I pulled into the parking lot of the location I’d be spending my Summer at about 3:20pm on Memorial Day. It had been a three and a half hour drive north, only becoming more and more scenic the further along my journey I got.
My presumption was that people come to Ely or are familiar with the area because they’ve come here to camp, canoe, or otherwise vacation. I had never been to Ely prior to that day. It’s only ever been a distant location in my mind; a name that would come up on occasions. My favorite local brewery who closed their taproom in the Summer of 2021 had detailed plans to open a new brewery in Ely sometime in the future. The Boundary Waters are the region’s claim to fame, though. Time after time I’ve heard of the immaculate wonders that awaited in this region. I’ve never canoed, but I became very fond of hiking during the pandemic as a means of getting out of the house and sweating a few calories off. This town had been calling my name for some time.
I lugged all of the belongings I could fit into my tiny Nissan up the stairs to my new apartment, too sweaty and exhausted to properly acknowledge and appreciate the fact that I had my own deck overlooking a small portion of the woods; a perfect location for morning coffee and a good book. After visiting Zups for some groceries, I cooked myself some dinner and allowed myself to unwind after a long and busy day. It wasn’t until a loud, sharp crack of lightning that I opened my window and notice the torrential downpour that had apparently been falling for some time. I left the window open as I allowed nature’s breath to cool my apartment while the sounds of the rain lulled me to sleep.
I awoke early the next morning, hardly caught up on sleep, only stirred awake by the excitement of beginning my internship at 9am. I went about my typical morning routine, which always begins with a cup of dark roast, and sipped it on the deck while staring out into the trees. It was a battle between waking myself and being relaxed enough to fall back asleep, but I eventually pulled myself together to meet with my supervisor at Society Hall Workspace, located directly above a coffee shop just radiating with charm.
I attended my first work meeting in the spacious, naturally lit workspace that overlooked a quaint section of the town’s street-facing shops. It was a little taste of the atmosphere I would soon become accustomed to. From there, we took a drive to the Grand Ely Lodge.
If you haven’t seen the show Twin Peaks: a) do it b) The Grand Ely Lodge captured an aesthetic that immediately reminded me of The Great Northern Hotel from the series, an important and often recurring location in the series. After internally geeking out for a brief moment, I took a step onto the deck which overlooked Lake Shagawa. The storms from the previous night left a chilly breeze in its wake and feeling the crisp air against my brow while peering at the lake was awesome.
I had lunch at a place called Insula. It’s rare that I look at a menu and have trouble deciding between 6 items. I already virtuously hold the controversial opinion that pineapple has a place on pizza, and the Hawaiian burger I ordered convinced me that it has a place on burgers as well. My pseudo-health conscious self really appreciated the option of sweet potato fries as a side, and they were well-seasoned as well. I knew immediately that there would be many subsequent visits to Insula in the coming months.
From there I embarked on a driving tour of town, something I hadn’t made time for on the afternoon of my arrival. I took some time to soak up my surroundings and put together a list of places to visit as soon as I had the time. Some of these bucket-list visits were: Trezona Trail, Semers Park, Chapman Street Books, Piragis Northwoods, Ely State Theater, International Wolf Center, …, etc. and I’m sure there are several that I missed. The drive culminated in a brief drive along the Echo Trail, stopping at the Dry/Bass lake hiking trail, leaving me with a persisting desire to experience the rest of the trail someday.
We concluded our drive in the early afternoon, leaving me with some daylight and downtime before I had to think about dinner. I decided to cross off one of those bucket-list stops right away. I hopped into my car and made my way to Semers park. I had to experience those islands. The water levels were quite high, as I had to carefully balance myself on a makeshift path of rocks and floating branches to avoid drenching myself. Clinging to the edge of the walkways where the mud was only somewhat solid enough to support me, I made my way to dry ground and basked in the ambience of the first island. There wasn’t a single direction I could turn that wasn’t beautiful. I stood atop some of the large stones to capture some of the breeze (which had strengthened considerably at this time of the day), I stopped to admire the lichen on the rocks and tree bark, and I, of course, snapped many photos. I then made my way across the second bridge to the larger island, careful not to lose my hat in the process due to the wind. I was immediately greeted by clusters of wild honeysuckle and a rocky climb to the highest point of the island. My sense of adventure got the best of me as I ascended, eventually getting to the top. I took out my phone and snapped more photos. The time read 3:17pm. All in all, it was a very eventful 24 hours in this new place I’d get to call home.