Paul Bunyan sat in the dim lighted cabin with a puzzled look on his rugged, half-shaven face. He was doing his annual Christmas shopping list and it wasn't getting any easier for this huge lumberman.
Paul did his shopping close to home in places with names like Pine River, Hackensack, Longville, Crosslake, Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point and Nisswa. These were towns built around the tall timber where Paul made his reputation along with his faithful sidekick, Babe. Babe stood outside Paul's rough hewn log cabin, gazing through the window pane at Paul sitting on his wooden bench, quill pen in hand. Once in awhile Paul would scratch down a few words on a piece of white paper birchbark.
Over the years Paul's shopping list had changed. The gifts he had given over the years had changed to reflect the times. It was easy to buy a new pair of heavy wool socks, a hefty red and black plaid wool shirt, or perhaps a pair of lumberman pants. But, the younger crowd didn't seem to get the same thrill out of opening a package of red bandannas or a brightly striped pair of suspenders. One year Paul gave a brand new, shiny axe to all his nephews and nieces. They were delighted, and Paul sat back contentedly drawing on his pipe, watching their excited faces when they opened their prizes. They didn't seem to appreciate such gifts in the modern day.
Now-a-days it seemed that technology had crept into gift giving. Paul saw advertisements in the local paper featuring things called cell phones, ear buds, laptops, iPhone watches and things called Kindles. He asked himself what good any of these things would be to someone working in the tall timber. You couldn't cut a tall tree down with something called an earbud. A laptop wouldn't keep you warm when it was 30 below zero with a north wind howling down your neck. Paul was puzzled by these modern conveniences.
Snow had begun to fall at a fast clip and Paul could see that the trail out front the cabin was rapidly drifting shut. If he was to complete his shopping list tonight, he'd have to hitch Babe to the sleigh and get busy. Babe pushed through the chest deep drifts out to the main road where the two were met with the first snowplow of the season. Babe followed the plow down the now cleared road into town. Twice the plow became bogged down in the deep drifts, but with just a nudge from Babe's broad forehead the plow was freed and the driver waved in appreciation for the push.
All of the north country towns Paul roamed through stayed open throughout the long northern winters, serving their customer's every need. He bought feed and hay for Babe from a store in Pine River. He bought hardware there as well and he had a favorite barber in Pine River who trimmed his huge beard with a hedge trimmer. He bought a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant in Hackensack for his beloved Lucette. Lucette really liked the twenty-four ounce Porterhouse steak they served there. Crossing over the Pine River into Crosslake Paul found a new snowblower for his long lost nephew who hated shoveling snow by hand. Traveling south to Breezy Point, Paul bought two weeks in a timeshare for his aunt in Alaska so she could come down and thaw out near the indoor pool in January. Making his way back home, Paul stopped in Nisswa and Pequot Lakes to pick up a few fishing lures and a Mary Etta's pie for his uncle who loved pecan pie.
All the towns in the north country were brightly lit for the coming holidays. Each light pole was adorned with colorful lights and the little stores all glimmered with tinsel and decorations. Even with a snowstorm raging, the merchants stayed open and some of them even offered Paul hot apple cider and a freshly baked cookie or two. Paul’s chosen gifts were cheerfully wrapped by the merchants and soon the sled was full of brightly colored gift boxes. Paul threw a tarp over his pile of gifts to keep them snow-proof, climbed aboard and gave Babe the order to head on home.
Paul thought how lucky he was to live in this part of the pine country where the small town service was still around. He no longer wore the puzzled look on his face as he had found just the right gift for everyone on his list.
Christmas Eve came and found Paul sitting among all his family as they unwrapped his gifts. He sat back in his huge rocker, gently puffing on that big black pipe and smiling as his youngest niece opened her package of new earbuds and gave out a squeal of pleasure. Somehow Paul knew she would enjoy them more than a pair of thick, wool socks. It was Christmas time in the North Country. It was, and is, a special winter place.