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Ely Echoes

Ely Echoes: The Portages Grow Longer

Written and illustrated by Bob Cary
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Ely Echoes
    Book Description:

    Striding exuberantly into the 21st century, Bob Cary recounts memorable experiences of the 20th century: fun-filled boyhood escapades during the Depression, anecdotes from the war years, tales of guiding dignitaries in the BWCAW, verbal snapshots of intriguing friends and neighbors up north, reflections on becoming a bridegroom in his seventies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9994-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iv-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Bob Cary

    My wife, Edie, and I live in the forest adjacent to Moose Lake, twenty-two miles east of Ely, where we enjoy the bounty of woods water, savoring deer and grouse, walleye, bass, trout, and panifish. This bounty we share with our neighbors, including timber wolves, bears, otters, hawks, eagles, and ospreys. Spring, summer, and fall, we paddle the canoes trails and walk the portages. In winter, we travel much of the same area, but on skis or snowshoes. In all of this, we have developed a profound appreciation for this wild country and for its former tenants, the Ojibwe people....

  4. Introduction
    (pp. viii-ix)

    Looking back on over three-fourths a century of life, I am aware luck exerts a considerable influence on survival. Everyone experiences luck, either good or bad. Given the choice, one is best advised to select the good variety. Mine has largely been good, far than deserved. In the course of events, rather early to be sure, a Guardian Angel made a fortunate appearance in my life.

    This patient and suffering Angel did not keep me from doing a lot of dumb things, but it did keep me from utter destruction. It got me through a number of childhood diseases; saw...

  5. Genesis
    (pp. xi-xv)

    Few of us remember much about the first couple of years we were on earth. No one ever says they recall being born although apparently we all were. Memory usually begins a few years later. I can recall two incidents from 1924, when I was three. The first was a in a canoe, a long, green craft that belonged to my Aunt Nell and that she kept at her summer cottage on the Fox River. Two of my older cousins took me for a ride, allowing me to sit on the varnished wooden floorboards in the center. My nose, I...

  6. We Didn’t Know There Was a Depression

    • Magical Summers
      (pp. 3-4)

      As some of us grow older, we inevitably find ourselves recalling the happier times of our youth. Perhaps magical times. In recent years, my thoughts go back to summers spent at the river cottage owned by my maiden aunt, Nell Patterson. A school teacher nine months of the year, Nellie migrated each summer to her white frame retreat on the river, where she could study and read. During the Depression, my father and mother were not opposed to having one less mouth to feed, a rather ravenous mouth at that; thus I was farmed out to Aunt Nell as her...

    • Happy Birthday, George
      (pp. 5-7)

      The large, framed print on the wall of Miss Ream’s sixth-grade class was the same familiar portrait of George Washington recognized on one-dollar bills. All members of Taft Grade School Class of 1933 knew February 22 was Washington’s birthday, a national and our esteem for the nation’s first president was measurably enhanced by the fact that there was no school on that day.

      It is doubtful that Miss Ream would have evinced any enthusiasm for something as nebulous as “President’s Day,” a relatively designation to include political figures of somewhat lesser stature .Nonetheless, on the days leading up to Washington’s...

    • God Bless You, Mr. Mapes
      (pp. 9-11)

      Gooseberry Falls is an interesting but rather familiar attraction to northland dwellers driving up Lake Superior’s shoreline. However for a thirteen-year-old Boy Scout fresh from the corn and soybean flats of Illinois, the sheer power and thunder of the falls awesome in the early June sunshine.

      There were nine of us on the two-week expedition led by Paul Mapes, a middle-aged manual arts teacher in the junior high and a dedicated scoutmaster. We always called him “Mister” Mapes. Although not a tall man, he had a bearing, an authority that commanded respect. Mr. Mapes’s specialty was woodworking, and as careful...

    • Doing the Rabbit Twist
      (pp. 12-14)

      “All we need is twenty feet of barbed wire.”

      Wally Stettler squinted thoughtfully at the open end of a sixinch clay tile protruding from the dirt slope at the end of a grassrimmed drainage ditch.

      “See those tracks?” he pointed at scuff marks in the ditch. “A rabbit’s using that tile as a den . . . if he’s in there, we can twist out.”

