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Evan Hazard's PrimeTime column: Santa fishing for crappies on Pimushe?

In April I started a blog, "Up in the Sky," on The Bemidji Pioneer website, "to alert you of astronomical items of immediate interest that might be out of date before the next monthly Northland Stargazing column. However, other items of interest may show up." To see it, go to, then scroll down to Area Voices. If it's not listed, click on the heading "Area Voices" and it will be there.

"Up in the Sky" has a place for comments. The second entry, about Venus and Luna "playing tag" in mid-May, garnered one comment. In substance, it said, "While I was sitting on Pimushe last night fishing for crappies, the fine sliver of the moon and bright Venus were gorgeous in the western sky above the treeline. What a great night on the lake at 9-9:30." Posted by: Larry on 5/16/2010 2:06 PM."

Well, Larry fishing on Pimushe has got to be Larry Zea (rhymes with "tea"). Lake Pimushe is in the Chippewa National Forest. Al Bontrager and Leroy Yoder built us a cabin on the west shore of Pimushe in '65. Our land was surrounded by Federal land. Because of an access tussle with a private landowner, the U.S. Forest Service built a new gravel road that skirted his land, gated the road's entry on Beltrami County 20, and gave us a key. One summer in the late '60s or early '70s, we had just turned our Jeep Wagoneer north onto that forest road. Unless I'm conflating two events, this was the time the Jeep conked out at that point, and another vehicle met us coming south. Thus we and our kids met Larry and Pat Zea and their kids.

The Zeas had moved into the area recently, and either had built or were building or buying a home on Pimushe, south of the disputed access road. At the time, I believe Larry was still a bush pilot, at least part time. Among other things, they were looking for a non-creedal church of a denomination not then represented in our area. We suggested that the United Methodist Church in Bemidji had what our current pastor calls a wide theological umbrella, and that they would be comfortable there. I think Larry also helped us get the Jeep working.

The Zeas did show up at church and found it congenial. But they were not the only ones who were pleased. Our choir loft and pipe organ are in the balcony at the back of the church. Alice Collins, who now writes a column for the Pioneer's monthly "Prime Time," was then our choir director. During a hymn she was struck by a strong, melodious baritone voice rising from the pews below, spotted the culprit, and soon Larry Zea was in the choir.

Larry is an entrepreneurial and civic sort, and turned his hand to various ventures in Blackduck, which is closer to their home than Bemidji. They also later found a church home there. As our kids got older, we used the cabin less and less, and eventually sold it to a couple who made a year round home of it.

For a few decades, we only rarely bumped into the Zeas. But many of you already know him by sight: he's the guy who looks like Santa Claus and who shows hairy Highland cattle at the Beltrami County Fair. We get a chance to renew acquaintance with him when I go to the fair to do a stint at the Pioneer booth. Larry didn't look like Santa when we first met the Zeas, but neither of us was eligible for the senior discount back then either. Now that he resembles Santa, he has actually done the Santa bit professionally.

Larry's blog comment prompted me to look him up on the Metacrawler search engine. Of course, that involved many false hits: at least two others named Larry Zea, various outfits that had both the names Zea and Larry in different people, and several totally unrelated hits. Larry's own site,, gives the Zeas' address and such, and is intended for people interested in hairy Highland cattle.

But, as I said, Larry is a civic sort. Another site lets us know he was a member of the Minnesota Beef Council. Upon his retirement from it last year, "The Beef Council recognized retiring member Larry Zea. [His] candid and thoughtful contributions will be missed." Translation: Larry is outspoken, but worth listening to.

Apparently the people of Blackduck also think he is worth listening to. One hit was a January 2010 Pioneer site picturing the Blackduck school board. There he was.

Evan Hazard, a retired Bemidji State University biology professor, also writes "Northland Stargazing" the fourth Friday of each month and blogs at under Area Voices.