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Nina’s North Shore Guide: Big Lake, Big Woods, Big Fun

I love where I live. I love the huge steady cycle of contrasts that occur throughout a year on the North Shore. It leaves me breathless and energized. Winter's deep, dark onset presses us indoors before afternoon is complete, motivating us to light loads of candles and build comfort-giving fires each evening. But snow changes it all. We crawl out from our twelve-hour stints under blankets to play in the brilliant white snow. We build complex forts and sledding runs, ski, snowshoe, dig holes in the ice, then pull fish out of them. We can’t help but comment daily on the sky, the dominant highlight color of the season. Look at that color. It must be blue concentrate, the blue every other blue is derived from. At night, we go back out, or turn out the lights and press our noses to the windows and look up again. Stargazing is magnificent on these dry, clear winter nights.

And then we have mud. We mourn the loss of snow until it hits fifty degrees one day and we all start planning our gardens. We become weather martyrs, sighing over the fact that southern Minnesota already has grass. Grass, mind you! And it’s not even the opening of fishing. We are not so secretly boastful of the fact that we still have stubborn snow piles along forest edges the third week of May. And then we go on chlorophyll overload. Everything greens up in days, hours, at jungle speed or faster. Did you see the hillside? It wasn’t green yesterday. It’s spring-green today. What’s that? It’s that yellow-green of spring that lasts only a week or so. We don’t care anymore that our lilacs barely bloom in time for the summer solstice.

Our gardens grow really, really good produce. Good because we have been without for so long, and good because of an unusual sugar-making reaction that occurs during these long, warm days and cool nights. Then we have our one day of humidity and almost fall apart. Everyone up from the Twin Cities is in sheer relief and we grumble about having to buy a tank top. We go swimming in Lake Superior. Our sleep needs dwindle to about five hours. We follow the light, cramming in every activity we can think of. Do you see what time it is? If it was winter, it would have been dark for four hours now! Then one night it’s dark by nine.

And we start seeing a yellow leaf here or there. The tank top gets put away and the ever-present polar fleece gets steady dawn to dusk use. And the chlorophyll say adios and heads off to some never-changing climate. Finding the coast clear, the latent plant colors give off a secret signal and show their gaudy little selves. The sugar maples are downright ostentatious. We love it, this six-week visit from the hot side of the color chart. And for once, we don’t talk about it; we just have to be out in it, sponges, absorbing the color. I love this time of year.

But I say that every season on the North Shore. I love where I live.

Make vacation a contrast to your daily life. Slow down. Relax. Look out the windows.