Torches at the Solstice

The Flambeau River of northeastern Wisconsin was named because of its proximity to Lac du Flambeau, so named by the French-speaking voyageurs because the residential Ojibwe band fished in the dark on the lake using torches. The image of an inky night, the lap of quiet water, and anglers illuminated by flames of torches is a lovely one. We looked forward to seeing the river.

The Manitowish River, described in the last blog, empties into the Turtle/Flambeau Flowage, an impoundment maintained by dams. The Flambeau flows out of the lake, but assumes a much different aspect than the low, marshy Manitowish. The Flambeau has wooded banks with a well-developed understory– but it still is a dammed river. We saw no shallows, no sand bars– and no wading birds, like Great Blue Herons or Spotted Sandpipers.

Fishermen have the Flambeau on their radar. We paddled past many twosomes in canoes or small boats with motors. Some were fly-fishing; others used reels. But none camped overnight. Once again, we passed scenic campsites– mowed, somehow, by the Wisconsin DNR. Each site had a fire grate and a picnic table. Ours also had a well-tended outhouse, with a wastebasket — just like a fancy hotel…sort of.

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We also paddled past some lovely stands of mature white pines. I thrill to the graceful arc of a furry white pine bough– which are fairly common, but nothing in number to what white pines, and red pines, were before the great deforestation of the late 1800s. That we also passed (on our drive to the Flambeau through central Wisconsin) acres and acres of “wasteland” that never reforested is testimony to how thoroughly our understanding of what these northern forests are like is shaped by the Big Cut.

The mosquitoes, yes, were boisterous, but deterred by DEET. So we passed a pleasant evening contemplating the river. When we heard a thin, plaintive howl, I thought, “I didn’t know we were that close to farms!” When the animal howled again, I thought, “That’s not a dog. That’s a wolf. And just on the other side of the river!”

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