The Chippewa Lookout... a picture of my past
Simple Pleasures of Youth
It was a family affair, Mom, Dad, my older brother Mark, my older sister Renae and I. We were on a mission to explore our new digs. We were going to be living there soon so we made a day of it. Mom packed a picnic lunch early that morning and as I recall, at high noon the wind was fighting the napkins and the potato chips on the picnic table when we sat down to eat. The sun was shining brightly, keeping us warm in spite of the wind, and the cloud cover shown no sign of in-climate weather. We drove down every road and walked a few of the trails to investigate and discover what we were in for.
The first time I saw the magical solitude I was just a little girl of eight years. We heard the sound of crackling rocks and sand beneath the tires as my Dad drove the car down the gravel road to the boat landing. I was sitting in the front seat on Moms lap, Mark and Renae in the back seat of our four door blue Chevy Impala. Soon Dad parked the car and us kids jumped out, excited to skip rocks in the Mississippi River. Our eyes were drawn to the path leading up the hill on one side of the boat landing. Curious as to what was at the top of the trail, we all started the trek up the steep hill, big brother Mark running ahead faster to beat the rest of us. When we reached the top, it was breathtaking. “Oh my, isn’t this something” Mom stated as she continued her gaze. We had just discovered the most beautiful place to sit and contemplate all the hassles of our new environment we were about to be tossed into.
My dad advanced in his career to a Minnesota State Park Manager in the fall of 1971, my third grade year. It was early September when Mom and Dad discarded numerous items of which no longer had any functional purpose for us and packed up everything else we owned. We moved as a family to Crow Wing State Park just south of Brainerd in the center of the great state of Minnesota. Mark, Renae, and I were excited to move to a new house and go to school in a whole new town.
We had to wait until after Labor Day to move our belongings so the school year had already begun three days prior to our arrival. It was my first day of school at Riverside Elementary. I was uncomfortable in my new classroom, quite shy, and frightened of all the new faces. All the other kids in my class seemed so familiar with one another, but I knew no one. Soon I found myself, along with all my new classmates, gathered into a line as we walked quietly down the hallway to the Library.
In the past, a trip to the Library consisted of sitting on the floor with the rest of the class while the nice lady librarian read a short children’s book showing the pictures at the end of each page. In this big new town, things were different. I was told by the librarian to go to the “card catalog” and get the information needed to find a particular book somewhere in the vast display of what I imagined to be ten million books to choose from. I was devastated by the thought of having to do this and fought back the tears, which were on their way out.
The door to the Library was open and in the hallway, I saw my big brother walking by with his class. I wanted to run out and be with him, a familiar person that would not make me do something I did not know how to do. I had never looked in the “card catalog” before and I did not want to start now. Mr. Van Dyne was the Librarian and I knew right away that I did not like him. He scared me and expected me to know how to do something that I had never been shown how to do before. I didn’t like my new school and I didn’t like any of the kids in my new class. I missed my old friends and I wanted to go home and just sit on my bench at the top of the hill out in the woods.
At home in the State Park, Mark, Renae and I had the freedom to run all over the place. The Park was a giant back yard to say the least, I think by the time I had grown up and moved away I knew every blade of grass, and had the trees named and numbered. All the roads in the Park had yet to be paved at the time and, although it took longer, I found it easier to walk to my favorite spot in the woods than it was to ride my bike. In places, the gravel was sandy, which made it incredibly difficult to peddle the banana seat bike through without having to get off the two wheeled wonder and push. I walked down the twisting dusty road that passed the A-Frame Catholic Church they had constructed not too many years before. I guess most of the people around the area were strong Catholics and used the Church during the summer months for Saturday night mass. Across the road was the Lutheran Mission. It was always puzzling to me, Catholics had constructed a beautiful A-Frame granite dwelling, whereas the Lutheran Mission was just a giant rock with a plaque on it.
After I passed the holy ground I had the option of continuing on the gravel road or I could walk on the trail which boasted green grass with the slightest bit of a dirt path in the center where the deer evidently killed off some of the natural carpeting God so masterfully created. Most generally, I took the trail. Ever since the day we had a family picnic, this spot in the woods had always mesmerized me. It gave me a feeling of the vastness of Gods power to create such a beautiful picture, the picture of a winding river I was able to see far up stream in the distance on my right, and if I turned my head to look to my left, I was able to see where the water was going. The trees outlined this magical place with a beautiful blanket of blue sky covering the top.
The Chippewa Lookout, it’s where the Chippewa Indians were supposed to have been on watch for the Sioux as they floated down the mighty Mississippi in their birch bark canoes. I suppose the trees were smaller back then and the view not as picturesque. Through the years I spent living in the State Park it became my personal favorite contemplating spot. My evening walks always led to this magical place, and never did I walk there without taking the time to ponder while resting my feet as I’d sit on that bench. I’d sit there forever at times just gazing up the river. It was so peaceful there, just the sound of nature, the softness of a gentle breeze, the aroma of 100 years of natural growing pines, the sound of trickling water far below.
In reminiscing, it brings me back to simpler times. The Chippewa Lookout gave me the solitude I needed when I was a little girl afraid of my new surroundings and the card catalog. It continued to give me pleasure throughout my youth as the years past, never becoming “old hat” in the eyes of a State Park Managers daughter. I always managed to feel the presence of something bigger than myself as I’d sit there contemplating on that old bench. I’ll forever treasure this place and it’s peaceful nature. I visit there often; all I have to do is close my eyes.
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