Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Chair

     Bought it at Ikea.  Had it for a few years before I was informed the red cushion didn't go with anything in the house.  Huh?  Went with my back and butt just fine.  Could be I don't have any sense of design or color.  Left on my own my look for the day seeks not being naked.  Any coordination of style or color is pure coincidence.  In cold weather I wear more.  Still wear my socks inside out 'cause they're more comfy that way.  During the first two weeks in November when I'm in the woods I go with; 'don't shoot me 'cause I'm old, tough and stringy but would no doubt make into some seriously fine sausage' blaze orange.  Made it through Vietnam without being seriously wounded and would like to keep it that way.
     Anyhow, the chair found it's way into the cabin where I can use it to my heart's content.  That's the way it is with cabins.  At least the cabins that're actually cabins, not four thousand square foot mini-mansions decorated to the teeth with what's called the cabin look.  i.e. Brand new and made by someone else.  Our's and a whole lot of cabins like it is decorated by homemade and too good to throw out kinda stuff.  Oh yeah, and the too ugly like my chair.
     Take one look at the thin cushion and you know immediately how I fit it.  Guess I've made an impression.  It sits near the pond side wall, angled toward the Franklin stove and alongside the square table I made from leftover construction wood.  Redwood, pine and fir.  On the table sits the radio I keep tuned to MPR, the local public station.  When sitting and reading I drift in and out of the classical music.  Some's great, some good and the rest tolerated.
     In the chair I read.  I hope my choices tell me a good story and tell it well.  Make me stop and think.  That's all I ask.  Usually I have two or three books going at a time.  Both fiction and non.  Hmm, which one should I grab from the stack?
     Should I have company, like the boys from Iowa, and one of them sits in my chair, I never say a word.  Let him sit.  I do think a few words and those border on the unkind.  But should the innocent offender arise and move off, they'll find me perched in my happy spot when they return.
     In this chair I think my thoughts or maybe explore my tri-fold map of the North Country Trail sitting on the stereo speaker over my right shoulder ( one corner's missing.  I used it to pick my teeth).  Didn't walk a foot of it this year though my intentions were good.  As written in the previous entry there's never enough time.  More accurately, never enough alone time.  Guess that's the tradeoff of a full life.  Or at least my version of a full life.  I hike when I can.  Figure that at three days in a good year.
     At thirty to forty days of use a year I figure the chair'll outlive me.  Don't know what'll happen to it after I'm gone and don't much care.  Nothing personal chair.  That's just the way it is.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Never Enough Time

     The three days with Allan and Matthew were good.  Better than two.  But it wasn't enough.  Endless is enough.  It's like we're all in this really interesting story and no matter how long we live we'll never see how it turns out.  Maybe I can head over to the time bank and borrow a few decades.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

You Do What You Gotta Do

     Plan A was me going to the cabin for three days.  Lois is in the good days between chemo treatments and was as much in need of alone time as I.  Then Lois came up with the idea we went with.  Worked well for everyone involved.  I got my time up north, as did my son Allan and his son, Matthew.
     The change took a few minutes of adjustment.  I've always enjoyed time by myself and am well into the years when men become more reclusive.  So I guess having company was good.  And since that company was my son and grandson, even better.
     I think my trepidation came from thoughts of dealing with a five year old armed with a loaded fishing pole sitting right there, in the seat I'd made just for him, a coupla feet in front of my tender flesh.  'Bout as risky as sending a marginally trained, city kid overseas to do battle with the red menace.  Time for Grandpa to take charge.
     When you don't know what you're doing fishing can be a frustrating affair.  Cast straight up, lure straight down, bird's nesting line, lure in the bushes and never a fish on the line.  Throw in the nanosecond attention span of a five year old and two hours in a canoe might seem as exciting as a presidential campaign speech to someone who has a low tolerance for bombast, exaggeration and BS in general.  My plan was for Matthew to have a good time.  Maybe if he did he might return the favor someday when I'm a doddering, old codger.  Maybe lube the wheels on my walker.
     Matt has a fishing rod.  These days most every kid in the state of Minnesota has one.  His is red as opposed to the ever-popular yellow ones.  And it looks exactly like you figure a five year old's'd look.  Just like the one in the picture in Field and Stream captioned "My Toddler Caught a Forty Pound Musky With a Two Buck Snoopy Rod."  Like I said, it was red.  Also said Shakespeare on the handle.  Whether the playwright or the fishing rod company, I'm not sure.  And Matthew thought it was wonderful.  And Grandpa thought it a sure-fire source of misery.   Definitely a situation that called for strategy and tact.  That meant packing the rod in the truck just like he wanted.  And leaving it in the truck when we got to the lake just like Grandpa wanted.  And being smart enough to keep my mouth shut.
     Said it matter of factly so it sounded like a given that Matt would sit facing me.  No need to question, that's just the way it is.  I'd do the casting.  He'd do the fishing and catching.  Yup, I wanted him to catch a few, maybe a bucketful.  Matt was fine with that.  His Dad was up front doing what he does best, throw spinners and catch fish.  Problem was the catching part.  I'd never fished in November and figured the fish, be they sunnies, bass or pike would be deep.  Not easy for me to fish deep.  I'm a shoreline structure and cover fisherman.  Points, bays, weeds, rocks and wood in the water, all of them look fishy to me.  Out in the middle, water every which way, nary a lily pad to be seen, uh-uh, paddle on, ain't nothin' there.
     We were on proven water.  And had it to ourselves.  Silver Lake hadn't failed in a couple of years.  Thick with panfish, bass and a few big pike.  Deep gray clouds above, mist in the air, a small ripple disturbing the surface.  Couldn't see the far shore of the hundred acre lake.  Sure looked like a good day to catch some fish.  We had our rain and life jackets on.  Matt's life jacket was new and as red as his rod sitting back in the truck.
     We headed straight for the first of the two islands, the half acre sized one with the nice campsite in the middle surrounded by a big stand of tall red pines.  Started on the north side by the beaver lodge where Allan had begun the best hour of bass fishing of our lives.  Of course that was fifteen years earlier and today we found the bass had moved on.  Not surprising.  A fisherman never forgets the honey holes and also learns over the years they move around.  The honey hole is usually there, the challenge is finding it.  That's one of the reasons I fish small lakes.  If they're not here, maybe they're over on the other side of the island or on the far shore a five minute paddle away.  So that's what we did.  Not a bump, hit or ripple on the way.
     Along the south shore we found our first clue.  Don't recall which of us had to answer the call of nature.  Once ashore we all emptied and explored.  Lots to see along a wilderness beach.  Deer tracks in the sand, glacier dropped rocks to fling and skip, even a pile of scat bound together with hair.  Big enough to be from a wolf or coyote.  Been there for a while from the looks of it.  These days wolves have spread throughout the northern half of Minnesota.  Coyotes, well, they're pretty much everywhere.   Like squirrels that can't climb trees.
     But it was on our approach that we saw our first fish, sunnies in water so shallow they scattered on their sides like flounders.  Not a lot of them but if the sunnies were shallow so would the bass.  Probably.
     In the spring we'd found a mix of slab-sized bluegills and bass along the sand-bottomed, shallow east shore.  Back out on the water we headed that way with no more luck than we'd had the first hour.  Not much of a fishing story to this point.  Changed in a heartbeat.  Thirty yards short of the last point Al spotted a roiling on the surface in no more than two feet of water.  We both knew what that meant.  Be they baitfish or gamefish there was a lot of chowing down goin' on within casting distance.
     To this point I'd done the casting and Matthew had worked the retrieving bobber.  I'd coached him on how to make a piece of scented plastic look like it was alive and why we did it.  He was doing fine for a five year old.  But now that we were on fish that became a problem.  He'd know what a sinking bobber meant but setting the hook would prove a problem.  Been there before with other youngsters and knew unless we were onto suicidal, self-impaling fish Matt wasn't going to catch anything.  I changed my tactics and did the casting and hook setting, then passed the rod over so he could get the feel of life on the line.
     His first was a keeper-sized crappie.  I say keeper-sized 'cause it was big enough and Matthew sure wanted to keep it.  Don't know if he realized keeping meant killing.  And on a small gem of a lake like this one we'd always thrown 'em back.  Took a bit of explaining.  Don't know if he liked throwing the crappie back but he did accept it.  Life lesson I guess.  Can't always be happy about the reality of a situation but you can accept it and move on.
     For the next half hour we spent more time catching than casting.  Al threw spinners, caught a few bass and impaled a nice bluegill.  Matt reeled in a baker's dozen of sunnies and bass to go with his crappie.  Finally, near the access, on his next to last cast, Al tied into the bass he'd been looking for.  Not huge for this lake but a fat, fall-bellied nineteen incher we measured on my paddle blade.  Back when I was a kid we considered anything over four pounds a trophy so I guess that's what Allan's bass was.  Nice fish.
     Had it been just me and Al we'd have been out there till near sunset.  But on the seat between us sat the game changer.  Matt had had a good time.  That was what we were there for.  It was time to land, load and head back to the cabin.  Life changes.  A new generation arrives and it needs grooming.  These days fishing's not a life or death thing.  We fish for the joy of it and also the connection to nature being on the water gives us.  The three of us had done that.  What more could we want?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Off to the Northland

     A guys trip.  Three generations, me, Allan and his son Matthew.  Never been on the water with fish in mind in the month of November.  The weather's supposed to be decent so long as the wind keeps its pants on.  Matt's only five and has yet to catch a fish.  Maybe we can change that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Boy's Gotta Backside

