Lake Winnie – Rhymes with Witch, Part 1
“Lake Winnie is a bitch today,” Phillip says. He shouldn’t say this; no one should. But everyone does. Everyone uses swear words, and the people that don’t use them use euphemisms. Phillip told me that at a Seventh-day Adventist university he attended, the students would not say “oh shit.” They would say “oh dip!”
“Dip?” I asked.
“Yes,” Phillip responded. “Oh dip!”
“Well…” I scratched my forehead. “Aren’t you thinking ‘shit?'”
“Yes, of course. But you don’t say that. You say ‘dip.'”
There is now a hole in my forehead from the scratching. “Okay okay okay okay. So you are thinking ‘shit.’ Your intention is really to say ‘shit.’ But you somehow force that word through a series of indoctrinated tubes in your brain until it comes out a nice, neat and sterile ‘dip?'”
“Yes. What part of ‘final answer’ do you not understand?”
“No. I understand. It’s just that… I don’t understand.”
I was trained in Method acting. Method acting, among other things, aims to take those same tubes that forced Phillip to say ‘dip,’ and rip them out. “Rip them out!” my Method teacher would say. “You don’t need them! To be an actor, you need to be less trained, less thinking, less filter, less worrrry, less everything. No filter! No restraint! Let it out!” If you think I cuss too much in these posts, you should have sat in on one of the many Method classes I attended. Not only I but all members would be engaging in a sort of ritualistic bliss of non-repression: blasphemies against God, blasphemies against our parents, every single person who’d ever done you wrong got an earful (though you were really just imagining them and talking to the wall), people shouting, screaming, makeouts, pillows thrown; one dude even punched a wall (though that is an extreme no no; you’re supposed to show some restraint). When you see an actor and they are breaking down crying in front of the camera and you say to yourself, “Gee, that seems so believable. How does he do that? I mean it really looks like he’s crying over his dead mother!” Well, how do you think he does it??? It’s hard. It’s hard to train your body to get to the point where it can respond like that to a script. When Robert DeNiro is cyring over Joe Pesci getting shot in Good Fellas, he’s probably not crying over Joe Pesci. He’s crying over someone else in his life who he loves and who he imagines has died, or gotten in a horrible accident, or been deformed or whatever makes him cry. It takes some training. It takes some removal of filters. Most of us walk around in life with our filters firmly in place. The movie where Rin Tin Tin dies makes the child in us cry, but we have a filter in place now. We have some blockage. We remember perhaps our father who didn’t like watching little boys cry. “Don’t cry!” he shouted because his father did the same to him. Emotions were a bad thing. Hell, it could hearken back to the days where we had to hunt animals to survive. If you were tracking a deer through the brush and stepped on a sharp stick with your bare feet, you couldn’t cry; you couldn’t show any pain, or the animal would hear you and escape. This male-fabricated non-showing of emotions had its place in one context, but has now survived in the modern era without a true place. My food will not escape if I cry, but Dad will certainly get mad. There is a consequence to crying and being a boy at the same time. We’ve got it. We’ve placed the tube in our brains. The filter is formed. The blockage is formed: I don’t let out what I think and feel. Society is content – I am more manageable this way.
My training in lack of restraint is added to the fact that the Sedams (my mom’s side of the family) are crazy and have no problem letting all their emotions and neroses out all over their dinner plates. Then my mom married a guy who was even more emotional than her. Holy crap! I mean, I had an extra helping of non-filter and lack of social restraint heaped all over my salad. I was a kid, I was hungry, I ate it up!
Contrast this, of course, with Phillip who grew up in a nice, neat Adventist household. “Dip!” was punishible by death. “Only college kids say words like that, Phillip,” his mom told him. Scold, scold, scold. The two extremes. The two upbringings have come to a head.
