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Adventures in Lake Itasca

By Staff | Aug 6, 2009

My wife and I recently spent a weekend at Lake Itasca, which is located in an area that’s so heavily forested it should really be called Woods Itasca.

I am a prairie boy; seeing such a colossal collection of living lumber invariably makes me think, “Who the heck planted all these trees?” You know you’re in the Big Woods when roadside signs proclaim “We buy standing timber!”

Lake Itasca is very scenic once you get used to the fact that you can’t see the horizon for the trees. My wife and I spent much of our time simply relaxing while a resident red squirrel scolded us for our sloth.

But we didn’t just relax. My wife did everything she could to stimulate the local economy by reducing the inventory at local gift shops.

We took a boat tour of Lake Itasca one evening with a bunch of nice folks and their families. During this hazardous voyage we had to “live off the land,” by which I mean “we ate pizza out of cardboard boxes.” The hazardous part involved the pizza delivery guy, who got lost while making this most important delivery. It certainly was important to us.

Lake Itasca abounds with wildlife, including Minnesota’s official state bird, the common loon. One can only imagine how the uncommon loon feels about this.

The next day we decided to explore the untamed wilderness surrounding Lake Itasca. Fortunately, we were able to do this from the comfort of our car due to our discovering an ancient Indian trail that bore a remarkable resemblance to an asphalt road.

The woodlands of Itasca State Park are dense and primordial. Some areas are carpeted by lush ferns while others are choked by impenetrable underbrush. Never is there any doubt that you’re in the Great North Woods.

Pop around a curve in the road and you may see a lily- padded lake that sports a beaver condominium. Round another bend and you may come upon a patch of delicious, flame-red wild raspberries. Don’t ask how I know that they’re delicious.

One evening we were entertained by Lars the Logger, who, in an entertaining and humorous fashion, educated us about life in a 1900’s logging camp.

I learned that being a logger didn’t pay all that well.

On the plus side, you got all you could eat – that is, all you could eat in 15 minutes. Time was money even back then.

Lars mentioned an area called The Lost Forty, a patch of virgin forest skipped over by surveyors and thus never

logged. As soon as I heard the phrase “The Lost Forty,” I knew we had to try to find it.

I was confident we could locate The Lost Forty because we had brought along Mrs. Garmin, our GPS gizmo. Mrs. Garmin can be somewhat of a dingbat, so we had an old-fashioned map for backup.

Things went fine until we turned onto an isolated Forest Service road. Mrs. Garmin didn’t recognize where we were and began to say “recalculating!” with ever-increasing urgency.

The forest soon became thick and tall enough to totally block out the sun. A primeval greenish glow filled the air.

“You sure we’re in the right place?” my wife asked anxiously. “Are we lost?”

“I’m scared!” chimed Mrs. Garmin.

We then spotted a small wooden sign that read “The Lost Forty.” We weren’t lost! The trees were!

Parking at a roadside picnic area, I said to my wife, “I’m going to hike yonder footpath. Want to come along?”

“No, thanks. This looks like prime bear territory. Dealing with one hairy, smelly beast is more than enough!”

So I strolled out into The Lost Forty, hoping I wouldn’t become the lost forty-first. The trees were awesomely majestic. What a thrill to touch something that was alive when the Pilgrims landed! An organism that’s been around for 4 centuries! Longer than anyone I know! Even me!

I discovered that it’s a mistake to stand still for even a moment in the Great North Woods. Numerous local mosquitoes and black flies quickly took notice, then began to take blood.

I dashed for the car amidst a cloud of bugs. I had to knock on the window several times before my wife let me in.

“What took you so long?” I sputtered.

“I couldn’t tell who it was. All those bugs made you look like a furry old sasquatch. But then I thought, no forest creature would ever cuss like that!”

We made it safely back to the Dakota prairie without my needing a blood transfusion. The only forest we now see is a stand of wind towers off on the distant horizon.

It’s a fine sight, but not quite the same as Lake Itasca.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

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