March 18, 2022
By Marcia Roepke
Oh my goodness, it’s been so beautiful on the Trail the last couple days. I mean, it is always beautiful, but the recent sunny weather was heavenly, especially if you remember that last month it was 46 below. Yesterday was 45 — that’s a 90 degree change in 4 weeks! It was nothing but sun all day. It was the first time I sat outside in the sun for any length of time this year. In that moment, nothing on my to do list was as important as simply reveling in the glorious weather. The sky was bluer than blue; the sunlight glimmered on the snow and on tiny ice crystals in the air. Everything was backlit in a golden glow. All was quiet except for the sweet burbly sounds of the chickadees and grosbeaks, the “yank” of the nuthatch… There was no wind. No snowmobile or chainsaw noise. A blue jay parked itself in the woods and repeated “Skip it! Skip it!” over and over. A new bird chimed in with its song from high in the balsams and aspen (A new bird is a big deal to us and we report it to one another as if a new neighbor had moved in). Ice and snow were melting off the roof with a steady drip. It felt like the earth slowed down and took a long slow breath. In and out.
Last week I saw ravens eating sunflower seeds under the bird feeder for the first time. They usually don’t come down to the ground so close to the cabin. They are such big birds! They pick up the seeds so delicately despite their huge beaks. And they float on top of the snow; they don’t sink as far as I would expect. Maybe their claws act as snowshoes, spreading their weight across the surface of the snow. The ravens left big tracks on top of all the little bird tracks, the ones left by the chickadees, nuthatches, redpolls and grosbeaks. I love looking at tracks in the snow and it is always a delight to see bird tracks, footprints as well as the delicate tracery of wing prints. Sometimes you can discern — or make a good guess — what has happened by the tracks: I see where a bird hopped here, then launched into the air there. Last week we spotted a number of otter slides in the woods by a favorite creek and you can just feel the fun they were having, running and sliding their way through the woods. I love reading the stories in the snow.
Once Lars and I were winter camping in the Boundary Waters and snowshoed our way to an island campsite that presented us with a story: A wide beaver trail led us through the snow and up to a tree stump. The tree itself had been chewed through by a beaver and it lay on the ground across the back of the camp site. As the tree had fallen, it sheared off limbs from a nearby balsam fir, which was itself still standing, but the green boughs were lying on top of the snow. We arranged them under our bedding to make the most comfortable camp bed ever under our tarp. The story of the downed tree was not the only story told at the campsite that day. There was a nearly perfect circle of grouse feather in the snow that told of a small death in the life of the forest but a big meal for another animal.
Along the Trail the pussywillows are showing their fuzzy little faces. When I walk about I see buds on chokecherry and mountain ash. There’s a wild apple tree that is a favorite of mine. I visit it often. When I look at it now, in my mind I see it in the spring as well — covered in sweet-smelling delicate pink-white blossoms. Its buds are starting to swell now and show little scales getting ready to open. The mountain ash buds appear so weird to me. I look at them and think, “Witches fingers,” which must be a memory of a picture from a childhood fairy tale. My apologies to witches everywhere. I mean no offense.
I heard from Dave Coleman at Clearwater Lake about Dog Days of Winter, a fun event on Poplar Lake. It was held last Sunday at Trail Center. There were 11 musher teams and 11 Skijoring teams. He reported: “it was a perfect reprise of such a seminal event. Lots of snow. The lake was slushy in places but the volunteer team did everything humanly possible to provide a good course. [There’s] nothing more joyful than seeing the younger folks out running their dogs in either event. I think everyone’s favorite was the ragamuffin skijoring entry. Kudos to the huge group of volunteers that make this community event so very special. Wait until next year when everything returns in full force!”
This is Marcia Roepke on the Gunflint Trail