It’s been exhausting. Work has been demanding. School recently started up again and I’m spending Tuesday nights teaching Environmental Law to students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Monday night, Jack and I had our first Boy Scout meeting of the year. Sunday night was Confirmation Orientation at Grace Lutheran, the church we now call home. So when my wife told me our neighbors and close friends Ron and Nancy McVean wanted us to come up to Bear Head State Park between Tower and Ely and spend the night in their new motor home, well, it seemed like just another item added to a very long check list. But as the week wore on and work became more and more difficult, the idea of spending a night, even in a very decked out and expensive contraption, in the woods of Northeastern Minnesota, loomed attractive.
We were supposed to be on the road by 4:30 and at the campground by 6. Didn’t happen. Work ran late and by the time I pulled into our house, dashed up the stairs to pack a ditty bag for the night, and throw some fresh deodorant under my arms, Rene’ was pretty much willing to simply hang out at home. But Chris, our third son, had signed up to keep an eye on our fifteen-year old and the dogs. So my wife and I tossed our meager belongings in the Pacifica, the car loaded with dry cleaning hanging from hooks over the rear seats, no time to carry the clean clothing into the house, pull it from the plastic bags protecting it, and hang it in my closet, and we roared down the driveway intent on making Bear Head before dark. We made it and had a wonderful evening trading stories with the Kaneskis, the Kuntzs, the Chesneys, and the McVeans; four couples who make a late-season trek to Bear Head every year, I guess, for the same reason I was willing to rush up Highway 4 to get there: They all crave the down time, the hiatus from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. Dinner was lasanga and salad and hard rolls (we were supposed to bring the garlic bread but forgot!). I opened a bottle of Rene’s homemade wine and, before the night was over, the fire had faded to coals, and the couples had left to find their beds in their own respective campers, I’d pretty much killed the bottle with only scant help from my wife. With no clouds above the white and red pines surrounding the motor home, stars poked through the black cloth of evening above us. Soon it was time to claim the pull-out couch in the camper and crash. Which is exactly what I did.
Morning. The night had been cold in the camper with no heat. Rene’ and I snuggled on the pull-out but the night still touched the top of my head. When sunlight tickled my face, I scrambled out of bed, pulled on a fleece, picked up my overnight bag, and trundled off to the shower building a few hundred feet across the campground. Though it was after eight, a time when I am normally walking into the courthouse, the campground was quiet. I met one lady on the way to the facilities. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea: sleep in, we’re on vacation, maybe the last one before the snow flies. After a hot shower and a shave, I slipped into clean clothes and made my way back to the motor home. Everyone was up. Nancy whipped up egg pancakes (some call them Finnish or Swedish pancakes or crepes) and sausages. We sipped hot coffee and talked some more about kids, life, retirement (both the McVeans are retired and Rene’ and I grow more envious of their station in life with each passing day) and then, while Ron cleaned dishes, the girls went for a walk. Nature called and, when I headed down the road after doing my business, I couldn’t find the girls. So I took a walk of my own along the shoreline of Bear Head. There was only one boat out fishing on a cool, sunny Saturday morning. A ruffed grouse peeked out from the brush at the base of the majestic pines and scurried across the trail. I walked by its hiding place, fully expecting an explosion of wings and feathers. But the bird had apparently got the message as well and ambled off into the woods without too much excitement.
Ron was still cleaning dishes when I returned to the campsite. He didn’t need my help so I located my Kindle, a device I am still coming to terms with as a book lover, and claimed an empty lawn chair. In the relative quiet of beauty, with a chipmunk and a pine squirrel flitting about on the dusty ground, I found my page in Tropic of Capricorn and began to read.