Hug a tree and holler

Sometimes I take a circuitous route to find the topic of Unorganized Territory. Last week I wrote about the “what if” game our family sometimes plays in which we consider all sorts of doom and disaster scenarios and how to prepare for them. Last week’s column ended up being a plug for National Emergency Preparedness Month, which isn’t a bad thing. We can all use a reminder to update our home and vehicle emergency kits.

But I didn’t start out in that direction. It was to be a cautionary column of a different sort. The idea for last week’s Unorganized Territory, which got lost as my thoughts flowed, came from a comment my six-year-old grandson Carter made while we were on a hike.

At least once a year we take a hike with our grandkids up the “root beer river.” That is what the grandkids call Cascade River because of the bubbling brown-colored water that flows in that magnificent river. It is a wonderful hike because it works for just about any hiking skill level and offers amazing views of many waterfalls.

It is also a bit nerve-wracking for grandparents, as kids love running and peering over the edge of walkways and bridge rails. I spend most of the trek saying, “Slow down!” “Don’t run up to the edge!” “Don’t dangle on the railing!”

It’s that worrywart gene once again. But as my sons keep assuring me, “Kids have been hiking these trails for hundreds of years.”

Behind my adorable grandkids is one of the Cascade River's beautiful--but potentially treacherous--waterfalls. A wonderful hike, despite the worry!

Behind my adorable grandkids is one of the Cascade River’s beautiful–but potentially treacherous–waterfalls. A wonderful hike, despite the worry!

Once the trail wandered inland, I was able to relax a little bit. But then we got spread out along the trail and someone mentioned getting lost. I couldn’t resist reviving the “what if ” game with the grandchildren.

We used to do this all the time when our boys were young. When we lived away from Cook County as a military family, we resided in primarily metro areas. There were a lot of check-in requirements for our kids when they went bike riding or to play at a neighborhood park. If we went to a mall or theme park, we always had a plan to find one another in case we got separated. We had a lot of discussions such as, “What would you do if a guy asked you to help find his lost puppy?”

So, I decided to play the backcountry “what if ” game. I asked the grandkids what they would do if somehow they did get lost in the woods on a hike or while camping. Carter grinned and replied, “Hug a tree!”

I was delighted. Apparently his parents also play the “what if ” game. And instead of making the caution complicated by explaining that people can’t find you if you are constantly wandering through the underbrush, someone told Carter to stay put—by hugging a tree.

I added to the advice though. Hugging a tree to stop aimlessly traveling in circles and frustrating potential rescuers is wise, but it’s also good to try to help those rescuers find you. I told Carter and his cousins to also holler. Yell and holler and scream. Stop and listen. And then scream and holler some more!

I also told the grandkids to remain calm. No matter where they are, we will find them.

This is great advice for any of us. Cook County has a great search and rescue system. There are dozens of volunteers who are ready at a moment’s notice to gear up to head out into our forests to find a missing person or to help someone in distress. If we are lost, someone will find us.

It is better to not get lost at all though. The grandkids and I talked a bit about staying on trail and staying together. We also talked about paying attention. Again, good advice for anyone setting out into our boreal forest.

Paths through the woods can all look the same. It’s hard not to zone out when you’re walking along enjoying the wonders around you—the rooted and rocky trail, the wildflowers or mushrooms along the path, the birds and squirrels, the rivers and creeks. I’m as guilty as anyone. But after hiking farther than I intended a few times, I realized I need to be more attentive.

We all should pay attention. Even when hiking with a group, we shouldn’t assume someone else will remember if we turned left or right at the big cedar tree. We need to think about where we are once in awhile. Where is the Big Lake? Where is the highway? How many miles was it between trail markers?

Noting these things can keep us from going astray. But if by chance you zig when you should have zagged and end up being lost in the woods. Don’t panic. Just hug a tree and holler.

That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t matter much whether you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home.

Edward Abbey

Where are We in September?

Cook County News-Herald staffers love 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?

