To the border and back

Today, I was due to speak in Williams, up near Lake of the Woods. It took three hours to get there, and I waltzed into the church where I was to speak on fruits just a couple of minutes before I was due to talk. I explained that I might be a little lispy since my tongue is still feeling the effects of yesterday's wasp sting.

After the talk, I asked the lady who was writing me a check if there was a route south through the Beltrami forest. The Beltrami forest is a blank spot on the map south of Warroad where there are few if any roads over an enormous area. Yes, she said, she goes through the forest on her way to Bemidji. She explained the route. It included thirty-three miles of gravel.

I filled on gas in Warroad, and headed south into the forest.

The Beltrami forest is legendary. I have heard stories of escaped convicts hiding there for years. It is boggy, almost impenetrable, and it has an air of eerieness about it that I wanted to investigate.

The forest did not disappoint. It alternated evergreen and tamarack forests with mile after mile of boggy swamp lands filled with willow. The only evidence of human habitation besides the road itself were the infrequent trails headed into the wilderness.

The pine seedlings above are growing beneath a stand of pine which was obviously planted, if the straight rows are any indication. In any case, it was fun to hear the roar of the wind through the needles. It sounded like somewhere in the mountain west.

The road was freshly graded. In fact, I was the first one to drive over the road since its most recent grading--until I met a pickup, and then we both became the second ones on the road. For a good deal of the thirty-three miles, there was water on both sides of the road. I got the feeling that the water went far in either direction and that the road was the only solid ground around.

Seeing this ditch and several others like it disappear into the distance led me to think that my fears were correct; I was in the northern Minnesota equivalent of the Everglades, or the Bayou in Louisiana.

After returning to tar roads at Four Towns, a dot on the map which consists of a convenience store and gas station, I headed east on Highway 89 to skim by Lower Red Lake. But before I neared the lake, I found this tower, and I hoped to finally get a bird's eye view of the surrounding scenery.

No such luck. Although the tower wasn't gated or locked, once I got to the second level I saw about three steps missing and I realized that the safety of the entire structure was anything but assured.

A few miles later, Lower Red Lake appeared on the horizon. It was quite a sight. Unlike most lakes, Red Lake is in the middle of boggy land. Much of it is surrounded not by beaches and trees, but by bogs and cattails. I didn't know if I would actually find a beach.

Much to my surprise, an actual beach appeared and I was able to go down and listen to the waves come in. It was something to see a lake which you couldn't see across this close to home. Equally amazing, I suppose, is that I have lived here 42 years before seeing this huge lake.

After departing the Red Lake Indian Reservation and Highway 89, I went back west towards Clearbrook on Clearwater County 5. I was surprised at how remote the highway was until the city of Clearbrook. In Clearbrook, I found that the late-afternoon sun nicely set off the somewhat bold architecture of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.