A Geographical Oddity With Side Benefits by John Rayburn
What’s the northernmost point of the 48 contiguous states of the U.S.A.? More often than not, when we ask that question we’ll generally be told it’s either in Maine or the state of Washington and the way most maps are printed, one or the other would seem to be a logical answer. Not so, though. It happens to be Northwest Angle State Park, a nodule of land that is part of Minnesota and sticks out into the Lake of the Woods. Unless you go by boat or airplane, the only way to get to the Northwest Angle Park is to drive into Canada through a portion of Manitoba and that’s what we did. U.S. possession resulted from a surveyor’s mistake after the Revolutionary War and it said that even Benjamin Franklin was involved in negotiations. The end result was to present this country with a geographical oddity and part ownership of the Lake of the Woods. Mind you, this is no ordinary lake. It takes in more than 2,000 square miles and has more than 14,000 charted islands. It’s listed as the 45th largest lake in the world and fishermen have discovered it’s easy to get lost in the maze of islands. It is indeed a sportsman’s paradise and many a visitor has experienced what it’s like to catch a walleye, hear the lonesome cry of a loon echoing across the calm water, and see yet another wondrous sunset. The muted orange orb is often veiled by a diaphanous cloud and magically produces a feeling of satisfaction and contentment that is virtually indescribable. We had the added enjoyment of a boat ride up the Rainy River and outstanding eating pleasure with walleye fish fried in an iron skillet on one of the lake islands that provided exceptional hiking and emotional release.
Beautiful, yes, but oh, my, the winters. It can get down to thirty below zero with no trouble at all and the wind chill reaches unmentionable levels. Imagine what it’s like to have to pass through U. S. and Canadian customs when you make a trip into town to pick up groceries and other supplies. The handful of residents who stay year round maintain it’s all worthwhile waiting for the spring thaw because they get to lounge before a roaring fire and sip “bog fog,” a combination of vodka and cranberry juice. Someone opined that an old tree stump covered with moss, the leaves of autumn, wildlife moving abruptly through a forest, and the lake ornamented with dancing whitecaps all compensate for whatever shortcomings there might be.
That informal motion was seconded by Dale Prothero, then-owner of Prothero’s Post on the Angle Inlet. He and his family offered housekeeping cabins and boats and a small log store plus a screened-in fish cleaning facility. The latter sometimes is necessary because of mosquitoes. And not just plain old ordinary run-of-the-mill mosquitoes, either. They have been described as being able to “stand flat-footed and look, eyeball-to-eyeball with a turkey.” Whether some of them have twin-engines hasn’t been verified.
Dale responded when we asked how he came to be there. “Well, I’d been what I guess you could say was a fairly successful contractor down in Wichita. I was doin’ all right, but I had kinda had my fill of it. We had vacationed up here and when we came back I sorta looked at my wife and said, ‘Well, whaddya think?’ She musta been thinkin’ pretty much what I was ‘cause that’s all it took. We moved up here full time in 1963.”
Dale looked me right in the eye and added, “To tell you the truth, John, I’ve got it made.”
Later, my wife remarked that she felt he was one of the most unassuming men she had ever met. Maybe it’s because you become quite humble when you win the battle of survival and come to terms with yourself. It’s more or less an acceptance of, “what is, is…what ain’t, ain’t.”