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Magnetic North - January 24

Magnetic North 1/23/18
Commuting by Memory
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where warmer weather had folks walking about outside in shirtsleeves until it plunged back down near zero, The change in temperature is nowhere more visible than when driving Hwy 61 along the lake, which, just a week ago looked more like a huge steaming cauldron than a body of water.
 
Sub-zero air teased clouds of mist off the big lake, sending droplets of water that may have been there for hundreds of years on a new journey over the land. It was gorgeous to watch, as the last of the great lakers sailed close to shore, bound for port Duluth. Imagining what life must be like out there on those icy decks makes me shiver. I hear the crews eats like royalty, but still....
 
There are many familiar markers and memories along that 15 mile stretch of highway between home and town. For example, there’s one scraggly alder bush that continues to amaze me with every passing winter. She is remarkable enough to have kept her footing on the shallow soil, rooted as she is within a scant ten feet of the water’s edge. But this time of year she stands encased in ice, buffeted by waves and wind. The weight of all that ice would seem a crushing burden, but year after year she bears it. Thawing and leafing out when spring comes again. So many times I promise myself to take a picture of her in her ice cloak. But I needn’t really. 
 
As I pass one place after another on my drive, I recall past scenes more clearly than any camera could capture.
 
There is the beach across from the Outpost Motel, where once I chased an injured snow goose for close to an hour in a vain attempt to rescue her. A friend helped, but each time we got close to the creature she would flap her great buff grey wings, and hobble into a large drainage pipe that ran under the road onto the beach. Finally, I gave up. I told myself that this was “her time,” and all that rot. But each time I pass that beach, the scene plays out again. And so do my regrets.
 
Then there is the seasonal waterfall near to Five Mile Rock, where, on a bright Sunday morning on my way to church, a deer ran in front of my car with a wolf hot on its tail. Again, I was in rescue mode, pulling my car over and hitting the horn. The wolf, stopped for a bit, just long enough for the deer to bound away uphill. And another few blasts of my horn sent the predator loping off in the opposite direction from his prey.  Again, as I pass that spot, I often play out the scenario, this time with a satisfied feeling. 
 
Then there is the ditch alongside the highway in Tofte that conjures up a particularly vivid memory. Paul and I were headed for Duluth one day when we spied a deer carcass on the lake side of the road. We saw also that there were a fair number of happy critters dining on it., lined up along it’s body like a family at a picnic table. There were four of them, three bright black ravens and one furry red fox, all chewing and pecking away at their treasure, the very picture of a peaceable kingdom. Now THAT would have been a photo I would have paid good money to get.
 
Five Mile Rock is my favorite memory spot on the commute. It is the place where my late friend, John Anderson, wished to have his ashes aimed. That’s right, aimed. You see, John’s friend, Chuck owns a small canon, which he hauls out and shoots off on special occasions. Doesn’t everybody? Anyway, when John saw his end approaching, he asked Chuck to load his cremates into the canon and shoot them in the direction of Five Mile Rock on July 4th.
 
It wasn’t just the spectacle, John was an avid fisherman, so to be shot into a body of water he had often plied for fish was a brilliant wish. Many of John’s friends gathered that July 4th at a home on the bluff just above Five Mile Rock. Chuck had alerted law enforcement of his plans, and a good thing too. For just as he aimed the canon full of ashes at the rock, a small fishing craft motored abreast of the target area. Well, we all knew there was no cannonball in the thing. And we knew that Chuck was not a man to dilly dally around until the fishermen decided to quit the rock. But the fellows in the boat were missing some of this vital information.
 
When the blast from the canon came, we all cheered. Then we howled with laughter as the little boat stood practically on end motoring full speed away. Rumor had it that they called the law and I would have given anything to have heard that conversation. “What do you mean he had permission?”  As the saying goes, “Welcome to Cook County!”
 
All in all, it was perfect sendoff for John, a man who loved a good laugh as much as anyone I ever knew.
 
There are more places, more memories along those miles I drive so often: a runaway pot belly pig, a sudden ditching on black ice, the eagles, my spirit animal, flying overhead every single time I went to get chemotherapy in Duluth. So many odd, funny, mystical scenes playing out over and over. And, like a favorite movie or tune, they never, ever get old.
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North
 
 

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