Marcia Roepke
Trail Time

Trail Time – End of Summer

It’s a damp quiet day on the GunflintTrail. We’re approaching the end of busy summer and the beginning of the quiet of autumn. The weather has cooled off a bit, though it will warm up again next week when we might see the sun again. You can almost feel the season turn: Many of the songbirds are quiet now — mating and raising babies are now behind them, and new bird species are passing through on their annual migration south. The high ringing call of the cedar waxwings surrounds me as I write this. I saw them earlier flying in a group, wheeling and playing in the air, high above the birches and balsams that slope down to the lake. I have read that they share their food, sitting alongside one another and passing berries down the line. I would love to see that sometime.

There was a steady gentle mist falling yesterday evening; this morning the woods were still damp and the sound of the wind just loud enough to mask my noise as I walked through the woods. I flushed three grouse out of some Mountain Ash trees where the birds had been gobbling up the plentiful bright orange berries. Boom! Boom! Boom! One right after the other, they burst into the air not ten feet from me and then disappeared into the thick foliage.

I passed a big ant mound that is ravaged every year by bears eating the ants and ant eggs. So far, it has not been touched this year. Likewise the nearby chokecherry trees bending under their load of ripe dark fruit. Usually the berries are eaten by bears, birds, squirrels and chipmunks by this time. I wonder if the ants and chokecherries remain untouched because food is so abundant this year. If so, it’ll be a good winter for the bears.

As I emerged from the woods, I walked through a drift of wildflowers:

Pearly Everlasting with its creamy-colored tight little blossoms that can last in a dried arrangement for quite a long time. They don’t wilt or fade. Purple Asters and yellow Goldenrod are fully in bloom and make a rich palette with the greens and golds of late summer grasses.

If you’re a reader, you’ve probably heard of Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Both are beautifully written books about her unique approach to nature, observation and writing. She combines western science with indigenous knowledge. When she was young and went to college, she explained to her advisor that she wanted to study botany because she “wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod [look] so beautiful together.” In response, her advisor told her that “that is not science.” In her writing, scientific knowledge doesn’t replace beauty and beauty does not exclude data. In my own experience, beauty and knowledge and my own personal sensory witness of the flora and fauna, the woods and water of our boreal forest are all one. I highly recommend her books.

As this sunny glorious summer winds down, I find myself grasping at my favorite summer things, wanting to cram the summertime fun in before it’s too late. That sounds greedy and there is never enjoyment to be found in indulging in greed. It would be better to take the advice of Robin Wall Kimmerer, and act like moss.

In an interview with the CBC, she said, “Mosses have this ability, rather than demanding a lot from the world, they’re very creative in using what they have, rather than reaching for what they don’t have. When there are limits, the mosses say, “Let’s be quiet for a while. Abundance, openness, water, will return. We’ll wait this out.”

To act like moss, we give more than we take, we’re patient when resources are scarce, and we find creative ways to use what we have, which is sound advice for any season.

— Marcia Roepke