     Doubt very much we'll make it on the water next week but who knows?  I sure don't but'd bet we will.  Just like Goldilock's bears, there'll be three of us.  We'll be paddling in the Wenonah and she's a two seater.  No matter how I do the math, one of our butts will have to sit on the floor (That means you Matt.  Sorry, there's a pecking order in canoe travel and you're not high on the list).  No fun at all.  Gave a moment's thought and figured to solve the problem with a store bought drop in seat.  Simple, easy to use and might be useful in the future.  Three grandsons and a granddaughter all too young too paddle but probably willing to cruise a backwoods lake.  But, geez eh, it'd be plastic and metal.  No esthetics.  Didn't take but a moment or two more to mentally to conjure up the paddle scraps sitting on my workbench and realize the seat was already sitting there waiting to be trimmed up and assembled.  At the moment the bench is glued up and clamped.  Aspen, ash and aromatic cedar.  One-of-a-kind.  Homemade.  Folk art.  Useable and will only cost me my time.  Gotta love that.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Winter and the Perfect Trip (thinkin' it over)

     E-mailed my nephew Brian the other day about the possibility of another Boundary Waters trip next spring.  He was up for one.  That was a relief.  I've reached an age when most men are becoming a liability when heading into the boonies.  Each year I live with the fear no one'll want to take a chance on having to drag my infirm body over a portage or two.  Don't know if Brian is benevolent or just plain stupid but if he says he's going and I'm still upright come spring then I guess we're going.
     The questions are, which entry point, how far in and what are the fishing chances?  The Minnesota DNR posts a website that lists what their most recent nettings have produced.  Nothing's foolproof as to what the expectations are but the nettings are close and have become my fishing bible.  In my disillusioned middle years I believed the farther a body had to paddle and portage, the better the fishing.  Not so.  The truth of the matter concerning Boundary Waters lakes is simple, they're not fertile.  And tend to be deep.  If you want lake trout and don't want to leave the country, they're the lakes for you.  Should you be in the market for several species and fair numbers of them, the choices pare down dramatically.  Brian wouldn't mind a good chance at few walleyes and, like me, some hot smallmouth bass fishing.  Probably wouldn't mind a large pike.  That narrows it down quite a bit.  Both of us prefer heading inland out of Grand Marais along the big lake, wouldn't mind a portage or two and that narrows it down even more.  My latest count has it at zero.  Time to compromise.
     If it's walleyes there's a fine lake one portage in from East Bearskin Lake about twenty miles up the Gunflint Trail.  Yup, it's got walleyes alright.  And some jumbo perch.  That's it.  Crocodile's not big.  Maybe two hundred fifty acres with four campsites.  And it's not an unknown.  Was even mentioned in the Star Tribune as a walleye hot spot.  It's a temptation but not much of one for our single shot next year.
     'Spose we could head up to the end of the Gunflint Trail and work the big waters of Lake Saganaga.  It's big water but the south shore is island filled.  Lots of cover should the wind come up.  As for fish, it's got 'em all from lake trout to bluegills.  Was it a canoe only lake I'd give Saganaga a shot but it's not.  But…but it does hold the state walleye record.  Something to think about and mostly ignore.
     Then there's Pine Lake.  Two thousand, narrow acres of sheer hell in a west wind.  However it has good numbers of walleyes and smallmouth bass.  Throw in a few big pike and its world famous invisible lake trout and you've got yourself good fishing water.  Pine used to be pretty good for lake trout but the DNR hasn't netted one in over a decade.  I figure they must still be there only you can't see or feel them.  Talk about elusive.
     Yeah there's a drawback, no portage.  Hard to be manly when all you have to do is paddle.  Might have to pray for a serious headwind and three footers to battle through,  "Yarrr, she was a bear alright.  Fourteen hours to move a half mile.  But worth it.  Caught us a stringer of amorphous lakers."
     Should we feel the need to portage there's three trout lakes off the south shore.  The portages aren't long but they're steep.  Did two of the carries back in the '90s.  One began in a swamp and then climbed a hundred foot rise.  The other grew gradually steeper from the shore of Pine to the trout lake.  The last few rods were like climbing a staircase.  Didn't catch any trout but both days were bluebird sunny.  Anyhow, that's my excuse.  So, at the moment, I'm leaning toward Pine.
     Between now and then there's winter.  Not much to say about that.  On the upside it looks like I'm heading cabinward next week with my son and one of his boys.  Should the weather allow we'll do some November fishing.  Never done that before.  If not we'll do a couple of miles on the North Country Trail or maybe just hang around the cabin.  Why not?  It's a good place to be.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Some People Never Learn (like me?)

     A front passed through yesterday.  Dropping temperatures, occasional showers and strong, gusty winds.  Twenty-five to thirty mile per hour winds with gusts up to forty-five.  Nasty weather.  Truth is the rains weren't all that bad.  A minute per sprinkle and not much more than powdered water blasted apart by the wind.
     A smart man would've kept his hands busy with indoor work.  Not me.  The afternoon before, I'd loaded the canoe on the truck.  Seemed a waste to take it off without using it so I headed off to my son's house.  Didn't intend to actually head out on the water but then again, you never know.  Crossing the Mendota bridge the canoe bobbed around a bit.  Never done that in the thousands of miles since I'd come up with what seemed a sure fire racking system.
     A few days earlier when the forecast was much more friendly I'd kind of promised my two grandson's a canoe ride.  Done my share of disappointing in life but never liked it.  When I pulled up in front of their house it was with the idea that I did have the canoe but no real intentions of actually using it.  A man'd have to be crazy to put the lives of a five and three year old in jeopardy.  Parents don't take well the loss of a child.  Wouldn't matter much if the cause was the child's grandpa.  Might even make it worse.  Doubted that would happen but, believe me, it was on my mind.
     Inside we read putzed around and read part of a story.  I get a lot of pleasure out of reading to my grandchildren.  They also seem to enjoy it.  It was by Richard Scarry and about what people, even people who are actually cats, dogs, rabbits and mice, do with their days.  A book about workin'.  Finally, after explaining to Matthew and Luke it was too dangerous to canoe in the strong winds, we decided to hike down to the park where sat the lake.  Once outside it didn't seem all that bad.  No rain, no trees being blown down.  It seemed a waste that all four of us were there and so was the canoe and the lake wasn't more than three driving minutes away and we could always drive down there and not canoe if the weather seemed too dangerous.  So that's what we did.  Just in case my son Allan strapped his boys into their life jackets.
     Once in the park there was no doubt what we were going to do.  Off came the canoe.  In went the life jackets and paddles.  I could say our portage was about a block and a half but that doesn't sound outdoorsy.  Call it sixty rods.  Al at one end, me at the other, the boys trotting alongside.  Blackhawk's a little short of acres, forty-five tops.  But it's good fishing water, bass, pike and panfish, some of decent size.  Fished the water once and look forward to more trips.  I'd thrown the gear in the truck just in case but left it where it sat.  We were there for the boys, not the fish.  The lake said that was a good idea.
     Though Blackhawk's small, it sits in a deep valley that was doing a fine job of funneling the winds.  Our launch sat at the receiving end.  Line after line stormed down on us like the Mongol Horde.  One of them gave the Wenonah a lift and slide.  Braced it with my leg while the boys made use of the woods.
     Matt and Luke are smart for their ages but I figured it wouldn't hurt to lay down the law about standing up in the boat.  Sit on the floor, keep low and you'll stay dry.  And they did.  A putzing twenty minute tour of half the lake.  Al and the boys kept up a running conversation on what they saw.  Duckweed, stone stairways, weeping willows and a swimming pool carved into a hillside.  Wasn't much of a paddle but we were outside doing something no one in their right mind would be doing.  Fun on a miserable day.  Maybe the boys'll carry this day with them.  Probably not but I sure will.

Friday, October 9, 2015


     Ten years ago I made a rustic mantel for my daughter and son-in-law.  They wanted one for their fireplace and I had the trees.  Don't like felling needlessly but I had a pair of birches that were on their last legs.  Dying from the top down as birches commonly do.  I could've let nature run its course.  Couple of years and the one on the left would be turning to soil.  Wasn't a big tree but was big enough to chainsaw out a four inch thick, six foot by one foot slab.  Over the years, what was left of the log was carved into two by two and bigger sticks and slid up into the garage rafters.  That's where they sat till this morning.
     Over the years most of them had taken a set but each had at least one straight edge so I was in business.  At least till the second pass on the table saw.  That required a bit of eyeballing and planing of the set edge to bring it to near straight.  Most every stick in the paddles was re-sawed a little on the heavy side with the idea bigger can be made smaller to take out some of the imperfections.  Once the sticks were squared up I cut 'en to length and glued 'em on the handle end of the paddle loom.  Lotta glue.  Glue is good 'specially if it's good glue.  Start to finish seven paddles sucked up a pint of Titebond III.  Hope they don't fall apart.
     So, what's the big deal about birch handles?  Could be I knew the tree while it was still standing and mine are the only hands that've touched the wood.  Maybe it's, as usual, the idea popped out of nowhere, wherever that nowhere might be, as I stood in the garage.  That I looked at the sticks and formed the handles in my mind before I picked one up.  Truth is, wood's wood no matter where it comes from.  'Spose you could say it's simply another one of those 'in your head' things that mean nothing to anyone but me.  And those birch sticks saved me a trip to the lumber yard.

