Trail Time

Trail Time – events and phenology on the Gunflint Trail

What a difference a week makes! We’ve had some gorgeously beautiful days on the Gunflint Trail. Last Saturday’s rain, the cooler temps, sunny skies and good news from the Forest service have all combined to make this a stellar week.

Monday night we attended another community meeting at Fire hall #2, where the Forest Service, the county sheriff and the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department spoke about the fire conditions, gave advice and answered questions. The Forest Service folks announced that the risk remains at 1.5% chance of the John Ek fire reaching the Trail at this time, or, as Lars puts it, there’s a 98.5% chance it won’t get here! Of course they can make no promises – fire is unpredictable. But it feels like a blessedly welcome reprieve from last week’s danger and our anxiety level.

To gauge my stress level after our pre-evacuation notice last week, I invented a new scale called the RAL: my Resting Anxiety Level, with a scale of one to ten. With level ten being high anxiety, I have been at level one for the past five glorious days.

I know when my RAL is low because I start noticing things like the wooly bear caterpillars that have made their home in my lettuce garden. I had been picking off two or three Wooly Bears a day, but then I decided to let them eat all the lettuce they want. Unlike them, I can shop for more. I don’t know what special job in our ecosystem these moths-in the-making fill but it must be important or they wouldn’t be here. When I pick them up, they curl into a ball and stay still in the palm of my hand. On the ground – or under the lettuce leaves – they move surprisingly fast. I read that they survive in their caterpillar form through the freezing winters. Despite my reading, it is still a mystery to me how this caterpillar transforms into an Isabella Tiger Moth.

I’ve noticed mushrooms growing again in some spots. I assume the combination of rain and sprinkler systems has improved growing conditions so they can emerge from the ground. I spotted some LBMs= little brown mushrooms. (I promise you, that’s a real thing! It’s in one of my mushroom ID books). There are small white orbs poking out of the grass that I think might be puffballs. Some emerging mushrooms (boletes maybe?) look like little yellow eggs coming out of the soil. We noticed white fingery fungus that might be coral mushrooms growing under cedars close to the lake. There is a lobster mushroom that grows almost every year in the same spot. A few years ago it was big enough to harvest, but I’m leaving it this year to populate that part of the woods with its spores. A lobster mushroom is actually one of two species of mushrooms that have been parasitized. They are very strange-looking but edible. (NOTE: Please, do not eat any mushrooms until you make absolutely certain what they are). I’m not going to tell you where the chanterelles might be or whether I even found any, in accordance with the unofficial code of conduct for all mushroom foragers. Unless you want to share your secret blueberry patch with me next year. Maybe we can do a trade.

There is such a great community on the Trail. Neighbors help neighbors take care of their havens in the woods: cutting and hauling brush; running sprinkler systems for those who can’t be here; donating water, food and supplies to the firefighting teams. One lodge owner has been donating propane for fire sprinkler system tanks in return for a small suggested donation to the Gunflint Trail Fire department. Neighbor and friend Mushroom House Grrl made a special run up to her place this week, watering the woods with what she calls Love Showers, showering her sanctuary literally with water and figuratively with prayers.

There’s still lots to enjoy on the Trail despite the closures. Chik Wauk Museum is still welcoming visitors. Resorts and most lakes that are not in the Boundary waters are open. The fish have not evacuated. The lupines are gone but they are fickle friends and leave by this time every year. The loons are still resident. The eagles and ospreys have not fled. The hummingbirds are still humming. As my friend, naturalist and superb nature photographer Teresa Marrone said,
“…there is still a lot of joy to be found up on the Gunflint Trail!”

The Beaver seaplanes flew overhead again today, scooping up water from Gunflint Lake. Firefighters are still being flown in by helicopters. On the John Ek fire, crews are improving portages, creating safe access in and out, laying hose and working on sites for sprinkler systems. The present weather and the miles between us and the fire don’t change our need for preparedness. My bags are still packed. Many people have gone and others have cancelled reservations. I do not blame them. As for me, I still would rather be here than anywhere else.

This is Marcia Roepke from the Gunflint Trail