Roots


Somehow, where a person grows up defines them. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. 

At my recent checkup, my doctor asked whether I had made any trips to third world countries lately. I jokingly said “Indiana, to visit my sister”. He asked where I was originally from and when I said Minnesota, he seemed satisfied. “That makes sense, because why would she move to Indiana if you were from the East coast?” Then he apologized in a lighthearted way for his prejudicial view on what he considered a “downward” move. I laughed and said it was no big deal, my husband has felt the same way since I met him. He considered New England to be the proverbial promised land. 

New Englanders aren’t the only ones guilty of an inordinate pride based solely on geographic location.  On the highway which slithers northward along Lake Superior toward Canada, there stood a billboard blazing the words, “Tired of the rat race?” I discovered recently that piece of advertising shaped my entire view on where to live. I’ve always felt that the “smart ones” escape big city life to settle in some remote northern territory. A place paradisaic in beauty during the summer, but barely habitable in winter due to massive snow banks and deadly wind chills. These are the ones who were living their hamster wheel lives, but one day while fishing on a northern lake during their one week of vacation, they decide it’s not worth it.  They decide to quit fighting the traffic snarls on their way to a dog-eat-dog corporate job in the city. Why wait until retirement to enjoy nature every day?

I was not one of those “smart ones” trickling in from the nearest big city. I was lucky enough to have been born there. I didn’t have to learn my lesson the hard way. I was already in God’s country, and only I was going to choose where and when to leave. 

Researchers have pinpointed a connection between our sense of smell and our memory. A few years ago on a family road trip we drove through Wisconsin in summer. The smell of the wildflowers and fresh mown grass along the country highway took me instantly back to my childhood. It felt strange to have my senses supersede conscious thought and transport me bodily to a time and place I didn’t know I had forgotten. No gourmet dinner could smell better. No luscious perfume could have delighted me more. In that moment of recognition I became “me” in a way I hadn’t felt in decades. 

I feel enriched for having these realizations about my roots. Would I have had them without leaving? Maybe not. Each place I have moved has set off a new evolution of self within me. I first seek to understand and fit in with the locals. At some point I discover some fundamental way I differ. Unconsciously, I analyze whether this difference is something I like and agree with or not. At some still further point I inevitably find a difference between myself and my new abode that I refuse to assimilate. I then go through a rebellion of sorts, as I stubbornly assert my own identity shaped by my home. 

I’ve come to welcome this process. Even though some of it can be painful in the moment.  It’s part of what makes travel and moving so positive. It has helped me learn about myself in ways that would never have been possible. The only problem with this is people who understand my perspective have become fewer and farther between. 

The other day we were walking on a quiet street in Pawtucket and saw a home for sale. I wondered aloud what it might cost (this curiosity comes from having a builder husband). My friend asked whether we would consider buying a home there. I said probably not. We would be more likely to look for a place in a quieter area. She couldn’t understand what more I could be looking for. Only 2 cars had driven by on that street in 30 minutes. She said, “that’s only because you come from ultra wilderness.” I agreed. 

When I get near a lake, any lake, my whole being exhales and each muscle releases all accumulated tension. The waves greet the shore with a display of sound and reflected light that changes by the moment. The sky meets water like a friend and opens up to reveal it’s beauty, whether it be breathtaking sunsets or enigmatic cloud formations or pinpricks of star shine on a blanket of blackness. Each season displays it’s own shade of blue in sky and water. Each day has it’s own mood ranging from introspective stillness to raging froth. And when I slide into the water, it envelops me like a womb, and I am home. 

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Man vs nature

The power in something so commonplace as snow and ice is really awe inspiring. And you’ve got to respect that if you want to survive the struggle.

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This was a classic man vs. nature kind of day.

We’re up north at the summer cabin in Rangeley Maine. It’s unseasonably warm. In fact our thermometer says 50°F! You would think on a day like this nature would be on your side. Well think again!
All started off well. Our plan was to drive the snowmobile to town and load it into the truck before the lake became too slushy in the warmth and sunshine. So first we played around a little, not wanting the fun to be over. We pulled our older daughter in the sled behind the snowmobile (the little one is still scared of the noise and speed). We cross country skied in the track. We took pictures. Grandpa (my father in law, who is in his 80s) even came out and played! The temperature rose, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, and it was time to get the snowmobile brought in for this trip. So, my husband heads for town over the lake while I go to the truck at the street.

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Here begins the struggle! 

The driveway is a sheet of ice and the tires are just spinning in place. The warm temperatures, combined with the fact that the empty, rear wheel drive Ford pickup has no weight in the back causes our first problem. I can’t pull out of the slight incline of our driveway onto the road. I try calling my husband to let him know I’m stuck, but he’s tooling around the lake with the snowmobile, killing time while he waits and doesn’t hear his phone.

So I’m from Minnesota. I kinda sorta have an idea what to do in these situations. But I’m also feeling a deep sense of self doubt. Will I do the right thing? Will I be able to get the truck out without my husband’s help? I start to dig and chip at the ice under the tires. I get the bucket of sand from inside the cabin, and my father in law comes to help.

With a lot of dirt and a lot of digging, my father in law and I are again ready to attempt getting the truck out. He gets behind the wheel, while I stand in the bed (for weight). After a crazy, tire peeling, snowbank bouncing ride, we have the truck up on the road. For the moment I feel relieved.

Meanwhile, I try calling my husband again. And now he hears his phone. . . because the snowmobile broke down!

Struggle number 2 has started already unbeknownst to me.

The snowmobile broke out on the ice, about a mile and a half from town. By the time we talk, a friendly rider has taken pity on my husband trudging on foot across the frozen lake and given him a ride into town. Help is on the way, a local snowmobile shop has sent some guys to tow our snowmobile back into town.

I gather some supplies for hoisting the snowmobile into the truck, but that part ends up being surprisingly easy. The guys tow the snowmobile up onto a tall snowbank and we are able to push it right into the bed of the truck.

All ended well by lunch time, but not without a lot of anxiety, a lot of man power, some cash spent, and quite a bit of damage to the truck and snowmobile.

The main reason for our visit to the summer cabin in the middle of winter to begin with, was to shovel the snow off the roof to prevent collapse.

So all of this got me thinking. To survive in the north woods, a person’s got to have some grit, perseverance, and resilience. The power in something so commonplace as snow and ice is really awe inspiring. And you’ve got to respect that if you want to survive the struggle.

When you pit man vs nature, nature is always stronger. My shoulders and back have been telling me this since we got here and started digging a hole in a snow and ice bank 5 feet deep for our parking spot.

But if you stay on nature’s good side, you might survive with a story to tell. And somehow, you’ll end up feeling grateful to nature for giving you that much.