Monday, October 5, 2015

I Need More Canoes

     Seems I've got seven paddles in the works.  Not sure how that happened.  Guess idle hands are the devil's workshop.  Throw in a vacant brain and you've got yourself a dangerous combination.  Like my writing I'm squeezing the paddle work into my spare hours.  Never spend more than an hour or two a day.
     Carving paddles is a cheap, if pointless, hobby.  Wood, glue, and varnish totals about fifteen bucks a blade.  Some of the wood comes from the garage rafters.  A few sticks came from my friend's workshop pile.  Greg's gone but his wood lives on.  Each time I prep a piece of walnut for an accent board I think of him.  Probably'll do the same each time I dip a paddle up north.  The ash that's gone in a few also came my way through Greg's work.  He felled the trees and hauled the logs to the sawmill.  Once dry I used his planer to surface the boards.  In the house and cabin they're found here and there.  Mantels, floors, walls, furniture, cabinets, shelves and picture frames.  Twenty-two hundred board feet of lumber goes a long way.
     A second accent wood, aromatic cedar, came from a plank I bought down in Alabama.  Planed, sanded and varnished, the cedar is a brilliance of red.  The remainder of the material is store bought.  Gives me a guilty feeling 'cause none of the wood bears my sweat from the gathering.  But, sure enough, it's still wood and looks as good as the rest.
     My machines manage to do the job so long as I pay close attention and take my time.  The hand tools are power.  Two random orbital sanders and a planer.  Band saw came from Sears Surplus sometime in the '80s.  Does the job but it's nothing like a fourteen inch industrial job.  On the other hand it might.  Never used a five hundred pound saw (I've heard they sleep wherever they want) but from what I've seen on the internet they sure look nice.  Probably could slice a finger so slick it would't bleed.  'Spose I shouldn't complain about the quality of my machines seeing as how the first paddle in the first canoe wasn't but a stick.  And the second, a stick tipped with a shard of rock to cut down on abrasion.
     So what shall I do with seven additional paddles?  Good question.  I suspect there'll be more.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Best Days on the Water

     Three letters into the title I almost wiped it out.  Best days on the water?  Hell, they're all best days aren't they?  Nah.  But there's good points to even the worst days.  The tough times move a man to appreciate the ordinary.  Nothing like an empty stomach to make a slice of bread taste wonderful.
     The opening day of our third Canada trip would've been a good one to sit out on the shore.  In the bay it didn't seem all that bad.  Swirling winds and a little chop on the water.  Maybe our close call with a float plane should have been a sign.  The weather report of strong winds and storms should have been another.  Even the swaying trees and flying branches on our drive up to the access seemed to be warning us.  But no, we were the golden boys from the south and there was no doubt in my mind the weather would mellow out for six hours and we'd paddle beneath rainbows every inch of the way to our first portage sixteen water miles down lake and river.
     But I was wrong.  No more than a mile into the paddle we pulled into the lee of a tiny island and called it a day.  Water over the gunwales was the clincher.  We sat, read, shore fished, then set up camp.  In the evening the lake calmed enough to get in an hour's fishing.  Through storm and stupidity it turned out to be a wonderful day to be alive.

     Lois and I'd gone out to dinner up in Walker, Minnesota.  Call it twenty years ago, maybe more.  Walker's the county seat of Cass County.  A small town on one of the best fishing lakes in the lower forty-eight.  Because of the walleyes and muskies in Leech lake Walker is a destination and has more restaurants than a town of a thousand has a need.
     There were two ways we could return to cabin, both of them thirty plus miles of pavement.  Being a nice evening in late spring I decided to take a side trip down a sand and gravel forest road I'd never driven.  Lois didn't say no.  The turn onto the trail is well marked if you know exactly where to look for the little, four inch by eighteen inch sign.  Blink wrong and you'll miss it.  That's what I did but caught the words as I flew by and was determined enough to turn around.
     The Woodtick Trail may be my favorite road.  Years earlier it'd been a railroad grade moving timber to the main line.  Now it's sand and gravel, wide enough for two pickups to pass each other so long as both drivers pay attention to the road edge.  Embankments, swamp and trees.  Take your pick.  Should you leave the road it's gonna cost you and your car.  Drive it slow, no more than thirty.  Twenty, twenty-five's even better.  It's a beauty of a thirteen mile drive.  No need to hurry.  That evening we came upon the rare sight of a pair of pink lady slippers, the Minnesota State flower.  A few minutes later we passed a small, narrow lake.  Lily pads tight to the shore, open water for most of its width, a slice in the forest surrounded by hillsides of birch, white pine and oak.  Had to hold fish.  Everything about the lake felt right.  I knew I'd be back.  And not alone.
     Early in September on a cool, cloudy day Allan and I did return.  He was about fifteen.  I was still in my late forties.  Yup, a long time ago.  Don't know what Al was thinking but I was convinced we were paddling onto a hidden gem.  Well, maybe not so hidden as there was a cleared turnoff across the road with room enough for two cars.
     Even during the first fishless hour we were surrounded by enough beauty to have a good time.  Our lines were tipped with small spinners, number two Vibrax as I recall.  Then a crappie.  A bit later a jumbo pumpkinseed.  Over the next hour the fishing was good.  Not hot and heavy good but we were catching, and releasing, our share.  Four pike averaging close to five pounds and half dozen chunky panfish.  About what you'd expect for a perfect day.
     That's the thing about gems, they're not prolific.  They're rare and share their treasures one at a time to those with the patience to enjoy each.

     First days on new water are like that.  Filled with anticipation.  Reality hasn't hit home yet.  Yeah, I'm drawn to home water but new water sure is exciting.  Like the time up at the cabin, coffee in hand and scoping out the maps of the area.  Done that many times looking for signs.  Like staring into a crystal ball.  My old county maps are stained, curled and starting to wear thin.  Yup, they've been used a lot.
     Been over them so many times there's no way I could have missed a thing.  Could draw them from memory with my eyes shut on a moonless night.  But sure enough, there it was, no more than two miles by crow from the cabin.  So close and obvious I almost didn't see it.  Small lake with a carry-down icon.  Carry-down usually meant the lake wasn't easy to get to and there was no boat launch.  Might even mean a portage.  Most of all the icon meant there were fish in the lake.  Small lake, no motors and fish.  My kind of lake.
     Lois said she'd be willing to go with me to check out the water.  Not something she'd normally do  but it was eighty-five above and sunny.  She likes warm and sunny.  I promised no more than a half hour on the water.  Loaded the canoe and we were off.
     Two miles as the crow flies rarely means two miles by road.  For us it was a U shaped drive of over ten miles.  Half on pavement, a third on gravel, the remainder over eroded, rock strewn, two track.  Those last two miles were posted as minimum maintenance.  In the following fifteen years I've learned minimum means never.  Last time in she's grown to be a possible tire shredder.
     That first drive in was no great problem.  A little slow, a few puddles and a swerve or two around boulders or deep ruts.  Turned out the possible boat access had been blocked off a couple of hundred yards from the water by a row rocks, each at least a ton.  Carry in for sure.  At the water we found three local kids shore fishing.  Their stringer of bass and bluegills caught my eye.
     We paddled out onto a very shallow, silt bottomed bay surrounded by swirls and retreating Vs on the glassed out water.  Not a weed in sight.  No reason for there being any fish, yet they were there by the hundreds.  Mongol horde of panfish.
     We paddled on.  The farther we glided, the deeper the water.  Finally, in the north half of the lake the bottom dropped from sight.  But there were cabbage beds everywhere.  In the cabbage, more bluegills and bass.  An aquarium of freshwater life.  I returned in the evening with Lois' cousin Gary.  Great evening of bass fishing but it was the afternoon with my wife that set it apart.
     At the moment Lois is going through chemotherapy for cancer.  The cancer is curable and the chemo is a preventative measure.  Still it's a misery for a normally active person like Lois.  Don't know if she has any memory of that afternoon on Little Sand Lake but I sure do.  Savor the moments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


     A couple days ago I decided to rewrite Learning Curve.  Figured it needed it.  So I slowly threw the words down.  Boy did they suck.  Then went back and began a reread of the original.  It needs some tweaking but is a whole lot better than the crud I was now pecking out.  So that's what I'm doing. That and continuing to carve canoe paddles.  Two done, three or four to go.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Twenty-two Hours

     Didn't make it on the water.  Strung a rod, loaded the gear and tied on the canoe.  Took it off and unloaded twenty minutes later.  Did a good job both on and off, in and out.  There's a pleasure to be found in doing something right.  A good time was had by all.  For the time being my place is at home.  Don't want to go into more detail than that.
     Hadn't been up north in over two months and the property had grown shaggy.  Needed a haircut and a sprucing to make it looked tended and loved.  Also'd keep the evil ones away.  Mowed and cleaned.  Throw in a few hours of evening reading and it was a good most-of-a-day.

Monday, August 17, 2015


     There's an old saw about life getting in the way of plans.  Can't say I had a lot of specific plans for the year.  You know the kind.  The ones tied to people, places and dates.  But I did have urgings toward possibilities.  Get out on the water.  Maybe head up north for another trip.  Doubt they'll happen this year.
     Seems life comes along once in a while to set the course and lay down the rules.  Like Moses coming down from the mountain.  But that's okay.  After all, we're just along for the ride.
     'Spose I could look at it as having to put the things I'd like to do off to the future once again but I won't.  Instead I'll call it variations on the theme of being alive.  It's all good.  Even the bad.
     Outside of that I'm still working on the paddles.  They're close to epoxy and varnish time.  Also have a new grandson.  Goes by the name of Joshua.  Maybe I'll call him Josh or J., possibly Shua.  For the moment he doesn't seem to care.  When the time comes, he'll let us know.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Paddles Redux

     After about a dozen hours of sawing, gluing, planing and sanding, I'm starting to think the two children's paddles are going to be okay.  I'm hoping for better than okay but have my doubts.  Next couple will be done differently.  Not sure how exactly but I will make construction changes.  My problem is getting a tight joint when I glue up the blade.  Blame that on a combination of operator error and equipment.  The gappage isn't earth shaking but wide enough to possibly solve with a little wood putty.  I know, craftsmen don't need no stinkin' wood putty.  Guess that says a lot about what kind of workman I am.  So long as they don't fall apart in the hands of one of my grandkids, I'll be happy.
     Wanted to make sure I properly used the word 'redux' in the blog tile.  Came close.  Seems redux is a return with a positive spin.  Call my use a spinless return with a possible hint of the negative depending what the grandkids say.  Don't know how well I'd take, "Geez Gramps, this paddle sucks.  You sure don't know what you're doing, do you?"  I'm thinking about making a ten foot pole kinda like the one's used by wild ricers to push their canoe through the reeds.  They do it while standing up.  If you know me, you know I don't ever stand up in a canoe.  But that's not what it's for.  Should I hear paddle complaints arising in the front of the boat, the pole will come in handy as an attitude adjuster.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Workin' It Out

     Turned out the photos I shot caused no more than a minor inconvenience for 'Emil's Cabin'.  Also figured it'd be much easier for the two of us if Emil bought a small generator to run power tools.  Why not?  Given the chance and a pocket full of cash, that's what a man of his generation would do.  So that's what I'm doing, re-read and edit number three.  Doesn't matter I'm not interested in publishing.  Does matter I want the story to read well.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Paddles I (have we done this before?)

