The Long Way Home 9.8.23

Word of the week is Ambivalent. 

A few decades ago, I thought that ambivalent meant “I couldn’t care less.” 

A wise man put me right and pointed out that it describes when you have conflicting and strong feelings about something. It’s how you love and hate an alcoholic father or abusive mother.

One thing I’m ambivalent about is tourism. Other things, too, like winter and capitalism, but that can wait for another column.

Some of you know that I’ve been inspecting boats at a few of the public boat landings that have aquatic invasive species. I’ve met more than a few tourists, enjoying almost every encounter. I like people generally, despite not wanting to be around them much.

I meet people who just stop to look at the lake at each of the three boat landings on my route. At the Lake Superior landing in Grand Marais, a friendly couple of Baby Boomer vintage approached to ask some questions. With my official-looking hi-vis vest and a placard on the car, I guess they thought I might be helpful. 

After some brief instruction to find the walking trail at the west end of the park and a discussion of life on the North Shore, this lovely woman asked, “So what sort of invasive species are you looking for?” A serious question and one I contemplated carefully.

“Tourists,” I said. 

We all laughed, and then I told them about the spiny water flea and rusty crawfish. 

Another day, I was working the boat landing on Caribou Lake near Lutsen. The parking area for boat trailers there is often overrun with the cars of people hiking the Superior Hiking Trail that starts on the other side of the road.

On a busy Saturday, I noticed a trio of ladies dressed in their outdoorsy finery standing by my car as I wrapped up an inspection on an exiting fishing boat. Again, my hi-vis vest and placard on the car made me an expert.

“We started on this hiking trail, but it is too rocky for us. Is there a trail that’s not so rocky?” said the group’s leader. 

I bit my tongue to avoid answering, “Hennepin County.” Instead, I told her of the Pincushion Mountain trails that overlook the harbor in Grand Marais. Not so rocky, fairly level, and spectacular views. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was out mowing the weeds--the grass long dead. I saw a gray minivan coming up the driveway. Stopping the mower I approached the van and its occupants, a middle-aged husband and wife. 

“We were wondering if we’re in the right place,” the wife said.

“Probably not,” I replied. 

Our driveway is long and tree-lined. It’s part of a convoluted system of private roads, confusing even for locals. That’s why we posted a sign that says, “STOP, Private Drive.”

They, like a young lady who drove in last week, were looking for the socalled VRBO that our neighbors have. Five hundred feet west through the woods, or go back to the road you were just on, turn right and go to the second house. 

So, encounters with tourists are both pleasant and aggravating. Try driving through Grand Marais in the summer and attempt to avoid playing tourist pinball with our often distracted visitors stepping off the curbs.

Tourism is the economic engine for the place I choose to live. It’s an important industry. It also aggravates the hell out of me when I’m not avoiding it up here in the woods. 

The question, “When is enough enough?” drives my ambivalence.