You are probably wondering where in the world the north woods is. For decades, the residents of the area have called it the “north woods” but technically it’s a designated ecoregion, defined by the types of trees, geology, geography and ecosystem found there. It’s the area surrounding the great lakes, comprised of
Upper Michigan, Northern Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota. It’s a temperate mixed forest and the easiest way to explain where my people come from as they stretch from Houghton to Green Bay, from Marquette to Duluth and all the way to Mackinaw (check out Kilwin’s Ice Cream and Fudge if you are ever there and say hi to Cousins Jay and Wendy!) Okay, so we have a few randos that moved from Eagle River to Chicago or Iron River to Detroit, but we won’t count them.
My folks left right after high school and never really looked back. We lived in North Dakota, Germany and finally settled in Alaska. My large extended family is still (mostly) there and we headed east in June to join everyone to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday with the family.
My grandmother lives on Gilbert Lake, which provides the kiddos with a wonderful opportunity to fish on a closed lake, meaning there isn’t any public access. Little caught small mouth bass, blue gill, perch – all catch and release. 9 fish in one day and 11 the next! Nearby there is Gibson Lake, which has a playground and picnic facilities.
To begin the adventure, my cousin, niece and our little family flew to Minneapolis to meet up with my sister and brother. We rented cars and drove 5 hours to our home for the next week, Paint River Landing. It’s a lovely renovated-but-still-rustic
set of cabins complete with lodge/bar/restaurant that has all the important stuff: wifi, beer on tap, delish fried cheese curds, a fish fry on Fridays and live music on the weekends.
Before my grandmother’s party, we managed to join a few cousins on my mom’s side of the family for a little reunion (~50 people) on Sunset Lake, where I spent many childhood summers. The park was unchanged from the early 80’s – remarkable in that the equipment did not look safe in any way, shape or form. While horrified to watch my kid follow his cousins up a (seemingly) 3-story metal slide, I was reminded that I somehow survived without plastic slides or wood chips. I mean, the slide ended on a concrete pad. CONCRETE, people. But it was wonderful to see so many of my cousins’ kids playing together!
As a whole, the trip was successful. My sister and I weren’t able to stop in Spread Eagle and take hilarious photos for Instagram (an tradition every time we are back) but we were able to eat at Riverside Pizza in Iron River too many times. Wausau? jokes were made as we drove through, the Menominee (to the tune of the muppet’s menomena) song was sung with glee and there was antiquing in Florence where my sister scored a stripper lamp. No, really.
We ended the trip in Minneapolis, arriving with enough time to hit The Mall of America – only the Lego Store and Nickelodeon World. Nickelodeon World proved to be the perfect way to kill time before the long flight home. There were just enough mellow, younger rides that we maxed out our time and he slept most of the flight home.