Wow!  I am back in the land of my roots with my boys and my husband, and it is more beautiful than I remember.  Ironically, I left 23 years ago, and although I’ve had family return here many times over the years, I have never really looked back, until recently.

A strange longing to see this pristine place of my childhood and my parent’s childhood overcame me in recent months, but I didn’t see any opportunity to revisit it in the near future.  Then I saw the pictures of Duluth, Minnesota flooding a couple of weeks ago from 40 hours of torrential rain.  More than even the images of Mother Nature’s wrath, her beauty was what captivated me.  Oh well…she would wait…

My parents left on vacation for Northern Minnesota to visit my brother and his wife as well as other relatives.  My sister and her husband have a summer home on a river north of Cook, MN where they spend their summers, and I was the only sibling never yet to see it.  Well, about 10 days ago, my brother-in-law, who loves surprises, heard that my parents may not make another trip to the Northland as they are nearing their 80’s.  Auntie Good Times called me to say that my family and I have “won a trip to Minnesota!”  We were dumbfounded to have this trip bought and paid for, just to have our boys see the “River Ranch” (their summer home) and to enjoy it with our parents.

We arrived after an uneventful airplane flight from Florida, which was wonderful—It could have been meltdown central, but the universe was hearing my prayers and it was answering them, too.  Auntie Good Times met us at the airport and we drove to my brother’s house to surprise Grammy and Papa with our unexpected visit.  After some catch-up with family and seeing my brother and sister-in-law’s sweet little lake home, we left for the River Ranch to see the man of the hour—Mr. Dan—Dan the man—Dan the one that made this all possible.

When we arrived at this log cabin in the woods—and I say that loosely because it looks like something out of HGTV.  Just beautiful, with every country toy imaginable—pontoon boat, golf carts, gators, four wheelers, and I am sure there are more if I walked up the hill to look in the garage—we made ourselves at home.

Mikey loved, LOVED the golf cart and the gator, but, frankly, I was terrified when I rode along to experience his driving skills.  My nephew has his “exuberant” dog up here at the Ranch, and I thought we were going to train him to settle down with one swipe of the tires.

What Mikey really loved—and then hated so much that he cried to go back to Florida was the pontoon boat ride down the river.  All was good and fun until we hit some rocks navigating the shallow spots in the Little Fork.  I wouldn’t say the experience was of “Titanic” proportions, however Michael’s reaction was.  Up until the “moment” he wanted to drive the pontoon and look at everything.  After the “moment” he was stoic and just wanted to know when we were going to go back.  We tried to engage him and get him to relax, but it only made him cry and beg to go back to Florida—it was our first day in Minnesota.  It was really pitiful, and made me sad, but, lord, the kid can worry.

Later he asked me if those stupid rocks hurt the boat and I told him “No!  The boat hurt the rocks, in fact we should probably go back out and apologize to them.”  He responds with, “Were they bleeding?  Are the mommy’s sad?”  (me) “What?!  Some of them that got hurt were mommies.”  (Is that wrong?  I was just trying to bring a little humanity to the situation thinking that he might not find the rocks so scary.)  He knew I was teasing…and he’s not interested in going on the boat anymore.  There’s another thing checked off the ever-shortening bucket list.

Yesterday, Pierce and I walked all the way out to the road and then up the first hill, while daddy and Mike rode the golf cart in huge circles around us in preparation for Pierce’s inevitable fatiguing.  The kid’s got stamina…but eventually they drove him back to the cabin while I walked on for a couple of miles in the North Country wilderness.  I was going toward Cook, and Greg, the boys, and Auntie were coming to pick me up on the way to the grocery store…good thing, too since I didn’t turn off at the right road—I could have been wandering forever before I saw another soul!  Well…not really, but it’s remote out here.  I love it!

In the afternoon, after a huge meltdown with Pierce because they each got a matchbox toy at the grocery store, and since they weren’t identical, P. was sure Mikey’s was way cooler.  Mikey was pretty sure about that too since he kept subtly rubbing it in P.’s face.  Uncle Dan took Pierce and I out on one of the golf carts to show us the property, and the bouncing, bumping, and motoring along made him pass out—Pierce, that is!  Thank heavens for that, he took a much-needed two-hour nap.

Michael, being the outdoorsman that he isn’t, watched a movie while Greg and I took the gator out on the trails.  It was beautiful and wild!  We chose one path (naturally the wrong one) that had a muddy gully we had to go through, and we got stuck.  Gunning the engine in reverse and drive simply sprayed mud everywhere and dug us deeper.  Then we saw a baby turtle walk out from under the gator, so we had to wait for him to move his slow you-know- what out of the tire tracks if we should have any luck shooting forward out of this mess.  He was plenty safe—cute, too.  We were about to either yell “uncle” or try to find some`logs to put down in the ruts to get some traction.  About that time, my nephew in all his grizzly glory come sporting around the bend on a four-wheeler with towing chain swinging in circles above his head like a lasso all in slow motion—well maybe not quite that heroic, but he did come and pull us out—after I had to call on all my agility training from childhood to swing around from the cab to the bed of this cart without stepping down into the mud.  I was so shocked to see him—it was like he read our minds and showed up like the Messiah.  When I asked him how he knew he muttered something about “city boy” and said that he could hear the engine revving repeatedly when he was sitting outside at the cabin.  Oh…yeah…that.

When we got back, Greg stayed down stairs eating a snack and reading on his Ipad.  I’m not sure if he was hiding his embarrassment or just reverting to the more comfortable role of “city boy.”

Last evening, my parents, an aunt, and my brother and his wife came out, and Greg cooked wings on the grill for everyone, while Kathy did everything else.  The boys were outside with me on the deck, but they kept disappearing.  I finally realized that Mikey was running around to the back entrance of the cabin and coming back through the house.  On one of his passes, Kath was flustered in the kitchen with timers going off, a beer spilling, etc., and he asked if he could have milk or water.  I am sure this wasn’t his first request, either.  In a moment of stress, she told him to “Go ask your mom!”  He responded with “No…she’s relaxing.”  After she sent visual daggers at my son, she and HER son (who stood by waiting to see how this would unfold) started cracking up.  I wish Mikey would have come out and asked me, because I would have told him “No!  I’m relaxing.”  Then he could go back in and start the process of pissing his Auntie off all over again, and we can change her name to “Auntie Bad Times.”

We’ve been having such fun at this beautiful place—there is so much to do, I can see why they don’t go into town very often, but today we are going to explore my old stomping grounds.