      Twist him? At age fourteen, I naturally deferred to Wally’s expertise. A dozen years my senior, he had grown up hunting rabbits on his family’s farm and those of our neighbors. In matters pursuit of...

    • Hockey at Heiden’s Slough
      (pp. 15-16)

      Christmas vacation! Ah, words of joy. A reprieve from the piercing scrutiny of our fourth-grade teacher. A time to think of food, carols, and laughter. . . and hockey on the frozen surface of Heiden’s Slough.

      The Heiden farm, like many in our area, was owned and operated by third-generation Germans. Like the others, they milked cows, raised chickens, sold eggs, grew corn, oats, and hay, plowed with horses, and eked out a very meager living. But unlike the farmers, the Heidens had a slough of forty acres, ten of which composed a cattail-rimmed pond. It was our hockey rink....

    • A Glorious Fourth of July
      (pp. 17-19)

      Fourth of July, 1934, dawned dry, hazy, windless, and hot. Cornfields drooped from an extensive drought that choked most of the Midwest.

      The nation was in the throes of the Great Depression, a financial disaster that had somehow invaded my own personal finances. The $ 1.50 weekly salary from my newspaper route had been unwisely spent, so I had no money for fireworks. The financial constraints of the Great Depression had finally encompassed my own resources.

      By 8:00 A.M. there were numerous pops and bangs up the street where my grade-school peers were busy shooting off firecrackers shouts of joy....

    • That Magnificent Car
      (pp. 20-22)

      I heard it was for sale. It sat on its four thin tires in Clyde Sheridan’s backyard, gleaming black enamel and bright chrome trim. The top was canvas, supported buggy-style, with no side curtains.

      “Whatcha want for it?”

      “Eighteen bucks.” Clyde wiggled a toothpick in his mouth.

      Admittedly, eighteen dollars was not a lot for an automobile. This one had seen some wear, since it was a Henry Ford 1916 two-seater. The year was 1938.

      “Will it run?”

      “Runs good. Lemme show you.”

      Clyde set the spark and gas levers on the steering shaft, went around in front, and spun...

    • An Electrifying Camp Experience
      (pp. 23-25)

      The first warm Friday afternoon of May, Art, Don, and I raced home from high school, gathered up our camping outfits, and had Don’s mother drive us to the DuPage River. In 1939, few farmers cared who wandered through their fields and woodlands; thus we could follow the watercourse downstream for eight to ten miles over the weekend and have another of our parents pick us up Sunday night at the little village of Shorewood. Friday-to-Sunday campouts were a regular occurrence, and this one began auspiciously.

      Hiking through emerging timothy and sweet clover, we savored the sounds of cows being...

  7. They Called it World War II

    • John Clemente and Benito Mussolini
      (pp. 29-31)

      “Mussolini is-a greatest-a man in-a history of-a Italy!”

      Mr. Clemente loved to hold forth over the counter in his little neighborhood grocery store, ticking off on his fingers the reported accomplishments of the new Italian dictator.

      “He’s-a build-a new roads, and-a new schools, and the trains-a all runna on time! Everybody he’s-a gotta job under Mussolini!”

      I heard this quite often since Clemente’s store was on my paper route and he would laud his hero even to a twelve-year-old kid dropping off the evening edition of theHerald-News.In the middle of the Great Depression, times were tough. Many people,...

    • Thanksgiving Feast
      (pp. 33-35)

      November 24, 1943, dawned with a few wisps of smoke rising from the jumbled wreckage and shredded trees on an island named Betio. From the relative calm of adjacent Bairiki, hundreds of Marines lay in the shade of swaying palms, staring at that strip of coral and sand two and a quarter miles long by a half mile wide, which had been a horrifying hellhole for the past seventy-six hours.

      Betio was the heavily fortified command post on a curving, island-dotted atoll the world would know as Tarawa. In those seventy-six hours, 3,301 Marines had fallen to concentrated, pointblank gunfire...

    • A Very Personal War
      (pp. 36-38)

      We are much older now. What hair we have left is mostly white. Some of us walk with difficulty. But fifty years ago we were young, brash, vigorous, and proud. The combat troops of World War II.

