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West End News: April 11

Dave and Amy Freeman complete their 11,600 mile North American Odyssey.
Dave and Amy Freeman complete their 11,600 mile North American Odyssey.

WEN_20130411_finalcut.mp39.63 MB

Lutsen residents Dave and Amy Freeman have completed their epic trip around the continent that they call the North American Odyssey.  Starting in Seattle three years ago, they have hiked, canoed, dog sledded and kayaked through Alaska, across northwestern Canada, east through the great lakes and down the eastern seaboard to Florida, where they finally stopped at Key West last week.  The trip was an incredible 11,600 miles in length.
It is stating the obvious to say that Dave and Amy love to travel under their own power through the natural world, camping as they go.  Their real passion though is the connection they maintain with over a hundred thousand school children through their Wilderness Classroom project.  State-of-the-art technology empowers students to follow their travels and participate in real time.  They offer a curriculum that teaches across many different fields and the kids get to vote on what Dave and Amy should do next as they travel through changing landscapes and conditions.
The Freemans make their home in Lutsen, but are so often gone on their travels, that many people don’t realize that they still live here.  Now that their latest journey is completed, they’ll spend the next couple of months giving presentations at schools across the country.  When the school year ends, they’ll be returning to Lutsen, at least for the summer.  I’m confident that they will present a slide show at North House Folk School sometime this summer.  As you can imagine, they have some stories to tell!
It’s hard to guess what their next trip might be.  In the last decade, they have paddled the length or the Mississippi River, crossed Manitoba and Ontario in the winter several times, crossed the South American Andes by bicycle and paddled the entire length of the Amazon River.  Maybe the next trip will be paddling the Nile?  Or, dog sledding across Siberia?  The sky is the limit for these two.
You may have noticed how the music scene in Cook County has exploded in recent years. 
Even though we’re now sliding into the off-season, this week, local guitar virtuoso, Gordon Thorne, is hosting the annual Fingerstyle Guitar Masters Weekend at Bluefin Bay in Tofte.  In just three years, this has grown into a popular and busy weekend, bringing some of the world’s best fingerstyle guitarists to little ol’ Cook County. 
On April 19th, the first Cook County Ramble will be held at Cascade Lodge starting at 8 pm.  This fun event will feature a cross section of local musicians celebrating the life and music of the late Levon Helm.  It’s a benefit, so the musicians are donating their time.  The real draw though is the chance to hang out together and play music.  Some pleasant surprises are almost guaranteed.  The public is welcome.
The North Shore Music Association is sponsoring top name musicians regularly at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts in Grand Marais, including the super-group Red Horse on April 27th.
In the last year, we’ve had dozens of world-class musicians perform in Cook County.   Local musicians have been busy too.  It is the rare day when you can’t find live music somewhere in the county.  On most weekends you can find live music at half a dozen or more venues.
The effect of all this is that Cook County is now thought of as a music community.  Although we haven’t reached the level of Nashville, New Orleans, Branson or Memphis, we are on our way to similar fame. 
The next step would be to launch a week-long festival, similar to the highly successful Homegrown Festival in Duluth.  This style of festival fills every venue in the area every night for a week.  The emphasis is on new, original music and unusual, exciting combinations of musicians.  This is a win-win-win formula for Cook County.  It can be held in off-season, so it makes a major contribution to the tourism economy, energizes and employs local musicians, attracts exciting new talent to the area and provides wonderful entertainment for residents.
Speaking of entertainment, don’t miss the Lake Superior Community Theater production of  “Death of a Salesman” that is showing now through April 20th in Silver Bay.  George Starkovich is starring in the iconic role of Willy Loman and it’s sure to be a knock-out production.  Tickets are available by searching for Lake Superior Community Theater online, or call WTIP for contact information.
A quick reminder of the public service gathering at Birch Grove on April 19th from 5:30 – 8 pm.  All non-profits, governmental units and anyone else who is interested in public service is invited.  It will be a time to share, learn and socialize, with the ultimate goal of compiling a list of community assets in the West End.  Wood fired pizza will also be served.  Contact Patty Nordahl at or call WTIP for contact info.
We are lucky to live in a place where we get to see a lot of wildlife.  In the years when my kids were riding back and forth to school, they became almost blasé about wildlife.  “Oh look, another moose, another wolf – ho hum.”  Yesterday though, I was startled to see a large skunk on the Sawbill Trail near the Temperance River bridge, about ten miles north of Tofte.  It wasn’t too concerned about me, showing the usual skunk confidence that I would not be foolish enough to mess with it.  My terrier sidekick, Roy, had never seen a skunk before and was lobbying hard to be let out of the truck to kill it.  Little did he know what a bad idea that was.  On my return trip, I saw the skunk again, about a half mile farther north.  I hope this doesn’t mean that it is traveling to Sawbill, where Roy would likely get his chance to learn all about skunks.
(Photo by Bryan Hansel - courtesy of Wilderness Classroom)