On this Memorial Day my thoughts are less of the loved ones I have lost and more of the memories I had buried away. Yesterday I was forced to travel down a road I hadn’t been on since the Ham Lake Fire in May of 2007. I literally had not been on our side road off of Sag Lake Trail since the whole fire ordeal. A phone call around noon forced me to travel Gull Lake Lane once again because of a fire.
The fire was a campfire that hadn’t been extinguished properly at a cabin someone was renting from a private party. Like many campfire rings the ring was not made properly; it should have been a 2 foot deep hole with brush, pine needles & other debris cleared away at least 8 feet in diameter around the ring. The fire had actually escaped the ring the night before and the people thought they had gotten it under control using their water bottles; the cabin they were renting didn’t have running water.
The renters went out fishing yesterday morning and while out on the lake they noticed smoke. Thankfully they went back to check it out but unfortunately they couldn’t do anything about the fire. In a swimsuit and sandals the woman watched as the flames licked the dry grass and sparks flew when the wind picked up. Again, not a drop of water available to her nor any yard tools at hand.
Neighbors phoned us to alert us of the smoke and I grabbed a shovel & rake while Mike went to get the fire truck. The fire wasn’t much of a fire and it probably wasn’t going anywhere too fast. But the wind direction was blowing the sparks in the direction of Voyageur and when you’ve seen what fire can do firsthand even a controlled campfire is a bit scary.
When Mike arrived with the fire truck and he and our heroic neighbor and fellow GTVFD member Michael Valentini had water pumping I staged my exit. On wobbly legs I walked away from the fire with thoughts of the last time I had been down that road.
The earth was covered in grey soot where cabins once stood. Propane tanks were peeled open and jagged from exploding under the extreme heat. Piles of melted aluminum rested where boats once had been stored. Metal coils from mattresses sprang out of nowhere from beds that once stood inside of a bedroom of a cabin. Nails lined neatly in a row on the charred ground from walls of a cabin that had basically disintegrated from the heat. The cabins that held precious memories of folks I knew, their belongings all lost to fire. Each corner I turned I held my breath in hopes a cabin was spared but instead a lone stone fireplace stood amongst the rubble.
It was those scenes I saw as I walked away from the small fire. It was the same anxiety and stress I felt 3 years ago as I smelled the smoke in my hair and on my clothes. It was anger and bitterness that washed over me thinking about the stupidity of humankind. Bile rose up in my throat as I choked back tears of frustration and relief. I wanted to rush out to the base of the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais to post a sign that said, "STAY AWAY! Leave my woods and moose alone!"
Those are some of the buried memories that I am struggling with replacing today. I am trying to picture the happy faces of children as they pick up a pine cone in the woods, splash in the cool waters of the fresh BWCA lakes and enjoy paddling their canoe on an open lake. I think about the regrowth after a fire; tiny pine trees emerging, blueberry patches galore the vibrant green ground covering.
I also think about my buried loved ones and like the memories of the fire that too is painful. That we allow one special day out of the year to remember those people who have left the earth is a strange concept to me. Is it because we have to be forced to think about them at a minimum of one day each year? The fake tacky floral spreads that line the aisles of Wal-Mart are suppose to make that process easier or better? I’m not sure I have it figured out.
While I struggle through my memories of fire and loss I hope your Memorial Day is filled with memories of happiness and feelings of love and content.