      Last month the nation commemorated VE Day, Victory in Europe. The surrender of German forces on May 8, 1945. In August we will commemorate the surrender of Japanese armed forces, August 14, 1945. Only it started a year before that. It started on June 15, 1944, with the invasion of the islands of Saipan and Tinian. It would be from the airfield on...

    • Armistice Day
      (pp. 39-41)

      November 11 is Veterans Day.

      Words and numbers officially on the calendar.

      There will be some sound bites on TV, required comments by members of the Congress and the President, and quiet dinners in American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars club rooms across the nation. But for those of us old enough to remember, November 11 will always be “Armistice Day,” a day set aside not only by nation but by a war-weary world to commemorate the end in 1918 of what was then the most terrible conflict in world history.

      As grade-schoolers, we were well aware of the...

    • Dad’s Victory Garden
      (pp. 42-44)

      “Your father has the finest Victory Garden in the entire neighborhood.” So read the letter from my mother in 1942 as I sat in the shade of a huge banyan tree growing on the bullet-shredded island of Guadalcanal. I was part of a contingent of U.S. Marines engaged in the first attempt to dismantle the Japanese “Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” which encompassed much of the Pacific at the time.

      The garden news was rendered somewhat unbelievable because my father, although a skilled engineer, had never to my so much as raised a radish. It was over two years and three...

    • Winton’s Winged Warrior of WW II
      (pp. 45-47)

      November 11, 1998.

      Armistice Day for the nearly vanished veterans of World War I. Veteran’s Day for the rapidly thinning ranks of World War II servicemen. When the bugle sounds for our departed comrades this November 11, those of us who can will stand erect and once more salute the flag we fought for. And none will stand taller or straighter than eighty-one-year-old Tauno Maki of Winton, Minnesota. This is his story.

      It was a calm, sunshiny day, November 10, 1944, a blue sky dotted with white cumulus. Twelve Flying Fortresses composing Squadron 511 took off from Northhamptonshire, England, each...

  8. Typewriter North

    • Dancing Spirits in the Mists
      (pp. 51-53)

      It seems almost sacrilege to stir the colors with a paddle. Chrome cadmium orange, alizarin crimson, raw sienna, magenta, rose madder, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, cobalt, cerulean blue—a shimmering palette reflecting the shoreline hues and arching sky that glides past the canoe hull in the awesome splendor of a breathtaking October day.

      For many of us who live on the rim of the canoe country, or even come a great distance to visit, autumn ushers in a time of magic. Summer’s throngs of vacationers are largely gone. Lakes are calm, deserted. Portage trails, damp and pungent, lie carpeted with...

    • It All Begins with Bobber
      (pp. 54-56)

      “Whatcha doin’, Grampa?”

      “Fixing your line with a bobber.”

      “What’s the bobber for?”

      “Tells you when you’ve got a bite.”

      “How can it tell you?”

      “You’ll see.’”

      After properly impaling a wriggling worm, I dropped the line off the edge of the dock, and the red and white bobber came to rest on the surface of the lake. My three-year-old granddaughter, Jessica, sat alongside me on the sun-drenched, weathered dock boards, her feet dangling into space.

      “Ooh!” Jessica let out a gasp as the bobber bounced up and down, then dove. With a slight assist from Grandpa, her fish pole...

    • USFS Gets Even
      (pp. 57-58)

      Maybe it was payback time. Some readers of our newspaper have remarked that I have been just a smidgen critical of the Forest Service. There are some who say even unfair. Anyhow, Kawishiwi District Ranger Art Wirtz invited me to fly over the Little Gabbro fire a week ago, an enterprise that was certainly worth a story. One definitely showing the USFS in a positive light. The controlled natural burn at Ely eventually became big stuff in the metro last week, but we were there first. Flying over the fire with Wirtz, forester Ralph Bonde, and pilot Wayne Erickson was...

    • For Shame
      (pp. 59-59)

      One of our regular readers sent in an article from theWall street Journalabout England’s $75,000 Normark Fishing Contest. The Sponsors insist on entrants taking a lie detector test. This has British anglers upset. However, the sponsors note that in 1992 the British Angling Times banned a John Watson from the British Pike Championship when it was reported that he entered the same fish on three separate times in the Fish of the Week category.

      “We never have such a problem,” the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society of the U.S. notes. The B.A.S.S. group holds sixteeen tournaments with $4 million...

