Taking the Plunge

Sometimes you just have to let loose and take advantage of what life sends your way.  With a free afternoon, and yet another day of blistering heat, when my friend Beth said she was going to a swimming hole I quickly volunteered to accompany her.  Although we live across from “The Deeps” (the infamous swimming hole favored by teens) and additional river pools abound in Amity Creek and Lester River, I had never gone swimming in one.

Beth took me to a spot in Lester River less than a mile from our house.  Clambering down the riverside, we dumped our stuff on the warm rocks and I followed Beth into the pool.  It was very shallow on one side and quickly dropped off to a deep hole on the other.  I had expected frigid river water, but to my surprise it was quite warm.  We immediately immersed ourselves in the water, which felt so good after the day’s heat.  Floating on our backs, looking up into the sky through the green branches of the pine trees was heavenly.  It was hard to believe we were really in a city.

Moving up river from the pool, there were some rapids with shallow pools.  We deposited ourselves there, waist deep in the flowing water.  The hot sun actually felt good as the water swirled around us while we talked and relaxed.  By the time we climbed back out of the gorge, I no longer felt hot and bothered.  The river had washed all that away.

Walking up the Sucker RiverDuring coffee hour at church this morning, I mentioned my adventure.  As it happens, one couple at our table lives Jacuzzi Falls on the Sucker River and told us about the “Jacuzzi Falls” where they like to go.  Before long, we had an invitation to join them and by early afternoon six of us were hiking up the river together. We followed the water upstream, sometimes walking the river bottom.  Soaking my feet in the river felt oh, so good.

Just as promised, we reached a series of small waterfalls, each with a pool below.  It was a popular spot today, but we found one that was unoccupied and soon claimed it for ourselves.  It too was fairly warm, making it comfortable to hang out in the water.  We took turns bracing ourselves under the waterfall, letting it flow over our heads until the force of the water eventually pushed us away toward the deep center of the pool.  It was the perfect respite from the day’s sweltering heat.

Sucker River swimming hole Rich and Molly at the base of the waterfallI never expected to spend two successive afternoons hanging out in a swimming hole.  And yet it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages.  Both were spontaneous decisions, and better than any planned activity could ever be.  It was enjoyment in the purest sense, entertained by Mother Nature, shared with good friends, and good healthy outdoor activity.  What could be better than that?  I’m so glad I took the plunge.

Dock Time

The old wooden dock I’ve waited 25 years for this. When we first bought the cabin, it came with an ordinary but serviceable dock. Hand made of wooden planks and supported by metal poles, it mimicked all the other docks on the lake at the time. With only two 8-foot sections extending out from shore and another 8-foot L across the end, calling it small was an understatement. After many years, Rich added another eight feet to its length, which seemed a major addition, but has since been taken for granted.

Despite its diminutive stature, our wooden platform has served us well. Many a boat ride has initiated from that dock, kayaks and canoes launched, sailboats docked and fishing lines cast. Of equal importance, it has been the focal point for swimmers with its L delineating the wading area for the youngest in the family. The opposite side became the shoving off point for those seeking deeper water. And of course, it has been the launching point for sauna lovers to throw themselves into the cool refreshing lake. It has also served as a viewing point for star gazing and Northern Lights displays.

For me, the dock is far more than the center of water activity. It’s a place. A feeling. An attitude. It is the epitome of cabin life. I haven’t been to the cabin unless I’ve had my Dock Time. Positioned in my beach chair at the end of the dock, coffee and hearty homemade toast at my side, a few select magazines handy – following an energetic run through the North woods and capped with a brisk swim, of course – I’m in my element. It’s my relaxing place. My need to accomplish and be productive falls away, as I lose myself creating dreams from the magazine stories and absorb the water and nature sounds around me. The afternoon equivalent is a similar perch with a good book and a cold drink under my chair. Sporting my swim suit, I’m ready for a dip when the urge strikes.

