Friday, November 25, 2011

Variety is the Spice of Life

Some cliches are so true.  I suppose that is how they became clichés,  I sure would like to invent one myself.  Wouldn’t it be fun to have invented 'variety is the spice of life'...and then every time somebody said it, I could be a quietly smug about it?   As I look at my breakfast,  I try a new cliche... 'cranberry relish is the spice of my strawberry jello.'  Incidentally, it turned out to be very good jello, after I acquired a taste for it.  The gourmet cooks we spent Thanksgiving with this year--no kidding-were very gracious about my pickled jello, but you'd have to taste everything else to realize why so much of my dish was left over.
The other variety spice I’ve appreciated so much these past few days has been Round Lake.  Last spring the anticipation of ice –out was oh-so-exciting.   
But this year's ice-in was the best yet. We’ve had free time and a free lake full of ice, balmy days, so perfect. 

The woods are absolutely gorgeous.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were full of skating.  Yesterday the kids and their friends spent 4 hours playing hockey……and just playing…….on a flawless lake.  Of course, especially before we take other people's children on the ice, we check the thickness, and make sure that the natural holes that flooded it have iced over---with a couple inches on top of the original ice--which we did, and it was thick enough.

 And this morning,  we’ve already had about 3 inches of snow and it’s clinging to everything---wrecking the ice, but so spicy beautiful that it’s equally pleasing.

I loved skating as a kid-I remember afternoons  on Lake Nokomis, with my siblings and cousins.  My sister and our friends Karin and Mary would make up routines, graceful, full of our best twirling .  Since our kids have been old enough to walk, we've found them skates—it was so important to me to reinforce the skating brain connections. I used to skate backwards and they’d try to catch me and stay in the “sidewalk” path my skates created.  I was smooth and accomplished, a groovy Peggy Flemming-skater kind of mom.  This is the picture I’m trying to create, because here we are only 10 years later---the other night Andy and I were trying to catch hockey-Daniel as he skated backwards and we skated forwards.  He laughed as he agilely skated between us; we felt stiff as we reached our arms out to try to tag him..  Pretty sure we resembled Young Frankenstein dancing Puttin’ on the Ritz. 

What happened?  Which is real?  Am I graceful like Peggy Fleming or clumsy like Young Frankenstein?  

Which is better, Round Lake in the winter, or Round Lake in the spring?  Maybe true reality is exposed through the contrasts.  

Aha, "True reality is exposed through contrasts".  Is that a new cliché?  Any chance it'll catch on?  Maybe there's about as much chance that gourmet pickled jello will catch on too----.
At any rate, variety  is the spice of life.  Thanksgiving is about over, and it’s time to venture out into the snowy woods to get a Christmas tree.  Yay!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Skating under the Stars

Big sky, clear night, many stars, good ice, smooth skating.  It doesn't all come together like that so often.  Perfect memory.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Summer Trip

