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Letters from Side Lake

Letters from Side Lake: A Chronicle of Life in the North Woods

PETER M. LESCHAK
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttg5b
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  • Book Info
    Letters from Side Lake
    Book Description:

    After a brief taste of urban life, and convinced that nothing equaled the formidable challenge of life in the heart of the vast woods, Peter M. Leschak returned to northern Minnesota. Letters from Side Lake chronicles the marvelous range of adventures and reflections-described with thoughtfulness and humor-springing from his pioneer-like existence. In Leschak’s unique voice and beautifully crafted style, Letters from Side Lake captures the great pleasures and rugged feats and hardships of North Woods living. “Each entry in the delightful book is a treat. Every word rings with the sincerity of a life richly and fully lived. Anyone who has ever dreamed of forsaking the impersonality and hubbub of modern living will revel in Leschak’s stories.” --Library Journal

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8502-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. One The Emerald City
    (pp. 1-7)

    How many times have you seen the movieThe Wizard of Oz? Well, I recently saw it yet again, and the old magic has tarnished only a little. Once again I enjoyed watching my favorite scene (besides the Munchkin town, that is): Dorothy and her odd menagerie of companions have just emerged from the gloomy forest, and across a vast and enchanting field of flowers they can see the magnificent Emerald City, the focus of all their hopes and dreams. For them it is a joyous moment, filled with happy expectations.

    But since I know the story, it is a...

  4. Two Log Walls, Big Dipper
    (pp. 8-21)

    Returning home was a tricky business. I had idealized the land, fondly recalling things as they never really were. Outdoor scenes were not as brilliant as imagined in vivid Technicolor on a drab and rainy metropolitan afternoon.

    It could have been disappointing, but I had a new perspective. was Pam’s, and through her eyes I could see northern Minnesota as something new. She was born and raised in Louisiana, and we’d been married for less than a year when I returned home live in the woods. We arrived in late December, a few days before a wicked blizzard, the worst...

  5. Three Battleground
    (pp. 22-28)

    This nation is too civilized. That sad fact is evident when you look at almost any gardening book. Go ahead, pick one off the shelf at random. Turn to the first chapter and begin reading. Do you see the great assumption, the crucial article of faith that is invariably taken for granted?

    It’s hard to see at first, because most of us are long divorced from the wilderness. That’s a hint. For what is assumed is the pre-existence of the garden plot itself. Oh, some books talk about soil building, organic fertilization, and such, but it’s still considered a given...

  6. Four A Gift of Ice
    (pp. 29-41)

    A house rises slowly. A home, hand built and stained with the sweat (and a little of the blood) of those who will live in it, even slower. We had plenty of time to wander down to the lake and watch for loons and beaver.

    We discovered there were a number of dead aspens lying near the edge of the muskeg, the broken residue of a vicious storm which had torn through the stand a few years before. In my “spare” time I bucked them up into four-foot lengths and constructed a crude corduroy path across fifty feet of spongy...

  7. Five Fire!
    (pp. 42-50)

    The truth is, we don’t often need the President in Side Lake. Oh, it’s nice to know that he’s off in distant and ethereal Washington, hand on the tiller of the executive branch, taking credit or blame for the United States as a whole, but we don’t deal much with the Feds, at least not directly. (Of course most everyone is on the mailing list of the IRS.)

    We have township government in Side Lake, a political entity that many modern Americans associate with the eighteenth century, or with dinosaurs. We’re not the incarnation of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of virtuous...

  8. Six Beasts of Burden
    (pp. 51-74)

    The best thing about log walls is the way they feel. Not to your fingertips (though it is nice to run a hand along the smooth, tung-oiled trunks); it’s the way they feel in your mind. Like this:

    I’m nestled into an old, familiar rocker, my feet aimed at the wood stove. Next to the stove lies an elderly, overweight golden retriever, evenly breathing in deep sleep. The cat is a soft, warm bundle in my lap, her tail over her eyes. A good book is cradled in my hands; I may read it. Pam is comfortable on the couch,...

  9. Seven The Quest and the Kill
    (pp. 75-96)

    There is a time for rifles. Though I’ve never met a deer I wanted to kill, I couldn’t pass up the novelty (in this day and age) of a canoe-wilderness moose hunt. It seemed like something a person who lives in a log cabin should do, at least once.

    I can picture the ornate calligraphy on the parchment for The Exalted North woods Rites of Initiation into the Amateur Order of Frontier People. It reads:

    1.Construct cabin(native trees).

    2.Muse in front of wood stove(Lincolnesque thoughts).

    3.Hunt moose(surviving to muse further).

    4.Eat moose(food...

  10. Eight Telling Tales
    (pp. 97-105)

    The narrow road is impassable, the spring runoff rendering it soft and pulpy. Rastus has buttressed the worst spot with aspen logs, laying down a crude section of corduroy road over a mudhole. It looks like a forsaken stretch of the Burma Road. In reality it’s his driveway, over a quarter mile through the woods and across a field.

