Hunt to Warbler to the Carlson Cut-off

by Tom Tredway

John Bunyon notwithstanding, Pietists rarely make pilgrimages, save that life itself is one. To trek piously toward some holy spot containing the relics of some holy person may have a whiff of popery about it. Professor Donald Frisk told some of us a half century ago that Paul Tillich found a crucial distinction in Western Christianity. That distinction lay between the Protestant Principle and the Catholic Principle. Protestants were inclined to look for holiness in relationships, while Catholics tended to seek the sacred in people and places. We Pietists are still Protestants, though we have been suspicious of some of Protestantism’s varieties, the Church of Sweden, till exempel. So we have been a little leery of sacred journeys. You know, trips to Renaissance Rome (Luther) or to Medieval Canterbury (Chaucer). But then, consider that under the impact (admittedly negative) of his pilgrimage to Rome, Luther is supposed to have worked through to the doctrine of Justification by Faith. Or think of the influence that Chaucer’s eye- and mind-opening cast of pilgrims had upon late adolescent Covenanters in Karl Olsson’s World Lit classes at North Park. Maybe there is something to be said for pilgrimages after all.

In any case this past summer some of us made one to Crow Wing County, Minnesota. We came from Chicago, Santa Fe, and Seattle, as well as from near-by Minneapolis. Directions? If you can find State Road Six outside of Garrison, Minnesota, go northwest five miles and take a right onto Katrine Drive, continue about a mile past the Lonesome Pine Bar and Restaurant, and watch for Hunt Road. Hang a right, drive a few hundred yards, and take another right onto Warbler Lane, which is really two sand ruts running through thick woods. After fifty yards, you should turn left on some even fainter tire tracks in the sand; this is the Carlson Cut-Off. When you have passed some cedar-sided garages, you will see a basketball hoop, two cabins, an assortment of additional garages, and through the pines and birches, Bay Lake. Your pilgrimage to the Carlson Compound is completed. If you want to be sure you’re in the right place, listen for the sound of beer cans being crushed in the can-crushing device employed by the neighbors to the south. Their place is separated from the Compound by a thick curtain of pines planted by Mr. Bruce Carlson, the developer of the facilities which bear his name. He wearied some years ago of listening to the squishing of beer cans and of the steady consumption of their contents by his neighbor, who would never sell out in the interests of increasing the Carlson Compound itself to three cabins. (You can, by the way, make this journey, or the Hunt-Warbler-Carlson-Cut-Off part of it at least, on foot or by bike, but if it’s summer the mosquitoes are fierce, especially along Warbler, so it might be better to stick to your car.)

Bruce Carlson was the one who expanded the Carlson Compound to the point where there was room in its two cabins to sleep twenty or so pilgrims and room in the six or seven garages for twenty or so wooden Chris Crafts. He passed away two summers ago. This summer his wife Deanna, son Max, daughter Vanessa, and his three grandchildren greeted us upon our arrival at the Compound; their hospitality was of biblical proportions. And permeating the buildings, the lawns, and the lake front was the spirit of husband, father, morfar, and friend, two years gone from our company. Bruce Carlson’s life and achievements were celebrated in a series of ceremonies and concerts after his death from leukemia in July, 2006. The Twin Cities arts community and his friends from North Park days both realized the extent of their loss, and the obsequies which attended his passing reflected their deep sorrow. Now their lives and those of his family are going on, though Bruce’s place can never be filled. But, as his successor as Pietisten Poetry Editor, Art Mampel, is fond of observing, the dead are often more alive in our minds than the living. The group of family and friends spoke often of Carlson this summer. Clearly our lives and thoughts are still full of his wit and ways.

So while we wait for the summons that each of us will sooner or later get to join him in “that innumerable caravan,” we remember and cherish all he brought to us and all that he brought us to. If on a Lord’s Day morning you go to church on the island camp in Bay Lake as we did this July, transported on the Carlson pontoon boat captained by his four-year-old grandson, Anders, you may think you see Bruce himself. He’s probably sitting on one of the high shaded benches at the back of the chapel-amphitheater by the lake where the services are held. The last time I was there with Bruce in the body, a guest pastor was holding forth on the text, “You do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself about. You put right foot in, you put your right foot out, etc., etc…. That’s what it’s all about!” Carlson sat grinning, throwing me a Monty Pythonesque nudge-nudge, wink-wink of appreciative amusement across the benches between us. Or if you go to Hanson’s Store on the edge of the lake for a Sunday Star-Tribune, you’ll probably wonder if you can get one for list price—maybe Mr. C. has bought them all up and is charging his friends for a little mark-up.

For laughter, joi de vivre, hospitality, and abiding friendship, for love of arts and letters, for loyalty to our common history, and for the grace to interpret and live still its meaning, Bruce Carlson had no peer in the circle of friends who remember and miss him. So it was quite a navigational and historical experience for us who made the pilgrimage to Bay Lake this summer. Maybe our Pietistic forebears were mistaken. We should make pilgrimages. In the Catholic recognition that places and people can be sacred, Protestants may find that certain holy relationships which have blessed their own lives are reawakened. And the best pilgrimages end, as the Lutheran liturgy says, in “a foretaste of the feast to come.” We had such a recollection and foretaste this summer at the end of the Carlson Cut-Off.

Tom Tredway is President Emeritus of Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

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