Sunday, July 10, 2011

Learning Curve '03 - Third and Fourth Sites

     Around lunchtime we found our river narrows. But no moving water. And no walleyes. A shallow reef ran shore to shore. On the upside there was a splendid landing a hundred yards downstream. Too good to pass up. So here's the drill; if you can land the boat there'll always be a bed of moss waiting for your tent nearby. May not have a water view but that's no problem. In this case we had a minute's uphill walk into the woods. You know, wilderness camping's kind of like a cruise ship. Outside of bedtime, you're not going to be in your cabin. Once in the tent you can't see anything anyhow. So having a view is meaningless. 'Spose you could leave the fly off. I said, you could. Not me. When I'm outside the realm of, the only way I want to know that it's raining at night is the sound of drops on a taut fly, not on my sleeping bag. The Voyageurs slept in the open. If they were wealthy they had a blanket. A different era. If top hats made of beaver come back into fashion, I'll shuck the tent. 'Til then....
     Spent three nights there. Woulda been two but were windbound on departure day. Gray skies, white caps, blue boys. That first afternoon and evening we worked miles of river. Nothin' nowhere. No weeds, no minnows jumping. 'Til we came to a small, swampy bay. Wasn't more than a fistful of small pike but maybe a sign of what to look for. Got me to pondering. Around the corner from our camp there sat a seriously big, swampy bay. Three feeder streams shown on the map. And a twenty acre pool in the middle. Itty, bitty lake-in-a-lake.
Always the Panfisherman
     When there's no fish on the line my mind drifts into theorizing about it. Fills in the gaps. There's always a dozen possibilities why it's bad. Nearly as many when it's good. Always searching for a pattern. Sometimes I'm right on. Most times I'm not. Try this, try that. Here or there? When we catch a couple, does that mean anything more than dumb luck? Turned out that night the big bay was on the money. Lotta weeds. Lotta fish. Good sized pike. A double on ten pounders. More sixteen inch walleyes. And a couple of jumbo perch. Perch? What the hell was that all about? Best eating fish in fresh water. Let 'em go.
     Our sittin' and cookin' area was out on the slab. Spent a lot of time there. So it had a slight tilt to it. And it may have been the center of a heavy gravity zone. Kurt Vonnegut made mention of their partners, light gravity zones, and their effect on the male member. No doubt they both have an effect on a person's sense of balance. In truth I have no excuse. While finishing supper dishes Allan simply said, "Don't step there Dad. I spilled some water." Used the same elbow as the first time to break my fall.
     A front moved in on day two. Slowed fishing to a crawl. Even in the swamp. Everywhere else it was about the same. While sittin' in our chairs we watched a mama bear and her cubs pass by on the far side of the swamp. Bears are supposed to have a keen sense of smell. Good thing we were down wind or they'd have lit upon us like we were the town dump. Licked us to death like stinksickles.

                                    Emil on Bears

     I don't usually give a rat's patoot about bears so long as they leave me alone. But I just gotta get a couple of things off my chest. First off my nephew never mentioned the great white hunter at the Burntwood Lodge. Just like him to forget that. During the Larry Gogal paper work snafu, this old guy, yeah he was around seventy years old and seventy pounds on the south side of healthy, felt the need to kill him a bear. So he forked over the cash, hooked up with a guide and the two of them lit out for the garbage barrel. Don't know what happened next but it seems he got his rug. Just don't get those kind of people.
     Not the real reason I butted in though. My grand niece-in-law made this request, so here she goes. Smokey Bear. Not Smokey the Bear. That's some song from the '50s. Smokey Bear, that's his real name. He was born after Walt Disney took back Bambi from the USFS. Seems the Japanese had been trying to start forest fires out in California during the war by shelling the shore from a submarine. That's the Second World War for those of you who don't know. Didn't fight them outside of that one. The government made up these posters showing how the bad guys, Hitler and Tojo, were trying to win the war by burning up our woods. So's people could tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys on those posters, they put Bambi on ours and gave Tojo these big buck teeth and super thick glasses on their's. Even Tojo's mother would have thought him to be one seriously ugly bastard. Disney must have figured he wasn't getting enough of the war chest so he took Bambi back after one year. Way to go Walt!
     After that the USFS did a cartoon search for a replacement cartoon character. Almost came out with a series of Porky Pig posters but couldn't get the Only You can Prevent Forest Fires! in big enough letters to fit on the poster what with Porky's speech impediment and all. Would have been a humdinger in my opinion. So as a last resort they went with a bear. Perfectly woodsy and all. Of course they couldn't have his dingle-dangle hangin' out so they put pants on him. Gave him a Smokey Bear hat for his head. Only it wasn't called that until afterwards. The rest is... well, you know.

