Driving down Sturgeon Valley Road last Friday, early afternoon, it occurred to me I was driving through a forest fire. The colors seemed to close in from both sides of the road. The yellows, oranges and reds were illuminated by the bright sun. The feeling passed but the thought stayed with me.
I met Natch, Jake and Feral at a favorite remote camp spot, burnt clutch camp, which is near the Pigeon River and Grass Lake on Ford lake Road. I arrived on Friday afternoon and expected Natch around 9:00 PM so I had a fair amount of time alone. I pitched my backpack tent and readied the fire for later then went for a long walk on a trail that leads to the river. I hooked a Carhart beer holder to my belt and also a hunting knife on the extremely remote chance I might come upon a bear. I wrote a paper in college about bear attacks in national parks and the stories stayed with me. Most of the really gruesome stories involved grizzly bears, not the black bears found in Michigan, but I figure if it ever happens I’d rather have a knife on me. The reason I was even thinking about bears is a story told to me by my doctor, whom I had just had an appointment. She knows I camp and mentioned how a grizzly approached her and her sisters out west. On the same trip she was standing on an outcrop of rock, looked up, and saw a mountain lion staring at her. I have a very fun, interesting doctor. With camping experience!
After the long walk, which was hypnotic because of the colors, I had a sandwich at camp, played a couple songs on my camp guitar, then decided to walk some more. Incredibly Natch got off work early and showed up closer to 6:00. We took the same trail back to the river. The light was fading and when we turned back to camp believe it or not I heard a growl. A low, guttural growl. Possibly bear. The trail drops off on one side and the sound came from down there. It didn’t strike fear in our hearts or anything like that, we were working on some beers and feeling light-headed like you legally can in Michigan now. We kept walking. It was good. We lit the fire at camp and had some leftover pizza Natch brought along. We saved the cheese brats for the next night.
Saturday morning Natch and I went into Vanderbilt for some breakfast. On the way we spotted a bald eagle and took some photos. I stopped the car and we got out. It crossed the road, tree to tree, and didn’t seemed concerned about us. Natch took this photo.
We dropped thirty bucks plus tips on an “okay” breakfast so my earlier story of making breakfast in my trailer to save money reverberated. We headed to the river about 10:00 am and left a note for Feral and Jake to know when to expect us. The temperature was in the mid-sixties and warming up. The Pigeon River stays open past the normal close of trout season but you can only keep rainbow trout. Last year, same time, Natch caught a twenty inch rainbow. So it can happen. We didn’t catch anything but we would not have traded that slow wade up the river for anything. The colors along the stream were spectacular. We had no cares or expectations of another rainbow trout. It just felt great to be up north.
We had just returned to camp when Feral and Jake showed up. Jake brought the 1961 Apache Chief camper. They set up the camper and went bird hunting.
There’s some slashings along the bottom of a ridge close to camp (next to the trail to the river) and they started there. Feral walked on one edge of the slashings, Jake the other. Natch and I headed up the ridge to check out the view. We heard Feral shout and two seconds later saw Jake shoot. We could see him search for the bird. They kept hunting along the slashing and Natch and I did some exploring. Natch speculated that an old two-track trail we stumbled on led to a spot we could drive to. Last year we took a faint trail off Tin Bridge road down some hills into a field. The faint two track stopped at a north south intersection of another faint two track. Natch guessed if we took that trail south we would end up on the trail we had just discovered. Long story short, we drove over there but someone put up a berm on the two-track so people couldn’t drive in there. I am guessing the DNR fun police. It’s okay for logging companies to drive into remote areas of the game area and clear cut, leave a mess, and make some two tracks impassable, but two fishermen can’t take an old trail into an area to access the river or explore. But don’t get me started on that… I have too many examples of river access blocked by the DNR.
When Natch and I fished the Cornwall stretch Natch found an elk skull and placed it on a log next to the foot trail. Feral and Jake took the foot trail hunting, found it, and stopped for a photo.
Back at camp Jake and Feral wanted to hunt some more and Natch and I decided to replenish the firewood. We drove to one of the clear-cut areas and used his battery powered chainsaw to lop off the ends of small pine trunks sticking out of brush piles. It took maybe fifteen minutes to put a row in the back of his new truck. That’s another story. He traded in his jeep. At the last trout camp Natch talked about a mysterious, impossible to find electrical problem that rendered the jeep undriveable. He replaced the CPU himself, no luck, and took it to the dealer who also could not track down the problem. He finally found a mechanic that could diagnose and do the repair but by then he had no confidence it wouldn’t someday happen again. So he traded the Jeep in on 2019 Chevy truck. Nice truck!
Back at camp we had a visitor. A tame chipmunk. Feral and Natch hand fed it crackers. It was completely unafraid of people. Feral kept feeding it smaller and smaller pieces and at one point it decided Feral’s finger might be food and clamped down on that. It let go but surprised Feral, no damage done.
At beer o’clock we built a fire and Jake surprised us with gifts. He’s a blacksmith and artist and he handed me a hand-forged fire poker. And, he made wrought iron bottle openers for each of us. Thanks Jake! I wished I would have taken a photo right then.
We knocked down some beers and laughed about the kind of junk guys laugh about. Built a fire. At some point we made the cheese brats to knock the edge off the beer. By ten o’clock we were exhausted by the very long busy day and I am sorry to admit we crashed early. The next morning we were all up by 8:00 packing up and saying our goodbyes for the season. And promising to do it again next year.