Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Best. Vacation. Ever.

The last Saturday in July didn't look like a promising start for our family vacation at Star Lake, in north central Minnesota. The weather was cool as we left home, and we were heading three hours north. Forecasts said the temperature would drop to 41 degrees overnight. I packed extra fleece shirts, extra sox, a pair of gloves, a windbreaker. At the last minute I left my winter jacket at home. If it was that cold, I'd just stay inside.

A typically gentle Star Lake sunset
I'm happy to say the forecasts were wrong, and our week was pleasantly warm. The six of us--grandparents, parents, and youngsters--were able to swim, kayak, fish, bike, hike, and enjoy nature's wonders to our hearts' content. Sometimes Abby and Eric took the children out--for a boat ride or a hike or a trip to town--while Peter and I had some quiet time. By the same token, he and I took them fishing or looking for snapping turtles or we played games at the cabin so Mom and Dad could venture off on their own. Peter and I have been home for three days and we're still talking about what a wonderful time we had.

A few favorite memories:

Enjoying the ride, working up an appetite
* See that shopping bag on the pontoon boat? Abby filled it with "provisions" when Peter and I took the kids fishing. She meant for all of us to share, but Peter and I weren't very hungry and we didn't stop them, so they felt as though they got away with something. Ask them what they liked best about our vacation and one of them is sure to say, "Eating all the provisions on the boat."

* Pontoon boats are great--easier for us older people to climb on and off, easier for kids because they can move around, easier to take "provisions," cameras, and other stuff along. But they're designed and sold as party boats. All the seats face in, making it awkward to fish. The kids preferred dock fishing, where we catch tiny sunfish and throw them back "to feed the snapping turtles."    

* Augie and Vi love being outdoors and seeing wildlife, whether it's with their dad's family in Montana or with mom's in Minnesota. Loons, herons, beavers, snapping turtles, deer--or bison, mountain goats, pronghorns. They know them on sight and can tell you where they live and what they eat. And maybe what their scat looks like.

Eric paddling in after tipping the kayak
* Our grandkids love the water. Their enthusiasm and confidence as they swim, or jump off the raft, or climb aboard the paddle boat, is inspiring to these grandparents, who never shared that confidence. Star Lake is a deep glacial gash with very little shallow area, so the kids wear life vests and we grownups set a good example by doing the same. 

Augie and his new gymnastic trick
* Augie impressed us all last week with his natural ability to maneuver a kayak. I embedded a few seconds of video just above. But when Peter complimented him today on this "best new skill," Augie said, "Excuse me, my best new skill is my trick." Which involves climbing onto a bar attached to the swing set, doing a sort of aerial somersault, then dropping to the ground. He demonstrated it for anyone who came along.

* When the resident loons set up a loud, constant tremolo sound, it means they have spotted a predator--often the bald eagle that visits regularly. The eagle perches atop a tall pine near the resort and eventually glides the length of the lake, just above the water. He or she is often seen taking fish, but nobody knows, or is saying, whether its prey has included young loons. From the little I've learned watching eagle nest cameras, it seems possible but not likely.

* Vi discovered a small raspberry patch planted next to our cabin. She visited twice a day looking for newly ripe berries. The berries are still tiny; we'll see whether they get larger as the plants mature or whether the birds grab them before we get the chance. Another possibility is that as summer weather varies from year to year the berries might ripen when we're not around.

* Time at the cabin is mostly a celebration of the outdoors, but we all found it a huge treat to drive about four miles into Crosslake for hand-dipped ice cream. In fact, it leads Vi's list of highlights for the week. I liked it, too, because the little ice cream shop carries toffee crunch, with the added title "butter brickle." Bridgeman's butter brickle was my favorite ice cream growing up, and it's years since I'd had any. A little online research has just revealed that I can find it several places in Minnesota, including one just a few miles from my house. 

Dinner on the river, and yes, Vi's at that stage
* We usually try to catch enough fish to have one dinner of our own fresh-caught fish. We agreed in advance that if we didn't catch enough, we'd have Wednesday night dinner at The Wharf on the river just outside Cross Lake. We sat outside where we could watch the fancy boats go by. The food, scenery, and overall experience were wonderful and we all agreed to make it a new family tradition. (We'd still like to catch a few keepers each year, but sometimes undersized panfish are the only things biting.)

* Other than one dinner out, Abby did all the cooking for five days, and when they left Peter cooked for two more days. In other words, I had virtually no kitchen responsibilities for a week, and I loved it. Now that's a vacation. 


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