Our planning and packing for our annual jaunt from Listening Stones Farm to our cabin near Ely is gearing up. Pork ribs are smoked, and we’re thinking of dinners to share, of our favorite fishing spots, of which books to pack, and perhaps even wondering what new memories we’ll be bringing home with us.
Some 28 years ago our first trip was made to Kawishiwi Lodge & Outfitters, a rustic collection of cabins located on a National Forest cove near the entry point of Lake One in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Our first trip down that long, single-lane gravel road was certainly adventurous as we kept a lookout for the buildings pictured in an obscure brochure we had picked up at an outdoors sports show months earlier.
Further up the drive, past what was then a fresh clear cutting of timber that in years since has regrown, was a sawmill. “You sure this is the place?” asked my wife, Sharon. We chose this as a compromise between a quest for a wilderness experience and convenience due to our oldest son, Jacob, because of his physical and mental disabilities. He was then eight years old, and his brother, Aaron, was three. To prepare for the trip we had listened to a wilderness tape featuring loon calls, which Aaron had somehow voice perfected. We brought along a babysitter who would watch the boys on the few nights Sharon and I would take off into the wilderness with a camping permit.
While unpacking our gear from the car into the cabin that first afternoon, I stopped for a few moments on the weathered, wooden dock to cast a fly on the fiberglass fly rod I had bought as a teenager some 20 years earlier. As I retrieved the fly, a denizen of the deep, a northern pike with a head the size of a mature alligator, suddenly eased in behind the fly. In my panic, and subsequent casting, my old rod snapped just above the handle. Such was our introduction to Lake One, Kawishiwi Lodge & Outfitters, and the BWCA!
Over those years we stayed in four or five of the cabins around the lake. In time we would settle into Cabin One … and we renew it every year. As transplanted Minnesotans this has become our “lake cabin” complete with an old, native lumber dock on a channel that meanders through the granite outcrops between Lake One and shallow bays toward the entry point. It was off this dock that we spread Sharon’s ashes after her unexpected and untimely death a few years ago, making this more than just a summer lake cabin.
Rebecca and I were only a few weeks into our relationship when she joined us for the first trip up after Sharon’s death. We’ll again be joined by my cousins, Mick and Nancy Burke. Two of their three children have come up over the years, as have many of our exchange students. Luise Hille, of Germany, has been here for two different weeks over the years, and when her parents were last in the States, their whole family came for a stay across the lake in one of the newer cabins. I was able to join them for a few days of their stay, which meant I was able to stay and fish twice within two months that year. Life doesn’t get much better than that!
Oh, the memories. Two years running a group of pickers rented a row of three of the cabins. Each evening they gathered around a fire pit and played well into the darkness. One year the woman scientist who broke the Alar pesticide study on Washington apples stayed with her husband and boys in the adjoining cabin. Aaron and her boys played in the outcrops behind the cabins all week long. We even met a former high school classmate of my brother from back in Missouri. There was the summer when Sharon came shortly after her knee operation and couldn’t canoe, so the manager and his brother … Mike and Jim … took us to a motor lake so she could go fishing. We caught enough for a shore lunch. A few nights later the boys came knocking. “We’re taking John and going fishing,” said Mike. They placed me in the “king’s seat” and paddled out into the lake, where as we were jigging for walleyes and sipping “illegal” beer a sudden and incredible display of Northern Lights began dancing in the sky. Mike and Jim, and their “shady” helper, Diamond, are long gone, and the son of the dentist who owned the place, Frank Udovich, and his wife, Nicole, took over and have made some subtle yet remarkable improvements on all of the cabins, and they have significantly increased the outfitting side of the business.
Here was where Mick caught his first smallie, a mighty three pounder. Ah, those moments fishing are always fine. One dusky evening we were paddling back to the cabin when a huge beaver swam beneath the canoe, keeping pace with us. At the other end of the lake, Pagammi Creek has provided us with many bigger-than-a-whole-hand bluegill and some scrumptious shore lunches on a nearby rocky island that served as escapes for Aaron when a canoe became too confining. Pagammi was where a fire started on the Saturday we were packing out two summers ago, a fire apparently started by lightning that burned thousands of acres and put a scare into the Ely community before finally being controlled. Last year a natural succession had already greened the hillsides, and the bluegill hungrily grabbed a Gill Buster tipped with a leech as my kayak was put adrift by the constant wind.
We’ve shared dinners and campfires along with many nights around the big table as son Jake rolls the dice for another game of Zilch. Since the remodeling, the breezy porch, now with floor to ceiling screens to abate the mosquitoes, welcomes all of us readers, and in the heat of the day, the dock and lake beckons us as swimmers. In all directions the wilderness beckons, and the canoes, kayaks and fishing rods are always steps away.
Nowadays, after all these years, I’ll sometimes simply slip out before breakfast … even before the sun rises … in a kayak with my fly-rod and camera, paddling around the shallow bays casting for smallmouth and bluegill. Sometimes I actually go for the fishing. Other times it is simply for reflection and reminiscence. Remembering family and friends we have shared time with here over the years, those good years with Sharon before her depression became so overwhelming, and since her death, the times with Rebecca and our cousins, the Burkes. Once again I can hear Kawishiwi calling. Our trips have become like those penciled height markings on a door jam; each darkened line marking memories of my mature years.