BOOT LAKE: THE LAKE
If pressed, I could not lie and say that Boot Lake was a thing of wild beauty like CLT or that it was pristine like Canadian waters. It was a pretty basic lake with a little island, some decent fishing, a mucky bottom, occasionally obnoxious neighbors and a small sandy beach on the sole of the Boot.
But it also had lily pads with the sweetest, slickest bottoms you could imagine, loons that could send a shiver up your spine during morning's first suggestion, and a whole northern shoreline that remained undeveloped. It had muskie and bass and crappie and sunfish. It had easy winds that made even the most modest sailing day memorable. You could float in a blue plastic boat without a care in the world.
Boot Lake had onyx water in the evening dusk that helped me to understand Nick Adams' objective correlative when I read "Indian Camp." I can still see the eddies in the otherwise calm water as we rowed back to the shoreline, mosquitoes in fevered pursuit. After pulling in the john boat, we would stand on the shoreline and lift the stringer of fish out of the water. As we trudged up the hill toward the garage where we would filet fish under a single bare bulb, I would look back one more time to see the last of the light fade over the lake. I am glad that I always did.
Even so, I can't remember the last time I ever saw the lake--not exactly at least. I think it was week before Tracey's mom died in 1991 when Grandma and Grandpa were renting the place from the new owners. As I stood at the back of the cabin and hugged my grandparents goodbye, I suppose I thought I would come back, but I never did see the lake again.
I went back only one more time after the place was sold out of the family in the late 1980s. In May of 2002, after looking at a swampy piece of property on the Chippewa, I drove the familiar path down Sawdust Road and past the small cottages on Lake Pulaski's south side. The main area between Lakes Pulaski and Boot had been a fairly quiet campground but now was overrun with RVs and clotheslines. A new road next to the old Kissmoot driveway, an area once rife with blackberries, now just led to more parking for RVs. The woods had been plundered, boom boxes were everywhere. I turned around without ever seeing the lake after chickening out on going down the old driveway to ask the new tenants if I could look around. For a moment I was sad for what was gone but as time went on I knew going back that last time was one of the best things I ever did. I always had regretted that the cabin had been dispatched to strangers for a song and wished I had more than two nickels to rub together when the Kerlins sold it to live in Florida full time. But that Memorial Day madhouse at Boot Lake helped me to realize that Boot Lake had changed in ways that would not have made my grandfather (or me) happy.
More important: because I did not get Boot Lake, I wound up with CLT and a true natural haven that my grandfather always imagined. I am fairly certain Les Kerlin would have been very happy for me.