Unorganized Territory

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Updated: 3 hours 22 min ago

Where are we in April?

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 1:17pm


Cook County News-Herald staff, like our readers, loves 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?

We thought our March WHERE ARE WE? photo was really easy. The picture was of the rail/hitching post at the Gunflint Horse Park, and now Dog Park, in Grand Marais.

It wasn’’t easy though— — we had no correct guesses! Better luck this month!

Take a look at the April photo. If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer. Mail it to: Cook County News-Herald, PO Box 757, Grand Marais MN 55604.  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 April WHERE ARE WE? must be received by May 12, 2014.

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Focus on the cross*

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 12:00pm

It is not very often that Unorganized Territory takes a religious tone. It is not often that I feel driven to talk about my faith. I am kind of a quiet Christian.

I don’t feel that I have the knowledge or expertise to offer a homily. I leave that to the “professionals”— the wonderful cadre of ministerium members who offer insight and inspiration to News-Herald readers each week in our Spiritual Reflections.

It has been a pleasure getting to know the shepherds of our community churches as they take their turn at the “church column.” Every month we see a new face on the column and hear a new voice. Every month I’m inspired by the different interpretations offered of that old, old story.

So I am content to read the spiritual reflections and write about other things, such as politics—local or national, family—kids or grandkids, wildlife—deer or rabbits or some other topic. I tend to keep my thoughts about God to myself.

But occasionally I question whether I should be a quiet Christian or if I should use this bully pulpit to share the peace and strength I gain from prayer and faith in God. I thought about weighing in with my opinion on God and heaven and the afterlife during the spate of atheist versus Christian letters last year, but I didn’t.

However, taking part in the Community Good Friday Cross Walk last week brought the question to mind again.

The Cross Walk is a wonderful tradition. I love that friends and neighbors from nearly all of our North Shore churches take part. It’s amazing that participants come from a variety of faiths, ages, and circumstances to walk together from church to church, offering prayers for each congregation. I am so thankful that on this one day, our community sets aside its political and religious differences and walks together as one.

Unfortunately, I don’t participate in the Cross Walk as a quiet Christian, walking thoughtfully, meditating on the meaning of following the cross.

No, I’m dashing ahead to get a picture of the cross bearer coming down the hill. I’m scrambling onto retaining walls or landscape rocks to get a better angle for a photo. I’m standing off to the side snapping pictures during the prayers. So I’m perhaps not paying as much attention to the sacred words as I should.

But somehow God used the event to get through to me anyway. As I balance atop a pile of rocks to get the best angle, I struggle with finding the focal point for the picture. I want to capture the essence of the event. I hold the shutter halfway down in preparation of taking the perfect photo. I slowly scan the crowd looking for the front of the procession. As I press the shutter, I think to myself, “Focus on the cross.”

Focus on the cross…

Community members take turns leading the procession, carrying the heavy cross through the streets of Grand Marais.

I think of the first Good Friday, of Jesus, beaten and bloody, carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. What would my role be, if I were there at that first Good Friday?

Would I be there as a member of the press? Recording the torment of the innocent man judged guilty by the mob? Documenting the action on papyrus for the weekly news?

Would I be a member of the mob, swept up in the madness that released Barabas and called for the crucifixion of an innocent man?

Would I feel empathy for Christ’s struggle? Would I help carry the cross? Would I offer a sip of water? Would I follow the carpenter, the teacher, the Prince of Peace?

I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to make that decision. But I can make the decision that I will speak up and let people know that I am a follower of Christ. I won’t do it every week. I’ll leave the spiritual reflections to the professionals.

But I will try to focus on the cross.

+   +   +   +   +   +   +

This is my commandment, that ye
love one another.

Jesus, John 15:12

 * This column was first published in the Cook County News-Herald on April 30, 2011.
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Calm in an emergency

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 4:14pm

I have covered my share of catastrophes—real and pretend—in my 14 years of working for our community newspaper. I’ve learned a lot about fire behavior, prevention and safety. So you wouldn’t think I would be freaked out when a fickle electrical device started smoldering recently.

You would think, with a number of volunteer firefighters in the family—sons, brother, brother-in-law and cousins—some of their calmness about fire would rub off. I’ve watched these dear relatives fight fires numerous times, cringing as they entered smoky buildings or climbed ladders to cut holes in roofs of burning buildings.

Watching local firefighters battling fire is scary enough for me. This June 2013 fire at Devil Track Lake had firefighters from six departments, as well as some U.S. Forest Service personnel on scene.

Just last week, April 5, readers saw an article I wrote after watching our fledging volunteer firefighters undergoing fire training, knocking down vehicle fires at the Grand Marais Fire Hall. They were the essence of calm as they muscled hoses around and shot water on live fires.

I’ve also watched our local firefighters giving fire safety presentations in elementary classrooms. It’s fun to watch the kids checking out all the fire gear and absorbing the safety message. I’ve listened enough times that I know exactly what I should do if I somehow encounter a fire—or worse, catch fire. I know that you shouldn’t run around screaming. I’ve heard those excited students shout, “ Stop, drop and roll!” I know that one of the main things to do in case of fire is to remain calm.

I’ve also attended the Cook County Emergency Services Conference nearly every year in its 25-year history. I’ve learned a lot there, not just about fire. The interesting conference covers a wide variety of emergency training. Everything from rope rescue to wilderness orienteering, from water rescue to airbag safety, from vehicle extraction to accident scene triage, from landing zone safety and arson investigations, from radio communications to caring for injured pets, from handling hazardous materials to recognizing meth labs and much, much more has been covered at the conference over the years. Sitting in the emergency services conference, I have come to understand that the key to just about any emergency is being prepared and remaining calm.

