Somewhere in the teens of the last century, timbermen finally carved their way into the last corners of Itasca County’s forest. Even crude tools and beasts of burden could reduce eight or nine “40s” of wilderness in the three to four months of brutal winters.
Singing crosscut saws and ox-bells now have fallen silent, and only the echoes of “TIMMBBEERR!” remain. Faint signs of man’s disturbance appear, however, and a crudely notched log shanty stands forgotten alongside one of northern Minnesota’s most pristine lakes.
Just before the Great Depression, an Iowa couple bravely attempted a fishing resort, resurrecting the main cabin (into a lodge) and then adding appurtenant structures. Likely, its remoteness (extreme) and hard times spelled approaching disaster, leaving the site abandoned for another decade. Then, in the last days of World War II, a disoriented hunter named E.A. Ricklick happened by — a discovery that christened a lifetime of unmatched adventure for his two young sons, who had only known Shakopee. The next 54 years provided Larry and Jim an endless epoch of hunting, fishing and all around thrashing in their magical playground.
Throughout that time, efforts were made to restore the original supervisor’s cabin that became a lodge, replacing logs and fortifying the foundation. Still, it retained its rustic character, lacking water, plumbing and electricity.
But along with minor changes came major ones. A mystical era had passed. A new owner removed large portions of the 360 acres of massive decaying hardwood and has returned it to its original white pine. Rickety, almost monumental, deer stands have been replaced by irreverent platforms. Bays once teeming with largemouth bass now appear empty with only an occasional pontoon boat invading Sunday afternoons.
The few remaining Ricklick clan members still gather to practice their annual rituals: cut firewood, visit their deer-runs, and pop an occasional brew under grandpa’s lasting hallmark — the Bohemian flag! A wise man once said, “Memories are made when foundations are laid.” A successive clan of grandchildren may one day also memorialize another 54-year era under its own hallmark — the white pine giants that started this whole thing.
Bart Rajala, Deer River, Minn.