     Read recently at sawdustfactory.net that the first paddle is nothing more than a prototype.  How about the second and third?  Hopefully not the fourth or the fifth.
     Seems like most of the amateur made paddles I've read about were made of cedar.  Pish-posh, I don't need no stinkin' cedar.  Too weak.  Too light.  Too unmanly.  My first was made of laminated ash.  I fear weighing it and have contented myself with using it to lever boulders and drive garden posts.  Not a dent in the blade or anywhere.  Yah, she's a club even though she's pretty.
     The two I'm now carving are a combination of douglas fir, white cedar, ash and yellow poplar.  Altogether lighter than just ash but still more work and weight than I'd like.  When will I learn?  Gluing and trimming the blank was no problem (truth is, everything's a problem when I set to doing something).  Now comes the shaping and thinning to size.  Had the loom (that's a fancy word for the shaft.  Hadn't heard of it till I read the above website.  Thought I'd throw it in to make me sound like I know what I'm doing) been made of cedar I'd of pulled out the old spoke shave (after ordering one on line) and shaved 'er to shape.  Instead, I did what I always do, grab a tool I do have, in this case a random orbital sander, slap on a forty grit disc and grind away.  It works.  More or less.  Woulda been a whole lot easier if the loom had not been laminated douglas fir.  Sawdust up the hose and in the ears.  Life is good and my snot, varying shades of white, red and brown.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Emil's Nothin' But Trouble

     The photo I shot at Portage Brook told me "Emil's Cabin" needed a serious rework right from the word one.  Don't know that I'm up to the task.  It's not like I know what I'm doing with the written word.  My blogs are done about the same way I built the cabin, educated guess work.
     Anyhow, that's what I'm doing at the moment.  Don't have anything else to write about at the moment so I may as well let the old guy run me ragged.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Paddles (again)

     Three grandsons and one on the way.  That's four paddles right there.  Oh yeah, there's Mollie.  Better make that five.  Then there's me.  And maybe Allan.  And if Allan, better do one for Ryan.  'Spose I could do Ryan's dad and his Uncle Eldon.  'Spose I could add my daughter and daughter-in-law in the mix.  That's a dozen.  Sounds like fun and a lot of glue.

Friday, June 26, 2015


     Three campsites on East Pike.  The one a half mile down lake sits behind a huge, even by Boundary Waters standards, stone slab.  Should the bugs be up, this is the site you want.  She's wide open to the breezes for a solid fifty yards.  It's a site I've always considered but never set foot on.  There's a reason for that and I'll get to it in a minute.
     Down at the far end, just before the narrows, lays the site with the best access to good fishing.  Outside of that there's no reason for this site except the canoe landing.  Everything's back in the woods, no view and has to be a mosquito heaven.  No more than a couple hundred yards away is an open, level peninsula with an excellent landing, best site on the lake, which no doubt over the decades was used by many.  'Course it's off limits.  But Brian and I have landed and snacked there several times in the last year.
     Then there's our site.  Camped on East Pike four times and always pitched our tent here.  A minute's paddle from the portage.  No need to seek farther.  We were on the lake we'd come to fish and I figured, take it immediately or lose it.  Always figured if I bypassed it nothing else would be open and by the time I'd paddled back the first one would be either taken by campers or overrun by bears.  Also didn't hurt, in year's past we'd had pretty good fishing right off the doorstep.  That it's always been available is a mystery to me.  Great tent pads, level cook area, a panoramic view down lake of wooded points, bays and hills and an inviting little, rock-shelf peninsula for sitting, conversation or fishing.  Maybe the problem is the landing.  There's two, one sucks and the other's worse.  'Bout all you can say is, they work and I've seen worse.  Yup, that could be the drawback.  We camped there four days and tattooed another dozen yards of history on the bottom of the Spirit.
     Best of all, we found few mosquitoes and no black flies.  Another case of wasted worry.  Not much to be said for needless worry beside our lifelong friendship.  Oh well, another year in which we didn't need the extra half ounce of head nets.  Light breezes cooled the warm air.  Brian and I walked around setting up camp with smiles on our faces.
     Our section of forest was pure pine (mostly white) and cedar.  The guardian of our site was a mature white pine clawed tight to the cracks in the rock slab between kitchen and point.  I remembered the tree well from earlier trips and was happy to see it still standing.  No doubt the tree didn't feel too bad about it either.  Don't know if trees have feelings but since pines are steadfastly silent on the subject, I'll go along with the idea they do.
     Our's was not a level site.  From lake to tent pad, the ground gained twenty feet.  Simply moseying around camp was a workout.  Also a reason to pay attention to foot placement.  The Boundary Waters and wilderness in general, is a stumbling place.  Like the portages, camp was home to random rock and root.  And the box of wine we brought didn't help.
     The landings gave us a choice between scaling a short cliff and maneuvering between knife-edged rocks.  We chose the rocks.  Coming and going, Brian did most of the work.  He'd climb out, zig-zag the boat so I could unbend my stiffened bones onto the last of a trail of rocks.  I tried to not fall into the water.  While launching, Brian reversed his maneuvering.  I tried not to fall into the water.
     I suppose we struck a balance of labor. Brian did the heavy work and was the motor in the front of the canoe.  I manned the stove and guided the boat.  I suspect he'd have done a travel trip had I not been along.  But I was and Brian was willing to humor me, my age and inertia (as in 'an object at rest….').
     Our history goes back to the day of Brian's birth in the spring of '63.  At the time his dad was on the east coast, called away by business.  His very pregnant mother (my sister), toddler sister and baby bother were staying at my mom's house for the week.  While there, Brian was born.  I was going through one of those little changes in life no outsider knows or cares about but I'll tell you anyhow.  To that point I'd spent every spring since third grade playing baseball as a pitcher with a strong if erratic arm.  Last time I wore a baseball uniform was the previous summer as a fifteen year old in the bullpen at Metropolitan Stadium. There, the Twins head scout had given me a look-see, liked what he saw and invited me back for the second day of the tryout camp.  Didn't go.  End of story.  While Brian was being born, I was expected to be throwing for my high school team, racking up strikeouts and making headlines in the local paper.  But I wasn't.  Instead I was unconsciously bending the twig of my future, hanging out with my friends.  Truth was, I felt like an outsider on the team and at ease with my friends.  Or you could say I didn't have the drive to succeed.  Or was simply floundering.  Floundered my way through life for quite a while and grew to be damned good at it, maybe a master, fifth degree black belt.  And like all flounderers, eventually faced the day when I either cleared up the mess of my life or went down the tubes.
     So there we sat, fifty-two years later, eating our first camp meal of pork chops simmered in Italian, diced tomatoes along with hash browns, five kids between us, seventy plus years of marriage and almost half a head of hair in toto.  Sure didn't see that coming back in '63.  Truth is a man's glimpse of the future's no more than death at one end and a whole lot of blank between, maybe a good meal along the way.  Best you can do is have a sense of balance or an unseen helping hand (some call it a guardian angel, I call mine Uncle Emil), to lend a wet rag when life throws a pie in your face.  Like maybe tripping on a muddied root while carrying a seventy-five pound load and trying to say something clever at the same time.  When misfortune like that happens, a man needs inspiration to pop up like a jack-in-the-box, and hop off down the trail, thankful he still had one good leg, even if it was the left (purely a random example).
     As usual, we ate a lot.  Why not?  We were there for the eating and camaraderie, fishing be damned.  Maybe that's an exaggeration.  Our meals taught us sirloin eats better than pork chops though neither digests as quickly as spaghetti.  'Spose we should've applied for a research grant before we went grocery shopping.  Might've entitled our experiment 'Steer vs. Hog' and made a few bucks on the side.  Also learned a blended red wine goes with pretty much everything.  As does white wine but since we didn't have any, we couldn't say with any scientific accuracy.  Also learned too much wine seems to move points of reference to new locations.
     This year Brian brought a concoction made of walnuts, cashews, dried apples and peaches, all coated with a cinnamon syrup.  Went down so well we took turns licking the bag.  However, I'd lost the flip and was stuck licking the outside.  Not bad, though it tasted of dirt and pine needles.
     On the drive home we gave some thought to the amount of food and gear we'd carried.  Brian drove and I recorded our thoughts in pencil on napkin.  Would've entered the particulars on my phone but we only had five hours.  Ain't lo-tec but am slo-tec.  Long story short, I figured we could've dropped the load by thirty pounds without sacrificing anything of need.  That much less would've left a lot of wiggle room on the way out.  You see, I lusted over a few deadfall cedar logs.  Twenty or more growth rings per inch.  I didn't want a lot of them, just enough to add a few trim boards to some homemade paddles.  'Spose that's illegal.  Someday, should you see me with a canoe paddle made from tight grained cedar let's leave it at 'don't ask - don't tell.'
     The intention underlying a fishing trip is fish on the line.  Hopefully enough of them to have no need  of moving on.  We had that.  Not in spades, call it clubs.  Good enough to fill in the hours between eating.  Started slow with a fair number of little bass but built in numbers and size each day.  Just the way we'd have it if given the choice.  Left us feeling we were leaving a day early and filled with thoughts of another good time waiting for us in the future.
     Also taught me a lesson.  Don't know about you but no matter my age, life keeps coming round to point out my shortcomings.  On this trip I kept waiting for our fishing luck to return to the wonders of a half century earlier, back when the smallies were all huge and fought over our lures.  A part of me knew it'd never been like that but another part of me wanted to remember otherwise.  In numbers, this year's last night was better than than any day of the past though average size was a tad smaller.  Maybe.
     During the refinish work I'd scribed a simple ruler on my paddle.  Nothing like the truth to take the wind out of a fisherman's sails.  My hog eighteen incher measured out at sixteen and a half.  Brian's twenty incher, a tad over eighteen.  No doubt it was the same in '66.  The truth hurts.  And enlightens.  Simply put, on our final evening we had damned fine fishing.  Good enough to call it quits with light still on the water.
     I could say more about the fishing but will leave it at Brian caught the most, biggest and for a middle aged man, sure got excited when he had a rod bender on the line.  Though I caught a few, my joy was working the boat, silently drifting the breeze along the shore and watching the fun going on up there in the bow.  And the inevitable pulling into shore so Brian could free his spinner from rocks, brush, trees and pine squirrels.  Accommodation makes the world go round.
     In camp we cooked, ate, putzed, talked incessantly and slept.  Had three books between us but limited ourselves to one paragraph, read aloud.  But she was a good paragraph, the opening passage of "A River Runs Through It."  Might have read on but feared a let down.  Besides, there was too much to discuss, though what we talked of escapes me at the moment.  Most conversation is like that.  Comes and goes, passes time and rarely is any matter of consequence settled.  But it surely is entertaining.  We didn't agree on everything and didn't come to blows over anything.  Let's say we again reached a state of balance along the line of, Brian didn't say anything bad about my cooking and I said little about the terrible gas it gave him, though doing so pained both of us.
     A man I once worked with was a canoe man.  Did dozens of trips into the Boundary Waters and points north.  His standard of trip perfection was the trifecta of good weather, no bugs and good fishing.  That's pretty much what Brian and I had.
     'Bout the only drawback was sleep.  We both had quality pads and bags.  As in year's past we used our clothes bags as pillows.  Compared to the voyageurs we slept in the lap of luxury.  Those old boys slept under the canoe.  The wealthy ones could afford softer rocks to use as pillows.  I shook my head in disbelief when I first read they rarely got more than four hours sleep when on the trail.  Then I gave some thought to mosquitoes and having to sleep under a north canoe.  Any more shuteye would have found them short on blood.  Doubt they had ponchos to roll up in like we had in Vietnam.  The bugs must have eaten those Frenchmen alive.
     Sleeping on the ground got better with each night.  But not our lack of pillows.  Clothes may wear soft but folded they sleep hard.  We'd both had packable camp pillows in the past and found them lacking.  Could be we'll reconsider.  In 'Nam, when I was twenty-two, I wore my helmet in sleep with my head nestled softly in the liner's webbing.  Maybe it's not so much the pillow but the age of the resting head.  Seemed like the more time we spent on the water, the better we slept.  Fatigue induces sleep, just ask the voyageurs.
     Our trip out was a comparative joy.  We'd knocked down twenty pounds of food, dumped seven pounds of melted ice and burned four pounds of gas.  Comparing that to the thirty we could drop the next trip and the future loaded bright.  'Course, next year we'd each be a year older.  Two steps forward, one back.
     I'd like to say it was mine or Brian's idea to make a list of the unnecessary as we revisited Highway 61 on our way home but that'd be a lie.  It was Lois on my 'we're not dead yet, just smell like it' phone call who goaded me into being rational.  The list now sits on my old desk back home.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Metaphysics in the Boundary Waters

