Back home again after travels around the country
After publishing newspapers and an international wildlife art magazine, my wanderings have brought me full circle to where it all started. Minnesota is home.
My wife, Tricia and I have found a house that is just minutes from town. Kasson is a town, not unlike the town where I grew up.
I grew up in Cloquet, up in the frozen tundra, just a stone’s throw from Lake Superior.
My early years were spent on a small hobby farm my mom and dad bought from grandpa Hansen. It was a Tom Sawyer-like childhood. We lived just three miles out of town, but we might have been a 100 miles from nowhere. Three lakes were within a mile of the back door. Otter Creek was just a mile down the road where trout were evasive enough to make my early angling attempts interesting.
Our neighbors, two old bachelors and their old maid sister were like a second family to me. They had 640 acres of hay fields, woods and beaver ponds that were made available to me for adventurous expeditions. I camped creek side more than three or four times a month during the summer, and occasionally, a few of my buddies trekked along with me.
My dog, Rex and I would often make the trip alone and pitch my tent along the banks of Otter Creek. Each morning seemed to present itself with a new alarm clock. Rex would awaken me with a growl or bothersome bark to a red fox that had arrived at the creek’s edge for water. Another morning is was a bobcat.
In exchange for the freedom to roam the back 40 of the bachelor’s homestead, I would chip in at haying time. They were still stuck in the putting up of loose hay, complete with a dump rake and a machine they pulled with an old Case tractor that would dump it onto a wagon. As the hay would fall onto the wagon I would spread the load around until the stack was eight to 10 feet from the wagon’s bed. Then it was back to the barn and the unloading of the stack by the huge two-pronged hayfork and it was lifted into the hayloft where one of the bachelors would trip the load.
Now everyone who’s put of loose hay know that an itchy dust clings to sweaty skin and the only way to get rid of that perpetual itch is to skinny dip in one of the three lakes near home. As a boy, it was one of those memories that I would daydream about when it was all over. I’d lie on my back on a plush green hillside and watch those huge puffy clouds roll overhead and recall the work that had just passed.
When school started and the leaves began to turn it was time to turn my thoughts to grouse hunting on the section the two bachelors opened up to me, and my friends. It was the best time of the year. Cool evenings and the nerve-racking sound of a grouse exploding into the trees was imprinted in my mind.
As the seasons change it was time to set aside the 20-gauge shotgun for traps that had to be set along the creek bottom and around the beaver dam.
Checking those traps was relatively easy in November. Come December through ‘til the end of trapping season the job became laborious. It was in January, with the temperature hitting 20 below zero, that I realized how dangerous trapping around a beaver dam could be.
I hit the trap line early Saturday morning. After walking two miles back to the beaver dam, I chose to walk across the dam to the other side to check the traps. Generally, I would walk around the dam to avoid snow cover gaps in the ice. That was a nearly fatal decision. I fell through the ice. I looked up in a panic and realized I had made a foolish choice. I climbed out of the icy water and headed for a stand of balsam fir trees. I pulled strike anywhere matched from the plastic pill bottle and started a fire using deal lower branches as kindling. As the fire grew I used full fir branches to build a shelter. As the makeshift hut began to hold the heat, I began stripping off clothing and drying each piece. It took hours.
I managed to get home just before dark and spent a few hours soaking the cold from my body.
Growing up in the wilds of northern Minnesota was challenging and memorable.
It’s great to be back in the land of the Northern Lights and the Minnesota Gophers.