So here we have my social programming: More, more, more! Say more, don’t hold back! Say f— if you mean f—! (See, I showed some restraint there; getting better, am I?) And we have Phillip’s programming: Swear to Holy Jesus this is a true story: His parents would edit his children’s books with a black Sharpie. They deleted an entire scene one time where the child said he was angry at his parents. Like I said, extremes!
After I wrote the Thy Bounty post, Phillip called me. “It’s a little much,” he said. “What do you mean?” I replied.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but postulating what it would be like to throw an old woman off the roof of her house might be a little much for our readers.”
“Well, I wasn’t really going to throw her off the roof. That’s just how mad she had made me. Everyone has gotten so mad they’ve wanted to kill someone. They just don’t do it. I go on and on about not having a filter, but I have one obviously. I mean, c’mon, people can identify.”
“Yes, but not everyone is as comfortable as you with these types of thoughts. Some people think those thoughts are… wrong.”
“Dude, I didn’t put the thoughts there! God did! Someone did! I don’t know, Harry Potter did for all I know. I just think it’s funny that I was so mad at her antics.”
“It is funny.”
“Well, I find it funny, but some of our readers aren’t comfortable with finding it funny.”
“But it is funny!”
“I know, but it shouldn’t be.”
“But it is!”
“Just… can you please not say fuck more than 67 times in a single post.”
Despite Phillip’s filters, he cursed loud and clear that late June day, the day we tried to cross Lake Winnibigoshish. “Winni is a bitch today,” he says mid-paddle stroke. OOOOOOOOHHHH, you dun cursed, you goin’ straight to hailllllll! I think this but I have no time to respond. I have no time to be funny, to cut up or sound off. I am in mid-paddle stroke myself, and I am in pain. Yesterday was a blast. After our brush with death at the dam on Cass Lake, the next day held nothing but sunlight and warmth and beautiful tailwinds from our Lord Jesus Christ, Buddha, Vishnu, or whoever was in charge of the wind that day. I personally am praying to whichever one serves up the best weather as I depart from Prescott, Wisconsin tomorrow! and head towards the Iowa border. (Guys, for real, if this offends you, lighten up, please. I attend church regularly; simultaneously, I believe it is important to maintain a spirit of levity even with issues such as religion. I think if we all lightened up a little bit, we’d get more done, get along better, and have a much better time in life.
Life is too important to be taken seriously. – Oscar Wilde
I guess the only problem with quoting Oscar Wilde was that he was a dirty sodomite who is, unfortunately for him and other gays, burning in the fiery pits of hell. See, I’ve offended the gays now, so we’re all square! Seriously, this blog, this life and this adventure is about fun. I hope you’re having a good time and please believe that all this stuff, ALL THIS STUFF is to be taken with a grain of salt… or cocaine.)
Jeez, okay, back to the story and stuff: The weather between our Cass Lake ordeal and our Lake Winnie ordeal was amazing – 20 mph tailwind, beautiful sun that dried our clothes; me thinks I did hear the god Zeus laugh upon us from on high!
It was glorious. That day Phillip turned to me and was all smiles: “I have exerted little to no effort this day.” “Me neither,” I said. We toasted paddles and drank our fill of goodness. This day was definitely, definitely good.
The Next Day Was Definitely, Definitely Bad
Still on the good day, Phil studied the map and listened carefully to the weather report. “K, I’ve got it,” he said. “We are going to have a north wind from hell tomorrow. If we can paddle as far as we can up along the western Winnie coast, we should have an easier time tomorrow. The wind may blow us pretty far south, but if we fanagle it right, we should be able to ride the wind, in part at least, to our waypoint.” “Sounds good to me!” I said. Phil’s plan was solid. Despite what happened tomorrow, I can’t think of any other way a responsible person would have planned it. His reasoning was sound, his plan was sound, I agreed with him; Mother Nature had other plans.
