Sunday, May 29, 2016

Slugs in Paradise - BWCA '16

     This post will take a while, maybe a long while.  At the moment I'm grunting my way through a full scale writing project with marginal brain power.  Story of life.
     Fifty years since my first trip.  A good round number and maybe one to end on.  Of course I've said that in the past, mainly in the days immediately following when I'm dragging ass.  We'll see.
     This year's trip was simple, five miles paddling with a steep, hundred-twenty rod portage to a dead end lake known for its walleye fishing.  Part of the plan was to kill and eat a few.

     I have full intentions of finishing this entry.  Might take a few month's as I'm putting a book together for publication and have no ambition or energy to do any other writing.
     Yup, still at it as of September 27.  Been editing since late April.  Hopefully I'll live long enough to finish though there's no guarantee. The title's "Between Thought and the Treetops." She's more or less a coming of age trilogy of novellas set in the 1960's of Manitoba and the Arrowhead of Minnesota. Ain't that a surprise.  The old saw is 'write what you know'.  Guess that sums it up nicely.  Humor, adventure, fishing, building and war.  The book's got it all but falls a little short when it comes to sex.  Maybe also a little short on quality writing and editing but each edit improves the flow.  Truth is it's not all that bad.

     So much time has passed I've nearly forgotten the reason for this entry's title. Admittedly, I have my slug side; Brian, not so much. But our campsite did have slugs. Never seen them in the Boundary Waters before though I doubt our site was unique. I didn't think of it at the time but I'm now wondering if walleyes would eat the slimy buggers. Can't say I've ever run across anything on the subject. Oh well, another experimental opportunity squandered.
     Let's see, where was I? Oh yeah, kill and eat a few. That was the plan but I had my doubts. I've never considered myself a walleye fisherman though I've caught my share. Not many in Minnesota mind you, nearly all were boated in the wilderness waters of Manitoba and they don't count. Those out of the way backwaters are where the inept go to fish. Yup, that's me in a nutshell. So the idea of counting on gathering a meal or two from the water was pretty sketchy. Better I'd planned on eating the slugs.
     Five months have passed since the trip and I still have a bone to pick with the Forestry Department. Early on I sent an e-mail to the powers that be about which entry point to use to enter and camp on Crocodile Lake. First off, what the hell kind of name is that for a lake of the north land? Regardless, entry point 66, Crocodile River, is shown on the map as being the proper way into the lake. And, should it be chosen, the canoeing party can only camp on Crocodile Lake. Yup, it's dead-ended. Somehow that kind of implies to my way of thinking, only those choosing 66 can camp on the lake. Turned out I was wrong. Or the Forestry Department doesn't know what it's doing. Or some canoeists don't much care where they camp. There's more I could say but won't other than mine was the year's first permit issued for entry 66. More later.
     After a final look at the snow cover maps and an e-mail or two to Brian I reserved our permit for entry point 66. Like I said ours was the first for the year. Yes, my memory might be wrong.
     For a change we drove up early on the morning of our entry date. As usual we were allowed to watch the video and take the oral exam. Not having gotten any further in college than a couple of quarters of grad school I always relish undergoing an oral, even study up for it, do research and am more than ready for any trick questions. Yeah, we aced it. Then for a change, we didn't discover any missing gear or even have any road construction problems on our drive up the Gunflint Trail though I did miss our turn. Seems I always manage to do that.
     At the East Bearskin access we found only one truck in the parking lot. All looked good. The short down lake paddle went by quickly. The landing at the portage sucked. Sofa-sized boulders everywhere. Good thing Brian remains middle-aged agile so it proved no great problem. However it brought to mind one of the great philosophical questions of our time, my time in particular; why is it that a man in his seventieth year farts nearly every time his body changes positions quickly? And why is it he feels little remorse when doing so?
     I also found the portage interesting. At 120 rods it's not particularly long nor very difficult. It begins with a steep ascent of 40 rods. I was in shape and found the rise actually easy. But somehow my lungs were sucking air like I was at 10,000 feet. What did they know that I did not?
