Gratitude, at Tettegouche State Park

A couple of weeks ago I joined a couple of friends for a short trip to Tettegouche State Park. When I was 19 I spent a summer at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center taking some classes for college credit, and spent a lot of time at Tettegouche. It’s a place that has a lot of memories for me; it’s also where Adam proposed to me! (When I was 22; not 19, if you were worried).

The first thing we did upon arrival is set up our tent, because I’m a stickler for things like that. (Gotta have the tent up in case it rains!) Kelly and I unpacked my brand new REI Half Dome four-person tent and I promptly broke it. There’s a slightly tricky bit with the poles, and I was all cavalier, I-remember-the-demo-I-don’t-need-to-read-the-instructions and snap! The pole didn’t break, but the connection between two of the poles did. Fortunately the tent comes with a six-inch long metal tube you can slip over a messed-up pole or pole connection, and we were able to erect the tent with that. Whew. And I thanked my stars I’d bought it at REI, because they replaced the entire tent no questions asked.

Tettegouche State Park

The setup but broken tent. It slept the three of us fine, even with Phoebe’s twin bed-size blow-up mattress alongside my luxury-size Thermarest and Kelly’s normal-size Thermarest.

The next thing we did is go swimming, because we’d left 90+ degree-temps in Twin Cities and were sweaty from putting up the tent.

Phoebe and Kelly, my travel companions, ready to plunge in the Baptism River.

And we checked out Two-Step Falls and High Falls, which is Minnesota’s tallest waterfall.

Tettegouche State Park

The Baptism River from above.

That night we hiked around and Kelly made some impossibly good campfire Pad Thai. We sat by the fire as the stars came out, and then sacked out in the tent as it started to rain. (So far, so good on the rain and the new tent).

The next morning I had some time to myself, and decided to do some solo hiking. Along the way I started thinking about my various trips to Tettegouche State Park, mostly from when I was 16-19, and what I was like then. I passed the time thinking about what it’d be like if my 19-year-old self could see me now, and what she would think.

I think my college-age self would be relieved to know that her friends and family are mostly alive and well, and still very close. She’d be thrilled with the couple Adam and I are, and her heart would burst at the sight at Beatrice. She’d be on-her-knees thankful that the last years have been such trauma-free ones. A lot of safety and security and friends and fun, with a hearty dose of jam-making and sewing — for that she’d be grateful. She’d be super impressed at the marathon running (I can do that?!) and pleased at how my career has climbed.

But she’s be crying foul at any lack of confidence, at any fear that I couldn’t do something I wanted to do, and any taking of crap that I pass off as normal things you put up with. She’d have more confidence about what I could do, and more optimism about reaching my dreams. She would use a lot more swear words to describe unpleasant things in my life and a lot more swear words to encourage me to change them.

Tettegouche State Park

Overlooking the High Falls drop.

I’ve shared this question with a few friends since, and every time I do, after it slips out I try to bite my tongue and take it back, because I forget that for some people, there have been a lot of things about the last 10-15 years they haven’t enjoyed, and it can be depressing to ask them to reflect on that and realize that disappointment. But I’ve also witnessed that it doesn’t depend so much on the events as the person. Two of my friends who have a lot of cause to feel cheated were the most optimistic and grateful of the respondents.

And there’s the acknowledgement that our 19-year-old selves tend to be a bit judgmental and naive. It’s easy to see from this vantage point that some of the dreams our 19-year-old selves had for ourselves were idealistic and short-sighted.

Tettegouche State Park

High Falls.

It was a fun way to pass the time, and a great way to collect myself to go home. The fresh air and exercise cleared my head in a way only the north woods can for me.

If you’re heading up to Tettegouche, consider stopping at:

The Vanilla Bean Cafe in Two Harbors for pasties (including veggie pasties!) or fresh fish.
Brighton Beach for a picnic and playing on the shore, or the Duluth Lakewalk for a leg-stretcher and dozens of great places to eat
Palisade Head, for great views

P.S. from Jen

I’ve been thinking all day about what 19-year-old Jen would think of me now — 38, a mom, wife, survivor. I don’t think she’d believe it at all that I left my career to be home with my kids; that simply wouldn’t have entered her mind. Like Breanne, 19-year-old Jen would be shocked and amazed that her older self runs marathons (run? who me?). And she never would have expected to face real danger and loss and heartache.

When you are 19, the world is at your feet. Life, though, has a way of bringing you to your knees, and with that humbling, greater joy and meaning than my young self could have imagined. For that, I am truly grateful.

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