International Falls - USA
"Man, life can be so simple." - was the thought that made me write this post.
Why International Falls? Because it's close to where my partner grew up. We decided to go up to visit his dad (Terry) and it was an eye opener.
International Falls is in the North of America, right at the border with Canada. A running joke among Americans is that, if you’re from The Falls, you are Canadian, not American.
We stayed right by Little Fork River, 15min from the border with Canada. When I say by the river, it means, writing this post in Terry’s living room, overlooking the water.
Weather in Minneapolis was great, warm and sunny. But up north, we were blessed with pretty much a full day of rain, the first day we were there.
It almost felt like Christmas: grey weather, warm house, family and great food. What else could you need? Imagine, quaint house with hunting and fishing inspired decoration. What my partner calls "Very northern Minnesota style". Super cute and again, it just reminded me of Christmas. Maybe because I lived in warm weather for the last 2 years.
Little Fork, where my partner grew up, is only a few minutes drive from International Falls. This is an even smaller town, to the point that when we entered it, I didn't quite realise it was a town. It was just a few houses scattered around, eventually a school, a care home and a post office. I did not see 1 single person outside, or another car driving. It was raining, but that's definitely not why I didn't see people. It was just the size of the place!
This is a place where everybody knows each other and where people work at the same place for 40 years. My partner's grandma had one job her whole life. His mum worked at the same school for 37 years. The idea of living in a town like this my whole life was mind boggling but at the same time, fascinating. "Man, life can be quite simple" - I thought. It just made me realise how much we complicate things nowadays. Imagine a life without the big pressures of society, the big social media statements 'DO MORE!', 'BE MORE!', 'You need to have goals and live and die for them! Otherwise your whole life is useless!'...
I guess I am not quite sure where I am going with this but I decided I would write about it because I am sure that, somehow, it will shape my way of thinking and who knows, I might actually be seeking out a similar lifestyle at some point in the future.
The first night we were in town, we had dinner at a restaurant/dinner/pub. I am not quite sure how to describe it. I would call it a pub because that's what it reminds me of: a run down pub, in the Midlands, UK. Anyway, everybody knew my partner's dad and we got talking. Turns out, one of the waitresses was the daughter of one of his neighbours and, out of the blue, when she realised we were not locals, she invited us over to spend some time with their horses. (Once again, how nice is that??). Terry told us that they had always had horses and that she grew up with them and now she wants to open her own company, offering therapy with horses. "Such a different upbringing!" -I thought. And it made me realise that, all over the USA and world, there are all sorts of different upbringings. People who grow up in farms, barns and all sorts of different things. I obviously know we all come from different places and cultures, but for some reason this made me think of it. It is quite less evident when you're from a small country, and you grow up in a city.
The second night we were at the River house, once the rain finally stopped, we went out on a ride on a pontoon boat and Oh My God!!! I was sold. We rode up to where the 2 different rivers meet, where the Little Fork River meets Rainy River. And you really see them coming together because you can see the water colour change. We saw different fish jumping in the water, we saw big sturgeon fish, eagles and different birds. We saw other people fishing and a bald eagle at the top of tree, waiting patiently for somebody to get some fish so it could come and take it. We rode for over an hour right before the sunset. The wind was cool but the sun was heating us just enough to make the trip just perfect. And, as you would expect, Terry timed it perfectly. We got back just before the sun was down.
The scenery was stunning! The trees were tall and fluffy, in different types and shapes. The green on both sides was beautiful and with the golden tones of the sun setting, it was just breath-taking! As you go along, you see different houses or trailer houses just by the shore. Looking from the river back to them, it looked amazing! I can only imagine how great their view must be.
Earlier that day we had seen a log house for sale, right across the other side of the river. They had a big living room, with massive windows overlooking the river. A table outside in the balcony to take in the nice morning sun, and another one on the ground floor, underneath it. Down by the lake, a picnic table. A storage room, and a big garage with 2 doors, separate from the house, separate from each other. The latter could be our gym!! A trailer parked next to it and a big piece of land surrounding the whole house, where I pictured a bunch of dogs running free. What a dream!!!
The boat ride got me thinking about this amazing little place. I realised I love Thailand because it is an escape from society, in the sense that, if you don't want to know about the rest of the world, you just don't turn the TV on, and you live a happy life in a happy place. Well, here it was exactly the same.
There are about 5 other houses in the same little pocket of land, where Terry lives. From what we experienced, everybody has access to each other's houses, and everybody shares what they get from the land and river. We had beautifully fresh Walleye fish, caught the night before by my partners' uncle, with grilled asparagus, given to Terry by a neighbour. For dessert, a superb rhubarb sauce, made by Terry, with rhubarbs he picked last time he went out on a walk in the area. Going through the cupboards was like being at a specialty shop. About a dozen of different types of homemade pickled jars, homemade maple syrup (the real one , as they say! I didn't know there were 2 types of maple syrup but up north and in Canada they do it differently and that's what the real one is!), and apparently a freezer full of veggies and venison meat from his hunting friends.
Doesn’t this sound beautiful to you? It sounds like we’ve got the whole thing upside-down! The way my generation and future ones are being raised… the whole thing is a little crazy to me. (Maybe this is a sign that I am getting old… oops!). For a few years I have felt that my generation is totally unqualified on the primary skills of life. Do you know how to fix a sink? Do you know how to fix a washing machine? Do you have any idea how you should take care of animals, say sheep and cows, in order for these to give you milk? These are all skills I would love to have and I believe it would make us a more capable human being, not so dependent on others all the time. More importantly, not so dependent on corporations all the time…
Future generations? Even worse. We are all ready to sit at a desk, with our diplomas. But when it comes to being part of a community, we’re too shy, too distant, too busy to create real meaningful connections. Do you know who lives in your building? When was the last time you shared something with your neighbours? Or when was the last time you knocked on their door just to check if everything was alright?
Well, to sum it up, I loved this little hidden gem, right between 2 countries. I spoke with a friend last week and told her about this and how much at peace I felt. She also grew up with horses, in Texas. We met in Thailand and, like me, she is in constant travel. This type of place, in her words, is “where everything is true”. Where you are truly at one. When you come back to what is true and what is real. The nature, the animals. They are the true form, the true nature. They are what life is about. Everything else, is noise!