Marcia Roepke
Trail Time

Trail Time – Preparing for Winter

Winter cometh. We don’t know when, but we know it’s approaching. The trees and plants know it. The animals know it. The birds that can’t abide winter have flown (are flying right now) far, far away. The animals and birds that remain are preparing themselves for winter, as are we, the two-legged.

The lists for preparing for winter are long — my friend Des tapes her list on the inside of her back door, so whenever she goes out, she can see what to do next and (hopefully) cross out completed tasks (or add new ones  [eek!]). There’s firewood to stack, motors to prepare for winter storage and motors to prep for winter use. One of the more enjoyable tasks on our fall list is towing our floating dock to a small bay where it will be sheltered from damage caused by winter’s wind and shifting ice.

We were starting to think we’d waited too long this year to move the dock — we look for a sunny day with little to no wind — and then yesterday came and conditions were perfect for moving the dock.

Lars and headed down to the lake with the tools for the job — removing the ramp from the dock usually gives us little to no trouble, but yesterday didn’t work out quite like that. Trouble mushroomed out of each simple step; the dock wasn’t floating due to the low water level which made the pins jam, the dog took off after a squirrel and I nearly lost the blue canoe. The wet line slipped out of my fingers as I was maneuvering the boat. In my mind I saw the possible consequences in a flash: I would have to get very wet to go after the canoe OR quickly throw myself across the dock and grab the receding line. So throw myself I did, and caught the rope with two inches to spare. I felt quite proud that the old girl can still move that fast! Of course, if I hadn’t dropped the line in the first place, no heroics would have been necessary, but sometimes there are bumpy roads on the path to glory. Anyway, we were victorious if somewhat damp after our dog Ursa shook off her swim all over us. Several times.

The lake was like glass and once we were out of the shade and into the sun it was shirtsleeve weather. We warmed up and dried off easily. Fish were rising all around us. The water was the clearest I’d ever seen it — we could see all the way down. I stared at sunlight moving across the underwater boulders as we steadily paddled, paddled to the bay. It is so easy to get into kind of meditative trance with steady paddling, sunny skies and the hush of a quiet fall day. After tying up the dock, we floated in that little bay for a while. We watched a light show as bands of reflected sunlight moved across an ancient cedar tree. We checked out the beaver lodge that had been abandoned a couple years ago. We can still see the entrance hole above the water, so I don’t think beavers are living there now, but there were a few fresh branches under the water in front of the lodge, like beavers do for their winter meals. It’s one of the tasks on Mr and Mrs Beaver’s fall list.

Just last week we saw loons swimming and fishing and kingfishers darting low over the water. I didn’t see any loons yesterday, and I haven’t heard them for a while. Maybe they’ve gone south. The barred owl that had been steadily serenading us for most of the summer has also gone quiet. I’ve not heard or seen the neighborhood ospreys, although I understand they fly south once the lakes ice up.

As we turned to head home, we saw the gorgeous glow of backlit birches now dressed in their autumn gold. The sinking sun lit the shore up until the whole hillside was glowing. I’ve rarely seen it so beautiful.

Golden birches, dark green firs and spruce, stately pines and a solid blue sky, sunlight on water, tree and stone: the beautiful miracle of a fall day in the stillness of the north woods.

That brief time of peaceful paddling helped us escape for a time the world’s worries, both our irritating local battles and ferocious distant wars. I hope everyone can find a few moments of silence and solace in the beauty of our boreal forest to strengthen us for the challenges ahead.


— Marcia Roepke