Monday, June 30, 2014

June moon in Grand Marais

Beautiful sunshine between bouts of rain sums up our June which closes out today.

Midway through the month we took a weekend trip to the North Shore. 

North of Duluth the numerous rivers that come down from the highlands to Lake Superior were running fast.

We made several stops to click and shoot. 

Abundant state parks and roadside pull-outs make the drive, as it follows the Lake Superior shoreline, a vacationer’s paradise. 

It became a succession of mini-breaks to walk trails or span bridges for close-up views of waterfalls and vast chilly Lake Superior.

We were headed to Grand Marais 260 miles north of the Cities. A photography class was the reason for going. Al had signed up for a class at North House Folk School located there.

North House Folk School is located on the harbor as you come into town on Hwy. 61. It's an artisan center which teaches northern crafts as part of its community building mission.

It was established to keep alive, and pass along, past and present trades, skills and stories of those who call the rugged forested swath of land bordering the western shore of Lake Superior their home.

Painting & photography is among programs North House Folk School offers. 

The full slate includes basketry, blacksmith skills, boat building, timber framing, sailing , shelter, woodworking and northern ecology, but is by no means the complete list. 

Wildflower photography blends photography skills with appreciation for the natural world. 

Al regarded it that way at any rate. He was primed to catch images of the blooms that are as transient as the short northern summer.

We arrived in lovely Friday sunshine. We knew this was it for the good conditions. The weekend would be rainy. The weather forecast was straightforward about that.

Checking into the Best Western on Lake Superior we stepped onto our private balcony overlooking the lake. 

We admired the view for about one minute. We decided, lovely as it’d be to go no further, that with prediction for rain after today, we better step lively to see the town at its June best while the chance was there.

Al’s class was set to start shortly. It gave us enough time for dinner at the Angry Trout. 

Our meals were delicious. The food and view of the harbor are worth the wait, which happens, probably frequently at this season, so plan ahead.

Full moon that evening was the lucky dividend. About 9:30 PM, before skies clouded over, to stay glum or drippy the rest of the weekend, the moon became visible on the lake horizon.

June full moon is the “strawberry moon.” It was majestic in appearance and of a deep golden hue.

Seeing it rise above Lake Superior, we’ll relive the scene when "strawberry moon” is used again. 

We’ll be reminded of the dark waters made choppy by strengthening winds, and the softened effect of full moon on the rough lake surface.

Saturday I had my own mission. While Al snapped away with his photography colleagues at Cascade State Park my goal was no less a matter of commitment. 

I was going to shop and explore, eat and learn a lot about Grand Marais.

With a population of about 1500, Grand Marais mixes a marine setting with the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains behind it. 

It’s a town easy to lose yourself in. Not “Darn, miss my GPS” sort of lost. It’s the satisfying response that comes with forgetting time as you take it all in.

Grand Marais is an outdoorsy community reflecting its setting. It balances the generosity of nature’s four seasons with a seriously artsy vibe. It makes for an invigorating combination. 

It’s picturesque enough to be a New England coastal village. Comparison isn't the town’s intent. Its charm and authenticity are strictly its own. Its well documented heritage and history draw me particularly.

Canoes and kayaks are strapped to the tops of many vehicles seen about town. This isn’t a country for slackers it occurs to me. 

Grand Marais is a jumping off spot for the Gunflint Trail (Cook County #12). This adds another shade of interest.

The Gunflint Trail, extending north about 60 miles, takes canoers, campers and all zestful types to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) on the international boundary with Canada.

The town reminds me of Livington, Montana. It seems to have outfitter establishments galore. 

Plaid shirts, denim jeans, fleece vests, hoodies and raingear comprise a sort of dress code here. You opt for practicality in places where outdoors is embraced and chunks of time are spent in it.

Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply is one of the neat local shops. Range of sporting gear and the expertise available to guide your purchasing decisions lets you customize the wilderness experience to your needs. 

Ask about the Stone Harbor's full moon paddle tours when you visit.

Lake Superior Trading Post is another great emporium. You can browse on two floors. 

