It took three-and-a-half hours to drive from Vermillion Community College to the Blankenburg Landing on Seagull lake, and not once during the trip did anyone show any signs of impatience or restlessness; a fact that should be no surprise to those who have had the pleasure of cruising along Lake Superior’s western shores. With the windows down, the dance tunes jamming, and that vast expanse of water (3 quadrillion gallons worth) occupying the horizon our crew eased into the cushioned seats of our two Forest Service vehicles (one a mint green F350; call name Green Giant, and the other a white Trailblazer; call name White Rabbit) and awaited our eventual arrival.
The car’s clock read 4:00 by the time we pulled up to Seagull Lake and began unloading our gear and canoes, or as I call them, Kayaks. Because we were running a bit behind schedule--thirty minutes or so--we worked double-time and managed to paddle to our camp site and set up all our tents and gear by 6:00; an accomplishment for even a seasoned canoeist. Exhausted by a full day’s labor, we retired to our respective tents and promptly fell asleep.
Seagull, Rog, and Alpine Lakes, the three bodies of water around which our work for the week revolved, are a special lot. This distinguished status stems from their lying within the boundaries of the Cavity Lake Fire of 2006, which was a great blazing inferno that claimed 31,830 acres of Boundary Water forest. Ecologists and the like refer to regrowth in an area such as this as being secondary successional. That is, an area in which an event has drastically altered the landscape and disrupted the usual growth and development of that area thereby allowing a new wave of plant species to populate it. In this ultra-fertile ash-saturated soil, invasive species can quickly gain a foothold and begin outcompeting native plants. Bull and Canadian thistles are especially adept at taking root in a newly burned area and were, therefore, our main target.
With the great burned out husks of pines standing erect against the Minnesota sky like the enormous sun-bleached bones of some massive now extinct prehistoric fauna, we bushwhacked through the aspens and alders grown as tall as eight feet by five years of sunlight and rain; here and there running into patches of Canada Thistle which we pulled with special delight, for their tap roots grow straight downward and will often relinquish their hold of the land without dispute. The bull thistle we occasionally stumbled across, on the other hand, was not so eager to surrender. With thorns that can easily poke through a leather glove and roots that spread laterally through the soil, this was a foe worthy of recognition.
In the end, however, not even this mighty invasive could stand up to the persistence of the Superior Invasive Species Removal Team and, as the days flit by (as they tend to do when each one is filled with ten solid hours of work), our eyes became increasingly capable of picking out the pointed leaves of a thistle, and our hands became hardened and resistant to their tines. Victory was thusly assured, and as we sat around a table and shared pizza at Sven and Ole’s on our way back to home-base, a feeling of pride in our work was evident in our faces. HUZZAH!