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.
Joey and I stashed our gear (why in the world had I brought my laptop?), tied sweatshirts around our waists and headed out.
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 w as 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 an d 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 Hwy. 61 that once w as 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. The fragrant cedars smelled of Christmas; the soft ground was dappled with sunlight, golden birch leaves and intensely green young ferns. This stretch of river is shallow and calm, and the gray rocks humped out of the silky water like miniature whales.
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.
Earlier, the resort manager had told us that a guest once asked them to turn off the waterfall because the sound was interrupting his sleep. "Do you suppose that's true?" I asked Joey lazily, and she was almost too lazy to reply. This gorgeous long sunny afternoon was meant for laziness.
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.
When they shook, water flew from their fur and sparkled in the sunlight like a thousand shards of glass.
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.
IF YOU GO:
WHERE: Schroeder, Minn., about 80 miles north of Duluth along the North Shore.
CABINS: A total of 14 cabins, including eight log cabins along the river and lake, handbuilt in the 1930s, and three frame cabins along the lake, built in the 1940s. All have kitchenettes, fire pits and bathrooms.
CAMPING: 25 tent sites and 35 RV sites. The resort covers 60 acres, including a half-mile of Lake Superior shoreline; most campsites are on the lake or have lake views. It's the only privately owned campground on Superior shoreline between Two Harbors and Grand Marais.
AMENITIES: A small gift shop, a tiny pinball arcade. Campers share restrooms, sauna and showers. Pets are welcome.
THINGS TO DO: Access to the Superior Hiking Trail is just across Hwy. 61. Schroeder has the Cross River Heritage Center museum, the Schroeder Baking Co. and a post office. You're not far from Lutsen and Tofte, with shopping and restaurants, and Temperance River State Park, with miles of trails.
WIFI: If you must have Wi-Fi, and I confess I must, you can pick it up free on the porch of the office/gift shop. Sitting on the Adirondack chairs among the hanging pots of geraniums is not a bad place to surf the Web.
INFO: www.lambsresort.com; 1-218-663-7292.