Last month’s flag on the hillside photo elicited a number of interesting answers. We didn’t realize there were so many American flags flying proudly in remote areas of the community. However, the correct location of our August WHERE ARE WE? is at the Atkinson residence on Clearwater Lake.

We had two correct guesses and the winner drawn was Tony Everson of Grand Marais. Tony wins a one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

If you know where I was standing when I took that photo, send in a guess!

If you know where I was standing when I took this photo, send in a guess!

Try your luck! Take a look at the September photo. If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer. Bring it in to the News-Herald at 15 First Avenue West; mail it to Cook County News-Herald, PO Box 757, Grand Marais; 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 September WHERE ARE WE? must be received by
October 13, 2014.

The “what if” game

I’ve always had an active— some would say overactive— imagination. I’m one of those people who creates little dramas in my head when someone I care about is overdue. If a friend or family member isn’t where he or she is supposed to be at a certain time, I don’t think that they are stuck in traffic or that they are sitting in a boring meeting that ran longer than expected.

No, my mind goes right to the worst case scenario. A horrid vision of doom and despair plays out in my head. They walked in on a bank robbery and are being held hostage. They swerved for a deer and are now trapped in a vehicle dangling off a steep cliff. They fell down a set of stairs and broke both legs and are lying there calling “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Their car broke down and as they went for help they were picked up by a psychopath and they are tied up in a basement somewhere, calling for help.

It is always an immense relief when he or she calls or walks in the door. Disaster averted!

Because I’m a worrywart, I’m always playing the “what if?” game. On a quiet walk along County Road 7 by my house I think about what I would do if I met a wolf or bear. Would I yell and try to chase it off? Would I ignore it? I consider what I have in my pocket that I could use as a weapon. If I start down this thought path as it gets dark, I end up running home as fast as my legs will take me.

My husband Chuck and I play the “what if ” game sometimes when we’re driving somewhere or on a hike. We consider Armageddon scenarios. What if the entire Midwest lost power? How would we heat our house? Keep our food cold, if disaster struck in the summer? What would we do for fuel? How would we contact friends and relatives to see if they were surviving?

As we walk through the woods in late fall, talk frequently turns to what to do if we encounter a moose. The old adage, “You don’t have to be faster than the moose, just faster than the person you’re with” sometimes comes up. That doesn’t reassure me and I start seeing moose in every tipped over tree root or boulder.

An overactive imagination can be a difficult thing to live with. I think that is why I enjoy the National Geographic program Doomsday Preppers. The people on the program make my imagined crises seem like a day at the park. The post-apocalyptic escape routes, shelters and weapons that the doomsday preppers create are amazing. The elaborate scenarios these folks come up with make my vivid imaginings seem like happy fairy tales. Their “what if ” games involve training that rivals that offered by the U.S. Marine Corps.

If you want to see how prepared you are for a cataclysmic event, take the Doomsday Prepper quiz at:

If you want to see how prepared you are for a cataclysmic event, take the Doomsday Prepper quiz

I especially liked the episode that featured a woman whose doomsday prepping included storage of food items that would not only allow her to survive a cataclysmic incident, but thrive in it gourmand style. She had a huge, well-stocked pantry—as well as several levels of hidden pantries throughout her house. She hoarded specialty cheeses, spices, coffee and what would be worth more than gold to me in a world gone mad—chocolate!

Of course to protect her amazing food supply from the inevitable foragers who didn’t prepare for doomsday, she and her husband spent a great deal of time practicing their response to home invasion. They had a variety of weapons cached around the house. Showing she had a sense of humor about all of this doomsday stuff, she showed National Geographic a pistol stored amongst her vegetables in the pantry, in a canister of dried peas. “It’s my pea shooter,” she declared.

Although the woman and the other preppers may have the last laugh in the event of a massive earthquake, economic collapse, biohazard attack, major power outage or other disaster, their imagined incidents are a bit too intense for me.

They do, however, offer some down-to-earth tips now and then, similar to those offered by our local emergency management folks. September is National Preparedness Month, and although I’ve written about my disdain for a day or week or month for every cause imaginable, I do think this is a good one.

