I was born on the hottest day in the history of Duluth, Minnesota, a port city on the inland freshwater sea called Superior. I grew up looking down the hill at all that water. The sound of fog horns and waves crashing comforting me at night.
Since I’ve lived, after, on a pond, a creek, a river, a city lake, and currently a large wilderness lake – Vermilion – in northeastern Minnesota, I’ve come to the obvious conclusion that water washes into your gene pool when you’re born hearing and sensing water, especially the largest fresh water lake in the world.
When away from your dear water, if you listen closely while falling asleep, you can hear your blood flowing and washing in waves against your memory.
When I was very young, somewhere under four, my parents took me to a resort on Lake Vermilion near the Boundary Waters in northeastern Minnesota. What I remembered was that it reminded me of Park Point, a place of ocean-sized sand beaches on Lake Superior where my mother would take me to wade in the waves.
As a child what I remembered about the resort was that there were huge pine trees and the view from the shore of the resort seemed almost like Superior, maybe ten miles to the far shore. The beach was a fine sand that seemed to stretch hundreds of feet back like Superior. The water was cold, but not as cold as Superior, and the waves weren’t crashing into me, tossing me around.
Vermilion – the trees, the sand, the expanse of water – called to me all my life, especially after we left the rocky and unnavigable waters of intimidating Superior. As my career wound down and the kids went off to school, got married or just were off on their own, I convinced my wife we should buy a two-bedroom log cabin on Vermilion’s small Greenwood Bay. Although it had a cool ‘wet’ boathouse with two rooms above, it didn’t have a sand beach, which is hard to find on Vermilion’s rocky shoreline, and our five kids started having kids of their own and we soon outgrew the cabin.
I’d regularly call our realtor to see what suitable might be coming on the market. On one call I was told that the main lodge and remnants of a historic resort – Birch Point Inn – would be coming on the market. I was told I could check it out as the owners weren’t there.
I drove over with a friend. We entered on a moss-covered drive through large red and white pines. At the end of the driveway, we found ourselves surrounded by – I counted them – five grey shake cabins. Down by the lake, through the pines, I could see a good-sized, grey cedar shake, dormered Cape Cod.
My friend saw the look on my face and said: “You’re gonna buy this place, aren’t ya?” I responded that I thought, maybe, if the main home is decent. We went and peeked in the windows. Well, it was a smaller version of houses I’d seen at New Port, R.I. – way more than OK.
We walked down a gently sloping lawn to a long strip of sand about twelve feet wide. As I looked out at a large bay, about ten miles across, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Suddenly a fellow came walking around some bushes on the shore. He was the neighbor and said he had been coming up to Birch Point in since a kid. Although I knew the answer, I asked him if there were many sand beaches on Vermilion. He said very few, especially like this one. I asked him if the beach had ever been any bigger. Oh, yes, he said. It used to go way back maybe thirty-forty feet almost to the old lodge which had burnt down. Why?
I just shook my head. It was obvious this had to be where I fell in love with Vermilion. When fate sidles up to you and stares you in the face, you can’t risk ignoring it.