By Aisha Liebenow
The Restless Weasels made their way to Trout Lake Station on Tuesday, a great ol’ group of stand-up men. They are retired but, as they put it, “we are restless, and we get into everything.”
The group came for a talk on research at Trout Lake Station, but, after they’d gone, I was left with my own feeling of restlessness. I decided it was time to broaden my own horizons and find my own source of ‘out of the classroom’ knowledge. So I set out to see what I could kick up in the Northwoods.
Luckily for me, I was quickly put on the trail of a secret stash of wild blueberries.
Shelby Kail is an undergraduate research assistant here at Trout Lake, and she invited me along to pick blueberries at her secret wild blueberry patch. We got a little turned around on the way (which seems appropriate for a secret blueberry patch) but eventually found what we were after.
Picking wild blueberries turned out to be a bit more labor-intensive than expected, but we prevailed, collecting a sizable amount of plump, round berries. We felt quite resourceful in our conquest – true “mountain women” living off nature’s bounty.
But did that really mean we were anywhere close to surviving in the wild?
Sure, we felt confident as we gorged on nature’s delicious treat, but the drive back to our cozy cabins, warm beds and running water made me a little unsure. It doesn’t sound so hard, right? People have been fishing, hunting, and gathering for millenia. And I’m pretty sure I could make some sort of simple shelter from a tarp, some rope, and a tree. But what would I do if my stomach were rumbling and there was no “top secret” blueberry patch in sight?
Feeding myself in the wild, I realized, may be more trouble than I originally thought… first I’d have to capture some sort of game… but then what?
I’d clearly not thought this through. For guidance on what to do in a “Woman Vs. Wild” scenario, I went to the Kemp Natural Resource Station.
Kemp is the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Science’s research station near Woodruff, Wisconsin. Luckily for my quest for outdoors knowledge, Kemp provides regular informational programs that are open to the public. Even more luckily, that evening’s program was entitled “From Lake and Field to the Dinner Table.”
Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and it turns out my expectations of learning the full process of getting wild game to the dinner table was optimistic for the one hour time slot. Instead, instructor Scott Craven introduced me to two key pieces of wisdom that are seemingly intuitive, but easily and often forgotten.
- We are very fortunate to have as many available resources in Wisconsin as we do in terms of fish and game.
- In the end, hunting and fishing means that we have taken a life and we have a responsibility to properly take care of the game that we gather.
So while Scott went on to describe Northwoods delicacies like Game Bird Tetrazzini, Venison Burgundy, and Brook Trout Chowder, I started thinking about how making food still requires so many materials and a certain level of preparedness. If you were stranded in the wilderness, there wouldn’t be any venison meatballs with a raspberry ginger glaze on your plate (amazing by the way!).
Despite this disappointing realization, Scott’s wisdom that he shared is something I’ll remember. We are so lucky to have the ability to fish and hunt to the degree that we do in Wisconsin. Other states don’t have this bounty. And that means we need to take care of the resources that we do have, give them their due respect and, when we’re lucky enough to catch a fish or “get” a deer, make sure that gift isn’t wasted.
So, okay, this knowledge won’t exactly help me survive in the wild. But it did help me to think more realistically about living in the great outdoors or, as such an often romanticized condition would be better labeled, surviving.
So I’m not a survivalist. I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m doing quite well with my cabin in the woods and my supermarket-bought food supplemented by wild blueberries, thank you very much. Although, if you are ever making water chestnuts wrapped in dove fillets, wrapped in bacon and finished with a teriyaki sauce, please put me on the guest list!
These are the first-hand ‘Notes from the Northwoods’, as UW – Madison undergraduate student, Aisha Liebenow, dives into the world of science, ecology, and aquatic systems. Follow her throughout the summer in her Northwoods immersion at the UW Center for Limnology – Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction, WI.