QUAIL MUTTERINGS #23. Bound For Minnesota (October 11, 2013)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #23.  Bound For Minnesota (October 11, 2013)


               Adventures are important. The destination or what you do doesn’t really matter so long as it takes you out of your comfort zone and keeps you on your toes. It’s how you handle yourself in those situations that enables growth to happen. If we never step out of our routines we can become too complacent and sure of ourselves.

When I first received the wedding invitation from Minneapolis I simply put it aside thinking it highly unlikely that I’d be going. Minnesota seemed out of the question financially. My sister thought otherwise.

“We’ve never been to Minnesota before. You know what else is in Minnesota?” Bo asked. “That wolf preserve that Mom used to donate to.”

It was also her idea that we could canoe on one of those “ten thousand lakes” and camp out and hear wolves howling in the woods. This prompted her online search for outfits there that could facilitate her plan. It was at my little Fourth of July party, sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch, that our plan was hatched. Heidi was game if we included a little “antiquing” in the Midwest. One thing led to another and after a considerable amount of hemming and hawing, from each of us, flight tickets were purchased and reservations were made.

In early August the three of us boarded the plane with our accompanying luggage to support a wilderness adventure in The Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, a road trip traversing the length and width of the entire state, a formal wedding at a mansion in Minneapolis, along with my personal supply of gluten and dairy-free snack foods. Hopefully, we were sufficiently prepared for the next eight days.

I don’t think any of us were ready, or really even aware that we would be carrying what felt like hundred-pound sack backpacks containing our food, clothes, camping gear… over hill and dale portages consisting of narrow, rocky trails up to a half-mile long which you had to traverse to get to the next lake. It might have been a little easier had we been able to use our hands to help heft up the sagging weight on our backs. But no. We had to carry paddles, fishing poles and zippered canoe pouches with our free appendages. All three of us were astonished, but unwilling to admit our reluctance to appear weak or “not game” for the adventure. So instead, we helped each other into our gravity-enhancing contraptions and careened forward in our hunched-forward stupors. Amazingly, we didn’t topple over or break anything, although each of us secretly believed that in all probability we would. It was literally impossible to stand upright which forced a completely unnatural hip-displacing posture. Only in retrospect can we laugh uncontrollably at the absurdity of our plight. Each of our three days out on the lakes required two hiking portages. Thankfully our twenty-two-year-old guide, a skinny but strong young buck, carried the canoes.

The time spent on the water was almost as “interesting” as we learned paddling and, more importantly, “steering” – which was done by the back person in the canoe. If there had been many other people out there in the wilderness we might have appeared positively drunk as we fish-tailed and “j-paddled” in S-shapes toward any general direction. The front person provided the power to the vessel. We each took turns in order to learn the basic skills required to maneuver a canoe with a partner.

As dusk began to settle each evening our trusty guide would find an unmarked, but established campsite on an island or peninsula; then we’d put our face nets on under our hats to brave the mosquitoes. The air borne blood-suckers descended on us from the thick woods just behind the shore-line. Luckily for me they preferred the others’ sweet smell to mine in spite of their constant slathering on of Deet-laced insect repellent. I guess my garlic consumption, or just my lack of sweetness, kept them at bay for I only used a natural bug spray twice a day. Even the smoke from our nightly campfires did little to deter those mini vampires from their instinctive duties. They came out in droves when one of us hiked back into the forest for a pit stop. The privy on each of these islands had no walls or roof. Just a tall metal cylinder coming up out of a concrete base over an open pit. One had to continuously fan the air behind the exposed, bare ass straddled over the cold, hard ring while scanning the area for bears. We’d heard there were some bear problems on the very island we camped on that first night. Thankfully they left us alone, perhaps feeling sorry for our red, itching behinds.

The scenery out on the lakes was serene and beautiful. Eagles graced the nearby sky as we paddled through wild rice paddies and caught glimpses of turtles, herons and lily pads. It was profoundly peaceful.

Days later, out on the open road, we’d stop at interesting places. There were several captive wolves grooming themselves in The International Wolf Center. We collected agates on a walk along The North Shore (Lake Superior.) We saw majestic waterfalls in a state preserve. Antiques were much more affordable here in the Midwest than at home in Southern California. It’s too bad it would have cost too much to bring them home with us. We stayed a couple days with friends who were visiting family and went to the local pig races. A must see for anyone not having experienced these before.

And finally, on to Minneapolis to the fancy wedding of our cousin’s daughter. The Van Dusen Mansion was grander and more stately than I had imagined. The ceremony took place in the courtyard, refreshments and an open bar in the mansion proper, dinner and champagne in the formal dining hall, and dancing and more open bars in the carriage house. Weddings are great for cutting a rug. We hadn’t shook our booties like that in years. Very therapeutic indeed.

So, like all good things, our trip came to an end and we departed Minnesota and headed back home. Even though we did not hear wild wolves howling in the woods we were all changed slightly, as the experiences we left behind infiltrated our beings in subtle ways. Not that any of us can always explain or understand the influences, but they are there regardless. So why not take up that next offer you get for an out-of-the-ordinary adventure? Who knows? It might do you some good. It did us.

Chi Varnado is the author of two books. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire, and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail, are both available from www.amazon.com. Chi directs The Ramona Dance Centre: www.ramonadancecentre.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.