     Immediately across from the end of the trail on Crocodile there lies what looked to be a fine campsite. But we didn't need no stinkin' campsite so close to civilization. People tramping over at all hours of the night, carrying on and yelling politically incorrect nonsense. Nope, not us. And like I recalled, ours was the first permit of the year for this dead-end lake. Both the world and the lake were our oysters. We loaded, pushed off and paddled away.
     We'd both done our research, read the BWCA campsite discussions and knew the second site was the plum. And it was. Excellent landing, beautiful rock shelf jutting into the lake and as we learned later, a classic rock pile/walleye haven about a hundred and fifty yards off-shore. Perfect. Of course it was occupied. I either stared gape-jawed or cursed a blue streak. One truck at the access, several directions to paddle from there, dozens of possible campsites and there they were, right where we wanted to be. Part of me wanted to continue the discussion I'd begun with the Forestry Department's staff as to the intent and meaning of obtaining a permit for entry point 66, this time with the occupants of what I considered our rightful campsite. Part of me knew that would be inappropriate behavior. And part of me suspected I'd get my butt kicked should we intrude. We paddled on toward the swamp end of the lake.
     Crocodile is really two lakes, neither all that spectacular. Disappointed, we headed east on the narrowing lake, passed through a bottom-scraping channel and into the tiny lake we became very familiar with over the next four days. I'm a fan of small water and have been for better than a quarter of a century. I should have been happy but wasn't.
     We passed the first campsite. Didn't have much of a landing and from what we could see from the water, lacked charm. The second was even less to behold. We returned. Ah well, better than nothing and we did have it to ourselves. Thank God, a second party would've felt a little crowded on the fifty acres.
     The site was definitely a make-shift affair. The only reason for its existence was the marginal canoe landing. It did have the required log benches, latrine and a single, barely big enough for our four-man tent, clearing. Outside of a few unmovable roots and rocks, it wasn't bad so long as you had better than two inches of self-inflating pad to soften the naturalness of the ground. Lucky for us we did.
     So there we were, the wrong end of the lake, marginal campsite and on a dead-end lake. But the companionship was good. Brian and I think differently about a lot of things, politics and religion in particular. However there is a link between us. Don't know why but I've always felt good when in his company. Yeah, both of our touchy subjects come up in our conversation though they never lead to emotional conflict. Usually we find common ground and there's plenty of it to be found. Why not? There's a lot going on in this universe and a whole lot more going on behind the scenes. There are few lines that need be drawn in this life and even those can get a little sketchy at times.
     A lot of the details of those days have been lost in the mush that's my brain. We ate good. Yeah, we did do that. Don't know how it came about but I've become decent at pan frying steak. It's a once a year thing for me. Mostly it just happens and voila, there they are, New York strips, crusty on the outside and juicy within. Not the easiest food to digest and I've read steaks are hell on wheels when it comes to colon cancer but once a year, ummm-ummm.
     That first evening we paddled east to the end of the lake. There we found a small reef and something of a drop off. The deepest hole in our slice of lake was no more than twelve feet so the bottom did indeed drop but not off the charts.. There we found fish. Walleyes and perch just like advertised. Truth was it was me who found the walleyes. Don't ask me why. The walleyes in Crocodile were supposed to be on the small side, a foot or so. The ones we found that first night were much bigger, the largest a paddle measured twenty-three inches. That's a lot of inches per acre. On the other hand the perch were as advertised, big and chunky. Most would have looked good in a frying pan, however none were put on the stringer.
     You have to wonder at my logic. I caught more Minnesota walleyes that evening than in the previous sixty-nine years of my life and I released them all. Threw 'em back. What the hell was I thinking? Truth be known, I must have figured the fish were even dumber than me and that's saying a lot. The idea simply never entered my head that we wouldn't catch more in the morning. Never. Where the hell is experience and wisdom in that attitude? Yeah, there was a doubtful tone in Brian's voice when he asked if we might stringer a couple. But, I mean jeez, where's the faith in that?
