Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Woods

     Five days, mostly in the woods. No TV, no phone - actually had a phone but didn't use it. Does that count? Cut and split some firewood. A flock of geese flew in to bother the swans on Deadman. A raccoon rustled through one of the woodpiles to bother Lois. But mostly it was the quiet and the changing of the leaves that added a little more depth to our lives.
     By the time we left this morning the trees were glowing. Maples, birches, basswood, oak and aspen. A few of our spreading grove of maples finally showed their true colors by breaking out in scarlets and oranges. No doubt anymore that they're reds.
     Finally finished clearing the paths. Not a forever thing and will be done again next year. It's now possible to fully tramp all four corners and end up where you started. We're not fancy or mechanized. Hand cutters, ax and rake. The hardwood forests of northern Minnesota are mostly hazel brush if the truth be known. Relatively speaking the trees are few. So path clearing is mostly brush cutting. And if  the buggers aren't cut off at the root a walk quickly turns into a trip.
     A thought struck me as to the similar size of the jackpines on our land. Nearly all are about as mature as they get, around eighteen inches in diameter. Jackpines can't propagate unless their cones are open and the seeds released. That requires a temperature approaching 200 degrees fahrenheit. Under normal circumstances we're talkin' forest fire.
     Also here and there are a dozen or more jackpine stumps. We've been on the property since 1980 and the stumps don't look like they've changed a bit. Eroded, jagged and black but give one a kick and you'll be sorry. I removed one in the yard a couple of days ago using shovel, ax, maul and chain saw. It was a small one to be sure. Nowhere near the size of the others. Took an hour and dulled the saw. Like cuttin' stone. Thick with crystalized pitch.
     Long story short, I suspect the stumps are a year or two older than the standing pines. The same fire that fried the old ones also spawned the eighty foot babies dancing in Monday's breezes.
     I guess that means life's a hand off. All living things no more than cells that come and go while the organism spreads as far as it can. 'Til it goes phtt also. Not like that's a new idea. And not all that depressing, just the way it is. No myth of Sisyphus anywhere except between the ears. Pushin' that rock up the hill can be a good time so long as you get out of the way when it comes rumblin' back down.
     Crap like that flowed through my head as I cut, cleared and did my best to not bleed any more than necessary. And crap it is. About as useful in the long run as clearin' those paths. And just as fun. Passes the time. Keeps the heart pumping and the brain smoldering along. If something worthwhile pops up I'll let you know. Or, more likely, forget it by the time I sit down to the keyboard.
     I have no real idea of how to blog. Don't do pictures. Spend way too much time on each entry. Don't write every day.
     Oh yeah, I forgot, we saw a salamander. Not that big a deal but we don't see a lot of them. Looked to be black but a closer look would probably say otherwise. Seems like nothing in nature is really the color it appears to be. Closeups reveal a lot of individual things goin' on to make up a completely different looking whole.
     In the summer we get gray, mottled tree type frogs in the pitcher pump. I pump for all my little old arms will pump but the frogs, or frog, just crawls back inside never to be seen again. Or at least until the next time up north and I pull the bucket off the pump. I know some toads are poisonous, some hallucinogenic. Gets me to wondering if the frogs in the well have any effect on the water. And if they do, is it any worse than the city water back in Minneapolis? Maybe they're the reason behind my continual inability to hit the shift key when I want to capitalize. Life is an experiment and a continual risk.
     God bless the internet. Looked up gray, mottled tree frogs in Minnesota. Guess what? They're actually called gray tree frogs. Ain't that clever?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Even a Blind Pig

     Wednesday was the result of satellite photos and sketchy research. I'd scanned the state forest several times hoping to find another lake worth fishing. Not an easy thing to do when all there is to go by is acreage and most of the lakes within the forest boundaries lack that in spades. What I hoped for didn't seem to exist. If it had there no doubt would have been a paved road and signs. And that would have killed it for me.
     Over the last decade I'd floated and fished four of the lakes with mixed results. Fish in each but not many and mostly on the small side. However, there never was another soul on any of them. Probably 'cause the fishing sucked, eh? I didn't actually buy that but wrote the slowness off to bad timing.
