Summertime. For me, the heat and the long days bring a flood of memories along with the bugs and sweat. I spent a lot of time at the pool when I was a kid, it was just up the street on the other side of the high school and we could walk there. Our public pool had just completed a new olympic size pool with lanes that were divided by the long strings of floating red and blue plastic pearls and it was about the coolest thing I had seen. Underneath the diving boards there was a big room where giant brown paper sacks of chlorine were added to the water and the air around that room smelled like acid and grapefruit. I remember vividly laying on the floor one summer evening, in the living room, with my eyes so inflamed from chlorine that I kept them closed and was only listening to Star Trek on the TV as mom cooked dinner in the kitchen. That was also the same summer that my brother brought home the first motorcycle and I got a Daisy 770 pump action BB gun to replace my trusty Red Rider and I started, in earnest and with serious intentions for the first time, to stalk squirrels in the back yard. Life was great, being a kid in Prairie Village KS in the early 70’s I had it all. A creek to play in, fields to watch my brother learn how to ride wheelies on the Elsinore and a small lake full of bluegill and bass to keep me busy, and curious. I have never outgrown my love of the aroma of two stroke exhaust, swimming pools where the concrete decking is too hot to walk on and figuring out how to catch a particular, individual fish. Most importantly, I am still curious.
Wisconsin started getting hot and the fishing in the Driftless was turning off, it was time to move and look for cooler weather. Cooler waters too. I headed North and found the Peshtigo River, it’s a beautiful bit of water running through a visually idyllic landscape near the Dunbar Barrens State Natural Area in upper Wisconsin, but I was there about a month or two too late to catch any trout. I managed to catch some small mouths out of that English Breakfast Tea colored water but not even very many of those.
I checked the maps, the Pike and Menominee Rivers were just a few hours away and roughly along the path I was taking to get to Lake Michigan and the U P. I was realizing that I was just too late to catch trout in these rivers, they were warm water fisheries now. I could head over to central Michigan and fish some tail water but it’s hot over there and looking likely to get even hotter. I headed Northeast and was aiming for Copper Harbor on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula but that was simply a destination on a map to give me a general heading. Via Facebook I found that there was a bluegrass festival happening an hour away so I headed over there for a very long weekend. I eventually made it into the Ottawa National Forest and landed at Bond Falls, north of Watersmeet and pretty close to the small town of Paulding, there the landscape was beautiful and the campground is free. I spent a few days scouting for photographs while watching the thermometer climb ever higher and the barometer drop. The weather system that was settling in was bringing thunderstorms and high winds along with a forecast for multiple days of the same. The people were nice enough in the area but not too keen on being photographed, that combined with the relatively poor fishing for me without a boat once again had me on the move. I wanted to head further north, and went down to Ashland where I stumbled upon the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center and the Aldo Leopold Land Stewardship Trail. I had been reacquainted with the writings of Aldo by a friend and had with me the copy of A Sand County Almanac that she had given me. I made a nice photograph of the trailhead and after posting the scan of the film to Instagram I was contacted by the folks at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. They will be using the image for some of their social media communications.
Sometimes navigating the rig through the landscape is the adventure and I’ve learned to let it happen and not worry about destinations or miles traveled in a day. I found myself wandering through The George Washington State Forest and over through Cloquet Valley seeing the towns of Togo and Bear River and further east through Brimson and Toimi ultimately ending up on the shore of Lake Superior near Tofte. The microclimate of the shore was wonderful place to hide from the heat, the winds coming off of Lake Superior are cool and refreshing. Unable to find a reason to keep moving I settled outside of Grand Marais for a few weeks, first camped at Devil Track Lake but repeated visits from a black bear to my camp encouraged me to look for another spot. I spent a day scouting and settled on Mink Lake, sort of out in the middle of nowhere but close enough to town that groceries were not going to be an issue. On Mink Lake I was befriended by Kevin Sutton who runs the Coldwater Foundation and operates the Mink Lake Wilderness Camp. He and his family are kind and generous, loaning me a canoe to use while I was there and sharing in wonderful conversations about life, the environment and ideas of self-awareness based on experiential learning through immersion in the wilderness. One of the things I am doing on this journey is listing and facing my fears. While out here at the edge of the boundary waters I was able to use that borrowed canoe to overcome my fear of deep water and small boats, I eventually got to the point where I was able to paddle across the middle of the lake to the far shore and back without a panic attack. For me the final step of conquering this fear was paddling out to the middle, capsizing on purpose and getting the canoe righted and back on board and paddling back to shore. I no longer have that fear and have moved another step closer to being fully self-aware and completely self-confident. Based on my own experience I encourage everyone to identify your fears, and with intentionality, create opportunities to face them and conquer them.