Originally published in The Boundary Waters Journal

Copyright Jeffery F. Davis All Rights Reserved

Looking at the map, my eye locks on Confusion Lake. I've been there, I think to myself--not on that exact lake, but a time or two I've been confused while traveling in the BWCA. A little later I spy Prayer Lake and Mass Lake, and wonder if a little divine intervention could straighten out the problem on Confusion Lake.

On a cold winter night, the snow swirling outside the window, I can stare at a map and almost smell the pines and the mud, feel the sweat trickle and the cut of a pack strap, see the end of the portage and the bright blue expanse of the next lake on the voyage. There is something magical about a map. Like a good novel it has a power to draw a person into it, to hold their attention, to transport the observer to another place and time.

And that's what happened this night, as I'm transported to Jitterbug Lake and wonder if it was named after an insect or a dance step. And while there may be some ambiguity as to the source of Jitterbug, I have no problem picturing what dance was done first on Hula Lake. Perhaps all of this dancing was a little too vigorous, resulting in Broken Shoe Lake, or while hearing the tale of grown men dancing in grass skirts, Fool Lake was named.

With a little effort I could find the origin of many of the names of the lakes within the BWCA, but it's more fun, and far less effort to let my mind wander.

I'm sure that none of my scenarios are accurate, but I can't help but imagine what happened when Glee Lake was named, or what was flying over Flying Lake, what kind of whale was imagined in Whale Lake, what the hurry was on Rush Lake, why they wanted to laze the day away on Tarry Lake, whether Honker Lake immortalized a passing flock of geese or a colleague's nose, what in the world was going on at Hug Lake, what was first shouted on Echo Lake, and what was stashed at Cache Lake--perhaps it had something to do with Jug and Bootleg Lakes.

Was Romance Lake named on the same trip as Negligee Lake? Were Fire, Flame, Flicker, Smoke and Burnt Lakes named as a result of a cooking fire--either burning down the surrounding woods or from a culinary calamity? Do Little Trout, Little Loon, and Little Crab Lakes refer to the size of wildlife on them or the size of the lakes? (And were there really crabs in Crab Lake?)

I wonder if Moon Lake was named serenely at night, with a full moon dancing upon ripples from rising trout across an otherwise glassy lake, or was it named in mirth during the morning as a full moon rose out of the tent as someone got dressed? Do Fat, Slim and Skinny Lakes refer to bodies of water or the bodies of whoever named them? Does a person on Magnetic Lake have problems with his compass, or develop a particular personality type?

Some of these lake names seem out of context. Portage, Canoe, Dugout and Explorer Lakes seem to be obvious names, but what about Auk, Lux, Lum and Gerund Lakes? An Auk is a large diving bird found in northern oceans, while Lux is either a brand of dish soap or a unit of measurement of light intensity so low that you wouldn't be able to find the path to the latrine at night. (Specifically, a unit of illumination equal to one lumen per square meter.) Lum is a British term for a chimney, and a gerund is, in English, a verbal noun ending in -ing that has all the uses of the noun but retains certain characteristics of the verb. (And yes, I had to look it up.)
Possibly a British English teacher with an unusual affinity for large sea birds and an interest in physics made a lake-naming trip years ago.

Perhaps this same British lyricist placed some of the more classical monikers on other lakes within the BWCA. Alpha, Beta and Omega Lakes are represented, but the other 21 letters of the Greek alphabet are missing. (Maybe scientists and fraternities had the rights to Pi, Sigma, Gamma and Delta already reserved years ago.)

Were Juno and Pan Lakes named for the chap in the front of the canoe and a cooking utensil, or for Jupiter's wife, the Roman goddess of marriage, and the Greek god of fields, forests and wild animals that appeared as a half-man, half goat? Was a gentle, west wind wafting over Zephyr Lake as a long forgotten explorer was musing for a descriptive label for his latest discovery, and what game was being played around the campfire when Hustler Lake was named?

Lake 1, Lake 2, Lake 3 and Lake 4 somehow lack the romance that Sterling, Vista, Star or Crystal Lakes provide. On the other hand, Weeny lake doesn't sound like a location to write home about.

I'm looking at the BWCA differently now, thinking about trips not to a destination, but with an itinerary. The old saying "Life is a journey, not a destination," can also apply to traveling with a paddle. Unfortunately, few of these combinations are practical since they are scattered across the BWCA. But on a cold winter night a guy can dream...

Picture a trip on a twisting, zigzag path across Meander Lake, then looking for bigfoot on Missing Link Lake, later think quietly about your place in the universe on Reflection Lake and then invoke the powers of Wish Lake and Hope Lake to be the first to travel on Virgin Lake.
Women's names are popular as names of these lakes, and its not hard to picture early explorers sitting on a lonely shore, in the light of a fire or a crossing moon, yearning for a loved wife, mother or daughter. Would it be possible to put together a group of travelers and visit the lakes that include names of family members?

