Naniboujou is the Cree god for the outdoors. In 1929, this lodge was planned to be an exclusive getaway for Chicago celebs and outdoorsmen. It was a great idea, but the Great Depression brought that to an end. In smaller form than originally planned, this historic lodge on Lake Superior continues on– and the best part is this stunningly-painted dining room. The food is great, but the ceiling (this is the original paint) is mind-blowing. It’s a delightful distraction and worth a detour if you’re on your way along the north shore between Grand Marais and Canada or ready to set out on the Gunflint Trail.
I spent much of yesterday at the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato, Minnesota which is part of the Betsy-Tacy Deep Valley Homecoming. I sold a truckload of books—-okay about ten and I swapped one of those with another author for her book. However, I met a lot of local authors working on fascinating topics (fiction and non-fiction), swapped book promotion ideas, and gained lots of inspiration. Best of all, I met one of my favorite local writers, Faith Sullivan, a generous, delightful person and great writer who enthusiastically purchased a copy of my book, Off The Beaten Page. Keep an eye out for her new book, Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse, coming out this fall from Milkweed Press.
I met a few other authors whose books I have to share with you. Odds are, if you’re not too far away, they’d be happy to stop by your book group to talk about their book. First on my list to read is Nancy Koester’s Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life.
Allen Eskens‘s debut novel, The Life We Bury, is a story of suspense involving a University of Minnesota student, set against the harsh winter of Minnesota. I’ll be settling in for that one this winter.
I also met the bubbly Anne B. Kerr, author of Fujiyama Trays and Oshibori Towels, a memoir of her experiences as a Northwest Orient Airlines stewardess in the 1950s. I pickup of a copy to give to my mother-in-law who was also a flight attendant in that era.
And finally, if you’re a fan of young adult paranormal romance, a very specific category, check out Unclaimed by Laurie Wentzel. Laurie shared book promotion tips and also explained that my college dating life didn’t qualify as paranormal.
Fiction Meets Reality in Maude Hart Lovelace’s “Deep Valley”
It’s hard to believe that a series of novels can still be popular with a heroine who neither Tweets nor Snapchats, a girl who lacks magical powers, a vampire boyfriend, or a fabulous assortment of weaponry. Yet, the beloved Betsy-Tacy series by Mankato, Minnesota, author Maud Hart Lovelace have been in continuous publication since the 1940s and inspire an almost fanatical devotion, even among readers who are used to consuming racier fare such as “Gossip Girl” or “The Vampire Diaries.”
If you need proof, you need only show up in Mankato on a Friday or Saturday afternoon in summer. You’ll find Betsy-Tacy fans who’ve come from around the world to visit the trim little Victorian houses on Center Street, “Betsy’s House” and “Tacy’s House,” where Hart Lovelace and her real best friend, Frances Kenney, grew up right across the street from each other. Little girls and their grandmothers, mother and daughters, and adult “gals on getaways” line up for a tour of the real-life houses that are the setting of the beloved book series. The houses have been lovingly restored and designated as national literary landmarks.
A Calming Oasis
A step into Betsy-Tacy world is a step back into a slower, more peaceful era.The first of the series’ 10 books, Betsy-Tacy, begins in 1897, when Betsy is about to turn five, and the series continues through Betsy’s Wedding during World War I, all based on Hart Lovelace’s own girlhood. The lack of technology, fighting and fast-paced action may be the secret for the books’ enduring appeal. Linda Lee, an adult Betsy-Tacy fan visiting from Claremont, California, says of the books, “I re-read them even now. They’re about family, friendship and fun in doing simple things. Reading them brings a sense of calm to my frenzied life.”
The houses are open on weekends year-round but Betsy-Tacy fans show up en masse each June for the Deep Valley Homecoming—this year from June 26-30— like a children’s book Coachella. (Deep Valley is the name Hart Lovelace gave her hometown in the books.) Activities include Betsy & Tacy home and neighborhood tours, narrated horse-drawn trolley rides, a Victorian Tea, Deep Valley Book Festival*, fashion show, living history actors, speakers and re-enactments, a vintage car show and more.
Inspiration for Modern Girls
Enthusiastic docents regularly lead tours of the houses and point out how the homes and the neighborhood compare to the books’ illustrations by Lois Lenski. From the old-fashioned kitchen, to the lace curtains and fine china, to the books and Maude Hart Lovelace memorabilia, tours furnish a cultural snapshot of the era, a chance to experience what it was like to live in a Midwestern town when the first automobile arrived and homes got their first telephones.
But beyond a nostalgic connection to a fictional world or a look at old houses with creaky floors and Victorian furniture, a visit to the Betsy-Tacy houses offers a look at the lives and friendships children, the aspirations of women at the turn of the last century, and celebrates girls who are, while old-fashioned, strikingly independent and adventurous.
