I was relaxed. 


Typically, relaxation is not my best thing, but I was seated in a comfortable chair under the shade of a pine tree, enjoying a book and drinking fresh coffee I had not made. The coffee was aiding in the digestion of a lovely lunch. I could see all five of my grandchildren splashing about in cool clear water, and just to one side I could see, bobbing in the gentle waves, a houseboat I had not piloted. 

Did I mention I was relaxed? 

It was that time of year, when my wife delivers her Christmas present to the universe. 

Or at least that part of the universe I care about the most. 

A few years ago, she looked at our kids and grandkids and decided they probably had enough stuff. She thought if they wanted more stuff, they could buy the stuff they actually wanted. So instead of Christmas presents, she gives them an annual experience. They’ve enjoyed a train ride to Chicago, a few nights in the Wisconsin Dells, a house on the edge of a lovely lake. 

Of which we have 10,000 in Minnesota. 

This year, she rented a houseboat on Rainy Lake. If you’re not from Minnesota, you may not know about Rainy Lake. More’s the pity. It lies on the Canadian Border with no roads, lots of lakes, a couple thousand islands and remarkable scenery. As a bonus, the air quality index is 25% better than the national average and the pollution index is 78% better. There’s no cell phone reception, but I’m calling that a feature, not a bug. 

The scenery is unbelievable. About 10,000 years ago, the glaciers scraped away everything ugly. All that’s left are massive rock formations, clear water, and forests clinging to a thin veneer of dirt and peat. 

When my wife proposed the idea, I thought it was a swell plan, with one exception. I didn’t want to pilot the boat. 

This wasn’t my first rodeo. The first time I’d been on these waters was about thirty years ago when I was one of two chaperones guiding, so to speak, a dozen teenagers from our United Methodist Youth Group. The adventure went well, except it rained most of the time, we got lost, almost ran out of food and wrecked a propeller on a rock. 

Oh, yeah, and a couple of the guys made lemonade from lake water, which led to a teenage boy whispering news of an ailment he’d acquired into my ear, using a phrase I need never hear again. 

But no one died, so I’m calling that trip a win. 

Time has blurred the details of that expedition and when our son agreed to be the captain of the cruise, I signed on as non-useful crew member. 

Four families converged at a place over three hundred miles away from each of us. We were all there within a few minutes of each other, yet another reason I love my family – they can all tell time, and they show up on time. 

We got about an hour and a half briefing on the boat, most of which I cleverly ignored, because then no one could turn to me in an emergency and ask me what to do. 

After loading four carloads of stuff and thirteen people, we set sail.   

The boat was quiet – waves lapping against the sides were louder than the engines. With good charts and GPS, navigating was less of an issue than it had been thirty years ago. Each family planned and prepared one day of meals, and my wife had baked about forty pounds of monster cookies in case starvation loomed.   

Throughout the four days, fishing boats and other houseboats passed by, but we never saw another human being within shouting distance. The kids swam, fished, and hiked. We ate well, the children went to bed early, their parents stayed up late, and I slept in a tent on shore so I wouldn't bother either group. 

Rocky islands, trees clinging with a fragile hold on scant soil, loons, and wolves howling in the 

We live in a world that can be hard, cold, and scary. If I could, I’d give everyone in the world a week in a quiet place with the people they love best. That I can’t is a mortal pity. 

I’m home now. I’ve opened my mail, answered emails, and returned phone calls. Back in the saddle again. 

But I hope your Christmas was as good as mine. 

Copyright 2021 Brent Olson