The Gunflint Trail landscape has inspired many works of literature. Perhaps best known are Justine Kerfoot’s autobiographical books, but John Henricksson, Florence Jaques, and others have also written at length about the Gunflint Trail region. One author whose works you may have bumped into this Christmastime is Helen Hoover.
Hoover spent several years living in a small cabin on the south shore of Gunflint Lake with her husband, Adrian. The couple made the move from Chicago to the Northwoods in 1954. Helen, who had a degree in chemistry from the University of Ohio, left behind a successful career as a metallurgist; Adrian had been an art director. The move to the Gunflint Trail was motivated by the two’s desire to live closer to nature, but the move proved financially difficult. Without a steady income and nearly 50 miles removed from the nearest town of Grand Marais, the Hoovers struggled to survive that first harsh Minnesota winter.
To made ends meet, Adrian began selling cards he illustrated and other handmade trinkets. Helen started writing magazine articles. In 1963, her first book, The Long-Shadowed Forest, which recounted life in northern Minnesota, was published by Alfred Knopf. She would publish three more Gunflint Trail inspired books with Knopf: The Gift of the Deer (1966), A Place in the Woods (1968), and The Years of the Forest (1973). These books are still in print and today are published by the University of Minnesota Press.
At least two of Hoover’s books featured a seasonal theme. Her book, The Gift of the Deer tells the story of an emaciated deer who comes into the Hoovers’ backyard one Christmas eve. The Hoovers nursed the deer, who they called Peter Whitetail, back to health. In her children’s book The Great Wolf and Good Woodsmen, Hoover tells the story of the woodland creatures rallying to help an injured woodsmen on Christmas day. The Great Wolf and Good Woodsmen was republished in 1997 accompanied with woodcut illustrations by Grand Marais Betsy Bowen.
Eventually, the Hoovers sold their Gunflint Lake property and spent time in New Mexico before resettling in Wyoming. Helen died in 1984 at age 74 in Laramie, WY.
At Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, you can view a display devoted to Helen Hoover in the reading corner. In the display, you’ll see some of the handcrafted goods Adrian made, first editions of Hoover’s books, and personal letters between Helen and Heston’s Lodge owner, Peggy Heston.