Monday, June 23, 2008

Thoughts from the North Shore

When I as in graduate school (the first time) at Auburn, my advisor hired a young man from rural South Dakota to help us with field sampling. As many of us "Yankees" did, he had a very difficult time adjusting to life in Alabama. However, it wasn't the grits, fried chicken and football craziness that got to many of us. For Mike it was mainly because of the lack of horizon. Alabama is for the most part heavily wooded and unless you're on a reservoir it can be difficult to see the horizon. At the time I thought he was kind of odd, but as I've started to reflect where I feel most comfortable it is definitely in places where I can see for a long distance - the prairie, lakes, etc. Perhaps it is because I grew up in an area that wasn't heavily wooded and had lot's of lakes. I do know that the ability to see for what seems forever on the prairie is one thing that draws me there. I know of others who don't feel comfortable unless they're hemmed in amongst the trees or buildings, those elements seem to be their security blanket. I mention this because we recently spent a few days up on the north shore (Lake Superior for you non-Minnesotans), returning last evening. As a family, there is a definite draw to the Lake for us, just as there is to the praire for me. I get the same strange feeling standing on the shores of Lake Superior as I do standing in a sea of prairie grass. It is a paradoxical feeling of being aware of what is in front of you, behind you, and to each side yet knowing that you're so small, so insignificant on these powerful landscapes that you don't have any control of what is in front of you, behind you, or to each side. I'm sure there is some way to psychoanalyze that and it undoubtedly has some metaphoric value for my life. Who knows. I do know that I like "wide open spaces".

We generally do a good bit of hiking while we're along the shore, trying to find those out of the way places that most of the folks that head up there won't see because they are more than a few hundred feet off of Highway 61. This year was a hike into Judge C.R. Magney state park to see the falls on the Brule River. It was well worth the 3.5 mile hike and 178 steep steps down (and back up) to the valley floor.

Agate hunting is very popular among the tourists that visit the north shore and we're definitely part of that population. Over the years we've found a few places that are good spots and often spend the better part of a day picking through the mass of rocks that cover the beaches. Even our pre-teen finds this to be an acceptable way to spend some vacation time. This year the water is higher than it has been in a number of years which altered our picking to some degree. I like picking through the rocks and can really loose track of time while I'm doing it, it is almost meditative. I like to look at the individual rocks and think about its origins and "life story". This year, we stopped at Tettegouche State Park early on Sunday morning and walked down to the Baptism River beach. The beach at Tettegouche is usually pretty busy and finding agates, much less quiet is pretty rare. But for some reason this year we spent almost an hour there and had only one visitor, a loon who had apparently found some fish near the river's mouth. We also found some nice, thumb-nail sized agates.



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