While old telephones may be the highest tech you’ll experience on the tour, Betsy and Tacy aren’t totally off the grid. You’ll find constant discussion about them on Twitter and Pinterest.
*I’ll be at the Deep Valley Book Festival this year, signing copies of Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways.
If you go:
Mankato is about an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities via I-169. The houses are open this summer on Friday and Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children (under 5 free).
Since the beginning, Minnesota’s lakes and rivers have been the engine of the region’s development and the focus of recreation, not to mention the source of a whole lot of fish. The Twin Cities, for example, have their roots on the Mississippi River, which has transported timber and grain from the Midwest to markets in the east and powered the four mills of the Pillsbury family, among others, since the early 1800s. That made the riverfront in Minneapolis primarily an industrial area. Interesting, but not particularly scenic.
All of that is changing as the city rediscovers and redevelops its waterfront. The mills and warehouses have been converted to trendy apartments and condominiums now and that section of the riverfront is part of an expanding Mill Ruins Park. It’s the sight of the Mill City Farmers Market in summer, where you can eat and buy great organic produce under the watchful gaze of some of the world’s great playwrights who look down from the Guthrie Theater next door.
Though the new version of the riverfront is more vibrant, it’s the unusual history here that makes it so intriguing. You can revisit the city’s early days in several ways. First, pick up a copy of Mary Relindes Ellis’s novel Bohemian Flats, which is named after the area slightly downriver from the mills which was home to the city’s poorest immigrants, mainly from Germany and eastern Europe (or Bohemia) who are the subject of the story. Set after World War I, the book traces the progress of a German immigrant family who settled in the ramshackle village that grew up along a low point along the river, many of whom worked in the flour mills.
Next, start a riverfront tour at the Mill City Museum, which offers an in-depth look at the flour industry and the early days of Minneapolis. It’s built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill. Wander the across the Stone Arch bridge for a terrific view of the river and St. Anthony Falls, which powered the mills and check out the paths and ruins along the water. Grab some grub at the Farmer’s Market and watch the river roll by as you eat.
Book lovers will want to wander down Washington Avenue to explore the Minnesota Center for Book Arts at Open Book. You can view the artistic assembly of the pages, covers, and spines, then peruse the shop at MCBA, which is a reader’s delight of books, gifts, handmade paper, and journals.
Rent one of the green bikes from one of the Nice Ride Minnesota stations near the museum and head downriver for a scenic tour. Make a stop at Izzy’s gourmet ice cream to fuel your trip. You’ll arrive at Bohemian Flats, which is no longer a wild collection of shacks, but rather a lovely park inhabited mainly by University of Minnesota students throwing frisbees. It’s a great pastoral place to enjoy the view of the river, the university campus and, in particular, the futuristic Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum. It makes quite a contrast to the image of the old Bohemian Flats on the cover of Ellis’s novel.
You know you’re in Minnesota when you find yourself at the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway. Overlooking the Mississippi River, Minnehaha Park is one of Minneapolis’s oldest and most popular parks. Minnehaha Falls, the park’s centerpiece, became a tourist destination after the publication of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” in 1855.
Longfellow never visited the falls in person and there’s not much fact in the poem; the real Hiawatha lived in New England. Nonetheless,
“Hiawatha” became America’s most widely read poem of the nineteenth century, spreading the fame of Minnehaha Falls and the uppermost regions of the Mississippi and the “shores of Gitche Gumee by the shining Big Sea waters.”
The falls are on Minnehaha Creek which flows from Lake Minnetonka west of Minneapolis, through the city and on into the Mississippi River. By late summer they are often reduced to a trickle. In fact, one year (almost 50 years to the day) President Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to view the falls on a visit to Minneapolis, but they were almost bone dry. In order to create something worth seeing, the city had to open many fire hydrants, upstream and out of sight, to feed water to the creek.”
That’s not the case this year. June brought the all-time largest rainfall in Minnesota, which created new bodies of water and raised the level of the Great Lakes. That meant little Minnehaha Falls became a raging torrent and it lured professional kayaker Hunt Jennings to give it a go. Over the falls he went to the surprise of many bystanders–and he emerged in one piece.
I don’t suggest kayaking over the falls, but if you visit the park, a safer bet would be to try out Sea Salt Eatery for fish tacos and other goodies amidst the beauty of the park.
I just returned from walking my dog, Duffy, and he’s a big wet ball of mud. It’s about 40 degrees and rainy outside, the worst possible weather for Minnesotans. Most of us relish the cold and snow and spend a lot of time outside enjoying it while also feeling slightly superior to those who live the easy life in warmer climates. Wimps.
When it’s really cold here, its also sunny, a very cheerful combination. We run out with show shoes or skis or simply gaze out on the sparkling snowbanks, hot cocoa in hand. By contrast today is capital D Dreary. No amount of cocoa will make me feel better unless it’s some of “Mr. Smith’s special hot chocolate” that my spouse used to take along on kids camp outs. Add to the drippy weather the fact that we’re so far north it gets dark really early in winter, so by about 4:30 it will be dark and dreary… sounds like Edgar Allen Poe.
