Trail Time

News and notes from the Gunflint Trail

I feel Fall in the air! Reminders are everywhere that summer is fading into autumn: The purple asters contrast beautifully with the goldenrod; The pin cherry leaves are red, orange and yellow – all on the same tree; the moose maple foliage gives us shades from yellow to red and those lovely winged seed pods called samaras; bronze and maroon grace the bush honeysuckle leaves. The mountain ash berries are turning red once more. Usually it’s the time of year for the hazelnut harvest, but I haven’t seen any hazelnuts since spring.

The bird population is changing too. I’m fairly certain that the hummingbirds have gone south. I do not see them at the feeder anymore. The loons were calling in their mournful way last week, but I haven’t heard them for quite a few days. This morning a vee of geese flew overhead, gabbling and honking in their busy way.

And for the usual lineup of large animals: I haven’t seen any bears all summer. Our Fedex driver reported seeing one about a mile from us. Hmm…maybe it’s time to put the game camera up again. A bull moose we saw recently had a nice healthy set of antlers. The cow following also looked in good shape. There was a lot of beaver activity evident on the shore of a nearby lake; they’re probably stocking up their underwater larder with cut aspen and cedar.

It’s still warm enough for moths and butterflies to fly around, and I found a really odd-looking caterpillar last week. It was greyish beige and about as big as a fat finger, heading fast for the woods (well, fast in a creepy crawly sort of way). I tried to take pictures of its underside but an anonymous bystander accused me of torturing the poor creature so I let it go in the grass near a stand of young aspens. I am curious but not heartless. The oddities continued. Last week we could hardly walk around outside at night without stepping on toads. I shone a flashlight on them and they glowed golden in the light. It felt so eerie – like an omen, if you believe in such things.

When the mornings are cool, I start thinking about what we need to do before winter. Then it warms up in the afternoon and I start thinking about all the fun things I can still do before the cold weather really hits. I love this time of year. It’s energizing. It’s great weather for canoeing and fishing! I am not much of an angler, but I do like a pretty cast. In truth, I could happily cast all day. I love the arc the line makes against the sky before it plops into the water (hopefully not on a snag, or hung up on weeds). I love to draw and it seems to me that casting – especially fly-fishing – looks like drawing in the air. Lars had some luck this week fishing for walleye and he has been re-bit by the fishing bug. I remain immune to that particular malady, but I love to eat fish, so I am an enthusiastic supporter of his fishing. I don’t like fishing in the rain, so you could call me a fair weather fishing friend.

We’ve had about an inch of rain on the Trail the past few weeks. Things have greened up nicely, but this area remains in drought conditions. The immediate fire danger has passed from the John Ek and Whelp fires; though they are still burning, they are not growing. The Forest Service has ceased publishing daily updates for those two fires. After laying contingency lines through portages, the firefighters are well-prepared should those two fires flare up again. The teams from other states have demobilized and left. As of this writing, the Boundary Waters (except for the area around the Ek and Whelp fires) and most parts of the Upper Gunflint Trail have opened again. The immediate sense of worry has eased and it’s a joy to have these sunny days, crisp in the morning, warm in the sun, and cool in the shade.

If I don’t like the weather where I am on any particular day, I don’t have to go far for something else. The weather is quite variable over the 60 miles of the Gunflint Trail. In the summer, the upper part of the Trail is usually hotter by ten degrees or more than it is by Lake Superior, and in the winter, it’s colder. Fall comes earlier to the Trail than it does in town. The mix of vegetation varies a lot as well. Closer to town, the hillsides are thick with maple trees. As the road climbs up (and it is a climb – the elevation changes by more than 800 feet from town to the end of the Trail), the forest changes to a mix of aspen, birch, balsam, spruce, white and jack pine. I love driving the back roads closer to the big lake and visiting the maple syrup producers in the fall. It’s a great way to support local growers, stock up on maple syrup and and to see the autumn glory of the maple trees.

This is Marcia Roepke from the Gunflint Trail