We are well and truly into the old slow-down, when a tourist is scarce as a pin cherry blossom. Like leaves fallen and scattered, they have blown, leaving memories and assorted local shops with excess inventory to clear out in a Thanksgiving sale. Now that they’re gone (hunters coming up for a weekend don’t count as tourists because they operate on completely different principles and are quite often entirely self-contained), I sort of miss them. It’s not that I pine for long lines at the grocery checkout, but there’s sadness in no longer seeing visitors marvel at a can of Campbell’s and whisper, “How can anyone afford to live here?” They are not alone in wondering how. Many locals do that as well, along with adding why to their question.
The slow-down used to be slower-down than it is now. Two generations back, Labor Day was a scalpel separating the busy season from the slack. Before Labor Day, Main Street in Grand Marais was busy enough to make finding a parking place a challenge. After Labor Day, you could park anywhere (and poorly too) or hold a nude square dancing festival and no one would notice but a few shop keepers (temporarily relieved of boredom) and the participants (keenly conscious of the breeze off the lake). Commercial and community activity along the North Shore is much more year-round than it was when many of the fishermen kited to Duluth for the winter and bush-rat loggers disappeared inland to fell and skid logs along frozen tracks impassable to loads in warm weather. At one time, working on the North Shore in winter meant sending your children away to school until spring or boarding them in town until their weekend return home.
In the fifties, when my ill-prepared parents tried to cut it up here in the Northland, we got as far as Thanksgiving before the isolation creeps got to Mother and we fled almost overnight to Chicago. Lack of income was at least as important as the isolation, but isolated it was when a big event was your weekly shopping trip to town. We had electricity, and Highway 61 was a quite decent road, so imagine it a few generations before the fifties when light was Standard Oil kerosene and the road was barely fit for oxen. Being able to establish an independent homestead in a rural or remote place didn’t necessarily mean those doing so were well suited to months of isolation and deprivation. The difficulty of those eras was as much emotionally and spiritually demanding as it was physically challenging. The hardest hardship was felt in the heart. It still is.
In modern times, I was puttering home Sunday last doing my usual 55 plus a touch when I was roared up on from behind, followed closely for a mile or two, and then left in the light snow dust by a Border Patrol vehicle practicing high-speed driving. I half suspected it was Border Patrol from the start, because even the Canadians aren’t quite that nimble on the accelerator. The Patrol car blasted around me and was gone, leaving me feeling much safer and secure now that it was ahead instead of behind, where it could have rear-ended me or caused a fatality, as happened up the Trail some years back when a high-speed non-chase during a wind storm terminated a physician trying to clear a fallen tree. There was no border emergency then and I assume none last Sunday, because the Patrol had no lights flashing and pottered along at 55 for some while before going rocket around me and rapidly disappearing from sight. As I said, I felt safer and more homeland secure with the Patrol ahead than behind. I am comforted by the thought that the Patrol was hurrying off to nip a beheading in the bud.
Road hazards are one of the dangers of the slow-down time, and frankly I’m damn thankful the tourists are not here to experience it. If they are dazed and aghast at a soup price, you can only imagine how entertaining they’d be surprised by glare frost on the highway or a lake-effect squall that’s like driving into a pillow sack full of feathers. Better they are not here to enjoy it. For the sake of safety, the majority of our visitors should stay south until June, when we will be quite ready to welcome them back, especially their money. Until June it is safer if they remain where they are.
On the safety side I have to bring up the deer problem. Until we get enough accumulation along the roads, a dear in the ditch is as well camouflaged as a stump, rock, or clump of deceased lupine. They do not stand out one bit and have that annoying and un-endearing deer habit of bolting for no reason. Some little chime goes off—“Time to bolt!”—and a Bambi quartet takes off in four directions. Don’t be surprised if one changes its mind and direction, either. They are good at that. Indecision is a deer characteristic of long and deep standing.
Also regarding safety is this. Mind you, my experience is not infinite but limited, as it is clear to me that deer are not paying attention to the crossing areas designated for their use. Is a remedial reading program for deer in order, or do those big doe eyes simply need glasses? I think that unless you are in either of the two North Shore tunnels, you can expect a deer to appear at a right angle to you. So I would, and I mean this kindly and constructively, suggest the MHD give up trying to sweet talk members of the family Cervidae into route obedience. “Deer Crossing” signs with leaping deer should be changed to “Expect Deer.” One every few hundred feet should do it. Be clear on this. I’m not against deer being killed, but use of a car is not the way. Perhaps instead of hunters wearing blaze orange, the deer should, as an aid to both sportsmen and drivers.