Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ice Berging

When I asked the kids what they were going to do this weekend they said "Ice Berging." It's that time of year.

Four degrees from Lebanon

My friend Kelly called me yesterday, just after she talked to her husband Lonnie Dupre. He and his Peary Centennial Expedition made it to the North Pole!

Lonnie made the 2nd phone call, after one of his fellow explorers--- Max, had finished talking to the president of Lebanon. Lonnie called Kelly and Kelly called me, so I figure, it was about as well connected as I get here in the middle of the woods. 2 degrees from the North Pole, 4 degrees from the President of Lebanon.

Once I asked Lonnie--"What do you think about, when you are 40 days into an expedition?" It must get a little tedius, day after day, was it actually fun? It also occurred to me that he was pretty much on an ultra-extended extreme version of a BWCA camping trip.
Lonnie was thoughtful about his answer, he talked about paddling around Greenland...he said, basically, he'd look ahead to the next point, and wonder what the wind would be like there, or what the weather will be like tomorrow, or what the cliff rocks were. The rhythm of the current minutes--and that's about it.

I've been thinking about that.

About the allure of an expedition (or a canoe trip).
Well, I wouldn't minimize the challenge and adventure. Definitely people appear to crave natural beauty, and usually find some sort of peace in that. Daniel would remind me it's all about the fishing.

Truthfully though, canoe trips are a lot of work. After Lonnie's response, I wondered if a hook doesn't have to do with being forced to live in the current moment. Mindfulness is a groovy buzz word these days. The way I understand it, mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening at a specific moment, not dwelling on past events, or worrying about the future, or getting lost in thoughts about what is going on. Apparently, people are claiming there is evidence that practicing mindfulness increases the quality of life, and improves your physical and mental health. It also helps people manage stress.
Really, a canoe trip seems to force us to live in each moment as if it really matters. Are paddling, or fishing, or portaging really some sort of meditation practice?

I was listening to a little snippet on the radio the other day, and the guy was talking about "not running toward our deaths, but opening to our lives." Maybe a canoe trip is a great facilitator of that---giving us a little dose to take home to remind us of the importance of the present moment. Maybe that accounts for the carefree part of a canoe trip. And the laughter.

Henry David Thereau, in Walden said "only that day dawns to which we are awake." Aha! A camping expedition---or a trek to the North Pole---- could be perfect ways to wake up to life's moments.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Outdoor Adventure Expo

Andy is on the West Bank--at the U of MN this weekend, at Midwest Mountaineering's Outdoor Adventure Expo. He'll be there today, 9am-9pm, and Sunday 10am-5pm

I lifted this image from
You can see Andy across from the Granite Gear display (far left hand corner).
His favorite part is chatting with the BWCAW mavens--many people with stories of many trips.

Also at the show, HJO outfitter Dave Seaton and Superior National Forest's Jon Benson in the Becoming a Boundary Waters Family booth. Dave is a featured speaker, at 3:30.

Becoming a Boundary Waters Family
The outfitters of the Gunflint Trail in partnership with the United States Forest Service have put together a program of informational materials and interactive seminars so that kids and parenst can feel comfortable in the woods. Find out how you can Become A Boundary Waters Family this summer and start making memories.

Saturday, April 25, 3:30 pm, Midwest Mountaineering - Expedition Stage

We've finalized the Seminar Schedule for the Gunflint Trail--offered Tuesdays starting in June---and they're looking good.

Mostly, we're eager for the paddling season to start---it's about time!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Black and White

The thing is, when I got over the disappointment of expecting a sunny spring 60 degree day, the black and white day we got was actually stunning. It made me wish that I knew about photography.

Those looking for open water during fishing opener...never fear! You can get in to the first portage from Cross Bay Landing for sure!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Big melting....we just passed the time for good biking on the lake (perfect when the snow gets rough and crusty, but the mornings are cold enough)--but it was good dry road biking for Shelby and me. The snow is going fast. Oh happy day.
The Gunflint Notebook is written/read by a family friend down the trail--- Steve's latest piece on Nature Deficit Disorder resonates with me. Definitely worth 3 minutes, I'd say.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Louisiana Wedding

