Dean and I along with our Labrador-flat coat retriever mix, Midnight arrive at the 60+ year old cabin situated on Island Lake just at sundown. Oranges, pinks, and purples kiss the lake "good night" and welcome us. It's been a long haul from St. Charles County, Missouri to this Minnesota paradise. But so much worth the road trip. Weekday and weekend warriors cannot stop on vacation either. We had taken the extra-long route following the Mississippi River highways. So, a 12-hour trip became a 15-hour trip. The meandering scenery had slowed our pace down before arriving at this moment. Midnight climbs out of the SUV from his secure kennel into what I think my father described to him as heaven. Our dog gazed wide-eyed at this expansive beautiful lake recounting the aquatic tales his deceased master had told him, I am sure. Into the lake he went, lapping water and going for his doggy swim in Island Lake. Just 2 minutes to realize heaven was here, and my father's spirit present.
Our first night at the cabin we unloaded the SUV, then gathered jackets and a flashlight onward bound by foot just up the road with our dog. The little green cabin had folks congregated there near a campfire. We met up with my childhood friends and greeted new ones from as far away as Norway. Midnight gets acquainted with more Labradors, the natural breed of our 4-legged friends in the land of 10,000 lakes. Before we know it, the time passes midnight with the campfire still aflame. Embers will be there in the morning to start a skillet breakfast. We head back to our lakeside cabin, choosing the front bedroom of the 2-bedroom pine-lined dwelling. I climb into bed too tired to have a spring from the mattress just about empale me. We'll sleep in the back bedroom tonight and deal with the mattress issue tomorrow. We discovered the back bedroom mattress was not much better as Dean and I are forced to meet in the middle. This mattress' sunken center provided cozy quarters for this exhausted yet still honeymooning couple. Our backs ache in the morning begging for more support. Dean flips over the empaling mattress to its other side to discover the year of the mattress ... 1971. Why that is the first year my father along with my mother and their 4 children ventured to this heavenly northern destination in a Chevy Impala. Now don't cast too much judgement on this mattress date. The cabins are only used 3 - 4 months out of the year, so a normal 10-year mattress can go to 30 - 40 years. So, at 42-years old, it might be due for replacing.
Electronics, computer and TV are non-existent in the cabins. While on this get away, Dean chose to use his basic cell phone on occasion. I took a vacation from it all. This blog was written last week, scrawled onto my paper journal ... I awoke this morning before sunrise. Is it night still? No clock to check as we are in a time warp at this northern lake retreat. In just a few minutes I see a tinge of blue in the black sky. I take this moment to observe the day's beginning. I slip on my jeans and sweatshirt and quietly step onto the screened porch. Those moments of complete silence, no human awake just nature and I welcome the morning in this neck of the woods. Our dog, Midnight stretches on the porch and awaits at the porch door to be let out. He too embraces morning's arrival this day. There is something special about living in the present moment. All senses a keen, see the colors change before my eyes recognizing the picturesque tree line before me. The loons cry out as the fog lifts from the lake. Misty vapors keep my skin and clothes damp, I smell and taste the lake, and I remember my father's love of this place. His planning, mapping, and research of his yearly fishing trip started in January when the tree farming and landscape designing was at a halt. My father was a planner, and I too like him. Yet this present moment reels me back to reality. I would have missed this unforgettable sunrise had I rolled over and slept in another morning of my vacation ... ducks, a blue heron, and even a night owl calling it a night show themselves amongst the pines, birches, and cattails. The dragonflies are now flitting about, illuminating more color for this overcast day. The brisk morn may see a rain shower before the warm noon sun. No boat on the lake, that I hear or see, and 2 hours into this day ... In 1971 and several years to follow, my father would have been out on the lake by now catching walleye and bass for that evening's dinner. Way before my siblings or I and definitely my mother opened an eyelid. I miss my father today like every day. This place called Valhalla is heaven on earth and was my father's favorite place while he was alive on earth. Somehow, he is with Midnight, Dean, and I. It is called eternal life...
For my siblings and I Valhalla meant playing with friends all day with very little chores. We would play h-o-r-s-e in the barn, swim in the cold lake, boat rides, hide-n-seek with the fireflies lighting the path, and a campfire with songs and roasted marshmallows. Those young teenage years I wanted to be on the receiving end of another kiss from a cute Norwegian boy, my Minnesota friends' visiting cousin. To me Valhalla is about people, kind-hearted genuine folks. The mild summer and lake fish bring the people. But the people bring life to the vacation. The summer visitors enjoy fish fries, potlucks, smokey breakfast skillets, and campfire tales. Author Garrison Keillor shares with us “Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.” This year the fish fry, skillet breakfast, fire grilled pizzas, and lemon rice krispies treats make the food highlights. More Norwegian cousins entertain the family and friends this year. I miss my Norwegian friend from my childhood, and his cousin promises to persuade his return to Valhalla next summer. Intimate moments we share about the death and memory of loved ones. Songs were sung at church and at the campfire. Yes, my Scrabble game had kinder words reflecting my kinder, at peace thoughts this restful week. The year of the mattress did not reflect the oldness of 1971, but the goodness.