Trail Time

Trail Time–the sounds of autumn

The last two weeks of September have been absolutely lovely on the Gunflint Trail. We’ve had rain, we’ve had sun, we’ve had temperatures about ten degrees above average. Usually the shorter days and cooler temps of September make me want to slow down, but this fabulous weather has sped me up again. I can’t get enough canoeing or fishing, it’s 76 and sunny and I just might swim this afternoon. I want to be by, in or on the water all the time. With the weather so warm, it feels kind of strange to see little groupings of buntings by the road. I think of them as cooler weather birds. Juncos are back as well and yesterday we heard then saw a flock of cranes fly overhead, bugling and honking. They were flying so high, it was hard to see them. It is autumn, though it feels like August.

I’ve spent a few hours this September watching a new beaver lodge. First I found a comfortable place to sit with a good vantage point. I quieted my movements and my thoughts and then I waited. A red squirrel spent a few minutes announcing my arrival, then the woods behind me grew quiet; a raven then flew overhead, wheeled around and landed in a spruce tree right above and behind me, its screams seconding the squirrel’s vote about my presence.

I used to try to talk back to the ravens, but they are wise to my tricks. I don’t fool them for a second — though I do think (immodestly) that my impersonation is pretty good. My dog demurs, and just gazes at me, concern all over her face whenever I make that strange sound.

I once talked back to a red squirrel in its own language and I felt so amused when it grew furious and bounced up and down on all four feet chattering, railing at me. I walked into the cabin, then turned and saw the squirrel running straight at me. I knew there was a full length of glass between us, but the squirrel saw nothing but air and launched himself toward me til smack! Full frontal squirrel smash into the window. He fell back, then after a millisecond of a shake he launched again into the air. Smack! He fell back again and appeared unhurt but dazed, then he ran up a little hill and into the woods. If that glass hadn’t been there, God knows what that squirrel would’ve done to me. I don’t talk back to squirrels anymore.

There was no talking at all on my part for this day of quiet beaver-watching. The weather was perfect for it. Cool in the shade, not too hot in the sun, zero bothersome insects. The water was still and smooth save for the circles from fish rising to feed. The leaves barely moved in a faint breeze. Occasionally a golden birch leaf fluttered down and plopped on the surface of the water. It was so quiet I could hear the leaf hit the water and a hundred feet away I heard the rising of a fish as it mouth closed upon a tasty fly.

I sat for an hour? two hours? I lost track of time. There were no boats on the lake, no planes in the sky. I was mesmerized by the perfect mirror image of the sky and shore on the surface of the water, forming a design like a horizontal Rorschach blot. A junco flew up and perched in a cedar, cocking its little head at me before flying off. A dragonfly flew around me as it fulfilled its duty patrolling the shore. “No time to chat!” I imagined it saying to me. “I’ve got business to do!” They are such earnest flyers. Now, my goal had been to watch for beaver activity, and I did manage to see one shiny wet head surface and circle around before it silently dove under. That had been the goal, but I had gained much more than that in those silent hours by the water. The deep quiet felt as if it had got into my bones, as if I had soaked it up like a sauna. I had a long deep draught of quiet and I felt heartened and strengthened by it.

Loons are still in residence. I hadn’t heard them for a number of days and I assumed they’d left, even though it was unusually early. But it has been a strange summer. The lack of rain hit the area hard and we had those mid-summer dry crunchy weeks with fire danger a daily worry. I thought loons leaving early seemed congruent with the rest of the weird summer. But I was wrong. I tried not to take it personally, after all the whereabouts of the loons is their business. I have to remind myself: This is their place. I am the visitor. They will keep flying here long after I’m gone.

This is Marcia Roepke on the Gunflint Trail