From the miscellaneous drawer - View from the past

by Anne Senson

From the miscellaneous drawer by Anne Wognum in the Feb. 17, 1997 Ely Echo -

The car engine would struggle to reach the top of Miller Creek hill, passing an antique shop as the climb started, the noisiness of the old bridge from Superior, so close to the water, behind us. It seemed there were always huge, billowing clouds crowning shades of blue in the northern sky. The plateau at the top extended on to Canada, but it wasn’t until Virginia was behind us and the crest of that ridge was breached that I could exhale. Or traveling on County 4, straight north from Hoyt Lakes before the road was moved, having the valley of Embarrass before me.

I was in my twenties then. Working jobs to scratch a living - some colorful, most coincidental for the employer’s need and mine - lukewarm body, cold cash. I filed documents in an office in Indiana, served hungry farmers at a Maid-Rite restaurant in Iowa, waited on people buying books or records in Illinois, learned to serve the vagaries of the rich in California, worked with children at camps in Michigan, volunteered my time to communities. Just jobs.

Some people start out their adult life with a purpose which they follow throughout their days: a career they enjoy and get recompensed for. Most don’t.
A painter I met recently said that he has entered the happiest time of his life now that he is in his forties. Recently married, that event and some others have enabled him to spend his full time as an artist. Previously he traveled where jobs took him and sought in his infrequent leisure for time to paint. He now is challenged by some health problems, but he’s contented. with his life and his wife is contented With him and her work.

Our backgrounds are our training ground for the life we lead. In the past people started a career of work which would be with them for all their working days: once a waitress, always a waitress; once a miner, always a miner, but that no longer holds true. The spectrum of jobs offers so much more variety. A lawyer becomes a resort owner, a banker becomes a canoe outfitter, and someone like me becomes a publisher with the same or similar headaches as those faced by miners or outfitters, waitresses or bankers, and we survive.

It took me until age 40 to decide that newspapers were to be my way of responding to life and rarely have I regretted the decision. Now when I think of younger people I wonder if there will be an alteration to their life path in mid-life, like cancer was to mine.

The distraction of cancer, though quickly and easily removed, changed my focus. I found it doesn’t pay to envy others for their achievements or material possessions or relationships; envy detracts us from our own path, our own vision our own determination. And if I were able to expunge just one emotion from my life it would be envy that is negative, distracting. In that, Shakespeare summed up envy best: “...Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope, With what I most enjoy contented least.”

That long ago summer I spent in Ely I was young and content. My dad and I were building a large stone fireplace for our cabin. With hammer and chisel we shaped a variety of rocks for a tight fit. He had been a building contractor, retired, and found this work as I did to be satisfying, calming. When I left that year I had torn the cartilage in my knee and the damage served to sharply remind me all winter, back at my job in Illinois, that there was a place where I could breathe and be content. But it was another 10 years or so before a few weeks in Ely could be extended to almost a lifetime here.

Ely has been good to me. Its people have taken me into their hearts and homes, and they have been generous in teaching me to adapt, to fit in with their spirit and give my spirit ease. Many new people have come here since then. The last ten years have presented so many new faces that we no longer can sort them out. While we try to link their names with faces, we wonder if they too are trying to know ours. And we may wonder if the old ways of Ely and its people will be lost in the influx of a more modernized, impersonal culture.

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In the Ely Echo of Feb. 17, 1997, twenty years ago, the headlines were:
• Arena/pool facility concept get an identity: Laurentian Wellness Center group now in place;
• Hidden Valley Ski area may re-open;
• World record for Arctic Blast rally;
• Forest Service returns snowmobile, U.S. Customs issues $5,000 penalty;
• Irresistible Ink settles into new digs;
• Hockey co-op with Babbitt being studied;
• Chapman Project, VCC area set for 1997 sidewalk/street repairs.