Sunday, December 30, 2012

Oops - part 2

     Back in '94 we had a 3/4 ton, full-sized van. A road barge that rode the bumps like it was floating in slow motion through jello. As a camping vehicle it was great. Both me and Allan could sleep inside and have room left over for all our gear and a face cord of oak if we'd wanted.
     On the trip in question there were six of us. Five related by blood and an in-law. Full load of gear and my wood trailer behind. Three canoes, one on the van, two on the trailer. Near to five tons rolling up I-35 to Duluth, then Highway 61 up the scenic North Shore. That drive alone is always worth the price of admission.
     The trailer was a homemade wonder. Not made by me but by a local man in Pine River. He'd make a new one each year to haul his fire wood. Then stick a sign on it in his front yard where it'd be snatched up by passers by. Like me.
     The frame was of scrounge, heavy duty scrap metal welded to one ton Ford truck suspension. All-in-all a masterpiece of recycling. Paneled of plywood and painted pink 'cause that's what he had. Pink was probably the reason it was still sitting there when I passed by for the third time that weekend. But the trailer could haul something over a half cord of green oak. That's solidly over a ton and macho enough to offset its color. Not that pink bothered me a whole lot.
     Hauled a lot of firewood and lumber over the years. Wore out tires but never the basic structure. At the moment it's still in the yard and visible from space, yes it is visible from space, even though it's now a less flamboyant grey-blue.
     Regardless of load she pulled like a part of the van. I had to occasionally look in the rear view mirror to see if it was still there. Sometimes the trailer would send me up a message that something was amiss. Like the time I was passed by one of its wheels. That'll catch your attention for sure. The trailer felt the same even though it was rolling on the drum. Seemed I'd had a blowout and the wheel ripped right through the lug bolts.
     That was close to twenty years ago but remains an example of life up north. Sixty bucks got the trailer hauled nine miles to the garage still half filled. Also bought a wheel, new lugs and a tire good enough to get the trailer home.
     Anyhow, the plan was to camp on a trout lake. I knew of one that had three fine primitive sites. Yeah, she was full up. Plan B was a second trout lake. The site was beautiful. Like something out of Field and Stream as my brother put it. Of course that was also full. Lucky for me we had backups C, D, E and F. Though F was a pure scramble.
     It was C that was the fun part. I has this Superior National Forest map and on the map it showed a primitive, remote campsite on the far shore of a lake called Devilfish. It was choice C 'cause the DNR said Devilfish was a walleyes only lake. I'm not a walleye man. Most fisherman in Minnesota would call it a sacrilege that a lake be disparaged 'cause it only had walleyes in it. It is the state fish after all. But we were after smallies or if worse came to worse, a pike now and then. Walleyes are for killing and eating and we already had a couple of coolers filled with steaks and whatnot.
     But Devilfish looked pretty on paper and was close to where we wanted to be. So it was choice C.
     There were two ways for us to make it to the site, car or canoe. Canoe was out due to our half ton of gear. So it was car. Or in this case, van. And over a marginal two track forestry road. In a vehicle designed to cruise the highways. And pulling a wood trailer. But I wasn't thinking much beyond a place to sleep far from the madding crowd and maybe a line in the water yet that evening even if the only fishes were walleyes.
     Almost forgot. There was a campsite shown on the map right at the boat access. Yup, it was taken. So we set off down the two track. Not a bad one as it turned out. Unless you consider it being the day the frost was coming out of the ground or a ground water seepage that was flowing unseen under the road surface at the bottom of a hill in which I managed to mire the van up to the hubs a problem. It all seemed so familiar. If he was still around, Greg woulda taken it in stride. Or at least not whined about it as much as me.
      'Course whining was out of the question on that day as a I had to keep up a manly appearance. A "Shit fire boys, I been in lots worse places. There was this time in The Nam...." kinda face.
     That's the one good thing about having screwed up many times over the course of a life's passage, you realize that this ain't the end of the world and that you'll figure a way out. Having no choice is a fine incentive.
     The time me and Greg had floated his little truck in what grew to become a pond the more we worked at it, there was just the two of us. Nowhere near enough manpower. This time the story was different. Six men can move a lot of weight. Almost as good as a two ton come-along.
     First of all there was the trailer. The hill behind us wasn't but twenty feet high as the frog jumps. Piece of cake, so there we parked it.
     The van was another story. What with the disintegrating ground and one wheel drive, even with five men pushing as I gunned the engine, she moved with a mind of her own. And that mind tended toward the two track's south side. Didn't matter what was tried. She'd get up a head of steam and drift straight toward this thigh thick birch tree. Finally only one choice remained and I did have an ax with me.
     Now, as far as I know, it's completely illegal to chop down any tree on state property without written permission. Seeing as how it was better than thirty miles to the nearest state office, and each of those miles was a walking mile, I wrote us a mental dispensation. We each took a few whacks to spread out the blame in typical execution form. Then carried the cadaver deep into the woods to hide it. You know, a lot like Lewis and Bobby and Drew and Ed did in Deliverance. I apologized to the tree for having stupidly taken its life - yeah, I occasionally do those kind of things.
     Once removed, extrication of the van was no problem, the trailer reattached and we were off to plan D. Which turned out to be unoccupied but not up to my standards. How stupid can a man be? But I figured when you're twenty miles off pavement in a countryside of hill, bluff and pine forest, there's still no reason to camp on what appeared to be a crumbling concrete parking lot left over from the CCC days back in the '30s.
     Outside of that and being quite a ways from any fishable lakeshore, it was an intriguing location. Fifty yards distant across the gravel road a small river rushed its way through a bolted steel culvert that appeared a leftover from a time of industrial might. Probably another Civil Conservation Corps product. Quarter inch or thicker steel, it'd been there for fifty-five years and looked to have another century left in it. Those boys built with style and a sense of the future.
      I sometimes think back on that spot and the stream lullaby it would have afforded us and regret not having spent our few days there. But plan E, that being Judge C. R. Magney State Park on the Brule River, wasn't more than a half hour away and we had a lot of daylight left. It was and is a splendid park. Me and Al had camped there two years before and had the whole place to ourselves. A lock for sure.
     Who'd have thought an entire state park could be closed for repairs? But Magney sure was and I was down to straw grasping as what to do next.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oops - and that's a big time oops (part 1)

