A Hole in the World: Lonesome Crowded Lake Country

Of course this banishment from a steady economy comes with dark consequences. Drugs and alcohol fuel the Northwoods daily atmosphere.

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There are places in Northern Minnesota that are lost in a dimension and time of their own.

You can only find them off the freeways, miles down some serpentine county road. They have names reminiscent of a spirit of the land that some believe is extinct. Some say it has been snuffed out. If it is true, then the names are merely reminders of a soul and not supplementary to its remains. They fan no embers but creates memorials to a flame.

These places are resort towns now. The logging industry has been thwarted by public disinterest and nosy governmental regulation and the small farms are mostly gone. But if they thrive anywhere in North Country they thrive in the rich soils east of the Red River, from the very edge of the Minnesota’s westward swing of the Laurentian deep into the heartland of the state, where there you can still notice the machine life breath of an economy in the air, riding on the wind.

The geographical center of Minnesota is located on Big Island in Fishtrap Lake, in the Lincoln Lakes area. This island is owned by a millionaire, who you can find sitting on a modest dock that juts from massive white pine and exotic cedars not typically found in that region. He’s laconic. He’ll wave to you as you kayak by. His cabin is as modest as his dock and were you to pass the island on a speedboat you may very well miss it. Just the way he likes it, I’m sure.

But when you move North you enter the regions propped tremendously through the years by heavy industry. The industries are gone now, and after nightfall, you can feel it. A ghostly feeling. As if a great experiment were tried, and what stands there now is the failed attempts.

Recreation drives these economies now. Resort towns where old boom towns used to reside. The impact of recreation on the local economies boggles the mind. The town of Park Rapids fluctuates in population alone so much through the seasons that it seems to be two different communities altogether from the summer to the winter months. From around 3,000 in the winter to somewhere close to 50,000 during the summer, according to locals there.

Of course this banishment from a steady economy comes with dark consequences. Drugs and alcohol fuel the Northwood’s daily atmosphere. Minnesota’s Forest Area is held hostage by alcohol, as are most towns in their position. Locals become perpetual tourists, trapped in the party atmosphere their town has to create in order to make money. In the summer there is no time.

The nights become muggy eternities, dreamy twilights that last forever. A retirement of the soul. The peace and tranquility that the Northwoods brings are only half of it; don’t let them fool you. But a chosen few really understand the land that gives them their lives of decadence. Others swim in a psychological funnel of nostalgia and drunkenness. Opiates run rampant in these communities, and until very recently they have not really been discussed. Fueled by intoxication, an already intoxicating landscape can become perilous to the soul.

You’ll find the lakeland-lifers at the resort bars every night. A different one but in the same town each day of the week. They stumble out the bar when they leave, after listening to the folks singers passing through, stuck in their own perpetual intoxication. A twilight zone, if you’re not careful.

The land is what snaps me out of it. If I remain in that bubble of decadence and blissful loneliness too long without a reminder of what it was supposed to be about, I become that stranger in a strange land that so many of us crave to be. To know the weird freedom and entrapment of waking up in a resort hotel and watching the wealthy come to and fro with their fishing rigs and grinning children and watching the local fisherman drink in silence, all over a cup of cheap coffee and a four-star breakfast. To know what it is to step out the door for a cigarette and smell the tourism and the lake breeze  and the inexplicable lostness.

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

-Hotel California, written and performed by the Eagles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhere booms come and go like tumbleweed.

First Monday in Boreal Time

Time sings in the forest
places have their songs
linear melodies break down
a cadence solders
but the melody might as well be
water
or sky
what it sounds like where they meet
I come to crossroads
crossing streams
horizon rushing on toward
aurora
boreal time signatures
are like wings on falcons
time dives and reaches
cloud-sewn peaks
nothing and then
hours, disappearing days,
arriving nights;
those moonsun temples
you cannot stay in one song
long.
Everything has a song
and we are the cherubim,
and we lament so that
evil sounds beautiful
by its beauty it is conquered.
From dark bogs
static spirits flash in peripherals
eyes detect the spirit but
concrete minds shut out
a million shades of one note
leave the angels suspended
the spirits half cocked.

Ghosts of Gull Lake

Protect your spirit, for you are in the place where spirits get eaten.

-John Trudell

 

Went driving north

north of Pillager,

old lands of Hole-in-the-Day

around the bluffs

of Old Gull Lake.

truth is,

 

I am a white man.

 

out a dandruff windshield

skeins of sun

there is the land of red clay

orange clay

iron in the blood

 

ghosts eke through FM stereo.

they pull the steering wheel.

 

under white pines I stop the car

they were saplings when

East Dakota people

on the move,

buried their dead.

 

or when the East Dakota and

The Chippewa and

The Winnebago

transfigured into wolves

followed the sun to survive

westward, where begins

the bloody Mississippi.

 

from the red clay

to the white earth

 

then we almost killed all the wolves, too.

 

total silence, for just a moment,

as the forest eclipses the beach

to tease out the memories

draw out the ghosts

for precious little moments

feeble as sheets of mica.

 

abruptly the lakeshore is revealed

and of course

 

I am a white man:

 

great whites washed ashore

giants squids of industry

blubbery and viscid where they

belch oil on the beach

leave rainbows on the wakes

comes out their pores

satellite security systems

golf courses tailor-fit to fat asses

tailor-fit to democracy, the Imposition,

genocide of a thousand colors

ancestor portals and caribou;

passing mansions on sacred hills

where manitou woke yawning to

machine amoeba, gaping mouths

paralyzed myths where they lay

shivering.

resorts crop up, shoot roots through

tombs to kings;

history is as dead as the bison

as gone as the white-skinned First People

to the north-

 

even though they too had blue eyes

 

And so it is known

that what these resort homes

ranches and cabins

four story symphonies of death

spread over seventeen acres of rape

with water slides and daycares

pontoons and Potlatch

what they want to kill is not a pigment

they would like to kill something living

kill the Manitou

they would like to kill the Chippewa

they would like to kill the Dakota

 

I am white man on a drive

my name is not known to the lake

but ghosts tell me stories

of the white man’s undoing