Thursday, October 18, 2007

17. Riders on the Storm

(26 June)
On Tuesday, the wind continued to blow, the sky was grey, and my shoulders were sore from paddling. Regardless, after breakfast, my dad and I launched the canoe into Echo Lake. We had only paddled about 100 feet when we felt raindrops and saw lightning in the west. A motorboat was heading back to the dock we had just left. I turned to my dad and said, "Are we stupid...?"

He let out a small laugh and said, "Maybe so," and we returned sheepishly to the dock. In the increasingly heavy rain, we chained and locked the canoe upside-down to a tree, and then got back in the car. We decided to drive up to Crane Lake. My dad told me that it was once a really popular resort area, and his parents had vacationed there as newlyweds.

From this, and my experiences the past week, it seemed apparent that the North Woods, in its pristine beauty, had once been a major gem of national tourism. Its current state, with the faded handcrafted signs, and their masterly aesthetics that stand out in a world of ever more mindless and soulless computer-generated design, added a whole new patina of beauty to my eyes.

As we drove through the rain, I endeavored to choose some music. "I wish we had the Doors' song 'Riders on the Storm'," I said.

"Look in the glove compartment."

There it was, The Doors, backed with L.A. Woman. Sweet. I put the tape in the deck, and whatta-you-know, it was nearly queued to that song already. There could not have been a more perfect song for us two men in that place at that time. The whisper tracks form a mist around Jim's words. Afterwards, the tape continued onto the Doors' first album, which fit with the weather as well. We passed a giant statue of a voyageur.

Crane Lake sits on the border of Voyageurs National Park. I never really think much about the fact that Minnesota has a National Park, and I have yet to explore it. The township of Crane Lake is but a handful of cabin resorts, and in the midst of them, St. Louis County Road 24 abruptly ends. Beyond that lies only shabby dirt roads and gravel-surfaced private drives. We tried one road for about a minute before turning around. We slowed down at one point so I could take a photo of a dirt bike trailer with some killer graphics that read, "Hyper Viper Race Team."

We headed out of town the way we came, my dad pointing out the cabin-boats my grandparents had rented. That would sure be a nice vacation for a couple of newlyweds.

A couple miles south of Crane Lake, we saw a sign for Vermilion Falls, and we decided to check it out. Was it a town or a natural landform? It turned out to be a Superior National Forest recreation area. We parked in the empty lot, and exited the car into sunshine. My dad took his fishing gear, and I took my camera. The trail was rocky and beautifully uneven, with roots of big white pines snaking over the rocks.

We could hear a waterfall, and soon came upon one zigzagging through a jagged gorge of dark granite. It was like a miniature Jay Cooke State Park. Between the trail and the falls were sublime crevices and pools surrounded by little pines growing from the rocks.

My dad began to fish, and I explored the small but densely beautiful site. I told him I was going back to the car to grab my drawing tablet, and he bade me fetch his eyeglasses. As I searched for them, a car pulled in, and a family set out to hike. I brought my dad his glasses, and then I found a hidden spot in the rocks, where I sat in the sunshine shooting photographs.

The beauty surrounding me kept me shooting for quite a while. I was excited to sketch. I found a couple of twigs to use as pens, and I placed them in a crevice near where I was sitting. I decided I could shoot some video of the falls at the same time, so I got up and began walking back to get my camcorder and tripod. I took my backpack with me. As I approached the parking lot, I saw my dad passing by up ahead. I called out to him, and he stopped.

When I neared, he told me he was done fishing and wanted to return to Echo Lake. I told him my plans, which had hinged on the assumption that he'd be fishing a while. Since he wasn't, I immediately said it was fine, I'd done enough, and we could go. I only wanted to sit and draw a while if he was occupied too. So we took off.

Moments after passing the voyageur statue again, my dad stopped the car, and turned around to take a closer look.

The voyageur had a big, creepy grin, and the text below him read (sic):
This memorial was erected by the Crane Lake Commercial Club to commemorate the FRENCH CANADIAN VOYAGEURS who explored and opened this country beginning in the late 1600's.

Thousands of these dauntless men rowed their birch bark canoes through these waterways in the quest of furs and the Northwest Passage. One of their forts was at the mouth of the Vermillion River in Crane Lake.

The gay garb of these happy courageous men is typified by our memorial as he stands here proudly surveying the lands and waterways he once roamed.


"The gay garb of these happy courageous men!"

The other interpretive signs were just as poorly written. One began by stating that the landforms of the area "predate" the Native Americans. Yeesh. Really? be continued...

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