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What's Left: The best week of the year

For three generations, my family has returned to the campground at Bass Lake, near Effie, Minnesota.

effie 2021
A group photo from last year's annual family (and friends) camping trip to Effie, Minnesota.
Kaylee Nelson
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WORTHINGTON — There is something sacred to me about the first week of August.

I will be the first to tell anyone who will listen — loudly, and with no room to be swayed — that summer is my least favorite season. I burn easily in the sun; I find any temperature over 80 degrees unbearable. I am embarrassingly petrified by spiders and, therefore, find them everywhere during those months when the warmth emboldens them to trespass into cooler places, like my basement apartment.

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But, when July crashes to a close — summer, after all, is a fleeting thing — I await the start of August, eager for what is and always has been my favorite week of the year.

Every single year, I make the trek up to Bass Lake Campground, just outside of Effie, Minnesota. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re in the majority. It’s a tiny town off Highway 1, boasting a gas station, bar and cafe, and one shuttered school building. During the blink-and-miss-it trip through town, someone will inevitably make a joke about Effie being on the verge of a population boom; the number of residents has agonizingly ticked up over the last few years to a whopping 116.

It is the same campground my Grandpa Tom and his best friend Wes began going to when they were just 17. It’s where they brought their kids — my mom, her brother, Wes’ two sons and daughter — and where that second generation in turn brought their own kids. It’s become an ongoing tradition for our families, with the addition of even more treasured friends. There are seven families in total, more than 35 people altogether, for a week in the great outdoors.

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We bring campers and tents, hammocks, and enough food and drinks to feed a small army. We spend hours on the water; we have camp tournaments; we cheat at cards, to varying degrees of success. At night we sit around the campfire or go to the beach to stargaze — or maybe even take the canoes out to the middle of the lake.

There is nothing like sitting on a still black lake, with more stars than you can fathom in the sky, reflecting back off the water. I have yet to find another sight that compares. I doubt I ever will.

But while the place is beautiful, it is the people that truly make this week so dear to me. I was four months old the first time I went on this trip; there is no time in my memory when the Effie crew was not in my life. I’m not often at a loss for words, but I think sometimes about how much emptier my life would feel without this group who have been like family in so many ways, and it’s hard to give voice to what they mean to me.

These are some of my oldest friends, my fondest memories, my best stories.

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I am part of the third generation to carry on this tradition — a group that ranges from mid-teens to early-30s in age — and as we grow up and start new chapters of our lives, I am always reassured that we won’t be the last. Despite the distance, or stress of packing, the bugs, and the sunburn, we keep coming back. I stand on the shore of Bass Lake, off the same campground I have stayed in for years, and I get caught on the thought that I am preserving something. I am creating something new in an old place. I am going to come back again, again, again.

In the last few years of his life, my Grandpa Tom made the trip less and less frequently, but I know he was happy to see us carrying on what he and Wes started. I have a great many things that my grandfather passed down to me, but this legacy, this time with friends and family, is undoubtedly what I consider most precious.

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Opinion by Emma McNamee
Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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