With the right group, we could go to Annie, Beth, Ella, Ester, and Jean Lakes. Or perhaps we could be more specific--the Mother-In-Law-Route! Grace, Lucille, Rose and Isabella Lakes come to mind, although my own mother in law, Margaret, is not represented. (Possibly a side trip to Grace Lake would be a suitable replacement.)

Perhaps the ultimate trip to hell is what is needed to impress my friends. Crossing Mud, Mucker, Muskeg and Mudhole Lakes could provide an easy warmup to Swamp Portage and then Swamp Lake. A night on Weird Lake could be followed by Spirit, Phantom and Tremble Lakes, leaving us on Howl Lake looking for Ragged Lake and hoping to find Sedative Lake.

During the trip we struggle across Wind Lake, cross Long Portage, form up and chase the bad guys on Posse Lake, find it impossible to travel in a straight line because of the obstacles on Stump Lake, squint to pick out the underwater snags on Rock Lake and Rocky Lake, which will be a prelude to Boulder Lake. Later, we catalog the damage done to the aluminum canoe on Dent Lake, and press on and pass Rock Island. Everything will be emptied and repacked while on Unload Lake, and try not to cry out while traversing Whip, Whack and Whipped Lakes. Disappointment Lake would be a good place to rest before pushing on to Fungus Lake, where the day's activity will consist of making faces, pointing at vague, oddly colored shapes, examining feet and exclaiming "What the heck is that!"

While this trip would strain our body and emotions, the mind will not be left out. Homework along the trip will include reading both the Iliad and the Odyssey while on Homer Lake, a review of the laws of planetary motion while crossing Newton Lake, reading the Telltale Heart around the campfire on Poe Lake, and the choice of Longfellow, Kipling or Sandburg on Poet Lake.
The finale of the trip to hell could include Wine and Rum Lakes, which sound good at this point, but I guarantee a wake up on Redeye Lake, and then a side trip though Temperance Lake. Just to bring the mood back to normal, Carefree Lake would be a good place to celebrate completion of the trip on the way back home.

Other 'concept' routes could include the body part trip, through Finger, Thumb, Elbow, Leg, Arch and Toe Lakes.

Possibly the 'food circle' would be a trip of more than gastronomic interest. The eclectic feast of Balogna, Clam, Oyster, Pickle, Rice, Big Rice, Rib, Noodle, Cherry, Melon, and Pie Lakes, prepared and served on Cook, Table, Bench, Kettle, Knife, Spoon and Cup Lakes, after crossing Bottle Portage, could place you satiated and vowing never to eat again while on Good Lake.

What fishing trip could be complete with wetting a line on one of the fishing-named lakes? There are Sucker, Dogfish, Horsefish and Jackfish Lakes, as well as the generic Fish Lake. Angleworm and Fishook Lakes are naturals, along with Roe and Hook Lakes. I assume that Fisher Lake originally referred to the bird, rather than the recent use of the word as a genderless description of a person who attempts to catch fish.

There are two Pike Lakes, East and West. My mind's eye sees them from a distance, looking tranquil, but up close I can see the Pike Wall, complete with razor wire and mine fields, with an ominous looking checkpoint as the only common ground. The wall separates the belligerents as the free-market West Pikes and the worker's paradise East Pikes posture and threaten each other. But wait--fish couldn't be that stupid!

The fishing related lake that plays most on my imagination is Fishdance Lake. I'm almost afraid to travel there because the reality may not be as pleasant as the image in my mind of that huge fish dancing on it's tail across a glass-smooth surface, splashing water that twinkles against the rising sun.

Animals other than fish occupied the minds of early travelers across canoe country, and an observant paddler might see eagles on Eagle Lake, otters on Otter Lake, an owl on Owl Lake, rabbits on Rabbit Lake, and of course, loons on Loon Lake. Other good bets are Bald Eagle Lake, Three Eagle Lake, Turtle, Duck, Bat, Bear, Bruin, Fox, Buck, Frog, Bull, Goose, Moose, Big Moose, Gull, Muskrat and Deer Lakes.

And of course, Bug Lake!

However, I don't expect to see any cephalopods on Octopus Lake, nor any large reptiles navigating Crocodile river or Crocodile Lake. There are other lakes where you are not likely to observe the namesakes: Mule, Louse, Rat, Ram, Horse and Cow Lakes.

The combinations of lakes, topics, themes and interests seem endless. There are many lakes whose names I have no idea of their meaning, including most of the Native American names. I suppose I could crack a few books, or make a trip to the library to find out whether Abita Lake, Baskatong Lake, or Quadga, Tusca, Korb, Dovre and Gijikiki Lakes honor people, places or things. (My 2,347 page unabridged dictionary somehow left these words out.)

Or maybe I'll travel them first, and then find out where I've been.

It's very late now, the wind is stronger and the temperature has dropped below zero. I should go to bed, but I've promised my son, Jordan, that on the first night on his first trip to the BWCA we will sleep on Jordan Lake. But I've spotted Davis Lake in the eastern part of the park, and I wonder if I can work a route to connect them. If I use lakes whose names can also be used as verbs...Lets see, there's Club Lake, Spring Lake, Chase Lake, Gossip Lake, Splash Lake.......