For all its qualities, I couldn’t help but aspire to an enhanced dock. The appearance of modern, sliverless docks sure turned my head. The idea of a surface devoid of nails that poked up each spring before I attacked them with a hammer was appealing. But what I most lusted after was having a true deck at the end of the runway. A spot where I could sit with a friend, and still allow others to pass by would be ideal. A place where wiggly grandkids could maneuver past my chair without threat of falling in the water would be heavenly. Room for family to gather and share my favorite spot was only a dream.The dock graveyard

The new dockUntil today. After all these years, the old dock was hoisted out of the water for the very last time. It was none too soon. As luck would have it, just this past weekend (with the dock already on order) the end section collapsed while unloading the boat. It was a sign. Its demise was near. In its place now stands a sleek new dock, of the slick roll-in variety with a light gridded top that allows water to drain off rapidly. There is even a ladder for swimmers, perhaps a nod to my declining agility in hoisting myself out onto the dock after I swim. I prefer to focus on how it will benefit the grandkids.

Apart from the practical nature of this upgrade, I finally got my wish. Although this dock is no longer than the previous version, it has one key feature. Despite Rich’s protests that it was too large, I stood my ground and insisted on the 8×12-foot deck. Everything is relative so in comparison to the old, this new space feels expansive and decadent. My little beach chair is swamped by its size, and I have the option of infinite positions for my sitting spot depending on whether I am seeking or avoiding the sun.

A happy Molly on the dockIt didn’t take me long to put the dock through its paces. Reading on the dock came first, followed by a kayak trip then the post-sauna jump and swim. It performed admirably. Despite its 25 year history, I lack any nostalgia for the old dock. I am already anticipating an enhanced Dock Time in the morning.

Work and Play do Mix

My time on Madeline Island is coming to an end. I've had a terrific week at the Madeline Island School of the Arts, taking a writing class from Catherine Watson. But it hasn't been all work and no play. I brought my bike along, and have used it to expore the island in the afternoons. After doing a lot of sitting in class, it has felt great to get out and move, and to enjoy some fresh air.

Madeline Island view

Madeline Island isn't very big. Fourteen miles long and three miles wide, with roads mainly around the perimeter. The good news is that the roads are all bicycle friendly, with bike lanes on the main road and little traffic anywhere. Unfortuntately, even when near the coast the lake views are mostly limited to sneaking peaks through the trees. The one stretch that has a good vista happened to be near my home base, so I passed it often and it became a favorite.

My first exploration led me to Big Bay State Park. There are some great rock formations that can be seen along the shoreline on Big Bay Point, accessible from a short path from the parking lot.

Big Bay State Park

La Pointe is the only town on the island, populated with art galleries, craft shops and some good restaurants. I took in the Art Walk one evening with some fellow writing students and enjoyed browsing the local artists' offerings, followed by dinner overlooking the lake. Going for an early morning bike ride, the ferry harbor and marina were particularly pretty in the low sun.

La Pointe harbor and marina

I had grand designs to circle the entire island on my bike, but discovered that two long road were dirt. Worse yet, they had been freshly graded, making them difficult to traverse. It was rather slow going. I planned an out and back route to the opposite end of the island instead. Stopping in Big Bay Town Park, and spent time on the beach at the opposite end of the bay from the State Park. A long boardwalk paralleled the beach, and although I didn't have time to cover the distance, it appeared that there was a trail all the way back to Big Bay Point. Instead, I hung out on the beach for a while, watching the waves roll in.

Big Bay Town Park

By now I feel like I've covered all the important points on the island, just in time to head home. And I've made good use of my exploration time as well. I get a lot of thinking time when I'm cycling, which I've used to come up with topics for my assignments, and have just the right word I'd been seeking pop into my head for an essay. So it's been a good mix of work and play this week.


School Time

Madeline Island School of the Arts

Photo from the Madeline Island School of the Arts

I’m spending next week on Madeline Island.  I’ll be staying in a pretty little cottage on a picturesque farm-like plot.  I expect to be surrounded by creative and talented people.  And I will be attending class.  A writing class – my first ever.

It’s been over three years now since I embarked on this writing thing.  Immediately after retiring, I launched this blog and submitted my first story for publication.  Now 459 blog posts later and with 17 stories to my credit in Lake Superior Magazine I seem to have quite a bit of momentum.  And yet, I know I have so much more to learn.

I found the class through the Lake Superior Writers, of which I am a member.  The title alone was alluring, as it included the two genres that suit me the best: “Inner Journeys: Mindful Travel Writing and Memoir.”  What clinched it was the instructor, Catherine Watson.  She was the main travel writer and photographer at the Star Tribune during the same time that I worked there.  Our paths crossed only long enough for me to purchase her book, Road Less Traveled, at an employee holiday craft sale.  But it was enough for me to enjoy her writing and remember her style all these years later.

