Our trip north started by driving up 35 to Cloquet and then heading northwest along US 2 to Deer River. The farther north one drove, the more often I saw ramshackle or abandoned houses. Many of the homesteads appear to be either manufactured or trailer homes, and for every one you saw that looked to be well kept there was usually one that didn’t look so good. Lots of rusting vehicles in the yards, but usually a satellite dish, and often a boat that was in better shape than the house. North of Deer River this trend got even more noticeable as we headed into the Indian Reservation. Lots of houses that had seen better days, lots of junk scattered around the houses, and a few trailers that had obviously been torched, whether on purpose or not I don’t know.
While the metro has it’s fair share of run-down properties, it doesn’t have a lot of abandoned ones, so seeing rusting gas stations and empty shells of houses is somewhat of a novelty to me. The family plans to return to the same general area every year from here on out, so I’ll try and compare notes on the general condition of things and see how it changes every year. I would expect to see blight such as this become more commonplace and creep closer to the towns and cities around here if the economy heads south, for many of these houses are simply unlivable without access to electricity and natural gas. Pre-fab houses and trailers aren’t meant to survive a Minnesota winter without heat, and I don’t know how well many of those houses could be back-fitted with wood-burning stoves and the like.
Out in the Boondocks
The resort we stayed at was about 20 miles north of Deer River, a town of less than 1000 people. It was at the end of a dirt road that connected into another dirt road that led back from the highway, and 100 years ago reaching it would have taken on the proportions of an African safari, cutting through the thick forest & brush and braving the mosquitoes and black flies. While the living was still rustic compared to home, we still lived pretty well: indoor plumbing, refrigeration, satellite TV, Internet, etc.
Nights were quiet and dark. The lack of street lighting made the outdoors pitch black which is unusual for this city kid. In the morning the only sounds heard were the birds; especially the loons that were quite active on the lake at all times of the day.
The resort was built in the 60’s and probably was electrified from the start. I have a feeling that if the grid stopped working up there, the resort would quickly fold. Another reason would be the dirt roads, which look like they are groomed at least once a year to avoid ruts & holes. In either case, if TSHTF I think places like that will be quickly swallowed back up by the forests they were carved out of.
We had ten people sharing one shower and two toilets. This situation seemed unworkable at first, but over time we dealt with it and by the end of the week it seemed like no big deal. As the week progressed, people (OK, the adults, for the kids didn’t care in the first place) cared less about their physical appearance… grooming standards relaxed, we didn’t take showers every day, and no one seemed to smell or look bad. For a couple of days, my ‘bath’ consisted of swimming in the lake with the kids. It was interesting to see how things changed, for back in the Cities we wouldn’t leave the house unshowered or (in my wife’s case) sans makeup yet up here it didn’t seem to be a big deal.
This is a bit of a misnomer, for while we lived simpler lives while up north we definitely weren’t trying to live lightly on the Earth or anything like that. Anyway, one day my father-in-law, brother-in-law and I went fishing with a local guide. We spent the day on the lake, caught a bunch of nice Northern Pike and had a shore lunch. We pulled the boat up at a local beach, pulled out a small turkey fryer & large skillet, and proceeded to watch our guide make a meal out of a few pounds of red potatoes, an onion, some seasoning salt, and pike fillets. It took about 15 minutes to make, and it tasted awesome. We ate like kings. No microwave, dishwasher or anything like that. Had the guide built a campfire instead of using the propane-fired burner I could have imagined people eating a similar meal 100 or even 1000 years ago. It was arguably the best meal we ate while on vacation and one of the simplest and least expensive ones as well.
The most-used cookware on the entire trip was my 12″ cast iron skillet. With that and a dutch oven, I could make a lot of tasty meals I think. I’ve looked at getting into camp cooking using outdoor dutch ovens and may try that at some point. Dig a hole, burn some wood to create embers, and then stick the oven in the middle and cover with some coals.
Some people in my wife’s family are TV-aholics, so the tube was on fairly often, even if it was just the Twins game playing in the background. Regardless, though, we spent many evenings after the kids went to bed playing games: domino and card games for the most part. It was fun, social, and engaging, which is more than I can say for watching the idiot box. In a previous period of my life I went for about two years without a TV in the house. It was weird at first but I eventually got used to it. My free time was spent more productively reading or doing things for the most part, though I will admit to burning a bunch of time playing games on the computer as well. If electricity becomes expensive in the future I can see more people going through the same pattern of withdrawal and coming out in the end with more satisfying uses of their free time.
We over-packed for this vacation, but next time I’ve got a much better handle on what to pack and what to leave home. I think I’ll make it a personal challenge for myself to see how small a suitcase/duffel I’ll need to pack all of the stuff I think I’ll need. A deck of cards, some dominoes and a cribbage board (with maybe a book or two) will be all the entertainment I need.