Unorganized Territory

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Life in unorganized territory
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Hug a tree and holler

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 1:08pm

Sometimes I take a circuitous route to find the topic of Unorganized Territory. Last week I wrote about the “what if” game our family sometimes plays in which we consider all sorts of doom and disaster scenarios and how to prepare for them. Last week’s column ended up being a plug for National Emergency Preparedness Month, which isn’t a bad thing. We can all use a reminder to update our home and vehicle emergency kits.

But I didn’t start out in that direction. It was to be a cautionary column of a different sort. The idea for last week’s Unorganized Territory, which got lost as my thoughts flowed, came from a comment my six-year-old grandson Carter made while we were on a hike.

At least once a year we take a hike with our grandkids up the “root beer river.” That is what the grandkids call Cascade River because of the bubbling brown-colored water that flows in that magnificent river. It is a wonderful hike because it works for just about any hiking skill level and offers amazing views of many waterfalls.

It is also a bit nerve-wracking for grandparents, as kids love running and peering over the edge of walkways and bridge rails. I spend most of the trek saying, “Slow down!” “Don’t run up to the edge!” “Don’t dangle on the railing!”

It’s that worrywart gene once again. But as my sons keep assuring me, “Kids have been hiking these trails for hundreds of years.”

Behind my adorable grandkids is one of the Cascade River’s beautiful–but potentially treacherous–waterfalls. A wonderful hike, despite the worry!

Once the trail wandered inland, I was able to relax a little bit. But then we got spread out along the trail and someone mentioned getting lost. I couldn’t resist reviving the “what if ” game with the grandchildren.

We used to do this all the time when our boys were young. When we lived away from Cook County as a military family, we resided in primarily metro areas. There were a lot of check-in requirements for our kids when they went bike riding or to play at a neighborhood park. If we went to a mall or theme park, we always had a plan to find one another in case we got separated. We had a lot of discussions such as, “What would you do if a guy asked you to help find his lost puppy?”

So, I decided to play the backcountry “what if ” game. I asked the grandkids what they would do if somehow they did get lost in the woods on a hike or while camping. Carter grinned and replied, “Hug a tree!”

I was delighted. Apparently his parents also play the “what if ” game. And instead of making the caution complicated by explaining that people can’t find you if you are constantly wandering through the underbrush, someone told Carter to stay put—by hugging a tree.

I added to the advice though. Hugging a tree to stop aimlessly traveling in circles and frustrating potential rescuers is wise, but it’s also good to try to help those rescuers find you. I told Carter and his cousins to also holler. Yell and holler and scream. Stop and listen. And then scream and holler some more!

I also told the grandkids to remain calm. No matter where they are, we will find them.

This is great advice for any of us. Cook County has a great search and rescue system. There are dozens of volunteers who are ready at a moment’s notice to gear up to head out into our forests to find a missing person or to help someone in distress. If we are lost, someone will find us.

It is better to not get lost at all though. The grandkids and I talked a bit about staying on trail and staying together. We also talked about paying attention. Again, good advice for anyone setting out into our boreal forest.

Paths through the woods can all look the same. It’s hard not to zone out when you’re walking along enjoying the wonders around you—the rooted and rocky trail, the wildflowers or mushrooms along the path, the birds and squirrels, the rivers and creeks. I’m as guilty as anyone. But after hiking farther than I intended a few times, I realized I need to be more attentive.

We all should pay attention. Even when hiking with a group, we shouldn’t assume someone else will remember if we turned left or right at the big cedar tree. We need to think about where we are once in awhile. Where is the Big Lake? Where is the highway? How many miles was it between trail markers?

Noting these things can keep us from going astray. But if by chance you zig when you should have zagged and end up being lost in the woods. Don’t panic. Just hug a tree and holler.

That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t matter much whether you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home.

Edward Abbey

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Where are We in September?

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 11:16am

Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

Last month’s flag on the hillside photo elicited a number of interesting answers. We didn’t realize there were so many American flags flying proudly in remote areas of the community. However, the correct location of our August WHERE ARE WE? is at the Atkinson residence on Clearwater Lake.

We had two correct guesses and the winner drawn was Tony Everson of Grand Marais. Tony wins a one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

If you know where I was standing when I took this photo, send in a guess!

