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”

Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs

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Nobody smiles at 4:40 am. Nobody at my house, anyway. But Friday morning, I woke my kids up that early, knowing they would be smiling a lot that day- eventually. They had the day off from school, and we had a big day planned at Mille Lacs Lake. 

Our little Ford Escape slinked down the resort ramp between rumbling trucks and wheelhouses, onto the white expanse. It was a few minutes before sunrise, though we wouldn’t see the sun that day due to thick cloud cover. Winds were moderate and temperatures were expected to rise about ten degrees to near 30 by day’s end. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day, but it could have been worse.  Continue reading “Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs”

NAGC’s Best Adventurer Food, 2019

Read More Nordhem Karlstad MN

Even when you’re on the road, everybody’s gotta eat. There are the hidden gems, and there are the inevitable sore disappointments. On my adventures, I’ve found my share of each. In the interest of rewarding the proprietors of first-rate eateries, I would like to share some of my favorites with you. Hopefully this will also serve to help you avoid some of the duds lurking out there. The map below is interactive, so click on the icons to obtain addresses, phone numbers, and websites. Have at it, and let me know what you think!

Continue reading “NAGC’s Best Adventurer Food, 2019”

The End of Their Era: When Our Outdoor Mentors Pass On

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My dad’s friend Larry was a staple of my formative years, a regular presence in our hunting endeavors in the late 80s and early 90s. His light, contagious demeanor was always welcome, and I won’t soon forget how his jokes and wise cracks punctuated the many car rides, duck blinds, and nights in the camper, not to mention his deft incitement of near-inappropriate moments at home and in the narthex of the church. I can still hear his crazy, half-wheezed, unfettered laugh, and I know I always will. 

He passed away last week, after a years-long tussle with cancer; this news was not unexpected, certainly, but its inevitability did not serve to mitigate its impact. His loss comes as yet another blow to constancy, a cold chipping away at my sense of youth and connection to the past. So it goes whenever a part of us seems gone forever and can only be kept alive in memory and stories. For me, it would be hard in this moment not to pause and remember the others that have gone on ahead.  Continue reading “The End of Their Era: When Our Outdoor Mentors Pass On”

Bring a Kid: Backpacking

Read More Kids Hike Through Tettegouche

After a hot and sweaty couple of miles on the trail, it didn’t matter how cold the water might be or that there wasn’t really a beach. Once we’d found our campsite, taken off our packs, and changed, my kids and I took to the lake for our hard-earned reward. We spent about an hour playing in the water before going ashore for a break. I was made to promise we weren’t done swimming. After sitting in the shade and eating raspberries a while, my son said wistfully, “I wish we could stay here a week, just to swim and eat berries.” He was in paradise. We all were.  Continue reading “Bring a Kid: Backpacking”

Bring a Kid: Berry Picking in MN

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Are you looking for a way to get kids into the outdoors? Do you want to do something simple, accessible, universally appealing, and fun? Take them berry picking. 

I took my kids yesterday to some public land in east central Minnesota with the hope of finding some mushrooms and, if lucky, some raspberries or blueberries. Well, blueberries ended up being the main attraction, with some bonus raspberries and mushrooms as well. This is why we call it “foraging,” and not simply “harvesting.” You just never know what you’re going to find.  Continue reading “Bring a Kid: Berry Picking in MN”

A Lifetime of Firsts

What makes the most memorable moments in our lives, the landmarks that will never be forgotten? The scrapbook in my mind naturally opens itself to the pages where the highlights are, to the stories that are told most often, and to the mental snapshots that were forever burned into place. Sometimes those are the big things, sometimes they are the traumatic things, but quite often, they are the “firsts:” first date, first week away at camp, first job, first apartment.

As hunters, we are known to celebrate all the big firsts: first hunt, first deer, and so on. One such memory for me is the day I killed my first duck. Continue reading “A Lifetime of Firsts”