Marcia Roepke
Trail Time

Trail Time

Ooh la la and la di dah! The unusual sunny and warm weather on the Gunflint Trail this November just makes us giddy. It was 50 yesterday and today was full of sun. It’s been heavenly for the human mammals so I imagine it was nice for the other animals too.

I had the luxury of spending some time by the North Brule River yesterday. The blue sky reflected deeper blue in the calm water; downriver the water trilled over the stones, making beautiful water music. There’s something about moving water that excites me. It makes me want to know all the stories of the animals living near and those just passing through. There’s not much snow on the ground — most of it has melted, except in shady spots —  so I couldn’t read the stories told by animal tracks in the snow. I just kept my eyes open to see who showed up and I looked for other signs of animal activity as well. Foxes are everywhere up and down the Trail. You can see their sign by the side of the road in their scat. And of course the signs of the beaver family abound.

The beavers near the Trail have built some new dams this summer and revived some formerly vacated lodges. They are engineers and are improving (from their perspective) the land to their advantage. Of course, what a beaver thinks is improvement can be a huge pain in the neck for humans. Their thoughts are not our thoughts and they continually try to fix what we build. Over time, I saw a culvert get dammed up by beavers, then opened up by humans over and over again. I was trying to look at it from the beavers’ viewpoint and I imagined them saying, “Hey! People! I keep closing up that hole under the road (the culvert) and you keep opening it. You do not make very good dams. We are just trying to help!” Beavers have the ability to change the landscape and are crucially important to maintaining a healthy environment. This is finally being recognized elsewhere. Beavers have recently been reintroduced in England after 400 years of extinction. Here on the Trail, we luxuriate in them. This keystone species is good for the natural landscape. They create wetlands and small ponds that support many other species. Their dams filter water and decrease the effects of flooding downstream by decreasing the water flow. Another benefit is the captured carbon, since the dams hold back silt, which locks up carbon and encourages new plant growth. The dams also shelter fish — they can hide behind the debris — and many invertebrates, which are a food source for freshwater animals.

As much as I love beavers, I did not love it when my dog carried a beaver leg home last week. I thought she had picked it up from a wolf kill, but I found out that a neighbor had put it in a tree to feed the gray jays. That is a very rustic way to decorate your yard. I have a friend who lives further up the North Shore who puts a deer carcass in his front yard for the chickadees every year —  in front of his big living room window. I have another friend who is known to nail fish to trees for the benefit of pine martens. I think caring for neighbors runs so deep up here, be they hairless or not.

The neighbors on the Gunflint Trail are truly a breed apart. There are so many people taking care of one another, sharing food, hosting community parties and activities and helping each other out. Even if they don’t like you much, they’ll help you! It’s the code of the Gunflint Trail.

Before Lars and I moved up here full time, a friend asked, “But where do you GO in the winter?!” My enthusiastic response was, “On snowshoes you can go pretty much wherever you want.” She looked at me, puzzled, and said, “but there’s no Starbucks!” Another time I was nursing a cocktail at Poplar Haus and a visitor asked me if I lived here. “Yes,” I said, “I do.” She then asked me what I did up here. “Anything I want,” was my answer.

Every day I try to do something I need to do, something I want to do, something for somebody else and I also build in what I call Staring Time, which you could think of as Seeing Time, or Being Time; it is just some time to be still or move quietly though the woods, noticing what is happening all around in this beautifully rich world of ours.


— Marcia Roepke