It’s 7 am, and the stillness of the early morning hours has its own sound in the remote Angle Inlet, when a faint flicker of light from a snowmobile bobs its way closer to the public school. It’s how schoolteacher Linda LaMie, a nearly 40-year veteran at Warroad Public Schools, commutes each day from her home on a nearby island in the winter months.
The Angle, as the locals call it, is a 123-square-mile slice of land surrounded by Canada and the sprawling Lake of the Woods. It’s part of the Northwest Angle, the northernmost part of the contiguous United States that is north of the 49th parallel. Most of the land is held in trust by the Red Lake Band, and overland travelers from the U.S. must go through Canada to access it. It’s known for its fishing and tourism industries, which employ many of the Angle’s 125 residents. And the township’s only school, the Angle Inlet School, often serves as a hub for this close-knit community.
“The kids sometimes call me Mom,” LaMie said. She and a teacher’s assistant, Samantha Shoen, teach 10 students, ranging in grades from kindergarten to fifth grade. “This really gets to be a family experience, it’s a bit like homeschooling, yet it’s a public school where everybody is welcome.”
Most of the students work independently throughout the day. LaMie assigns the lessons and whatever the students don’t finish goes home as homework. Students have to budget their own time and balance that with group activities. To some extent, students are learning at their own pace, but under the watchful eye of LaMie, who often ends up teaching the same student for seven years in a row.
“The students handle the responsibility very well,” LaMie said.
In seventh grade, students are either homeschooled or take a bus for the three-hour round-trip daily trek to Warroad, Minn., to finish out the upper grade levels. These days, only a couple of students board the bus at 6 am and go through the four international checkpoints a day. But residents know that the challenging lifestyle is part of what comes with living so remotely, mere steps to wilderness and surrounded by abundant solitude.
“The way you have to get here, the travel through Canada, the tiny remoteness of it all, it’s a very different way of life,” resident Kellie Knight conceded. The former Microsoft employee moved from Seattle, Wash., to the Angle years ago to be near her parents and grandparents. Today, she and partner Tony Butler are raising two young children of their own in this isolated corner of Minnesota, which regularly draws curious visitors who are interested in this geographical puzzle.
The relocation has been an adjustment over the years. Knight said she misses being able to go out for Thai food on a moment’s whim, for example. But Winnipeg is not too far away, and she said she can usually satisfy her consumerism and cultural stimulation there or online. But she said it sometimes weighs on her mind that the choice in lifestyle also affects her children.
“My little girl loves to sing and loves to dance, and if I want to put her into any lesson, we’d have to drive an hour and 15 minutes each way, and at some point we have to weigh that,” she said of the miles-long stretches of gravel road on both sides of the border and the time it takes to get to Warroad.
But Knight knows that living in the Angle is special, a choice that brings her family solitude and the ability to experience a natural world unfettered by the realities of urban living.
“We’re approaching the ice out [a period where the ice starts to melt and break up] and it will get really quiet and the roads will all turn to mud. And I can take my kids out for a walk, and you won’t see a soul, and a deer will cross right before us,” she recounted.
While One Greater Minnesota reporter Kaomi Goetz was working on this story, she had the opportunity to travel via bombardier across the frozen Lake of the Woods. Wondering what a bombardier is? You have to see it to believe it.
Minnesota winters are getting warmer. And that’s worrisome to businesses in the northern part of the state that depend on cold weather, such as dogsledding firms in Ely. One one of the coldest weeks of the year, Kaomi Goetz ventured north to learn more about these global warming concerns.