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North Writers II

North Writers II: Our Place in the Woods

John Henricksson editor
Foreword by Paul Gruchow
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsdpv
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  • Book Info
    North Writers II
    Book Description:

    The essays included in North Writers II explore the special relationship that exists between the people of northern Minnesota and the rugged yet beautiful landscape that surrounds them. Contributors: Barton Sutter, Carol Bly, Roger K. Blakely, Sheila Packa, Marlon Davidson, Bobbie Greiner, Jim dale Huot-Vickery, Anne Marie Erickson, Pauline Brunette Danforth, Kent Nerburn, Jim Klobuchar, Matthew Miltich, Steven R. Downing, Sharon Miltich, Donna Salli, Anne M. Dunn, Jeanne Grauman, Justine Kerfoot, Robert Treuer, Susan Carol Hauser, Elnora Bixby, Jana Studelska, Peter M. Leschak, John Henricksson, Jane Whitledge, Jim Brandenburg, Laurie Allmann, Vernal Bogren Swift, Rosalie Hunt Mellor, Margaret A. Haapoja, Sam Cook, Susan Hawkinson, Douglas Wood.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8787-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Paul Gruchow

    It is easy to trivialize the idea of place. You need simply point out that every creature, animal or vegetable, occupies a place and is attached to it either literally, as in the case of a tree or a barnacle, or has some instinct to defend it, as in the case of a rat or a human; and to add that no known virtue derives from place, despite the odd twentieth-century-American presumption that people who hail from populous or famous places are likely to be smarter, prettier, and more sophisticated than people with obscure addresses. Hence, one might be tempted...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. NORTH FROM DULUTH

    • Postcards from Duluth
      (pp. 3-15)
      Barton Sutter

      I live in Duluth, and I’ve got reasons. Lake Superior is a big one. Twenty-three streams running through town are twenty-three more. The largest natural sandbar in the world is another. And I’m tickled to live in a city where bears wander the streets every fall like country cousins come to town to see the sights.

      Duluth has its cultural attractions, too—everything from a symphony orchestra to one of the best Greek restaurants in Minnesota. And yet I have the impression that many people, if they think of this city at all, consider Duluth a cold kind of joke,...

    • At the Edge of Town: Duluth, Minn.
      (pp. 16-23)
      Carol Bly

      Like all curmudgeons I am devoted to insulting someone’s emotion of a given moment in hopes they will move away from it to a germane but more ethical emotion. For example, curmudgeons know that patriotism and nostalgia are the cheapest emotions there are: bullies, especially, are much given to patriotism and nostalgia. Their eyes fill as Jimmy Stewart keeps Bedford Falls from turning into Pottersville. Their eyes fill when someone drags out the old Brownie 620 snapshots—but the weeper may in the very next hour batter his wife or work out a new legal loophole for his firm, giving...

    • Breaking the Ribbon
      (pp. 24-27)
      Roger K. Blakely

      Lake Superior to the south, woods and bluffs to landward compress society along Highway 61 into a monofilament. A break in the thread of its beadlike towns (as happened when cloudbursts washed out the Caribou Bridge a few years back) maroons people for days, except for untrustworthy backcountry roads.

      So human contacts acquire a scarcity value. Most of the resort owners fraternize; their rivalries defer to their common financial interests. Truckers, mail carriers, school buses deliver precious gossip as a second payload. The speed of traffic, the instantaneity of Duluth TV (snowy without good aerials), the basketball tournaments, 4-H, ice...

    • The North Shore
      (pp. 28-36)
      Sheila Packa

      Love: Highway 61, to the Canadian border, the east violently blue, liquid, crashing on the water-worn ledge of rock, the west, rivers dropping and pines growing deep on the hills and Sawtooth Mountains, and south, behind me like the past.

      Memories: immigrant grandparents who stepped off trains onto platforms made of raw lumber, into northern wilderness, to become farmers who harvested stones, tomatoes, cucumbers. They salted and smoked their trout, whitefish, herring. They boiled coffee with an egg in the pot in their tiny frame houses impaled on chimneys, the woodstove hot in the burning cold. The old-timers talk about...