We had paddled that night just south of Sugar Lake, a smaller but goodly sized sub-lake of Winnibigosh. If a scriptwriter had wished to give our upcoming ordeal a fantastical brush of foreboding, she could not have chosen a better conceit than the one Mother Nature was able to provide: f—ing, dashing, bad-word-ing MUSKEETOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Holy crap; we found the Eden of mosquitoes! I mean this was the birthplace; this is where Mosquito Adam and Mosquito Eve birthed their first evil offspring. This was it! This was Valhalla! This was the multinational mosquito mega-factory for all of planet Earth. The great, giant Mother Mosquito ordered her minions to bring her wine and cheese as she cranked millions of blood-sucking babies out of her unholy… okay, Mom, okay… I’m trying here, I really am…
The point is there were a lot of these egg suckers, and they didn’t want eggs; they wanted an espresso shot of my DNA (and they really liked Phillip flavor too) and they wanted it now. I walked on shore. The sun was going down. Phillip looked over our possible campsite. It was littered with shells mussel shells. Strange nets were set up 10 feet from shore in the water. I had no idea what they were for but assumed they were for channeling mussels to shore where fisherman ripped their soft bodies out of their protective chassis and sold the meat to the highest bidder. Right now I was the meat, and godless, sanguinity-craving bugs with their godless, sanguinity-craving muzzles were looking for ripe, hairless flesh. “This is good,” Phillip says. “It’s full of skeeters,” I reply.
“Yes but, the next spot would be across Sugar Lake, and it’s getting dark. This place is flat, there’s plenty of firewood…” He slaps himself. There is a small cloud descending around him, and it’s not mist. (Slap!) I look up. There is a big cloud not 10 feet above us, and it’s not smog. Smog I would welcome. Give me good ‘ol Houston, L.A. or even Mexico City smog at this moment (1985 with a touch of gasahol, mmmmmmmmmm); but do not give me these. The cloud is grey, and you can make out the fading color of blue arcing up into the firmament. They are buzzing, they are many, they are legion. “Uhhhhhhhhhhh,” I say, “remember the bug highway we say at Lake Itasca?” “Yeah,” Phil responds.
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Phil looks up. The look of fear and dread on his face was classic. Downturned jowls, the red of his eyes expanded, his nose flared and dropped… yeah, that’s dread all right. “Okay,” hey says, “lets get the fire going.”
“We’re staying here?”
“Yeah.” He grabs some alcohol from the stuff-pouch attached to his back seat. It’ll start the fire quicker.
“Well… I mean look at this place.”
“You got any better ideas?”
“We keep paddling.”
Phillip looked at the map. He showed me definitively that we were on the very edge of public land. Further north on Lake Winnie it was private. Private land could mean unhappy owners toting unhappy guns. Private owners could also mean happy showers and happy playing fetch with their dogs. Were we willing to risk it?
I’m being eaten alive. Phillip seems to have not even considered my dissent and goes about busily setting up the fire: small twigs, bigger twigs, small sticks, bigger sticks, and finally small logs to… you get the idea. He’s getting them formed in nice neat piles; I’m standing there looking like a lanky Alfalfa from The Little Rascals scratching my head in dismay; I have no idea what to do. Phil has already made his decision, and I don’t have any good arguments; I can’t guarantee, after all, that if we paddle farther north we’ll find a good campsite or that we’ll be welcomed with open arms by potentially angry private land owners. F—ing capitalism with your private land!!!
“Okay,” I say, “this is good.” I help him gather wood. Phil and I have divided into roles when it comes to building a fire. I’m the starter, he’s the gatherer. This happened organically. When we camped out in Arkansas in preparation for this trip, Phil took a stab at starting a fire all by his lonesome. He put the dry grass down – good. He put the small twigs over the grass – very good. This is the point where I would light the grass and add or remove smaller twigs as needed to maintain the flame. I’m very slow in getting the conflagration going but I’m precise. I take my time, and you will have a fire. In the end, it’s probably faster because I don’t skip steps and never move on to bigger logs until there’s enough energy in the present fire to burn them. Phil has decided to keep adding more. He piles on big logs now. “What are you doing?” I ask.