     I came to the j-stroke late in life, the real j-stroke that is.  Tried to learn it through written instruction. What I ended up doing was an example of a failure to communicate.  A forty-five second you-tube set both me and the canoe straight.  Turned out the j-stroke wasn't really j-shaped.  Sure came as a surprise to me.  These days should you ask me if I can track a canoe in a straight line and I'd say yes but not while on the water.  You never know what ironic forces lurk beneath the surface.
     Two weeks earlier I'd taken my heavy, homemade, ash paddle and thinned its laminated blade with plane and sandpaper.  Knock a few ounces off.  My intention was to use it throughout the trip.  At the moment it was in my hands and was used solely for the first two days.  Then my right triceps told me it was time for a change.  Worked well enough so I'll carve three lighter paddles, two small ones for grandchildren and another for me.
     Before heading down the fast water we paused looking for an obvious path.  In the old days the stern paddler would stand to get a better view.  Not this old dog.  Thirty seconds later we were in the Boundary Waters and passing inches over a field of car-sized boulders.  Our sunlit paddle down John was almost easy.  Just enough work to warm the muscles.
     I'd seen no need to pull out the map case for our entry.  Been down this way a half dozen times.  At the far end it came as no surprise seventeen years had skewed my memory a hundred yards north and as a small surprise the landing looked pretty much as I'd remembered, even down to the large shore boulder guarding the trail.
     We putzed our way through the offload.  I pulled old man rank and stabilized the canoe while Brian did the heavy lifting.  All was placed on dry ground to the side of the trail to allow easy passage should anyone come down the portage.  Boundary Waters etiquette.  Moments later a group of four arrived as we were saddling up.
     Brian threw on a big pack, grabbed the rod tubes, stove and trotted off.  I dropped my common sense, slid on the other big pack and hoisted the cooler by its handle.  At close to eighty pounds the load was more than I could carry but knew me and cooler would part ways somewhere up the portage.  Call my trot more of a stagger.  Started by setting the cooler down and switching hands every twenty rods.  Then fifteen.  Ten.  Finally five.  I deserted the beast atop a steep downhill about forty rods from East Pike.  The descent would've been dangerous.  I was pooped and my legs gimpy.  The remaining rods were easy.  Thank you Brian.
     Rested on our empty handed return.  There, Brian threw the canoe on his shoulders.  Carrying the food pack and paddles was a puffer for me but didn't require a rest stop.  Figured, in the future, I'd have no problem with fifty pounds, maybe a little more.  Unfortunately, we averaged close to sixty-five.  I know, I know, the voyageurs humped a minimum of one-eighty but they died of hernias and heart attacks before they were thirty-five.  Had they been fifty-two or sixty-eight they'd have been hard pressed to carry their egos and silly little red hats at the same time.  Simply put, we had too much stuff.  However, on that carry the seed was planted for another trip, maybe even a travel trip, with a little more forethought.
     On the carry Brian'd squeezed a little information out of the four young men (odd, I didn't consider myself a young man when I was twenty-seven).  Turned out the campsite we were hoping for was taken.  Like that came as a surprise.  Oh well, the portage over, we slid the canoe along the basalt slab where I'd caught my first smallie back in '66 and loaded.  Don't know what prompted him but Brian said we should check out the site anyhow.  Why not?  It wasn't but a hundred yards out of our way.  As we approached, it sure looked occupied even though we could identify nothing specific.  No canoes at the landing so we slid closer.  Finally we beached the nose, Brian climbed out and a minute later we were unloading.
     Got me contemplating what'd happened that morning.  Showed up early at the Ranger Station and we stink-eyed it open.  Did the same at the outfitter.  I figure something similar happened at the campsite.  We were told it was occupied.  Sure looked occupied.  No doubt it was occupied.  Could be our combined aura, desire and connections with the spiritual forces underlying existence just wiped those campers out.  One second they're wondering what kind of beer goes best with s'mores, next second they're in their canoes, orbiting Oberon out by Saturn and wondering what the hell just happened.  Then their heads explode.  Sorry guys.  Next time camp elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tuesday Morning I

