photo courtesy of bluewhalepix/Fotolia
Here in Minnesota, everybody goes up North for the weekend: to their cabin, or somebody else’s, the exodus beginning Friday night up Highway I-35, that great trunk that stretches from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Something good is always cooking up North—or, rather, Mom has swaddled the lasagna in kitchen towels and packed it in the trunk of the car.
Well, not everybody. My sister-in-law stays home now. She says the bats were the last straw. They had opened up the cabin in the spring after a long winter, and my brother Clyde unlocked the door, as usual, and walked in first, as usual. Mary heard him utter what she thought was a snicker.
“What are you laughing about?” she asked.
“Oh nothing,” he quietly replied.
Laden with gear, she waited for him to hold the door for her. It seemed to take an awfully long time. Losing patience, she asked what he was doing.
“Just picking up a few things.”
Mary squeezed herself past him, and saw the first dead bat. Then another. The floor was covered with them, dead baby bats that my brother was busily picking up and dropping into a big garbage bag.
Clyde had taken the precaution, before closing up the cabin the previous fall, of putting a piece of plastic on top of the chimney to prevent assorted creatures from getting into the cabin over the winter. What he didn’t know was that there was already a nest of bats up there. All the baby bats, unable to fly out, died of starvation. Poor bats—and poor Clyde. He still can’t get his wife to come back up North.
The kinds of things that happen up there weed out the faint of heart. This year, for example, I thought I’d go for a little walk, so I grabbed an old hooded jacket from the closet, pulled it on, and headed down the road. Up North: scented pines, the cries of loons and chainsaws, an enchanted spot upon this earth.
In no time at all, the deerflies found me. I flipped the hood of my sweatshirt up over my head. As I tucked my hair into the hood, I felt—what, deerflies in my hair? No, not deerflies, what are these things? Too small to be deerflies, my gosh, they’re all over my head!
I noticed they were the exact same size as mouse droppings. And in fact they were mouse droppings, and my hair was full of them. With a horrible howl, I flipped down the hood of my jacket and out fell a mouse nest.
We Up Northerners don’t really enjoy walking around with mouse nests on our heads any more than anyone else. The difference is we’re willing to do it, if it’s part of being up North. The truth is I love it here. I can arrive bilious, confused, melancholy. But I’m always soon serene, away from the tick of clocks, enveloped in a palpable silence that arrests all forward motion.
This is what being up North is about for me, sweet silence that enters through every pore, until you’re not the same person who walked through the cabin door. No matter the mushrooms in the carpet, the mouse baked accidentally in the oven. I can step outside at night and laugh with the bullfrogs. Look up at the celestial dome and gasp. So many stars! That’s what up North is about for me. But it’s a long way to the outhouse when the deerflies are after you.