     But up there near the north end sat this odd little chain of lakes. Chain might be a stretch. About the only information I could get on them was their acreage. Total of about fifty-five. That's for three lakes. But they were connected and would function as one. They were also listed on a Minnesota fishing report website. Seemed no one had fished them or, if someone did, they'd never heard of the website. More likely, if any fish swam those waters they were caught by savvy old coots who'd been fishing them since they were kids back in the thirties and didn't surf the web. And wouldn't snitch on their honey hole even if they were electronically hip.
     Getting to the chain was another question. The photo told me it would be simple as pie. But like I've said way too many times in the past, those photos don't show the hills and erosion. Plus, the chain sat on a side road off a side road. Been on roads like them in the past and have the scratches down the sides of several vehicles to prove it. Also, no indication of a boat launch, a good thing and no indication a person could actually get on the water. Maybe a brush drag though a thicket of poison ivy, though I doubted that.
     In short, I was pumped. And a little nervous.
     The plan was to hit the road mid-morning and be back by supper time. Figured forty minutes there, the same back and five hours on the water. Good plan. And like most good plans, it flew out the window on the first wrong turn, disappeared over the horizon on the second and was never to be seen again on the third. And that didn't get me any further than the first side road.
     At this point I began a short drive to the far end of the forest. Lucky for me it wasn't but ten miles and forty minutes away. You see, my problem is I have this total faith in a sense of place and direction that doesn't exist beyond my ears. I mean, how is it possible to miss a turn that comes immediately after the third small lake on the left and before the sharp right hand turn?
     All went well for maybe the first quarter mile when I passed a small dried up pot hole that might or might not have been one of the lakes. Sharp right hand turns? 'Bout as many as the sharp lefts. And there was a shit load of them. All this on a road so narrow it's all a city boy like me can do to not come upside a red pine. She was a slow-go over the rocks and mini-gullies. Yeah, I passed at least what might have been three small lakes and probably missed a few more just keepin' it on the road. That's when I decided to take the full tour and get the lay of the land. My hope was I'd be able to figure out where I was on the way back.
     Passed a young guy in an old mini-pickup truck on the way. And a middle aged couple on ATVs. We all smiled and waved. Passed them again on the way back. Same smile and wave except I was a little embarrassed about not knowing where I was the first time. By now the road was making sense. Each time I passed a landmark I'd stop, look at the map and zero in on where I was. Also I'd check the odometer and was able to ball park about when I'd hit my turn. Could've used a GPS but where's the fun in that?
     The turn was right where it was supposed to be. Guess you could say that about most everything in the universe. A simple, slow drive in led me to the lake. And a driveway down to the water. Where sat the last Okie campsite in the U. S. of A. I sure didn't expect that. In fact, the Spanish Inquisition was higher on my list.
     To the right on the lower ground sat an ancient twelve-foot travel trailer. You know, the kind Mickey Mouse would've towed with the pissed off duck riding shotgun. Hitched to it was an early '70s pickup truck with a fair number of rust holes in the lower half. Actually an advantage when it came time to inspect the frame. Over the trailer entrance was a relatively new, by that I mean 21st century, blue tarp as an awning. To the side rose one seriously heavy duty steel tripod from which hung a full sized witches cauldron. A face cord of split wood and a couple of lawn chairs completed the scene.
     Up the hill to the left, a late '80s white Ford Taurus. I considered yelling out a hello but recalled my windshield note of the spring and thought a quiet smile was the way to go. Seemed the occupants were out. Or shy. Or dead. Not a one of which was my concern as I was there to fish. So I went about my business quietly and efficiently. Took no more than five minutes. Then moved my truck uphill and out of the camp. Crossed my fingers it'd still be there when I returned and hit the water.
     The plan was to paddle my ass across the lake and away from the camp as fast as I could. Also to keep my ears tuned to the sound of car jacks and engine hoists. Lucky for me there was a lily pad bed in the bay where I was headed. So I figured, "What the hell, might as well fish seein' as how I've got four rods strung and ready." Yeah, I'm a regular wizard when it comes to seizing the moment.