It’s good to take a few minutes to think about what your family would do in the event of an emergency—a long-term power outage, a house fire or wildfire, flooding, a windstorm, or even something unthinkable like another 9/11-style attack.

It’s not a bad idea to have the necessary survival essentials stockpiled—water, canned goods, flashlights and batteries, a weather radio, a first aid kit, and so on. There are great ideas at websites like or to help you figure out what you need to have on hand.

It’s not a bad idea to play “what if ” now and then.


There’s no harm in hoping
for the best as long as you’re
prepared for the worst.

Stephen King

Government coffee?

Many years ago, several elections ago, the Cook County Coalition of Lake Associations held a candidate forum. There were many hard-hitting questions about property taxes and protecting water quality and so on. But the question that sticks in my mind from that long ago Q&A session was—who pays for the coffee and treats consumed at county board meetings?

There was a round of laughter when the question was asked, but it was obvious that people— voters—wanted to know. What government fund was used to purchase the coffee? How much was allocated to cookies and donuts each year? Was this an acceptable use of our tax dollars?

The audience seemed pleased to hear that the commissioners themselves provide the goodies shared during the midmorning break. There is a schedule and they all take turns bringing a treat. In fact, they not only bring enough for their board colleagues, they bring extra for county staff and citizens— and members of the press—in attendance. I’ve been fortunate over the years to sample some tasty treats prepared by local politicians. My favorite treat is the rum cake made by former Commissioner Walt Mianowski.

And the coffee itself? That is paid for by donations from the commissioners and county staff as well. No tax dollars wasted on coffee.

However, I don’t think money spent on coffee would be a total waste of county funds. I know, people who know me will be quick to say that I am addicted to coffee, so of course I would be supportive of the government providing coffee. But there is more to it than that.

A lot of problems could be solved if we all shared a cup of coffee (or tea!) now and then.

A lot of problems could be solved if we all shared a cup of coffee (or tea!) now and then.

The idea came up recently in a meeting I had with some Blandin Foundation Community Leadership participants. I was meeting with them to talk about our shared experience with the leadership training. They were taking part in the traditional Blandin leadership program and I was in the midst of the Editors & Publishers program. We were comparing notes and talking about the topic they have chosen to work on—building government trust.

I shared some of the things we are considering at the paper, such as the yet-to-happen “Coffee with the News-Herald.” As I explained that I would like to get together with readers now and then to chat over a cup of coffee, there was laughter. One of the Blandin participants said, “I see a theme here!”

Apparently one of the group working to build trust in government had suggested that the county offer coffee to taxpayers waiting for help. One of their group liked the idea of a little coffee station in the lobby of the planning & zoning office or the assessor’s office—like those at the car dealership or fancy hair salon. She suggested that a beverage—it didn’t have to be coffee, it could be a nice rooibos tea or even a cooler filled with refreshing water—would go a long way to soothing an irritated soul.

It brought to mind the book by Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea, about Mortenson’s accidental foray into humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although his story was questioned as exaggerated and his charity challenged in 2011, it is clear that Mortenson’s nonprofit, Central Asia Institute, has built and helped operate some schools—and it continues to do so. So despite the cloud of uncertainty surrounding his story, Mortenson is doing good works.

And what good Mortenson has accomplished started with Three Cups of Tea. The book title comes from a proverb of a Tibetan/Pakistani ethnic group, the Balti: “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…”

I know, it would be complicated to have a coffeemaker and hot water and tea bags and containers of water scattered around the courthouse. It would be an additional task for a county staffer who already has enough to worry about. No one has time to sit and drink three cups of tea before conducting government business.

But it’s a nice thought. It’s good to see leaders thinking of ways they can build trust, even if it is with something as simple as providing coffee or orange pekoe to visitors. It’s a start.


There is no trouble so great or
grave that cannot be much
diminished by a nice cup of tea.

Bernard-Paul Heroux

A painful, but necessary discussion

It is not very often that the Cook County News- Herald republishes an article from another newspaper. It is complicated to get permission and we prefer local content. However this week, I obtained permission from the Grand Rapids Herald Review to share a heartbreaking story about a father’s struggle to cope with the suicide of his daughter.

