Trail Time

Trail Time – A look at life on the Gunflint Trail

For a few weeks we were reveling in the sunny and mild fall weather on the Gunflint Trail. The temperatures of last few days, though, have been dipping into the 30s at night; we awaken to frost most mornings. While that lovely weather held, I assumed every canoe adventure was going to be the last one. And then we’d go on yet another canoe trip and I’d think, well, this one must be our last time out. But, nope! Wrong again! It was like the end of an unfamiliar symphony when you think it’s over but it continues with more notes and on and on to the true finale. I don’t mind being mistaken about the end of canoe season — I can’t remember a time when I’ve more enjoyed being wrong.

This weather has allowed us a bit of leisure to prepare for winter. We’re ready but of course there is always more wood to split and kindling to make. Oh, and I still haven’t entirely sorted out the mitten, boot and hat situation. But the snow tires are on, the propane tank is full and we’ve got three cords of wood split and stacked. It’s been so nice to have a little breather!

On one of those lovely days, I paddled Lars around in our blue canoe while he fished for walleye. I guess the hook sank a little deep because he snagged a big northern – too big to haul into our canoe. It surfaced a bit, showing off a broad green-speckled back and then started dragging the boat around, a Minnesota version of a Nantucket sleigh ride. I admit I was relieved when the monster bit through the leader and escaped back into the depths. Our canoe is too small for that many teeth.

Our buddy Dharma Dave took us fishing on another sunny crisp day to show us his secret spot to catch what he calls “fish sticks” or brookies. There was a bit of a northeast wind and lively waves that kept me focused on paddling. That was followed by rocky landing spots that meant extra care getting in and out of the canoe. It’s one thing to get a little wet on a fine summer day, but another when the air temperature is hovering around 50 degrees. Ooh — it was chilly in the shade, but so pretty with the sun sparkling on the water. We arrived at a silent, almost still lake – just enough breeze to gently push the canoe down the shore while we cast for brook trout. We took turns sticking a paddle in to gently rudder our way down the shore. I had zero luck with the fish, just some nibbles, but I had a wonderful time gazing at the shoreline, admiring the local beaver lodges, keeping my eyes open for moose or mink. High above Dharma Dave I saw a bald eagle circling in the clear blue sky as it rode the thermals up… up…up. A dragonfly, enjoying the sun and the warmth, perched on my bare arm for a few minutes. It had a red abdomen and amber wings, and looked a lot like the “royal coachmen” trout fly that Lars had tied many years ago. I think it was either a white-faced or a saffron-winged meadowhawk, a new insect for me. The dragonfly and I had a little staring contest before it jetted off. Something about the sunny, cool and quiet day made staring seem like a virtuous pastime.

It was lovely fishing on that peaceful fall day, enjoying the beauty of a northern lake and being in good company with people who enjoy both silence and conversation. Time seemd to stand still for a while, but the sun started sinking and it was only going to get colder. I was reluctant to leave, even though my feet were cold; both my back and my butt hurt from sitting in the canoe so long; and one finger was numb. As we were paddling out all I could think about was next year’s trout fishing. I think I’m hooked, even if the fish weren’t that day, not for me, anyway. Lars and Dave ended with nice little stringers to take home for dinner.

We drove home down the Trail with an almost-full moon rising above the Gunflint hills in a silvery sky-blue pink sky. Dharma Dave put it best:

“Filleting brook trout under a nearly full October moon, can you beat that?.. I think the pattern on their skin is sort of cosmic, like a map of the heavens, complete with a green-tinged twilight, red and yellow stars, blue and ringed planets, pearly nebulas, fins like solar flares. Try to see the universe within each living thing.”

The sky stayed clear for the rest of that night – the stars and the moon were utterly magical. I got up in the middle of the night to check for northern lights and meteors. The night sky was so exciting it was hard to go back to bed. Soon it will be that time of year when I haul out my winter sleeping bag and, come nightfall, park myself on a lawnchair to stare at the cosmos. Last year I was so star-struck, I mooned about during daylight hours with my head full of falling stars and constellations, just pining for the nighttime sky when I could continue my very important task of stargazing.

Gazing at dragonflies, gazing at stars, seeing the universe in a brook trout; it’s a pretty good life here on the Gunflint trail.