Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ode to the blueberry god


SO THIS takes us all back around to the Smoothrock Lake fish camp trip.  This is now the annual tradition that started way back in 1982.  I’ve written about this many times before in my blog and various books.  August 8th came like a thief in the night, silently, unexpectedly, and without a lot of prodroma. I woke up at my Enemy Swim Lake cabin on the 7th after hearing a short-eared owl outside, a year bird, and drove to our home, mowed my vacant lot, completed the closing and rental of my ranch, drove to my RV,  found the rest of my stuff, went to bed, got up early, drive to my dad’s place, packed a car, and started the long drive to northern Ontario.
            What would happen this year?  There were no forgotten passports or expired ones this year.  Things were going well.  The border guard looked at us funny and asked “are you with the guys ahead of you?” 
            Taking the lead, I quickly quipped.  “It depends on what they have done.”  She smiled and then asked how much alcohol we had.
            My friend Jeff Rapp parroted the rehearsed tally.  “Four liters of booze, a case of beer and a bottle of wine.”
            “I see you aren’t the drinkers of the group.”  It turned out the other pickup with four adults in ti had 10 liters of booze and other assorted liquors and my boat partner Greg doesn’t even drink.  They got a $94 USD fine for the duty on this hoard of spirits at customs.  At least we didn’t have to stop at the LCBO in Thunder Bay, the provincial liquor store for more.  I guess it was going to be the usual fun trip. 
            While we were paying the customs fee, we missed the visitor center closing time by three minutes, and then had to go to Canadian Tire in Thunder Bay to buy our fishing licences.  As I waited for the others, my boredom led me to the fishing tackle section and well, it cost me a further seventy dollars because too many baits from Canadian manufacturers were looking intriguing.  I was shopping my way north this year, or so it seemed.  I had done the same thing in Duluth.  Maybe I’d even catch a fish or two on one of them.  I always tend to use the same baits so I probably wouldn’t.
            This year’s trip had an odd feeling about it.  It was like I was just going through the motions.  I didn’t have a real plan, no feelings of some thing I needed to do, and no bucket list items.  I circumnavigated the lake last year, which used to be on my bucket list.  I have caught so many really big fish that I don’t really expect any more.  So, we just went fishing, and right away on the second day I caught a marginally decent pike.

This 35-inch northern that held lead for trophy for some of the week

The weather had been in a bit of a constant pattern, warm with a western wind and as such, it appeared that the pike had turned off from eating or at least in the way we liked to fish them.  Later, the second day we I dropped Greg off for blueberry picking and I went birding for a little while.  I went out to the hanging rock, a rock deposited on an island that looks like it should fall in.
There is a herring gull colony and sometimes a common tern colony on this island or the one a hundred yards away.  I saw some herring gulls, no terns and came back to see what I could see in a bay, but all I flushed up was a merlin.  It was something.

Herring gull

            I was going to title this chapter the legend of Seamonster Bay continues, except that nothing truly odd happened in Seamonster Bay.  For the legend to continue, something odd or memorable had to happen, but nothing did.  For some strange unexplained reason, four eagles circled us as we came into fish coming back from our annual grilled cheese run.  I make grilled cheese in the old barbecue near the seemingly abandoned camp at Fungar Lake Outpost.  This year, I lit the gas grill without looking inside and as it heated up, a grill scraper melted and caught on fire, I had to pull out liquefied plastic and stomp on it.  We still had tasty grilled cheese sandwiches. 
            I began to start asking questions.  Are seeing seamonsters, a vortex, or even bigfoot prerequisites for having a memorable trip?  Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to.  We didn’t run into the game warden.  We didn’t have engine trouble.  I didn’t hit a rock and I guess we really didn’t catch any good fish.  That’s okay.  Mediocrity is the expected and the expected is normal.
            I did see a dorcas copper next to the cabin, a diminutive lifer butterfly I had never seen before, and then I saw a few others.  That was about as good as the trip up this end of the lake went. 

