Alex Ushakoff
Trail Time

Trail Time – Summer Bounty

The continuing and very welcome rainfall this summer has brought forth  a Gunflint Trail just about bursting with goodness. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and Saskatoons are ripe, plentiful and ready for picking. I had a delightful day of berrying with a friend last week. Picture this: a sunny day with blue skies, the Gunflint hills spread out below us, big white puffy clouds above us, clear clean breezes, lots of blueberries, a pal to talk with and a puppy. I recommend it to everyone. It is good medicine for whatever ails you. I have not always been an eager berry picker, and it’s made life a little awkward, since I make my home in a place where berry-picking is very nearly a creed if not a religion. People take berrying very seriously on the Trail and woe to you if you give away someone’s secret spot for berries — or fish, or mushrooms, for that matter. In that sense, it’s a very Hobbit-like culture. Daily, I am growing to be more like a Hobbit.

The mosquitoes have been nearly as abundant as the berries this summer, and I have been practicing a range of techniques for killing them. You can’t always just flail away with the swatter; you need to act with finesse or there’ll be red splotches on the wall out of the reach of easy cleaning. There are many ways to kill a mosquito: one of my favorite is the one-handed snatch in midair; and there’s the swipe toward your arm or other body part (try not to mistakenly hit your glasses and nearly knock yourself out, like I did); there’s also the grab-the-son-of-a-gun with index and thumb as it perches on a wall: it’s one way to assure your cabin won’t look a crime scene at the end of the day. When I grab them by one leg, I like to watch them squirm a little before I deal the final death blow. I realize this sounds deeply weird. I was talking with a neighbor, comparing our various killing methods, and as we spoke about the differences between the behavior of early summer mosquitoes and later ones, I thought to myself, “If someone overheard us, and they had no experience of Northwoods mosquitoes, they might conclude that we are more than slightly insane.” The mosquitoes can certainly test one’s sanity as they are inhaled through mouth and nostrils. And then when they sneak up pants’ legs, shirtsleeves, neck holes and any other tiny space you might have neglected to cover, well, that’s when you wish you could magically transform into a moose in a pond and submerge yourself totally underwater or follow my dog’s lead: go swimming and then find a place to roll and wallow and thoroughly cover yourself with mud from top to tail. Stand up, shake, repeat, wag your tail and grin.

Even with all the trials that insects visit upon us humans and other mammals, there is no getting around the fact that this has been a spectacular summer weather-wise. The rich insect life means the birds have plenty to eat. And we’re seeing way more juvenile birds than last year’s dangerously dry summer. We’ve had several families with juvenile members stop by lately: the Osprey family perched on a dead snag, announcing their presence with their distinctive cries; the Ravens usually holler as they fly by, they don’t stop very often: too much to do. The Blue Jays are among the most vocal, but they don’t hang around much either. We have our neighborhood families:: the Hummingbirds and the Flickers. Both have raised young this year within sight of our cabin. I wish I could tell you how many young hummingbirds there are, but they move too fast and there are so many of them! They are our closest neighbors so we see more of them than the other bird families. Hearing them is almost as delightful as seeing them — that “vwhrrrrr!”as they speed by my head or the feeder or just whiz around the yard. They are vigilant in patrolling a chokecherry bush at the corner of my porch, buzzing and darting ferociously at the little olive-green warblers that try to perch there.

It’s been the kind of summer weather we all dream of and wish for. If I had to choose the best summer evenings, I’d put them all in a jar, shake them up, spill them onto the table, and choose the top 10. If I then selected the very best of those, it would’ve been last night. It was a perfect evening. It wasn’t too hot; it wasn’t too cold. The setting sun illuminated blue, pink and orange bands spread across the western sky. A Veery and a Raven sang counterpoint to the opening bars of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring playing softly in the background. On the lake, a dark boat moved fast over still water, cutting across the silvered reflection of the evening sky. Slowly, rainclouds mounded up and grew larger and moved closer, flashing far-off lightning on the horizon. A second boat cut across the lake, this time west to east, the vee expanding in its wake as the rainclouds neared. I sat on the screen porch as darkness and rain arrived together. Then the rain started drumming on the roof and the wind blew a fine spray of raindrops all over me through the screens. I went inside, dried off and ate a hot dog with everything on it. It was all delicious: the peace that comes with a good soaking rain, the birds, the Northern sky over the still lake, and a summer meal cooked over a fire. In these times of trouble all over the world, after we’ve each done our small part to help where we can, some days it seems that the bravest thing one can do is to appreciate the miracle of our beautiful boreal woods and water, and be grateful.

~Marcia Roepke
August 5, 2022