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Saturday, August 4, 2018

The gift of God's generosity

I had a chance the last couple days to make a quick run to the shack, one of my favorite places in the world. It's funny because to the untrained eye it's a miserable place -- it's an old hunting cabin from the 1950's, square in the middle of a few hundred square miles (literally) of tamarack bog. In the sandy fifteen mile drive from the pavement to the shack, you pass exactly three buildings -- one year round home and two hunting cabins. There are exactly three roads that turn off from the Lost River Road, none of which leads to civilization. There are a couple dozen 4-wheeler trails, You cross two rivers -- the Little Tamarack and the Lost River. Less than a mile beyond the shack, the Lost River Road dead ends. Here's a picture of the Little Tamarack looking south from the road:

Five miles farther east, you cross the Lost River, so named because for a few miles it disappears as a river and just seeps through the bog. Another half mile east you come to the shack:

I met my brother Les and his dog Jack (both in the picture) up there. Les had already mowed the lawn / driveway and cooled off by taking a dip in the river by the time I got there. We try to get there once in the summer for this kind of a trip, and this year we were able to coordinate with the peak of the berry crops. Blueberries, raspberries, and chokecherries were all at their height. Highbush cranberries are plentiful this year as well, though they're not nearly ripe yet. The bears had been in the blueberries a little bit (as in the picture below) but it's a good crop this year and we picked a lot:

I've never seen chokecherries like the crop this year. Every hundred yards or so along the road you'd see a cluster of the little trees, branches weighed down with fruit. I'm toying with another quick trip north just to pick them -- we were 3-4 days ahead of the peak, so most of the berries were deep red instead of the almost-black when they're fully ripe.

I didn't get any pictures but Les has gotten really good at identifying mushrooms, and we had a picnic table scattered with different species he brought back. A few were questionable, but we had a few birch boletes to sauté and add to one of our meals. Delicious. Plus we found quite a bit of chaga and set the teapot to simmer for a few hours Thursday evening brewing that excellent tea:

Les had taken the propane stove home to clean some fittings and it wasn't ready to bring back, so all our cooking happened on this fire and this grate. It's a fun challenge to cook well over an open fire -- one not many people remember how to do these days. We ate well -- ribeye steaks, venison brats, bacon and eggs and biscuits, and of course the boletes and chaga. And as many berries as you could eat in good conscience.

We were not alone in the woods. There were bear droppings on the road right in front of the shack. A rare occurrence, we drove around a corner and spotted a young (probably two years old) timber wolf. He didn't seem disturbed to see us; he just sauntered off the road into the woods after sizing us up for a moment. We see their sign all the time but don't often see the wolves themselves. After sleeping in the shack overnight, I went for an early morning walk and found fresh moose tracks from the night before where the road crosses the Lost River. There was an impressive (though a few weeks old) set of wolf prints in the road as I walked west toward the river:

One of the gratifying developments is seeing the trees growing up around the shack. It used to sit deep in the dark timber, and it always felt ten degrees cooler inside the shack than out on the road because of the deep shade. Then about a decade ago the DNR logged the lot we lease (very upsetting) and for a few years it was Little House on the Prairie, baking in the open sun and exposed to the eyes of everyone who drove by -- granted, not a large number, but still. The poplars have grown up nicely, and now it's starting to have a little more shade again. What's more, the chokecherries, cranberries, and raspberries are thick in our front yard. I took a couple pictures from the roof of the shack to gauge how tall the trees have gotten, looking out toward the road and just to the right of that, toward our little firepit:

Friday morning after breakfast we picked berries and hunted chaga, both with some success. We talked about minor repair and maintenance projects we need to keep in mind, and equipment that we need to pick up to keep on hand at the shack (like maybe a backup propane stove). My job in the coming weeks is to find new leathers for our faithful old pump:

Then it was time to load up and go. I was struck throughout this trip by the prodigal nature of God -- the richness he gives, if we have eyes to see. In this bog that is considered throwaway land by most people, we found the richest abundance. It was a delightful 24 hours not just in berries and mushrooms but in experiences, in broad, deep conversations, in reconnecting to the past and dreaming of the future. I spent a good part of the drive back pondering what love looks like. Without a doubt, I love this place, and I've at times had to defend that love to others who don't see the value in an old shack in the middle of a bog. It has been a rare pleasure in my life to bring people to the shack who get it -- who see the value in it and come to delight in it as I do. In this world of disinfectant hand sanitizers and cloud-based computing, it can be hard to see the value in crouching closer to the earth, stooping to blow on the embers to reawaken a fire, wading through the brush in search of mushrooms, wearying the muscles in your back to harvest the overwhelming abundance of low-growing blueberries, or stooping to ponder the puzzle of the interaction where a wolf paused on encountering a deer's track, then turned to follow it. There's a richness in going away to a place where the nearest yard light is fifteen miles away, and when you step outside at 3 am Cygnus soars overhead as the Milky Way stretches broad and bright across the sky and Draco writhes between the Dippers. It's worth fighting the deer flies and mosquitos for such an experience. In the bog there is a deep, compelling sense of interconnectedness. I am a part of the bog, and the berries, and the wolf, and that stand of hardwoods on the north side of the pond off the Buck Island Trail. In that desolate place if we have eyes to see, we receive the generosity of God.

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