We had two groups of California Scouts last summer—led by Hung and Tuan Le (all photos courtesy of Hung Le). They portaged from Seagull to Grandpa to Roy to Sag (and that is something) ….and on to complete a couple of high adventure trips that they had been preparing for all winter. 
I met Hung and Tuan when I was 11 years old.  In April, 1975, their family of 15 scattered, and some fled their home in Da Lat.  I don’t know all the details. Saigon fell, their father, a local judge, was jailed by the North Vietnamese.  Hung picked up Tuan from highschool, on a motorcycle and they made it out of the country by boat, and their older brother Cuong  escaped  by  plane.  They never got to say goodbye to their parents or their siblings.  I remember they felt badly about that.  In the chaos of that day they never got to say goodbye.  Hung, Tuan, and Cuong later met up in a refugee camp in Guam.
Our Minneapolis church sponsored them, and they came to our house for awhile.   Lots of things didn’t occur to me then.  When my parents moved all four of us kids out of the upstairs, it wasn’t just hospitality space for the brothers.  It was possible that we had just invited creepy strange men into our home.  Isn’t that life?  Take a chance on potential creepy strangers, and you might end up extending your family by 3 good  people-and eventually, by proxy, a very large Vietnamese family.  We hit the jackpot.  
It also never occurred to me that they were always prepared with emergency rations and an escape plan, in case they were placed with creepy strangers—or that the evil smiling family (us)  were in fact taking them to some sort of internment labor camp in the wilds of northern Minnesota.
I was 11, and I had never lived in a war.   I still can't quite fathom why anyone would want to memorize all of the aircraft carriers and destroyers in our navy….and who knows what else about the defense system.  Hung once told me he couldn't imagine not knowing. A war-zone mindset?  Is this why he speaks English, Vietnamese, French, Spanish, Russian, and some Chinese?  I have no interest in keeping track of the US submarines, because really I have enough trouble keeping track of my black socks.  But also, what are the odds of Duluth falling (as Saigon fell?).  Nope, just not in the war-zone mindset.
Back to that first summer--the 3 brothers lived on Seagull Lake where they worked for Wilderness Canoe Base, and for the US Forest Service.  After they realized that they didn’t need to escape through barbed wire into a jungle full of tigers, they could relax and leave their backpacks full of survival gear, and soak up the people and the place.  They were welcomed, and found a home in the Boundary Waters.
They have always been resourceful and self-sufficient, more than anyone I know.  Their shrewd pride enabled them to smuggle all their family members out during the volatile years in Vietnam, and more recently to travel to start orphanages inside Vietnam. 
This summer, we transported the scouts to the Wilderness Canoe Base parking lot so they could visit before they launched onto Seagull.  As Tuan and I walked ahead of the group to the main office in the cove, he was reminiscing, and got a little misty with his story, and for a minute I had a glimpse of him, a very brave and sweet young man--- Shelby’s age---walking down that driveway 35 years ago. 
But also, I had a flash of empathy for Tuan’s mom.  It’s the first time I’d ever considered the story from her angle.   I know how terrifying and touching it is to send your kids out into any new situation—but to send your sons out into the enemies, while your husband was in jail ---well, it must have been a low point.  I could feel her anguish.  What choice did she have but to have faith in their ingenuity and intelligence?
                She was a mom in a war zone, but I’ll bet she still had to get up and put her shoes on, sweep the floor, take care of the kids, prepare the food.  In the end, everyday life is just what a person does.  Maybe she just had to trust that it was going to be OK, and that her kids would be OK too.  Turns out they landed in one of the most enchanted places on earth, and Tuan’s heart began to heal here.  Could she have dreamed of the life he would lead, that she'd live in his Californianeighborhood, that he’d be back to the woods when his his capable teenage daughters were about his same age?  Could she have imagined this 50 year old Tuan with the same witty twinkle in his eyes? 
These thoughts rushed through my own (mother’s) heart as I we walked on.  Thirty five years ago, Tuan and I couldn’t have known that our lives would intersect at Seagull Lake, or that we would share the sacredness, the peace, the transformational effect that the BWCAW and the people of Wilderness Canoe Base had on both of us.
He smiled at me with eyes brimmed with tears, and I swallowed the lump in my own throat and smiled back.  And we walked into the cove, and looked across to Dominion Island where we could see the ribs of the chapel, and the sparkles of the sun on the water.  He had grown up, and I had grown up.  We both had children, and even they were almost grown up. 
And just like that, the nostalgic moment was over.  He was ready to lead his group, and I had to return to Tuscarora and get back to work.  In the end, everyday life is just what a person does.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Paddling at Dawn

On still summer mornings, with the lake so calm the surface seems poised to shatter, I always discover again the pleasure of paddling for its own sake.
 A good canoe does not merely travel across a lake or river, it glides along the interface between water and air, making hardly a ripple in passing and is so silent that it blends with the world. 
 Paddling it makes you part of the lake, not an intruder, and a participant in the pastel dramas of dawn.
Being out there is not just a way to greet the new day; it’s a way to be reawakened to it, to see it again with the eyes of children.
-Jerry Dennis excerpts from  A Wooden Canoe