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Magnetic North

Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Vicki Biggs-Anderson
Vicki lives on a 116 year-old homestead in Colvill that she and her late husband, Paul moved to from the Twin Cities years ago. She shares this special place with five goats, three dozen or so hens - bantams and full size, three talkative geese, an assortment of wild and domestic ducks, two angora rabbits, two house cats, a yellow Lab and a rescue retriever/kangaroo with plans to add a pet turkey or two just for comic relief.

When not feeding, chasing or changing "sheets" for all of the above, Vicki writes, volunteers, makes felted and thrummed mittens for folks, wanders the woods, balances rocks and, "when a fit of discipline strikes," dives into her decade of weekly columns for the old News-Herald in search of a book or more likely, a sit-com.  

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.



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Photo by Vicki Biggs Anderson

Magnetic North - "Retro for Radio"

WTIP commentator, Vicki Biggs Anderson is producing a "Retro for Radio" segment of her Magnetic North feature. Vicki is selecting and reading from her columns written in the 1990's for the Cook County News Herald. 
This column was titled "My Bobbins and Tub Runneth Over".  Enjoy!


Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Magnetic North - Retro for Radio "Abetting Creation Above the Frostline"

Magnetic North - Retro for Radio by Vicki Biggs-Anderson

This "Retro for Radio" edition of Magnetic North, "Abetting Creation Above the Frostline", is from Vicki's column from the Cook County News Herald - October 1997.


Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Magnetic North - Retro for Radio by Vicki Biggs-Anderson "Winter in the Air"

Magnetic North - Retro for Radio by Vicki Biggs-Anderson.

Retro for Radio editions are from columns written by Vicki for the Cook County News Herald.

"Winter in the Air" is from the August 18, 1997 issue.


Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Magnetic North - Retro for Radio by Vicki Biggs-Anderson "Storing Up Joy"

Magnetic North - Retro for Radio edition by Vicki Biggs-Anderson.

Retro for Radio editions are from columns written by Vicki for the Cook County News Herald.

"Storing Up Joy"  from mid-October, 1997 



Magnetic North by Vicki Biggs-Anderson February 13, 2019

Magnetic North 2/4, 2019
Phantoms in the Mist
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where the big lake is releasing her captive droplets of water in spectral tendrils of mist on these below zero days. Their eerie beauty is a reminder of the past, one in which only the First Nations’ people were witness to the spectacle on the horizon.

For, according to Minnesota Sea Grant data on the big lake, the average drop of water entered Lake Superior 191 years ago. And that’s just the average droplet. Much of the vast water we admire today is made up of rains and snows and rivulets flowing long before the first immigrants from Norway, Sweden and Finland came. 

The enchantment of the mist dancers on the lake is one of many things that more than make up for the rigors of deep winter, for this modern day resident. Like what? Well, my front storm door was snatched in the teeth of the big wind that came roaring in after New Year’s, leaving me with a leaky sieve of a wooden door covered with a quilt for over a month. Frost formed on the inside of the door as we went into double digit minus temps, a reminder that money poured out as cold poured in.

Other than that, Polar Vortex, aka the Mommy Dearest side of Mother Nature, sucked the life out of my car battery three times in four days. The last deadening rendered my shift useless and, being nose into the garage, my friend Jay Messenbring from Superior Auto Service, had to tow it out to jump start it. But first we had to consult the owner’s manual to see how to disable the shift lock when there is no power. 

Unfortunately, the manual was frozen to the floor of the back seat, having been tossed there next to a glass jar of water which burst in the cold.

It took a good four minutes on high in the microwave to thaw out the manual. Jay said he’d had many odd experiences in his line of work but this one was a first. I told him that it’s stuff like this and folks like him that make living here year ‘round so rich. Plus, it gives me stuff to write about besides goats and chickens.

Many folks have asked me how said critters faired in the week of the Polar Vortex. “Fine, thanks to me,” I usually answer, but on that one truly terrible day, when the winds whipped up swirling snow tornados across the meadow and the temps plunged into the minus 40 below NOT counting windchill, I couldn’t have been so sure.