Dorcas copper

Green Comma

Common branded skipper

The wind was, as usual, howling in our faces coming out of the Caribou Arm into the main lake but it wasn’t that bad.  I have experienced much worse.  We went back to camp, the guys had beat us back and were both out of ice and diet coke for mix but like good drinkers they made do.  A good drinker can improvise, and they did.  I was reminded of the first few years we were here when they had an icehouse and harvested ice in the winter and kept it all summer covered in sawdust.  Brian, my dad’s best friend, had to chip off ice for his cocktails making sure that no sawdust got mixed in with the Canadian Club.  Now it just takes a trip to the ice machine.
It was a couple of days later when I felt fate had again taken over my life when we were heading up old, Lonebreast Bay.  I passed a single canoeist and we stopped to chat with him.  Later when we decided to have lunch, after a walleye fishing bonanza, we came to Lunch Island and found this same canoeist setting up camp.  “Hey, are one of you two doctors?”  Daniel, the canoeist asked. 
This old guy, at least mid to upper seventies in age was on a twelve-day solo canoe adventure and was about five days from getting picked up.  He had scraped his shin a few days earlier and it looked bad.  It didn’t hurt him to walk on it, but it was in that marginal area between inflamed and infected.  If I had seen him in the Emergency Room, I would have given him a shot of something but was it worth calling for a seaplane to evacuate him?
I looked again and marked the edges with a pen and told him if the redness expanded, he needed to use his device he had with to signal for help and have them fly him out.  We ate and left, and then later that evening, I began to think.  Did I run into him for a reason?  Five days is a long time and maybe I should try to help him. I found a bottle of antibiotics I had at the cabin and then convinced a camp employee to drive me up in a faster boat.  It was a twenty-two-mile round trip, but I think the older guy was worth it and hopefully if there is a little infection, what I scrounged up will knock it down.  It may not help but doing nothing wouldn’t help either.
I worried that no good deed ever goes unpunished, but we as people don’t seem to help out the unfortunate as much as we should.  Helping a guy out in the bush with a bum leg is the least a doctor should do.  Maybe I would get some credit from the local fishing deity who would let me catch a large fish?  I could only hope.  Unfortunately, it was a different god that paid me a visit the next day.
The Finns have a pagan god who they say is in charge of the blueberry crop.  Vainamoinen was said to have saved the starving Finns one year by making the blueberries grow lush.  It is said he is the deity one prays to when they need something done.  I’m not sure what that means.  His powers, though, are not absolute and praying to him only has mixed success.  The Swedes probably would have had one for blueberries too except that at some point, they took the Norse gods, probably as some missionary for Odin made it to Uppsala and everyone converted from the old form of paganism to the new.  The Norse gods and goddesses don’t seem to care about the berry crop.  In the process, blueberries lost out and the old gods left.  Maybe Vainamoinen also left and went to Canada?   On a small island we call Burnt Over Lunch Island, the old Finnish blueberry god had apparently found a home.  I have never seen such clumps of berries and our fishing trip turned quickly into a berry trip.  I have never filled a half of a bucket so fast.
 
I’m not sure if any of the First Nation bands worshiped a god of blueberries.  If they or the European Canadians ever did, the blueberry god would be worshiped every summer.  It was odd how on a place of destruction, such bounty grew.

I was thinking of how a crazy bunch of canoeists accidentally burnt this island a few years ago and now, the blueberry god returned with such a bounty of the tasty and succulent small blue orbs.  At camp we made blueberry pancakes and then homemade ice cream with blueberries on top, such is the extent of the roughing it that we partake here on Smoothrock Lake.   
The penultimate day was a fishing bust.  The pike were turned off and even catching small ones became a tiring chore, so we went again to pay homage to the Blueberry God.  I was still hoping to get a year bird on this trip, and I was kneeling as if in prayer.  Then I heard them.  I walked to the boat and stood out on a rock.  A flock of Canada Jays (formerly gray jays) flew in and I took some photos.  I watched and eagle fly by.  It was that easy—a gift year bird and then satisfied for a while I went back to picking berries.

Vainamoinen delivered me a bird I needed.  Sometimes we get what we need and not what we want.  I got a bird and blueberries, but big pike and walleyes…maybe next year.
            I ran into the old canoer again.  His leg was better, so I guess I helped him.  He never made it to the Wendell Beckwith cabin on a neighboring lake.  The idea of this cabin was like a little seed.  Who was Wendell Beckwith?  Why do people make a pilgrimage to such a forlorn spot in the middle of nowhere just to see a cabin?  
The Wendell Beckwith cabin from the internet, is it the House on the Rock in cabin form?

Also why did he call the island he lived on, the center of the universe?  These are questions I need to know and visiting this cabin is now getting added to my bucket list…maybe next year I’ll have more answers to this. 
            The last day was like a Seuss story.  we caught no fish in No-fish Bay, and also no fish in One-fish Corner, but we did catch a single fish in Two-fish Corner.  One fish, two fish, blue fish, green fish or something like that.  It was better but nothing to brag about.  We ended back up at Seamonster Bay and stranger things began to happen.  We were being watched by an eagle and a herring gull expecting us to leave them some culled fish or something.  When we didn’t, the gull got mad and took things into its own control and started attacking my marker buoy.  Then it started to tow it away before I scared it off.  It was an omen and possibly the Blueberry god was giving me a not so subtle hint that it was time to stop fishing.  Something like this would only happen in Seamonster Bay.  we spotted an elusive pine marten and then called it a fishing trip and drove back. 
So, there it was, a week of fishing.  A couple of chances for birding but not much.  We picked a lot of berries, and we caught fish.  The pike-ometer showed 189 pike at trip’s end, my second lowest total in a week ever here, finishing off the last ten years at over 3000 pike.  A slow year for us is like a lifetime trip for others.  Everything is relative.
I also heard of a strange and mysterious place nearby, do I have to even mention that it got added to my bucket list?  I now have to figure out how to get to it but that would be a trip and a tale for another time.  This trip was about Vainamoinen, or so it seems.  It seems blueberries were what we caught the most of.  This god is one that gives a little and takes a a little and it was now time to go home.  Hopefully, I had given enough.
What about the Pike Championship?  It wasn’t my year this year.  Dr. Jerry McCollough of Wadena caught a 41-incher.  It was his year to win the ugliest trophy in angling and pet the beaver.  The annual tradition for the winner while holding his prize money.

Dr. Jerry with the Falun Trophy behind him

I also helped an old canoer.  Vainamoinen provided and yet, he didn’t help me out with the pike, but that is the way of this deity, he is both good and bad, much like the Finnish and Canadian bush.  There is always a bigger fish and, for me, another fishing trip.  Until next year…



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