Growing up in Grand Marais by Sammie GarrityMay 13, 2023 06:09AM ● By Editor
May 13, 2023 by Sammie Garrity for Boreal Community Media
My first memory of Cook County is when I was 3 years old, and my mom and I pulled up to our newly rented log cabin on Tait Lake. The moment we pulled up my mom jumped out of the car and told me to look up at the sky. As I gazed upwards I was astonished at how many stars could fit in the jet-black sky. I had never seen so many before. This memory is forever etched into my mind…the way I perceive the North Shore. It established my deep-seeded appreciation for nature which has created core memories that stick with me to this day.
This little cabin is the first home that I have distinct childhood memories in. In fact, I had my first ever friend birthday party at that house. I turned 4 years old, and I don’t think I had ever been more excited. We all dressed up in princess dresses and ran around outside, dancing on the little bridge that was vaulted over a creek and running through the woods.
My mom and I would go on many walks through the property, frequenting the paths that winded down towards the lakeshore. I was always astounded by the nature that surrounded me. I got to hear the beavers slap their tails as I crossed over the bridge, upset with my presence. I was often sidetracked by the immense amounts of raspberry bushes that lined the trail. I would come home with handfuls of berries that would top ice cream later that night. In the winter, we would snowshoe out to the island that I had claimed as “my own.” I would vividly describe the house that I was “going to build one day.” Black walls inside with gold sparkles on the outside. The natural beauty surrounding this home and the opportunities to appreciate nature at such a young age defined my relationship not only with the land, but with my mom, the person I shared many of these experiences with.
We would spend hours sitting outside on the deck watching the pine martens try and dismantle the suet feeders that we had tied to trees. This was my favorite pastime for a large part of my life because I loved watching them scheme how to untie the zip-ties and eventually, they always succeeded. I loved observing their strategies because it was almost like you could see them thinking. As a young girl, I looked forward to waking up in the morning to see if the neighborhood bear had come to try and get inside our steel deck cooler that was latched and bungeed shut. There were many nights where we would hear banging and scratching noises outside our door, so much so that this bear became more of a welcome neighbor and less of a nuisance. I’ll never forget seeing those teeth marks in the cooler for the first time. I was enamored by the strength and the power that one animal held within.
One of my favorite memories of my entire life was when my mom and I pitched a tent in our backyard and slept outside for a night or two. We would try and catch fireflies in little mason jars and would chase them around trying to see them light up the grass. I loved the idea that such a little insect could create such beauty found nowhere else. After this, we would devour a pint of peach ice cream, an activity that became sort of a ritual. This connection to nature shaped how I see the world today, but it did also make me appreciate the conveniences of city-living.
For instance, 45 minutes to day-care, 30 minutes to school, long bus rides to sporting events, and hours upon hours spent in the car reading books while at job sites with my mom. The epitome of strategic living. However, drives such as the long bus ride into town offered me a chance to talk with my friends and catch up on the immense amount of things that happened since the day before (Spoiler alert, nothing much ever had changed.) I loved this time because I got to catch up with people from different schools and hear about what was happening in the very exciting lives of 8 and 9 year olds. If it was a day that I didn’t talk to people, I would dive into a book that would successfully fill my time until arrival at school. I remember one time I brought War and Peace on the bus with me—I said I wanted to read it, but in actuality I just wanted to appear bookish! Suffice it to say, I don’t think my brain could handle getting past the first few pages. I still don’t think it could.
These anecdotes may seem like asides that are disjointed from a larger vision, but when you bring them together, they paint a very accurate picture of small town life. When you think of a small community like Cook County, you probably think about seeing the same people every day and doing the exact same things on every weekend. Full disclosure, you wouldn’t be too far off base with that one. My friends and I did spend probably every weekend for 4 years with the exact same schedule. A walk downtown to visit Kristofer at Upstate. Then, a trip to Gunflint Mercantile to get a chocolate sea salt truffle—a kabob on a good day. Then we’d venture out to Artists Point where we’d eat at the lighthouse or climb the rocks on the other side. At some point, we’d get food from the deli at the Coop and then we’d go to the library and sit outside. On a day that we really wanted to spice it up, we’d go to Hughie’s or even Sydney’s. This routine, though monotonous, was comforting. It gave me structure and created some of my favorite memories to this day. School was similar. You go to school with the same 10 people—especially if you went to GES—but somehow that monotony doesn’t become negative. You experience a level of connectivity with others that you could never find anywhere else. I was able to learn about every single person on a deeper level and grow up with them—each individual changing as a person every year we were together. I got to see everybody grow into the people they are today and was able to grow alongside them. Even if I don’t talk to some of my old classmates anymore, the memories I made will always hold a special place in my heart.
There is a sense of community fostered that binds each individual together in one way or another. You find that everybody is connected, and it is that connection that weaves the stereotypical web of everybody knowing everybody. Growing up in such a rooted-together place allowed a kid like me to find my identity early on and establish myself as an individual. The independence and freedom that a small-town life gives you allows you to gain self-sufficiency early on. It teaches you to be social, to be active, and to be true to yourself. I am lucky to have grown up in a place that supported and celebrated my curiosity, and offered a safe and welcoming environment to spend my formative years. It will always be home to me.