I didn’t go looking for the story on page A7. A father, John Bauer, contacted the Cook County News- Herald because his daughter, Megan Bauer Stejskal, a beautiful 33-yearold social worker, spent some time in Grand Marais. She worked as a mental health practitioner and at Superior National at Lutsen golf course in the summer. In the short time she lived on the North Shore she made many friends, who were all shocked and saddened to hear that she had died.

The News-Herald did not report the circumstances of her death because it didn’t happen in Cook County. She chose a different place, Bayfield, Wisconsin, to end her life. The News-Herald received an obituary from the family with the phrase that starts so many obituaries of suicide victims. According to the April 6, 2013 obituary, Megan “passed away unexpectedly.”

Truthfully, I was glad at that time that the News-Herald didn’t have to share the painful details. One of the most difficult stories for a newsperson to cover is the story of suicide. Reporting on death is never easy, whether that loss was caused by a car accident, a fall, a fire or by drowning. It is our job to share the details of a tragedy, to provide a historic record, but we know that by doing so we are adding to the suffering of family and friends.

Because of the stigma attached to mental health issues, we know the coverage of a suicide is even more hurtful. Along with the usual grief, there are so many unanswered questions. And often there is guilt, uncalled for because suicide attempters are very good at concealing their pain and hiding their plans, but agonizing guilt nonetheless.

Aside from cut and dried reports of a suicide death, reporters are hesitant to touch the topic. That is why receiving an email from John Bauer asking to talk about his daughter’s passing took my breath away. He attached the Grand Rapids Herald Review article and asked if we would reprint it. John wanted to share the painful path his family has been on.

In his grief, John Bauer is reaching out to others. He and his family talked about Megan’s life and death on the public television series Call Me Mental in a segment on suicide. In that video, John shares the terrible statistic that someone in the United States takes his or her life every 13 minutes.

In addition to sharing the story of his beloved daughter, John Bauer is gathering the tales of others who have been touched by the tragedy of suicide to be presented in a special multimedia exhibit in 2016. At press time he said he had heard from about 25 people who wanted to participate in some way.

There are others out there. Others who need to talk about their loss, who should not have to hide the way their loved ones died. John Bauer notes that it would be good if someday instead of saying a suicide victim had “died unexpectedly” obituaries could be similar to people who have perished from cancer or heart disease. John Bauer said his goal is to instead see obituaries share the truth—that a loved one died “after a long and courageous battle with mental illness.”

And better yet, John hopes that his exhibit, his call to talk about it, will lead to suicide prevention. He said if he can prevent one person from killing himself or herself the painful work he has undertaken will be worth it.

There are some who think that talking about suicide will lead to a suicide attempt. The therapists I’ve spoken with say that is not the case. In fact, they said checking in with a person who suffers from depression is more likely helpful than hurtful. Letting a person who struggles with depression know that they can call you anytime to talk is helpful. Sometimes despair strikes at unexpected times, at times when a person feels he or she should be happy. Having a phone number—or a list of phone numbers of people who care—close by can help.

Asking difficult questions like, “That sounds like an awful lot for one person to take; has it made you want to hurt yourself?” or “Are you feeling so bad that you’re considering suicide?” can actually be a relief to someone who is contemplating that extreme measure. Asking those questions can free a person to talk about it and to hopefully consider other options.

Suicide is not easy to think about, to talk about and certainly not to write about. But with efforts like the exhibit being put together by John Bauer, the discussion will be little easier.


The life of every person is like a
diary in which he means to write
one story, and writes another.
James Barrie

Back-to-school cool

Just about everyone I’ve talked to in the last week has bemoaned the fact that summer is nearly over. The weather this year has not been kind to us on the North Shore. After the brutally cold winter that seemed would never end, things never really warmed up. We only had a few days of hot weather. More than once I’ve felt sorry for the folks hiking and paddling and sleeping in tents.

