C.W. Gusewell


A brief tempest, a long goodbye

Yesterday we took an afternoon walk of a mile or so along a woodland path not far from our lakefront lodging.

The day was warm, and we stopped often to rest in the welcome shade of the mature pine and birch forest.

There is no evidence here of the drought and blistering heat we left behind in Missouri, whose ruinous effects we saw in crop fields on the drive northward across Iowa.

Here the foliage is lush. Waist-high ferns bordered the hiking trail. We even spied one lonely wild raspberry, a relic from the berry season two months past.

Another day we visited Camp Rabideau, a restored CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp in the Chippewa National Forest.

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Rabideau was one of more than 2,600 such facilities created by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The camps housed young men, 17 to 23 years old, single and unemployed, often recruited from impoverished home circumstances, who were put to work planting trees, creating parks, building rural roadways and doing other projects for the public good.

The enrollees – more than 275,000 of them in camps around the country – were fed, clothed and paid $30 a month. Five dollars of that they could keep for spending money. The remaining $25 was sent home to their parents, often that family’s only income in those desperate times.

Besides work, the CCC men attended classes to complete their education and learned trades that offered a start in what would be productive lives.

For many who participated, it was a transforming experience – one that might be considered a possible template for engaging today’s aimless and jobless young men in ways that could open their way to a future.

Just as we returned that evening from our visit to the camp, the sky turned a sullen gray. A sudden great wind rose, whipping the trees outside our cabin windows and sending ranks of white-capped waves beating from west to east against the shore below.

We wondered if it was a bit of a spillover from Hurricane Isaac, and we were glad it hadn’t caught us out fishing in a boat.

Though fierce, the tempest was brief. As darkness came on, the heavy bank of storm clouds lifted just enough that framed between their underside and the lake’s forested far shore was the hot orange globe of the setting sun.

Today the weather’s fine again – puffy clouds against a background of rich blue. But regrettably this day is our last one here.

My ladies took another morning walk while I stayed in to scribble a bit, and then some time was spent packing

We plan to make an afternoon excursion to Bemidji, an hour or so from here – a town with a splendid woolen mill and outlet store, where men can usually be spied leaning against the outer wall while their womenfolk prowl the merchandise inside.

Tomorrow we’ll deliver our New York daughter to the Minneapolis airport for her trip back to Brooklyn – leaving early, hoping to avoid the two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic that we encountered on our arrival.

Then with the three of us – her sister, my wife and I – sharing the driving, we’ll turn south for the nearly 700-mile trip home.

And, mercifully, cooler weather has preceded us there.