The five goats did not come out for their hay that day, even as I bleated in my best “goatspeak,” Bunny! Bosco! Biscuit! Poppy! Bitsie” Not a sign or sound of them. And so I went to bed and woke up worried. The wind had covered up their hay ration from the day before, so I hauled a full bale out and over the fence just after first light, all the while calling to them as I walked back to the house. I dared not look around until inside and out of my coat and mittens. but there they were All Five! “Yes! Cheated death again!” I called to them through a crack in the door and  was rewarded with a full throated goat chorus - each one does have a distinctive voice - as if to say, “You got that right maaaaaaamaaaaaa.”

With all of these challenges in winter, it’s small wonder we have so many so-called “snowbirds” here, folks who stay as long as the living is easy, then take off for second homes, campers, or freebie squats down south or out west.
That’s not for me, if for no other reason than a love for my dogs, cats, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and -Lord help me- geese.

My daughter, Gretchen says there is an even larger reason why I had no wish to leave, even in the face of the worst winter throws at me. She says, “This is where your heart is, where you and Paul lived. It’s who you are, Mom.”
How lucky am I to have such a child.

As for the snowbirds, I wish them well wherever they choose to perch. And for the rest of us - often referred to in popular culture as the 98 percent - thanks for sticking around, for staying here, even when your doors blow off and you batteries die and your water pipes freeze for a time.

And yes, even when you, like me, go to bed and wake up worried about what the weather is doing to someone or something you love. You are not crazy. You are community. And I for one am in your debt.

Thoughts like these drift though my mind as I park down at the now inaccessible turnout to Paradise Beach, watching those writhing phantoms of mist forming a ghostly danceline on the horizon.

Finally, after possibly centuries of gestation within their mother, Superior, the time traveling, shape shifting droplets float upwards reentering a far different world than the one they left. 
And as they do, I look east and west on Highway 61 to see not one other driver stopped to watch and wonder. And I am both grateful to be an audience of one, and sad that so many are missing what to me, at that moment, is the greatest show on earth.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.


Photo credit Vicki Biggs Anderson

Magnetic North by Vicki Biggs-Anderson January 30, 2019

Magnetic North 1/24/19

A Message from Inside the Great White…
Welcome back to Magnetic North, which makes me think of how the view from inside the mouth of a Great White Shark must look, all those long, sharp icicles lining my roofline and practically touching the deck railing. Ugh!
Icicles are good examples of what poet Thomas Gray meant when he wrote, ”Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”
When I was a kid, I loved icicles. Hey, free popsicles! Tasteless, true, but free and also useful for poking friends in the back. 
Now that I am grown, icicles represent only a poke in my budget; Heat loss through the ceiling and extra expense when my electric bill comes. Not to mention creating ice dams and the resultant leaks and stains on my beautiful cathedral ceilings.
But, with luck and additional outlay of cash for insulation, I will get that problem solved....someday.
The arrival of The Great White, as I call this winter of 2018-19, has already wreaked havoc on one of the many structures on this 116-year-old farmstead. The chicken run is now missing its wire cover and crossbeams. Viewed from the driveway, it does appear as if some giant creature had just touched down long enough to bring a 10 by 10-foot section down. That first load of cement-like snow we got right before the first of the year.
When first I saw the mess, I just stared at the damage, resenting the ruined work of my Paul and his friend, the late Jack Halvorson back in 1991. Together they made a gorgeous run of stout cedar posts and well stitched together wire, with barbed wire dug in all around so those burrowing predators would be stymied. 
It’s rotten to lose something made by those you love and have also lost. But then I realized that perhaps The Great White had done me a good turn. I let the hens out to free range in good weather anyway, so why not just turn the run into a big veggie and flower garden? The sides are already there. I know Paul would agree. As for old Jack, well, he’d probably give me one of his dubious stares and say, “It’s your time and sweat.” 
So far no damage has been done to my body by The Great White....but then there are still a few more months to go before I can be sure of that. The first time out of the shed with my little red electric snowblower was a near miss, though. Pushing and pushing that contraption through that wet, heavy snow was nigh impossible. I grunted, I strained, I panted like a dog, and I swore like a sailor. Frankly, I used muscles not engaged since I gave birth to my darling daughter.
And so I did the wise thing. I retired the blower and called for help. Now my paths are smooth and chiseled things of beauty that are just wide enough for me to ride around on my Norwegian kicksled with buckets of grain on the seat.  Happiness in chore doing restored.
I will admit that I take doing chores in double-digit below zero weather quite seriously. I always have my phone and when the weather report is particularly alarming, the critters get double rations just in case going out the next day proves to be foolhardy. But who is to say what and when is foolhardy?
That thought occurred to me while kick sledding to the chicken coop last week in below zero weather. I was remembering an old colleague of mine at the News-Herald, back when Steve Fernlund owned the newspaper. Duane Honsowetz was his name and he was an old-school journalist AND woodsman...Crusty, principled and feigning a fed-up with life attitude - mostly a cover I think.  We got along just fine. I thought of Duane last week because he died in weather such as this on his trap line, somewhere off in the woods - certainly not a foolhardy thing to do, as he had done it hundreds of times before.
The story was that Duane had suffered a stroke while checking his traps in the deep winter woods.  And although I wished he had not been alone out there, I couldn’t help but be grateful that my old comrade didn’t breathe his last covering a county board or city council meeting, I hoped he was at peace, under the sky lit with stars, instead of the glare of fluorescent lights.
Morbid? Not a bit. For a kid whose favorite book of poetry was Robert Service’s Spell of the Yukon, the white landscape of the far north was a brilliant backdrop where the shadow of death danced and teased those prospectors and vagabonds wanderers who dared to venture inside her lair… Here’s a stanza I committed to memory long, long ago, I find it quite appropriate as we once again face below zero temps in the coming days.
From Service’s poem The Spell of the Yukon, from the book of the same name,
“The winter! The brightness that blinds you!
The white land locked tight as a drum/
The cold fear that follows and finds you/
The silence that bludgeons you dumb/
The snows that are older than history/
The woods where the weird shadow slant/
The stillness, the moonlight/the mystery/
I’ve bade ‘em goodbye......but I can’t.”
I whispered this stanza on my way back from the chickens that night last week, breathing each word in frosty vapors into the night. And while there was no prospectors gold ore in my basket, there were riches. My hens gave me seven big brown eggs and one greenish blue, beauty. 