There is serenity and splendor in our backcountry, but there is sometimes a price to pay. I hope everyone who has enjoyed rough camping this summer—the summer that barely was—brought plenty of layers to stay warm.

In my own forays into the forest in the last week, I’ve already seen signs of autumn. Despite a short string of bright sunny days and slightly higher temps, the signs of fall are here. There are bright patches of red and orange interspersed with the brilliant green.

It seems like summer arrived and departed in the same week. I recall feeling this way as fall approached when I was growing up. I remember luxuriating in warm weather just before school started. I remember days spent swimming with cousins and friends in little pools in Rosebush Creek, which is now called Fall Creek, but will forever be Rosebush in my mind. I remember riding bikes down County Road 7, weaving in and out of the dotted white centerline—once we reached the paved section at Rosebush Creek. I remember roasting marshmallows and watching fireflies while sitting around a campfire—just days before that dreaded first day of school.

I shouldn’t say dreaded though, because truly it wasn’t all that bad. There was always sadness at giving up the freedom of summer. Back-to-school meant no more sleeping in as long as I wanted. No more bikes or hikes to a cousin’s house to hang out, no more playing on a tire swing or climbing around in my grandfather’s old barn. No more lying in the tall grass imagining pictures in the puffy clouds. No more unlimited TV watching.

No, back-to-school meant more structure. It meant going to bed earlier and getting up earlier than I liked. It meant school lunches instead of peanut butter sandwiches or Lipton chicken noodle soup. It meant sitting still and paying attention and worst of all—mathematics! And it meant homework, further cutting into time to enjoy being outside—or watching my favorite television shows.

No one is cooler than Grover!

No one is cooler than Grover!

But along with the loss of freedom came the excitement of a new year and a new wardrobe. I remember being pleased with new dresses and shoes, but I most vividly recall my delight in a particular pair of jeans when I was entering the seventh grade. They were denim bell-bottoms, of course, but had a strip of ticking down the side. They may sound “lame” to the current generation, but they were the height of cool in my seventh-grade mind.

Returning to school was also wonderful because it meant seeing the many friends that I hadn’t seen much of—or at all—over the summer. It was nice to see everyone and to giggle and gossip between classes, at lunch, and to the teachers’ dismay, when we were supposed to be listening. Another great memory—of seventh-grade again, was when I reconnected with one of my best friends, Janie and saw that she was wearing the same cool blue jeans with the stripe down the side.

In addition to the fun of a few new outfits and renewed friendships, was the joy of new notebooks, pens, and of course a shiny new Trapper Keeper. It didn’t take long to fill the notebooks with scribbles and notes and eraser marks, but I always loved all those blank pages full of possibility.

Although I would never have admitted it at that time. That would not have been cool. Just as I would never have admitted that I enjoyed some of my classes. Math was always a struggle for me, but I enjoyed science and social studies. And I adored English, history and art classes. Book reviews for extra credit? That wasn’t homework; that was downright fun.

So all in all, school was not so bad. It was where I learned not only the educational basics, but that I could get through anything including math–if only with a C. It was where I learned that I loved to write. It was where I learned the importance of being organized and where I began my never-ending quest to become so.

It was where I made lifelong friendships that I still treasure. The Class of ’75 “kids” are meeting for lunch soon as we do the first Tuesday of every month.

Perhaps the worst part of the school year was heading indoors on the waning days of warm weather. Labor Day was the last big fling for all of us, as I’m sure it is for the teachers and students today. Have a safe and happy weekend everyone. Welcome back to schoo

***** ***** *****

The larger the island of
knowledge, the longer the
shoreline of wonder.

Ralph W. Sockman

Unorganized thinking

As I write this Unorganized Territory, I’m preparing to travel to Brainerd for the final session of the program I have been participating in this summer, the Blandin Foundation Editor & Publisher Community Leadership Program (E&P). It’s been an interesting experience although I’ve had a few “What was I thinking?” moments.

Two of the sessions have started on Thursday, which is the day we do our final proofreading, packaging, and sending to the printer. So it’s tough to be out of town that day. Frantically trying to get everything printer-ready before Thursday caused a few of those “What was I thinking?” thoughts.

