Clementson’s on the Rainy River – June 17, 2012
The instructions were simple. Wait for the water to open up on the right side of the river, look for a bay with a small rapid running into it, then find the only dock. That’s how you get to Clementson’s.
“You can’t miss it,” Neal told me.
He was right. I slowed my paddle in the water and glided toward the lone dock. The calm of dusk left the bay smooth and glassy. Nothing moved beyond a flock of white pelicans that eased away as I slid out of my kayak and walked up the old dock.
I found Art in his house and he greeted me like an old friend, not someone he’d met that morning sitting around Neal and Janet’s table.
“Let me give you a tour,” he said.
We ended up back on the dock casting lines into the water. He told me Lake of the Woods county doesn’t have a single stoplight and pointed out the spot in the bay where an old saw mill used to sit.
“The foundation’s still there,” he said.
As the sun faded away, the world felt at peace. Art told me how they drag ice houses onto the river to fish when the water is frozen and promised I could sit in a t-shirt and shorts inside even if it were sixty below. He showed me the best way to cast and reel-in a spoon.
“You know how to tie a hook on, right?” he asked.
“Eight flips and then through,” I said.
“Seven,” he said. “Everyone says eight, but seven is lucky.”
Art knows a bit about luck. His dad should have been on the Edmund Fitzgerald when it sank in Lake Superior. Instead, he was home because Art’s mom thought he had worked too hard that week and didn’t need the extra shift. No one on board survived.
“I never would have thought I’d end up talking to a lawyer out here,” Art said. “Never got along with them much.”
“Ex-lawyer,” I said.
Art laughed and I thought of my old office overlooking San Francisco Bay. The water used to sparkle like a sapphire. Three years of law school and I didn’t last a year and a half. I still wonder if I made a mistake, if I should go back for another shift. I stared at the still water of Clementson’s bay, the Looksha pulled on the lone dock, the black water lit with fireflies.
The Edmund Fitzgerald sank so fast, it never sent a distress signal. It just vanished under the water. But there are lots of ways to die in this world. Some are fast, some slow. Maybe I know a bit about luck myself.