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One of the things about being back in Minnesota that I had forgotten is that very few of the trees up there make an umbrella canopy like live oaks, cinnamon camphor and some of the other trees we see in the south.  I have to admit, I am quite fond of a tree whose limbs I can climb up in and imagine I feel them hugging me like God’s arms, but as the masterful artist that the Divine truly is, there is also something magical about trees that stretch gracefully toward the sun–long slender trunks that climb thirty feet before branching off into limbs sprouting verdant vegetation.  The other part of the landscape that I found so beautiful was the different species of evergreen.  The world up there was positively dotted with Christmas trees, plump and symmetrical and deep green with minty colored new needles dressing the ends of each bough.  Occasionally, I would see an evergreen, spearmint colored in its entirety, standing in a copse of forest green pines.

We took a day trip up to Ely, Minnesota to see the wolf and bear sanctuaries, plus the Tower Soudan iron ore mine which is no longer in use for mining—only for tourists to learn how the immigrants new to northern Minnesota managed to work in the darkest, toughest, and most dangerous of conditions.

The northern part of the state is somewhat hilly, but the mining industry has carved out canyons in the landscape that have made for beautiful vistas not unlike what someone may see out west, only not as “Grand.”  The highways have cut through giant outcroppings of granite and boulders dot open fields randomly like giant’s teeth.   The water that fills the mining canyons which have long been out of use is greenish aqua and reaches depths of three to five hundred feet.  It’s freezing!  Run the tap anywhere in the state, and the water the pours out will make a person’s hands ache if they are left too long in the stream.

At the Tower-Soudan mine, we took a three-minute elevator ride down 2300ft underground to see the last level to be started when the mine closed up shop in the 1960’s.  There were 12 of us crammed into about and 6’ by 8’ space.   With the lights off, the cable dropped us at about 10 miles an hour into the bowels of the earth.  It’s definitely not for the claustrophobic.  The panoramic views around the place are amazing, though.

For all of Mother Nature’s beauty, there is a dark side.  The mosquitos are UNBELIEVABLE!  Nobody and I mean nobody ever stands with the door to their home open for any length of time.  That’s just a welcome sign for the horrible little monsters to fly in and feed on the humans in the place.  It’s always a pleasant surprise to awaken in the middle of the night to a high-pitched whining in the ear, because a mosquito has been diving bombing your noggin and filling it’s belly with your blood.  The only time of day that they aren’t too bad, and I say that loosely, is once the sun has come up but it’s not too warm, after that, nobody leaves their home without a suit of “Off” sprayed over all exposed skin and sometimes over the clothes.  They can be a bit of a buzz kill—or should I say that I can be a bit of a buzz kill for them when they are caught between my clapping hands!

Michael, being an avid “IN”doorsman, didn’t play outside as much as I had wished he would, but a wood tick managed to find him out of all of us.  I plucked the little sucker out and flushed it down the toilet, but I was still creeped out.  I remember finding one in my ear as a kid in that little cave where the top of the ear meets the head near the temple.  Ewwwwww.   Then, there is nothing like waking up to one crawling on your back while in bed—it’s always followed by panicked fidgeting for the rest of  the night since any itch is most assuredly more ticks crawling over the skin.   Good memories….goooooood memories…

The big thing in the Northland is deer hunting season every November for two weeks.  For all the people who read this that are offended by the sport of hunting, there is a reason for open season—the deer population gets so huge that they get hit by cars.  In fact it is a great source of concern for the residents who drive regularly in the twilight hours when the deer come out.  We saw several of these beautiful creatures at the ranch, crossing the road, and along the highway.  It can be a little scary driving out in the woods.

Now my sister and her husband told us stories of the deer that they see regularly on their property.  They painted a picture of a wildlife utopia with deer coexisting with humans.  I told Dan on the last day, that this place was oversold to me what with the numerous stories about god’s creatures, so I wanted my money back.  He just laughed and told me nice try.  I don’t understand the problem here, it’s not like he paid for us to come up there—oh wait…yeah…yeah he did…

I walked in quiet solitude without seeing another soul a couple of the days that I was there, and the wild flowers that lined the road were abundant and in all colors imaginable.  It was so beautiful except for the deer flies that dive bombed my head for the first couple minutes.  Like the raptors from Jurassic Park testing the fence for a weak spot, they were testing my body for a chink in the bug spray armor. When they found none, they flew off to find one of the millions of deer in the woods.

One of the cool things my brother Kyle taught me along with my niece, Kelsey, and Pierce was how to take a little twig and pop the sap blisters on a Balsam pine, load up one end of the twig with sap, then drop it in the river.  All of a sudden, the sap will have a chemical reaction that looks like gasoline spilling out and it will propel the twig through the water.  It’s really cool looking, and a fun trick to show kids and adults alike.  Make a race of it, and see whose boat (twig) goes further!

I have often wondered if my birthplace was as beautiful as I remember, or if I have painted the pictures of my mind with nostalgia.  It is absolutely as beautiful as my memories and then some.  Not much about it has changed, except that the mines have expanded.  The greatest evidence is the view from highway 53 coming into the little valley that is Virginia, MN.  The little burg of Mt. Iron located just west of my home town is aptly named as it is all but gone except for the iron ore.  Bought and cleared by the mines, the building and homes of the town are gone, but the huge buildings and equipment of progress perch on the horizon overlooking miles of open earth.  The fascinating things for me that acknowledged 23 years of “eco” evolution were the enormous wind turbines that stand sentinel on the north-east ridge of the town—about 6 of them—strangely modern and out-of-place yet at the same time eluding to the production of efficient energy used in a simpler time, rotating gracefully—constantly– on the horizon.

So many experiences in 8 days…these are some of the ones I could feel with my words today.

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