     Since I retired, the sun has become my friend and alarm clock.  A tad before Sol breaks the horizon my internal light sensor tells me it's time to get up.  Usually my unconscious hits the snooze button for an additional ten minutes but this morning we had places to go, things to do, odds and ends to dread and water to make (yup, there it is again), so I rose to face the day.  A few minutes later Brian began to stir.  Figured the rangers were still sawing wood, no need for us to hurry.  Breakfast was first on our list right after coffee at the Mocha Moose.
     Grand Marais is not your average small town.  In fact, one of the travel services rated it as the coolest small town in the galaxy.  Not sure what they meant by coolest since the average summer temperature along the big lake is about the same as the average winter temperature anywhere else in the country.  Regardless, the town boasts a dozen or so restaurants, upscale lodging, a micro-brewery, gourmet coffee shop, couple of bakeries, gift shops galore and a harbor chuck filled with fancy boats.  In other words, it puts a civilized spin on the end of the earth.
     Don't know why but the idea of a lumberjack breakfast held no appeal for either of us.  Oatmeal with a side of bacon at the Bluewater Cafe did the job just fine.  After the damage of last night's pizza, a soothed bowel was at the top of our list of things to do today (right after coffee of course).  Having time to kill we headed to the Ranger Station where we gave the front door the stink eye with hopes our combined mojo could spring the lock.  No luck.  Instead we sat in Brian's truck honing our patience.
     Slowly the parking lot came alive.  Through the windshield we watched several trays of food pass in the arms of non-uniformed women.  Down below the hill, to the rear of the station, we could see green clad, official looking people sneaking in the back door.  Why not the front door?  Struck me as suspicious.  A sign of the times?  Could be motherly types bearing hot dishes gave the government office a warm spin.  Made you want to say, "Gosh, I was wrong.  The government is all soft and cuddly.  Reminds me of my mom.  Darn, I think I'll giver her a call.  Tell her that I miss and love her and be sure to pay her taxes on time."  Or maybe the reason was the large building out back from which the rangers seemed to be emerging.
     The video was as exciting as it's ever been.  Could be longer as far as I'm concerned.  And could have dialog.  Or maybe a little slapstick humor.  Bears in clown makeup rolling over the portages on tiny bicycles.  The followup quiz was simple enough.  Boiled down to camping in designated places and not making a mess.  The Boundary Waters is a wilderness and at the the same time, it's not.  A quarter million people pass over those portages in less than five months.  The one heading into East Pike has worn a couple of inches into the earth.  That's a lot of boots.  Guess it pays to be neat and remind everyone to mind their manners no matter how repetitious and mundane the video.
     Fifteen minutes later we escaped but still had plenty of time to kill.  Though there were plenty of sleeping bags to be had in town not a one was available before nine.  We roamed the streets in search of inspiration and came upon an outfitter we hadn't known existed.  Brian pulled to a stop in their parking lot.  The place was wood and glass new and looked hi-tec modern.  Don't know why we waited but it worked.  Could be our need conjured up the clerks.  Not only were they early but they also let us in.  Brian found the perfect bag, pulled out the plastic and we were finally on the road. (after spending ten minutes discussing the merits of locally made, freeze dried food).
     Now nothing stood between us and the access at Little John Lake.  Passed a pair of Road Work Ahead signs and came to a stop behind a MNDOT tractor-trailer blocking the right lane for no obvious reason.  Appeared abandoned.  After a brief discussion of what to do, Brian crossed the double yellow line and passed.  'Bout then, a gremlin in the guise of a yellow-clad road guard popped out from behind the truck, screamed us to a stop and began to spit fury at us.  Seems we'd violated four traffic laws including not stopping for an unseen road guard.  Damnation.  We just couldn't catch a break this morning.  Immediately we put on our best please and thank you manners.  Easier to swallow the ego then spend the night in the hoosegow.
     Hovland's one of those towns that's larger on the map than it is in person.  Good thing they've got a sign.  However, for me it's big in memories.  A mile before town the Brule River rumbles its way into Lake Superior.  Once in town, the smaller Flute Reed River does the same but with a more poetic name.  Decades earlier the outdoorsman Calvin Rutstrom owned property on the Flute Reed.  Immediately past the bridge, the Arrowhead Trail turns inland and climbs the Sawtooth Mountains.  Gotta forgive us Minnesotans, if you can't see the top of a hill from the bottom, we call it a mountain.  Brian almost shifted into a lower gear for the climb and no doubt would have had we been in a brand new, 1,100,000,015 BC Toyota 4-Runner (they sure don't make 'em like they used to).
     About twelve miles up road in 1965, my fictitious Uncle Emil built a cabin alongside a trout stream.  Might even have met Calvin Rutstrom (hadn't thought of that till now).  If he had, Emil wouldn't have known Rutstrom from Adam.  'Course, unlike Rutstrom, Emil wouldn't have thought of himself as an outdoorsman.  If asked he'd have stroked his chin and said something like, "Well, I do like being outdoors and I am a man.  But an outdoorsman?  No, I don't think so."
     My fears rose with the climb.  Wasn't so much I was scared, more that I was extraordinarily apprehensive.  I knew for certain what the portage would be like, knew it well.  Also knew we'd survive it.  Also knew loading a canoe with two hundred pounds of gear and paddling off in the opposite direction of the nearest hospital was no longer the mindless thrill it'd once been.  Nope, unexpected stuff can happen faster than you can snap a bone.  This wasn't northwest Manitoba but it sure wasn't Lake Nokomis back in south Minneapolis.  Also, 'bout a half mile down the cedar lined shore of Little John a stretch of rapids runs that'd once turned me backwards as I exited.  Then there was the portage.  A hundred eighty rods up and over a fair sized hill paved with rock, root, mud and huffing, puffing, wheezing pain every labored step of the way.  Back in the nineties this little carry had been no more than forty-five minutes of sweat.  Not so anymore.
     And then there was what awaited us at the end of the portage.  Would there be any open campsites on East Pike Lake or would we have to push on?  Plod and paddle till we ran out of daylight and were forced rollup in a tarp, bodies coated with leeches, on a hummock in the middle of some God-forsaken swamp.  And if we did find a campsite, would we be greeted by clouds of back flies and mosquitoes?  I'm not making this stuff up, those thoughts were up there dancing in my head where the visions of sugar plums should have been.
     So, why in the hell was I on this trip?  Good question.  Last winter a trip to the Boundary Waters  sounded like fun.  Also might have to do with my failing memory which blanks out the bad till it's too late and finds us tooling up the Arrowhead Trail on our way to adventure or, more likely, self-inflicted torture.
     First stop was Portage Brook.  Called it Aspen Brook in "Emil's Cabin."  Spent a lot of time last winter looking at the stream from the satellite and she looked to be a friendly valley with a meandering stream that'd easily lend itself to building a forestry road, two track driveway and a cabin.  One look from the Trail told another story.  As did the cloud of black flies we drew (see comments above and why my fears now rose to a boil).  The brook was a beauty as it tumbled over and about a boulder field twenty feet beneath our boots.  Weeks earlier, in my mind's eye, Brian and I were going to ease ourselves down a gentle descent, amble along the inevitable trout fisherman's stream-side path and shoot a few photos.  Give me a picture to describe in the Cabin story.  Well, if there was a path, I couldn't see it.  And if there had been, it'd be one we'd have to slide down on our butts.  And if there was a stream-side path, it'd be an up and down, over boulder and around bush or tree, acrobat act along the steep sided bank.  Not happening today Roy.  I made do by firing off a few from where we stood.
     Those few minutes won't leave me alone.  Could be they're trying to tell me something.  I wrote "Emil's Cabin" driven by ease.  Liked the general gist of it but realized it lacked any kind of spark.  No life in it.  The Portage Brook Brian and I saw was definitely alive and had been since the last ice age.  It was scary alive.  Raw and real.  Time for a rewrite.
     A pair of men paddled into the access while we unloaded canoe and gear.  They'd been camping and fishing on John Lake.  They gave us a thumb's up as to their luck and confirmed what the ranger back in Grand Marais had said, "Yup, there were bugs."  However, they made no fuss over the numbers and my hopes were raised a little.  'Course they may have been ex-Marines who found clouds of black flies as nothing more than seasoning on their morning's bacon and eggs.  We continued our off-load.  Brian pulled his truck into the little parking area while I stood beside the empty canoe scratching my head.  I knew for a fact the gear had to go in the canoe.  Exactly how that would happen was a mystery I hoped would solve itself as we threw in the packs.
     My mind's not as sharp as it once was.  All the necessities of decision making are still there but float around in a cloud.  Willy-nilly.  I don't envision like I once did.  The picture in my head needs a helping hand from reality.  However, once step one was solved all the fuzzy corners crisped up.  Stove under front seat, food pack next, cooler, big packs in tandem, tight to the rear thwart, rod tubes and spare paddle jammed between and Brian's waist pack behind the stern seat.  Trim, tied off and balanced.  We paddled onto Little John.
     We floated in my amber colored Wenonah Spirit II.  The Spirit was Wenonah's first design and okay in every respect, compromised to the point of being able to do everything in an adequate manner.  She's neither as fast as a flat water canoe nor as maneuverable as a river boat.  But she's deep and good on big water with a heavy load.  Never shipped a drop and I hoped it'd stay that way.  Turn the Spirit over and the history of every Canadian Shield rock I'd ripped her on is written like glacial carvings in greenstone.  Put those scratches together and you'd have the story of each trip she's floated.  Could kevlar be translated into English, I'd have sent the boat in for publication.  All afterthought of course.  At the moment I was happy the floor was dry and we were moving easily.


Monday, June 15, 2015


     Communication's a big part of trip planning.  Like to say I'm good at it but I'm not.  Seems like every boonies trip I plan arrives with its own screw ups, usually mine.  This is my second trip with my nephew Brian.  You'd think on the second go around we'd have it figured out.  Could be he did.  First off, none of our problems were earth shaking.  Brought too much food once again, way too much fishing tackle and half as many sleeping bags as we needed.  Mea culpa.
     Not sure whose fault the bag shortage was but I suspect it was mine.  He said, "pack an extra sleeping bag."  I heard, "pack an extra sleeping pad."  So I packed two Therma-rest self-inflaters.  No problem.  I'd remembered his pad as being close to five pounds heavier than mine, so it kinda came as a surprise on Monday morning when Brian brought along his two and a half pound pad.  A perceptive man would have said something besides, "geez, your pad is much lighter than I remembered."  Also would have figured if we had one too many things for sleeping, we were probably short something else.  Not me, I simply pulled the Therma-rest from the pack and stuffed in Brian's.
     Over the previous week I'd done a serious amount of food shopping.  No way we'd starve if we were weather bound for an extra day.  Or two.  Or three.  Brian knows food so I asked him to pick up a few things he liked to snack on.  And he did.  And it was all good.  And gave us a couple of extra days of munchables.  Good wine, cheese, gorp, dessert snacks, dried apples, cranberries and blueberries.  In addition to what I packed, we might have had an edible forty-five pounds.  Enough for five campers with healthy appetites.  Yeah, we ate well.  In addition to Brian's extras we had steaks, pork chops, apples, New French Bakery bread, iced tea, coffee, two meals of homemade spaghetti, carrots, tomatoes, candy and a variety of bars, two dozen eggs, turkey bacon, twenty potato patties, three sticks of butter, swiss cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, more gorp, and considered bringing along a live hog and goat but figured they might rile the canoe.  What the hell was I thinking of?  Throw in enough ice to keep the perishables fresh and we had one serious food load.
     Loading the gear on Monday morning was no problem.  Racking the canoe took a little more time.  Brian'd never loaded a boat atop his SUV before but had the racks, straps and stops.  Once we figured it out, the Wenonah was rock solid.  All-in-all our putzing took close to an hour.  The drive was a simple affair in good weather.  Couple of stops along the way for food and making water (Read that phrase in a book of age.  Sure sounds better than urinating or pissing).  Had a room reserved for the night so our only consideration once we made Grand Marais was hitting the Ranger Station for our permit.  Of course they were closed.  Seems like they close earlier with each passing year.  I recall Allan and I squeaking in as the clock struck six back in the nineties.  These days it's four-thirty.  Ah well, tomorrow at eight it would be.
     Don't recall the exact moment when we realized Brian had no sleeping bag.  Do remember going slack-jawed.  Good thing we realized the oversight when we did.  Being the considerate man I am, I'd have felt terrible snuggling into my bag and would've tossed and turned for a minute or two before dropping off.  Mostly I feared Brian's shivering would have kept me awake.  Now eight o'clock at the Ranger Station would be followed by nine o'clock at an outfitter, or maybe the world's best stocked Ben Franklin.  Yup, the B. F. in Grand Marais carries a wide range of quality camping gear.  Truth is I felt embarrassed, guilty and downright bad that Brian would have to shell out cash for something I had sitting at home.
     We ate at Sven and Ole's pizza in town.  Yup, that's the one on the bumper stickers and they do make pretty good pizza.  Their pies taste like they came right out of the sixties or maybe Lake Wobegon.  No twenty-first century organic, gluten free, with a smattering of some kinda rare Italian cheeses and herbs, individual-sized, diet-conscious, almond milk based, fur-fru meals for us.  Nope, their pizza's a slab that goes down good, sticks to your ribs and explodes out in the morning.  Leaves a camper with a full feeling in the evening and a flat-stomached, emptied pleasure as he/she paddles out in the morning.  They even have beer on tap.  I recall we might have had a couple.  Didn't meet either Sven or Ole.  Made me wonder if the names are made up.
     Back at the Thomsonite Beach Resort we found an envelope taped to the door.  Inside was a note and a key.  Seems the proprietors had gone out para-sailing on the big lake.  While riding the waves a gust of wind had carried one of them into an eagle's aerie where he was devoured by the younguns.  Those things happen in the Arrowhead more frequently than you'd imagine.  'Course, that it happened once is more than any sane person would imagine.  Anyhow, it turned out an eagle feather was imbedded in the man's remains and the cadaver was arrested.  Yeah, the State of Minnesota takes its eagle feather laws seriously.  At the moment, the widow was trying to raise bail money so she could free her husband and give what was left of him, less the feather, a proper burial.
     In short, we saw neither of the owners while we were there.  Did talk to a guy standing beneath a spruce tree that drizzly evening.  He and Brian hit it off as they both knew the ins and outs of esoteric photography.  Don't recall exactly what or how he was shooting from his tripod with a high buck digital camera but it involved a whole bunch of pictures.  Maybe thousands for all I know.
     We slept well that night knowing the weather was going to improve.