There’s something of everything, whether buying for a camping vacation or picking up northern lifestyle touches for your home.

The Ben Franklin on Wisconsin Street is another must-see for those who treat main street shopping as a form of outdoor sport. 

The family-owned store carries a diverse inventory. You expect to find souvenir T-shirts, swim wear and grooming essentials you forgot to pack. And you will. 

That’s why this store is so valuable. It has what we left at home. Don’t, however, go into this Ben Franklin under the assumption that's pretty much it.

The store sells Hudson Bay point blankets. It has the Pendleton brand. You’ll discover Woolrich sweaters. 

You can try on Uggs or Clarks for shoe wear. There’s seasonal outerwear. The aisles had room for dozens of us, jammed into the store, as the rain came down.

Other stops were Cook County Whole Foods Co-Op and Sivertson Gallery. 

These places bring forward an aspect that can be missed with the out-front focus on sports that challenge and test the spirit. 

Add an enjoyed visit to a local bookstore, whose name I cannot remember, and the picture of Grand Marais was coming together for me.

I spent quite awhile at Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery. The art of  Anna C. Johnson caught my eye, and compelled me to make a return visit to further study her work.

The nonprofit art gallery has the name of this local artist. The west wing is the permanent display of her original art. 

The Swedish immigrant girl arrived in Minnesota by way of Michigan. She tells her story in the North Shore landscapes and homey scenes she depicted.

The day went fast. It was randomly sampled. I stepped into one place here, another place there. Certainly much was missed. Some places noted but not visited:

Blue Water Café

World’s Best Donuts

Dockside Fish Market

The Java Moose

and more

Grand Marais harbor with Lighthouse and Artist’s Point make the list too. All were given up because of the rain.

Happy Hour was at Gunflint Trail Tavern as the afternoon wound down. Through the misted windows, and with my drink on the table in front of me, I mused on the procession of cars on Wisconsin Street.

Each carload had weather nixing its weekend plans. Probably for these fellow vacationers, as for me, to be rained out turned out to be not a big deal.

There’s so much to do in Grand Marais. Clots of weekend visitors everywhere made it feel like a rainy day at the State Fair or a chilly Disneyworld adventure. One becomes weather impervious when having fun.

Then it was time to decide where to have supper. Al wouldn’t be back for us to eat together.

His meal (included in the seminar) was homemade pizza. Dough for individual  pizzas was rolled out by each of the attendees. 

There were a variety of toppings to put on. Each pizza was baked at 800 degrees in an outdoor oven. Nothing I ordered was going to be able to top that.

My idea was to have something simple and trundle back to our lodgings. 

Dampness had penetrated top layers. I was paying for my nonchalance in terms of the weather. I pretended not to notice those staying dry. They wielded umbrellas, having heeded the forecast for rain and ready for it.

Where to go – where to go to eat. This is the interesting question when new in town and spontaneous about choices.

You accept that you may bomb with a bad choice or get lucky with a fabulous restaurant find - because you were meant to, perhaps. 

The list to choose from narrowed because I wanted a spot relatively close.When you don’t know it’s eeny meanie meinie moe. Into Sven & Oles I went. 

A sign seen somewhere around town probably ultimately decided me. 

It said something like you haven’t been to Grand Marais if you haven’t been to Sven & Ole’s. Or “best pizza around.” Let’s say Sven & Ole’s advertising worked successfully on me.

Al came back, more drenched then I'd been, but replete with pizza, and proud owner of some great photos. 

The entire day was in the rain but the reward was some cool shots. Rain beads flower petals. His camera caught the dainty glow of wildflower colors that dim background thrusts forward.

The weekend gave deeper understanding of the Grand Marais area. 

What strikes me the most is the great friendliness encountered. With motel staff as a start, and others talked to.

It’s neat to participate – if only by proximity to it - in the rugged side of life. To see kayaks and canoes and fleece vests and outdoor wear of those headed up the Gunflint Trail or as hikers on Lake Superior trails.

You absorb the vitality of the North. It renews you to see life lived fully at so many levels of challenge and appreciation.

Ro Giencke – June 30, 2014


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