Ann Marie Mershon

Naming lakes is no easy task, especially in Northeastern Minnesota
This is Lake Country. The BWCAW boasts nearly 1200 lakes, perhaps ten percent of the state’s 11,842 lakes (of over 10 acres). That’s a lot of names to come up with, and our forefathers (yes, they were mostly men) must have had quite a time of it.

From Abinodji to Zoo, the variety of lake names in the BWCAW is mind-boggling. It’s easy to figure out where most of the names came from, like Round Lake (there are 41 more across Minnesota), Big Lake (Minnesota has ten) and, of course, Loon (seventeen).

U.S. Forest Ranger Gary Robinson said most of the lakes were named by early county surveyors in the 1860’s and 1870’s. One of these was MacKenzie, who mapped out the boundary area lakes for early adventurers. Most of the lakes had Ojibwe names, some of which were preserved. Some of the original Ojibwe names were translated into their English equivalents, while others mutated into other spellings because of mispronounciation.  The original name for Saganaga was Sesakinaga, according to records from an 1884 Minnesota Geological report, but other sources suggest it was originally Ga-sasuganagag sagaiigun (the lake surrounded by. thick forests) or Saginang (at the mouth of a river). In any event, the name was changed from its original form. 

According to Bill Hansen, Ogema Lake (north of Winchell) was so often mispronounced that mapmakers finally gave up and renamed it Omega.

Only about six percent of the BWCA lakes are known by their Ojibwe names, which are easily the most lyrical in the area. Who doesn’t love to say Saganaga or Gabimichigami? How about Agassa (small), Assawan (iron arrowhead), or Kekekabic (sparrowhawk passing by)? Anyone who has ever hiked the Banadad Trail can appreciate its meaning: lost. Most of the Ojibwe names relate to nature, like Manomin (wild rice), Makwa (bear), and Wagosh (fox). Abita lake (half), on the southern slope of Brule mountain, has the distinction of being the highest lake in Minnesota, at 2,048 feet above sea level.

Of course, even the Ojibwe ran out of suitable names, which is evidenced in the chain of lakes called Bezhik (lake one), Neesh (lake two), Niswi (lake three), and Neewin (lake four). A particularly intriguing Ojibwe name is Wanihigan, which means blunder. What was the terrible blunder that had to be immortalized in a lake?

Many of the boundary waters lakes are named after people (over sixty with just first names), with a slight advantage to women’s names. Many were surely named after people who discovered them, but the preponderance of female names must be due to homesick surveyors. Grace, Ella, Beth, Phoebe, Hazel, and Polly Lakes, located west of Sawbill Lake, were named for the mother, sisters and aunts of Bill Mulligan, Sr., the first District Ranger for the Superior National Forest. “Once he had named one lake for his mother, he didn’t want to leave his other relatives out, so he kept going until he ran out of names,” said Bill Hansen of Sawbill Outfitters.

Another lake named after a woman was Ruby Lake, which presents an interesting conundrum when coupled with its alternate name, Little Hustler.

It’s easy to understand naming lakes after people and also after physical features, like Cliff Lake and Greenstone. What gets a little disquieting, though, are the more exotic names like Midas, Octopus, and Seahorse. They just don’t relate to the north woods theme. According to Cook County Historical Society Director Pat Zankman, many of the lake names have been changed over the years. Some enlightened soul decided to rename Elephant Lake; now it’s Northern Light Lake.

Other names pique the imagination, like Snort, Snuff, and Squirm Lakes. What’s that all about? Then there are Whip, Whap, and Warclub Lakes. Shudder. How about Promise, Violation, Extortion, and Disappointment? There must be a fascinating tale behind that sequence of names. Have you ever heard of No-See-Um and No Sleep Lakes? Their origins are all too clear. And then there’s Little Dick Lake. No comment.