Knowing and doing though is a different matter. Fortunately—and unfortunately—I was in the immediate vicinity during my near calamity.

Fortunately because the smoldering didn’t lead to flames.

Unfortunately because the gadget that was sputtering and spitting rancid-smelling black smoke was my hair straightener! I was in the midst of smoothing the kinks out of the right side of my hair— always a somewhat dangerous situation even with a hot iron that is working perfectly—when I heard a strange crackling sound in my ear. As I moved the straightening iron away from my head, I was shocked to see black smoke rolling out and sparks flying.

For a moment I just held it in my hand, perplexed. Then, I realized it was likely going to burst into flame. I dropped it onto the counter and said something impolite. And, not very calmly, I reached over and pulled the electrical cord from the wall extension.

It stopped smoking and sputtering almost instantly, but the stench was horrendous.

Shaking, I let it sit on the counter and cool down for a while. I didn’t want to throw it out right away and start a real fire. It was scary enough having nearly caught my hair on fire.

I shudder to think what could have happened. I frequently turn on the straightener and let it heat up while I do household tasks. What if it had burst into flames, caught the hand towel on fire, and spread to the medicine cabinets and then the curtain and…?

Scary thoughts and a good reminder not to leave electrical devices unattended. I thought of saving this story for the Unorganized Territory that would be published near the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Prevention Week, but that is not until next October. By then, I would have forgotten the frightening experience. So I thought I’d share the reminder now.

It is timely anyway, because it made me think a bit about the well trained emergency responders who would come if my house caught fire or if I had been burned by the errant hot iron.

I’m looking forward to this year’s Emergency Management Conference, which will be held April 25-26, where a lot of these folks will gather. It will give me a chance to say “thanks” to all of our hardworking emergency responders.

And it will give me a chance to learn more about staying calm—or at least trying to stay calm!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s what you learn after
you know it all that counts.

Coach John Wooden

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April brings oobleck

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 10:26pm

Regular readers know that I like winter. I enjoy watching snow falling on the trees and shrubs along my driveway, turning it into a Currier and Ives scene. I like snowshoeing and snowmobiling and watching my grandchildren ski. I admire the frost pictures on my windows and the lovely way snow glistens like glitter in the bright sun.

I like how refreshing it is to step outside on a cold day. And I love how good it feels to come back inside to warm up. I’m proud that I know how to layer appropriately so I don’t get cold when the Polar Vortex passes through.

We seemed to have more than our share of bitterly cold days this year. Although this winter reminds me a lot of winters when I was growing up here on the North Shore. Now, I’m not going to share some sad tale of having to walk to school in a blizzard…up hill, both ways… but I do remember waiting for the school bus on brutally cold days. I remember our elementary school principal, Mr. James, chasing us out of the school entryway into the cold because we were too noisy.

No, winter wasn’t always fun. But it seemed like we always had enough snow to build snowmen and snow forts and to go sledding. I keep telling people this is a good old-fashioned winter.

Maybe that is why I keep thinking about the games we played and the way we passed time in the winter when I was a kid. The giant snowbanks remind me of many games of “King of the Hill.” The open expanse of our septic drain field tempts me to go make a snow angel like we used to do long ago. Of course many recess hours were spent throwing snowballs at one another, even though it was prohibited.

I also remember a really silly game, one that could only happen in our snowy clime. Some childhood friends and I used to pretend we had somehow been transported to a giant’s world. We were trapped in a giant bowl of ice cream— bright, white, vanilla ice cream! We had to make a hiding place so the giant didn’t find us.

I’ve always liked looking at snow that way, trying to see more than just semi-permanent ground cover. The clumps piled up by the snow plow? Like fluffy white clouds in the sky, if you look at them imaginatively you can see polar bears or dragons.

And then there is the oobleck snow. The most recent snowstorm that passed through brought a downfall of heavy, sticky, snowflakes, reminding me of one of my favorite children’s books, Bartholomew and the Oobleck.    

If April snow was green, it would be exactly like oobleck!


The Dr. Seuss story may not be familiar to everyone as it isn’t written in Theodor Geisel’s usual poetic meter. No, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, like its preceding story the 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, isn’t written in Dr. Seuss’s usual poetic style. Instead it is simple prose telling the story of King Derwin of Didd who was tired of rain, sun, fog and snow. The king called on his royal magicians to make something new fall from the sky. What falls is oobleck— sticky green globs that wreak havoc on the kingdom.

In the story, young page boy Bartholomew Huggins comes to the rescue by getting King Derwin to say the magic words—not the words the magicians said to create the oobleck, “Shuffle, Duffle, Muzzle Muff”—but simply “I’m sorry.”

Once Bartholomew convinces King Derwin to say the magic words, the sun comes out and the oobleck melts away. It’s a nice story, ending with the King declaring a holiday to celebrate the four things that should come from the sky—rain, sun, fog and snow.

So although heavy, clumpy, sticky snowflakes are white instead of green, they make me think of the Kingdom of Didd getting gooped up with oobleck.

Oobleck-like snow makes me think of the gentle wisdom of Dr. Seuss via Bartholomew Cubbins. Don’t be arrogant. Say you’re sorry when you’ve made a mistake. And appreciate what you have— even if it’s another five inches of snow.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

The people who are successful are those
who are grateful for everything they have.
Alan Cohen

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