     Just went over all the entries and realized I'd skipped over a dozen or more trips to the Boundary Waters, most of them with Al. Not a good sign. At the moment I've got what we used to call a head cold. Seeing as how my memory ain't what it used to be, I better not be throwing away my tissues after blowing my nose. Might be some important grey matter in with the mucus.
     My best guess is that I did cover a few of them. But definitely not the one with biggest potential to embarrass my brother and his son-in-law. So I won't mention Bill and Rob's names in this entry. We all make mistakes. So long as nothing happens to ruin our futures they're no big deal. I'll leave it at that.
     How and why we found ourselves in the position we found ourselves needs a brief couple of trip intro.
     Blame it on my old buddy Rod and his need to do a post graduation trip to the Arrowhead region of Minnesota back in '66. And frost it with his last minute decision to head into East Pike Lake. Gotta blame him 'cause I didn't know squat about the area. If the smallmouth fishing hadn't been great none of what followed in the northwoods would have come about.
     I needed a summer job in '66 and ended up in a canoe with my son five hundred miles north of the border thirty-five years. It's like Marilyn Monroe said about men liking her slightly oversized bottom, "Go figure." 
     In '92 I returned to East Pike with my son Allan. The bass were still there on our one trip in just like they'd been waiting. We slept outside the Boundary Waters in a leaky old umbrella tent listening to the thunder come rumbling down the hills like distant artillery. Good trip that pumped us up for a second one the following year.
     This time we were more prepared. Real tent and lots of marginally edible freeze dried food. Set our sights for a return to East Pike with visions of sinking the canoe with all the bass we'd haul in. Instead it was a lesson in timing. Black flies. Clouds of 'em. Mosquitoes. Hard to breath without sucking in a few. And the bass were on their spawning beds. Sex trumps eating. We caught little and lived covered head to foot. Ate out on the water. Our four day trip turned into an overnighter.
     Anyone with sense would've questioned a third trip. Not us. In fact we invited others to share the joy. I knew that the fishing inside the Boundary Waters was better than outside. At least I think I did. But scrounging up all the necessary gear for a party of six was beyond me. Three canoes? No problem. But we'd have to rent most of the camping gear and I hate to spend other peoples money. So we camped outside the borders with what we had.
     Finding a campsite was a story in itself. And I'm just the person to share the fiasco.