Try your luck! Take a look at the September photo. If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer. Bring it in to the News-Herald at 15 First Avenue West; mail it to Cook County News-Herald, PO Box 757, Grand Marais; fax it to 218-387-9500; or email it to The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers. Whoever is drawn will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $30 value). Good luck!

Answer to the September WHERE ARE WE? must be received by
October 13, 2014.

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The “what if” game

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 11:09am

I’ve always had an active— some would say overactive— imagination. I’m one of those people who creates little dramas in my head when someone I care about is overdue. If a friend or family member isn’t where he or she is supposed to be at a certain time, I don’t think that they are stuck in traffic or that they are sitting in a boring meeting that ran longer than expected.

No, my mind goes right to the worst case scenario. A horrid vision of doom and despair plays out in my head. They walked in on a bank robbery and are being held hostage. They swerved for a deer and are now trapped in a vehicle dangling off a steep cliff. They fell down a set of stairs and broke both legs and are lying there calling “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Their car broke down and as they went for help they were picked up by a psychopath and they are tied up in a basement somewhere, calling for help.

It is always an immense relief when he or she calls or walks in the door. Disaster averted!

Because I’m a worrywart, I’m always playing the “what if?” game. On a quiet walk along County Road 7 by my house I think about what I would do if I met a wolf or bear. Would I yell and try to chase it off? Would I ignore it? I consider what I have in my pocket that I could use as a weapon. If I start down this thought path as it gets dark, I end up running home as fast as my legs will take me.

My husband Chuck and I play the “what if ” game sometimes when we’re driving somewhere or on a hike. We consider Armageddon scenarios. What if the entire Midwest lost power? How would we heat our house? Keep our food cold, if disaster struck in the summer? What would we do for fuel? How would we contact friends and relatives to see if they were surviving?

As we walk through the woods in late fall, talk frequently turns to what to do if we encounter a moose. The old adage, “You don’t have to be faster than the moose, just faster than the person you’re with” sometimes comes up. That doesn’t reassure me and I start seeing moose in every tipped over tree root or boulder.

An overactive imagination can be a difficult thing to live with. I think that is why I enjoy the National Geographic program Doomsday Preppers. The people on the program make my imagined crises seem like a day at the park. The post-apocalyptic escape routes, shelters and weapons that the doomsday preppers create are amazing. The elaborate scenarios these folks come up with make my vivid imaginings seem like happy fairy tales. Their “what if ” games involve training that rivals that offered by the U.S. Marine Corps.

If you want to see how prepared you are for a cataclysmic event, take the Doomsday Prepper quiz

I especially liked the episode that featured a woman whose doomsday prepping included storage of food items that would not only allow her to survive a cataclysmic incident, but thrive in it gourmand style. She had a huge, well-stocked pantry—as well as several levels of hidden pantries throughout her house. She hoarded specialty cheeses, spices, coffee and what would be worth more than gold to me in a world gone mad—chocolate!

Of course to protect her amazing food supply from the inevitable foragers who didn’t prepare for doomsday, she and her husband spent a great deal of time practicing their response to home invasion. They had a variety of weapons cached around the house. Showing she had a sense of humor about all of this doomsday stuff, she showed National Geographic a pistol stored amongst her vegetables in the pantry, in a canister of dried peas. “It’s my pea shooter,” she declared.

Although the woman and the other preppers may have the last laugh in the event of a massive earthquake, economic collapse, biohazard attack, major power outage or other disaster, their imagined incidents are a bit too intense for me.

They do, however, offer some down-to-earth tips now and then, similar to those offered by our local emergency management folks. September is National Preparedness Month, and although I’ve written about my disdain for a day or week or month for every cause imaginable, I do think this is a good one.

It’s good to take a few minutes to think about what your family would do in the event of an emergency—a long-term power outage, a house fire or wildfire, flooding, a windstorm, or even something unthinkable like another 9/11-style attack.

It’s not a bad idea to have the necessary survival essentials stockpiled—water, canned goods, flashlights and batteries, a weather radio, a first aid kit, and so on. There are great ideas at websites like or to help you figure out what you need to have on hand.

It’s not a bad idea to play “what if ” now and then.


There’s no harm in hoping
for the best as long as you’re
prepared for the worst.

Stephen King

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