  6. OUR PLACE IN THE WOODS

    • Where I Ought to Be
      (pp. 39-42)
      Marlon Davidson

      The highest point on the property where I live is an old bare hill with some scrubby sumac and sere grasses. It is shaped like a great breast, and each time I look at it I am reminded that landscapes often look like the human figure in repose, nudes, sleeping giants, pregnant women. Do other people see these reclining figures in the shapes of the earth or do I look for them, manufacture them out of a lifetime of drawing the human figure, considering it, as I do, the ultimate work of the Creator? I do the same thing with...

    • From the Rio Grande to the Rainy
      (pp. 43-52)
      Bobbie Greiner

      A gusty northwest breeze nudges my body as I slowly ascend a nearly vertical ladder. I pause to catch my breath and glance up up toward my goal, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources cupola sitting atop this sixty-five-foot fire tower frame like an eagle’s nest at the top of a tall, thin spruce. It is the first week in May of 1994, fifty-nine degrees—bright, sunny, windy. The as yet leafless popple, birch, and maple surrounding my tower sway in the breeze like long slough grass in rippling water.

      Migrating juncos—plump, satiny gray ground-feeding birds—forage over the...

    • Open Spaces (excerpt)
      (pp. 53-59)
      Jim dale Huot-Vickery

      My hand runs down the shaft of a canoe paddle in my cabin at Hocoka as my trails of power come to mind. It is late winter, after a long freeze-up, and my hopes are strong to visit once again North America’s outback: its natural and wild areas, its national parks, lakeshores, wildlife refuges, and other open spaces.

      Near my paddle are maps. There are maps of the Quetico-Superior canoe country in northeastern Minnesota and adjacent Ontario where I’ve lived eleven years. There are maps of Ontario’s Wabakimi-Kopka country, the Albany River, and waterways further north. There are maps of...

    • Listening for the Esker’s Song
      (pp. 60-65)
      Anne Marie Erickson

      It was late autumn. It was dusk. I was the only person there. A friend had told me about Scenic State Park near Bigfork. “There’s a beautiful trail between two lakes,” she said. On my park map, a small star marked a narrow peninsula called Chase Point, which snaked between Coon and Sandwick Lakes. The legend told me that this is “a unique natural feature.”

      A steep hill crested by tall red and white pines marked the entrance to the peninsula. The path, worn like the steps to an old cathedral, sank between gentle slopes.

      Broad boughs canopied the pathway...

    • The Tourist
      (pp. 66-74)
      Pauline Brunette Danforth

      One day you come across childhood photographs of yourself wearing plastic Indian gear and fluorescent feathers. You are about ten years old in the picture, almost past the age of make-believe, but also too young to question the appropriateness of your getup. Your slight scowl hints at your reluctance in posing.

      Being a thoughtful man now, you contrast this to the Indians you pass sitting in doorways along Franklin Avenue. You drive this Minneapolis street daily on your way to work. Now that winter is over, you’ve noticed many of them walking in small groups, turning their sometimes ravaged faces...

    • Burial
      (pp. 75-82)
      Kent Nerburn

      I am standing before a northern lake on a windswept point of land as a young Indian boy I know is lowered into the earth by his friends and family. It is a strange and lonely funeral—they all are, in their own way. But this boy was a friend of mine, and the loss has struck me with unusual force.

      He was a quiet sort who kept his counsel except to joke occasionally when he was joshed or teased. He had been a boxer, a good one, but had given it up and had taken, as his grandmother told...

  7. THE RED EARTH

    • The Red Dirt Ennobled Their Faces
      (pp. 85-87)
      Jim Klobuchar

      I don’t remember his face, but I do remember his forearms. They were big and hairy and they separated me from three of my best front teeth in a high school football game in northern Minnesota nearly thirty-five years ago.

      He’s a Minneapolis businessman now. Because our tracks carry us in different directions, we haven’t met for years. He telephoned on the pretense of talking about the election. The discussion was perfunctory and not especially profound. He drifted through this and that for a few minutes, and then confided that his father died a few weeks ago. He wasn’t morose...

