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Of Woods And Words: How to Meet Your Neighbors


FinalCut_OWW_20100901.mp38.1 MB
In the summer, in the woods, solitude can feel like an illusion. During the winter, just a handful of people live on our bay and life unfolds quietly, as if on your own whim. But come Memorial Day, all the cabins along the road fill to capacity, boats come whizzing in and out of the bay and each week brings a new barking dog in the neighboring rental cabin. As everyone gets away from it, we end up in the middle of it.
Neighborhoods are funny things in a rural area. As soon as I reach Grand Marais on a drive back home from somewhere, I consider myself home although I still have another hour drive before I reach the cabin where I live. People who live 25 miles off from us are called neighbors. Yet the people who live on the same bay, literally next door to us, have largely remained enigmas. Truth be told, we’re never down at the beach roasting weenies and marshmallows with actual neighbors; instead we hang out with people who had to travel a distance to see us.
Over the course of this summer, I learned the names of our neighbors, even learned to recognize them, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever had a conversation with any of them. We all exist in our own teeny, rarely overlapping worlds. Sometimes in the North Woods it takes something momentous to pull people together.
Take the events of last Monday, for example . . . . 
It started out as just another hot, muggy day. When Andy called to see if I wanted a ride home I jumped at the chance to be spared yet another sticky trek back to the cabin. It was the end of the work week and I putzed around getting everything in order, waiting for Andy to arrive. Then the phone rang. “I can’t come,” said Andy. “There’s a semi-truck stuck in the road.”
The road we live on is kind of the epitome of cabin roads which have been grandfathered in. The road cuts far too close to the lake in several spots, there are hills like rollercoasters on it, and there’s barely space for two cars to squeeze past each other on the gravel road, let alone room for a semi. But building materials had to get into a site on the road last Monday and so the 18-wheel truck came barreling up the road. The truck did all right for a while, but then the driver attempted to turn around and ended up getting wedged up one of the road’s small hills.
The truck was still decidedly stuck when I walked past on my way home from work. For a while all the neighbors tried not to gawk. But the driver and his companion appeared in fairly good spirits about the whole predicament, and one by one we all emerged from our houses to go stand in the road to watch just how they were going to get this massive truck off our tiny road.
By the time the semi was finally freed three hours after it had gotten stuck, the peanut gallery of neighbors had grown to six members, not to mention the two other neighbors helping free the huge vehicle. We watched with unchecked interest and, at times, disbelief, as the truck’s trailer was unloaded, the truck was pulled forward with chains and two vehicles and eventually the trailer was righted on the road using an ancient road grader. Interspersed with each peanut gallery member’s personal commentary on the whole situation were introductions and handshakes. By the time the semi roared off, it had turned into a regular neighborhood meet and greet in the middle of the road. In the end, we each headed off to our own place around the bay thinking, ‘That was kind of nice, we should do that again soon.’ Well, except for the part that involves a semi-trailer blocking off all traffic on our road.
Airdate: September 1, 2010