Thursday, July 21, 2016

Of Ruffed Grouse and Voyageurs

Say, "fromage"!
So anyway, the girls and I visited the Folle Avoine Historical Park over last weekend. I highly recommend it if you happen to find yourself near Danbury, Wisconsin, for some reason. Well-designed and interesting little attraction with a couple of museums and a very nice blacksmith who gave my dad a fire steel for free.  But the coolest thing was the reconstructed fur post, which was actually two fur posts - one from the Northwest Company, one from the XY Company - that were built literally 90 feet from one another*. In these posts, Voyageurs - Frenchmen usually from Quebec - picked up Algonquin wives and traded trinkets and tools for furs and meat with their new families.  At the end of the trading year, they'd load it all up into 90-lb packs for the walk/ride back to Canada, only to come back next year and do it again.

The fur post might have been the coolest thing I saw, but it was not the strangest. That honor belongs to a plucky little ruffed grouse who made his home along a 1000-year-old portage between the Brule and St. Croix Rivers.  My dad and I were walking the trail when this runt jumps out and starts strutting and fanning in front of me like he's some old, proud tom turkey.  Now for those of you who don't know, a ruffed grouse is a game bird that weighs about a pound, maybe a pound and a half. I used to hunt them when I lived in Minnesota - they never strutted but they would loudly burst out of the snow behind you and fly away, and by the time you caught your breath from the scare they were safely buried somewhere else.

So here's this little turkey about the size of my fist spreading and strutting and squawking until I stop for a look, then he flops off into the brush and continues to make a racket.  My best guess is that he was probably trying to distract me from a nearby nest. I'm not sure if male grouse do that sort of thing, but I was certain he was trying to get my attention, and just as certain he expected me to follow him. At least for a little while.

Sorry, bird, I've got more important things to do.  Like thank God I don't have to lug a birch bark canoe across 17 miles of northern wilderness to get to work like the Voyageurs did**. 

* I suppose it's not unlike Taco Bell following McDonald's around and building one of their own restaurants as close as possible.
** One the way back, Dad and I passed a mother black bear standing on the side of the road with her three cubs in tow. I am also thankful that she was not on the trail, nor trying to attract my attention.


  1. I did laugh at the proximity. More so given how wide open it was back then. I have to guess shots might have been fired on more than one occasion. I also have to guess that it was good for the traders coming to them, until they... fixed prices. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Ugh... You all make me realize I haven't been out for a long while. Just a trip, somewhere... a night or two out... somewhere cooler, in the mountains. Wisconsin can be quite lovely. The hills, greens, and trees. The parts I have been in don't seemed all that heavily farmed or densely populated. Glad you went were few actually go.

  2. One of my former coworkers runs a 400 acre wildlife sanctuary with more than a few predators: black bears, cougars, and wolves. Every year she holds a 5K to raise money. I told her it was cruel to parade all that food in front of the animals and not let them have any. She told me I was an asshole. I think we're both right.