The kids were off school last week-we journeyed to Louisiana for the wedding of two Tuscarora staff members. Unfortunately Andy had to stay home, my folks joined us. Mostly, my dad chauffeured, it was a road trip!
We had a week to cross the country and back- our first mission was to drive south until we hit 60 degrees. It was a little chilly countrywide, and we stopped in Arkansas at 50. I sure liked that part of Arkansas. We hiked near Mena on Tuesday, a charming little town in the middle of Ouachita National Forest—(Shelby said—“Mom, I can imagine living here,” and coming from Shelby, that’s a big thing ). We recognized Mena on the news on Thursday night, when unfortunately it was socked by a tornado.
Eventually we ended up in southwest Louisiana near the little town of Elton, for the rehearsal dinner on Friday night.
Cassandra has been on our staff since 2005, she has won her way into each of our hearts. The truth is, sometimes it feels like she holds us all together in the summer…that’s the kind of person she is.
Last summer, she brought Paul to Tuscarora. Actually Paul came a month ahead of her. He was first to arrive in May, and we scrutinized him. Was this serious lanky Louisiana guy (without eye teeth) good enough for our beloved Cass? He was a quiet worker, not quick to smile, and could get downright ornery at the end of the day. We were skeptical.
I had a pretty good chance to chat with him during Gunflint Green Up. He was my partner. I manned the shovel and he tucked in the trees. We talked about politics and religion, pretty much disagreeing. He had a fresh perspective and I liked that. When Cass showed up, he definitely lit up. And together they made comfortable pair. They were engaged on some campsite last summer, and …. this is why we found ourselves heading south, Shelby to be a bridesmaid, Daniel to play the guitar.
The Garbarino farm looked like a Louisiana movie set…dogs on an old porch with rocking chair-the original homestead. Ah, I wish I had remembered my camera for that rehearsal dinner…for the moment during the prayer when the big German Shepherd begged us to pet him (whining if we wouldn’t) with his sidekick puppy with a crawfish in his little mouth. For the moment that Paul’s dad appeared with a hoe and killed the rattle snake in the garden next to the porch. For the scene of Cass’ Minnesota family mixing with Paul’s Louisiana family, as the northerners learned to peel the mounds of crawfish. Definitely worth the work for the spicy meat (maybe it was Cajun? I suppose, but I’m not really sure what Cajun is, and I forgot to ask). At any rate, authentic, tasty, really fun.
Cass’s family we already knew, and Paul’s family welcomed us with hugs and lazy Louisiana drawls-- they fit us in. I loved Paul’s dad’s colorful stories about the original Garbarino immigrant—straight off the boat from Italy, and “recruited” to fight for the Confederate army in some battle, before homesteading the place. Or their horse, that nobody rode, but became one of the family hanging out on the porch looking in the windows when everyone went inside. Finally they had to ban him from the yard because he stuck his head through the glass door.
The plan for this farm, passed down through generations, is that Cass and Paul will eventually move in to take care of it.
The truth was, inside the original farm house, were beautifully finished hardwood floors, air-conditioned, modernness. Inside this solid Louisiana farm family were incredibly smart artists and teachers and professors. Inside Paul’s ornery fa├žade is a gentle guy with a sense of humor that we have come to love. And inside this marriage, between a groovy college town Minnesota woman with a nose ring and a conservative Louisiana artist from a farm in the deep south---- I’m confident will come a depth…a firm quality…I feel it in my gut. This was a great lesson for the kids, for all of us really. If you stick around for a while and pay attention, the combination of external reality and the heart of things often creates a whole different story. And the new story---it’s richer, it’s worth the effort. Weren’t we lucky to be welcomed into the heart of the southland in the springtime?
Saturday was a beautiful day for the wedding on the porch. When the contra-dance caller was almost done that beautiful afternoon, we said goodbye to our new friends, invited them to Minnesota (not a snowballs chance……). The MN contingent we’ll see soon--- and are looking forward to next month when our beloved Cassandra AND our beloved Paul spend another summer with us at Tuscarora.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


A couple days ago, in the local garage waiting room, getting the brakes fixed on the truck, I ran into a friend waiting for new brakes too. We did a double take: I was wearing a baseball cap, he was bald, we both had to look hard to recognize each other. I haven’t seen him all winter, although he lives on a lake nearby. Time slips by….
It turns out that my friend and his wife were both recently diagnosed with different forms of cancer. With a twinkle in his eye, he told me they’ve been married for 52 years, and began their chemo treatment on the same day, in adjacent easy chairs, with tandem IV drips. My heart did a little clenching thing. I have been particularly drawn to him because he reminds me of my Uncle Dan, and I’m really fond of Uncle Dan. And this guy has always been a friend to Tuscarora, long before we came along.
He has been my personal towboat trainer, for canoe shuttles across Saganaga. It is a little complicated to navigate that big lake from above, but ever so much trickier to know the rock piles just below the surface…..I believe Saganaga means “lake with many islands”. Many many islands lie below the water, waiting to sabotage the prop.
The deal is, on some calm spring day, I make the sandwiches, and he patiently shows me more rock piles. He’s trained many of our staff boat drivers too…. identifying Red Tank Island, Munker’s Narrows, giving little navigational tricks, naming “Your Friend” the small island with the cradle knoll deadfall on it. He identifies the wind route, and the mnemonic tricks for Red Rock Bay…truly, he’s the master. I still have more to learn, because I can’t actually plug in a cord and download his years of quiet knowledge into my head. So, I try to go out with him every year. It’s very pleasant.
I read somewhere, that the view from the edge of life is much clearer. So, as I sat next to this good guy, I tried to download some some of his insight, and some sort of hope in his prognosis. There is always calmness surrounding him, but if I look directly into his eyes, sometimes his emotions are subtly revealed. During the Ham Lake fire, we were eating the evacuation meals at the church, he was composed, but his eyes were really worried. At an unexpected funeral of a dear friend of theirs, in his eyes I could feel his deep sorrow.
In the shop the other day, I think I was reading clear optimism in his eyes. And kindness, and always interest in us. No awkwardness. Honest straight up replies. Every so often, his eyes would shine a little, as I wondered how he and his wife pulled all that off at once…physically, emotionally. He looked really healthy and happy. He admitted with humor, that he had been told that “bald is hot” when I complemented him on his nicely shaped head. He tenderly said his wife’s bald head was even more attractively symmetrical. Then we were quiet for a minute, at the irony of the conversation.
He clearly has a solid faith, not often revealed in his reserved Lutheran style, but radiating through his serene self.
As I drove away in my car with the new brakes, I remembered my farmer grandpa saying “it just feels funny that I won’t be around for another harvest.” And I wondered how my daily choices would be different, if I thought I my spring seasons were numbered? It made me resolve to take more time for people that I wish I knew a little better…and to live a little like there’s no tomorrow.
It made me grateful for people who are my teachers. People who model ways to approach the rock piles under the surface of life with grace and kindness, and wide open optimism. I realized that my friend had shared really sad news with me, but after the time hanging with him, I was driving away happier. And that was a great navigational trick!