    • Dear Folks
      (pp. 88-101)
      Matthew Miltich

      Our Old Man told us to say we were Austrian, if asked at school, and it was true that on Grampa’s immigration papers his country of origin was listed as Austria-Hungary. When I told Sister Marita in fourth grade that I was Australian, she gave me a penetrating look and said that didn’t seem possible, I must be mistaken. All I truly knew about our ethnicity was that there seemed some essential difference between our own tribe of happily wild children and the other kids in Grand Rapids during the middle and late 1950s. Dad’s people came from Europe, but...

    • Next Wilderness
      (pp. 102-106)
      Steven R. Downing

      I’m looking here at a landscape of mine dumps, discard mounds, overburden, at the very western end of northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Range. (Mesabi—sleeping giant, the Ojibwe named the red hills, and they didn’t have to translate it for us.) The iron ore streak ran out in this place, a hundred-plus miles southwest of where it started, and the land looks it, looks run out. If that’s what it is.

      From the top of these purple-orange discard mounds you take in a vista blown open and picked over; the lassitude, earth’s faintness, is physical, is yours. You breathe it, smell...

    • What It Means to Be an American in Coleraine, Minnesota
      (pp. 107-118)
      Sharon Miltich

      We grew up knowing that our pristine town on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range had connections to the presidency. Founded by John C. Greenway, former Rough Rider and a friend to Theodore Roosevelt, Coleraine has always been as American as the eagles that still nest in the pine trees out on the peninsula across Trout Lake.

      We have a large red, white, and blue flag made of painted rocks dug into the green hillside overlooking Longyear Park. Until recent years, we had a four-day celebration in honor of Independence Day. Those who lived in Coleraine and those who—like me—called...

  8. NORTH COUNTRY LIVING

    • Women in the Wood Smoke
      (pp. 121-124)
      Donna Salli

      This morning it started to snow. For the first time this season, flakes spiraled across the yard and flew on a brisk diagonal past the picture window. By late afternoon, they’d increased in size and number, and the ground whitened. The towering old pines that give our acreage the look of a cathedral—the pines my ex-woodsman father likes teasingly to put his arms around and say they make him itch to have a crosscut saw—looked, despite their age, a little surprised to be standing there again, ankle deep in it.

      Realizing suddenly that the chill I was feeling...

    • Sugar Bush
      (pp. 125-128)
      Anne M. Dunn

      I remember the crusty snow crunching under our boots as we broke trail into the sugar bush. I remember that the cooking scaffold looked like a lonely skeleton with its arms flung out in welcome.

      Like a grid, the scaffold shadow marked the place where we would build the fire. Digging down’ through the snow and matted leaves, we prepared a fireplace on the rich, dark forest soil. The children had already gathered bundles of dry sticks, which they wigwammed over bits of paper and birch bark. The wigwam was lit on the wind-blown side and fed with larger sticks...

    • The Tree
      (pp. 129-134)
      Jeanne Grauman

      Christmas Eve day was always packed with things to do on our northern Minnesota farm. Even ordinary chores seemed special somehow. We cleaned till things shone like my grandpa’s bald head. We swept, mopped the floors, and dusted all the shelves. The dining room always got the most attention. All the furniture was moved around to make room for the Christmas tree. My Dad or my brother Brad usually got the tree from the back forty. Getting the Christmas tree seemed to be the best job of all. Everyone ooohed, ahhhed, and said what a fine specimen it was. It...

    • Ice Harvest
      (pp. 135-138)
      Justine Kerfoot

      When we carried a bucket of chipped ice to a cabin for evening cocktails, or packed fish in boxes mixed with sawdust and ice, our guests gave little thought to its origin. Our ice did not come in formed blocks from ice machines. We cut it from the lake in midwinter and stored it in our icehouse. The ice we put up in winter was the lodge’s only refrigeration for the entire summer.

      The icehouse was close to the lake because we had to haul twenty-five to thirty tons of ice into it every winter. Icehouses varied in size from...