Home Again

     I remember how I felt last year when we returned from the Boundary Waters, why should it be any better this year?  Feels like I've been pummeled with a sand-filled sock and am too tired to care.  Can't even squeak out a "that the best you can do?"
     We ate well, drank enough water, got enough rest, bugs weren't bad, only did two demanding portages; what could it be?  Maybe the beauty overwhelmed me?  Or the clean air and water?  'Spose it could be that I'm 68 but I doubt it.  Last night I had to use a lighter fork and knife when I ate dinner.  Our usual stainless felt like dumbbells.  Could be my problem up north was choice of socks.  I've gotten used to short cotton ones and the pairs I wore in the BWCA were full length and fairly heavy.  That half ounce no doubt was night and day.  Lucky I'm still alive.
     Once again a four day trip took eight.  Planning, gathering and packing sucked up two, travel one, cleanup one and the canoe trip four.  Toughest part is the cleanup.  Not that I mind the work.  After all, it's necessary.  Keeps stuff from rotting.  Glass half full person would say drying, organizing and putting camping gear away is actually preparation for next year's trip.  Interesting I just wrote that.  Till my fingers started pecking away I'd never given maintenance a positive spin.  Kind of scary, seeing as how I'm a 'glass is always full unless you're in a complete vacuum' kinda guy.  Maybe it'd be best if you forget I ever wrote the above.  Go with the idea cleanup was pure misery.
     Regardless, the trip is done.  All that remains is the writing (and editing and trying like hell to remember what Brian and I did.  Best part is knowing I can fill in the blanks with anything that comes to mind.  Things like that make me a happy camper, wilderness style).

Monday, June 8, 2015


     Oh yeah, remembered hat and gloves.  Lows in the mid-40s.  Good to keep the bugs and my ear temperature down.
     As usual I'm apprehensive, jittery.  I get this way before every trip and know for sure it's gonna suck big time.  But it never does.  When we hit the road it all changes.  'Spose that's not a forever thing but I hope fortune has at least one more run.
     Hardest part at the end is choosing a hat.  It's gotta say 'I've been here before' without looking too much like Joe Northwoods.  My old school, waxed Filson?  Great hat but it's not all that comfortable.  One of the hats Allan had a hand in designing?  Maybe, brings in family but it's seen better days.  Then there's my Dollar Store Jeff Foxworthy ball cap.  Got his name on it in four place and it's sky blue so my head blends in with the background a smallmouth would see.  Camo, baby, camo.  What to do, what to do?

Sunday, June 7, 2015


     Biodegradable soap!
     And scrubbies!
     Oh yeah, also forgot socks and toothbrush and tent!
     And fishing gear!
     'Spose that's why the packs were so light.  I knew something had to be missing.

Friday, June 5, 2015


     Deep into packing for this year's trip.  Most everything is ready except for that important thing I always seem to forget.  Wonder what it'll be this year?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Last Day (in progress)

     Friday was the day I figured we'd have good fishing.  Been slowly warming for three days.  Enough time for the short strikers to become more active.  No sense wasting what could be a good day.  We were on the road a little after seven intending to hit a pair of lakes and put eight hours on the water.  To my way of thinking, where we fished the afternoon and evening was more important than the morning. Those golden hours near sunset usually proved the best.  Had the four of us lived where we fished, we'd rarely be on the water till after supper.  But we don't and rolled up the highway.
     The two laner we usually drive has a few straight sections.  Mostly it roller coasters and winds its way over glacial moraines and alongside lakes.  This is cabin country.  Not the two and three story McMansions that've become the standard to the south.  Most have been standing for more than fifty years.  Grandpa probably built it himself and also drove the well.  Generally they're known as decent fishing lakes by todays standards.  Fished a fair number of them myself but not for a while.  Once again we were heading for an area of the Chippewa National Forest and down the sand roads off the sand roads.  It's not wilderness in the sense of northern Canada but there are wolves and few cabins.  Depending on where you're standing in this area you might be on National Forest land, Leech Lake Ojibwe Reservation land or even private property.  Had the government treated the Ojibwe fairly this'd all be reservation land.  But the Federal Government didn't and the four of us were off to enjoy the fruits of deceit.
     Figured we'd end the day on Silver Lake.  It hadn't failed us in the last few times on its water and evening had proved excellent each time.  Since morning didn't matter as much, and the choice was mine, we started on a lake named Hovde.  No cabins, definitely out of the way and usually good fishing.  However, today seemed an unsolved mystery.  It's been a few years since we'd really gotten into the bass.  Maybe they're onto our game.  Might also have been the cold water.  For a few minutes Larry and I thought we'd figured them out.  Four healthy bass in ten minutes, then nothing.  All in all we caught a few, maybe even a dozen but for this lake 'twern't nuthin'.
     Evening on Silver Lake found me and Jake in the same canoe.  I think his dad was thinking fish on the line beat boat control by a long shot.  When we pushed off there sat Ryan in the catbird seat, rod in hand, bass in his eye.  Believe he wasn't disappointed.  He and Larry started off on fire, several big bass right off the bat no more than fifty yards from the access.  They called for me to paddle over and join the fun but Jake was having none of that.  He kept saying we should be fishing what he called 'sunny side'.  Took a moment for me to realize where he wanted to go.  Problem was it wasn't sunny in the little bay like it'd been two days earlier.  Didn't matter, to our small group it'll always be Sunnyside.
     Over there next hour me and Jake didn't catch a lot.  He had this bug in his ear about that little bay and didn't want to leave.  Grandpa's supposed to take control somewhere along the line and explain things like 'if they ain't bitin' here, let's try somewhere else' or 'once you've hammered a spot it's time to rest the pool' or the ever popular 'grandpa's gotta pee again and get himself another cup of coffee.'  But I didn't.  Went with the 'patience is a virtue and closely related to procrastination' bit, with the idea Jake would eventually figure out it was time to move on all by himself.  And he did.  His idea of moving was to paddle to the far side of the lake in the direction of the little speck that was Larry and Ryan.    
      Seems the two of them had worn themselves out reeling in bass and bluegills.  Time for Jake to join in the fun.  Me, I continued to take it easy and simply chauffeur.  I've come to enjoy the role of paddler more than angler.  It's what happens when you're sneaking up on seventy.  No revelation there.  I knew it was coming, just didn't know when.  Might have to do with some form of acceptance or maybe just an aversion to handling slimy fish.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cold water