Lots of lakes have fish and fishing-related names with good reason. There’s Bass Lake, Trout, Fish, Hook, Fishhook and Fishgig, and unfortunately there’s also a Canthook. Another bad day for someone.

Fishdance, a picturesque lake off the Kawishiwi River, is a favorite of Ranger Gary Robinson. “It’s a route that native people took when they traveled to their winter residences,” he said. ”It’s a dead end lake that has a huge rock wall with pictographs, and it has always fascinated me.”
Whether they have Ojibwe, French, or English names, there are a number of lakes that have interesting stories behind them. Sawbill Lake was apparently named after the merganser duck, commonly called the sawbill duck. Although it’s not in the Boundary Waters, Devil Track Lake is reputedly named after from Sam Zimmerman, an old-timer with a peg leg who left strange tracks around the lake as he checked his trapping lines. Other accounts suggest that it was a translation from an Ojibwe name, Manido bimadagakowonizibi, meaning the spirits walking-place-on-the-ice river.

Hungry Jack Lake has an interesting history as well. According to ninth grader Tasha Johnson, her great-great grandfather, Andrew Jackson “Jack” Scott, was supervising a survey crew up the Gunflint Trail in 1873. As they set up camp, he realized they were short of supplies. His crew snowshoed the 32 miles to town while Jack stayed behind with a few days’ rations to set up their winter camp. To make a long story short, the crew was delayed by snowstorms and over-imbibing, leaving Jack alone to fend for himself for two long, hungry weeks. When they returned, one of the surveyors asked, “Hey, ya hungry, Jack?” Naming that lake was a piece of cake!

A wealth of storytelling must lie behind many of the lakes in the northland, but much of it is left to conjecture.

What kind of a day do you suppose the surveyors were having when they named Fallen Arch Lake? How about Hotfoot? Things were looking better when they named Fun Lake, Jitterbug and Rumpus. Some lakes are named for beverages, like Coffe, Java, North Java, and Wine. It’s hard to understand, though, why any self-respecting woodsman would come up with a name like Brunch Lake. And what was that goofball thinking while taking action in naming Gerund Lake?

Someone was either dying for fresh food or having a mighty dull day when he named the vegetable chain: Tomato, Carrot, Bean, South Bean, Celery, and Potato Lakes. But then, things get even more boring than that.

How about South of Kek (Kekabeka) and 2 South of Kek? It gets even worse, though. It’s a sad day when people resort to serial numbers, but one soul-starved lake is named NE of 380202.

If you can add any information about the derivation of particular lake names, please send them to the Cook County News Herald.

Cook County News Herald
December 3, 2003


Ann Marie Mershon

If you’re not a fishing aficionado or don’t live with one, you probably don’t realize the hours  that go into preparing tackle for the fishing season. According to fisherman Dan Viren, “My tacklebox gets organized only twice a year: once before the spring opener, and once before the ice fishing season.”  Different fishermen have different styles of organizing their gear, just as they have different styles of fishing.

In a recent one-night survey of five Cook County fishing fanatics, I discovered that there are many similarities among them. Every tacklebox (or tackle vest, as the case may be) sported hooks, sinkers, line, lures, spoons, bobbers, jigs, and rigs. Most had special implements for removing hooks and inflating worms. But there the similarities ended.

The Rookie

Four-year-old Jack Viren shared his tacklebox with great enthusiasm. In addition to the usual lures (he’s just graduated to real hooks), Jack had a fine collection of rubbery worms of all colors. His tacklebox also sported a variety of foodstuffs, including a Tootsie Roll Pop, a Kool-Aid Jammer drink,  a pudding Snack Pack, and a pack of Extra sugar-free gum. (Little people bites to fill the time between fish bites.)

Jack’s tacklebox also had a bright green foxy jig that he proudly announced will “catch a seahorse.”  One never can tell!
His advice for the fishing opener is, “Catch Fish!

