Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Weekend in Milaca

Well, my husband and I have been thinking of moving to Milaca. Not because there is anything special or even probably tolerable about this small northern town, but just because it has a cool name and therefore we figured we could recruit lots of people to join us there because they would feel proud to say, "We needed to get way out of the city, so we're moving to ***Milaca!***"

So, when a friend of Kenny's said he was having an overnight skating and snowshoeing party there at his parent's place, we took it as a sign. We went to stay at Shelly and Eric's house - they have a really cozy, beautiful, woodsy house with a huge shop attached to the back, in 80 acres of woods with restored wetlands and 40 years of new growth trees (it had been clearcut before they moved there.)

We packed up the kids and got there way too late, in my opinion, but in any case we got to take the kids out on the pond in the woods behind the house, and look at the moon in the dark while other people skated. Later, at around 10:30 p.m., everyone went for a snowshoe-hike in the dark with both kids pulled by my husband in the sled, while I and many others snowshoed out to look at the constellations. That night I went to bed with the kids while Kenny did some sauna-ing and snowjumping, and the next day we snowshoed out to a further pond where some people had built a 7-foot snowman the day before. The kids loved it! Ezra even snowshoed with adult snowshoes on without complaining. Ottar insisted on walking and dragging his sled instead of riding in it, as is typical of him!

Later the woman of the house offered to take us out to see the resident porcupines. So we snowshoed out again and saw the nest and then the porcupine waaaay up in a tree. She told us quite a bit about porcupines and also showed us some wolf tracks and some mouse tracks that ended in the mouse being eaten by an owl (which also left a track). While we were doing this, Ottar was with me and the others, but unfortunately Kenny was back with Ezra, feeding him lunch after he got a little "loopy" and tried to start snowball fights (he loves snowball fights!) with un-amused adults. Since they didn't know if they could catch up with us, they went back to see the snowman, and Ezra had a *very, very* tearful goodbye. He named him Charlie and took pictures of him with his digital camera (after we got home the next day, he somehow figured out how to superimpose Kenny's voice pretending to be Charlie, over the photo. It said, "Hi, I'm Charlie the Snowman. Ezra, I hope you don't forget me after I melt!").

Kenny and I chatted at length with Shelly and Eric about living in the woods, thoughts on schooling/homeschooling, bears, berries, and Tom Brown's and other tracking/nature observation workshops they have taken. Shelly has learned to "hear" the plants she gathers for her native plant nursery.

Right before we went home, we also got to see Shelly and Eric make 2 pairs of snowshoes with their son and a friend. They used to have a snowshoe-making business and estimate that they made between 12,000 and 30,000 pairs. (One of them says 12,000, and the other says 30,000. . . hmmm.) Anyway, they have stopped the business but they still make them on occasion and it was so cool to watch.

I am now interested in snowshoeing after using their snowshoes, which are made in the traditional Cree (?) way and are made for the snows of Minnesota. I had previously been snowshoeing with a rental pair of aluminum snowshoes, but I kept sinking in and I was totally annoyed! Now I find out that those aluminum ones are meant for harder-packed snow, rocky terrain, or icy slopes.

One of the most impressionable things was the conversation I had with Shelly about her efforts to protect the hardwoods and the soil up in the area, and how many of the hardwood trees are cut down specifically to produce computer paper. She also explained how all the logging has depleted the soil so that now the trees have extremely shallow roots (no topsoil) and they blow down easily in storms.

I must say that the drive up to Milaca is mighty ugly, so we are now not too excited to move up there, but on the other hand, it was a very inspirational and educational experience, and it was cool to hang out with people who raised their kids on 80 acres, which is my dream!

We are very grateful to Shelly and Eric for their generosity, conversation, hospitality, and patience with our kids.

I hope to post some pix soon!

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