Saturday, September 26, 2015

After Meeting a Hermit His Age in the Forest, Wilbo Studies Doomed Coho Salmon at the Weir, Little Manistee River, @PureMichigan

Friday and fall call for migrations, and I felt a call north. A friend wrote me and bemoaned that a news channel had passed on her proposal for a television show. I wrote her back, "Greetings from Manistee", and I sent her an invitation to a blues musician playing at St. Ambrose Cellarsnearby. She couldn't come as she lives on the ocean in Southern California, and yet it made her laugh and I like making her laugh. I skipped the blue musician in the wonderfully restored barn on the mead making estate and I took a refreshing swim in the Manistee harbor.

While waiting for her to write me back, I googled the miles to Little Current, Ontario, a town on the easterly shore of Manitoulin Island, a place where citizens of the three fires lived on land that never was given over to governments of the Canadians, British nor Americans. Google reported a drive of eight hours, four hundred miles, a little more than a tank of gas away. I googled a route to the Eskimo lands on the south shore of Hudson Bay, long a fantasy trip of mine and Google reported, "Directions Not Available. A route to the destination from its nearest road cannot be determined".

An entourage of women walked the beach as I body surfed on the waves, one of the many women's weekends that show up in town, drawn by the shore and the casino. Women's weekends make a big business during the shoulder season, splitting hotel rooms with two queens four ways.

Last weekend, an evening swim at Beulah became social when a women's weekend turned up on the beach and a few of the women began chatting to me. One had left her wig in their lodgings because she felt comfortable swimming with the hair left by her auto-immune disease. The alpha woman was okay with telling me that. The alpha woman was about to leave Michigan to teach nature classes on a river in the Everglades, and she had retired from school teaching, only five years older than my age.

I hadn't planned to be away from home, and I knew that many of the landings and boat launches in the Manistee National Forest could be enjoyed overnight. A good enough sleeping bag awaited in the Subaru station wagon for catching a nap with the back seat pushed forward. No one was going to bang on the window and ask for identification. A myth has claimed that a creature called the bear man lives in this forest that holds the Manistee and Pine River, but that would be a cool meeting, right? I had an idea of proving my self reliance by catching a fish in the morning. I passed by many national forest signs for obsolete sites, the Udall Rollways where logs were rolled into the river or the fire tower. Trucks have taken over the transportation of logs and planes keep vigilance over the wooded wilderness. I thought a fish weir sounded like a likely place and I followed the signs back into the woods so far, I thought I heard the banjo theme from Deliverance.

The weir parking lot had a posting: "No Camping". A parking area at the top of the hill had no posting at all, and I pulled up beside a red van with a sign in the window: "Dr So and So is a Breaker of Promises and a Liar". I chuckled to myself that I had found the disgruntled section of the forest, my mind refusing to let go of a range on complaints. I made my bed in the Subaru hatch and settled in for sleep. The noise I made woke up my neighbor and a light illuminated the interior of the van, a light that stayed on until morning.

I had wakeful times in the night, usually to exit the 'Bu and take a splash. This required unlocking the door, opening the door and standing in the dew covered grass. Then closing the door, locking the door and settling into my sleeping bag, a five minute occupation.

The oxygen sleeping outside has a quality like a good CPAP, and it caused weird dreams. I dreamt that a valued co-worker had opened up my passenger door and shaken me awake, "It's okay now", he said, "The storm has lifted". My sleeping self that speaks for myself in dreams responded, "How did you find me back in the woods?" His head jerked around like a perfect Kramer routine, Kramer from Seinfeld, not Mad Money. He had no answer for that and he closed and locked the door and returned to the forest. I started from sleep and checked if my door was still locked.

Dawn filled the station wagon windows with a wan light, filtered through the fog that had settled on the inside of those windows. I stumbled out, found my coffee from last night, and began to sip. My neighbor stumbled out, in a red and white striped button down, and he walked ten feet into the meadow. He had hair that reminded me of Carl Sandburg, the Chicago poet. He lifted a plastic night bag up and emptied the yellow contents before he had noticed me. I guessed that was how he solved the slash at night problem. I hazarded, "Sorry, I hope I didn't wake you last night". "No, I was up all night. I've had a catheter inserted after Labor Day, and here it is, almost October. I turn wrong and I wake up".

He started the year with a bad shoulder, a bad pacemaker and a bad urinary tract and now only the tract awaited treatment. He slept out in the national forest because his neighbors constantly pestered him for favors, usually deeper in the forest where he tamed a litter of skunks by feeding them cat food bits. The skunks he described became friendly enough to perch on his lap, outdoing the miracles of St. Frances with the birds. He gave me a tip for a good breakfast, Captain's Cove on Manistee Lake, and advised me to check out the weir. He counted nineteen king coho salmon skimming the waters below the weir, an unusually small number.

The weir had an observation deck perched over the water, and the count of salmon skimming, fins above the water like a cruising shark, had increased to sixty. One keeping position on a bed of rocks had a white tale, a fungal infection that had begun to claim its life. A pair of friends explained what I was seeing, and bemoaned the low fish count. The two had driven up to the Little Manistee every year together for the last fourteen years, and they remembered masses of salmon summoning up gumption to jump the dam into the weir's canal. I studied the canal, and the route had no water leading into the lagoons, and all lagoons were dry. A week from now, the state of Michigan would flood those lagoons and begin impounding fish for their eggs. The fish we had watched had no where to go until their strength gave out and the river carried them downstream to a place to rot. 

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