Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For October 2nd, 2009 Edition.
While reading a recent column, which was promoting the upcoming "Cranberry Fest" weekend, it became difficult for me to realize our local traditional "spring/summer/fall tourist season is about over! Time certainly does fly whether or not yer havin' fun!
The mere mention of cranberries put my memory into reverse and allowed me to recall special moments from long ago when mom and dad decreed it was time for our family's annual cranberry harvest.
I would imagine many folks have a list of special places in the world that invoke numerous and varied emotions concerning events and situations that occurred in their personal special places. I know my list is quite lengthy.
For a country kid who grew up in the post-depression era in Northern Wisconsin, many memories of special places often involve helping to put food on the family table, which as a once popular song suggests, "it's a family affair."
The Anderson Family was fortunate to live smack dab in what was pretty much wilderness during the late 1930s 40s and into the 50s. We had no real neighbors, as the closest dwelling that housed year-around occupants was over a mile and a half from our homestead on Kasomo Lake in St. Germain Township. Hundreds and hundreds of acres of field, forest and swamps owned by the state surrounded our 120 acres of heaven on earth, all of which was used often and used wisely to help sustain body and soul.
Within this vast area was a wetland locally known as "Franke's Swamp." Somewhere around sixty acres in size the swamp contains a bog pothole of about two or three acres. We dubbed the un-named pothole "Big Duck Lake", as waterfowl often used the remote pond as a resting place. We could also have named the small bog lake "Cranberry Lake", as it annually produced a bumper crop of the notoriously sour berries.
The bog pothole was situated dead center in Franke's Swamp and there was no easy access to the secluded pond. But getting there was an adventure in itself!
From our property an old logging road allowed us to drive within a half-mile of the pond. From there a well-traveled deer runway served as a walkway for dad, mom, grandma Jorgensen and I, plus Pat, our black cocker spaniel, to reach the northern edge of the swamp. That was the easy part! From there the going became much, much tougher!
For those who have never traveled through a typical northern bog swamp, let me attempt to verbally illustrate the landscape. The first type of terrain one encounters is randomly, tightly spaced mounds (called hummocks) of sphagnum moss interspersed with thick clumps of leather leaf, a plant resembling sagebrush. Between those hummocks are very narrow openings, which allows foot traffic that resembles the gait of a tightrope walker.
A hundred yards of tightrope walking eventually gives way to a stunted forest of black spruce and an occasional tamarack tree, which grow from a carpeted floor of soft sphagnum moss. Here the going gets slightly easier, but as one nears the bog lake the trees become thicker and the walking become mushy. By the time the lake is in view ones feet are wet and cold, unless you're wearing rubber boots.
Our cranberry harvesting equipment we carried to the lake included a stout garden rake, a long handle dip net with a cone shaped dipper made of window screen and pails and buckets to transport the harvested crop back to our Chevy truck.
A bog lake, such as Big Duck Lake, is surrounded by a floating bog consisting of roots of the cranberry plants interwoven within layers of sphagnum moss and clumps of leather leaf. As one gets ever closer to the waters edge the floating bog begins to wiggle beneath your feet and you start to slowly sink. If you stand in one place long enough you'll eventually have to swim! The secret is to keep moving, stop for only a minute or two and watch out for beaver or muskrat channels or holes in the bog!
Dad was the "raker." He'd use the garden rake to reach out and grab a clump of cranberry plants that hung over the edge of the water, then pull them backwards and shake the berries loose. Once separated from the plant the berries float and allowed mom to scoop up the cranberries with the long handled dip net. Simple but effective!
Another of dad's jobs was to pull his son out of the bog when he fell through one of those beaver or muskrat channels. I can still smell the terrible odor of decaying vegetation that would be clinging to my pants and tennis shoes after one of those cold, terrifying "falling through the floating bog semi-submersions!"
Pat also helped dislodge berries from the plants. I'd toss a stick into the water and when Pat jumped in to retrieve it and then climbed back out again he'd do a fine job of knocking the berries off the stems.
Mom and grandma canned most of our harvest, which later was turned into jams, jellies, pie fillings and dipping sauce for roast duck, many of which also were harvested at Big Duck Lake.
By the time I entered high school we gave up the annual pilgrimage to BDL. But I still continued to travel our familiar path and visit our secluded bog pothole at least several times each fall, this time armed with my shotgun and accompanied by my retriever.
Over the past several decades my visits to this hallowed location have diminished to only an occasional trek back in time. Fewer ducks now visit the sanctuary, even though the pothole and the swamp that surrounds it seems to have not changed one bit over the past six plus decades. The hummocks are still formable obstacles, the spruce and tamarack appear to be about the same size as my memory suggests they were so long ago, and my feet still get wet and cold as they always did. As of late my shotgun seems heavier but Belle, like Pat, Duke, Teal, Sadie, Maggie and Siah, who romped beside me previously, still enjoys the hike.
I enjoy the memories!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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