restricted access Day 6: On the Edge
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  115 d ay 6 On the Edge A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. —Aldo Leopold, 1949 Another clear sky with patches of fog greets us as we emerge from the tents. We are up early, anxious to break camp and get to paddling while morning stillness keeps the lake calm. Eric and I know there is a mile or two of rock-bound shore to put behind us today. Regularly pounded by waves that build to six feet tall across one of the lake’s longest fetches— about fifteen miles, aligned with the prevailing southwest wind—that shoreline has lost all easily eroded material and consequently offers no shelter to the unfortunate canoeist caught in high wind. When he and I paddled it eleven years ago, rough water forced us to wait a couple hours before attempting it. Feeling the wind diminish slightly, we hopped in and took off. That reduced wind still was strong enough to reduce our speed to a crawl, our most powerful strokes advancing the boat a mere six inches. That same wind kept the waves tall enough to splash occasional droplets of water on our load, despite our quartering moves. We were at the limit of what our boat and our bodies could do, with no room for error. Happily for us, the wind did not increase, so we made it through, pulling into our campsite an hour later, our arms and shoulders aching from the sustained effort. Today we do not want to repeat that excitement, so my three companions busy themselves pulling down the tents (still wet and cold with a blend of dew and frost) while I plod my way through breakfast. ALS has weakened my tongue and the muscles in my throat, turning each meal 116 DAY 6 into an hour-long affair as I slowly chew my food and concentrate on swallowing safely. My epiglottis is slow to close (again due to ALS), so I am at constant risk of choking. The three of them understand this, so they regularly serve me first and then clean up while I finish eating. As well, they try not to engage me in much conversation while I am eating, knowing that it is both difficult and a little unsafe for me to talk with food in my mouth. In this way, a side effect of ALS is that meals lose some conviviality, compounding the isolation that slurred speech already forces on the disease’s victims. My three friends compensate by discussing topics of interest to all four of us and by seating themselves around me, so I still feel an integral, if muted, part of the group. Breakfast eaten and our bags packed, we are under way by nine o’clock (figure 6.1). Today we will paddle out of the Southeast Arm and onto the main body of the lake. In so doing, we will leave the Thorofare farther behind and enter a place where humans and their impacts are more evident. Much as the landscape itself prompted thoughts of wildness as we paddled into the Thorofare four days ago, paddling out of it today will provide signs of how easily wildness can be lost. Such evidence of contemporary human impacts reminds us that what we have in the Thorofare is something both special and fragile, necessitating ongoing efforts to protect. Today’s land managers love wildness and beauty as much as yesterday’s, so they carry on with efforts to pass the Thorofare 6.1. Another day of paddling begins, 2014. Eric is in the bow, Josh in the stern, and the author is along for the ride. Photo by Eric Compas. Used with permission. ON THE EDGE 117 on to our children and grandchildren in the same condition we enjoy today. Through such actions, the history of preserving this marvelous place continues into a second century. e The first sign we see is a buoy with a small flag on it, marking a place where lake trout are abundant. There is, perhaps, no greater an intruder in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem than this fish. First confirmed in Yellowstone Lake in 1994, the fish were illegally brought here a decade or two earlier from nearby Lewis Lake, where they were stocked by the US Army in the late 1800s. Native to the Great Lakes, lake trout are well-adapted to deep, cold...


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