The next day, I struck camp and headed back to my Spot at the Lost Forty. I sat for about five hours, drawing into my hardground-covered plate with a sewing-needle stylus. I finished the picture, recording everything I could see within that rectangle of composition. When I left, I ran into the researchers in the parking loop, and I asked the bearded one to explain it all to me again. He most generously did so, and I bade him farewell.
As this was my final departure, I made sure to pay a visit to Wirt Cemetery. Down a narrow dirt road it lay, a humble clearing surrounded by trees. Ancient, time-softened grave stones sat between polished modern ones. I drove slowly around the loop and looked at names, as cemetery visitors invariably do. Another minivan was doing the same opposite me, and I strove to drive respectfully, lest they were relatives of the interred. With my window rolled down, I could hear gravel crunching beneath me until I returned to the highway. My thrifted Wirt sweatshirt holds so much more meaning now. I have slept beneath its trees, and I have seen its ancestors.
At 5:30 I met Jean-Paul back at his place in Rapids, where he and his friend were cooking up a meal. They had beers waiting! After supper, we went riding. Jean-Paul led us on some amazing bike trails nearby. I got to do something only possible in the country: riding on the highway! * I thrilled to ride on Hwy 2, where I had driven so many times over the past few days.
We rode up into the hills, and through secret neighborhoods between old-growth pines. It felt so good to ride after sitting in the woods and car all day! I rocked hard, up and down hills of exquisite beauty and immaculate pavement. I saw what appeared to be a piece of lingerie hanging from a street sign. Upon closer examination, the piece was little more than a lacy string. A thong! My imagination reeled at the thought of a wild North Woods night.
We stopped at a place marked Pit Lake. Up a gravel hill and down another was a lake in a former quarry pit, swarming with teenagers. The scene was very Winslow Homer. Jean-Paul's friend said that only a few years ago, there were no signs or proper roads like there were now. Jean-Paul took off his shoes and socks and jumped in, still in his cycling jersey and shorts. It wasn't hot enough for me to swim. The sun setting behind the rocky cliffs reflected intensely off the rippling water.
On the way home, behind a giant white pine in someone's yard, the neon red ball of sun glinted the final light of the year's longest day.
*(FYI: The Minnesota Dept. of Transportation offers a free map showing all the MN highways with six-foot wide paved shoulders, color-coded for traffic density!)