     And fishing. The idea from the get-go was to go at it like I knew what I was doing, even a master of the trade. Short fly rod in hand working out the line. It was breezy but not too breezy. Enough to give a drift and an occasional, uncontrolled swirl. If I left the canoe alone it would eventually have drifted into firing range of the squatters, that kind of breezy.
     Wind and fly line. That's the problem with the way I'd like to fish. That and sitting down with a short rod in hand trying to keep the line off the water as I false cast. When a zephyr comes huffing in, line on the water has to be dealt with or it can end up as a snarl. So it's reel up time. On a calm day it's no problem. Gusty day, it's cast it out, crank it in. Again and again. That usually lasts about as long as it takes me to pick up the spinning rig.
     That's kind of the situation I found myself in about a half dozen casts into the day. Fly out and a loop around the reel compounded by a high speed drift. So the popper sat out there unattended for maybe five seconds. 'Bout the time I got the canoe under control and the loop out, the fly was gone. I mentally ran through all the ways it could have disappeared till I reached: 7) Fish on the Line. Figuring that was as good a solution as any I set the hook. Turned out to be a bass. A small one but a bass nonetheless.  Then I actually said this out loud, "Could be bass in here." My perception knows no bounds.
     Can't say catching that bass with a fly rod made me feel much like a savvy fisherman. But it did give me a laugh. Like the title, even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then.
     A dozen fruitless casts later reason snapped up its ugly head. So I went sightseeing to the far end of the chain with the idea of fishing my way back. Those three little lakes proved to be a series of lily padded bays connected by two narrow channels. Got me to thinking of global warming and extended drought. An eighteen inch drop in lake level would be devastating. The chain would be cut. One would become three. Not mindless daydreaming either. It's gonna happen. Doubt I'll see it. Mainly 'cause I don't see myself dragging a canoe in here when I'm eighty years old. But for sure my son Allan and grandsons Jakob, Matthew and Luke might. Maybe it'll mean something to them, maybe not.
     The far lake was no more than a dozen acres. But did hold bass and bluegills. The first bass was a fat three pounder that stripped line and got me to say, "Mmm. This baby's got shoulders." Good thing nobody was around to hear drivel like that. Next thing you know I'll be kissin' 'em like Jimmie Houston. Then it'll be time to give up the ghost.
     Caught a couple of smaller ones. Enough to convince myself these lakes would require a return trip or two. Good water indeed. The kind a person would rarely have to share. The tourists would stick to the big waters. The locals with a good sized boat wouldn't come here. Canoe and jon boat country. Closest building was six miles away. Not quite like northwest Manitoba but a lot shorter drive. And my fertile mind could easily imagine this as wilderness.
     At that point I switched rods to the ultralight and slip bobber combo. It would have been more fun with the fly rod but I was looking to catch a couple of dozen bluegills or crappies. Get the lay of the water as to numbers and size. And it didn't take more than fifteen minutes to find out this was seriously hot bluegill water. Pockets of five to six-inchers here, eight and bigger there. Vibrant color and clouds of them. What more could an avid panfish hunter want?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Been on the Water

     Whether I like it or not, sometimes it makes sense to stick to the plan. Three days up north taught me a little and in one aspect left me wondering. I'll start with the wondering part first.
     I'm a day dreamer. Always have been, always will be. And I do it well. For sure reverie has its drawbacks. Though what I go through these days ain't nothin' nothing like being lost in the ozone of the 1960s and '70s. Those had long term effects, or so I've been told. What I'm saying is that the best mental pictures don't necessarily include all the pitfalls. Or any of them for that matter. That's a good thing. You see too many tiger pits in your path and you'll probably head another direction.
     But they also get a person to miss out on a bucket of the joys. It's the unexpected joys that make the stumbling blocks along the way mostly worthwhile. Had I known I was gonna break some ribs back in 2000, me and Al might have changed our plans and missed out on a great trip. Hell, that's really not true at all. We'd have gone regardless. Being an idiot is a joy in itself.