Monday, December 24, 2012


     Received a gift today. And sure didn't expect it. Bonnie stopped by on her way home from work. No exactly on her way as we're an added ten miles of traffic laden road. Maybe the tree I'd promised her had something to do with it but forty years of close friendship would be closer to the truth. Her gifts for us were on the money.
     I'd last read Walden as a requirement for an English class back in my out-of -the-Army-and-now-a-pissed-off-protest-cat-in-college-pursuing-a-degree-that-had-no-economic-future days. Of course I enjoyed the book. Fit like a glove. Read it a couple of times then put it on the shelf. Since then it'd disappeared. Probably donated.
     I was twenty-four at the time of reading. Thoreau was a sage, older dude who had much to say to someone such as me (coulda called me an I but me sounds better). It did strike me he was a little pissed off and skeptical of his neighbors. Kind of an I'm smarter than you attitude. That appealed to me back then.
     But I'm now on the edge of my sixty-sixth birthday and am way older than Henry David was when he sat on his door stoop beside the pond. Old enough to say to him, "Don't go running around half cocked young man. Don't be so quick to judge. That farmer with the farm on his back may not find it a burden at all."
     I may be pre-judging the man in an after the fact way here. Guess I'm gonna have to read the story again. No doubt I'll still find a lot of truth in the book. After all, I do love heading into the woods all by myself. Warming myself on those chilly Minnesota nights with wood I've taken from tree to wood stove. Simple is indeed better. But I've cheated. Bought my present simple with forty years of work. Can't say that if I had it to do over I'd do it any other way.

     Months have passed.  The book was opened.  A few pages read.  Couldn't handle it.  Don't know if' the century and three-quarters between us, our age, or his advice just doesn't mean a thing to me anymore.  When you're young, you're looking for heaven on earth and searching for it somewhere out there.  A half dozen decades under your belt makes you realize you've had it all along.  Sounds good, eh?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Never Too Old - at least not yet

     I called the trips to Canada Learning Curve. Probably a better title than what followed. But it is a good title for life in general. At least that's what came to mind over and again while I was making the little trees. In general I got better from one to the next. Try this, try that. Some stuff works, some doesn't. Haven't actually got one to come out as I'd like. Probably never will 'cause I'm not exactly sure what perfect is and what it is I'm looking for.
     I cut them out on the band saw, sand 'em, wet 'em to pop the grain, re-sand, varnish, re-sand, varnish, re-sand and varnish. Something around six hours per tree including the work to get the stock out of the log. Then I give them away. Maybe I'll keep a few to remind myself that I haven't as yet tired of pointlessness.
     My job was a lot like that except I was paid. And I bitched a lot about being a wage slave. There's something weird about that. Can't put my finger on what the difference is. Attitude I suppose.
     I've been told I could sell the trees but I don't think so. They're pretty neat looking but if I was to pay myself what I was making as an hourly at FedEx and add in the time to sell and ship, they'd have to be priced so high there'd be no market. Besides, it's more fun to give them away.
     By the way, with their pointy tops they'd make excellent weapons against intruders. And scarier than hell.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dead Brain II

