I had 150 million housekeeping items to do over the long weekend so, naturally, Kyle and I threw them all aside and took the boys to Old Mill State Park in Minnesota. We had actually planned (by “planned,” I mean that Kyle said, “Should we go to Icelandic?” and I said, “Sure,” and then we tossed some sunscreen and water bottles in a backpack and put the kids in the car) to go to Icelandic State Park, which is in North Dakota and not really close to Old Mill State Park. However, midway through the one-hour drive to Icelandic, Kyle said “Hey, what about Old Mill Park instead?” and when I Googled Old Mill the DNR web page stated that a mama bear and her three cubs had been spotted near the campgrounds. Kyle’s random thoughts coupled with possible bear attacks were the winning combination for us to throw our unmade plans aside once again and set a new course for Old Mill State Park.
Kyle and I were willing to put the safety of our beloved children on the line because Old Mill State Park was advertised as being the home of…wait for it…an old mill (Sometimes Bears State Park was already taken; ba-dum-ching). Our oldest son loves touring historic buildings; since that same kid was NOT HAPPY about being on what I had advertised as a “Fun Family Hike!,” we figured he would be mildly placated if said Fun Family Hike! included a mill.
“Let’s go fishing first, then hike,” Eight, who was promised a Family Fun Hike! And Fishing, announced as we pulled into the park.
“NO,” Eleven said.
“We’re going to hike first,” I said. “It’s too hot for fishing right now.”
“NO,” both boys said.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Kyle said. “We’re going to park the car, walk to the mill, take a little hike around, and then go fishing.”
“FINE,” we all said.
Unsurprisingly, we made it as far as Step One before our plans went asunder – because just down the hill from the parking lot was the sweetest, sparklingest swimming pond you’ve ever seen. We strolled to a picnic table under a giant shade tree; nearby, a woman lounged half on the beach, half on the grass, reading a book. Eleven walked out onto the sand and dropped to his bug-sprayed, suntan-lotioned, hiking-socked knees.
“Can I go fishing?” Eight asked.
“This is for swimming, not fishing,” I said.
“Can I go swimming?” He asked.
“Well, we’re not wearing swimming suits,” I said. “You can take your shoes off –”
Eight was in the water before I could finish my sentence.
It was deep enough in the middle that a group of girls was able to float on a bunch of blow-up unicorns, but the edges were shallow. While Kyle and Eleven messed around on the beach, I followed Eight as he walked around the pond. Directly across from the beach was a grouping of rocks and a teeny-tiny waterfall of sorts, and when we climbed up over the rocks, we found it emptied into a red silty-sand stream tucked into the trees. Eight, who was somehow now soaking wet from knees to noodle despite never actually immersing himself in water, reached down and grabbed a handful of the powdery sand.
“Mom!” He exclaimed. “Look, wild Kinetic Sand!”
While I contemplated all of the money we were going to save not having to buy manufactured Kinetic Sand, Eight turned his attention to a 14-ish-year-old girl in a hot pink bathing suit sitting in the middle of the stream, her legs straight out in front of her. Around her were several smaller children peering down into the water.
“Look at that one; that’s a big one,” the girl said, pointing a few feet in front of them. The children squealed, and Eight immediately launched himself into the group, because all around them were dozens upon dozens of FISH.
“Can I catch it?” Eight asked, reaching down towards the largest one.
“You don’t need to catch it,” she told him, gently. “If you stand real still, they will nibble your toes.”
All of the children, except for Eight, froze. Eight stomped around the water, trying to grab one of the fish with his bare hands. His splashing caught the attention of Kyle and Eleven, who came up behind us. Eleven, who did not want to catch fish with his bare hands and was fine standing in one place so as to take in the “soundscapes” (his words), was quickly surrounded, and then nibbled on, by fish.
“I guess in this place, the fish catch you,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Eight was still tireless in his hand-fishing attempts after an hour, and so Kyle got everyone out of the stream and back into shoes for our Fun Family Hike! And Mill. Next to the stream was a rock bridge leading into a veritable Fairy Land of oak trees and wildflowers.