The Fisherteen

Sophomore Laramie Carlson has grown up with a fishing pole in his hand, since his father, Joe Carlson is a fishing guide. Although Laramie just started working at Buck’s Midway, he’ll still find time to get out. He’ll also have access to Buck’s enviable array of fishing gear. “I don’t get to fish all that much, but when I do, I take it seriously.” His fishing boat, “The Walleye Killer”, is a clear indicator that he means business.

Laramie’s tacklebox had the most interesting variety of fancy lures. His favorite  is a Rebel Crayfish. It’s painted to look like a crayfish, and it’s jointed to move like one through the water, wiggling its two treble hooks to tempt even the wisest walleye.

Every compartment of Laramie’s tacklebox has a lure or two, and the bottom is filled with spools of line, bobbers, and a squeeze bottle that blows air into worms so they’ll float near the surface of the water.
Like many fishermen, Laramie has smaller tackle boxes to fill with particular lures and flies for stream fishing. Whether after steelhead or brookies, having tackle at hand is a must for the hours spent standing in or near the water along a river.
Most of Laramie’s tackle is for walleye fishing, since they’re his favorite. “It feels really good to catch one,” he said,  “and they taste great.”

The  Scientist Fisherman

Science teacher Dan Viren takes a scientific approach to organizing his tackle. Each type of tackle is neatly stored in a separate smaller tacklebox: one for flies, one for jigs, and one  for spoons. In his largertacklebox are the usual lures, sinkers, bobbers, tools, and line. I also noticed a few spark plugs—a must for the man who’s always prepared.

One of Dan’s most useful tools is his Gerber multi-plier, which he uses mainly for removing hooks from fish that have swallowed them. He also has a secret fishing invention that he is quite proud of, although it’s not yet ready for public scrutiny. He calls it his Poor Man’s Tackle. Apparently it needs further scientific development.

Dan said the main difference between his tackle box and Jack’s is the amount of food Jack needs to travel with. There’s no difference between their fishing vests, except that Jack’s is much smaller and way newer.

The Guide

Leave it to the fishing guide to have the rattiest pack, the most beat-up tackleboxes, and the greatest enthusiasm. Vince Ekroot (A.K.A. Little Vince—a big guy) has been fishing since the day he was born, and he’s loved every minute of it. His main tacklebox is his grey fishing vest, which has four pockets that hold small plastic tackleboxes, lots more little pockets for handy gadgets, and pins with retractable line to hold his two favorite tools, a nail clipper for snipping line, and a hemostat (a doctor’s tool like a large plier-like scissors) for pulling out hooks.

When Vince opened his small tacklebox of spoon lures, that each compartment held a tangled wad of ten to fifteen spoons. He deftly demonstrated how to pick up the tangle by holding the chosen spoon and shaking it until all the others fall away.

After showing his separate little box for each type of lure, Vince pulled out an old trash bag box (trash bags come in handy for carrying out the catch) filled with large zip-lock bags. Each large bag is stuffed with scores of smaller zip-lock bags, each with a different kind of trolling rig, made by Vince. He has trolling rigs for every kind of fish, made of every kind of shape, size, and material. “The walleye like painted colors, and the trout like shiny stuff,” he said.

For each fishing trip, Vince packs everything he needs into a well-worn old grey pack. The gear is totally dependent on the kind of fishing he plans, but there’s always a syringe for blowing up worms and a flashlight for getting those last few walleye off the hook.

Vince recommends that fishermen go for trout on the opener, since the water isn’t quite warm enough for the walleye to bite. “If you want to go for walleye, look for smaller, warmer lakes.”

The Fisherwoman

Chris Ekroot loves to fish nearly as much as her husband, Vince.  “Most of what I carry is a reflection of what Vince carries, because it works,” she said. She, too, sports a fishing vest with small tackleboxes in each large pocket. Retractable lines hold her two favorite tools, a nail clipper (saves the teeth) and a hemostat.

