Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tall Ships and Small Lakes

We drove up to Duluth so I could sit in front of a table in the hall outside a bookstore in an old brewery for an hour, just in case someone wanted a signed copy of Vacation Days. (See previous entry.) This is what we call a book “event.” I chatted with a few strangers, and with the bookstore clerk, who used to be an insurance underwriter, and would just as soon move back to the Twin Cities, though her husband owns a bar just south of Two Harbors. (Her father used to own the bar, and she saw what it did to him. But she's not complaining. The kids like it up here, and she has plenty of places to jog and ski.)

A woman I did a book with a few years ago wandered by, looking for her 84-year-old father. And Stephen Dahl, who catches herring for a living a few miles up the coast, stopped by, along with his wife Georgeanne. He told me that a few days earlier he’d gone out onto the big lake through the dark to the nets at 4 AM, as usual, to discover that a four-masted sailing vessel was anchored a quarter-mile away. That must have been quite a sight!

Yes, Duluth was having its tall ships “challenge.” Before the book event we’d wandered down to the docks to see them ourselves. We didn’t have time to go aboard—there were long lines—but I noticed that the first ship we came to, the Bounty, was the very one we boarded and spent quite a bit of time exploring in San Diego a few years ago.

The sleek schooners out in the bay made for a more lovely and dramatic sight in any case.

After the book event we drove up to Stephen and Georganne’s hand-built house in the woods north of Larsmont and sat on the deck admiring the hummingbirds, eating smoked fish, and discussing the sometimes-peculiar attitudes of the DNR and the weirdly beautiful novels of Knut Hamsun.

Then it was off to Tettegouche State Park, where we hiked in 1.7 miles to tiny Micmac Lake to spend the night. There’s an old hunting camp up there that was donated to the state in 1979, and four of the cabins are available now for rental. (Good move by the DNR.)

It’s very hilly country, with cliffs and echoes and paths going here and there through the woods. We took a canoe ride to the north end of the lake, watched a beaver cross a cove, listened to the ethereal song of a hermit thrush. The next morning we made coffee, ate some cheese on Ry Krisp (topped with ginger jam) and then set off through the woods to a few nearby overlooks. Thimbleberries everywhere. It’s very quiet and pristine up there in the hills, more like the Green Mountains of New England, perhaps, than Minnesota.

Lunch at Va Bene in Duluth, exasperating the waitress with our desire to find exactly the right table on the cantilevered balcony of the terrace overlooking the lake. Bright sun, blue sea, sails unfurled, and everyone having a very good time.

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