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by Dr. Horace S. Browntrout1
Near Stick Rock Lighthouse, October 23rd, 1910.
Lady Browntrout and I have been traveling the region known as the Great Lakes on the tramp steamer S.S. Sandstone, following along the northern Superior route picking up mail and dropping provisions at tiny, out-of-the-way outposts as we go. We have been meandering our way along the coast, hunting, observing and obtaining specimens of flora and fauna for the Gübinsberg Museum of Natural History.
It must be said that these lands differ greatly from the sculpted and human-engineered forests and rivers of our native land. Here for instance, many rivers are rendered unnavigable. Even the most skilled oarsman could not drive a dork boat up the raging torrents of the aptly-named Intemperate River. All that are here have a wildness to their character—even the people—that the burbling fountains, marble statues, cobblestoned footpaths, quiet monasteries, and civilized libraries of austere Gübinsberg could never fully comprehend. Here, the timber wolf howls at the moon with impunity, and his lonesome soliloquy is rejoined by trilling voice of the devil-eyed loon. Here, Lady Browntrout and I tread with fear, caution, and a number of powerful firearms. Here, in the exotic and fiendishly cold land of the Minnesota, we saw strange sights and fearsome beasts to rival any found in the annals of the darkest European folklore.
Today we were attacked by zombie cannibals (sorry for the tautology) off of an inland coastal trail northeast of Three Harbors, and there we made a citizen’s arrest of a bear that was found in a human area without a human permit. The bear was wearing purple wellingtons and had a naughty look about him. He said he was “mighty sorry,” but when pressed further on whether he was truly sorry for his crime, he shrugged his withers and shook his head, “no.” After we fended off the zombie cannibals (sorry, tautology) by laying out baited traps filled with smoked trout, a game warden happened by and cited us for zombie hunting in a ZPZ (zombie protection zone). He confiscated the remains of our smoked trout whilst wagging a stern finger and giving us a “talking to” on matters of Minnesota Spotted Zombie preservation efforts. We were lucky, he informed us, not to be losing our firearms.
After this embarrassing episode, Lady Browntrout and I retired to Nanooklook Point, just north of Stick Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior—a fine place for observing the natural phenomenon of the Ashen Northern Lake Whale (ANLW). We here observed a pod complete with a mother and several babies through the lens of our brass telescope. Using an old whaler’s notebook as a guide, we observed the “Minnesota-shaped” blow hole that marks it out from other Superior and boreal cetacean species. It is easy to tell the difference between the ANLW and the Iowejan Southern Spotted Purple Porpoise and the orange Lesser Wisconsin Dairy Whale, which often competes for territory along the edges of its summer spawning grounds.
Additionally, after careful study we saw scars on the sides of members of this pod, which clearly marked them as having notable encounters with its archenemy, the Superior Sea Cow, or “sugong” as they are known in some districts. According to Charles Darwin’s accounts from his voyages through the Great Lakes Region on the H.M.S. Puppy, the Superior Sea Cow possesses foot-long fangs or tusks, and shoots poisonous quills from a faux-hawk-like structure emanating from the temporal lobes of its helmet-like cranium. It can also fly short distances, via internal mechanisms utilizing water jet propulsion and pressurized flatulence. Once airborne, the Superior Sea Cow (sugong) can make strafing runs against pods of ANLW that flee in terror. In order to perform this action, the Superior Sea Cow (sugong) expels darts from a most remarkable proboscis-like projection described by Darwin as a “snuffler.”
Whilst it is believed that the sugong may be peripherally related to the proto-sea squeezal, taxonomists and natural historians differ on when, where and how these split on the evolutionary tree, or if one is the progenitor of the other, or if all the cetaceans of Lake Superior are merely “kissing cousins.”
A fact noted only briefly in the logs of the H.M.S. Puppy, but oft repeated by experienced commercial sailors on these treacherous waters, are the ferocity of attacks by sea mammals in this region. It has been said the Superior Sea Cow (sugong) is responsible for many wrecks and founderings. Attacks may be related to feeding or defense of the young. Apparently, the dread sugong will stop at nothing to secure taconite pellets from shipping terminals, having learned long ago that its young are often iron-deficient. Naturalists have begun educating the public as to the danger posed by this menace, but crowds still throng in places like Three Harbors and Muskrat Bay to feed semi-tamed Superior Sea Cow pods that are no longer wary of man.
It was on a guided tour of one of these feedings that Lady Browntrout and I were offered a large-bore rifle by a grizzled veteran of the Northwoods called Pine Sap Sally, who wore her customary outfit of red-checkered flannel shirt tucked into dungarees topped by a squeezal-fur cap and a single feather of the common loon. Our illustrious host spent many an hour “yarning” with us on subjects ranging from surviving rough winters on nothing but “wolf grease and snow cones” to hunting bull moose with icicle spears.
The gun she proffered was a 5-shot, bolt-action Winchester Whale Buster Express chambered in the .50 calibre, and designed for shore-based hunting of the Ashen Northern Lake Whale. With but a little instruction, Lady Browntrout and I each peeped at a pod through the iron sights of our beastly weapons and took out a yearling apiece after we baited it with handfuls of taconite pellets. Then, we sent out teams in rowboats who secured our deceased quarry and brought them back to shore. So efficient was their operation that our kills were fully rendered, and we each had a pair of form-fitting whale boots, along with blubber sandwiches and fatty-cake bread made to order for us before the boats were even landed.
As we consumed the sweet but gamey whale meat (tastes a bit like sea chicken, or tuna of the earth) by the light on a bonfire on the edge of the cliffs near Stick Rock Lighthouse, we watched Pine Sap Sally become increasingly intoxicated on what the Americans call “Rot Gut,” (a potent mixture of bathtub gin, skunk wine, and Mrs. Right Away’s Tincture of Opium Cure All) and we had to pull her out of the fire twice after fits of loud guffawing and impaired coordination rendered her as viscous as the sap whose name she bears. Thankfully, she was not as combustible as pine sap, and each time she was sat back down she informed us with a laugh that she’d been “burnt worse in a cabin fire started with a fair scrap with a crazy polecat,” and then proceeded to tell us another lengthy yarn of the uniquely American non-textile variety. And how does one fight a creature such as a polecat? “Fist to paw and tooth to claw!” we were informed. Let no one say that the pioneer Americans have no code of honor, or sense of justice.
We also quaffed grog (though not what Pine Sap Sally was having) from tin cups, sang spirited lake shanties, read aloud from passages of Marked Fur Death: The Assembled Letters and Truthfully Recollected Killing Sprees of Theodore Roosevelt, Big Gamesman and Former Ex-President of These United States of America. During the entire time, we were serenaded by the back and forth droning of the Stick Rock Light House fog horn and the melancholy cries of the adult Ashen Northern Lake Whales, hovering in the area as they called out to their babies which we were presently digesting. On the whole, it was a most amusing trip, and if we could do anything different next time, I would urge fellow travelers to skip the highly-regulated zombie hunting trade and stick to the pursuit of the denizens of the salt-free deep.
1 Justin Teerlinck is currently away on a squeezal-hunting expedition, and so Fun Patrol is being penned by guest-author Dr. Horace S. Browntrout. To learn more about Dr. Browntrout, go to his website The Dash Fire Diaries: dashfirediaries.tumblr.com.