A Northern Paradise and a Family Tradition - My Family Travels
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‘Closin’ out a section!’ That is the announcement that my dad makes when he has checked off every item in one section of his very detailed, refined list of gear to pack for our Minnesota trip. For this reason, it is one of my favorite phrases to hear.Every summer since 1964, my dad has spent a week at Owl’s Nest Resort on 5th Crow Wing Lake in northern Minnesota. When he was younger, it was just he and his parents.

Now, 43 years later, my parents, my sister Audrey, and I still load ourselves and a week’s worth of luggage, fishing gear, and other necessities into our large blue Suburban and make the 750-mile journey to the lake every summer for an ephemeral weeklong vacation.The logistics of our trip change very little from year to year. We always cook the same meals, rent the same grey Alumicraft boat, and shop at the same stores in nearby Park Rapids and Nevis as we have for as long as I can remember. This is one reason that our Minnesota tradition is so important to me.

Usually, I love change. Nonetheless, I find comfort in the fact that no matter how difficult, confusing, or chaotic my life gets, I always have the promise of a week in Minnesota to keep me grounded. Our annual vacation gives me a chance to slow down and enjoy the people and activities that I love.One might think that we could pick just any lake in Minnesota to visit, but there is a reason that we have returned to 5th Crow Wing for so many years.

In my eyes, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is not unusual to see a family of tan ducks glide through the water or hear the melancholy call of a loon echo across the small, calm lake. One of my favorite pastimes is to slide into an Owl’s Nest kayak and coast smoothly across the lake, eventually landing in a peaceful, shady spot along the bank.Of course, there are plenty of other things to do at the lake besides kayaking.

My family’s favorite lake activity, though, is fishing. Every evening after supper, we climb into our rented boat and cruise through the channel to our favorite fishing spot in adjoining 6th Crow Wing Lake. My dad and I cut a few slimy black leeches into pieces and use them to bait everyone’s hooks.

Waiting for tugs on our lines, my family and I admire the breathtaking sunsets, make up silly inside jokes, discuss completely random topics, and recall long-forgotten stories. Usually, we pull in our lines and cruise back to the cabin when the mosquitoes start biting. My favorite evenings, though, are the ones where we are catching so many ‘keepers’ that we pull on our sweatshirts and keep fishing until it is almost too dark to see.As Audrey and I have gotten older, we have discovered even more ways to have fun at the lake.

For example, when my sister and I each turned 12, Dad taught us to drive the boat. Now, pushing the tiller to the right to curve the bow left feels just as natural to me as if I have done it for my entire life. Nowhere else do I feel as ecstatically free and happy as I do speeding ‘our’ boat across the open lake.In fact, the week we spend in Minnesota is consistently one of my absolute favorite weeks of the year.

During stressful times or in the dead of winter, most people dream of vacationing on a tropical island or being pampered at a lavish mountain retreat. I, however, simply picture 5th Crow Wing sparkling in the sun on a hot day, and I can almost feel the weight of a kayak paddle in my hands and smell the sharply scented pine trees that line the shore. This simple image alone fills me at once with joy, contentment, and longing for summer, where another week in my ‘paradise’ awaits.

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