My family and I spent last week up at YMCA Camp du Nord, north of Ely, Minnesota, on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
(I've written about this place before, and it's been profiled here in the Star Tribune, which named it Best Family Vacation in Minnesota this year. If you have ever thought that a week among the pines and firs and birches and aspens of northern Minnesota, with lots of canoeing and kayaking and fishing and hiking -- and a couple of hours each day free while the kids are in age-group activities -- sounds like a great place for your family, I don't think you could do better than here.)
Normally I would post pictures, but I didn't take any. Not a single one. I was too busy enjoying myself. My 5yo daughter learned to paddle her own kayak, my 2yo son developed his own entourage of eight-year-old girls, my eight-year-old son discovered that he has an aptitude for slacklining, and my eleven-year-old --- well, I'm not sure exactly what my eleven-year-old was up to all week, and that is what he loves about the place --- he gets to wander around and do his own thing, something that I wish he had more of but can never quite make happen at home.
The main reason I didn't take pictures is that I usually do it with my cell phone. But this year I didn't bother carrying my phone around with me.
In fact I had zero contact with phones or the Internet the entire week, with one notable exception.
+ + +
On one past trip to the camp, during Nature Notes, the older boys had learned a Cool Science Trick, a handy combination of botany and physical chemistry. The naturalist showed the children how to scrape oozing tree-sap onto one end of a stick or a chip of wood, and throw the chip of wood into the lake. This causes the wood chip to zoom along the surface of the water, powered by the difference in surface tension between the clean water in front of the wood chip and the miniature oil slick of organic compounds -- think turpentine-ish stuff -- that spreads out from the blob of sap behind it.
The tremendous fun that could be had in the making of "sap boats" has grown in my family, in legends passed down from older to younger siblings, and in tales told with great enthusiasm to numerous other relatives who innocently asked "So what did you do this summer?" So the stage was set. The minute that the children were done with their job of ferrying items from car to cabin, all four of them began clamoring to go down to the lake and make sap boats. We sent the three big ones off and breathed a sigh of relief that we could begin throwing together some dinner and unpacking bedding.
Moments later I heard my daughter screaming, and getting louder and louder. I turned and through the window saw her running as fast as she could toward the cabin, wailing and screaming, with one hand clamped over her eye, followed closely behind by her big brothers. "She got sap in her eye!" called one of the boys, and while Mark went out to pick her up and carry her in I picked up the cell phone.
It's generally hard to get a consistent cell signal unless you cross the road and hike out on the North Arm Trails (here's the U. S. Forest Service map) to "Old Baldy," a higher, rocky point. Mine -- which has Poison Control on speed dial -- didn't get a signal, but I copied the number into Mark's iPhone and went outside the cabin and managed to get through just that one time.
May I just sing the praises of the Poison Control people again? They are so helpful. It's like they never heard of a lawyer. You ask them for medical advice, and they give appropriate medical advice, with no CYA padding and no guilt and no "take them to the emergency room just in case." YAY POISON CONTROL. I wish I could send you cupcakes.
Anyway, they advised us to flush her eye out for five minutes, which we did with a plastic measuring cup at the sink -- this was not fun as she spent the whole time screaming "I'M BETTER NOW PLEASE PUT ME DOWN PLEASE," but we did figure out that you can overcome the squeeze-your-eyes-shut reflex a bit by instructing her not to keep her eye open but to blink rapidly and continuously under the water. Then we were supposed to call back after forty minutes to report how the eye felt and looked (much better) and after that were advised to call back in the morning only if it didn't feel perfectly fine.
So we were all done with that OR SO WE THOUGHT. About twenty minutes later the sound of screaming from my eight-year-old son let us know that he, too, had managed to get tree sap in his eye. Fortunately, we were all prepared this time, and he is kind of the family stoic, so we got his eye flushed with less drama.
After that Mark instituted a NO HANDLING TREE SAP WITHOUT EYE PROTECTION policy. Sunglasses will do in a pinch -- at least they keep you from absentmindedly rubbing your eyes while you work.
+ + +
1-800-222-1222. Put it in your phone and memorize it. Seriously, you never know. If it weren't for them, we might have driven forty-five minutes back to the emergency room in Ely.
Anyway, that was the only cell phone signal I got for a whole week (though, to be sure, I didn't get around to hiking up to Old Baldy).