Great Escapes: Four Weekend Getaways
By Ellie M. Bayrd
Grand Marais Folk Art School
After Grand Marais was settled by moose (then Native Americans, then lumberjacks), it was swarmed by artists. Not beret-wearing, oh-look-how-the-light-hits-that-daffodil artists, but survivalist artists—artists with hip waders, table saws, and hunting permits. And their legacy, along with the Grand Marais Art Colony, is the North House Folk School, a clutch of clean-lined, brightly painted buildings beside Lake Superior that, on my arrival, gave me the illusion of having landed on the Norwegian coast.
But it’s just Minnesotans here—men in flannel and women in aprons (and often vice versa)—ready to teach the practical stuff most of us never learned in school: how to build a boat, a kayak, a log home; how to make a wooden bowl and the Swedish potato sausage to put in it. You could even make your own coffin (many people do—it’s one of the school’s most popular classes).
It’s easy to see, watching people stitch their own mukluks or bake fresh bread, why folkeshoskols like this have been common in Scandinavia since the 1840s and why more of them are sprouting in the Upper Midwest, including the new Giants of the Earth folk school, in Spring Grove, Minnesota. Algebra is handy—if you need to program the next moon landing. But mukluks? They’ll keep your feet from freezing off. Most classes take two to three days, which means you could keep going, acquiring one skill after another until you’ve built everything you need and, if the simple-life philosophy has soaked in, everything you really want.
Shopping in Northfield
I’m about four years old and I’m at Bandana Square in St. Paul, sandwiched between my mom and Grandma Marion. We are window-shopping and gossiping our way through the mall. One of my hands is wrapped around my mom’s hand, the other ensconced in Grandma’s. We are three glamorous ladies on the town, and it’s a good day: my grandma buys me some stickers.
Grandma died nearly 20 years ago, but my early memories of shopping with her, of her pinning me up as she sewed my Christmas dress (talk about couture!), and of her fashion critiques—“That rayon is junk”—have served me well as a style editor. In other words, as I drive to Northfield on a crisp, bright morning, I am priming myself with all of her shopping advice.
I pull onto Division Street, and fall immediately into a shopper’s high. I walk down the street and take in all the cute storefronts before I commence what I can already tell will be a spree of epic proportions. I start at Swag, and leave with holiday cards made by cult-fave Rifle Paper Co. (Grandma always saved cards in her dresser drawers.) I pore though Zum soaps and knickknacks at Monarch, remembering the Yardley London lavender soap on her bathroom sink. I giggle at the cute Japanese toys at the Sketchy Artist—pretty sure those would have been wrapped up under her aluminum tree. In each shop, I find cute accessories, charming gifts, practical fun—I’ve got a lot of bags in hand, but sorrowfully leave a lot behind, too.
I find myself missing Grandma a bit more than usual on my way home. She would have definitely liked Northfield, I decide. And so do I.
Browsing in Nisswa
The mall in Nisswa is called “Pretty Good Shopping.” That’s code for “Totally Amazing, Get-Here-Now Shopping,” as many Minnesotans already know. Nisswa’s main street is lined with as many shops as Minnesota is sprinkled with lakes—or at least it feels that way. Lodge at one of the nearby Gull Lake resorts, and plan to leave fishing and hiking by the wayside for at least a day or two. Fuel up with espresso and a scone at StoneHouse Coffee and Roastery, then parade from boutique to boutique, each carrying its own special brand of handmade goods, art, crafts, and products with a Minnesota heritage (think Minnetonka Moccasins) or heritage in general (antiques). Lunch or a snack is never more than a storefront or two away, and if you don’t drop after all that shopping, head to downtown Brainerd or Pequot Lakes for an encore.
Denial, as you may have heard, is not just a river in Egypt. It is also a lazy river—and a wave pool, a raft ride, and water slides—in suburban Minneapolis. The Water Park of America in Bloomington bills itself to tourists as the largest indoor water park in the nation. But it appeals to us Minnesotans, the seasonally affected and chronically wind-burned, as a land of delusion. Winter is treated as a preposterous fiction, a lie that an ogre dreamed up to scare us. The chemical, faux-August humidity; the woodland murals on the walls; the sky-replicating cloud banners suspended from the ceiling—yeah, it’s cheesy. But it’s also charming. And it helps staycationers trick themselves into vacation mode.
On a chilly spring morning, I am happy to be fooled. Swim trunks cinched, I wait in line at the park’s crown jewel of unreality: a surf simulator called the FlowRider. A three-inch sheet of water roars, at 30 miles an hour, over a foam ramp. Kids as young as seven are handed boogie-boards and then flop into the artificial rapids. The goal is simply to endure, to hover at a still equilibrium over the water. A few hotdogs make cuts and swerves. Some older boys even climb to their knees, striking strongman poses for their parents’ cameras. But most get yanked back up over the transom like a snapped rubber band.
“It’s essentially a humiliation machine,” says one weary dad. Sure enough, a twiggy kid in board shorts descends only to be plucked backward like a yo-yo. He leaves crying.
“You’re up.” The lifeguard hands me a boogie board. I don’t know how to boogie board. I never even learned how to skateboard. But, in the day’s spirit of self-deception, I stare down the rapids confidently. Then it’s one last cinch of the trunks and a reckless, belly-first plunge into denial.