Mercury and Venus blazed in the clear Eastern sky over the old White Pine and Duane’s spirit and Service’s poetry rode the sled with me, good companions that night and throughout this winter of The Great White. She is a ferocious, yet mysteriously seductive mistress known well by both men.  And by me as well; blissfully ignorant, but ever so grateful.
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North



Magnetic North - January 10, 2019

Magnetic North  -  by Vicki Biggs-Anderson 
January 10, 2019

"Too Much of a Goat Thing"

Welcome back to Magnetic North, where all creatures, great and small, have been dutifully preparing for deep winter snow and below zero cold for months. Oh, not by stocking up on flashlights, or making sure there’s a shovel by every door, but by physically preparing to meet and beat the elements  - I speak not of exercise, but of the age-old custom of carb loading, handed down to us from our elders, who looked upon being slender as a sign of either poverty or illness.

Thank goodness times have changed. From hot dishes to pasties, to pasta and breads in all shapes and sizes and textures, we consume what we must to survive the elements.

And for those of us who tend critters, thought must also be given to their diet, along with deeper hay to sleep in and heated water buckets for all. 

As luck would have it, carb loading for critters doesn’t mean that I have to prepare hot dishes or bake focaccia for them daily. No, it just means adding something called “scratch” to the chicken, duck and goose feeders. And....until this winter, offering a handful of the stuff to each of my five goats as they push and shove each other around their daily ration of hay.

Scratch, for those of you who are not conversant in farm-speak, is a toothsome combination of cracked, rolled, or whole grains such as corn, barley, oats. Sounds rather dull to us, I know, but to a chicken or goat, scratch is akin to what we humans call “crack.” One beak full of the stuff and you have created a glassy-eyed addict. As for the goats, more than once I’ve been caught in a  goat vortex while doling scratch from a bucket. 

So, why not just pour it into a feeder? Simple, unlike birds, for goats, too grain doesn’t make them fat. It makes them dead.
Sadly, grain is inherently foreign to a goats’ fiber loving digestive system, which consists of four stomachs, the first of which is the rumen. Hence, goats, sheep and cows are......ruminants! 

As anyone with tummy trouble can imagine, having four stomachs puts goats at major risk of eating the wrong thing, like grain. They can have a bit of it to add calories to their fibrous hay diets in winter, but  too much and they develop a fatal condition called bloat. Sadly, my milk goat, Hart, died of it some years back, after she sneaked into the garage and nosed open the feed can filled to the brim with scratch. 

Nevertheless, this year, I decided that instead of handfuls of scratch each day, the goats would get Goat Chow, an all purpose grain and fiber in pellet form. My motive; to avoid dealing with 60 bales of hay in the garage.

