All those years, driving up the North Shore of Lake Superior to the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, I missed Great Lakes Candy Kitchen. Was it the smell of smoked fish lingering in the air of Knife River that hid the sweet scents of vat-stirred confections? With a bit of sleuthing, I realize that the candy kitchen and I missed like two Great Lakes freighters passing on a moonless night.
For ten years, my family camped along the Gunflint Trail with our tents, dogs, and red Coleman canoe. I savored the North Shore drive that hugged the craggy coast of Lake Superior on the Minnesota side. Knife River, twenty miles north of Duluth, was our first official stop. Smoked salmon. The smell would fill our Expedition and our mouths watered until we found a way-stop where we’d picnic and watch the waves crash to shore.
I never saw the candy kitchen.
Turns out, the last camping trip we ever took as a family was in 2007 when we camped in northern Wisconsin instead because we were taking our eldest to college at Northland College. That same year, the third-generation candy-makers from the Iron Range opened their shop on the scenic North Shore. We never returned to the North Shore, shifting our camping and Lake Superior outings to the Chequamegon Bay. By 2012, I was living the dream — writing my first stab at a manuscript from the picturesque communities of northern Wisconsin. That was the year I discovered bobbing in the waves of Lake Superior, something not possible on the North Shore.
All along, Lady Lake has wrapped me up in a siren’s call, luring me from my mountains of the West.
A good friend later purchased a timeshare at a North Shore resort outside of Knife River. Where my timeline dropped off, hers picked up. She’s only known the North Shore with the candy kitchen, and I only knew it without. Until last week. At first, I was shocked that my kids and I had no idea such delectable chocolates and sea salt caramels existed. Although the family has been in business for three generations, they didn’t open this location until after 2007.
And, you don’t have to visit in person. After the busy season, they shift their sales to online (November 1 — what a way to kick off NaNoWriMo).
The North Shore had felt like wilderness to me, all those years ago. I suppose it still is, but I had no idea about Madeline Island or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan until later. Now, it feels overly commercialized. There are few public beaches and most are state parks. Unlike Michigan, Minnesota has outlawed the collection of rocks and agates along what few pebble beaches it has. However, my friend has purchased time in a condo she shares with other owners on a rotating schedule, and her place faces due east — sunrises and splashing waves.
It was cozy to sleep on my camping pad in front of the gas fireplace with one of the huge picture windows cracked to let in the crisp air and sound of the surf. We shared good meals, and I had my first-ever Bloody Mary. I got to hike along Gooseberry Falls, look (not touch) agates along the beach at a state park, and watch eagles wheel overhead as if to welcome one of Nibi’s friends to the other side of the Big Lake. The full moon rose over the water, painting a silver path. I got to taste some of the best chocolates ever, share good food, and coat my nails in cherry bonbon glitter. And, the car I rented was upgraded at no extra cost to a Mini Cooper! It was a fun trip and yet good to return to my community and classroom.
The weather has since shifted. I feel the cold in my bones and a call to hibernate during the dark of the year. I remind myself that it is sunny Down Under. Somewhere there is warmth and light. It will return. Time to prepare for snow. Time to take a deep breath and steady the resolve for NaNoWriMo.
I’m not a participant this year, but I will offer NaNo Mentoring. I will cheer your efforts, listen to your woes in the official NaNoWriMo group for Rough Writers, and offer tips. When it comes to mentoring, I’m aware that all writers are different. It can help you to absorb this truth. Why? Because writers often compare themselves to others or expectations. This week, before NaNoWriMo starts, whether you are participating or not, write a love letter to your inner writer.
Acknowledge your hopes and dreams. Recognize your efforts. Look for growth in your craft. Count your celebrations, big or small. Give your inner writer some love. Be generous, kind, and accepting.
All writers suffer from doubt. In fact, the very first article in my MFA program was all about writers and the imposter syndrome. Read the article before you craft your letter. If you feel scared, recognize the truth that writing matters to you. If you feel you are behind, different, or not good enough, recognize the lies of self-doubt. Every week at Carrot Ranch, don’t we see how beautiful and compelling variety is? If you must compare yourself, do it in a healthy way. Learn what you admire in other writers. Study the craft. Read (listen to the spoken word or watch films) to learn how stories are felt and shared. Let your inner writer grow.
That’s the best way you can prepare for any writing project as big and intimidating and thrilling as NaNoWriMo. And if this isn’t your year to tackle it, so what? It isn’t mine and I’m volunteering to be a cheerleader to those who are! So join me in that endeavor. And if you are committing to the big NaNo Event, don’t fret if you discover that your capacity for daily word count is less than what is required. Either you will binge when you have longer stretches of time, or you will learn what your daily limit is.
Keep on writing. Your writing vision belongs to you, and you alone. Strategies, tools, time, and energy will come and go like seasons. But your inner writer will remain. Remember the “power of yet.”
October 28, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a candy kitchen. You can interpret the phrase creatively or stick to the traditional. Is it sweet? Ironic? Any genre will do. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by November 2, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Ranch Candy by Charli Mills
Red paint smeared across a box flap declared, “Bailey’s Cand
iey Kichun.” Jolene eyed the boss’s daughter who’d set up shop on the cookshack table. The crew sauntered in, and Bailey explained confections and prices. Bittersweet chocolate chunks sprinkled with dried garlic. A dime. Butter rolled in coffee grounds. A quarter. Balls of bread softened in pickle juice. A nickel. Change and delicacies exchanged hands.
Bailey wiped the table and gathered her mama’s plates. “Well, ain’t you gonna eat your candy?”
Hank said, “Jolene don’t like us eatin’ sweets ‘fore breakfast.” Everyone nodded vigorously.
“Why, Hank Barret, that ain’t so.”