The Yoke Was on Us
The year was 1975. So, not that long ago. It was only the best of times.
We started our job at EPA’s Shagawa Lake Project on Memorial Day Weekend. It was our first experience taking on a project of our own and being responsible. Nancy was the technical partner; trained by the master of zooplankton feeding rates, Dr. Jim Haney. I was supposed to be the theoretician; trying to make some sense of the data and design a good study. As lowly contractors we got some meager lab space tightly guarded over by our new friends, the full time employees. The study progressed well with only a couple minor mishaps involving a little radioactive P32 finding a hole in my rubber glove. I slept a few nights with my arm over the side of the bed. Can’t be too careful with one’s gametes. We found Ely night life enticing, spending more than one evening on crawls up Sheridan Street lavishing in our new found freedom. Hoping our boss doesn’t read this but we missed a couple of sample times in our diel study on the night of July 4th after a visit to the then famous Legion Club later to be known as the Red Garter.
So Ely was the oasis at the end of a long road from New Hampshire for me and my research partner. We gained a best friend who worked at Canadian Waters that summer. She was a blond Swede from St. Paul named Margot (but pronounced Margit) with so much Minnesotan accent we thought she was a recent immigrant. After a week or two of hearing all the stories about the wilderness out our back door ( we lived in the basement of Shagawa Inn) we set off with Margot’s advice to explore the wilderness. She was flabbergasted at our suggestion that we might camp on one of the wild islands of Shagawa. After all, we had spent many hours in white lab coats in our Boston Whaler sampling the waters of Shag and kinda liked it. After proper admonition, we found the portage to Hegman and off we went on our first wilderness trip.
My dad was a boat dealer in Massachusetts so when he heard that I was spending a summer in Ely, Minnesota he told me about the ads he’d seen in Outdoor Life for years about the Canoe Country. After loading up a ton of science gear in my Volvo I strapped on a Grumman to the roof and took off for the cross Canada highway to Grand Portage and the wilds of Minnesota. The canoe turned out to be essential that summer as slowly the summer progressed and paddling wild lakes became almost as important as catching wild Daphnia and rotifers. It was that first outing though that Nancy and I made a major discovery. The trail to Hegman is wide and sloping and outfitted with steps for the uninitiated. We hoisted the canoe on our shoulders, one in the front and one in the rear upside down and off we went. On the somewhat jerky hike to the lake we met a fellow traveler climbing back up the parking lot carrying his canoe by himself from the middle of the canoe. What was that? A few more canoes at the put in had something like pads hanging off the center thwart. That’s how Minnesotans carry a canoe? Unheard of in New England where portages are just for the wimps who don’t run the white water. It looked intriguing however and I called my dad as soon as we got back to the lab that Sunday. As a long time Grumman dealer (since 1955) he said it was what is called a yoke and it just tightens down to the center thwart. Dad had one on the shelves in Athol, Mass collecting dust for the past 20 years. What a revelation! In a week we had a yoke of our own and ever since the yoke has been on us.