In addition to the family “tools of the trade”, Chris’s vest sports a few more female items: Wet Ones (She prefers to get rid of the fish slime after pulling in her evening catch), Chapstick (Vince doesn’t bother), and tampons (those lucky guys!).

“The most important thing to remember,” she said as she reached into a smaller pocket of her vest, “is the license. I have to get my new one this week.”

Chris changes the tackleboxes in her vest depending on the type of fishing she has planned, but she generally travels with hooks, line, sinkers, lures, spoons, and bobbers.

The Ekroots always fish with live bait, and they seldom get skunked.

The Babe in the Woods

Last but not least is Gail Alden Hedstrom, who lives on Devil’s Track Lake. Her tacklebox is always at the ready with paints, pencils, charcoal, dyes, paper and fabric—art supplies for her personal passion, which is more often painting them than catching them.

Cook County News Herald
May 10, 2004

Ann Marie Mershon

There are those who might call me a bit “Dippy” Who else would travel Europe with teens? Most sensible adults grit their teeth to survive their children’s teen years; no wonder they find me a bit masochistic to seek this additional opportunity to test my patience with these raging hormonal beings.

Ah, well—What can I say?
Perhaps my maturity level is on par with 14-year-olds. I find them great fun; my “child” thrives in their company.

Back to “dip,” I have a confession to make. I preached and preached and preached to the students on our London tour to be careful with their money and their passports. “Keep it hidden away! Don’t get careless! Watch out for pickpockets!” They did. I didn’t.

Actually, that’s not totally true. I was very careful at first, keeping all my valuables in a fanny pack safely ensconced beneath my trenchcoat. Somehow, though, as that fanny pack bulged with all its acquired paraphernalia, I began to note the familiar and unwelcome symptoms of pregnancy. The protrusion at my belly begat morning sickness and heartburn. Not pleasant.

I wanted desperately to be slim again, so I gleefully returned the contents of my red fanny pack to my forlorn, deflated handbag. If I wore it under my coat, I surmised, it would be equally as safe as the fanny pack, without its symptomology.

On our last day in London, after a whirlwind tour at the Tower of London and an unsettling visit to the London Dungeon (a wax museum of Britain’s historical horrors), seniors Desi Waage, Theresa Rose and I found our way to Covent Garden, a captivating maze of street-vendors and indoor shops centered around one of London’s oldest markets. Our meanderings were punctuated by street musicians, mimes, and the tempting aromas of delicacies from candied nuts to baked potatoes.

I dragged the girls away from a booth to hurry them to the tube (subway) before rush hour, but on the way gave in to purchasing a sweater I’d examined earlier. “You must try it on, since you’ve come so far,” the shop-owner urged. As his tent provided protection from the rain, I dutifully removed my coat and purse to check the fit. Chatting gaily with the kind fellow, I completed my purchase, donned my coat, and threw my purse over my shoulder.

Desi, Theresa and I hustled off to the tube, umbrellas poised, joking as we walked. It had been a fun, full day. We burst into the tube station, dug out our travel tickets, and pushed forward to the elevator (lift). We had no intention of trekking back down the 193 stairs we had climbed up into the station. It was rush hour, and the elevator was like a cattle car, filled to bursting with Londoners and tourists. As we emerged from the lift, I held back to have Desi direct us to the correct train. The kids were finding their way around this big city, and it was fun to play it out.

Desi found the right train, and as we took our seats, I heaved my purse onto my lap. It was feather light! Empty! How could I have been so stupid? I knew Covent Garden was a pickpocket’s haven! I knew better than to wear my purse outside my coat! I frantically hunted through all my packages, knowing all too well that my carelessness had cost me dearly. My passport, all the groups’s travelers checks (over $500), and at least $100 in cash were in that wallet, as well as my driver’s license and a credit card. What to do?

Relax. Calm down. Go back to the station and check the floors and the waste bins. Maybe the pickpocket only took the money and tossed the walled. I hoped off the train at the next stop, trusting the girls to find their way back to the hotel.