     I suppose this tale could wander down the past of wasted chances but it won't. Yup we caught more the next day. Not as many, not as big, but we for sure caught them. And killed them. And ate them battered in Cajun breading. Yummy. Brian did the butchering, I tended the pans.
     In a fit of preparation I'd thrown a length of aspen board in a pack as a filleting surface. In the past I've used a paddle; not this year. Over the previous summer I'd laminated and carved a half dozen paddles. Five or more woods in each. Beauties all. A little banging on the rocks didn't bother me. However, the idea of carving upon their hand-varnished surfaces with sharpened steel seemed a violation. Odd how that goes.
     Careful, there's an R rated part coming up. Make that a potential R rated part.
     So we're sitting there in the afternoon. Nice afternoon in a swampy kind of way. Brian's rummaging through his pack and pulls out a handgun. Seeing as how he's licensed to carry that's okay these days. Not something I'd do but it's legal as can be. Back at the ranger station the the lady behind the desk even said so. Keep in mind that in the old days a handgun in the pack was considered as normal as a bass-o-reno. Made me feel a little ill-at-ease but I didn't say anything.
     Odd, considering I'm a Vietnam combat vet. The woods over in southeast Asia held a lot to be afraid of. Not so much the one we were camping in. At least that's the way I've always felt. Could be things are different these days, a lot more people are armed and we've all seen Deliverance. Also there've been reports of violence in our wilderness. Not sure what that's about. Wilderness campers have a non-violent aura about them and I don't think that's what Bob Dylan had in mind when he sang "The times, they are a-changing."
     So I looked the piece over. Plastic on the outside, steel in. Held a twenty round clip and fired bullets so fast they went backwards, so you always aimed in the opposite direction of the target. I thanked Brian for the tour and handed him his weapon. As to a position on the owning of firearms, simply put, they don't interest me. Not for them, not against them so long as they aren't against my temple.
     That done we returned to what the trip was about, eating, talking and wandering the woods in search of a dead but still intact cedar. In short, we found none. The previous year we'd had them aplenty. Straight, bone dry and rot free. I thought of them many times over the winter months and all the things I could do with them. The plan was to saw a few two footers and bring them home. Rip them into little planks and maybe carve one on the band saw. Seems an odd thing to do, take part of a real tree and make it into a little, cartoonish one. Sometimes I do things just to do things then stand back, say to myself, "Look what I've done," then move onto the next pointless thing. Yup, didn't find a one but haven't given up hope. Next year my son-in-law, grandson and I are heading off on a twelve-year-old's adventure and I know just the spot where those dead, toppled cedars lie waiting.
     As the days passed the fishing slowed. I caught less, Brian boated more and the size of the walleyes dwindled. However the perch were forgiving and willing to sacrifice themselves to our appetites. Guess they were more Christian. Made me feel like one of the lions in the Roman Colosseum. Once again I let Brian do the butchering.
     Mostly we had good weather. Even the bugs weren't bad. However, on the last night it began to rain. Not a hard rain but it came down like it was in no hurry to stop. That night we learned my sixteen year old Eureka! was no longer waterproof. Didn't leak bad and for the most part only got Brian's side wet. Yes, I was concerned. Even felt bad but not bad enough to switch sides.
     The following morning we packed it up and headed out. It was on the outbound that we passed over the wonderful reef out from the choice campsite. Oh well, we came to catch walleyes and perch and that's what we did. Even had a couple of meals courtesy of the lake. What more could we want?
     It was at the access, now brimming with canoes, that we learned the walleyes had taken up making babies. Seems we caught the end of the pre-spawn on our first two days. As usual spring fishing is all about timing. All-in-all another good trip.
     Back home I pitched the inner body of the tent to remove temptation but kept the fly, poles and pegs. A month later I caught a four man Kelty on sale and gave it to my son-in-law as an early Christmas present with the stipulation I could borrow it if needed.
     Not bad. It only took me five and a half months to polish off this entry.

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