Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Bizarre event on Ima Lake - photos added.....
by RWWolfe

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/07/2012
Entry Point: Lake One (EP 30)
Exit Point: Snowbank Lake Only (EP 28)  
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
I had a rather bizarre experience earlier this month on Ima Lake. I was paddling with my regular paddling buddy John, my 14 year old daughter Robin and a 14 year old friend of hers, Laurel. When we would land to inspect a campsite three of us look for features like good tent sites, a place to set up a tarp, good views, good swimming and so on. While Laurel would always make a bee-line for the toilet to make sure it met her standards. Then we would meet and if we like the site we stay and if not, we head off to look for another one.

Well at this site Laurel comes running back from the toilet and says “There is a duck in the toilet.” We all assumed she was joking but she assured us she was not. My natural assumption at that point was that it was dead and someone had thrown it in there for some reason. But, no, she assured us it was very much alive. Up to the toilet we trooped and sure enough, there was a live merganser trapped in a foul mess that it had thoroughly trampled down. It had obviously been there for a while.

Now the dilemma – do we paddle off and leave the duck to her fate, or do we figure out how to get her out. If we stay, she has to come out as we are surely not using a toilet with a duck in it! Over lunch we discussed several options for getting the duck out, none of which seemed to keep us adequately separated from a crap covered bird, and a large one at that. Using a noose to pull the bird out was discarded early in the discussion as the thought of a mad merganser covered in crap flapping around on the end of a rope with one of us on the other end did not seem like a sound idea. In the end we decided on dropping a large trash bag over the bird to allow one of us (this is the first time in my life where I have not been happy to have long arms…) grab the bird and pull it out. I had calculated the probability of carrying out the assignment without coming in direct contact with the pooped bird as slim to none, but was prepared for my fate.

Standing around the toilet getting up my nerve I had a flash of common sense and told John to grab the other side of the toilet and lift. We had not gotten it two feet into the air when the bird blasted out of there and half flew, half ran the 100 yards to the water. Why we did not think of that simple solution right away I don’t know. Perhaps the complete implausibility of the whole situation clouded our minds. Anyway, we ran down to the water and watched the merganser splash and dive in the water like a kid at a water park for the first time. Over and over the bird dove and splashed until it was out of sight. I can only imagine the relief it felt to be released from that foul den.

Now as to how it got in there we can only speculate. I suppose someone could have put it in there as a nasty joke but they would have had to catch it first; no easy feat. I do know that mergansers are a cavity nesting duck. So my best guess is that it was looking for a cavity and saw the black hole of the toilet and went in for a look. Once in, it could not climb out nor open its wings enough to fly out so found itself trapped until we found it. I can only hope that it is more careful next time.

I have been going to the Boundary Waters annually for about 15 years and must say that I have generally avoided looking down into the pit toilets. After this event, however, I suspect I will now always look down even with the knowledge that I will never see another duck inside a toilet. It just seems prudent.