A Trip Up North

By Dale Netherton

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When the leaves on the aspen turn golden and the frost bites the mosquitoes, conditions for travel to the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota on the Canadian border are optimal albeit short.  It was during this time in the early fifties that my dog, Bubba, and I prepared to head into the waters beckoning in the far north.  Now Bubba is not a perfect traveling companion.  In fact using the word companion is a slight stretch.  As I walked out the door and whistled for him to follow I realized his defiantly lazy nature would require a bribe.  Now food is a word that Bubba understands and he does know that as prime supplier of his caloric intake we are companions.  With a package of hamburger partially frozen I finally herded him into the back seat of the station wagon where he devoured the package before I got the paper off.  Smelling of mud puddles and old fish heads my companion jumped in the front seat, placed his exit end on my leg and started to snore.  Only 1,236 miles to go.

We arrived to a clear crisp Fall day just as the frost was beginning to melt.  I pushed the fully loaded 18 foot aluminum canoe into the shimmering glassine surface and leaped into my seat on top of Bubba and rolled into the 33 degree water.  Sputtering and shouting at this animal of disaster I struggled to get to shore.  Bubba joined me along side and I could tell by his look that he approved of my dog paddle technique.

A day of drying out and going nowhere at the time of the year when good weather is fleeting is not productive but then neither is Bubba.  He sat there soaked to the skin as I carefully nursed the dampened matches and the four pine needles to combust.  With the first flicker of flame he promptly shook like a weather vane in Kansas and flooded my sparks.  Grabbing the fuel can for my camp stove I poured the fluid on a pile of logs and scorched my sleeping bag.  Bubba licked my missing eyebrows.

Food was now beginning to enter our thoughts so I rifled through my half soaked back pack and pulled out some partially drenched oatmeal.  Bubba doesn't like oatmeal too hot so he began to chew on the bag and as we each tugged to get it from the other the bag split and so did Bubba with a gob of mush in his mouth.  I chewed on the remaining plastic as I remembered a story about a man who survived by chewing the leather of his shoes.  I envisioned Bubba on a spit.  Starving and exhausted I decided to take a nap but the unscorched portion of my sleeping bag was occupied by Bubba's behind.  That , my friend, is not a bed partner.

Somehow I managed to pass out until morning.  From my blanket of pine boughs I saw the clouds rolling in.  As the sky darkened the wet drizzle turned to full blown sleet.  I found the wet tent and pitched it to get out of the weather and was content to lie inside and think how fortunate I was to have not lost the tent in the rollover.  Bubba returned from his morning constitutional, tripped over the tent rope and dragged a howling mass of mud and encased flesh into a stump hole.  I recalled my boots sitting outside where the tent had been and saw Bubba resorting to the same memory I had recalled to stave off starvation.  At least he had real leather.

I decided to wait out the weather before we tried to travel.   Patching the tent, building a fire and laying on a pad of pine boughs in my tent watching the sleet and occasional flake of snow I took comfort that survival was at least possible.  Bubba had found a dead sea gull and brought it in to share with me.  The stench required a fresh pad of pine boughs and a stern talking to a dog that wagged his tail telling me that he understood and was in full agreement with my position.  As we both relaxed thinking of roast beef and eggs, not too far away a wolf belched.  You can tell a wolf belch not just by the sound but the odor that follows.  Its not minty fresh.  I looked at Bubba and he looked at me and we both raced for the nearest tree.   Luckily the wolf found the remains of the sea gull more appetizing than us although Bubba growled his deepest growl seeing his morsel disappear.  Its an ill wind that doesn't bring some good, huh.  Have you ever felt that after so much disaster something good is bound to happen?  Thinking this was a way to fight off my misery and depression, I decided to focus on retrieving the canoe which had floated to the middle of the lake and trying to catch some fish.  The plastic had passed.  Bubba must have felt the same way because he began to dig with real enthusiasm,  Dirt flying all over the tent and in my eyes I squinted to see the canoe still drifting to the far side  of the lake.  Pointing to the canoe I told Bubba to fetch.  He looked at me with that look of want to please and promptly peed on a tent pole.  So through the woods , over the brush, into the briars I  trudged in search of the runaway canoe.  After being thoroughly shredded by the thorns and sticks I reached the other side of the lake just as the wind changed.  Drifting back toward the main camp was the vessel to transport us out of this disaster.  Not only did the wind change, it began to blow.  The white caps started to roll and the tip of the canoe bounced then disappeared.  My heart sank and so did the canoe.

Fighting the alder bushes and the soggy peat I trudged back to the side of the lake where the remnants of my camp were.  There awaiting me was my trusty dog Bubba wagging his tail and chewing on some moose droppings.  It doesn't take much to make Bubba happy.  As it was getting late in the day I decided one more night would probably be the most sensible thing to do.  I found some moss on a tree and scraped it off for a base for evening soup.  Actually I had moss broth that evening as other ingredients were unavailable.  I dreamed about chipmunk stew and magpie gravy.  About 1:00 a.m. the unmistakable sound of a bear flatulence woke me from my feast.  I  kicked Bubba to go chase him off and he promptly crawled under the pine boughs.  I reached for my old timer knife, opened the big blade and peeked out from under Bubba.  There standing 12 feet tall was the biggest black bear I had ever seen.  He was roaring and beating his chest like a gorilla and he was looking at Bubba and me as we huddled together under the pine boughs.  I put my pocket knife away thinking it might anger him and ran for the nearest tree, grabbed a branch, did a complete spin on the branch and catapulted my body into the lake.  I nearly hit Bubba.  The water didn't seem nearly as cold as it did when Bubba tipped the canoe but doing the butterfly at six knots generates some heat.  We reached a rock ( two feet by three feet ) protruding out of the water and climbed onto it.  The bear sat on his haunches and stared at us.  Evidently he thought the water was too cold to venture into as he flopped on our pine boughs and started to snore.  The wind began to blow out of the northwest and a few flakes of snow spit at us and we sat shivering on that rock that had ragged edges and was slippery as hell.  Bubba wasn't in a cuddling mood so I had to stay on my side of the rock for the night and between bursts of cold wind and Bubba's whining I think I slept twenty minutes.

The morning was damp and the temperature was just above freezing.  The bear was still snoring and as luck would have it a ripe beaver floated within Bubba's reach and he pulled it onto the rock and began to chew on the three day old carcass.  The smell was terrible but it beat moss broth.  The bear finally woke up , dumped on our pine boughs and stumbled off into the woods.  I was just about half dry and starting to get warm but I knew we had to get back to shore so into the near ice water we went.  It was not nearly as warm returning to shore.  I decided we probably had had all the wild time we needed for this year so I gathered up what was left of my provisions , a can opener and some soggy Red Man, and started hiking toward the portage and back to the car.

Just before we got to the car Bubba found part of a week old coon and insisted on bringing it home with him.  I rolled down both windows hoping to get a chance to toss that maggoty souvenir but it made it to the car lot where I traded the car and called the kennel to come pick up Bubba.  I got home, laid down on the couch after eating the second shelf of the refrigerator and fell asleep with a copy of Boundary Waters magazine open to the page with an application for entry.  I dreamed of chipmunk stew and magpie gravy.

copyright 2006 Dale Netherton  http://www.canoestories.com/fiction/bubba.htm

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