Northwoods canoe country...a journal entry

Lorax

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I spent some time this weekend paddling around the “canoe country” as it’s known to quite a few. It extends from north central Wisconsin, across the U.P. and famously into and across the border of Minnesota and Canada. Some of this is the most dense areas of lakes in the world and it seems like you can puddle jump and portage anywhere you may want to go. I’m developing a real love for the canoe country in the 3 and a half years I’ve been here, and it’s a love that started as a teenager reading about the Voyageurs and their connection with the land and waters where they made their living. It extended to the writings of ‘ol Sig Olsen, the journals of McKenzie and reading the history of the people who inhabited the region. Helping it along were the many trips in my life to the boreal forests and waters of Maine, Algonquin Provincial Park, and places like Lady Evelyn Smoothwater just to mention a few.

The waters hold a special place with me. It combines all that I love. The perfect balance of land, water, pack and paddle. It’s a blend of powerful sensations. The curve of a perfect J-stroke in a semi conscious cadence of the Voyageurs of long ago. The wake of a hungry smallmouth bass in the misty awakening of a lake early in the morning. The smell of the crisp, clean lake air as well as the tannic aroma of marsh and seepage. The craggy, hard shoreline of an ancient coniferous forest against the background of soft pines. The transition of means in which to move about the back country from water to portage trail with your canoe on your shoulders. Frosty mornings that sting the fingertips. The head raising curiosity of a feeding moose. The smell of the campfire warming the cast iron in anticipation of the next hearty meal. The sounds of nuthatches scurrying up and down the tree trunks as chickadees look on curiously. That warming first sip of coffee made over a fire while staring out over a sunrise. The wildlife, beavers, loons, deer and eagles going about their business of preparing for the changes of the seasons. The soul stirring, ever changing painting in progress, right before your eyes, of sunsets ablaze against the earthy colors of water,forest and rock. It’s all there.

Like the setting sky against the hard earth, there is contrast, but only there do you find balance as well. For every hour spent gliding silently across the liquid glass, mesmerized by the stillness and solitude, there is fury in the wind and raw power in the gales. It churns at the landscape darkened by angry skies. It is a thankful paddler who gets where he wants to be early. There are days that the skies are a brilliant electric blue, and with such a clearness that it leaves you feeling good to just be alive, alert, aware and moving with the tempo of the surroundings. The next day, however, can see the blackest of storms race in on top of you with much fury and pound down on you unmercifully, forbidding you passage. Within this commotion, within this struggle of the forces in which you seek solitude and peace, you try to find the balance. Some days it’s easier to find than others. It’s what keeps us going back. With a full pack, paddle in hand and a sturdy craft, be it canoe or kayak, it’s as good a place as any to spend quality time in the backcountry.

I’ll keep going back to these places, for every lake and river has a soul. I know this because I’ve spent much time looking deep into them. I’ve seen their temperament and felt their pulse. And whether it was at ease or whether it was quickened by circumstances, they have felt mine too. It is this kinship, with not only the water, but with all things wild that keep me coming back. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
 

oldsarge

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Sounds like an absolutely great place to be! I can visualized through your description how peaceful it must be. What a great article. I'd like to try that with a kayak. How long do you stay out?
 

wvbreamfisherman

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Lorax- did you ever read "Ultimate Notrh" by Robert Douglas? It's about him and his son canoeing the Mackinzie River. Good read, it was the book that got me interested in that country, and into Olson's books as well.
 

Lorax

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Sounds like an absolutely great place to be! I can visualized through your description how peaceful it must be. What a great article. I'd like to try that with a kayak. How long do you stay out?
This was just some journal ramblings from a long weekend out solo in Northern WI. There's so many great places to get out here, incredible rivers and vast forests full of lakes. The areas north in the UP to Lake Superior and all the way across northern MN are incredible also.
I thought I would submit it for the article contest. It was one of those things where you write a few thoughts on a rock in the moment somewhere and expand on it a little upon returning. It's one of my favorite pieces from my journals.

Glad you enjoyed it.
 

Judy Ann

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I was captured with " the curve of the perfect J-stroke..." and transported to a part of this country that I've never visited. Excellent descriptive details Lorax! I enjoyed your submission.
 
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ppine

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Lorax,

A nice entry. I one thing I miss about the north woods would be loons. They really set the tone of the place especially early and late. In NV and ne CA we get a few migrants in the spring and fall and it always reminds me of the days on the Boundary Waters.
 

Lorax

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Lorax- did you ever read "Ultimate Notrh" by Robert Douglas? It's about him and his son canoeing the Mackinzie River. Good read, it was the book that got me interested in that country, and into Olson's books as well.
Never read it, but it's on my list now. Thanks!
 

Edwardfug

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but I dont like mucking around. Some people are finicky enough about the hygiene of life or frozen food, yet they will stick soil in their tanks.
 

ppine

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I used to have a friend that graduated from the Univ of Michigan in forestry around 1938. He passed away recently. Al did a two week trip in what is now the Boundary Waters in the early days. His outfitter was Sig Olsen.
 
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