End of the Road

by Terry Hogan

It's not my fault. Blame my father. He loaded us up in the station wagon and he'd drive all Friday night and early Saturday to get to the Minnesota cabin by check-in time around noon on Saturday. He drove, but we were the ones exhausted. Unload the car; throw the motor and fishing gear in the provided boat; and we were off on the first fishing adventure of his one week per year vacation. When I was young, it felt like a death march. Outhouses, mosquitoes the size of eagles and five of us casting what seemed like 20 pound lures with reels that guaranteed to backlash on every other throw. If Alfred Hitchcock had really wanted to make a scary movie, it wouldn't have been "The Birds". It would have been "The Mosquitoes".

The fishing part of Minnesota didn't stick. I became an aquatic biologist when I grew up. I handled too many fish from electrofishing, hoop nets, and gill nets. It killed the urge to fish with a rod. But Minnesota stuck. I replaced the fishing rod with a camera -actually several cameras - film, digital, and video. Before spring arrives, the urge to return to the north woods starts gnawing deep inside me. I try to ignore it, but it's a bit like quitting smoking. Ignore as you might, the craving remains.

By January or February, I make the email or the call to the resort up north. It is the perfect resort for us. It is along the Boundary Waters' edge. It is within about 20 miles from "the end of the road." There are no electric lines. There are no phone lines. Cell phones don't work - no signal. The resort has a microwave phone system with an antenna in the woods aimed some place south. This is his contact to the south. Even the mail isn't delivered out there. In May, the fishing season hasn't started so there are not boats on the lake. It is silence. It is mine. All mine!

Beyond that, the cabin has a stone fireplace. It comes with all the wood you can haul in the wheelbarrow to the cabin. It has its own fishing dock. The lake is within a stone's throw from the cabin porch. The resort owner's wife feeds the wildlife so ducks, geese, squirrels, chipmunks, and the like abound. But it also has the civilized creature comforts that my wife enjoys. The resort has its own diesel generator for electricity so the cabin has hot water, a gas stove, an electric refrigerator, a space gas heater, electric lights, and a microwave oven. It has indoor plumbing complete with sinks, toilets, and a shower/tub combination. What a deal- end of the road for me and civilization for my wife.

The lake is ideal. It is large, rocky with lots of islands, both big and small. It only has one public access site and only a few houses. It has a small stream that feeds it and this provides access to the Boundary Water Area where outboard motors are prohibited. The lake is quiet. You can hear loons call. You can see otters and beavers swim. You can hear the occasional thumping sound of a wood grouse looking for a mate. At night, you may see the northern lights and hear the call of wolves that are increasing in numbers in the north woods. There is an bald eagle on this lake. He hangs around the same area year after year.

And I have shown restraint. I've waited this long to mention the moose - the goofy moose that splashes around the wetlands. If you’re lucky you will see this goofy moose raise his head from grazing on wetland vegetation to look at you. Vegetation hangs out of each side of his mouth, with water streaming back to the wetland. He is the goofy moose that will stand broadside in the road, taking both narrow lanes, assuming, I suppose, that you have both the intelligence and capability of stopping that 3,000 pound vehicle in time. Once you're stopped, the goofy moose will stare a bit and then amble off to the side of the road and into the nearby woods or wetlands. What he lacks in intelligence, he makes up for in size. Don’t assume he’ll move off the road in a timely manner. It is a long way to a body shop and a rent-a-car dealer.

Unfortunately, if you want to get away from it all, and still have the basic amenities of a flushing toilet and a shower without the company of two-winged insects, you’ve got to pay for it. Prices seem to go up every year. Because so much of the waterfront and lakes are owned by the federal government, land prices are outrageous and rise yearly. Taxes go with it. The resort owner somewhat apologetically noted last year than his property taxes went up 50% in one year. So, as in all things, the costs get passed on to the consumers. But his seasons remain good. He's sold out throughout the summer months. To avoid the crowds, you take the cold weather in early spring or late fall and risk a little snow. But it is worth it. We come early. We crowd him a little. He is usually still working on the cabins, upgrading or repairing winter’s damage. He and his wife are a brave couple. They've seen 40 degree below zero this last winter. That's got to be scary when your electricity depends upon your own system fueled by diesel that jellies long before 40 below.

But springtime in Minnesota, it soothes the soul. I suppose it must be the Swedish side of me - the birch trees and the conifers and the lakes and the wildlife. Minnesota and Sweden are similar. This undoubtedly contributes to the large Scandinavian presence in the north woods. When people left their homeland, they tended to settle in places that looked like home and that presented challenges that were familiar to them. Maybe I'm just a victim; just a slave to my genes.

May is not far away. I can feel the need rising from deep within my soul. I can almost hear the lapping of the waves against the granite rocks and the distant, incomplete call of the loon. In May the water will be icy cold. You will want to carry matches in a waterproof container. It is no time to get wet without a way to get warm. The islands will be deserted. The little animals will be awakened from their winter sleep and will be hungry. Or they will be back north from the long flight and be hungry.

Peanuts and bird seeds make it a photographer’s delight. Birds land on you or next to you. Chipmunks and squirrels run up your pant legs to sit on your lap and eat peanuts out of your hand. They have no fear of humans. It is, after all, the end of the road (almost) and folks who want to throw rocks or shoot small animals need not have to travel so far north. There is something about seeing your wife sitting in a chair on the cabin porch, trying to read while a chipmunk does his best to keep his balance on her head.

It is the end of the road. It is what life should be. But then, perhaps I am just a slave of my genes. Who knows? All in all, it doesn't matter. We'll soon be off to Minnesota and the little animals will be waiting for the weird folks who are always good for a free handout.

If you want to know where it is, just go north and stop about 20 miles before the end of the road. Then you turn left and stop before you drive into the lake. Watch out for the animals, both big and small.

Particularly watch out for the goofy-looking ones.