Pretty much every summer for the majority of my life, I have traveled to Lake of the Woods. Have you heard of it? It occupies parts of the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba, and northern Minnesota. It is over 70 miles long and wide and has 14,552 islands.
When I was young, we would attach one of those Winnebago foldout campers to the back of our car, and drive three hours up and three hours back. Somehow, we packed: my parents, my brother, a couple of my stepbrothers and sisters and our huge black standard poodle, Mitzi into the car. We did this EVERY weekend of the summer! This is where I sat on a bee and got my first sting, and had my first wee little crush on a boy a few campers down.
From the Winnebago, we graduated to a little white house on Rainy River. Rainy River runs into the big lake and is just outside of Baudette, Minnesota, population about 1,100. Now that we had the benefit of heat, plumbing, etc., we started traveling here during the winter months, too . . . again, EVERY weekend. This is about the time where I just wanted to be home on the weekend. I had friends and a social life where, if I missed out on something happening, my life would be over and I would die (I’m a teenager now). I had a hard time convincing my parents I should stay home so, instead, I would bring my friends along.
There is a tiny little island that my best friend, Jillie, and I would love to sneak off to. She had a tiny fishing boat, kind of like a dinghy. She would pull up to my dock, pick me up and off we went. We were always alone on this island; it was like our little secret. The island was very remote, had nothing on it to speak of except a bunch of sand ,so no one ever ventured there but us. One time, we thought we would be super grown up and sophisticated and sunbathe topless. That was the very rare time that another fishing boat came floating by. Now, the island has somehow been discovered and is full of big boats and lots of families picnicking. My family and I still love to go there.
My parents decided to build their dream home at the Lake about the time I was starting my own family. I had moved to Minneapolis and, so now, the three-hour drive is a seven-hour drive. The drive takes us through many quiet, small towns and truly is a slice of Americana. Homes with wrap-around front porches, lawn art and flags waving proudly. Nobody is in a hurry to get anywhere, and everything is slowed way down. So lovely.
There really isn’t that much to do at the lake . . . except for fishing, and so heading out onto the huge lake means spending the entire day on the boat . . . fishing. I’m not that great of a fisherwoman as it takes great patience, and I get extremely bored waiting for something to happen. We usually catch walleye and trout. Nowadays, we bring a couple of boats onto the lake and have fishing competitions between them, which can get really loud and boisterous. To this day, my boat has never won.
Fourth of July celebrations at the lake are my favorite part. Thousands of people come into Baudette for the street fair and fireworks. At the street fair you can listen to bagpipes, enjoy fried walleye, get a tattoo or our favorite thing, watch someone else get a tattoo. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the tattoo truck is located right next to the Beer Garden. At dusk, it is so cool to see all the families sitting on blankets with their coolers, fluorescent light-up necklaces and twirly thingies in anticipation for the fireworks. Our neighbors in Canada across the river have lit up American flags in their backyards as a sign of friendship. The fireworks are choreographed to music, and always end with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” When it’s all over and we’re walking back to the car, it’s always the feeling of “best night ever.”