Rain has finally come to the Gunflint Trail and with it some cooler temperatures. It’s been flannel shirt weather for drinking morning coffee on the porch, looking out at the lake, listening to the loons. We’ve had several foggy mornings and the fog added to the rain and cooler temps means that the fire danger warning has been lowered to moderate. It will likely bounce back up to high or very high again unless we get more rain, but for right now, I can’t decide which gives me more relief: the rain, the cool weather or the lower fire danger. All three make for better sleeping weather and less anxiety about wildfire. The Ham Lake Fire of 2007 lives on in our psyches, even for those of us who watched from a distance. I’ve heard the stories and read the reports from the excellent collection at Chik Wauk Museum, and I have good friends that were evacuated several times from their home. I still can’t imagine what it was like to live through a fire of that magnitude. I never want to know. We all need to continue to be extremely careful with fire and follow the restrictions.
The birds are quieter this time of year, now that mating time has passed and the nestlings have fledged. I’ve been hearing more loons singing together in chorus instead of solo. The chickadees and nuthatches are making their joyous and bossy little sounds again. I don’t know if they travel farther north in summer to raise their young, or stick around here but become quieter. I just know I see less – and hear less — of them during the warmest part of summer. The jays are also making their usual racket. We had a beautiful sighting of an eagle soaring up, up on the thermals one hot day and an osprey gliding by at the same time at a lower altitude.
We’ve seen a few healthy-looking moose in the last few weeks. I love it when you see those giant ears sticking up from a marshy area. We spotted a calf with its mama standing in a beaver pond. Other people have seen calves as well: there are hand-painted signs near Poplar Lake urging drivers to “drive slow” by a baby moose area.
Duffer Don saw a good-sized wolf near the Trail recently. I’ve only seen wolves in the winter but I’ve heard them year around. One summer (a much wetter one than this) Lars and I were sitting around a campfire and heard a pack howling. The sound kept changing — it seemed they were on the move and the howling got closer and closer and then started to fade until we couldn’t hear them. It was such a unique moment. I felt awed and scared and happy all at once. I know the literature about wolves not attacking humans but when the woods are deep and dark and you hear the howling, the literature is far away and the wolves are close!
August on the Trail means — oh happy joy!! — summer swimming. I’ll dip in and out during other months but there is nothing like August for a good long swim. Our deep lake is finally warm enough so I can enter the water and retain feeling in my limbs, which I consider a plus. Sometimes the deer flies are so pestiferous that I wear a hat in the water, but they’re not too bad now. I had a great swim on Gunflint Lake – a swim in the smoke with my friend Sue. The far shore was such a milky smoky blue due to the still-burning Ontario fires. It was one of those quietly wonderful days when all troubles seem far away; where I felt so simply blessed to be in the clean clear beautiful water with a good friend, swimming and lounging on the dock; our dogs with us, one dog forever retrieving the Frisbee, the other dog with a big smile and a bottomless fascination for the mallard family serenely floating by. It was one of those afternoons that you know will never be repeated in exactly that form.
Our summers are so fleeting, and I think the knowledge that summer will end soon makes it so poignant when we remember what makes up a summer: those perfect days of swimming, camping, canoeing or fishing. Or that imperfect day that was made perfect – redeemed – by a few minutes spent watching the dragonflies or fireflies or listening to the crickets. Add up a multitude of moments like that, and you’ve got yourself a summer. I know for me, in memory those moments grow and deepen and I can call them up when I need them: after the summer birds have fled, when the snow is deep, and the fish, frogs and turtles slumber beneath the thick ice.
This is Marcia Roepke from the Gunflint Trail