Guest commentary: September Up NorthIt wasn’t until I moved down south—to Minneapolis—that I realized September could be like summer with hot days, shorts and flip flops (which we used to call thongs).
By: Lisa Guthmiller, Edina, Lake County News Chronicle
It wasn’t until I moved down south—to Minneapolis—that I realized September could be like summer with hot days, shorts and flip flops (which we used to call thongs). Down here in the south I don’t buy school clothes for my kids until October. They just wear their summer things until then and it gives them another month to grow before I buy the next round of clothes for them to outgrow.
I grew up in Duluth, which I now consider Up North…but it wasn’t when I lived there. During high school and college I spent the last two weeks of August in places that were really Up North—meaning Isabella—at the Environmental Learning Center. I recently noticed that someone moved and renamed it when I wasn’t looking.
I helped run a program for disabled adults. This was long before any kind of wilderness adaptation device was invented. In fact, it was before state institutions were closed. Our campers came to us by the busload, often from these facilities, with virtually nothing appropriate for camping, let alone wilderness survival. So we worked together to figure out how anyone who wanted to canoe, could get in, be safe, and paddle. Or participate in other outdoor activities.
One of my fondest memories is of taking a group of six middle-aged adults on an overnight hike. A stunning storm drove through our campsite-- thunder reverberating, trees snapping, an eerie lightening show in the tent. Most in this group of hikers were not verbal. They either never had the ability, were never taught or their desire to communicate had simply died. In the tent that night, we sat together in silence and solidarity. It was calming. The next morning we gathered what we could for breakfast.
In preparation for overnight hikes, I taught orienteering skills. Even though the trail was wide and clear, at each turn I’d take out my map, ask someone to lay a compass on it, and determine if the trail was taking us in the correct direction.
After the storm, parts of the trail were impassible and real orienteering was required to find our way back. Margaret, an older woman--solidly overweight, wearing a housecoat with her grey hair in curlers--volunteered as lead. With no sense of pressure or hurry, my silent crew leaned over the map at each upturned tree while Margaret puzzled a way around it. We eventually emerged from the woods to the applause of the team that was preparing to come out and find us. We emerged from the woods changed and we emerged from the woods better.
And then it was September.
I remember the beginning of September; coming back to civilization, which basically meant the Two Harbors Dairy Queen. I remember standing on Seventh Avenue—tan, a thick brown braid down my back, wool socks, hiking boots and shorts. Overhead was an azure sky. Crisp air and a sharp wind were biting at my legs. It wasn’t summer anymore. It was September Up North.
By the way, I looked online and ELC is alive and well operating under some new-fangled name “Wolf Ridge.” It doesn’t look like the program for disabled adults is active, but they welcome families. I think I will check it out, take the kids and hope for a storm.