I Don’t Want to Go Back

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You don’t need to be told how horrendous 2020 was. We all lived through civil unrest, a hundred-year pandemic, a spiraling economy— in an election year, no less. We complained, we laughed, we shared memes. We clung to anything to get us through, including a shared belief that 2021 could only be better. 

Well, here we are, and I don’t feel any different. 

That should be no surprise. The wide spreading effects of this public health crisis have literally seized my body with stress and tension on more days than not. I’ve never known so many aches and pains. And that has nothing to do with almost a total loss of work and income, isolation, or worry about friends and relatives. It has everything to do with my fear that people I know— and my relationships with them— will never be the same once this is all over. 

To this day, I hear people say things about Covid-19 that indicate they still don’t understand what’s been happening or what’s at stake. The only other explanation is that they just don’t care. Either way, it has been supremely distressing to me. And that’s not to mention that I see fellow Christians excusing themselves from the most important opportunity in their lifetimes to show concern and care for their neighbors. I mean, if we can’t put our own convenience and sense of normalcy behind the welfare of others in this moment, when would we ever? 

It’s enough to make me want to quit people altogether. 

Fortunately, that’s exactly what we were able to do up North for the New Year holiday. Time at the cabin has been our automatic escape from the monotony of home life since March. So we made the most of it there with snowshoeing, long walks in the woods, and time relaxing by the fire. I myself took the opportunity to go spearfishing for the first time. 

I’ve been meaning to try that for a few years now. It was a pastime for Grandpa and my dad, and has always beckoned to me as a means to connect with the “ancient ways.” I’ve mostly lacked the time and equipment to throw myself in. But the sunny afternoon of January 2nd was irresistible, and I knew just where to cut a rectangular hole on our lake.

Ice spearing A couple little northerns darted in to attack my decoy when I jerked on the line. I nearly skewered the second one, but passed. When a much larger one came in steadily like a languorous blimp, I dropped the spear. A miss, but I didn’t mind; that’s to be expected. It was fulfilling just to have tried. 

For a little less than two hours I was alone in the quiet, feet perched at my window through the ice, crows passing overhead. It was bliss, even if only for a moment. 

As the sun filtered through the treetops and lost its power to heat my tent, a chill crept in to signal my impending exit. I could feel the outside world once again boring into me, just as the tines of the spear had been slowly but surely sinking into the ice. Though I was only bound to trudge 300 yards or so, it seemed an unbearable leap back toward an uncivilized civilization. It’s an understatement to say I didn’t want to go back. 

We enjoyed 20 more precious hours of feeding the fire, radio shows, game playing, and good food. Having ushered in a new year, we departed for home in hope that 2021 would return us to normal. 

Only a few days later, however, a riotous mob invaded and defiled the heart of our democracy, revealing how foolish we were to believe the turning of the calendar would cause the scales to fall from our eyes. 

It’s enough to make a guy disappear into the wilderness for a while. 

I honestly can’t see the way forward, though we literally have no choice. If the ugliness that spewed over on Wednesday doesn’t prove to be the shot in the arm we desperately need, it will only have been a symptom of the ailment overtaking our country— which I fear will prove fatal. 

Minnesota winterBut what do I know? I’m just a guy who wants his children to grow up responsible and compassionate. I’m just a guy who wants to see his whole family get through a pandemic alive and without irreversible effects. I’m just….one guy. 

One thing is for certain: 2021 will see me drilling holes in the ice, paddling and pedaling, traversing field and forest, and harvesting wild food with my family. No matter what happens in the world, I know where to find peace and tranquility. I can’t keep people alive or return them to reason, but maybe I can wait them out. 

Here’s hoping. 





The Year of Untouchable Bucks

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Hanging some antlers on the wall is a dream that sparkles in every deer hunter’s eye. Unsurprisingly, big bucks dominate deer hunting marketing and media. I will admit I’m not immune to the images and hype.

But at this time in my life, my main priorities each deer season are observing tradition, pursuing new experiences, and doing all I can to secure meat for my family. My 2020 deer hunt embodied those three as much or more than any other, spread across two weeks and three distinct settings. Continue reading “The Year of Untouchable Bucks”

Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt

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It all started about two years ago. My deer season had almost gone by without a single deer sighting. I’d spent two rainy days in a deer stand on private property, then one especially frigid day hoofing it on state forest land. If it weren’t for the good fortune of my brother and dad, we’d have been short on meat for the year. Continue reading “Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt”

Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe

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After my incredible deer hunt in the Mississippi bottomlands of southeast Minnesota last season, I’ve been hot to find similar territory for future excursions. And since the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge contains almost limitless opportunities for somebody with more ambition than sense, it was an obvious place to start.

Continue reading “Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe”

Do Something New: Hook a Dinosaur

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I haven’t had many fun surprises lately. For better or worse, life has been plodding along at its sedated, pandemic pace. Nothing seems to change and there isn’t much to look forward to. Until Thursday, that is. 

An invitation came out of the blue from my friend Scott Mackenthun, who is a Fisheries department manager with the Minnesota DNR. He asked if I’d like to go out with him and try to catch lake sturgeon. I’d never caught one before, and wouldn’t have thought that was likely to change. I was intrigued, to say the least. Continue reading “Do Something New: Hook a Dinosaur”

Foraging in Minnesota: Blackberries

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It’s blackberry season. While I sit here typing this out in mid-August, I have a hunch there are literally tons of them out there going unpicked. And while not every year is good for blackberry picking, we’ve had adequate rainfall in 2020, which is a good sign. It was the same last year, when I literally picked gallon after gallon throughout most of August and into September, within a mile of my home.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Blackberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Hedgehog Mushrooms

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Yesterday I found my first hedgehog mushrooms of the season. It was on a short outing with my daughter; she was after raspberries and I wanted to follow up on the sudden burst of mushroom activity in the yard. I rightly suspected some edible mushrooms would be available, mostly chanterelles and lobsters. Those were good finds, but I hollered out loud when the first few hedgehogs appeared on the forest floor- they are among my most favorite mushrooms to eat. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Hedgehog Mushrooms”

Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries

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Every year about this time there is a lull in the foraging season here in Minnesota. The early season has passed and the frenzy over morels, fiddleheads, and ramps is over. The summer mushrooms and berries really haven’t started. However, while raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, and other members of the Rubus clan have yet to even finish blooming, their little brother is here to take center stage.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries”

BWCA Entry Point 52: Saved by Gillis Lake

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What do you get when you take a pandemic-weary man, work him nearly to exhaustion, cook him in the sun, and feed him a couple fish? A question for the ages, no doubt. In order to learn the answer, I left home hours before sunrise on May 18th. My destination was BWCA Entry Point 52, Brant Lake- somewhere I’d been trying to go for over a year. Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point 52: Saved by Gillis Lake”