    Long, and often regrettable, experience with local “driveways” convinces us we should hike in. Sooch figures his four-wheeldrive pickup could barrel through, but not without generating an ugly set of ruts. That is taboo. Backwoods etiquette demands that you treat a...

  11. Nine Wide-Screen Window
    (pp. 106-121)

    We fought over the windows. Pam and I each held firm opinions about the design of the house, and the amount of glass to be used became a bone of contention.

    Championing energy efficiency, I maintained that our windows should be few and small, sacrificing light for R-value. I preached, at length, about thermal transmittance.

    “Don’t be a pane,” she replied, and then deflated the bravado of the energy crisis with one succinct but paradoxical argument: The winters are long, dark, and cold. Therefore we spend much more time indoors and we need large windows so we can enjoy the...

  12. Ten The Pitfalls of Self-Reliance
    (pp. 122-132)

    Even for a shaman, the philosophical thread connecting blueberries, chain saws, and driven wells may not be instantly apparent. However, for anyone who dreams of “living off the land,” these things can help to weave a tangled web of frustration. Of course I don’t know anyone who actually lives that way—independent of the modern economic infrastructure. Since the advent ofThe Whole Earth Catalog and The Mother Earth Newsin the late 1960s and early ’70s, a number of folks have tried it, or thought they did. The majority of these people realized that unless they desired to crawl...

  13. Eleven Firewood Follies
    (pp. 133-137)

    A key component of self-reliance is selfdefense. We have police protection in Side Lake, but it can sometimes take a while for the county sheriff to arrive at the scene. Therefore most people are prepared to defend themselves and their property, and are suitably equipped to do so. Fortunately, most local crime waves are instigated by skunks, field mice, or bears, and even if we had 911 service, it would be fruitless to call.

    But on one of those rare occasions when a genuine human misdeed was going down, I found that righteous indignation and bluff are sometimes all that’s...

  14. Twelve Chinook
    (pp. 138-148)

    It was 50 degrees below zero. But I didn’t need the thermometer to tell me we were into some grim weather. It was hard to breathe outside. When I inhaled that stinging, splintery air, I coughed; and I don’t smoke. The night was viscous and still, laden with skin-burning, tree-cracking arctic cold. The sky was clear and the stars were brilliant, hard and untwinkling; sharp points of icy light.

    Inside, our two wood stoves roared. Despite the constant feeding of seasoned birch and aspen, the stoves were just holding their own. The temperature in the living room hovered tentatively at...

  15. Thirteen Other Waters
    (pp. 149-159)

    The rivers open up first, their treacherous ice dissolving into the freshening currents. While lakes are still locked up with dark and dying floes, you can slip your canoe into the river and paddle toward summer. The first canoe ride of the year is a rebirth, a flowing and gliding passage out of the deep womb of winter. The water is very cold, a degree away from ice, but it is water. It’s free to absorb sunlight; it’s free to make waves.

    We say a river has a source, that it springs out of something else. In a word, it...

  16. Fourteen The Incomplete Angler
    (pp. 160-164)

    There is more to rivers than adventure, excitement, and fun. There’s also fishing.

    I don’t fish as much as most of my neighbors do. You see, I had an unfortunate experience as a youngster: one day I caught nine fat walleyes in a matter of minutes. Recovery has been slow.

    The main thing about fishing is that there are as many theories and axioms about technique and style as there are people who fish. Many are contradictory. Listening to fishermen is like listening to philosophers—just more confusing. It would be nice if they were more like physicists, working at...

  17. Fifteen The Dark Side of Nature
    (pp. 165-179)

    I can see it in the headlights, fluttering and doing little loops in the air. It’s a long way off but we're closing in on each other rapidly as I cruise down the highway. What a welcome sight as it dances through the halogen beams and then shoots over the hood of the car. Splat! Spring is smeared on the windshield. It’s the first squashed bug of the year. Many people wait longingly for the first robin melodies or for the first glimpse of an out-of-state license plate, but one of the surest signs of approaching warmth and sunlight is...

  18. Sixteen Surprises
    (pp. 180-190)

    Life in the north woods falls into a seasonal pattern. There’s a time for woodcutting, a time for wood burning; a time for planting tomatoes, a time to hide them from the frost; a time to hunt for deer, a time to hunt for ticks; a time to plug in your vehicle, a time to unplug your sinuses. The climatic extremes enforce a certain regularity of yearly events that allows for little deviation. For instance, if you put out those tomato plants in mid-May, you may certainly kiss them goodbye. Old misanthropic Jack Frost has booked several more gigs before...

  19. Seventeen October Tale
    (pp. 191-196)

    There was something dead in the woods. From the dirt road I could see three ravens perched at the top of aspen saplings. Three more of the large black scavengers circled overhead, hoarsely croaking. No doubt there were more on the ground, feeding. A flock would not gather for a dead rabbit; there was something big in there.

    What kind of carcass would draw so many ravens? Deer? Moose? Bear? Or, you had to wonder . . . human? It was early October and there were hunters in the woods. This was wild country, isolated and often unforgiving.

    The birds...