The word "North" conjures up all kinds of images in a human's mind. Words like Santa Claus, Eskimo, tundra, ice, polar bears, below zero, muskeg, musk ox, caribou, igloo, northern lights and more decorate the mind when you hear the word "north."
"North" is an exotic word to many. You'll see it starting to be used in this publication. Our Neck of the Woods is published in the "north." Not on some sunny California beach or Caribbean Island, it is written, edited and distributed in the "north".
I grew up in "north"west Iowa. Be it far from a natural pine tree or glacial lake, I still felt better knowing that the place of my birth had the word "north" in it. Maybe that feeling came from the fact that I heard my parents and grandparents frequently mention going "up north" to get away from the awful Iowa July and August heat. My dad had spent four years in India during WWII and he had nothing good to say about heat. In fact, he liked to remember that all he could think of during one of those humid, monsoon days was a snowbank in the "north."
Dad had visited the north country with a buddy before the war. They had found a rustic cabin on a small lake somewhere north of Brainerd. He forever remembered the cool night breezes, the fresh scent of pine and the sound of the water that lapped at the shores of that little lake. I'm sure those thoughts kept him going during some of those Indian heat waves. When he got back home, it took him sixteen years on the farm before I was deemed old enough to take care of milking the cows and taking care of the farm so that he was able to experience a real week away and he and the family headed "north".
Little did Dad know that heading north of Brainerd at the peak of tourist season was a little chancy when it came to finding a place to stay. Things had changed since his pre-WWII visit. More people were now vacationing in the north. With mom and four kids huddled in the 1959 Chevy, they drove from one resort to another only to find all of them full of vacationers. The sun was beginning to sink in the west when he stumbled into a rest stop, still with no place to stay for the night. Things were turning critical. A car with no air conditioning, full of kids and a wife in the July heat was beginning to wear on all of them. They even had talked about possibly turning back and making the seven hour trip back home.
A man at the rest stop took pity on this carload of lost Iowegians and gave them a tip. They might just find a cabin at a resort called Hoosier's Resort on Sibley Lake. It was a long shot, but with no other choice, that's where this bunch of voyageurs headed with a trunk full of food, clothing and fishing gear. They pulled into the sandy front yard and were met by a slender, well-built man by the name of Ernie Rush. Soon Ernie's wife Cleta joined them. Yes, they did have one two-bedroom cabin left and since the family had already exhausted all other choices, the deal of a week's stay was made. For the next ten years the family vacationed in that little, bare-stud walled cabin with an outhouse out back.
I must digress a bit here. Thinking about the family hauling most of their grocery needs with them "up north," I have to relate a little story that circulates from time to time referring to my former Iowa cohorts. It was said that we were so frugal that we used to take a live chicken along with us on these northern trips. That permitted us to eat fresh eggs all week. Then, on the last day of the stay, we ate the chicken. I always chuckle when I hear that story. I'm afraid it's closer to the truth than I like to think.
When the family returned from the trip, refreshed and with a limit of filleted crappies and bass, I was allowed to take the same trip. I hooked up with my neighbor Norman and my cousin Bob and we were off. None of us had been much farther north than the northern Iowa border and this might have just as well been a trip to Switzerland. Dreams of huge walleyes and northern pike swam through our heads on nights before our trip.
We were welcomed by Ernie and Cleta as we pulled into the resort. Ernie excited us by saying that the fish had really been biting. If there is anything sweeter than honey to a fisherman, those words are it. We excitedly unpacked our gear into the little cabin, rented a 5 horsepower outboard motor, hooked it onto the white painted wooden boat and headed out on a lake we had never seen. The smell of the pines, the smell of the fresh water, the sound of water splashing against the side of the boat were all new to us. We knew we were "up north." It was a completely different environment than the one we had grown up in.
The next morning dawned foggy. One couldn't see across the lake at five a.m. Suddenly there came a sound that I thought might be a moose. It was a long, wavering sound with a trill at the end. Whatever that sound came from I told myself it must be BIG! It was the first time I had ever heard a loon call. When I first spied the low floating bird in front of the cabin I had a hard time believing that a bird could make such a loud, haunting, long call. There were no loons in Iowa. They only flew over in the dark of night heading for the "north."
Long story short, I and my family ended up moving to the "north." Selling the farm enabled us to purchase a small resort and it is still operating, mostly to seasonal renters. The cabins feature bare stud walls, no Internet, no Wi-Fi. We do have a sandy beach, water lapping at the shoreline, loons calling and flying overhead and a walleye or two in the lake. We don't have polar bears, igloos or musk ox, but we have a beautiful piece on this spinning earth.
I live "up north." I'm not going anywhere.