- Member for
- 4 years 6 months
Here's how it begins: I leave home with a notebook in my pocket and camera gear in my backpack. I drive for two or three hours and hop in a boat or climb into a deer stand. Or I strap on skis or snowshoes. Or I hop in a bush plane bound for the wilderness. And off I go, sometimes with folks I might barely know, to some pretty amazing places. I fill my notebook with scratchings that only I can read. I shoot plenty of photos, hoping for five good ones. Then I come back and start writing. Or file a story from someplace far from the office.
Well, we're not headed up to the canoe country to go lake trout fishing this spring. Or so it appears. The ice has us. Four of us make the trip each spring, close on the heels of ice-out, when the fish are hungry. We paddle across the border, into the Canadian wilderness, where the lake trout season is already open. Typically, we make the trip in early May, sometimes even starting in late April.
I visited my friend Jeff Rennicke's writing studio in Bayfield years ago. It was a simple room, bare of most distractions, but on the wall above his computer was a piece of paper with four words on it. "Tell me a story." It was there as a reminder of his deal with his readers each time he sat down to write — simply to tell a story.
Last fall, a Bemidji-area deer hunter's video was widely circulated on Facebook among Minnesota hunters. In the video, it appeared that about a dozen gray wolves emerged from the right side of the screen, one or two at a time, and made their way across the scene. The video was shot from the hunter's elevated stand. A couple of wolf pups romped at one point. The adults moved through single-file at intervals, over a period of a minute or more. The video seemed to support the impression that many Minnesota deer hunters have about wolves, namely that too many of them roam the woods.
The manila file folder was stuck in alongside some of my old trip journals on a bookshelf. "What's this?" I thought. I pulled it out and opened it up the other day. Inside were, among other things, a couple of sheets of notebook paper with my handwriting on them. "Exercise No. 9," the page was entitled. "Before I die, I want to..."
DULUTH — Well, this is getting a little old, isn't it? This November in April, I mean. A buddy called the other day. "It was four below in International Falls this morning!" he complained. Yeah. I was out shoveling a fresh skiff of snow the same morning. I hadn't bothered to check the thermometer. I was out there scooping away, thinking, "Pretty nice morning. Crisp. Clear. Must be about 20." Back inside, I checked: Six degrees. You know you've become too acclimated to northern Minnesota winters when six degrees feels like a balmy day.
GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — Jon Libbey has always hunted grouse and ducks and deer. But last year the Grand Rapids resident he added another hunting season — in the spring. He'd been seeing wild turkeys not far from Grand Rapids on his game cameras for a few years. "I thought I'd give it a whirl," said Libbey, 29. "I bought an over-the-counter tag." Hunting near Grand Rapids, he shot a 21-pound tom that had a 10-inch beard.
The previous day's moderate thaw is history. I stride along a refrozen trail at dawn. My ice cleats, stretched over a pair of running shoes, make a satisfying crunch with each footfall. It sounds like I'm stomping potato chips. The trail is alternately old snow and new ice, the ice irregular and rutted by those who passed on foot or fat bikes when the trail was mush.
GUNFLINT TRAIL, NORTH OF GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — On a bright March afternoon, a procession of winter travelers moved across the crusted snow atop Bearskin Lake like some human-powered freight train. Three dads, four daughters — and Gimli, the aging Labrador, out front. The girls, 16 to 18 years old, chatted and laughed as they marched along, leaning into the traces of sleds they pulled that were loaded with winter camping gear. Their dads — Bob Feyen, Jesse Schomberg and Kevin Skwira-Brown — were part of the procession, each towing his share of the gear.
DULUTH — They came filing in, led by their teachers, class by class. Fourth-graders. Three classes. About 90 students in all. They filed into the library at Lester Park Elementary School at midday on a Monday. The teachers had them sit on the carpeted floor, smaller students in front, bigger ones in back. They've been working on writing, one of their teachers had told me, especially writing about their personal experiences. "Talk to them about writing what you know," the teacher had said.