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Lake Retake

TUESDAY, JULY 19, 2016

Today was the big talk at Lake Carlos State Park. I was nervous. Inside the Visitor Center was park staff, Allen, Ryan, Aaron and Ben along with taxidermied animals, live fish (in tanks), books on birding nicely displayed on the table. Ben, the park naturalist was an outstanding host. We all shared a few laughs while setting up that helped to put me somewhat at ease. They were expecting some folks that they talked to earlier in the park about attending the presentation. I figured if nothing else, the staff were here and they would be eager listeners. There was a good turnout for the presentation. Mostly adults with about 3-4 kids. All I could think about was my niece and nephew when I looked into their bright shiny eyes and how potentially bored out of their mind they could be. I rambled through my presentation as I focused on the kids and their expressions. I can’t quite say how long it was, but the look in their eyes let me know it was long enough. There were a few questions afterwards and I was able to relax. Overall, no matter how well I thought I did or didn’t do, it was still a privilege to have an audience.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

After the presentation, we had an engaging conversation with the park staff. They are all extremely friendly and informed. We discussed the parks and its visitors and they stated that the challenge is getting the people who have never been here (to the parks) to come. The regular campers tend to be generational; grandparents, kids and grand-kids, but how do they get people there that haven’t been to a park even when they live 15 minutes away? Normally those who don’t come to the parks want to know what there is to do, or think that they need expensive gear and equipment. At Lake Carlos, the Minnesota State Park and Trails system and many of its state parks colleagues are making tremendous efforts to combat these myths with programs like, “ I CAN.” Scheduled throughout the summer, you and your family are invited to be introduced to camping, climbing, paddling, mountain biking, fishing and archery experiences. All the gear is included. The fees are more than reasonable, especially considering that the value of the experience will be immeasurable. After talking with the guys and asking them how their paths lead them to us standing here today, their answers, boiled down, was the same even with the vast difference in time invested from the intern to the park managers. They enjoy what they do and being stewards for the visitors to the park and it was obvious. In the end, I left feeling inspired.

Photo courtesy of the Grahams Photo courtesy of Thomas Huggins

It was time to proceed with the second component of this visit. While I was in the water trying my best to get my head tilted just so, a gentleman approached Thomas while he was taking the photos. Right when he was at Thomas’ side, he said something loud enough for me to hear, along the line of, “She is smiling more when I showed up!” I couldn’t help but smile even more. Kerri was his name. By the time I walked towards the shore, he and Thomas had already started talking and he asked out right right what we were doing in a frank yet friendly way. He mentioned that he couldn’t help but notice that we didn’t look like we were camping. I was lead right to my elevator speech explaining what we are doing. I tried to make it a short and distinct statement that I have practiced many times before. This time, I also had a picture on hand. In preparation for the trip, I was sure to print out the images from the photo albums and screenshots of the home video belonging to the Grahams, that corresponded to the places that we were going to visit. On that one sheet of paper I carried to the shore’s edge, is an image of my grandmother, here in this exact lake, in a pose I did my best to recreate. I could be bias, but I think the images of their travels are the wow factor. There it is in plain view. “You must not have kids,”he stated after we explained our plan of action for this trip. He was also interested in what I did, I assume to know how I was able to make this trip happen and have the time. I ran down that quick road of hows, ending with moving in with my parents and saving the money. As with most people that you meet in the parks, he and his family travel often and had been to some of the places on our itinerary. Kerri suggested that we stop at a place called “Cosmos” while in the Custer, South Dakota area. I assured him that when his kids get older, they will appreciate the family trips. Luckily, I had a business card on me. Since we had the shot, we packed up our items and headed back to the car. We waved a final farewell to Kerri and his family enjoying a day at the lake as we walked away.

Before we left Alexandria, we stopped at our usual hang, Walmart. Not too many brown faces in the place. I didn’t feel uncomfortable about it. Thomas and I did our usual split. I thought I would take the time to see if they carried a product line that plays ghost often at my local Walmart. I was ecstatic to see Tree Hut Shea Body Butter nesting on the shelf like I had grown accustomed to seeing before they yanked them, or greedy customers took the scents that I liked, leaving behind the undesirables. I mean, do I have to travel all the the way to Alexandria, Minnesota to buy it? I am going to put Ulta on blast. They do sell the product locally and have the majority of the scents in stock, but they seem obliged to up-mark it $2-3 bucks. No thanks. I found Thomas and we made our purchases. We leave the cashier and walk past the optical store. Standing in line was a tall, brown woman with auburn highlighted locs, half crowned atop her head and the other half down with a sherbet colored maxi dress. Instinctively, when she spots us, she smiles and waves for what seemed like minutes. Of course, I instinctively waved back, as if I knew her. In that non verbal exchange, we said a lot. Translated, her friendly smile said, “Well hey lookie here! Welcome. Nice to see you (because there are not many of us here). Be well.” My wave back said, “Hello, what a pleasant surprise to see you. Thanks your welcome. Be well.” I bet her name was Shelby. I don’t know why, but she looked like a Shelby.

