SCHROEDER, Minn. -- Eagles had tag-teamed overhead all the way up the North Shore, and as we turned onto the gravel road toward the cabin, I rolled down the car window and breathed in the piney air. The lake that I always think of as "my lake" (but everyone else thinks of as "Lake Superior") sparkled in the afternoon sun. The air was silky, the sky was bright blue, it was a beautiful day.
"By the way," I told my friend Joey McLeister, as we hauled our bags out of the car, "the cabin only has one bedroom. You can have it and I'll take the couch."
"No," said Joey. "You take the bedroom. I can sleep in the living room. I don't mind the couch."
We might well have kept up this quibbling deep into the evening, but the cabin settled matters for us. I slid the key into the padlock, pushed open the door, and started to laugh.
Neither of us would get the bedroom for the simple reason that there was no bedroom. For that matter, there was no living room. There was just one cozy room, the bed with its bright quilt a few feet away from the fold-out couch. A stove -- the tiniest I've seen -- was opposite, and a table and two chairs were tucked into the corner by the door.
The walls were log, the ceiling steeply pitched, and a hand-scrawled sign above the low doorway to the bathroom -- which clearly had been tacked on in later years -- read, "duck." Old casement windows with wavy panes looked out on a fire pit and two sky-blue Adirondack chairs.
Built by hand in the 1930s, the cabins of Lamb's Resort were designed for the days when nobody went to a resort and stayed inside. Our cabin had no TV, no Internet, no phone. Just a couple of dog-eared decks of cards and some ragged jigsaw puzzles.
What you have at Lamb's Resort is the out of doors -- the rushing waterfall of the Cross River, half a mile of rocky Lake Superior shoreline, cedar- and pine-lined paths that crisscross its 60 acres, and, across the highway, access to the Superior Hiking Trail, which will take you all the way to the Canadian border, if you feel like walking that far.
A little history
Along the North Shore, the towns of Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder are often referred to in one long breath, as though they are all the same place. They're not, of course. Lutsen, farthest up the shore, is home to the famous old lakeside lodge that's part of Lutsen Resort, plus the Lutsen Mountains ski area. Tofte, the town in the middle and about 10 miles from Lutsen, has the sophisticated Coho Cafe and the sleek and modern Bluefin Bay resort. And Schroeder, another five miles down the shore -- well, Schroeder is just a bump in the road, with a post office, a bakery, a museum and Lamb's, family-owned for its entire 82 years and sweetly and deliberately stuck in the past.
Schroeder wasn't always so sleepy. Built right where the Cross River tumbles down from the Sawtooth Mountains, cascades into a spectacular waterfall and then slides into Lake Superior, it was a boomtown several times in the past, most recently in the middle of the last century. Early settler Horace Stickney built the first store there in 1922, and with the help of his nephew, Harry Stickney Lamb, built tourist cabins along the Cross River canyon.
In 1954, Harry bought out his uncle, and the town grew. At one point, it boasted a barbershop, gas station, grocery store with butcher shop (famous for homemade sausages), hardware store and coin laundry. The grocer had a thriving side business supplying the Lake Superior ore boats, which docked nearby at Taconite Harbor.
Over time, though, things slowed -- fire took some of the buildings; the ore boats began docking elsewhere, and the grocery store closed.
All of this history, and much more, is set forth in detailed displays throughout the Cross River Heritage Center, in the beautifully remodeled split-timbered building on Highway 61 that once was the Stickney store. It's just a stone's throw from the cabins of Lamb's -- now run by Harry's son, Skip, who bought it from his dad in 1968.
Joey and I headed down the wooded river path toward Father Baraga's cross, which loomed through the trees on the opposite bank.
Father Frederic Baraga was a Slovenian priest who was missionary to the Ojibwe Indians in the mid-1800s. In 1846, on his way to Grand Portage from Madeline Island to assist during an epidemic, a violent storm blew up, and his small boat was swept into the mouth of the river, and to safety. In thanks, he erected a wooden cross which, over time, was replaced by a sturdier one made of granite. Nondenominational church services are held there on summertime Sundays.
The rumbling of the waterfall receded the farther we hiked, replaced by the buzzing of flies and the gentle slap of water against shoreline.
Our path ended at the lake. We stood and watched, for far too long, three crows harass a bald eagle in a dead birch tree. And then we found wide flat boulders and lay on our backs in the sun, occasionally opening an eye to watch two yellow Labs named Annie and Snoop dash into the water after tennis balls.
A good day
That night, we carried our dinner out to the fire pit -- a small feast of Triscuits, green grapes, smoked whitefish and salmon, and cheese, all purchased from Zup's grocery store in Silver Bay, 25 miles down the shore.
We built a fire and opened a couple of bottles of beer. The air was mild, and the stars overhead were bright and crowded, filling the sky. I sat back in my Adirondack chair, my toes roasting by the snapping logs, sparks flying upward, and stared into the starry dark.
"In the morning, let's take a walk along the Superior Hiking Trail," I said. "After getting caramel rolls from the bakery. And after going back to the heritage center, so I can buy some Mountie postcards."
"OK," said Joey, and ate another grape.
In the morning, I awoke to the rushing of the waterfall, the gentle rhythmic plink-plonk of raindrops on the roof, and the steady cawing of a crow. My hair smelled of wood smoke. I turned over, gave my pillow a little punch, pulled the quilt up to my nose, and went back to sleep.