Just Got In The Door

Just got in the door – spent the day north in my home country – the Saw-Tooth Range. It’s sad when you don’t feel at home when you are home.

I went with a friend from church, Darryl. I brought an extra Duluth Pack for him. I’ve known Darryl for some years and he enjoys the outdoors, and practises great wisdom, but he is from the prairie so often asks questions about things I take for granted. Once, while standing in a cluster of hazel-brush – he began asking me about harvesting hazel nuts and what the hazel nut bushes look like.

He’s also never heard of stag-horn sumac, and I share the uses with him like tea made from the seed cones. So useful was this plant considered by the Ojibwe – that every village site and camping place they used was accompanied by transplanted staghorn sumac. I always think this tea is best with ripe July or August seed cones, but even dried – it is good for you. When it is ripe – you can make a good sun-tea that tastes something like lemon-aid. Boiled, at the start of the day, it will knock your socks off and grow hair on your chest (not recommended for women). I’ve been told it has anti-oxidents – whatever that is.

The many grouse remind us of hunting season. Darryl has just purchased a slender barrel Ruger and wants to install red-dot sights to use for grouse. He is an avid hunter and tells me about his recent turkey hunt. “They sure don’t end up looking like Butterballs,” he says.

We fished the stream for brook trout. Water was too cold and fast, and we only got five hits. Last time I went I got 83 – but it is enough for my bride to dine on brook-trout tonight. It was but a morsel. I should have taken a photo, but they taste too good and we inhaled.

The only way to fish these streams is walking down the stream bed in tennis shoes. Waders are out, you just slip on the rocks and get the waders full of water. A change of clothing is a wise idea.

I found my new Fenwick rod was the wrong rod for brook trout. Too long and constantly getting snagged in tag elder. I will not make that mistake again – and it is back to the old pack rod.

We were in very up and down country. We saw no deer sign, but there are plenty of wolves. The feds say there about 2500 wolves in Minnesota. I suspect the number is higher.

East of Morris Station, my great-grandfather’s homestead, east of Morris Lake east of the Two Island River, about six miles through the woods – is Jake Haatanpa’s. Jake is a man of God.

Jake, and his wife, Barb, live about as off the grid as anyone I know. He has built a new bridge across Fredenberg Creek to facilitate access to his mile long driveway – though the frost is just coming out of the ground and the driveway is presently impassable. He keeps the driveway open all winter long with a hand pushed snowblower. Their log cabin is built hanging over a tributary of the Two Island River. There seems to be a stream over every ridge. The sound of rushing water is prominent – as is the constant spring time drumming of grouse.

They are glad to see us. Jake proudly shows off a new kitchen pump – after 40 years of fetching water by walking down a set of steps to the creek below. Jake is 80 now, but is constantly at work to keep the road clear of fallen trees, and keep ahead on firewood for heat and cooking. He shares a trick for drying green firewood within three weeks.

He shows us two ancient birch – entwined like dying lovers – hanging over the road. They are so large, old, and damaged they are hard to recognize as birch. Each of us, with some experience of felling trees, spends time pontificating on the best manner of felling them.

Jake is a hero to me – a man who stood up for his principles and went to jail several times for homeschooling in the late 1960s and early 1970s – when it was illegal. Due to Jake and a few others – homeschooling is legal in our state.

During his trial, very out of character, old Judge Egland called Jake at home and told him he was 100% on Jake’s side and agreed completely with Jake’s point of view – but – the law was the law – and in court he was bound by the law.

Shortly after Jake told us this – it occurred to me Judge Egland had been in a terrible car accident about that time – in which he was crippled for life and suffered a TBI. Trying not to read too much into that.

Jake, very self-effacing, is known for other things as well. One impossible story as I know it:

In the early 1970s Jake felt led to build a very large home in the woods. His next door neighbor (on the next 40) at that time was my great aunt Vivian. Vivian was a wild backwoods harridan, lovable, none the less, mad for bear, and with a very course mouth – but even she cleaned up her language around Jake. His sincere Christianity has had a strange effect on many people. He tore down a northshore hotel, restructuring it back in the woods. I first met him about this time. The main room of the new building, like some medieval Great Hall was just under 100 feet long. He constructed one of the most ingenious fireplaces I’ve ever seen which threw heat all the way down the hall.

In 1975, Jake began to have a burden for the people of South Viet Nam. One day, in faith, he repaired his old car and drove to the Minneapolis airport. He waited on a bench. A man he never knew approached him and asked if his name was Jacob. When he said it was – the man handed him a one-way ticket to South Viet Nam and walked away.

Jacob got on the plane and went to Viet Nam. On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell.

We heard nothing from Jake for over a month. Sometime in early June he was able to get word to Barb that he was coming home – with friends. Within a month Jake arrived – with 300 South Vietnamese Christians. They stayed in the woods with Jake and Barb until they could find housing, education, and work – some stayed for years.

Jake said, “Some of the people were from Ting Hau (sp?). We had to walk to Saigon Airport. Many of the people were afraid. I was told we couldn’t walk to Saigon, but God cleared the way. We could see the North Vietnamese firing – but never toward us. Artillery shells would land on the road behind us and in front of us, but we never stopped walking. As we went forward, the shells stopped falling ahead of us and began to land where we’d just been. When we reached Saigon airport we were told there was no plane for us. Just then a plane landed, and I felt led to walk forward, They let down a ladder and we got on board. When we got off the plane they told us we were in Guam.

We talked for a couple of hours. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

Barb made french toast on the wood stove, and covered it with sweet cream butter and fresh maple syrup. There goes my diet. “Eat more, eat more,” she says.

Jake is the epitomy of every Finn I ever met. He still has a full head of hair – even at his age. His impossibly blue eyes are guileless with the peace of someone who lives close to nature and close to his God.

Darryl and I started back through the woods. He has never met the Haatanpas before. and as he walks he shakes his head – as if to wake himself from a sudden and unexpected spell. He looks at me and says, “I live a sheltered life.”

“Yah,” I said, “Don’t we all.” “You need to get out more – keep the pack.”

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