Hundreds of miles of green fields pass us in the hours that we drive before it is obtrusively interrupted by a brilliant sun gold yellow. The glow of the yellow beckoned to us. We had to find a way to get closer. That included an about face to get back and to the opposite direction of the highway. We managed to get as close as we could and parked on the shoulder above the field. From the car we gathered our cameras and went to the edge of the crop. While we were admiring the field and trying our best to capture it, I could see this one piece of farm equipment driving around out in the distance. Slowly it was starting to grow larger in my line of sight, but I didn’t think too much of it while I was watching Thomas take photos in between taking my next shot. From that moment to whatever the next one was, I heard someone shouting, “Hello. Hey, what are you doing?” Are we going to get in trouble? It could have been a possibility. Technically, we could have been trespassing, so it should have been expected. This man must have been moving pretty fast in that thing. By the time he was close enough to not shout, we could see that he was accompanied by a young boy, maybe around 10 years of age. He said that we must not have seen sunflowers before. From this comment, I knew that the best approach to diffuse the potential landowner vs trespasser battle would be the very honest truth method. Our response was exactly that. We drove past on the other side of highway and could see the field and we had to turn back to stop and look at it. In fact, no, we had never seen a sunflower field that looked like it went on forever. Eventually, we all introduced ourselves. The young boy was his son Zander. The farmer explained that he grew barley and sunflowers. The barley is harvested and sent to the Budweiser Plant down the road and the sunflowers (seeds) are exported to the Middle East. The farmer said that they eat sunflower seeds in the Middle East like we eat popcorn here in the states. Both the farmer and the son began to explain how the sunflowers are harvested. He began to break a sunflower in half and pulled the parts as he explained how the seeds grow and how they are processed (audio of conversation.)

The day was getting closer to its end by the time we got to Jamestown, North Dakota, home of the world’s largest buffalo. As another key photo and film local, we made it just as the sun was on its way down, which gave it a soft glow. This wasn’t quite the easiest place for us to find, but I think there was a tricky GPS issue. On the top of this hill sits an oversized buffalo at the back of what is called Frontier Village. At the entrance of Frontier Village is a donation box for drivers to give what they can, but otherwise there is no fee. This village is created by original buildings from the frontier villages of North Dakota to make a block or two of what would have been a typical street in the frontier days. The buildings included a saloon, a jail, a school and church. Most of which you could walk into. It was fairly quiet there since it was closing in less than 30 minutes; we had the run of the town. Thomas and I did our usual split when we discover new places. I always find it funny that we tend to want to photograph the same things.

By the time we were finished roaming the (frontier) streets, we headed back towards the buffalo statue. On my phone I pulled up the clip of the original home video to reference the actions and motions of my aunts while they were here in 1968. We did a few takes of me walking around the leg and underneath just as they did. Once that was completed, Thomas got some awesome footage that was literally a bit of a stretch, to capture the large eye of this overgrown beast another 10 feet above us. Of course, it never fails, whenever he does his flashy film skills, he had an audience of strangers. All I could do was smile. Plus, I was so excited to have finally been able to physically put myself in 2 places in one day that I knew my family once visited and had documented.

Perhaps because of the full moon it was raining bugs on the way from Jamestown to Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, our next stop for the night. The volume of bugs hitting the windshield could have been confused with the sound of an unrelenting storm. This was a new experience for me and pretty disgusting to use windshield wipers to constantly try to remove the smattering of bug bodies so you can see. Sunset was at 9:21 and the small bodies of water hugging the road still reflected the light of soft violets and heavy blues. It almost felt like we were back in Alaska where the day never truly ended and your mind and car could go on forever. Eventually we make it Devil’s Lake and check-in. Guys eating steroids for breakfast were checking in before us. They looked swollen. I wondered what they were doing here. We should have had them carry our bags in.

Special thanks to Lake Carlos State Park for having me!!

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