    • The Approach of Springtime
      (pp. 61-63)

      Pea Soup Lake is open.

      This may not mean much to most readers, particularly those from out of town, but Pea Soup Lake on the Fernberg Road is one of spring’s surest signs of arrival. It is small, shallow, contains nothing much except minnows, but when the ice goes off, it is one more indication that summer is inevitably on the way.

      Certainly robins are in yards gathering straw for their nests, ducks are obvious on Shagawa and Burntside Rivers, bird-watchers are toting up sightings of rare arrivals heading northward, and woodpeckers are whomping out chunks of aged popple to...

    • Going Bugs
      (pp. 64-66)

      For weeks there have been reports of robins, eagles, loons, hawks, all manner of flying critters, harbingers of summer, but last week I saw the first real, incontestable sign. I saw my first blackfly.

      If there is anything that signals the coming of summer, it is that pesky little creature that goes by the alias of “sand fly” or “gnat,” among printable appellations. They are on par, in the value with ticks, both somewhere below the zero mark and certainly no credit to God’s handiwork. On the contrary, there is good reason to believe blackflies and ticks were created in...

    • Canceling Out
      (pp. 67-69)

      Seems these four guys and their sons scheduled a week’s canoe trip, and at dawn, off they went with a tow to Basswood Lake. But something went wrong. They were back at the outfitters the same night. Trip over.

      What happened was not easy to discover, but apparently at least one of the dads thought they were going to live in a cabin somewhere in the Boundary Waters and go fishing every day in the canoe. Of course, there are no cabins in the Boundary Waters, at least none you can rent and live in. Stay in a tent? For...

    • Duck Stuff
      (pp. 71-72)

      When it rains, it pours, or something to that effect. Or whatever can go wrong, will, according to Murphy’s Law. Two weeks ago, driving back from Babbitt at night, Andy Hill ran into a bull moose that demolished the car he was driving. Totaled it. Bad luck. Putting that behind him, what with the duck season about to open, Hill went out to his favorite slough to build a duck blind. Because of low water, he couldn’t get the boat back into the area where he usually hunts, so he decided to build a blind out of poles in more...

    • Opening Day
      (pp. 73-75)

      Cousin Willie and I went out on the walleye opener. Willie is an Ely summer-home owner from Aurora, Illinois. He isn’t much for ice-fishing, so the spring opener is a pretty heavy deal with him. While figures ice fishermen are all mentally challenged. Learning impaired, maybe. They don’t start out that way, but they get their brain frostbit. Willie prefers fishing in open water. It was open on opening day, Saturday. The solunar tables said peak fishing was 10:10 A.M. We were on the water at 7 A.M.

      Willie: What’re we riggin’ with?

      Me: Minnows.

      Willie: Just minnows?

      Me: Jigs...

    • Some Thoughts on Fishing
      (pp. 76-79)

      Nothing beats fishing with kids. There is something about seeing kids catch fish that sort of makes us relive our own early fishing days.

      Within the past couple of weeks I was lucky enough to go fishing with two sets of kids. The first were Matt and Josh Dayton, sons of Gene Dayton, whose family has a summer place on Jasper Lake. Matt, age fifteen, a junior Olympic ski champion and well on his way to becoming a U.S. ski team member, was in my canoe. His brother Josh, age five, was in a canoe with his dad.

      We got...

  9. The Best Kind of Work

    • My Friend the Duck Hunter
      (pp. 83-85)

      My Friend the Duck Hunter from up the lake always blamed me for his divorce because I was the guy who introduced him to duck hunting. This was in days of yore, when the hunting endeavor became his chief obsession, resulting in long absences from home,etc., a situation that is not conducive to matrimonial harmony. However, I have never entirely accepted the theory that duck hunting was the problem. It may have been a contributing cause, but this and other matters led to other rifts and disputes that eventually resulted in a parting of ways.

      This matter has always been...

    • Remembering Charles
      (pp. 86-86)

      Last Tuesday, they laid Charles Kuralt away at Chapel Hill in his home state of North Carolina. Hard to find anyone in the U.S. who didn’t know Charles Kuralt from CBS television. He had another career as an author and a third one as owner of the Ely radio station WELY. It was my stroke of good fortune to have met with Mr. Kuralt a couple of times, talking “shop” as one newsman to another. He related how he started out as a writer for the Charlotte, North Carolina, newspaper and then got picked up by CBS, which was expanding...