     Catch and release, I've mentioned it now and then but never gone into the whys and wherefores. Some say they do it to improve the fish stock for future generations. Admirable. Some argue against it and the pursuit of fish in general. A barbaric and needless torturing of our fellow animals. Logical and humane. As for myself, I see it this way. Hooking a fish in the face definitely puts the fear of God in them. At some point in the fight they might even figure they're as good as dead. Give up the ghost. Then they're pulled into the air. Not their element for sure. Jaws spread by steel. Pliers jammed in their mouth. All horrors. Can't argue with that. Ah, but then they're released. Freed. Raised from the dead. It's all so Christian I get goose bumps. Imagine their joy in rejoining the living. Swimming away thinking, "I'm alive! I'm alive! Ain't never gonna do that again!" Catch 'em, release 'em, teach 'em a lesson. Words to live by. Also, filleting is a whole lot of icky work.
     Warning: Ecological moment coming up. There was a single opening in the brush behind the slab which directed our path to the tent. As did the following trees and boulders. Probably stomped down the resulting path at least two dozen times.  Over the three days we'd visibly beaten a trail. Not exactly the Cumberland Gap, but a trail for sure. Might even be there now, eight years later. The northwoods has the look of eternity. And underneath it's about as close as this planet comes. But it doesn't take much for Mother Nature to break a nail while trying to get a grip on a land where the growing season is only four months long. Fragile country up north.
Ready to Move On
     Needing a new rock to on which to fall, we moved on. The river had us spoiled. Wound a lot but wasn't snake-like. Mostly we moved forward. Our next corner usually no more than a quarter mile away. Distant lake shores, tree lines that never seemed to grow, took endless chunks of time. A river, now that was a lot of fun. Twisting, moving in and out like a concertina. Always changing. Intimate. Playful. The miles are the same length but pass so much faster.
     We paddled through a small burn area. Larry'd said there was an Indian fish camp nearby. Saw no camp, no First Nationers. Guessed they weren't in camp 'cause the the fish weren't ready to be caught. No surprise there. Would have been an interesting sight. Maybe even a place to pull in and pass a few minutes. I'd read about them. Olson described one in detail in The Lonely Land. As it was, we were heading toward a small, fishy looking river opening, thick with islands. When we found it, the shorelines toyed with us. Hundreds of yards of canoe slicing shelf. If the water was two feet higher it'd have been a slide ashore. Finally we bit the bullet. Pulled tight and carefully offloaded. Back in the old days, it would have been large scale pitchin' and tarin' the birchbark time. Thank you space-age.
"Can't Seem to Find Any Moss  Allan"
     Wasn't much of a site. Landing, kitchen and tent were set up in a triangle, two hundred yards to the side. The tent way back in the woods. The kitchen in a small clearing back in the bush. We had a brief river view from where we sat. If anything, the fishing was worse.
     Deep in the bay behind our camp a small stream entered. She was like a winding staircase. Forty or fifty foot descent. Falls, pool, falls, pool. Trickle, trickle. Had we peed at the top of it, the flow would have doubled. We climbed her to the top. Paused now and then to bask in the beauty of what might have been. We missed a lot simply though bad timing.
     In the late afternoon we heard the buzz of an outboard. Sittin' in camp, trudging through Eternity. As good as invisible up in the bush. A black haired man, possibly a member of the First Nation, alone in the stern, off to some unknown destiny. We kept our silence. Moved not a hair. Seemed to me like a reversal of roles. Aboriginal - give me a break here. We're in Canada for the Pete's sake. Can't be callin' the man a Native American. Way too United States-like. Sometimes we think we're the only country on this continent. Seemed from the maps that the Cree in this neck of the woods were members of the First Nation, were called Aboriginals and lived on Indian Reservations. Never did figure it out. The guy was probably a member of the Cree Nation. Would have been so much simpler had I known his name - moving passed using Twentieth Century technology. Us sittin' in the woods wearin' hand-me-downs and traveling by canoe. Made me want to throw some rocks or fire off a couple of arrows to let him know we were there. But he probably had a fire stick and wouldn't understand we only wanted to talk. Best we kept quiet. He was our only fellow human in eight days. Unless passenger jet contrails count.

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