Just as summer inevitably turns to fall, everything in life comes to its natural conclusion. Earlier this year, Cindy and I sold Sawbill Canoe Outfitters to Clare and Dan Shirley, our daughter and son-in-law. This week, we packed up our home at Sawbill, the accumulation of 27 years of a happy and busy residence, and moved to our new homestead in Grand Marais.
It is, of course, bittersweet to leave the home containing so many good memories, but also wrenching to leave the West End to become Townies. Although we now officially live in Grand Marais, we plan to work at Sawbill for a long time, keeping a strong connection with the West End that we love.
The process of actually moving, filling the boxes, dismantling the beds, renting the U-haul and the hard work of lugging each thing from one place to another, is one of the most universal of human experiences. Family and friends are called on to help, usually with the memory of helping them at an earlier time, and the big job finally gets done.
As with all big transitions, there is a touch of sadness and a portion of joy. Clothing that hasn’t been worn for ten years is culled from the closet and donated. That weird knick-knack, received as a gift from a long dead great aunt, can be thrown away guilt-free. I found a pocketknife that I lost in the late ‘90s and a couple of nice shirts that I didn’t even know that I owned. As the family photos and mementos get picked up for packing a memory is triggered and laughter ensues.
In the beginning, each item is carefully fitted into the truck, like a real life Tetris game, strategizing to conserve space and minimize damage. By the end, things are being tossed in willy-nilly, as the forgotten closet shelf or the lingering lamp finally gets stowed and the urgency for completion sets in.
On the other end, the elaborate plan for unpacking quickly devolves into, “let’s just get everything inside and sort it out later.” Still, the excitement and possibilities of a new home, new memories and the fast-paced urban life of Grand Marais have us smiling and hopeful.
After a long day of moving and a few hours of playing music with my good West End friends, Eric Frost and Jim Elverhoy, at Bluefin Grille, I headed for a late night drive up the Sawbill Trail, anticipating an early shift the next morning. Halfway there I noticed two pairs of glowing eyes ahead. As I approached the eyes, they resolved into a small bear and a fox. The bear was chasing the fox in and out of the ditches and across the road. When I got near enough, they both stopped and looked at me.
My first thought was that the bear was trying to catch the fox and eat it. I didn’t even reach for my camera, because I assumed both animals would run off into the woods. Instead, they resumed their chase, which gradually brought them closer and closer to the car. After watching them for a while, it dawned on me that they were playing with each other. At least, that’s how it looked to me. Both were a little smaller than normal adults of their species and they had the playfulness of large puppies. That’s when I grabbed the iPhone, fumbling to get the video camera rolling, but also not wanting to miss a second of a remarkable wildlife moment. Predictably, as soon as the video started rolling, they took their game into the woods and out of sight. I continued my journey up the trail and saw another, identical bear about a quarter of a mile further on.
This odd little experience reminds me that the West End is a rich web of complex life, churning along, day and night, through the ages and mostly out of our perception. It’s all part of what makes it great to work – and be a former resident – of the wonderful West End.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.