And so it was. I set out three big feeding tubs on the other side of the backyard yard fence and poured enough goat chow int each to feed five goats. And doing so,  nearly killed my big boy goat, Bosco.

You see, Bosco is Boss, King, Almighty Goat God to his four does. And, as such, he eats first. That meant that he gobbled most of the grain in all three feeders, the equivalent of four coffee cans full of food. I knew his piggish streak, but for whatever reason, I didn’t’ monitor the new feeding system thinking that  I’d placed the tubs far enough apart to allow the does to feed uninterrupted by Bosco. I couldn’t have been more wrong...

The next morning, when I looked out on the meadow I saw something amiss immediately. Four goats, not five, were nibbling on the dried grasses sticking up through the snow. Bunny, Bitsy, Biscuit, and Poppy, but no Bosco.

After calling and calling him, I hoofed it out to the barn only to find the big link sitting down. The old adage, “when a goat goes down, they stay down,” went through my mind as I petted his head and put my head next to his belly.  The usual gurgling of a healthy rumen was barely perceptible. Bloat.

So I did what 28  years of having to vet goats myself have taught me to do. I grabbed a Sven saw and headed for the willow swamp off the driveway, where I sawed down a smallish tree -and hauled it out to Bosco. The other goats followed behind me into the barn, and I expected to have to beat them off the tree en route, but not one of them tried to steal the medicine tree away from their guy. 

When Bosco took that first sweet twig into his mouth and began to eat it, I held out the slimmest of hope that he would pull through.

And pull through he did. As if to allay my worst fears, Bosco was standing at the fence at sunrise the next morning, a bit early for him to be up but I figure he was after more of that grain. Fortunately, I was able to get a special delivery of sweet, green hay that afternoon and Bosco and his girls have had their fill of it each day ever since. There is no way a goat can OD on hay.

The other critters are tucked in for winter properly, with some comfort additions to the coop and the shed attached to the garage. The bantam chickens have a heated water bowl this winter and an anteroom all to themselves - no ducks to muddy the water. The ducks and geese have a ten-gallon heated water bucket, too massive for even Thema and Louise, the big Buffs Geese to knock over. These two heated additions may drive up my electric bill, but doing a cost/benefit analysis, so crucial for women of a certain age like myself, I decided that avoiding lower back strain from carrying frozen water buckets is worth every penny spent.

At least, it WAS until my big lab/golden mix tore his left back ACLl AND tested positive for Lymes. Apparently, ticks live and bite all year long now. So one visit to the vet and two to go, plus meds to clear up the Lymes, is making me reassess the cost of heated water buckets. My core could definitely use some work and as for those upper arms, well, three months of bucket workouts should whittle down those flab flaps just a bit.

My world is complicated by such ups and downs because I chose to share the place I love most of all with so many domestic critters, who, like us, get sick or gimped up on occasion.

But for my trouble, I get fresh eggs, cashmere fleece from the goats, angora fiber from the rabbits and love approaching worship from the two dogs and two cats. From my perspective, that’s one heck of a deal and far more interesting and joy-filled life than I ever dreamed would one day be mine.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.



