Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wood-stove perspective

And a cabin full of city folk

Perspective affords us a lot. I've been reflecting upon my experiences of living in three different cities and two different states over the past seven years as a tool to help me piece together definitions for life. I have mentioned before my experience living in Minneapolis and how disconnected I became with nature, and therefore, myself.

While I was there, however, I talked to the city folk about this place. I described how easy it is to get away, to find silence, to explore the woods, canoe the rivers, fish the lakes. I tried to describe the simple yet incredible joy of physical labor, of swinging a maul over your head, of hiking cross-country, of shoveling snow by hand. When I talked about camping, I tried to describe the nuances you experience when you find the perfect spot to make camp. How when you're hiking or biking or camping in the woods (and you're well prepared), the world is your oyster and nothing seems impossible.

My stories must have had an impact after all, because a few weeks ago, a trio of them decided they wanted to make the trip to Up North Wisconsin, and that I should be their guide. This past weekend they arrived, and I had a slue of backwoods foolery in mind.

After a stunning road tour of Fifield, we headed north towards Mellen. It was lucky that Friday last week was sunny and warm because we planned to hike around Copper Falls State Park for the afternoon, and it worked out perfectly. Crisp breeze, a few cloud wisps, and the warm sun in the brilliant blue sky, everything was in place as we set out on the walking path through the park.

We all went "oooo" at Brownstone Falls and Devil's Gate. We all went "ahhh" at the glowing reds and oranges of the sun-struck oak leaves. We all went "oh wow!" at the scenic overlooks into the gorges and the dark, winding river. My guests showered our journey through the park with comments of amazement and appreciation. So far so good.

The Mellen grocery/gas station/liquor store/hardware depot was next on the adventure, as we needed foodstuffs for the rest of the journey. After stocking up, we headed out of town on County Highway GG towards Clam Lake. As dusk was fast approaching, it was my hope that we would be fortunate enough to spot a few elk on the drive. Unfortunately, the drive resulted in an elk-less 30-minute journey; however we were now buried deep within the Chequamegon National Forest at a relative’s cabin snuggled in alongside the Chippewa River.

I built two fires right away - one in the wood stove inside the cabin, another in the fire pit outside for cooking our hotdog dinner. We didn't stay outside long after the food was ready, as the northern Wisconsin temperature plummeted without any cloud cover. Instead, I kept the wood stove well stocked, and soon the cabin was cozy as could be, filled with warmth, laughter, drinks, and a little bit of wood smoke.

It was good to catch up with my friend and his wife and another former work friend. They were enamored by the availability of cheese curds in every gas station, and so had bought several packages of every available kind. I had selected a collection of beers exclusive to Wisconsin for them to sample along with the curds, and they poked fun at the fact there were places up here where a person could purchase chainsaw parts and bologna in the same checkout. I told them to laugh all they want, I'd just let the fire go out and see who's laughing then.

We ended the night doing a popcorn read with a book of short stories, which is something I've not done since grade school, and have never tried after having a few drinks. I now highly suggest this.

Saturday dawned with less than cooperative weather. However, with good ol’ Northwoods Wisconsin hospitality, I tended the fire and made coffee for everyone, then roused the trio of city slickers to hop in the rowboat to see how far we could get upstream. Like most waterways right now, the Chippewa is very, very low. I rowed us through the damp, grey, misty morning, pointing out fresh beaver sign which included freshly fell popple, feed beds full of tag alder, exposed bank holes, and mud slides on the river bank. We failed at several attempts to get through the shallowest portion of the river, and probably only traveled about a quarter mile upstream before turning back.

Now that everyone was all soggy and chilled and I had my arm workout in, I figured it was a good time to go walk some trails in the area and stretch our legs. I led them down a few paths through some various wood stands, all the while holding a shotgun in hopes we might flush a grouse or two. In fact we did, and as it flew broadside through the woods on my right I drew on it, led it, and squeezed a shot just as it zipped into some thick brush beyond a couple of basswood trees. The shot missed. Instead of taking home dinner, we continued until we arrived in a gravel pit, where I set up an abandoned chip-board for them to shoot the gun at. Ah, entertainment.

That night we made dinner on the gas stove, listened to the radio, and played card games at the table. I relished the fact the tick slowly faded for each of us to check our cell phones as there was no service out there. Instead, we spent more time actually together in that small two-room cabin. There were no outside communications, no text messages, phone calls, or e-mails to answer, no television shows or movies to sit in front of - just four people spending time together.

I count myself fortunate for the opportunity to spend a simple weekend like this. Our adventure was inexpensive and relaxing. I am glad to have been able to offer an escape to my friends, and I hope they were able to reinforce their relationship with nature at least a little bit. The weather may not have been optimal for some of the stay, but there's nothing quite like a grey day wood stove to gather around.

I think it's incredibly valuable for us to share in cultural exchanges like these, no matter how similar we already are. A deeper understanding of the different ways people live their lives is something worth investing your time into. If we initiate that exchange, we're likely to find like-minded people who are more often willing to reciprocate. Keep in mind that we're not all that different to begin with, and while pride of place can serve one well, becoming entrenched in your views is to narrow your perspective.

“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”
- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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