     The man was fastidious and organized. His lures all in original boxes. Same for one of the reels, a South Bend model 55 with no visible wear. How many of them are still around? Yet its current value is less than its original price tag. The fact that it sucked as a casting reel might have something to with it. Story of life, the one's worth collecting today were too expensive for a normal man with a family.
     The braided dacron wound on its spool tells another story. The line's rope-like diameter coupled with the reel's zero ball bearings says this was a rig for throwing immense plugs about as far as a one lipped man could spit. Yet John caught his share of walleyes and bass. Extra silky, incredibly strong, nearly invisible Power Pro be damned.
     Of course there were never ending birds nests to deal with. Patience and cigarettes made unraveling them a part of the experience. Can't say I've ever seen Al Lindner or Roland Martin dedicate a show to the joys of being in the boonies with a single rod and working out a Gordian Knot, loop by loop. References to the reel's parentage and the heavens above coming from those gentlemen's mouths would be worth ten minutes of product plugging. I never went fishing with my father-in-law but know for a fact he spent his time in the front of the boat gaining maturity one knot at a time.
     Yup, there's an original Heddon River-Runt in one box. Actually two of them. A red and white and a black and white. Classic. Caught my first smallmouth bass on a larger version of the same lures. Mine had belonged to my brother. He was drafted back in '53. Left his tackle box in mom's basement and never came back for it. So it ended up as mine. I used most of the lures to death. Where the box and remaining plugs disappeared is beyond my memory.
     A lot of the neat junk of a person's life, stuff that was once so ordinary, saw it most every day kind of stuff, sooner or later it just goes away. Maybe thrown out, misplaced, left behind. Who remembers? Then it shows up in dreams. Symbols of a lost past. What do they mean, beyond some things once were and now they ain't any more. Guess that sums up life in a nutshell (or at least in a confusing sentence). Maybe too small a nutshell. Can't forget oatmeal raisin cookies, good coffee and a lot of time with nothing special to do.
     There's a red and white Heddon Flaptail Jr. Can't say I'm familiar with that one. Lordy, lordy, John's frog colored Lazy Ike is made out of wood. Probably a collector's item and worth at least two bucks.
     There's this three piece, aluminum gaff. Got a hook on the end of it suited for forty pound muskies or hanging off the end of a pirate in Never-Never land. A bit of over kill seeing as how John said he was a bass fisherman. He never talked much about it except to say the guy he used to fish with wasn't in it for the sport. Come evening he'd head out on the river and set out a baited trot line. Then head back in to see if the whiskey was still holding out. John never ran on about the one that got away, the big one's he caught, good days or bad days. All that's left is my memory of the trot line and the box in front of me.
     Red and white bobbers. The round, clamp on kind. Wouldn't be a real metal tackle box without them. Thirty years back, in a pinch I tied on a pine cone. I'd like to say it worked just fine but honestly don't remember. That's a problem I have with story telling these days. No jalapenos left between my ears. No fiery, red orb as the sun goes down. The sun simply sets. Blip. You've seen a few and know what one looks like. So it's just two red and white bobbers. Just like the ones I used as a kid trying to find sunnies and crappies but settling for bullheads instead. Oh yeah, now I remember, the pine cone did float and looked natural as all get out. Just like a pine cone. Kind of surprising a squirrel didn't swim out to shuck it and eat the seeds.
     There's a few other lures. A couple by Shakespeare. Not much quality there. A couple of knock-off flat fish. And the most interesting, a tubular aluminum sidewinder.
      All in all, just a box owned by a man who's been dead for sixteen years. But he was alive and carted the box, threw the lures and caught a few fish. Story of life. No matter how long it lasts it sure doesn't last a long time. Like fishing trips. You look forward to them, go on them and then look back on what once was. Looking back is the hard part. But I do. Then get lost in the reverie of if I had it to do over again I'd....