Magnetic North by Vicki Biggs Anderson

Magnetic North by Vicki Biggs Anderson                   10/23/18
When a Tree Falls
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where recent high winds took a toll on nearly every road and property. I was out of town during the storm and got home so tired from travel that it was almost a week before I notice the 60-foot poplar lying along the back edge of the yard... And but for my five goats clambering among its limbs, I might well have missed it until the spring.
The poplar, which stood throughout its life in obscurity among the spruce and jack pine by the old dog kennel, now became a fabulous treat for a small herd of bark loving goats.
Watching the goats clamber among the now-reachable branches of the downed tree made me think about how, depending on a tree’s place, either in the landscape or one’s history, it’s falling can be cause for so many emotions, from annoyance, to fear, to grief. And for goats and deer, celebration.
During the 28 years that I’ve lived, nestled on three sides by typically tangled Northern woods, and looking out on a six-acre meadow to the south, only once has a certain tree fallen to earth and left a permanent bruise on my heart by its absence. It wasn’t even the most iconic of the trees on the acreage; The one where all the critters are laid to rest when their time comes. It stands at the East end of the meadow. One towering White Pine, which is, as far as I know, the only one left standing by the subsistence immigrants who claimed this land, living by logging, fishing, hunting and farming little more than root vegetables.. And although I call this lone giant “mine.”  I know better. So many times over the years, wind, fire and even human carelessness let me know that all I call mine is merely on loan.
The big pine came close to being felled by a lightning strike during a ferocious storm right before 9/11. Paul and I watched a pin cherry tree take a bolt of lightning and burn like a torch, even in the pouring rain, The next strike was within feet of the white pine, but a birch took the worst of the fiery blow, while the pine to this day bears a scar over 30 feet long on her trunk. “If that tree goes,” one of us said watching the smoke across the meadow that night. But that night, it stayed and so did we.
The first fallen tree that truly hurt my heart was a gnarled and spreading red pine that stood behind the chicken run. The axle and wheels of an old buggy were so deeply sunken in the loam around the tree trunk, that roots had begun entwining the buggy wheel spokes. Paul and I would sit there watching the chickens - chicken videos we called those times - stroking our barn cat Mitten, one of the East County14 six-toed clan. I think Mitten got taken by an owl one winter night, but the tree survived her for years ....until one night, it fell. 

The morning after it fell, I carried water and feed in buckets to the coop as usual, only realizing that the massive branches and trunk were now horizontal behind the run, instead of standing guard and swaddling it in its limbs. 
I know Paul would have grieved with me that day for the loss of the chicken video tree, but his time had come too,  just months earlier.

Of course, when most trees fall in a place like this, no one notices and only a few feel bereaved by the absence of any one of them. And then there are ones like the Washington Pines white pines, senselessly downed by vandals, that everyone seems to know and care about deeply. The chainsaw downing of some White Pines in the beloved stand on the Gunflint Trail was grotesque and senseless. Some saw it as a finger in the eye to all “tree huggers.” Others chalked it up to intoxication. And though the perpetrators were caught and punished that didn’t put the trees back. That didn’t take away that hurt.

All this happened in the year before North House Folk School had their first class, a kayak building, taught out in the Coast Guard building off Artists Point. I covered the class for the local paper and discovered that the butchered Washington Pines trees were being used. Instructor and folk school founder, Mark Hansen, salvaged much of the wood for use in those first handmade crafts. The pines got a second life, many second lives, really,  through all the people who used that beautiful wood in their kayaks. The sheer perfection of that outcome still makes me smile.

However, sometimes in a county of trees and can-do folks, a tree falls and someone gets hurt... Earlier this month, this is what happened to a friend of mine and many others, as he tried to cut down a poplar behind his workshop in the town of Grand Marais. The results were many. For our friend, a brain injury and physical pain for a man used to great health an agile mind. For his family, the absence of normalcy, of just another day-ness. Precious things taken for granted, until normal seems like something only other people enjoy... With hard work and time, the prognosis is good for our friend. Best wishes for all good things to Jeff and Jenny and their beautiful boys in this new, unexpected journey.

John Lennon lamented back in the day, that “life is what happens while you’re making other plans. So it was with my brilliant idea to use a downed tamarack branch to make a wreath for the front of the house. Making it took me three hours and wire puncture wounds on both hands, but at last the big golden circle was done and I hung it between the garage doors, a thing of beauty and a joy forever; Forever, in this case being one night. My five goats found it and finished off their poplar lunch with a tamarack late night snack. But did I get angry? Not me. I got even. I made another Tamarack wreath and doused it with hot sauce. Let’s face it, Mother Nature isn’t the only one who can dish out the surprises.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North. 


Vicki's Chanterelles

Magnetic North - September 5, 2018

Magnetic North 9/4/18
Time traveling around Mother Superior

Welcome back to Magnetic North, where even we who live in heaven on earth take to the road with bags packed and baskets of junk food and tourist trinkets and found treasure stashed front seat to back. And sometimes, we take and make memories that can surprise us.

It takes either a health emergency or unavoidable family gathering to tempt me away from the farm and lakeshore in midsummer, but the latter of the two did just that in late July.

My dear friend, Cilla’s son was getting married on the opposite side of the big lake in Houghton, Michigan. Cilla, aka The Lady and the Scamp, introduced me to her son, Arthur a few years ago and won my heart by bonding with my favorite goat, Bosco; so much so that Arthur actually ended up nuzzling the big goat. Nose to nose. Quite the reaction to a creature with curling 20-inch horns I’d say. 

