Voices in the Wilderness: Toby Walrath

 Keeping a canoe moving smoothly on a calm morning requires nothing more than the person in front pulling in unison with the person in the back; unless the person in the front is eight years old and determined. Then it’s more like continuous paddle flipping while zig-zagging and yelling out directives like a football coach. Finally accepting that the relaxing morning I planned had suddenly shifted to little more than controlled chaos, I found contentment with the consolation prize of beautiful scenery.

My Granddad was a fur trapper. So was my Dad and it didn’t take much to get me out into wild places when I was my son Kaden’s age. Hunting, trapping and fishing have been a way of life for me since I was born. Many photos I have of Kaden as a toddler are outdoors. Some are of him riding on my back as I set traps, hiked into remote mountain lakes or carried wild meat out of the backcountry. My own childhood photos are mostly outdoors with a few notable exceptions of me and hound dogs lying on my bed.

My Granddad was a fur trapper. So was my Dad and it didn’t take much to get me out into wild places when I was my son Kaden’s age.

It is with this enriched family history that Kaden and I paddled along a remote stretch of River on this early spring morning.

“Dad, look!” Kaden yelled with his finger pointing at the muddy river bank.

Several yellow perch hovered near the surface with damaged tails. River otter tracks, fresh and distinct in the mud told the story. River otters don’t always catch fish on the first bite. We had to stop and investigate. Kaden came up with several theories about what may have happened. We looked at the sign and like detectives made a conclusive statement. Whether it was right or not didn’t matter because soon we were pushing off and heading upstream again.

Muskrats swim along the edge of river banks climbing onto anything sturdy enough to hold them. There they leave droppings, lots of droppings. So many that dark piles of stool acting as a territory marker visually stands out even from mid-river. It is at one of these markers that Kaden placed a trap the day before. As the canoe brushed the bank he was already running toward the log. 

We had to stop and investigate. Kaden came up with several theories about what may have happened. We looked at the sign and like detectives made a conclusive statement.

“Dad, look!” Kaden yelled as he held up a furry muskrat. His broad smile and excitement filled the morning air with joy.

Minutes later the recent ice melt revealed a winter killed western painted turtle on the river bottom. This discovery meant more questions and investigation.  Soon satisfied, we moved on to a grassy point on the river where Kaden made a grass shelter before eating lunch and taking a short nap in the sunshine. 

The ride out was easier with the river moving us along toward home. Kaden was tired from all the hard work of a trap line and his paddle laid across the bow for most of the journey out. 

“Dad, look!” Kaden yelled pointing excitedly to the launching area. “I wonder what we’ll catch tomorrow.”

Toby Walrath is an avid outdoorsman now living in NW Montana with his wife and son where wild places are right out his front door.  His motto is “Just get outdoors and bring a kid with you.”

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About The Author:

Cameron Rasmusson is a writer and journalist who grew up in Scotchmans territory. While he now calls Sandpoint home, he spent his formative years in the natural beauty of Libby, Montana. From elementary to high school, he enjoyed the outdoor experiences that mountain towns provide.

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