Summer drives in unfamiliar territory

Summer road construction is in full swing
Summer road construction is in full swing

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Welcome back to Magnetic North, a place so spectacularly wonderful that human beings will put themselves through summer road construction hell numerous times just to be here for a matter or hours or days. Driving anywhere for pleasure in the summer in this state is what my adult daughter would call counterintuitive. Or, in plain English, bat crazy!

Bad enough that everyone who owns wheels is out on the roads and, for the most part, driving as if they are either drugged or in dire need of a restroom. Add to that the ubiquitous orange cones dotting the shoulders of every freeway and donkey path in the state - icons for the phrase “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Paul and I have had several unavoidable trips to the Twin Cities this summer. Memorial services for dear friends. Sad times that inexplicably turn into delightful hugs and conversations with those we haven’t seen for ages. We end up smiling more often than not. A nice thing, given that we had to navigate through the massive redo of the Duluth freeway, the unannounced closing of our exit in the cities near midnight on a stifling hot night and a torrential downpour as we returned via Duluth during the hour when lightning took out the lift bridge between Park Point and the city. And, because as we all know so well, God has a really big sense of humor, yes, the bridge was in the “up” position at the time.

In-between construction delays and detours to places that aren’t on any map, we can relax and enjoy the scenery. Until someone realizes that we’ve passed the same lake or cabin or pile of Red Bull cans twice in the past hour. This is no biggy....unless the driver is male. What is that about anyway? Asking for directions apparently is akin to admitting one is lost. So does lost equal loser?

I am the designated driver in our marriage and so, when I got lost last month somewhere near Two Island Lake and The Grade, I promptly admitted it. Paul seemed unconcerned. He loves to drive the back roads of Cook County.  Coincidentally, though, just as I was plotting my next wrong turn, I came upon a shiny blue sport car at an intersection with two guys and most of the contents of the Cabela’s catalog crammed inside.

The older of the two, the dad and driver, was looking both ways and the son had what appeared to be a wall map open.

I lowered my window and smiled at the driver. He pretended not to see me. So I honked my horn and shouted, “Are you lost?”

The man was trapped. “Well, we might be,” he said, at last lowering his window. “Daaaaa-aaad,” the boy croaked. “Ask her if we are anywhere near the Gunflint Trail!”

As badly as I wanted to say, “Oh, you mean back in Minnesota?” or “Define near,” I answered politely, “Just minutes away.” And I gave them explicit directions back to the Trail.

As we parted company with the visitors, Paul looked puzzled. “How come you could give them directions but we are lost?’ he asked.

“Well, I may not know where I am,” I replied. “But I know where I came from.” That struck me as the essence of summer driving. Especially in rural and remote areas like ours.  So often, I hear tourist complain that they drove miles and miles without seeing any signs indicating what road they might be on. Worse, a road might be called Bear Paw Path, but the gal at the bait shop tells you head for The Old Dump Road. Methinks that’s what happened to the boy and his dad on The Grade.

All this wouldn’t faze a true North Shore aficionado. Only heat and humidity the likes of which they planned to leave behind in the cities can do that. Uh, oh. This summer might just have wrecked that myth. Yes, some of my friends DO have air conditioners. And when summer comes with road work and lost boys and their fathers, some Cook County residents actually leave the country! After all, Canada’s only one culvert replacement two asphalt overlayments  and three “Reduced Speed Work Zone” signs away.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, all is well. Summer the llama has run away twice in the past week. She is for sale. The White Chinese goose gosling is all white, no more yellow down, but still peeping, not honking. The young mallards are flying around the house and over the pond. Maybe they’ll actually land in it one day. Harte, my Alpine goat is putting out two quarts of milk a day. Too much for us to drink. And the cashmere goats’ winter fleece is coming in. Even in this heat!

All in all, the summer has been better than good. We can’t call it great. Not with two memorial services behind us and one to go this weekend. The world without dear friends, those who make up our notion of not just where we are but who we are, is a different place. A bit unfamiliar. Slightly off. And because of that, our journey, through all the seasons we have left will be....well, different.

In Minnesota Speak, that means it’ll be “OK, but could be better.” God bless you, “Super” and Paulus and Frank. We miss each one of you so doggone much.

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