Just four hundred years ago—how time flies—Etienne Brule was served paddling orders on the banks of the St. Lawrence by Samuel de Champlain with the directive of finding a route to the Orient, or to just find something and return to New France alive with his scalp attached. He is acknowledged as the first non-indigenous person to lay eyes on today’s Lake Superior.


Landing at the current site of Sault St. Marie in 1621 proved Etienne’s lucky year, although the confluence of lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron proved the limit of his western sojourn, he did set his eyes on three of the Great Lakes. Not bad for someone paddling without an itinerary. Pressing inland provided a showcase of the coveted beaver of the day. His reconnaissance, although not well recorded for posterity, would have certainly stirred the pot back in fishing camp at Montreal.  If the trees could talk, how I would lend them my ear.


What little is known of Brule is he did clear a path for later explorers and traders like Nicolet and the fur companies that exploited the resources, notably beaver, of the Great Lakes region. Rapidly declining beaver populations fueled the “Beaver Wars” 20 years later, further dividing indigenous and European enclaves and, as the sword swings in two directions, made the bed for Etienne’s end at the hands of the Huron.


There’s an explorer in each of us. Every time I string up a rod, Heraclitus whispers in my ear, “you never step into the same river twice.” Not even a rookie explorer of Etienne’s day would dare shove off unless well provisioned and, above all, accompanied by a trustworthy entourage. None of us can do it alone.


On a personal level I feel a kindred spirit with Etienne. After all, there are only four centuries between us. I too have been handed my commission as Council Chair and charged with pressing over the horizon in quest of a meaningful end; water quality, opportunity for the next generation and quality of life for this generation. Etienne plied forth with no greater sense of direction than his compass could provide, but more so, with a deliberate destiny. Unlike Ol’ Etty, I have predecessors who have provided a detailed map of programs and policies which make possible a well provisioned purposeful journey into the near future by grasping the paddle handed to me. And I wouldn’t dare try it alone.


Sam Champlain was no slouch himself within this voyageur theme, dabbling in futures of terra firma and having the chops and hardware to prove it, a tough act to follow for Etienne. But with the passing of the torch passes the energy and optimism it contains, and I am thankful to follow in the footsteps of Mike Kuhr. Is there a tougher act to follow? It’s my duty to continue to build on the strengths of Trout Unlimited: youth camps; women’s and veteran’s programs; habitat and access funding; strengthening partnerships with allied organizations; legislative and financial strength. Now I’ll settle into my well provisioned canoe provided by Mike, a trustworthy cadre of men and women to my sides and shove off.


And did I mention beaver?


- Scott Allen

State Council Chair