So when the invite to Arthur’s wedding came, even though the date was late July, I RSVP’d right off and made plans to go with Cilla.  She, of course, hitched up her beloved Scamp trailer and booked herself into a state park for five nights. I took the easier, softer option - a posh hotel overlooking the Keewanaw Waterway bridge that was smack up against a little marina I had sailed into during the summer of ’76 on my sailboat, Amazing Grace. 

The waterway is a part natural lake and part dredged canal that severs the landmass of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from the rest of the state. Moving copper ore and supplies was the motive for such a drastic and expensive amputation when it was done in the late 1860’s. A lift bridge was added for travel by land between the two cities, Houghton and Hancock. Nowadays, tourism and Michigan Tech feeds the two cities and the waterway is a route, not for copper and miner supplies, but for pleasure craft and family camps. This I learned when I first sailed under that bridge on a blistering hot summer day 42 years ago and blithely hopped off her bow to tie up on the Hancock side of the waterway. Yes, there was a time when I could hop off the prow of a boat and land on my feet without so much as an “Uffda!” or “Call 11!”

That all came flooding back into my memory when I looked out the hotel restaurant window the morning after our arrival and saw the bridge and marina across the waterway. It was as if a movie was running in my head, superimposed on the sunny scene across the waterway. There I was, wearing a yellow madras blouse, jeans and Docksiders, rope in hand and leaping just in time to land on the break wall and turn to prevent a collision with Grace’s bow. Then the film ended as abruptly as it started and perceived, with amazement and some embarrassment that fat tears were plopping into my coffee. 

Apparently, I thought, as I scolded myself for putting on a public display, there was more packed in my bags than finery for Arthur’s wedding. Those dang memories had somehow burrowed in beneath the frilly scarves and support pantyhose and were demanding my attention. They didn’t care that I was alone at a table with strangers peering nervously at me, wondering perhaps if I was about to be sick. No, they’d caught me out, without the trappings of chores and hobbies and endless distractions to remind me of certain truths; to wit, that I missed terribly my little seven-year-old girl, Gretchen, now a mom herself living half a continent away, and that the couple on that boat that summer still loved each other, probably always did in the end, even though being married to each other proved to be impossible. How I wished at that moment I had savored those days more when they were mine to savor.

t was just one of those flashback moments that lie in wait, springing to life when I am as unaware as a stone monkey 
Thankfully, the bittersweet blast from the past faded by the time my coffee was downed.  But it left me resolved to pay attention to whatever joys the coming days and festivities might bring.

And so, when I picked Chanterelle mushrooms at Cilla’s campground, I also made sure to gather pinecones for a Christmas gift wreath for the newlyweds. And when I tagged along to gramma’s house where the elegantly casual ceremony took place on the lawn sloping to the water’s edge, I tucked my introvert’s ego in my purse and took dozens of pictures for my friend and her son and new daughter-in-law

At the reception, my friend chose a quote, from C.S. Lewis, in framing her toast to the bride and groom. “When the most important things in life are happening, we almost never know exactly what is going on.”

As I packed my bags to head back to the North Shore, I tucked in some new memories of the Keewanaw, I decided that one of the great things about aging is that, like C.S. Lewis, most of us eventually wake up to the fact that even the most ordinary day might put us on the path of extraordinary joy. “So pay attention,” I told myself.

As Cilla and I drove back down the south shore of the lake, we talked over the past five days for a bit, then shifted into a topic that only those of us of a certain age would understand, having just been to one of the two most propitious occasions in one’s time on earth.

I’ve decided that I definitely do not want to be cremated,” I declared, as we escaped the blazing sun under the canopy of the Scamp at Brighton Beach just outside of Duluth. “Oh?” Cilla murmured as she poured out two cups of tea. You might have thought I’d said that I preferred half-and-half in my tea rather than milk.

“Yes,” I went on.” You KNOW how much I hate hot weather.  Hate is really too puny a word. Loathe, despise, detest, abominate, abhor hot weather - it’s why I live where I do!  So why on earth would I choose to be immolated after I die? Plus, I have the perfect dress, the one I wore when Paul and I got married. Who burns their wedding dress?”

