Marcia Roepke
Trail Time

Trail Time-Blooming Trees and Bumble Bees

Memorial weekend on the Gunflint Trail had perfect weather this year: Sunshine and cloudless skies, very few bugs and cool evenings. The only downside was the very dry conditions in the woods which created high danger for wildfires. When the woods are looking green and well-watered, when it doesn’t look like drought, it can be hard to convince people that the danger is really there. But it is there, in the duff, which is the many layers of dry decaying material that make up the forest floor; and in the dead standing balsam firs that are everywhere in Superior National Forest. Fortunately, we’ve had a small amount of rain in the last few days, which has eased conditions somewhat, but the danger level for wildfire is still high.

This is a beautiful time of year when the fruit-bearing trees and shrubs are covered in blossoms. The pin cherry, or fire cherry as it is also known, is at the end of its blossoming time; the tiny white petals have mostly fallen, scattered on the ground. The Saskatoons or Juneberries are also done blooming and you can see where the fruit will form. The chokecherries are in full blossom now and in a week or so their petals will fall too and the fruit will start to grow on the pollinated stems. Bears love to eat pin cherries and chokecherries. They will tear down tree limbs to get to the fruit. Moose will tear down tree branches, too, especially young willow and birch so they can get to the tender bright green leaves. I read that the spring birch buds taste like peppermint so I tried a chewing a couple. I would say they taste vaguely minty, but not as strongly as wintergreen does.

I love trees in general, but I’ve always had favorite trees. I can think about those old childhood favorites today just like you’d remember old friends, and when I was young, I thought of trees as my friends. In all honesty, I still do. I have a favorite wild apple tree growing near my cabin, and it is a delight to me. The scent is heavenly right now. The lovely flowers and perfume and the buzzing of myriad bees, bumbles and others, surrounded me as I stood under the blooming tree today, shaking a branch, making it rain flower petals. I was rapt with joy, wondering (not for the first time) how that apple tree came to be planted there. Did someone throw an apple core out of a car window? Maybe a bear picked up the apple, finished it off, and wandered off to the woods where it deposited the seed and everything else a seed needs to grow: moisture and fertilizer. I think bears are perfect seed and fertilizer depositors. I wonder how much of the woods are planted by bears. Bears, bees and trees swirled in my mind today. After all, the bears wouldn’t have any berries to eat if it weren’t for the bees. Another confession: Bumblebees are another favorite of mine.

Minnesota has 24 different species of bumblebees, though not all live up here in the boreal forest. Bumblebees are native to North America, unlike honeybees, though bumblebees use nectar to feed their young too.  Bumblebees lead such very different lives than honeybees. They often make their homes in the ground in an abandoned mouse hole. Only the queens survive each winter. They are the first bumblebees you see in the spring, searching for pollen and nectar so that can start to lay eggs that will become the foundation of the colony. The early emerging bumblebees become workers. Later on, after the colony has grown, the queen will lay eggs that will become the male drones and new queens. The drones and new queens mate late in the summer. It is the only job of the drones to mate. Once they leave the nest, they never return. Sometimes you can find them sleeping in a flower on cool mornings. Once they mate, they die, and the newly mated queens eventually find a shelter to create their winter hibernaculum (what an awesome word!) where they will try to survive the winter alone. And thus starts the circle once more. Ain’t nature grand?!

All of you nature lovers are invited to Gunflint Green Days this weekend, where you can enjoy nature and shop! The three-day event is centered at Schaap Community Center right next to Firehall #2 on the Gunflint Trail. Today, Friday, from 8 to 5 there will be garage sales at lodges along the Trail. They’ll be selling used canoes and kayaks, boats and motors, cabin furniture, fish-themed lamps, camping gear and more. The participating Lodges are: Bearskin, Hungry Jack Outfitters, Loon Lake Lodge, Gunflint Pines, Borderland and Nor’West Lodge. Check out all the other activities for Gunflint Green Days online.

~ Marcia Roepke on the Gunflint Trail