NISSWA, Minn. – An unexpected, 90-foot-tall guest crashed Brianna Sucik’s wedding rehearsal.
The fierce storm that tore through the Brainerd lakes area a week ago, closing some of the state’s best-known resorts and interrupting vacations, also toppled the giant silver maple onto the roof of Sucik’s family home on the shore of Gull Lake.
As Sucik and her fiancé, Kevin Relf, prepped for their Saturday nuptials, the wedding party posed for pictures in the shadow of the maple’s gigantic root ball. The minister even had some advice on tree removal.
Then they got on with the rehearsal.
“I think this is more my style anyway,” said Sucik, a physician assistant from St. Louis Park. “I don’t need anything fancy. I always said I wanted to be married on a hilltop.”
Sucik and many Minnesotans like her have spent an unsettling week scrambling to adjust in the storm’s wake — clearing a forest of fallen trees, tending to banged-up boats and battered plans.
Together, they’re proving a point: On Minnesota’s lakes, no matter what, the summer must go on.
The annual trip to the lake is a deep-rooted ritual for countless Minnesota families. This year, it’s just that a little improvisation is required.
“The grandkids will be coming and I’ve got to get ready,” said Bev Dunphy, surveying the wreckage of more than 50 trees down in her yard on Birch Island. Dunphy was in good spirits for someone who’s been without power and water for a week, using the woods for her bathroom.
“I think the neighborhood’s going to be closer because of this,” she said, recounting stories of how people have helped one another since last Sunday’s storm. One downside: “I’ve had more tree [service] guys knock on my door than trick-or-treaters at Halloween,” she said with a laugh.
Across the region, volunteers pitched in with chain saws and Bobcats to clear roads. Tree companies loaned each other equipment and set up coordinated staging areas for logs and debris. Resort owners collaborated to serve guests, sharing facilities and rooms.
“We’re kicking it old school,” said Matt Kilian, president of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce. “Typically, the travelers will research websites and book online. But there are a lot of hidden gems here, mom-and-pop resorts that don’t have that kind of online presence. So we’re collecting all that info and playing tourism matchmaker, helping people find a booking.”
No slowing down
On Friday, golf pro Chris Foley was giving lessons on the driving range at Madden’s on Gull Lake. Nothing unusual, except that Foley works for neighboring Cragun’s Resort.
“You can’t let things slow you down,” Foley said. “That’s not just me — that’s everybody in the area. We spent Monday trying to figure out what was going on, then we got back to it.
“This may be the one week of the year when people can vacation. You don’t want to disappoint them.”
In the Tope family, that week of vacation has long been about the extended family heading to the lake. In downtown Nisswa, the female half of the family — three generations’ worth — was visiting the local shops.
“It’s the one weekend of the year when we all get together,” said Kathie Tope of Stillwater. Her daughter, Kery Rearden of Woodbury, said it would take more than a storm to force a cancellation.
“We’ve been coming since I was little,” she said. “And now it’s so special to bring the kids to the same cabin I came to as a kid.”
Mike and Dana Borglum, too, have been coming to the Brainerd lakes since they were kids. Brother and sister — he from Mankato, she from Blue Earth — put their battered, 14-foot fishing boat into Gull Lake in search of walleye and bass.
“We had this planned a month ago,” Mike Borglum said. “We thought we’d still have a good time.”
“Coming to the lake means everything,” his sister added. “This is a tradition, for us to come here. That’s the summer.”
At S&W Bait and Tackle, a landmark on Hwy. 371, the storm caused a power outage and left the shop with a lot of dead minnows.
“We lost a lot of bait,” said Connie Stillings, who runs the shop with her sister. “A lot of bait.”
But they ordered more immediately, even knowing that it might arrive before power was restored and spoil too.
“You have to do it,” Stillings said. “You want somebody to get a break when they’re going to go out on the water after they’ve been working hard.”
Residents of the area take life’s bumps in stride, she said: “The common statement around here is, ‘We’re not too bad off.’ ”
Tony Cyr, a Cass County sheriff’s deputy, has spent the last week patrolling the roads around Gull Lake and keeping watch over damaged businesses. Meanwhile, at his own home, “half of my roof is gone, and I can’t find anyone to repair it,” Cyr said.
Is he worried? Not really.
“We’ll just get a bunch of guys together and do it ourselves,” he said with a shrug.
Back at the Sucik wedding rehearsal, Joey Halvorson summed up her personal credo of summer. A lifelong lakes-area resident, Halvorson is a family friend of the Suciks who got an Internet ordination to perform the ceremony.
“Summer is a spirit,” she said. “The boats are on the lake like nothing happened. Life is only one moment at a time, and it’s what you do with that moment that counts.
“If you can’t deal with the weather in Minnesota, then go live somewhere that’s boring.”
Later, she planned to raise to toast to the bride and groom with the wedding’s signature drink — a Dark & Stormy.