    • Finding Symmetry in a Rock Pile
      (pp. 139-143)
      Robert Treuer

      It has become increasingly important to me to strive for certain balances in my life, bringing symmetry to everyday living. Much of my work takes place indoors, all the more impelling me out of doors on walks, skis, snowshoes, by canoe. In order to suit me, these activities fit into the woof and warp of the day. Preferably, I would be able to step outside and do what I wish, as work and obligations allow.

      It is the same with physical labor; working with wood, stone, and earth is counterweight to my intellectual pursuits, to the efforts in writing, in...

    • Sugar Camp
      (pp. 144-150)
      Susan Carol Hauser

      Rolland grew up in the log cabin that is our living room. In the 1920s and 1930s, a “tote road,” a wagon trail between towns, cut across the south field and along the east edge of the homestead’s forty acres. Between the tote road and the house stood the grove of trees that is now our sugar bush.

      Rolland and his father did not sugar there. Twenty trees were not worth the effort. Instead they hitched up the horses to the sleigh and went to their sugar camp: west from the house, down the hill to the meadow that is...

    • Everyone Talks about It
      (pp. 151-159)
      Elnora Bixby

      How do you start a conversation in Hawaii? That is, after you’ve said “aloha.” The climate there is always what we would consider perfect. There are no extremes of temperature and no seasons except in name only. I talked to a man last week whose two sons had both been stationed in Hawaii during their military service. Both of them wanted to get back to more inhospitable climates; they didn’t like the monotony of the always perfect weather.

      I’ve never heard that complaint around here. We are so accustomed to inclement weather that without it we would be struck mute...

    • Solid Winter
      (pp. 160-162)
      Jana Studelska

      For those few, precious days when the pine needles sizzle in the sun, when I can smell the hot pitch through the screen windows as I lie reading on a cotton blanket. For the cold blue cords of spring water that wrap up the sides of my brown body and then weightlessly pop me to the lake surface at the edge of my father’s gray cedar dock. For the pink evenings of June, when the light in the western sky seems barely to have left before it has run all the way around the planet and is singing again in...

  9. THE LIVES AROUND US

    • Chickadee Bob
      (pp. 165-169)
      Peter M. Leschak

      Change, of course, can be traumatic. Bob, for instance, lost his tail. It was on a November fourth. I remember because I was helping our friend Rastus secure his boat for the winter. It got down to nine degrees that morning, and there was a rim of ice around the lake. In two weeks there would be one great sheet, and the lake would be sealed for five months.

      We dragged the sixteen-foot Lund far up onto the shore, flipped it over, and chained it to a birch. It was sad duty. The aluminum hull was crusted with frost, the...

    • A Parliament of Owls
      (pp. 170-177)
      John Henricksson

      Barred owls, birds of mystery and the deep silences, are our evanescent companions in this old forest. Likely because of its nocturnal habits, unblinking stare, and weird night noises that penetrate sleep and log walls, the barred owl remains a spectral presence, making its legendary role as death messenger, or omen of tragedy, seem quite believable.

      At the Gunflint cabin we often hear its doleful requiem during the wilderness night but seldom are aware of it during daylight hours. Last year a barred owl visited us regularly in the afterglow of the westering sun and gave us a rare glimpse...

    • Wild Goose Chase
      (pp. 178-180)
      Jane Whitledge

      Every autumn I look up at southbound flocks of geese with a mild feeling of envy, wanting to soar away, to be bound for unknown lakes and ponds, secluded river bends, and wide lonely cornfields. I live in the north woods and spend much of my time in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness with my husband, Doran. Yet even when we’re paddling on a breathtaking northern lake in October, something about geese veeing overhead sets up a pensive yearning that perhaps has nothing to do with places.

      But the day in late October when a lone snow goose...

    • In the Company of Wolves
      (pp. 181-188)
      Jim Brandenburg

      Wildlife photography is always arduous work. It is sometimes lonely, and it is always intense. But some animals can be captured on film much more easily than others. Wolves present a particular set of problems, which is why most wolf photography is done with captive wolf packs placed in natural settings. Wolves are too wary to be fooled by common photographer tricks. Wolves on forested land take advantage of tree cover. They’re secretive and mysterious, and their story is often revealed only by tracks in the snow. But it was my passion, or perhaps my obsession, to photograph wolves in...

