Perhaps those owners were being coy or unassuming or just hanging on to their ‘Minnesota Nice’ moniker. Turns out neither is the case. The lexicon of outstate Minnesota when it comes large and small homes on the lake is to call them all ‘cabins;’ plain and simple. 

While not quite the Cote d’Azur - Minnesota style, Lake Vermillion is never-the-less quickly gaining a reputation as a playground of the rich and famous. If our visit up north was any indication it’s a veritable sandlot for boy toys. 

Most of the homes we sailed by had their own collection of man toys. There were power boats, cruisers, simple and elaborate fishing boats, crawlers, pontoon boats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks and all sorts of floating devices stacked along the shoreline. 

During the summer months the garages hold the motorcycles, bicycles, ATVs, prowlers, snowmobiles, ice-fishing equipment and every yard game known to mankind.

For Melanie’s kids it was a wonderful weekend full of exciting adventures they would never have experienced in their own backyard. 

Can you spot the eagle?

The allure is still there for me. But it’s not the desire for a mansion up north or a decked out cruiser on the lake. Instead it’s allowing one’s mind to embrace the vastness of the ocean, the pounding of the waves on an overcast day and the depth of the forest always nearby.

It’s all those elements and more that caused a young man to think great dreams of ‘what if’ while still embracing the realities of his day. Now years later it’s still a draw on his imagination even if that tramp steamer left harbor a long time ago.

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