Trail Time

Trail Time – Life on the Gunflint Trail

Well, we are really into winter now. We’ve had some very cold weather and lots of snow the last two weeks. When it warmed up to above zero, Lars and I and small group went on a snowshoe and ski outing in deep snow along a narrow lake. It was a sunny day, the snow was sparkling and we didn’t have to deal with too much wind or slush. I got as much energy from the beautiful day as I did from the expressions of happiness and joy from friends that were new to a winter adventure on the Gunflint Trail. It reminded me how lucky we are to be surrounded every day by the beauty of this special place.

One of my favorite sights is a black raven flying overhead in a blue sky. In the winter, that color combination of jet black against deep blue is rounded out by the sparkling white of the snowy landscape. Winter beauty is tempered, of course, by the reality of 20 degrees below zero with a wind chill of minus 40. It’s still beautiful, but it has to be respected and endured as much as enjoyed. The proper gear and the proper attitude are both essential for enjoying the cold season. I try to remember both when I’m out wandering in winter.

Cold weather brings clear skies and star-filled nights. As I headed out for firewood last night, I paused to gaze at moonlight shining on snow, a well-stocked woodshed and my sweet black dog wagging her tail as she stared into the woods. One morning I saw tracks in the snow along the shore that brought to mind a little mink from last summer – the beautiful little animal silently moved like liquid over one rock and then around another, pausing on top of the next to look around, staring at me briefly and then, when it had determined I was of no significance in this, his daily search for food, continuing down the shoreline. Could these winter tracks be from the summer mink? In my mind, the tracks of the winter mink lay over the memory of that summer mink, so I am seeing one but remembering the other, experiencing both at the same time.

The winter solstice has come and gone and we have gained almost 30 minutes of daylight since then, mostly at sunset. I don’t know why it stays light later at the end of the day while sunrise changes by only two minutes. It seems to me that there should be more symmetry to the thing. I’ve recently met a certain meteorologist on the Trail that I plan on asking about this, among other questions. I here give him fair warning.

The Gunflint Mail Run sled dog race was held last week. It was cancelled last year because of the pandemic. Thanks to Sarah Hamilton and all the Gunflint Mail Run volunteers for creating such a great homegrown event. We were so happy be there once again, cheering on the sled dogs and mushers. It was an exciting scene on Poplar Lake at Trail Center. There were 12-dog teams and 8-dog teams and all the humans it takes to care, train and run them. Harnessed dogs were jumping in place, yipping and howling and raring to go! Spectators gathered around a bonfire by the lake and milled around, admiring the sled dogs, getting coffee and food from the restaurant.

When it was time to start the race, there was a countdown and then the suddenly silent dogs took off and in seconds were gliding down the lake as big fat snowflakes fell. At least one bystander was moved to tears at the beauty of it. Later that day, at dusk, teams headed out on the second leg of the course. As Lars and I drove home, we spotted a sled dog team running through the woods, parallel to us for a while. We got home, parked and then walked a half mile to where a small quiet road intersected with the sled dog trail. Stop signs had been placed there earlier and we stood by one, listening, waiting, watching. We were alone in the quiet dark woods. After a while, I saw a flicker of light, and saw that yes, it was the headlamp of the musher illuminating the trees beside the trail. Then the dogs glided past, a red light blinking on the lead dog’s collar. We heard the musher murmur a quiet “On by,” urging the team on past these two figures in the night. And then they disappeared around a curve in the trail, the light from the headlamp growing faint against the trees until it we saw it no more. The wind in the pines and the crunch of our boots on the snow were the only sounds accompanying us on our walk home – toward light and warmth and dinner. The dogs would keep going until their work was done.

This is Marcia Roepke on the Gunflint trail