  10. IN THE ELEMENTS

    • Sand Lake Peatland, October
      (pp. 191-197)
      Laurie Allmann

      It was in Denmark, 1952. Saturday. The men were out in a bog near the village, cutting squares of peat to use as fuel to heat their homes, when they found the body. They cleared away the cold and sodden peat from around the head and shoulders, and then the legs, until the man was completely free from the bog. They saw that the body was hardly decomposed; he could not have been dead for long. A woman from the village said that she could identify the man. It was Red Christian, she said, a peat cutter she had known...

    • The Bog in Summer
      (pp. 198-199)
      Vernal Bogren Swift

      I am cutting willow in the boggy part of the field. A worn spot on my tall rubber boots allows the still icy water to pass the membrane of rubber and settle in the tiny lake beds between my toes and into the moat between the castle of my ankle and the boot’s inner wall. Because I am standing in midcalf-high bog, the waters inside my boot must ultimately follow the law of physics and rise to the level all around me. It’s not a pleasant thought.

      Each time I raise my new lake bed, the waters inside slosh, and...

    • If It Rains, They Will Come
      (pp. 200-203)
      Rosalie Hunt Mellor

      The day after the Fourth of July, which had been incredibly cold, wet, and dreary, even for northern Minnesota, I sat at my word processor trying vainly to write. Every writer knows those periods when nothing works, so after staring out at the trees writhing in the wind and hearing the intermittent patter of rain, I began to listen. I mean really listen, and I heard voices. They were saying, “If it rains, they will come.” I didn’t have to ask who “they” were. I knew “they” were mushrooms.

      So in rubber boots and raincoat I set forth. Even the...

    • Longing for Little Trout
      (pp. 204-209)
      Margaret A. Haapoja

      The flutelike notes of a red-winged blackbird never fail to conjure up memories of my first fishing trip to Little Trout Lake. A willing neophyte, I was introduced to camping by my husband-to-be back in the days when chaperones were a prudent requirement. My parents accompanied us on that outing, and on many others thereafter.

      Just north of one of Lake Vermilion’s jagged arms, Big Trout Lake lies on the far side of a long portage. Due north and slightly west of Big Trout is Little Trout, our destination. These sister lakes are connected by a narrow creek that twists...

    • Northern Passages
      (pp. 210-212)
      Sam Cook

      My early northern passages were made with paddle and packsack, or on the runners of a dogsled or a pair of cross-country skis.

      I was new in this country—the North Woods—and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to fill in the blank spots on my maps, make the portages I had heard about, follow rivers to Hudson Bay, know how it feels to sleep under the shimmer of northern lights.

      My partners and I were drawn sometimes by the promise of walleyes or lake trout, but just as often by the sheer adventure of seeing what...

    • Traveling Light
      (pp. 213-214)
      Susan Hawkinson

      Taking a canoe trip is the freest I ever feel. Everything my partner and I need for the next nine days is in the canoe. Adequate food but not extra, a lightweight compact stove and ration of fuel, two small pots, two cups, two teaspoons, a stirring spoon and jack-knife, two paddles with a spare, a tent and tarp, a few changes of clothing, rain gear and life jackets. No saw, shovel, or frying pan. No rod, bait, or fish batter. A slim book, a small notepad, a pen. And, of course, the maps.

      The last several trips we have...

    • By the Fire
      (pp. 215-218)
      Douglas Wood

      The day is easing into night, dishes are done, wet shoes sizzle by the campfire. Probably ought to move them back a bit. Or at least turn them. Nah, they’re okay. For a little while, at least.

      I remember waiting too long, once, on a spring fishing trip. I got a good blaze going in a tennis shoe. One of the guys remarked, “I believe your shoe is on fire.” It was. I grabbed it by the toe and heaved it toward the lake. It made a long fiery arc across the night sky, trailing a tail like a meteor,...

  11. Contributors
    (pp. 219-226)
  12. Permissions and Publication Histories
    (pp. 227-228)