What's in a Name?

The town is the kind of place where people in the witness protection program go to live. It was exactly what my wife and I needed at the time. Not to vanish from thugs and mobsters, but more to shelter ourselves where no one would follow.
Its name is Buyck, an unincorporated hamlet in Northern Minnesota just a few miles southwest of Canada. Actually, if I trailed a deer there during hunting season, I could have unwittingly crossed the international border…with a loaded gun. But it’s not as if anyone would have noticed. The population is so small, it’s countable at any given moment depending on how people made it through the weekend.
The name is spelled B-U-Y-C-K, but pronounced “bike,” like the short form of bicycle. For panache, a children’s bike was affixed to the top of the town sign at both of the road entries. A handful of buildings are scattered across the two- or three-mile stretch between the signs. They comprise the basics: a café, machine shop, firehall, church and two bars. According to local lore, one of the bars was also a brothel way back when. Today, that establishment features a different amenity—a nine-hole golf course.
We rented a house trailer at the end of a gravel road. The trailer overlooked a beautiful river from the middle of an old farm pasture. But sitting up high, it was exposed to extreme weather. Summer’s heat cooked us like a sweatbox. Mosquitoes found a way inside and we wore bug spray to bed. The repellant kept them from sucking blood, but couldn’t fend off the torturous, high-pitched whine of their wings hovering invisibly beside our ears. Eventually, we tracked down their secret portal—the uncovered chimney of the unused fireplace—and choked them off with a screen.
In winter, the front door froze open and the rear door froze shut. Clothesline, a hair dryer, or a propane torch for power outages, set us free or secured us in. Winter gales had an easy shot at us. To prevent our garbage can from blowing across the river, we bungeed it at the top to a vertical deck post. Following a night of utter cold, but no precipitation, I noticed the bungee cord laying on the deck. It encircled the base of the tapered can, but had retained the can’s shape from the top. The elastic had frozen solid without the aid of moisture and was unable to contract.
This endurance paid big dividends during spring break-up when the river loosened its banks and huge ice floes broke free. We hustled down to the shoreline and spent an afternoon like the event was Macy’s Parade. We gawked and pointed at mammoth ice chunks floating by in slow procession. Many were longer than semitrucks, yet they somehow negotiated sharp river bends without breaking in half.
The trailer kept us dry and warm enough, but running water could be a little iffy. We shared the water pump with our nearest neighbor. The pump was in his cabin. He was friendly and generous, but not much for explanations. After the first time the shower trickled dry, we determined he must have shut off the pump without telling us. For a while, our request for future heads-ups appeared to go unheeded. However, we learned to connect the dots. He just had a different way of serving notice.
The clues went back to our first weekend in the trailer when he brought us homemade eclairs as a neighborly gesture. Later that day, we tried to take a nap, only to be jolted upright by gunfire directly outside the bedroom window. Our neighbor was sighting in his rifle for deer season from the picnic table between the houses. Recollecting this, we deduced that whenever he stopped by with eclairs, we could expect a water outage or other disruption that afternoon.
The people of Buyck possessed a self-reliance like none other. It was a community of many loggers and contractors. So, if a leaf spring broke on a trailer, they didn’t wait around for parts to arrive in the mail; they made it themselves. When a massive blowdown flattened the federal wilderness at Buyck’s doorstep, the loggers happily and sensibly offered to clear out the downed trees. They asserted everyone would benefit: they’d earn income while removing fuel that kindles wildfires. But red-tape bureaucracy doused the idea.
Buyck also afforded magnificent wildlife encounters. An entertaining, long-tailed weasel often showed up from under the trailer or perched right on the deck. A snappy dresser, its annual fashion statement transformed from a brown summer coat to a white so resplendent in winter it glinted iridescent green.
Contrarily, snapping turtles maintained their prehistoric styling. Mother turtles with shells the diameter of hubcaps muscled over yard stones like armored personnel carriers searching for a place to nest. Hatchlings barely the size of golf balls broke out of their shells, then clawed their way up the sand embankment from where they had incubated. They’d look up at us with eyes too young to open, but somehow knew to navigate toward the river. It could be a treacherous journey with all the fox, ravens and other predators hoping for lunch.
The term “self-reliance” can be misleading. It’s actually a collaborative effort with unseen forces whereby reality sometimes overrides intention.
By winter, racoons took shelter under the trailer. Word had it that they’d do more damage than bears if they chewed their way indoors. So the landlord had a leg-hold trap set beneath the trailer. A week or more later, not a racoon was in sight. But I glanced behind the trailer’s side skirt and came upon the white weasel—it had taken their place. The trap kept racoons from raiding our pantry, but at a heart-wrenching cost.
As names go, “Buyck,” B-U-Y-C-K, is just a label for a road sign. But it doesn’t represent all that resides there: backbone, tolerance and the never-ending cycle of reality.


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