Wednesday, April 3, 2013
I came............ to celebrate the end of winter, to add to the continuum of tradition, to reconnect with kindred spirits, to hike a fabled valley, to fish in open water, and to feel the irresistible power of spring. The drive over to Wisconsin was washed in snow blinding sunshine that finally and for the first time pushed the air temp above the freezing mark. Forty-five degrees, but all the little creeks and feeders were still deep beneath the snow. No water flowed. A couple of eagles perched roadside on the old carcass of a hit and run deer, harassed by crows now instead of ravens. As I traveled farther east, the rigors of the office, the consultants, the project deadlines and the contractual strictures of work began to relax and fade away like dwindling western sunlight. Only one true sign of spring showed - a marsh hawk floated over the still blanketed Wildlife Management Area, as I turned off of Highway 13 and onto the gravel. But I said "Hello harrier, welcome home". Then it was time to say goodbye to the digital age, if only temporarily.
I saw.............. both the ancient and the new. The eternal struggle for survival was written in the snow on the hike down to Harvey's on opening morning. Some things remain constant, and encountering a wolf killed deer is part of it. What was new was the shredding of moss from the base of the trees around the kill site. That is a behavior that I have not seen before. Perhaps the wolves are not responsible for it, but is a new observation for me.
The lower Brule was still solidly locked in as predicted, so a hike upstream was required to find the edge of the ice. Fog and rain added to the wilderness feel of the valley, and by the time we stopped to fish, the booming and crunching of the river ice as it was loosed from its stream side moorings added even more primitive sensation to the morning's atmosphere. We perched like vultures on the slanting ice shelves that dangerously disappeared into the center of the channel. The ice rolled by in chunks and sheets, crashing and grinding relentlessly north toward Kitchi Gummi. No crowd here. The sports and novices were all very far upstream from us, where the fishing and wading conditions were much safer. The fish, however, were with us.
The conquering........................ was not about catching fish, although both steelhead and down bound browns were landed, as well as a few crappies from Friday's ice fishing foray. The conquering, for me is more about the survival of the passage of time. One more year and one more winter have passed, and I and the river and the run of fish and the boys and the wolves are all still here, dancing one more time to the endless music of the vernal pulse. In a place like the Brule Valley, protected by a State Forest and a non development ordinance, natural processes can endure and biota can flourish, despite societiy's best intentions to ruin them. Yes, neither the steelhead nor the browns are native to the watershed, but it is really the habitat that matters.Without protection from the stressors of our collective capitalistic drive, places like this do not survive. It has been said that if you really love a place, don't go there, don't tell anyone about it. Perhaps I have broken that rule by posting here, but this place, unlike most others has been rightly protected for future enjoyment. I hope to experience all of it again and again.
I made quick run through Duluth on Sunday to look at the rivers. My beloved North Shore is in very bad shape. After several years of serious drought, the streams and rivers are nothing but solid masses of anchor ice. There is a decent snow pack to provide melt water, but there was but a trickle on top of the ice. I'm pretty sure that there are no living fish under that ice. Time will tell how this spring's run of fish will fare and if these old rock bound cascades can be repopulated. For now, winter has returned again.