The purpose of the E&P program is to allow editors and publishers to have some time away from their dayto day activities to look at the overall picture of the newspaper and its role in the community. The program is based on the Blandin Foundation’s 8 Dimensions of a Healthy Community, which are Life-Long Learning, Inclusion, Spiritual, Recreational and Artistic Opportunity, Environmental Stewardship, Infrastructure and Services, Safety and Security, Community Leadership and Economic Opportunity.

The Blandin Foundation asks participants in its E&P program and its other community leadership programs to take a hard look at these topics. Each participant is asked to evaluate how his or her community is doing in these dimensions. Are there life-long learning opportunities for all, from preschooler to the elderly? Are there adequate police and fire services so residents feel safe? Do community members care about the natural environment and work to protect it? Are all members of the community—regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity—included in making decisions that affect them?

Those are just a few of the questions raised in the Blandin Leadership Program. And although the program offers community building exercises and shares examples of what successful Blandin participants have accomplished, there are few answers. There is no “one size fits all” model of a healthy community or how to create it. I think at some point every Blandin Leadership program participant worries that he or she won’t make a difference, as the Blandin Foundation asks. I think we all ask, “What was I thinking?”

For me, participating in the program meant taking a hard look at the Cook County News-Herald and meant asking for feedback. That is why the News-Herald, with help from Cook County Higher Education, conducted a newspaper focus group back in May.

I survived my PowerPoint presentation!

I survived my PowerPoint presentation!

The focus group was not as well attended as I would have liked, but those who were there offered invaluable advice. Some of it was difficult to hear. It was challenging to take criticism of our coverage of some troubling news stories, especially when many of the concerns were due to the headlines on articles.

Ask any writer—headlines are tough. It is extremely difficult to summarize a 500 -1,200 word article in five to eight words. It is hard to encapsulate the idea of the article in just a few words without sensationalizing the content. As I listened to some suggestions for alternate headlines that could have been used, I thought the ideas were great. But, as I listened to some of the complaints, I also couldn’t help thinking, “What was I thinking?”

When I compiled the results of the focus group and shared it with my friends and co-workers at the News- Herald, I was met with mixed reactions, ranging from “No way can we do that” to “That’s not a bad idea.” We’ve enacted some of the suggestions and are working on others. But as I distributed the suggestions and comments from the focus group, I could see my fellow News-Herald staffers thinking, “What was she thinking?”

Today, as I’m again hurrying to head off to the last E&P session, I am getting very nervous about the “final exam” of the program. I have to give a 15-minute presentation on what I’ve learned through the program and what actions the News-Herald will implement to help make our community a better place. I will be offering a Power Point presentation, only the second I’ve ever done in my life. “What was I thinking?”

It is especially hard because I don’t feel that I’ve done much in the way of community building yet. I am truthfully struggling with the balance of building community and allowing the community to have a voice. And as a newspaper, we cover not only the fun stuff—the festivals, the new businesses, the births and weddings—but also the tragic deaths, the accidents, fires, and court matters.

I keep turning to a George Orwell quote that is in rotation on my email footnote: Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.

My Power Point presentation addresses that. I will share my conflict and struggle to find balance. And I will admit that we have been taking baby steps.

We’ve tweaked our letter to the editor policy to put the responsibility to be respectful on submitters. We’ve resurrected our “Get Involved in Government” feature, providing a “Clip and Save” list of various government boards with information on when and where they met. We are trying to be cautious about headlines and pull-quotes, not highlighting something that doesn’t represent the article well. There are more things in the works—stay tuned.

I’m also thinking of starting a “Coffee with the News-Herald” monthly event, meeting with readers at the local coffee shop. I’m a bit nervous about that though—what do you think readers? Should we do it? Or will it be another thing that makes me say, “What was I thinking?”

Drop me an email at to let me know what you think!


After enlightenment, the laundry

Zen quote from Mirja P. Hanson Editor & Publisher Community Leadership Program facilitator


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