Grandpa and Adrien: Lunch in Tofte

It was Matt’s idea. He’s the one to blame. Or to thank. You be the judge once you’ve read this story.

“Let’s go canoeing,” my eldest son suggested.

“Where?”

“Brule.”

I stopped and pondered our past trips as father and son into one of the largest lakes in the BWCA. Brule was the first lake I canoed, back in 1969 or ’70 as a Boy Scout. That was before the lake was wilderness. Motors were still allowed. There were cabins and at least one resort on its shores. But in 1978, when the BWCA became reality, all that disappeared, leaving behind a formidable body of water with over 60 miles of shoreline that can be, due to its west to east layout, the perfect alignment for nasty waves to daunt even the most experienced canoeist. The lake was, to my thinking, too big to tackle for my grandson’s first foray into the Boundary Waters. Perent would be a better choice, I thought. Easier in and easier out. Walleyes are plentiful. Brule, not so much. But Matt was eager to take his son on an adventure so I held my tongue. With one exception.

“OK. But I’m not hiking up that freakin’ cliff into Wench Lake!”

The reference wasn’t lost on Matt. On our previous excursions into Brule, Matt had insisted that we portage into Wench, a bucolic little brook trout lake. He’d fished Wench once with great success back in high school and so, dreams of fat 16-20″ brookies colored his otherwise solid common sense. Trips into Wench require an arduous climb up and down a narrow, twisting, tree and rock blocked, bug infested portage. Both times I’d made that sacrifice, we’d caught zero fish. I wasn’t going to fall for Matt’s optimism again, especially with a six year old in tow.

“Alright. But the brookies…”

“Enough. No Wench Lake.”

To be fair, Matt put it all together. He made the reservation for our permit, created a grocery list and a menu, and did all of the shopping (with his wife’s kind assistance!) So I had little room to complain. My part? Pull together all the equipment needed: cook kit, stove, lantern, tarp, utensils, and assorted other camping items, pack them, and get the once red, now faded pink, old Coleman ABS canoe ready for the trip.

After stopping for our permit and lunch in Tofte on Wednesday afternoon, we headed up the Caribou Trail. The day was bright and open when we arrived at the Brule Lake landing. Every thing seemed perfect. Except…

Matt and Adrien at Brule landing.

There was a breeze coming in from the west.  At the landing, the wind had little effect. But I knew that, once we hit the big lake, we’d be in for it. Especially with hundreds of pounds of gear, precariously poised packs, and a six year old seated in the bottom of the canoe. And I was right. It was a battle to keep the Coleman headed on course, slicing the waves diagonally, as two-footers rolled beneath the plastic keel. But after missing out on a number of campsites and crisscrossing the broiling lake to minimize the impact of the wind, we finally found our temporary home.

Adrien at the campsite with his first fish.

Within five minutes of landing, the grandkid reeled in a scrawny pike and a tadpole-sized smallmouth bass, leaving us all with the false impression fishing would be a snap. While AJ fished, the adults set up camp and establishing the routine that would be in place for the next four nights and five days: Mark would gather lake water and start the two burner stove. Matt would prepare the meals. Mark and Adrien would then do the dishes, taking care to deposit the soapy water well away from the campsite and the lake.

Grandpa’s tent.

Thursday dawned gray and windy. After breakfast, we paddled around the east end of the lake in search of walleye. We never found them. But it became clear that first day of fishing that the kid would end up besting his grandpa and his dad. In the end, we elected Adrien President of the Brule Lake Fishing Club, not only because he caught the biggest fish (an 18″ smallmouth), or the most, but because he also endured a day and a half of swirling rain in the bottom of the Coleman as we fished. The kid never complained a once about his lot, a remarkable circumstance given his age and the fact that he was soaked to the skin.

After the epic battle, one of AJ’s big fish in the net!

Typical dinner in camp.

AJ battles another lunker in the rain.

When the rain abated and the wind calmed, the sun finally peaked from behind the wall of gray that had defined the sky since our arrival. Though we didn’t portage the canoe into other lakes, we took a couple of side trips to show Adrien how portages allow travel between lakes.

Portage to Vernon Lake.

And while we never saw the arch typical mammal of the north, moose being reluctant to show themselves for fear that Adrien’s mom, Lisa (who’s never seen a moose) might become upset, we did have a family of loons-mom, dad, and teenager-follow us in the shallow bay abutting the portage to Echo Lake. It was the sort of close encounter with Minnesota’s state bird that generally only happens in waterways devoid of outboards.

Momma and juvenile loon.

After dinner we sat around the campfire, the most elemental and ancient of mankind’s rituals, and read. Matt read to himself while I read aloud to Adrien from Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy, regaling my grandson with tales of magery and wizards that seemed to enthrall the child as darkness slipped over us.

Adrien and Matt, Echo Lake.

Reading LeGuin.

Saturday’s nightfall brought with a full moon and a chance to count stars, a nearly impossible task in the city; a totally unrealistic endeavor in the wilderness. It also found Grandpa digging into his tent to pull out a ragged copy of Doug Wood’s new book, Deep Woods, Wild Waters. I’ve been reading the book for awhile but thought, after encountering one of Doug’s stories, “The Wild Wind”, it needed telling around the fire. It’s story of nature’s power, about endurance, in the face of a sudden, catastrophic storm in the Boundary Waters:

We stood, shivering, under a rain tarp I’d hung the night before. It flapped crazily in the wind, somehow still partially tied. The gale screamed, trees bent and shuddered, and we could feel the ground moving beneath our feet as great pines strained against their roots…

Powerful stuff, that. I’d been reading Woods’s stories, in between snippets of Poets and Writers magazine by headlamp in my tent. If the gist of the tale, that God’s forces are strong and we are pitifully small, frightened Adrien, it didn’t show.

 

The author thinking authorial thoughts in his tent.

Ready to leave Heaven.

Oh. I need to add this: God must have been looking out for the Munger Boys despite our overloaded canoe and inability to find walleye. There were no bugs. None. Not a horsefly, not a black fly, not a deerfly, not a mosquito. Nothing that bites and flies bothered us for nearly five days! I guess I’ll trade a safe, damp, bugless five days in paradise for just about anything. Wouldn’t you?

All in all, it was a blessing that Matt asked me to come along and man the stern of that old pink canoe. Five days on a pristine, motorless, noiseless lake reminded me of how precious, how fragile, how desperately needed wilderness is to my soul, and likely, the souls of many others. Without waxing political here, it would be shame to think that my grandsons and granddaughters are but one defective retention pond away from never experiencing such tranquility and peace.

It makes me think hard about the choices we are being asked to make…

Ready to load the old pink canoe and head home.

Peace.

Mark

Shrinkage!

Homeward bound…

The Mother of all cedars.

 

 

 

 

 
 

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