I scoured the station, checking all of the waste bins. No luck. I spotted a station worker and told him what had happened. Instead of brushing me off with an “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he seemed truly concerned. He immediately ushered me to the security office, whre a very pleasant man listened to my tale. “So, you’ve been dipped in the lift, eh?” he smiled. His warm, pleasant manner set me at ease as we completed the necessary forms. We were surrounded by a bank of television screens that rotated among the station’s 42 closed-circuit cameras. I learned that later they would look back to my elevator ride to see if the culprit could be identified. Unreal!

When I admitted my foolishness in wearing my purse outside my coat, he assured me, “You shouldn’t blame yourself, Luv. No one has a right to take your things.” His compassionate concern eased my frustration and hurt. Kindness does make a difference.

After reporting the incident to the police and being given crime reference #9420169, I headed back to the Crofton Hotel, where my group was to assemble for an early dinner before the play...the play tickets I had charged to a VISA card I could no long produce.
I called the theater and was assured that we could still attend the play—relief. My efforts to call the American Embassy and American Express were fruitless; the embassy was closed, and I couldn’t get through to American Express. Stephanie Willett, our very genial tour director, continued the telephone effort for me. She learned that Northwest would not allow me to fly without an official passport, and she promised to continue ringing American Express while I attended the play with the kids.

Those of us with limited funds took the tube to the theater, while the more wealthy hailed a cab. After ten blocks of splashing through puddles, we found the Phoenix Theatre and settled in for a dynamite performance of Blood Brothers. It was a captivating play, yet my stomach churned as I worried about the days ahead. Deep breathing and a sociable intermission kept me on top of my anxieties.

The rain had stopped before we headed for the tube back to the hotel, and everyone was in good spirits as we climbed the steps to the lobby. On the walk home I had prayed for that one-in-a-million chance that my passport would be discovered in a trash bin.

Along with my room key was a note from Stephanie. “Ann: GREAT news! Man who stole your stuff has been caught. The police have all your belongings! Amazing. Take a taxi to the West End Central Police Station. It’s on Saville Row off New Burlington Street. Ask for someone in the Crime Squat. Reference in custody #3773...”

How could I be so lucky? So stupid, and so lucky! Just a dip, I guess. The dip that got dipped in the lift.

My taxi driver had a hearty guffaw over my tale. “These things just don’t happen in London, Luv,” he laughed. Then he went on to berate the network of pickpockets that plague London. I couldn’t help but think of the violent crimes in our American cities.

I paid for the taxi with borrowed pounds. After a short wait, I was ushered into the Crime Squad Office. I was the first victim who had come forward on this evening’s arrest, and the officers were enthused. “We were doing some undercover work and spotted this fellow as he tried to grab a handbag from a woman in a hotel lobby near Piccadilly. We chased him quite some blocks and found him with your belongings as well as those of seven other people. “ They showed me a photo, which of course I couldn’t identify. “This man is a professional pickpocket, and this is his 20th arrest; this time we’ve got him. We expect to lock him away for at least a few years. He’s also a crack addict.”

I identified my belongings through some very officially sealed and labeled plastic bags, then we wrote up a three-page testimony of what I had done all day, starting with my tour of the Tower of London. Once we completed the statements, the officers questioned the thief. He swore he had found my wallet on the street—as well as those of seven other people. Cute.

The evening dragged on as I sipped coffee, read tabloids, and watched late-night British comedy in a nearby office. These officers work a regular day sift, yet they were still working at two in the morning. Amazing. When asked how often they work so late, their reply was, “As often as possible.” Apparently they catch pickpockets at an average rate of three to five per week. That could mean a lot of late nights.

After nearly three hours at the station, I was given my identifiable belongings and sent on  my way with warm wishes. I met one more amiable Londoner that night: my second taxi driver. How could a whole city of people be so kind-hearted? It must be the air.

Cook County News Herald
April 25, 1994