John Eggers: Have you heard the spirits whisper on Buena Vista?
Should you climb Buena Vista on a cold fall evening when stars light up the sky and the moon shines brightly on Lake Julia, you will hear the whispers of folks from long ago who roamed its hills. Their soft voices give us a glimpse of time that used to be.
You hear the sounds of Minnesota’s indigenous people as they walk along the Red Lake/Leech Lake trail on the north side of Lake Julia and then through Buena Vista’s hills. They camp along the lake shore and tell tales of when their ancestors roamed these same hills and shot buffalo and caribou. They tell about the many beaver, mink, marten, and bobcat they trapped and how they speared fish and dried them in preparation for the long winter.
The excited voice of Giacomo Beltrami is heard as he stands atop Buena Vista and looks at the beautiful lake before him and names it Lake Julia in honor of his special friend back in Italy. He talks about his homeland with his Red Lake friends who led him to discover this lake whose waters miraculously flow to the Hudson Bay and to the Gulf of Mexico. The sparks from his fire ascend into the sky on this calm cool evening and serve to light up the shore and bring glory to this wondrous moment.
The noise of falling trees from the logging camps echoes across the lake as men cut and saw the huge white pine that adorn the area. The trees crash to the ground and the startled horses pulling the sleighs winnie and thrash around before the driver calms them.
You hear the sounds of Jimmy Cyr, Freeman Doud and J.W. Speelman as they clear timber for their log homes. Their voices are filled with excitement and hope as they take time to gaze at their new land and realize the opportunity it presents. How many families will come to settle here in this new town of Buena Vista? Where will we build a hotel for the visitors? What children will attend our school?
The students in the school stand to give their recitations and you can hear the nervousness yet joy in their voices as they take turns reading James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie”. The smaller children giggle when the boys and girls read the last line of each stanza, “And the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.”
The hopeful voices of settlers bringing their animals and goods to show in Beltrami County’s first fair in 1904 resonate in our ears. Wives talk with pride of their canned chicken and venison; men groom their horses and steers for showing and brag a little about how much money they should bring; and children laugh as they try to catch the greased pig.
You hear the disappointment in Buena Vista people as they learn that the railroad will not go though their village as planned but instead will pass along the west side of the lake near Puposky. They see their beautiful little town flickering out like the sparks from their fires.
The voices of the visitors to the resort on Lake Julia are heard as they sit around their picnic table and share stories about their trip from Mason City, Iowa. It has taken them more than two days as they traveled on many gravel roads. They would have arrived sooner had it not been for a flat tire, which forced them to camp out because it was too dark to change it. Someone shushes their voices to hear the call of the loons. Kids are pestering their parents, “Can we go swimming?”
Although it’s on the far side of Lake Julia you faintly hear the patients of the Lake Julia Sanitarium. Dr. Ghostly makes her rounds and cheers up the patients by telling them they will soon be leaving. Everyone is improving from their battle with tuberculosis.
It’s time to leave our mountain and as we descend the hills we recall the jingles of sleighs and wagons pulling visitors over the hills and the swooshing sounds of skiers.
It is now quiet. Those sounds from years past remain with us. We walk through the trees and catch that last glimpse of the moon on Lake Julia and are glad that we took the time to listen.
“If thou art worn and hard beset
With sorrows, that thou wouldst forget,
If thou wouldst read a lesson, that will keep
Thy heart from fainting and thy soul from sleep,
Go to the woods and hills! No tears
Dim the sweet look that Nature wears.”
(From “Sunrise on the Hills” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.