A /ense of Place. w-mt/^ortm. i/i the. J p m Q. by MICHAEL HJRTMA/N. A u/ilderness paddler ponders lake trout.

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1 A /ense of Plce w-mt/^ortm. i/i the. J p m Q m by MICHAEL HJRTMA/N A u/ilderness pddler ponders lke trout. In the north, in the spring, there lives little strem. Come summer, it brely flows; nd gret, gry grnite boulders periscope from wht little wter remins, mking pssge by cnoe nerly impossible. But in My, this strem flows buoyntly from lke to lke, fed by melting snow. And with it flows our cnoe. Prts of the Boundry Wters re bit too well-trveled for our tstes, but this route is seldom used. The portges, brely evident, re b B 50 MINNESOTA CONSERVATION VOLUNTEER

2 H punctuted by moose trcks, not boot prints; nd the lkes connected by this strem re rrely visited. It would not be fr from the truth to sy tht by tking this route, we re seeing country tht few humn eyes hve ever scnned. And we like it tht wy. For decdes my wife, Mry Jo, nd I hve chosen this route west of the Gunflint Tril for our first cnoe trip of the yer. Though it is not n esy route nd is growing more difficult s our bodies ge it holds chrm tht offsets the effort. The creek is prt of tht chrm, for when trveling its hidden course, we feel deep sense of dventure, of explortion. On the ridges long the creek, drk stnds of jck pine climb the hills; nd on ridges elsewhere, spen nd birch rech towrd the sun. B ( recll yers when we wded through snow on portges nd pddled through windswept chnnels on lkes blck with rotting ice. Other yers, spring cme erly, nd the leves nd blck flies hd lredy burst forth by the time we lunched our cnoe. But in most yers, we find the ice hs recently deprted, nd we must hunt north slopes to find snow our nturl cooler for perishble foods nd fresh fish fillets. Cold nights linger, keeping insects t by. If we re lucky, the dys re bright. Aspen nd then birch re beginning to bud; nd, thnks to those buds, the surrounding hills re wsh with soft gry-green glow, s if rubbed over with rtist chlk. It is s if the lnd, bound tightly for months, now sighs nd brethes under the spring sun, wriggling wke like some best rising from hiberntion. Along the creek few mrsh-mrigolds et light until they re s yellow s the orb tht feeds them. Tiny curls of ferns shke off surrounding soil. Everywhere is the smell of erth of soil, of wter, even; scents contined for months in winters icy bottle. The grnite bedrock of - MARCH-APRIL

3 H this lnd bsorbs the sun's wrmth into its billion-yer-old lyers. Bers emerge from their dens, hunger dressed in blck fur. Spwning suckers nd pike splsh in the creek. Mle ruffed grouse fill the ir with their drumming. Cow moose move to the sfety of islnds or lkeshore points to drop their twny clves. And, very importnt, lke trout move towrd the wters surfce, putting them in esy rech of n nglers offerings. When the spen buds re the size of mouse ers, lke-trout fishing is t its best. II If ll of the other wonderful things hppening in the cnoe country spring weren't enough to mke us pddle nd portge our wy to these lkes, the lure of lke trout would mke sore bcks nd wet feet worth enduring. Not trout t ll, Slvelinus nmycush is in fct chr, closely relted to other northern fish species such s brook trout nd rctic chr. Though it lcks the red spots nd brillint colortion of these reltives, it is hndsome nonetheless. The silvery fish typiclly hs generous vermicultions long its bck nd irregulr light spots long its sides. Some exhibit beutiful rose-ornge tint to their pectorl, pelvic, nd nl fins, which my hve front edges of white. The til of the lke trout is profoundly forked. Like Minnesotns, the lke trout is creture of the north. It dwells only where winters re long nd hrsh enough to keep lkes cold despite summers ttempts to wrm them. Ntive only to North Americ, the lke trout hs vst rnge tht spns glcited wters from Alsk est to Nov Scoti. In western Cnd its rnge dips south through Albert nd into Montn before swing- Michel Furtmn, uthor of more thn dozen books, hs been full-lime freelnce writer nd photogrpher for more thn 20 yers. His writings nd photogrphy cn be viewed t EL A 52 MINNESOTA CONSERVATION VOLUNTEER

4 E 13 ing north bove the pririe nd cross through ll estern Cndin minlnd provinces. Minnesot is bout s fr south s it gets. Though moose nd lynx spek to us of the north country, s do blck spruce nd blsm fir, the lke trout too is n indictor of climte nd ltitude. While Minnesotns cn ctch wlleye in Lke Pepin in the southest s well s Lke Sgng in the north, or smllmouth bss in the St. Croix River s surely s Bsswood Lke, only in cnoe country or Lke Superior cn we hope to ctch nturlly reproduced lke trout in our stte. Like the woodlnd cribou, now gone but once the dominnt deer in the north, the lke trout speks to me of wildness, of northness. Ten thousnd yers go, s the glciers receded, leving rubble-strewn grnite lndscpe, the wters tht bcked up behind them served s conduits for fish migrtions. Were lke trout deposited in wht is now southern Minnesot? No one knows. If they were, they perished s tht region wrmed. But where we trvel ech spring, the lkes, seprted by stone ridges, re the gurdins of lke-trout evolution. Most of these lkes hve never been stocked, so no gene mixing hs occurred. Most lck connections, so the fish within them re direct descendnts of those surviving glcil times. And the results re cler to see. I recll one fine spring dy 15 yers go, when Mry Jo nd I portged from our cmpsite lke to neighboring body of wter. We hd cught couple of lke trout for dinner from the first lke, nd left them stringered off cmp. These trout were drk, lmost blck, nd nerly 5 pounds lrge for these smll, infertile wters. In the second lke, we cught smll, silvery lke trout with bright ornge fins. We kept one, more out of curiosity thn hunger, to compre with the others t cmp; nd when we plced them side by side, it ws lmost s if we were looking t two different species. H MARCH-APRIL

5 E II The silvery fish ws long nd bullet-heded, nd its flesh ws s ornge s ny slmon's. The drk trout were much stouter, their heds blunt nd round, their fillets pech in color. Diet cn explin colortion nd shpe to some degree, but wht we were lso seeing ws nerly 10,000 yers of nturl selection, 10,000 yers of time nd circumstnce shping these fish to fit these lkes. A rock ridge seprted them in spce. But eons seprted them in shpe nd colortion. Exmining those fish, I first relized tht thnks to the wilderness designtion of the Boundry Wters, here nture could choose its course without tmpering. When we deprt, we lwys leve very erly in the morning, so we cn mke it cross the portges nd up the creek to nother much-loved lke, where we fish one lst time before heding home. Drifting over fvorite reef, we might get lucky nd ctch this lke's distinct trout. And we pss the spot where once we sw cow moose stnding mere feet from shore, her cot bedrggled with ptches of gry nd brown, her big ers swiveled in our direction. Remote s this plce is, we might hve been the first people she hd ever seen nd when the buffy clf tht hd been lying between her legs wobbled to its feet, we knew for sure we were its first humns. As it took wht might hve been its first steps, we pddled quietly wy. Spring is for birth. For rebirth too of winter-wery nd city-tired souls. And spring reminds me tht without our trying winters, without the deep cold, the glistening lkes of cnoe country would wrm nd could not support lke trout. In the north, in the spring, tht little strem still lives. For now, so do the lovely lke trout, symbols of the north tht lure us into the piney wilderness. O h 54 MINNESOTA CONSERVATION VOLUNTEER

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