LONG NEEDLE PINE AT LAKE VERMILION
The National Geographic Society considers Lake Vermilion, Minnesota, and its surroundings to be among the ten most scenic lakes in the world. I would never have found this spot on earth if I hadn’t married a girl whose Grandmother homesteaded on that lake in the late eighteen hundreds. Nettie Ethyl was one of four children of a dentist who set up practice in Boonville, Indiana, after the Civil War. He sheltered his offspring from most any social contacts to an almost pathological degree. Despite this, a handsome man from Kentucky came into town and swept her off her feet. She left her comfortable, serene home and close-knit family to take up residence in the North Woods on the shores of Lake Vermilion. They first lived in a tent and later built a cabin. Bear and Native Americans were their neighbors. Her husband eventually abandoned the family but not before he had fathered six children and, as it turned out, lived a double life as a bigamist, but worse than that, he hacked a man to pieces in a barroom fight. When I married into this family, little did I know an ax murderer was among my wife’s forefathers! But then, neither did my wife know this well-guarded family secret until both she and I researched the family tree by interviewing friends of Grandma Nettie Ethyl, who by this time were residing in the nursing home as none of the relatives shared this story with us.
In late summer, we often made trips to Lake Vermilion and stayed in the old cabin, enjoying the lake, the quiet peacefulness, the hikes on old Indian trails, the fresh Northern Pike caught that day along with the wild rice that grew abundantly in the shallow inlets of the lake, and the unbelievably good-tasting blueberry pie that only Grandma Nettie knew how to make from the buckets of berries we picked from the lush green underbrush of the woods. I did eventually discover her secret – lard. Waterskiing was a particularly fun sport because the lake was so large and there were no people. The water was like glass. Speaking of glass, I need glasses for distant vision, which is not too useful in waterskiing. I almost skied into a moose more than once. There were numerous islands on the lake that was almost always devoid of people but always had plentiful blueberries. Mary and I would go out on our rowboat and spend hours on one of these islands eating the berries that we were supposed to bring home for Nettie to make a pie. But there usually were others who did. On one occasion, I brought along a set of pens and a sheet of bark from a birch tree. Bark from birch lent itself very well to making paperlike sheets. I picked a tree and started sketching. At home, I used some birch branches to fashion a frame for it.