Portage: A Family, a Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life

Portage: A Family, a Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life

by Sue Leaf


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When as a child she first saw a canoe gliding on Lake Alexander in central Minnesota, Sue Leaf was mesmerized. The enchantment stayed with her and shimmers throughout this book as we join Leaf and her family in canoeing the waterways of North America, always on the lookout for the good life amid the splendors and surprises of the natural world.

The journey begins with a trip to the border lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, then wanders into the many beautiful little rivers of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the provincial parks of Canada, the Louisiana bayou, and the arid West. A biologist and birder, Leaf considers natural history and geology, noticing which plants are growing along the water and which birds are flitting among the branches. Traveling the routes of the Ojibwe, voyageurs, and map-making explorers, she reflects on the region’s history, peopling her pages with Lewis and Clark, Jean Lafitte, Henry Schoolcraft, and Canada’s Group of Seven artists. Part travelogue, part natural and cultural history, Portage is the memoir of one family’s thirty-five-year venture into the watery expanse of the world. Through sunny days and stormy hours and a few hair-raising moments, Sue and her husband, Tom, celebrate anniversaries on the water; haul their four kids along on family adventures; and occasionally make the paddle a social outing with friends. Along the way they contend with their own human nature: they run rapids when it would have been wiser to portage, take portages and learn truths about aging, avoid portages and ponder risk-taking. Through it all, out in the open, in the wild, in the blue, exploring the river means encountering life—good decisions and missed chances, risks and surprises, and the inevitable changes that occur as a family canoes through time and learns what it means to be human in this natural world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780816698547
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Publication date: 10/15/2015
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 5.64(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Sue Leaf is the author of Potato City: Nature, History, and Community in the Age of Sprawl. Her books The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake and A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, both from Minnesota, were finalists for Minnesota Book Awards. A trained zoologist, she writes frequently on environmental topics. She and her husband Tom have paddled the waters of North America for forty years. 

Table of Contents


Prologue: In the Beginning, a Silver Streak
The Pictographs on Lac La Croix: Into the Boundary Waters, 1979
Locked In: The Mississippi at Minneapolis, 1981
Canoeing the Spirit River: The Rum, 1986
Missouri Breaks: The Upper Missouri River, 1993
Breaking in the New Canoe: The Kettle River, 1994
Canoe Swarms: Back to the Boundary Waters, 1993-94
Kid Canoeing: The Crow Wing, 1995
Self-Reliance: The Upper Mississippi River, 1997
Canoeing the Sandhills: The Niobrara River, 1998
Loving It to Death: The Boundary Waters, 1998
Burnt Woods River: The Bois Brule of Northern Wisconsin, 1999
Paddling with the Alligators: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, 2001
Mother’s Day: The Cannon River, 2002
The Eye of the Wolf: Isle Royale National Park, 2003
The Clarity of Nellie Lake: Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario, 2004
Looking for Snakes: The Marias River, Havre, Montana, 2005
Abundance: The Upper Iowa River, 2006
Sea Caves: Lake Superior, 2007
Transition: Kejim-Kujik National Park, Nova Scotia, 2008
Nerve-Wracked: The White River of Wisconsin, 2010
Wild and Scenic: The Upper St. Croix River, 2011
Pursuing the Group of Seven: Algonquin Provincial Park, 2012
Chronos and Kairos: The Little Missouri River, 2013
Ancient Valley: The Kickapoo River, 2013
Urban Adventure: Minnehaha Creek, 2014
Father’s Day: The Fox River, 2014
Draining the Ancient Lake: The Red Lake River of Northwestern Minnesota, 2014
What Is the Good Life? The Au Sable River of Lower Michigan, 2014

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