That tea-time declaration and the giggling that followed is a funky memory of the wedding weekend that came home in my bags, along with the pine cones and pictures. And, who knows what else hitchhiked in memory when to paraphrase Lewis, I had no idea what was happening.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North



Magnetic North - July 6, 2018

Magnetic North 7/1/18
Isle Royale Saga Part 2
Welcome back to Magnetic North and the follow-up to my sailing saga of forty years ago. As I said before, time spent tied up to the wall by the Coast Guard Station in Grand Marais was all too short. My husband, our daughter, Gretchen and our young medical intern and friend, Pam, were on a quest, not a looky-loo sightseeing excursion. We’d crossed Lake Superior from the Apostle Islands in a dense cloud of fog, motoring most of the way until we made land and slipped through the narrow slot into the town harbor. It was merely a pit stop - ice, grub, and shuteye - before the Big Push to Isle Royale’s Washington Harbor. And the July morning brought the clearest skies of the summer, a gift from a major high-pressure system tied in a bow with 30-plus mile per hour winds.

And that was just at 8 o’clock in the morning.

Landlubbers will look out at the big lake dancing to the music of winds like that and crow, “What a great day for a sail, eh?” 
But anyone who has ever hoisted a sail in such conditions might well differ. Sure, you wouldn’t have to touch the motor, but you also would have to seriously consider attaching your lifejacket to the rigging during the voyage. Sailboats keel to one side under much lesser wind power, and that day, we would be sailing parallel to the waves which were growing taller with every passing hour.

After a brief, too brief for this kid, conference with our sailing friends in a 33-footer, we opted to set out well before noon for the island, sticking as close together as possible. And so we did.

I am guessing that before we’d even passed Five Mile Rock, our friend, Pam, Gretchen and I had consumed the maximum dose of Dramamine, as much to settle our nerves as our stomachs.

That sideways wind was the kind we had that day going to Isle Royale; One side rail of the boat just about even with the water and stomach lurching drops from the top of wave thoughts to their bottoms... Up. Down. Up. Down. And never a letup in the wind.
Not that it was boring. Anything but.

At one point, I looked up at the cabin door to see Gretchen holding her knitting needles in one little hand -they were of course aimed at her eyeballs. Soon after that, I looked across at our sailing friends in their much bigger boat, only to see their mast disappear in the troughs of the waves separating our crafts.

I will say this. There were no biting flies that day.

Thanks to the ferocious wind, we made Isle Royale just a bit after noon, coming up alongside Rock of Ages Lighthouse, still in huge waves. I was instructed to keep my eye on the depth finder and report if we were about to see the wreck of the America closer than planned. 

“Ten feet,” I croaked as the famed lighthouse loomed off our bow. That’s ten feet from the tip of the keel, mind you.
“Eight feet....five!” I squawked, “Will you for the love of Pete put he blasted sails DOWN?!” It was less a question than a command. I tend to get bossy when death nears.

“Well, cheated death again,” my husband cried over the roar of the motor, as we tied up to the dock. 

A gaggle of teenage campers stood ogling our two sailboats, oblivious to the conditions beyond the harbor mouth…“Wow, what a great day for a sail,” one yelled enthusiastically.  My reply was -mercifully - muffled by the shouts of my husband and our young physician friend who had just seen Gretchen and the pug fall off the bow into the lake.

Both dog and child wore life jackets. It was not the first - or last - time for such drama.

It was three more years before I refused to sail on Superior ever again and another 14 before I got my heart’s desire and moved to the North Shore, at long last, happily aground at the end of a gravel road. Aside from a few humbling experiences with goats and geese and assorted critters, I have not once since ended my days here with the phrase, “Well, cheated death again,”
As for the young woman who gamely made the trip with us to the Isle, her experience seemed to have forced her to question where her life was going, at least now that it was not ending on the rocks of Superior. Within months of returning to the cities, she quit medicine and became a Buddhist monk. I kid you not.

It is ironic that having endured forced marches into the BWCA and near death experiences on the big lake, I still felt drawn to this place. And over the years I’ve come to find enough to fill my cup in just being here. Not covering kilometers in the wilderness. Not circling the lake on the highway or crossing it on water. Just being in a place where I can look out the window and see a doe licking her newborn fawn clean, or ride a kicksled at midnight down my snowy driveway under Northern Lights, or know who is related to who and where to find help when a newcomer needs a plumber, electrician or even get a skunk out from under one’s porch.

It’s not high adventure - nothing Robert W. Service would have written poems about. But for me and for Paul, it was and is more, much, much, more than enough.

For WTIP this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.