“This is so pretty that I don’t be-LEAF it,” Kyle said.
“I bet the bears are in here,” Eleven said, remembering that he didn’t want to go on a hike, “and they are going to EAT EIGHT.”
“THE BEARS ARE NOT GOING TO EAT ME,” Eight shrieked. “THEY ARE GOING TO EAT YOU.”
“Don’t worry, they BEAR-LY like eating kids,” Kyle said.
We Fun Family Hiked! for thirty magical minutes. The boys fought the entire time, which kept away the bears. We stopped at the mill and homestead so they could fight at another location, and then we turned onto a different hiking trail leading into the campgrounds. At the edge of the camping area, a three-year-old boy in one of those electric toy Jeeps came rolling up to us. He put out his hand, and Eight reached up into a tree, grabbed a leaf, and handed it to him.
“Take it or leaf it,” Kyle said under his breath.
The boy took it, and rode away without a word.
We stopped at the stream one more time on the way out, this time further down at a spot with a bit more water. The boys forgot they were fighting with each other and poked at the rocks with sticks until we told them it was time to go.
On the way home, we stopped in Euclid for dinner and pull-tabs (we won, then lost, $2) and to alleviate ourselves of a few ticks.
“Did everyone have fun?” Kyle asked as the kids downed their on-tap root beer.
“Yes,” Eleven said, begrudgingly.
“Yes, but we didn’t go fishing,” Eight said.
“You kind of went fishing,” I said. “You just didn’t catch anything.”
“Did you have fun?” Kyle asked me.
“Yes,” I said, as the sun set on newly-planted fields covered in the green peach fuzz of spring.
You know it’s springtime because Kyle wore his official warm weather hat at Old Mill State Park. To his right, off frame, is a rescue boat for water that you can stand in. I put a few more pictures (of Old Mill, not Kyle’s hat) up on my Instagram and Facebook pages if you want to see some average photos of a beautiful spot.
Also, in case you missed it: I’ll be appearing on North Dakota Today every Monday to talk about good stuff. To do so, I need your assistance, please. Tell me what that make you think, “Oh, for nice.” It could be something big like neighbors helping neighbors, or something small like a really great flowering tree.
I can share your stories anonymously or with credit, and I’m obviously going to make them about me so there’s that to look forward to, too. Regardless, I’d greatly appreciate you spreading some good news and start the week off right.
Grand Forks’ Quinn Roehl shaved his head prior to state track and field in support of his brother, who is being treated for testicular cancer – and then Quinn broke a record held since 1980. (Grand Forks Herald)
Students at Central Cass Elementary School raised over $20,000
for the American Heart Association so they could pour icy water on their teachers. (Grand Forks Herald)
There were so many thoughtful Memorial Day ceremonies around North Dakota this past weekend, including this one in Minot. (Minot Daily News)
Live in Grand Forks? The Senior Center is looking for a Bingo Coordinator. (Not to brag, but I was a bingo caller at the Senior Center back in the mid-90s and I was AWESOME at it.) (Facebook)
Fargo’s Amy Olson and her up-and-coming baby will soon be playing in the U.S. Open. (Fargo Forum)
Speaking of Fargo, I didn’t think there could be anyone more excited than Kyle that Shania Twain was coming to Fargo, but it turns out Bismarck’s Jessie Wald is that person. (KFYR TV)
Hettinger’s Andy Roehl is digitizing home movies to keep a record of the community’s past. (KFYR TV)
Fargo’s Madison Elementary School recently installed a series of art posters celebrating the cultural diversity of the community. (Facebook)
After fifty-seven years driving a school bus, Portland’s Allan Kville has decided to hang up his seat belt and his career has been lovingly – and, according to him, embarrassingly recorded here. (Grand Forks Herald) (KFYR TV)
Mayville’s Maureen Brunsdale has written a book about circus trapeze artists. (Grand Forks Herald)
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