If I had a blog, today I would tell you about the place my spirit calls home. Today I would write about Ely.
Thirty miles south of the Canadian border is the town of Ely, Minnesota. Although I’ve never lived there full-time, I this little burg of 3500 people my home because it is the place my spirit dwells most of the time. Ely is sacred ground.
Chilly autumn days make me long for that wild country because once upon a time, Mom and I visited Ely every fall. We would go in September or October and spend a week in the same rustic cabin on White Iron Lake, shedding our worldly cares as we were filled by the spirit of true wilderness. Obligations here on the farm have kept us from our annual pilgrimage for three years now and when the sun grows mellow and the nights are cold, the need to head North is almost more than I can bear. I know we will take up our journey again when The Greenwood needs us less and in the meantime, I can relive adventures past by returning to the journals I have kept in years gone by.
This morning I was reading about our trip in September 2006. That trip was a return after an absence of almost ten years and it gives me hope that Ely has not seen the last of us yet.
September 28, 2006
We made it. We are in Ely! It took two days and 16 hours of driving, but what a small price to pay for a week in the arms of the North Woods. When we saw the Ely water tower rising above the trees, tears came to my eyes. When I die, I will not see the Pearly Gates, but instead it will be this snow-white tower, painted with the sunrise over the trees, that will lead me home.
Coming into town on Sheridan Street, I felt as though I’d never been away. A few stores had changed location since we’d been here last, but other than that, Ely remains the same. In a world that changes by the minute, there is comfort in a place where things remain the same year after year.
Until I came to Ely, I didn’t know it was possible to be friends with a town, but I am sure Ely brightens just a bit when Mom and I return. To prove my point, just as we passed Basswood Trading Company, a jet-black raven sailed across the street and landed on the roof of the store, looking right at us as he made his loud, croaking call. It was a wonderful welcome home.
Our cabin is located about six miles from town, down Highway 1. We met Liz (the owner of our rental cabin) around noon and spent two hours visiting with her. We’ve known Liz and her husband Steve since we first came to Ely in 1997. They own a number of remote cabins in the area and we always rent from them. Consequently, we’ve become good friends over the years and it is always a pleasure to have our catch-up with Liz when we arrive.
The afternoon was waning by the time we got settled in and we walked down to the dock to greet the lake before evening set in. Birches, maples, alder, balsam, and spruce trees line the path to the lake, interspersed with huge greenstone and granite boulders that were brought here by the last ice age. The maple leaves are stunning this year, bright tongues of flame in the fading light. The slender reeds at the lake’s edge hold bright leaves among them, afloat on water as black as obsidian. Water ousels dart among the reeds and rocks along the shoreline and juncos flit among the trees at the forest-edge. In the distance, we heard the song of a white-throated sparrow rise through the silence and just at dusk, a flock of mallards sailed overhead then landed in one of the coves to settle in for the night.
Loathe to give up even a moment of daylight, I took a walk down our road before coming in for dinner. With every step I sank deeper into the flow of The North. I drank in The Great Silence and reveled in the cold, balsam-scented air. This is home. In these forests, I feel as one with the heartbeat of the Earth. I am Earth. Earth is me. Like a child in her mother’s womb, I am cloistered by the trees, the lakes, the sky. I hold out my hand and I touch my own being. In this place there is no distinction between sacred and secular. Here, all things are holy.
As darkness fell, grey, folded clouds settled over us for the night. Winter is just around the corner here. Dreams of snow are close at hand as the land settles in for its long, nine-month rest. All around me is silence. Echoing silence. This is the place I was meant to be.