It took quite a bit of courage for me to actually sign up.  The idea of opening myself up to the scrutiny of others is daunting.  It would be easier to stay the course and continue to write on my own.  But where would that get me? I convinced myself that it’s worth the risk to my personal psyche in order to grow and learn.

Also, I have yet to figure out where I really want to go with my writing.  I’m looking forward to finding out what paths other writers pursue, and what might be rewarding for me.  I’m fortunate in that it is only a retirement gig for me.  I’m not dependent on the income (which is a really good thing!) and I can be choosy about what writing I do.  And since I only write on a part-time basis, I want my efforts to be more focused.

So I’ve packed my bags soon and am heading to the Madeline Island School of the Arts.  I’m looking forward to meeting interesting people, being challenged, learning and absorbing as much as I can, and being inspired by the beautiful surroundings on Lake Superior.  Not a bad way to go back to school.

Newborn Showstopper

New life.  It’s all consuming and the rest of the world seems to fade away.  From the moment we got the phone call that our newest grandchild was on her way into the world, it was hard to concentrate on anything else.

Grammy and IsabelNever mind that it wasn’t me having the baby this time.  It didn’t matter that my only responsibilities were to cuddle and admire.  Once in that hospital room nothing else mattered. I couldn’t tell you what day it was, how much time had passed or what I had originally planned to do that day.  Everything outside that space was immaterial.

Even with two grandchildren already, I had forgotten how engaging those little people are.  Isabel managed to captivate me with the way she scrunched up her little face and the barely audible squeaky noises she made.

It was difficult, but I did share this little bundle.  And it’s pretty obvious that she kept us all quite entertained.  I will shamelessly include some of my favorite photos.

Photo Jul 09, 9 42 38 PMWelcome to the family, Isabel.  You’re quite a showstopper.

Cyclists Hosting Cyclists

We start out as strangers.  When we request lodging from a Warm Showers host while on our cycling tours, we know only what a brief profile and some feedback provide about our potential hosts.  And yet, more often than not we part the next morning as friends.  The common interest in cycle touring and shared experiences quickly breaks the ice and opens the door (quite literally!) to a warm welcome and lasting memories.

Marthe and Charles with Rich at the ParkWe hit it off immediately with Charles and Marthe on our first long cycling tour in the Canadian Maritimes.  They knew just how to make us feel comfortable in their beautiful home, giving us plenty of space, showing us to the washer and dryer and even outfitting us with Charles rode with us when we departedcushy robes so we could wash absolutely all our clothes.  We had fabulous meals, as they understood better than we did how much food we really needed.  And they took us to nearby Kouchibouguac National park which we would have missed on our bicycles.

But it was their manner that was so engaging.  We easily moved on from cycling stories to share tales of our lives, our families and our interests.  There was no shortage of conversation and we felt a close bond.  Charles and Marthe disclosed their dream of retiring soon and cycling the four borders of the US.  Apparently seeing us newly retired and touring was proof it could be done.  We fervently wished them well on their goal and left with a sincere invitation to return the hosting favor.

Two years later, when the email arrived we immediately recognized the names.  Charles and Marthe were setting off from Vancouver to cycle across Canada to their home in New Brunswick.  We instantly replied with entreaties to dip down into the US in order to pass through Minnesota.  Knowing the Trans-Canada highway stretch over Lake Superior was treacherous for cycling, we strengthened our argument by offering a safer route below the lake.  It worked.

Charles and Marthe with us at the cabinCharles and Marthe cyclingBefore long we found ourselves cycling out from our cabin in Northern Minnesota to meet them.  Sharing an ice cream together on the return trip brought back so many memories – touring, seeing new places, local folk astounded over the distances traveled, and how sweet that treat tastes after pedaling so many miles.

This time it was our turn to introduce these friends to our world.  We celebrated the 4th of July cabin-style and they happily jumped off the boat for a refreshing dip in the lake.  We easily picked up where we left off, as if no time had passed in between.  And as they set off once more, we promised to meet again.

Okay, so that wasn’t too far fetched as we returned to Duluth just in time to host them again a day later!  We celebrated Marthe’s birthday with dinner overlooking Lake Superior and strolled the Lakewalk to get ice cream cones as it drew dark.

It was harder saying our farewells the next morning.  But I have no doubt these cyclists will host one another yet again.  We are no longer strangers.