     Sometime ago I'd mentioned that satellite photos aren't perfect. They're really exact maps but aren't three dimensional. And don't show exactly how eroded the two tracks are. That's more or less how day dreams are. It's gonna be this way and it more or less is. But something might be missed along the way.
     So the plan on the third day was to revisit the lake that'd provided the big pike last Spring. The idea being that the pike we'd caught had to eat something. Perch, sunnies or crappies. To find out I only loaded panfish gear, slip bobber rig and a panfish sized fly rod. Had I brought a pike or bass rod the temptation would have been too great. The idea of catching big fish is a powerful temptation. And I am weak.
     Waking up on Thursday morning I wasn't sure which way the day would take me. For sure fishing was on the agenda. But exactly where hadn't been filled in as yet. After breakfast I did the usual, which means at least an hour's worth of aerobic exercise. The gravel roads were dry so the bike came out, chain lubed and tire pressure brought up. Ten miles of rolling hills took me by six small lakes. It's a fine ride. Scenic and strenuous enough for a sixty-five year old like me. Not a puff of wind on the water. Just like the photos on the calendars. Yard wide white pines are shoulder side my route in a half dozen places. They never tire. And drag me along from site to site.
     Back at the cabin, over coffee and oatmeal-raisin cookies, I debated smallmouth bass and panfish. Guilt and the plan won out and that's how I found myself back in the state forest puttering along over sand and rock. The rock, she's gettin' serious on the two tracks. Walking pace on all the hills. Nary a sidelong glance is allowed. Found myself alone at the end of the drive and beginning of the portage.
      That's where it dawned on me my reverie had missed a point. The last time on the hike into the lake there were four of us. Two to each canoe and the carry could be done on one trip over. Not so this time. Oops. One trip over with the gear. One trip back. And one over with the canoe. Mile and a half. Each way. No big deal I guess but my spring chicken days have turned into late fall stumble alongs. Yeah, she went smoothly enough but I knew the piper would come in the morning to collect his dues.
     Then there was the beyond the civilized web factor. I didn't have a cell phone with me. Mea culpa. Wouldn't have mattered a lot anyway as I was too far from any relay towers to order a pizza should the mood strike me. Up 'til a couple of months ago I didn't one of those intrusive buggers. Didn't want one. But it's been decided by the powers that be that I've reached the point where a cell phone would help the authorities find my cold, dead body. Or at least the parts of it not yet eaten by the coyotes and crows.
     Got to admit that not having it with me made me feel more alone. And not in the good way it usually does. But there was water up ahead and the feeling was forgotten in less than ten paces.
     This is ATV country. The thought struck me both times I'd been here that it would be possible to tow a small boat in behind one of the little four wheelers. From what I've seen that idea hasn't struck anyone else.
     The grass track leaving the trail showed I wasn't the only one up the trail since last June. That was fine with me. Not having to wade through waist deep grass is on my list of happy things. Even though tick season is mostly over, deer tick season doesn't end 'till snow covers the ground. Heavy grass provides cover for them. A toppled big tooth aspen blocked the path mid-way. Bye-bye ATVs.
     So, did I find any panfish? Obviously the answer should have been yes. But it wasn't. I threw poppers and dry flies. Jig and bobber with power tubes and tiny plastic, yummy, number one, lucky maggots. How could they resist? Well, they could if they weren't there. Nearly two hours on the water with not a bite or nibble. Constantly scanning the calm surface for any sign of feeding. All I saw was an army of water bugs. They were everywhere as I paddled the entire shoreline, working it shallow and deep.
     Was I disappointed? No. Didn't even consider myself as having been skunked. If they're there and you don't catch 'em, then your skunked. If they ain't there, well, guess you can say you were merely fact gathering. Which I was. And I had a good time, a really good time. And a stiff neck and sore shoulder from the portage yoke. Homemade of course and stiff as a board. That's both a joke and the truth.