Despite the challenges of winter weather, most Minnesotans learned as kids to have fun playing in the snow or on ice. There is nothing else like whizzing down a hill on a sled or skis. And skating on ice in chilly weather seems like a normal thing to do.
Even so, for many folks, the idea of driving about 400 miles north to the Canadian border and into that little bump on Minnesota’s northern border seems a bit beyond good judgement.
Never-the-less, a dozen of us did just that last weekend again when we made our annual ice-fishing trip to the Northwest Angle and Oak Island on expansive Lake of the Woods.
The Angle Inn resort has hosted this bunch since 1997, so it’s a familiar and comfortable setting and situation. The nearly eight-hour drive includes a short jaunt into Manitoba before returning to that isolated point of Minnesota and about 40 miles of gravel road in a deep forest. The final leg of the trip is on nearly eight miles of wide road that’s made by plowing snow off the two-foot thick lake ice. That drive out onto the big lake around Flag Island and over to Oak Island is always interesting. Remote, it certainly is and the good fishing and good fellowship makes it all worthwhile.
We caught a limit of walleye, sauger and also hauled in a few sizeable perch. Our four-person fish house had a jolt when Curt Skulstad’s line was snapped up by a sizeable menacing northern pike that managed to tangle up all eight lines in our house, causing us sit for an hour, cutting and untangling lines and tackle.
That adventure added another story to the lore of those years of fishing there. So did Sunday night’s lunar eclipse. The full moon cast a bright shadow on the snow cover in the pitch darkness but as the moon entered the Earth’s shadow, it dimmed to a dull red and made the darkest sky many of us had ever seen.
Winter features the year’s brightest collection of stars and, at 10:30 that night, next to the dim, eclipsed full moon in the crisp, still darkness, they seemed to jump out of the sky and made the minus 20 degree temperature on the lake-shore seem okay.
Driving to and from the far north reaches of the state gives you a chance to see a lot of Minnesota. On our way home, we detoured a mile west into the tiny settlement of Angle Inlet, home of the state’s only operating one-room K-8 school and the site of the northernmost post office in the contiguous 48 states. There is a roadside plaque near the school that explains the role that Benjamin Franklin played in that oddly shaped bit of Minnesota that juts into Canada.
Many folks wrongly think that the knob at the top of Minnesota is the result of a surveyor’s error. However, it’s actually the result of wording in the Treaty of Paris that was hammered out by Franklin, John Adams and others in 1783, ending the Revolu-tionary War and setting much of the boundary between the newly organized United States and British North America (later Canada). The treaty specified that the boundary be set as far west as the northwestern point of Lake of the Woods, just west of what is now Angle Inlet.
Later, during negotiations leading up to the Treaty of 1818, an agreement was made between Britain and the U.S. to set the remainder of the international boundary west of Lake of the Woods along the 49th parallel. That required a north-south boundary line to connect to the line drawn from the east to Angle Inlet on Lake of the Woods, causing that odd northern bump. That left heavily forested land in that far north point of Minnesota only accessible from the rest of the U.S, by water with the only land access from what eventually became Canada. To change it would require re-opening the 1783 Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of 1818. That was not going to happen, so the oddity at the top of our state survives.
Our journey north takes us through a litany of towns and a few regular comfort stops like Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, Mahnomen, Detroit Lakes Thief River Falls and Roseau. I have a habit of picking a local newspaper here and there to snoop at what’s happening. It isn’t often that we drive through Elbow Lake without making a bathroom stop and some early morning coffee. The local paper there, the “Grant County Herald” was on the counter, so I bought a copy to read later after we had some daylight.
Later when we made a stop, Todd Lecy and Doug Peterson mentioned the recent passing of Granite Falls basketball legend Dave Hegna. Dave and his wife lived in Elbow Lake for several years and, sure enough, the “Grant County Herald” had his obituary in the issue I picked up. Before moving to Elbow Lake, he taught and coached for 28 years in Glenwood before retiring. He also taught and coached in Staples, Belle Plaine and Robbinsdale.
He graduated from Granite Falls High School in 1948 and was the first recorded high school player in Minnesota to score 1,000 points. His coach Len Espeland once told me that Dave was the most skilled basketball player he had seen in his 17 years of coaching. He was an All-State center in 1947, when Granite won the consolation trophy at the one-class, eight-team state basketball tournament.
At 6-feet 7-inches, he was unusually tall for those days and remarkably agile. That 1947 team, minus one starter, returned for the 1947-48 and won every regular-season game and was ranked number one in the state-wide polls. Sadly, they lost a chance to return to the state tournament when they lost to Hutchinson on the Region III tournament final game. They had beaten Hutchinson earlier that season but Hegna was sick with the flu that night and struggled a bit as did his tall teammate Hadley Hamre, who had a bad ankle sprain. Dave Hegna went on to play college basketball at Hamline, then a big-time basketball power under coach Joe Hutton and was on three national championship teams. As a sophomore in a scrimmage against visiting DePaul University from Chicago, he was assigned to guard senior 6-feet 11-inch center George Mikan. He later was to have said that Mikan was impossible to guard and was “all over me.”
Dave Hegna was 88 years old and still has relatives in our area.