Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our Best Idea

WATERWORKS Column for 10/14/2009 Age

The week September 27 to October 2 contained television at its best, in this columnist’s opinion. Ken Burns introduced himself to millions of public TV watchers years ago when he filmed a riveting special on the Civil War. In this new 12-hour feature Our National Parks, we saw spectacular beauty of the natural features of the United States. The cinematography, historical narration, and musical accompaniment combined to make a program noone should miss. If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure there will be PBS reruns.

As David Duncan explains in the show, the National Parks, which now number at least 38, are America’s “Best Idea.” Except for our democratic form of government. So caught up in catching most of the 12 hours over the six days was I, that I completely forgot about my Waterworks column and its Friday deadline. So instead of the “first Wednesday” this time, it comes to you now.

A year ago in early August the Pricketts celebrated our wedding anniversary with an Empire Builder Amtrak train ride to East Glacier Park, Montana, and a week’s stay at Many Glacier Lodge in Glacier National Park. It was our “Best Idea in 2008,” and it has been fun seeing these sights again with Ken Burns.


My love of wilderness lakes and woods was formed at age 14 when our Scoutmaster organized a two-week canoe trip with his neighbor who manufactured “Barnard Wilderness Tents.” We paddled, portaged, camped, swam, and fished along the Canadian border in the Superior National Forest, at that time a roadless area, where flying was banned.

This year from late August to the Labor Day weekend, seven high school classmates came together up near Ely for our thirteenth “Old Geezer Canoe Trip.” This is the scribe’s account:

Burntside Retreat

After many trips into the wilderness the old guys settle for easier camping: a rented hideaway dry and furnished on a rocky pine-bordered lake at the edge of Ely’’s waters. Old stories are mostly repeated; friendships and rivalries persist since grade school.

Our leader Tony Andersen has died, who restarted us 26 years ago. Four of the living began paddling 60 years ago with Scoutmaster Elmer L. Now we ride in a power boat with electronic finder for fish and depth, zooming here and there at 25 mph to troll and snag, sometimes catching smallmouth and northern pike. A faithful few still paddle Mad River and Grumman canoes.

Sleeping bags cover mattresses in the cabin. Propane gives refrigeration, cooking stove, and lamps. Lake water is drinkable, mostly boiled. We reminisce, eat, and drink well; sing, smoke, and strum.

Just a handful of years remain for this declining gang. Once we could pull a lot of water and take portages in stride. Today we limp onto the dock stiffly, after hours in the boat. We tell each other how fun it is. We’ll do it some more, as soon as we can.

- Guide Gord, September 2009