by Mark Munger

(c) Mark Munger 2010

If you study a map of northeastern Minnesota and follow the thin black fissure that denotes the Cloquet River with your index finger, you’ll cover nearly all of southern St. Louis County; the largest county east of the Mississippi River. This imaginary journey will lead you through remnant white pine forest, maple savanna, incalculable marsh, and over occasional rapids and waterfalls to the river’s place of beginning in the middle of Lake County. You’ll wind up a bit north of Two Harbors and a few dozen miles east of Lake Superior’s North Shore.

I’ve made this journey in person. But though I had visions of floating the upper Cloquet, from its meager birthing place as a tiny meander leaving Katherine Lake, to the river’s stony conclusion near Brookston where its tannin-stained waters merge with the St. Louis River, my visit to the shores of Katherine Lake wasn’t as romantic as my daydreams. I made my only trip to Katherine Lake by car.

It’s easy to forget that many of the rivers we Minnesotans love and claim as our own descend from pools of quiet stillness. Lakes are to rivers as glaciers are to icebergs: places of conception, nourishment and birth. Katherine Lake is such a place. A shallow, sixty-five acre pond of murkiness boasting one tumbled down cabin perched on a singular island in the middle of bulrush-defined water; Katherine isn’t a shining jewel of a lake. She isn’t the sort of aquatic poster child the State of Minnesota would display on the cover of one of its tourism brochures.

My vision of launching a cedar strip canoe in the rivulet that exits Katherine Lake to paddle through dense boreal forest past moose, bear and timber wolves and to float contently beneath the wings of osprey and bald eagles is a flight of fancy far removed from reality. Katherine Lake squats forlornly against a decimated landscape, her boundary defined by hundreds of square miles of swamp and clear-cut. Still, there is a calm, a peace to be found standing on the unsteady shoreline of that little lake. She is, after all, the mother of the river I call home.

This essay was chosen by Envision Minnesota for inclusion in their compilation of essays about Minnesota’s lakes. You can find out more about the organization by clicking on their link in the “links” section of this blog.

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