    • From Birdshot
      (pp. 87-88)

      A reporter for theSt. Paul Pioneer Presswas in the Chamber of Commerce office last week. Came up to do an article on how awful everybody in Ely must feel about the long winter and all that stuff. She got an awful shock. “Hey, you are in winter country, now,” Linda Fryer told her. “We had the greatest winter for recreation ever.”

      “But how about this late ice-out. How does this affect everybody?” the reporter asked.

      Barb DeToffol had just walked in the office. “If you think people have long faces up here, you’re wrong,” she said. “What we...

    • Pond Singers
      (pp. 89-90)

      They come out about as soon as the ice is off for good, the days are warm, and the grass starts to green up . . . the Hyla crucifers. Little Hyla crucifers. There are lots of Hylas, but the ones we have around here are teeny weenies, although they make a lot of noise for their size.

      Spring peepers. The little brownish-gray frogs that appear as if by magic in every roadside ditch, beaver pond, flooded woodland low spot, marsh, creek bottom . . . wherever it is wet in the spring. Up here, peepers are the earliest frogs...

    • Late Autumn Symphony
      (pp. 91-93)

      Hill: Hey, the crappies are hitting up on Basswood. You wanna go?

      Me: I got a lot of stuff to do. You’re sure they are biting?

      Hill: Man, they are killing ‘em. I was up with Steve Piragis last week. Got some slabs. Like pie plates.

      (So it was that on Sunday morning, Andy Hill, Jeff Nosbisch, and I set out for Basswood Lake. The wind was blowing—maybe howling is a better word. We pulled the boat across at Prairie Portage, using a slick set of wheels Hill had invented, then banged and boomed through the waves past Bailey...

    • The Ahlgrens
      (pp. 94-96)

      Along the roadways, purple and pale blue asters were arrayed in clumps, interspersed with yellow ragweed and the whitish heads of pearly everlasting. It was while absorbed in these fall flowers that I chanced upon Cliff and Isabel Ahlgren, taking one of their daily walks. As a neophyte flower student, I remarked upon the types of asters I had observed, a statement that elicited a hearty laugh. Not two, they informed me, but fifteen types of asters dwell in the Boundary Waters area. (They still look like two to me).

      The Ahlgrens, lest time dims the memory, were the two...

    • A Man Named Stanley Owl
      (pp. 97-100)

      Stanley said he was a Huron, from up in the Nipigon River country of Ontario, but he spent most of his adult life guiding anglers in the border waters of northern Minnesota and Ontario, in the land of the Ojibwe. Stan said he had a lot of Ojibwe relatives and when he wasn’t guiding, he could be found on one reservation or another, hanging out. We first met Stan back in the early 1950s, up in the Crooked Lake country, an area that he came to know quite intimately and where his guiding skills became legendary.

      It was the spring...

    • Some Travel by Dogsled
      (pp. 101-103)

      Hike! Hike!

      The sound of mushers urging their dog teams to hit the trail, the barking and baying of huskies, Indian dogs, and all varieties in-between, signals the start of the winter trout season on the border lakes. Saturday, January 3, was the official opener on trout lakes wholly within the Boundary Waters, and while snow in the woods was not as heavy as one might wish, the lakes were frozen and snow-packed and the surfaces fast.

      It isn’t the fish. If it was just the fish, nobody would be out with sled dogs or on skis. We would simply...

    • First Come, First Served
      (pp. 104-106)

      The thump of furtive footsteps on the front deck was followed by a crash. Thoroughly awakened, I flipped on the bed lamp. One A.M., barefoot and pajama-clad, I dashed to the living room and turned on the porch light. Two bears of about 250 pounds each, one black, one brown, were in the process of dismantling the large bird feeder that formerly hung from the eaves.

      “Scat! Git!” was all it took to get the bears in motion. They shuffled off into the dark. I retrieved my battered feeder. Another episode in a thirty-year saga of living with bears.


