I was an airline pilot and my job was eliminated by the attacks of 9/11. Before the airlines, I flew F-16’s in the Air Force. I found a job as a fighter pilot at the Air National Guard base in Duluth, Minnesota. I’d sampled life in Michigan, New Hampshire, Colorado, Arizona, Alaska, and Korea. Now, my wife, toddler son, and I moved from Utah to northern Minnesota in a panic.
I relearned how to fly the F-16 in the air over the North Shore of Lake Superior. I saw the azure lake reach a point beneath the city that embraced my itinerant family. I gazed eastward and, even from thirty thousand feet, I couldn’t see the far shore.
Our family explored what I saw from the air. We cross country skied the heights near Two Harbors with the lake glistening like a mirror through the poplars and over the snow. My daughter was born in Duluth. I held her in my arms for the first time as the December sun turned the lake orange outside the hospital window. We climbed Oberg Mountain together and marveled at the vast great lake from the broad rock ledges. We rambled up the rivers that fed into Lake Superior: the Lester, the Sucker, and the Baptism. I’ve chased the steelhead in those streams every spring and have yet to catch one. I’m constantly happy during the fruitless pursuit.
A few years back, restructuring of our military threatened to close my base in Duluth. I committed to a job interview at another Air National Guard base. I tried to prepare my family for the idea of moving again, to follow me where I could pay the bills as a pilot. The potential new home was near my parents in Maine. It made sense.
The day before I left town to find work, my son and I walked to the shore of Lake Superior. We sat, absentmindedly throwing rocks into the big lake on a warm summer day.
“Do you want to leave Duluth, buddy?” I asked my 5-year old son.
“How come? What do you like about Duluth?”
“I like throwing rocks in the water.”
“I know,” I said, laughing, “But, what else do you like?”
“I like skiing and sledding and going for hikes.”
“Me, too,” I said. I shook my head. Job or no job, I wasn’t leaving Duluth. I went back east and told a new boss I didn’t want to work for him. That’s not a good interview technique.
Like karma, after I committed to Minnesota, the base stayed open. I get to keep chasing the steelhead. I can walk with my kids from my doorstep to where we can throw rocks in the big water. I’ve been around the world in the past twenty years. When the wind blows from the east, I can sense Lake Superior. It smells like home.