     Might as well have been early April when I headed up north on a mid-May Monday.  Spring had been a come and go thing in the northland.  I'd expected knee high grass to greet me.  Instead it was barely long enough to mow.  Yeah, we've got grass around the cabin.  Not a lawn, just grass, plus some weeds, ground covers and a small variety of wild flowers covering the ground since Lois and I removed the hazel brush.  Mowed anyhow and was treated to short blasts of sleet.  Can't say that's happened before.  There was the time in Manitoba when Allan and I fished our way through a June snow storm.  But that was Manitoba.  Five hundred miles north of the border where you expect next winter to overlap with the last. Thankfully we'd decided to leave the mower home on that trip.  Truth was we'd have brought it had we been able to fit the mower in the canoe.  A true woodsman likes a neat campsite and a mower would've added a homey touch of civilization (that and the lace curtains we hung from the jack pines).
     Cleaned, dusted, washed and vacuumed the cabin.  Biked the gravel roads three times and spooked a dozen deer.  Even was ambitious enough to pump lube into the trailer bearings and inflate the tires (turned out they were forty-five pounds low).  At least they weren't flat.
     The boys from the south showed up Wednesday afternoon.  After ten years of doing this trip, the unload has become routine.  Twenty minutes from arrival all was as stowed as it was gonna be and the three of them were busy trying to remember how to tie knots.  In the early years we'd try to hit the water as soon as possible.  That meant nearby, marginal water and a late supper.  But last year we began to wise up and ate before heading out.  Same this year.  By four-thirty we were chowing down (slurping up?) on homemade spaghetti.  An hour later we were on the road heading to bass heaven.
     Most Minnesotans would consider early season bass a travesty, an invasion of the spawning bedroom.  So did the DNR till this year.  Now there's two weeks of early season catch and release at a time when bass were once verboten.  Could be some form of enlightenment.  More likely the DNR came to accept the fact that it was already happening, had been since the beginning of fishing regulations, didn't have much effect on the bass population and there was no way to prove if a fisherman was trying for bass or small pike.  As it turned out all of the females we caught were spawned out.
     It'd been cold for a week and the water was just right for chilling beer.  As it turned out our first day was filled with short strikers.  And there weren't a lot of them.   But we did boat a few.  Pretty much what I figured.  Seems I've got this half full glass problem.  When my intuition tells me the fishing'll be slow, it's slow.  When I figure it'll be hot, there's a fifty-fifty chance it will be.  Back in my teens a good friend of mine always put odds at fifty-fifty, "it'll either happen or it won't."  A smart man would simply say the fishing will be what it will be.  I'm not that smart.
     A couple of years ago I did some serious thinking about whether the glass was half full or half empty.  Got this idea if the water filled the top half of the glass instead of the bottom, we'd all agree as to the glass's water status, as in "that's some weird water you got there.'.  Maybe even bow down like it was a golden calf.  Maybe get a new commandment.  Problem was how to get the water in the top half without nothin' being in the bottom.  Tried turning it over real quick but that just made the floor wet.  I'll get back to you on how freezing the water worked out.
     The highlight of the evening was seeing four beavers at the same time.  As usual, the first tail slap caught my attention.  No matter how many times I've heard a beaver whack, the first one of the night always  triggers 'twelve pound bass' in my brain.  We figured them to be members of the same family.  Seems up to four adults winter over in the same lodge.  Wouldn't have taken the time to look that up if there hadn't been a quad of them on Silver Lake.  Jakob would probably have preferred to catch a boatload of bass and pike but at least he was getting a little northwoods atmosphere.  Looking back over the years I do remember some of the fishing but, more so, I recall simply being there on the water.
     The wind paid a visit on Thursday.  Not a big wind just a little slap in the face.  We were on a good lake and again had it to ourselves.  The access was on the leeward shore.  From our protected perch the lake looked safe enough for Ryan and Jakob.  Keep in mind that Ryan is a rear seat neophyte.  On all previous trips his dad sat in the stern where he learned a canoe has a mind of its own.  Simply put, a canoe abhors a straight line.  Throw in it's buddies wind, waves, load imbalance and inertia and you've got the makings for continual s-curves.  I know that from experience.  But it wasn't control I was worried about.  I put them in the Wenonah because of its stability.  She's a tough boat to roll.  It'd be wonderful if Jake caught fish, even better if he stayed dry.  I wanted him to be happy and return to the Northland many times.  Maybe even do a brief Boundary Waters trip when he's old enough and his grandpa is not too old.
     Seems I mentioned load balance as a consideration in canoe control.  Jake's a slim nine years old.  Would've been considered slim in any generation.  Fast as the wind, athletically gifted but reed thin.  His dad Ryan probably goes in the one hundred, seventy pound range.  When the two of them were afloat a couple of inches of air separated the bow from the lake, not a good thing should the wind arise. Begged the question, "When is a canoe like a sail?"
     We'd been on this lake several times in the past.  Had a reputation as a 'go to' lake when the wind was up on big Leech Lake to the north.  Less than two hundred acres, Three Island Lake has more than its share of structure.  Points, bays, reefs and five(?) islands.  Has all the usual suspects when it comes to fish, even a few walleyes.  When we're on the water we don't target anything in particular.  To us a big bluegill is as good a prey as a big pike.  Maybe that's an exaggeration but you get the idea.
     There's not a lot of room in a canoe for fishing gear so we tone it down.  Our gear set up is two rods apiece, one with a slip bobber, the other with a spinner on a snap swivel.  Tackle box apiece and the stern man has a needle nose and a jaw spreader tied off to the thwart in front of him.  Simple and effective.
     Didn't take more than a few yards to tell us the fishing would be difficult.  A cloudless blue sky and cold, fish tank clear water is a tough combination to beat.  But seeing as how I like scoping out the bottom of a lake and the bottom was sharply visible to eight feet, I was a happy man.  A lake bottom speaks a language of its own.  Over the years I've picked up enough its words to carry on a crude conversation, kind of like bargaining for a shirt in a foreign bazar.  Whether I get a good deal or not has more to do with the sales person than my savvy of the lingo.  Doesn't matter.  Like Chauncey Gardner in "Being There", I just like to watch.
     Back when I was a kid on summer vacation, me and my buddy Duane would hike down to Weber Lake with a hand held net and our fishing poles.  When we lost interest in not catching anything, Duane'd grab the net and we'd spend a half hour scooping stuff from the pond scum close to shore.  I suppose we'd hope against hope there'd be a sunnie or two in the net but, as I recall, there never was.  On the other hand there were a lot of other wiggly animals.  Neat stuff.  Being boys we found it all interesting.  Guess that boy still hangs around inside me somewhere and likes to peer over the gunwale of a canoe to see what's down there.  Like my Uncle Emil would say, "There's a lesson there.  Beats me what it is."
     Along the north shore, immediately to the west of the access there were groves of cabbage peeking up from the bottom.  Umm, umm, cabbage is good.  Not so much to eat but I've been told predator fish like to hang around it, gives 'em something to hide behind.  The plants I was seeing weren't of any size.  In a few weeks they'd break the surface and sprout flowers.  Also grab treble hooks and gum up lures.  Could be fish know they're meat and hang around cabbage so an angler can have a little cole slaw with his meal.  Balance in life, it's everywhere.
     Larry and I leapfrogged the other two.  Yeah, we were trying to beat the youngsters to the good water.  That's what grandpas do.  Our remaining good days are limited and we have to grab for the ring while we can.  The kids have decades left to them.  Their time will come.  Didn't matter, we might have led them up the shore but we found no fish.  Even the cabbage disappeared.
     We'd fished Three Island Lake a number of times in the last decade.  A decade earlier Larry and Ryan even went for an unintended swim.  Odd thing is, for all the hours spent on the water we'd only fished half the lake.  Not sure how that happened but it did.  Today the plan was to see it all.
     In the northwest corner the map showed a deep bay and islands.  Hearsay had it as a honey hole of pike and bass.  Of course hearsay tends to over inflate things like a cheap balloon.  Only one way to find out.  We turned the corner into a little world I'd been before on different lakes.  Odd how that works out.
     On the flip side, I'd had a mental image what this bay would look like.  Done that before.  Look at a map, daydream a bit and voila, I know exactly what a place will look and smell like.  Turned out, once again I was wrong.  My image was painted in grays and blacks, stump filled corners, lily pad clusters here and there, cruising pike tearing free of my red and white Dardevle as they hurdled deadheads.  Could have been spawned in my early teens by pencil drawings I'd seen in outdoor magazines.
     The reality was Minnesota tropical, bright light, sky blue water, acres of jade colored lily pads afloat in bog stained water surrounded by birch and pine.  Seemed to go back at least a quarter mile.  In here Larry turned our first bass and pike.  And that was it.  Maybe I should have packed some Dardevles.
     Jake and Ryan pulled into the bay about the time Larry was reeling in his pike.  The two were upright and dry.  I took that as a sign Ryan was doing okay in a canoe spoiling to cause trouble.  A brief chat and they slid though a narrow opening into an even more remote bay.  Don't believe they found any fish back there but did spook a pair of swans.  And when swans are spooked, their honking ruckus can be heard for miles.  Off they flew, wings beating lake till they rose and circled above us beneath a soaring eagle.  Would have made a great photo had I the right camera and presence of mind to use it.  Seems like most of the great photo ops end up as missed chances.  Or in my case, a gape-jawed stare and an, "Ain't that somethin'?"
     Leaving the bay, the four of us rode the downwind express and tried to fish the west shore as it passed by in a blur.  Who'd have believed we were sticking to the plan?  Guess there's another lesson there.  Once on the water it's all about the fish.  Plans go out the window when the bite is on.  A few years earlier on Burntwood Lake in Manitoba, my son and I were on the lookout for big walleyes.  We never found them.  We did find a pair of evenings when the two and three pounders just wouldn't turn us loose.  The big walleye plan quickly changed into the 'what the heck, let's stay here and hammer walleyes, saugers and perch by the dozens' plan.  Flexibility or sloth?  You be the judge, I just wanted to catch me some fish.
     At the downwind end of the lake lay an inlet of not-yet-in-bloom lily pads.  In the pads swam bass.  Even caught a few and would've caught more had not the wind moved us about like the proverbial leaf.  Would've been nice had the wind consulted us as to where we wanted to go.  We moved on into what turned out to be a labyrinth if small bays.  Each yard we paddled put us that much farther from the upwind access.  And all of those yards weighed on me.  For me and Larry it would have been nothing more than a half hour workout.
     For Ryan and Jakob it was a whole 'nuther story.  Wasn't so much the steady headwind that'd be a problem, it was the playful zephyrs.  Each turned out to be a slap to the front of their bow-raised canoe, pushing them to and fro.  Ryan'd make some headway and a gust would literally spin them around.  Finally they beached the Wenonah on the last point before the main body of the lake.  There we switched crews.  Jake climbed in with me.  The Alumacraft rides lower, not a lot but enough to make a difference.  Still, it was a struggle holding the nose of the canoe into the breeze.  Simple enough, Jake and I went with plan B, let the wind tack us slowly to our right and finally into the lee of an island.  There we corrected our course and nosed it into the waves and finally the access.  Made me feel good I could still get into some crap and come out of it okay.  Up front, Jake let out nary a peep.  Just kept paddling.  Says a lot about his personality and future.  Another day on the water in which the story wasn't about fishing.