    • Ringing in the New
      (pp. 107-108)

      Slowly they filtered into the gaily decorated dining hall of the nursing home. Some limped in with canes, some shuffled in with the aid of walkers, assisted by smiling volunteers, and the balance were wheeled in. A few laughed and chatted with each other and attendants. But most just sat silently.

      It was the annual nursing home New Year’s Eve party. Four of us had volunteered to provide music. Bonnie Starkman, who runs flower and seed store, arranged her music on the piano. Former school teacher Byron Moren tuned up his string bass. Retired school staffer Ron Bronkowski fingered the...

    • The Ferocious Finn Found
      (pp. 109-109)

      If there is something you need to know around Ely, simply ask the right person. If you can find him. Or her. A week or so back we ran a little piece about the “Ferocious Finn” fishing lure, a large, shiny spoon that Jim Pluth brought in. The question we asked in theEchowas, “Who was the Ferocious Finn?”

      Who walks into theEchooffice last week but Lyman Childers, who has a pretty good handle on what happened around Ely for the last few decades, particularly where it relates to fishing.

      The Ferocious Finn, says Lyman, was a...

  10. Living in the Land of the Ojibwe

    • G.G.
      (pp. 113-117)

      To an assortment of great-grandchildren she has always been “G.G.” Great-Grandmother Cornelia. To my sister, brother-in law, wife and me, she is Mom, but a rather unusual Mom by any measure. As this was being written, the family was preparing for her 105th birthday.

      Mom was born on August 21, 1894, when Grover Cleveland was President. She lived to see the United States change from horse-drawn transportation to the family car. She took an airplane ride when the first barnstorming pilots toured the nation after World War I, marveled at television, space travel, and the incredible sight of a man...

    • Entertaining Immunity
      (pp. 118-119)

      It was probably the night that the Beaver Patrol of Scout Troop 48 camped in a patch of poison ivy that I discovered my immunity. The entire patrol of twelve-year-olds broke out with rashes and blisters, except me. Poison ivy was common where I grew up . . along the streams we fished, and in farm fields and woodlands. In time, my growing reputation of having immunity to poison ivy not only was a source of personal satisfaction, but also provided a modest cash income. People paid me to pull up poison ivy plants around their summer cottages, yards, and...

    • The Sheer Wonder of Autumn
      (pp. 121-123)

      The sheer wonder of it all.

      How fortunate to be blessed with eyes to see the changing forest patterns and to have those eyes connected by nerve impulses to the mind that can comprehend it all. From the first September splashes of yellow in the birches, through the blazing red and orange of October, the northern world has moved into more muted grey, russet, grey-green, tan, and gold tints of early November.

      It is an annual event, this changing from summer through fall to winter, but it is just as awesome this year as it was last year, and it...

    • Tale of a Cat
      (pp. 124-125)

      Dick Hall tells a story about this family with a large, rather old, black and white cat. The family was leaving for the weekend, and a few days before they were going, they asked their next-door neighbor to check on the cat, make sure it had food and water. On Friday, the neighbor remembered the family had left and was preparing to go over and check on the cat when he was horrified to see his own dog, a rather large and surly beast, come home dragging that same cat by the neck, very bedraggled and very dead. Anticipating big...

    • There’s Big Money in Wolf Fur (Especially If It's Walking Around)
      (pp. 127-130)

      Up to 1965, wolves were worth thirty-five dollars each to the state of Minnesota. That was the bounty fee the Department of Natural Resources paid trappers or hunters for dead wolves. The rationale was that if trappers were paid to wipe out wolves, wild game such as deer would become much more abundant. Proponents envisioned a buck deer standing behind every tree. The wolf, as we were taught from childhood, was a vicious marauder that would not only kill and eat every Bambi in the woods, but might even dine on Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Great theater, but not...

    • Sometimes We Go on Foot
      (pp. 131-133)

      The snow on Lake One lay white and smooth, broken only by tracks of moose, deer, wolves, otter, mink, and marten. There had been a few cars parked at the Lake One landing and boot prints to the shoreline, but no one had ventured out on the snow-crusted ice. Maybe afraid the ice was not safe, a reasonable assessment considering the kind of winter we are having.

      However, the lure of the deep forest, the attraction of “what’s the next bend” was too strong to resist. Procuring a fifteen-foot pole and locking it under my right arm, I took off...

