I got a report from Jackfish Bay this week. It gave me great comfort.
Being involved in Scouts, I am always running into people headed to or just back from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in far northern Minnesota. My own Boundary Waters days are way back in the rearview mirror, but I’m always keen for details of others’ trips.
Where did you put in? What fish did you catch? How many lakes did you get to? More important, how many portages and what was the longest?
The Boundary Waters has more than 1,000 natural lakes, some connected by river but most not. Portaging is the act of toting your canoe, your goods and yourself along a narrow and rocky path to the next lake. I believe in the original French “portage” means “grim, undignified death at the side of the lonely trail.”
It’s part of the game, and that half-mile portage – we were just sure it was half a mile – to the lake called Jackfish Bay became a badge of honor for Troop 291 in July 1972.
That was a three-portage day, and it was enough for us. We got to our destination and spent a glorious week on that lake. We fished and swam, cooked and ate, canoed and explored. There was a bald eagle nest – a rare thing in those days. We were pretty sure it was a bear that made that big noise one night.
I was 12, this was all new to me, and I remember it like yesterday. I’m not saying it’s some psychic center of my universe, but it’s seldom far from my mind.
So I was talking to a friend the other day. Where did you put in? Where did you go?
Well, Moose Lake, then up into Canada, then back, then we paddled over to see the pictographs, and, yeah, we blasted across Jackfish Bay on our way somewhere else …
That’s all I needed.
I know perfectly well it’s still there. I can look on a map, I can look on Google Earth (I have), and I know lakes don’t just get up and move. But to actually hear a flesh-and-blood confirmation of a remote place with such meaning to me was somehow moving.
The last time I was in the Boundary Waters, I didn’t quite get to Jackfish Bay. It was nearly 30 years ago. I only had a few days, and I was alone – something no one in my world for one second would let me contemplate today. (There would be court orders and round-the-clock guards.)
But I had a good trip. Crisp, cool weather. Solitude. One night I heard wolves. It was divine. They were off to the north. I guess it’s just possible that they were calling from Jackfish Bay.
That’s close enough.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter @FoxEJC.