I've only 'owned' one boat in my life, and
if you want to get really technical, I didn't
own that one either. My dad said it was mine,
but since I was ten years old it probably didn't
matter a whole lot.
The boat did matter. It was different. Dad
called it a pumpkin seed and the name stuck.
A local fellow in Ossineke, Michigan built it;
his name is lost from my memory, but he had a
bit of a reputation as a boat builder. The boat
was made from local cedar, and lapstrake...but
not in the usual configuration which would be
from bow to stern. The wood was laid up from
rail to rail. probably from whatever wood he
had - it was war time. Overall length was about
eight feet, and if you are visualizing a canoe,
you are close but that's not it either. It was
a double-ender, with a perfectly flat bottom and
was wider in the middle like a pumpkin seed.
Just a little row boat. Varnished.
My world extended from the mouth of the Devil
River upstream until it was too shallow to row
the little boat. The river emptied into Thunder
Bay, Lake Huron. I was forbidden to go out into
the bay, which didn't keep me from doing it, and
I did get caught a time or two. Thunder Bay is
well known for bad storms coming up unexpectedly,
so the forbidden wasn't done without reason. The
river was pretty big and deep at the mouth.
My dad kept his fishing boat on one side of the river,
on the opposite side another commercial fisher also
had an operation. These were not 'sport fishing'
boats. Both were big working boats capable of
staying out in really bad weather.
Upstream was neater. The water drained two swamps
and also came out of Devils Lake. The name Devil
River was a mis-translation of the tribal name for
the waters draining the swamps which the local
tribes had designated a bad place. Like many of
the streams and rivers in Michigan the water was
tea-colored from the cedar swamps, but clear, so
every stone and pebble and brook trout was clearly
visible. I spent hours hanging over the side of
the little boat watching whatever was there to see.
The river went under one bridge as I recall, and
there were always some larger fish under the bridge.
There was a sweet smell to the whole area, not the
cattail swamp smell of rotting marsh, just sweet.
Sunlight dappled through the overhanging trees where
they didn't block out the light completely. It was
a magic, wonderful place. I never saw another person
upstream. But there were all sorts of birds flitting
through the branches, colors in streaks like fireworks.
I was not yet a fly fisher, and I don't recall
fishing at all that summer. That came the next
year when I started spending summers a bit farther
north with my grandparents in Rogers City, Michigan.
Being an only child I spent a lot of time in
that boat, but I did make friends with a brother
and sister whose family had a summer cottage on
the point right at the mouth of the river. I
could tie my little boat to their dock and stop
in for lemonade and cookies. They taught me to
play dominoes. I don't remember ever playing
the game with anyone else.
There weren't any phones in the region then
(much less cell phones) so if I was supposed
to come home my mother had a novel way of
'calling' me - she yodeled. There wasn't
anyone else who did that, so there wasn't
any question as to who was being 'called.'
I'm reminded of that when I'm outside since
someone in our neighborhood here calls their
kids by blowing a conch shell! You don't
hear that everywhere.
I did have a 'job' that summer. When my dad
and whomever his helper was that summer came
in from lifting nets I had to be at the dock.
They always put fish which had lampreys on
them into individual wooden boxes and I went
through those boxes and pulled off the lampreys
and threw them into a barrel of very salty water.
They died in the heavy salt water and a local
farmer came and got them and used them for
This was before the really terrible infestation
of lamprey which came after the opening of the
St. Lawrence Seaway and decimated the fish
population of the Great Lakes.
If I haven't made it clear, my dad was a
commercial whitefish fisherman in the spring
and summers on Lake Huron, he fished what are
called pond nets. These are large box shaped
nets with a tunnel which the fish swim into
but can't find their way out of. There are
floats on the top edges and weights on the
bottom edges which keep their shapes. Fish
caught this way can be easily and safely
released if they are the wrong size or specie.
Once on board they are put on ice, and then
back on shore, more ice added, and in the "old
days" off to refrigerated railroad cars and
shipped to market. All that has substantially
changed now of course, but that is the way it
was done back in the war years.
I wish I had a good photo of me during those
years. I was too tall, very skinny, really
brown from too much sun (probably the beginning
of my skin cancer) with long braids, truly the
ugly duckling. But I could sure row a boat. ~ DLB
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