    • Speckled Trophies of Tiny Brooks
      (pp. 134-136)

      There are, in the vicinity of Isabella, Minnesota, a number of icy-cold little streams that meander northward through dense stands of jack pine, birch, and aspen. These brooks are quite unlike the brawling, boulder-strewn rivers such as the Cascade, Temperance, Baptism, Manitou, Split Rock, Gooseberry, and others of prominence that crash south in thundering froth from the Laurentian Divide to Lake Superior.

      By contrast, the small, north-flowing streams, including the Mitawan, Arrowhead, Dumbbell, Inga, Jack, Little Isabella, and scott, for the most part slide unobtrusively through bog and brush and quietly but resolutely migrate towards the Arctic Ocean.

      The one...

    • Good Morning, Corvus
      (pp. 137-138)

      His name is Corvus Cristatus. He’s a handsome fellow, sometimes pretty noisy. And he is tough enough to survive in the northland all winter. Some people consider him somewhat of a thief, but that is not exactly correct. He merely helps himself to whatever is available.

      Most of us know him better by the name “blue jay.” Corvus Cristatus is his Latin designation. Now, lest someone get the impression that this writer is well-versed in either Latin or ornithology, it ain’t so. The reason why I happen to know the blue jay is called Corvus Cristatus is that there is...

    • Revenge of the Otter
      (pp. 139-139)

      To forestall rumors concerning how my upper lip got smashed last week: the damage was done by an otter. See, my boat is parked on a skid so it can be pushed off into the lake when we are going fishing. Thus it was that last week I was sliding the boat down the skid to the water when suddenly my feet slipped out from underneath me and my face hit the gunwale. Heck of a bang. First, I felt to make sure my front teeth were still in place. They were, but my lip was split wide open and...

    • Canoe Season
      (pp. 141-142)

      It’s canoe season again.

      The 1998 canoe season actually got underway two weeks ago, when the ice went off the rivers and local paddlers began dipping blades into the Burntside and Shagawa rivers. Of course, just about all the ice blew off the lakes early last week, so canoes can go anywhere now; however, a week ago there was still ice on most waters. But not on the rivers. And the rivers were where we went.

      There is a nice landing on the Burntside River just off the Wolf Lake Road, marked by signs and a parking lot. It was...

    • It’s a Matter of Patriotic Belief
      (pp. 143-145)

      For many of us, it is really a matter of patriotism. That is, our belief in America, its constitution, its woods, waters, historical heritage, and fish—mainly the fish—require us to solemnly observe Opening Day, which is coming up Saturday, May 15. Many of the nonfishing folk do not understand this. Sometimes not even members of our own families.

      There is a misdirected assumption among some nonfishing folk that we are engaged in some form of recreation, that we really enjoy heading forth by boat or canoe to seek a limit of walleyes, northern pike, bass, or trout. Nothing...

  11. A Tribal Matter

    • Honoring a Promise to Tommy Chosa
      (pp. 149-150)

      Colorful. Laconic. Competent. Contrary. Perceptive. All were words to describe Tommy Chosa, last of the old-time Indian guides from Ely.

      He was also one of the last people to own private land inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area—forty acres he had purchased from the U.S. government. That’s the same U.S. government that snookered Tommy’s Ojibwe ancestors out of the whole area under the Treaty of 1854.

      Yet there were still Ojibwe people living at Washington Island, Prairie Portage, and Jackfish Bay of Basswood Lake until that same government decided it was a wilderness and that white men could not...

    • January Ice and Snow
      (pp. 151-152)

      The lake ice, which started booming in November, has now thickened and settled into an occasional guttural grunt. Puffs of white vapor drift away with each breath as we squint at the outdoor thermometer. The red line of mercury terminates at 22 below. Dry, hard-packed trail snow creaks beneath sled runners, skis, and mukluks. But the sky is a cloudless, deep cobalt and the sun glints on myriad snow crystals stretching in an unbroken, sequined blanket to the blue-green shoreline rim of spruce and fir.

      It is time to go out and see what the trout are about.

      As they...

    • The Night the Aliens Came
      (pp. 153-155)

      “The spaceship was hovering over the trees just to the north of the Fernberg Road between Ely and Wood Lake” was the startling report we printed on the front page of theEly Echonewspaper. The story went on to say it was disc-shaped, silvery, with a row of bright lights all around the outside rim.