“Just let me do it my way.”
“Okay, but if you want my personal opinon…”
“Which I don’t.”
He glares. I go away and look busy. Long story short (I love this phrase): Phil has got that fire stacked nice and high. His theory was that if you light the grass, the whole rest of the wood pyramid will go up in tandem, kinda like a controlled demolition with each level of the building exploding in horizontal precision. He lights it. It’s kinda like Casey at the Bat:
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go, And now Phillip holds the match, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow. And now the mosquitoes’ hopes are shattered by the possibility of the fire’s glow
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; Oh, somewhere in this Redneck Utopia the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, Robert Earl Keen is playing somewhere, and somewhere beer is turned upright,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; And somewhere men (and hopefully women) are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out. But there is no joy in Arkansas – mighty Phillip’s fire has blown out.
Phillip lit the match, and the grass did indeed burn. It licked the smaller twigs above it but was smothered by the larger ones a level higher. “This should go up like a Christmas tree,” he contested. “Should,” I said, “but didn’t.” I felt gleefully self-satisfied. Phillip and I take turns feeling self-satisfied at the other’s demise. His latest was probably my being wrong about him buying so much food in Bemidji before we departed. “You don’t need to buy that much food,” I contended. “We’re going to be back here in two days.”
“Yeah but the Wal Mart will be 3 miles from where we tie up the boats; you want to walk it?”
“Sheesh. I’ll walk it; I’m not a pussy like you.”
“K. I’m getting all this food. We don’t know when we’ll be back in Bemidji.”
Turns out he was right. Extremely right. We had one can of beans left by the time we got to Bemidji, and I was so tired I had no desire to walk one mile, let alone three miles to even a party of naked girls titled Ryan’s Intercourse Wonderland. Truth is Phillip is right about logistical matters such as these at least 60 per cent of the time. Not 100! He thinks he’s right all the time; but, he’s not. I’ll point out a few later. For now, it was probably the most hilarious think I have ever seen watching him light that brush expecting World War III and seeing his flicker be dashed into a whimpering coal of nothingness. “I don’t get it,” he scratched his head. “You wanna try?”
OOOOOOOOOhhhhhhh. I’d be glad to do something logistical and technical better than you. Then I can hold it over your head for the rest of eternity! I had the fire going quickly and we roasted marshmallows. I went to gather wood. I came back. “I can’t really find any wood,” I said. Phillip was snug in his fold out chair. “What do you mean,” he asked, ‘you can’t find any wood?”
“I dunno,” I stammered. “It’s just not there.” Phillip groaned and got up. He foraged in the blackness for five minutes and came back with piles of wood. “Not bad for no wood.” Bastard.
Because we could, we divided into roles when it comes to building the fire. He gathers, I start. When it’s started, I work on my gathering skills. Phil roasts more marshmallows. It was a great system, until Phil left. I will tell you, however, I am not the firewood gathering god that Phil is yet; but, after I camped on Cloquet Island, I did well, I tell you, well.
I’ll have to end the post here, because Allegra is taking me to Hastings, MN, and I am departing for the Iowa border todayyyyyy! Wish me luck, send me a text message: (512) 828-2471, and I’ll be on the river having to contend now with…
- a wider, deeper river
- more pleasure boaters not worried about NO WAKE signs
- a different state!!!!! I will be paddling down the Wisconsin/Minnesota border
Yeah me! Yeah us! Yeah God! Yeah life! You ready for some more adventure? I’m ready to give it to ya. I’m ready for a brand new river. A newer river with…
5. locks and dams!!!! That’s right we’ve got locks to go through now! I’ll send pictures!
It’ll be a different adventure now as I pull out of Northern Minnesota. It’ll be amazing. I can’t wait. I have no idea what’s going to happen or what it’s going to be like, and neither do you… Let’s explore it together!