On the upside, I’ve always felt that people who are too happy have nothing to write about. Would Poe have penned The Raven if he were feeling anything but morose? Could Jon Krakauer have written Into Thin Air if his Mt. Everest trek hadn’t been a disaster? One of my favorite writers, Tim Egan, concurs. In a recent New York Times column, “The Longest Nights,” he says the bleak winter is prime time for writers and other creative people. “At the calendar’s gloaming,” he says, “while the landscape is inert, and all is dark, sluggish, bleak and cold, writers and cooks and artists and tinkerers of all sorts are at their most productive.”
He lives in Seattle and his article ponders the relationship between Seattle’s uber rainy weather and the number of writers in that city. He says, “I’ve come to the conclusion that creativity needs a season of despair. Where would William Butler Yeats be if he nested in Tuscany? Could Charles Dickens ever have written a word from South Beach? And the sun of Hollywood did much to bleach the talents out of that troubled native of Minnesota, F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
So I welcome the bleak mid-winter. What else is there to do but towel off the dog, roll up my sleeves, and write… and perhaps sip a steaming cup of “special” hot cocoa?
Ely, Minnesota (five hours north of Minneapolis), is home to the hardest of hardcore outdoorspeople—polar explorers Will Steger, Paul Schurke and Anne Bancroft, to name a few. From Ely, you can launch a dogsledding trip in winter or a multi-week canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in summer. Budget Travel magazine named Ely “The Coolest Small Town in America” last year. They said, “It says a lot about a town when there are more wildlife centers (two) than Wal-Marts (zero), and more canoe and fishing outfitters (27) than, well, anything else. In Ely, you’re never more than a step away from the wilderness.” But what if you’re made of less hardy stuff or you’re traveling with people for whom “wilderness” means that the mall is a 15-minute drive?
Ely offers plenty of opportunities for activity and a healthy dose of nature, even for outdoor novices or those who may not be physically able tackle portaging canoes or rugged hikes. On a trip last weekend, we hit the Harvest Moon Festival, complete with
crafty artisans; historic reenactors of the early settlers and trappers of the area, the voyageurs; and a lumberjack show—a little hokey, but entertaining.
My favorite comment came from one of the “voyageurs” who was cooking up some sort of stew in a giant cast iron post. I asked what he was
cooking and he said, “Camp Wander. If it wanders into camp, we cook it.”
Ely is home to the International Wolf Center, the North American Bear Center, and some tasty restaurants such as the Chocolate Moose. You can buy great sweaters and of course mukluks at Steger Mukluk. For book lovers, there’s a nice bookstore upstairs at Piragis Northwoods Company.
One of my favorite stops in town is the Brandenburg Gallery, where you can see and buy
photos from acclaimed outdoor photographer and Ely resident, Jim Brandenburg. His photography captures the spirit and the unusual beauty of the wilderness. Check out his web site to see his stunning photos and a video, and click on this Minnesota Department of Natural Resources link for a video that features his fall photos.
On our recent trip, in lieu of a tent, we opted for a cozy cabin at Timber Trail Lodge where you can canoe, fish, or simply ponder the lake and its solitude from the dock. Famed environmentalist, author and Ely resident Sigurd Olson said
Wilderness is a spiritual necessity. An antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium. I have found that people go to the wilderness for many things, but the most important of these is perspective. They may think they go for the fishing or the scenery or companionship, but in reality it is something far deeper. They go to the wilderness for the good of their souls.
Olson was instrumental in the preservation of millions of acres of wilderness in Alaska and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. He helped establish Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota, Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Point Reyes National Seashore in California and helped draft the Wilderness Act of 1964. Looking for a little wilderness inspiration? Read his books The Singing Wilderness, Listening Point, The Lonely Land and others.
Finally, talk about “budget travel”–in Ely and the surrounding wilderness, the most amazing sights are free. Lay on your back on the dock at night and you’ll see a show of stars that you can’t see amid the lights of a city. And, if you’re lucky, you may see an even more spectacular show—the Northern Lights. We saw another amazing, though dismaying, display of
nature, the huge Pagami Creek wildfire in the Boundary Waters, which is now so big that the smoke is visible as far away as Chicago. Started by lightning two weeks ago, it has burned through over 100,000 acres. Hopefully, the frost and sleet in the next few days will slow its spread.
For more northern Minnesota-inspired reading look for:
Tim O’Brien- In the Lake of the Woods
Will Weaver – Red Earth, White Earth, The Last Hunter: an American Family Album, and of the short story “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” which was made into the movie Sweet Land.
Catherine Holm- My Heart is a Mountain: Tales of Magic and the Land
William Kent Krueger– Vermillion Drift
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.