      The account was accompanied by a slightly blurred but legible photo of the space craft, lights and all, just above a row of popple trees, which appeared like thin, black fingers protruding from the darkness below. Without question, it was one of the most...

    • Second Time Around
      (pp. 157-163)

      I proposed marriage to Edith Annette Sommer on the first fairway of the Ely Municipal Golf Course. It was November 1997, but we were not playing golf. We were crosscountry skiing. Skiers are aware that the first skiing each winter is likely to be had at the local golf course because it requires a mere three inches of snow over the smooth grass to provide an adequate surface. Both of us are ski racers, and we train regularly.

      Indeed, we had been skiing every day for two weeks when I popped the question. And for two months prior to that...

    • Wesley Ottertail
      (pp. 164-165)

      Tucked way in the shelter of Wilkins Bay, on the northeast side of huge Lac La Croix, is Zup’s Fishing Resort and Canoe Outfitters. It was here, the summer of our first year of marriage, that Edith and I landed aboard one of Jay Handberg’s Canadian Beaver floatplanes, taxied up to the dock, and disembarked. Over several decades, my first wife, Lil, and I had outfitted numerous canoe trips into Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park through Zup’s, and it was my intent to introduce Edie to the scenic western portion of the park, containing Rebecca Falls, Curtain Falls, stands of towering...

    • Veteran’s Fishing Trip
      (pp. 166-168)

      It was colder than the dickens, that first spring the Ely VFW and American Legion held the Veteran's Fishing Weekend at the new Veterans’ on the Lake resort facility. The ice had been off Fall Lake for just a few days, and there were skeins of snow in the air. About fifty patients and staff from the St. Cloud VA Hospital were on hand for Opening Day, and about forty guides and other volunteers, including the Women’s Auxiliaries, were taking care to see the patients had a good time. Well, as good as you can with kind of weather.


    • There’s Nothing Wrong with a Fish Dinner
      (pp. 169-170)

      The sun was coming up somewhere, but it was not visible except for a pale luminescence appearing above a curtain of blue-gray mist ghosting off the black surface of Moose Lake. Off in the distance, the quavering cry of a solitary loon mourned the passing of summer.

      Lying on the grass, hull side up, the canoe wore a thin coating of white frost. It was the second day of fall, the season the Ojibwe people call Waatebagaa, the leaves-turning moon.

      Our destination lay two portages up. Really, one portage and one drag-through, upstream through a riffle we can sometimes paddle...

    • Recycling Grouse
      (pp. 171-171)

      Let it said that we who live out in the woods are up to speed on the environment, particularly recycling. For instance, a ruffed grouse flew through the window of my Cousin Willie’s cabin last week. Ka-Boom! Killed it deader than last week’s news. “What a shame,” said Willie, looking sorrowfully at the colorful bird. “Not so,” I replied, “one must have faith that the Lord provideth. He hath provideth a dinner.”

      Thus it was that the grouse was dressed out, properly cut up, and made part of a wild rice casserole. Waste not, want not, as our pioneer forebears...

    • Busy
      (pp. 172-173)

      Flying conservation officer Bob Hodge banked over the south shore Shagawa Lake, brought the nose of the Cessna 180 around into the west wind, and cut the throttle back. Flaps down, he was descending toward the seaplane base when his sharp eyes picked out a foreign object underwater just offshore. “Gill net,” he said half aloud, marked its location, and then glided in for the landing. At the the hangar he rang up his fellow officer Bob Jacobsen.



      “Bob . . . Listen I was just coming in over Shagawa and spotted a gill net in front of...

    • Those with Four Legs, More or Less
      (pp. 174-175)

      Other than receiving Social Security checks, there are not many advantages to being a grandfather. But watching kids discover the out-of-doors may be even better than the checks.

      Edie’s grandkids from Walker were up for a visit last week, and they wanted to take a hike. At ages seven and three, kids need an adult to accompany them in the woods. And it so happened that Grandpa Bob was available, so off we went on the network of ski and hiking trails on the property adjacent to the Moose Lake Road. Seven-year-old Alex is extremely agile and had no problem...