Transition

October 19th, 2015


 

Bloody Run overlook

Bloody Run overlook

 

 

What a difference a month makes!

 

Bumblebee & coneflower

Bumblebee & coneflower

Early October may bring shirt-sleeve afternoons, bumblebees nectaring on lingering coneflowers, a lone hummingbird drinking sugar-water before heading south, and hillsides of still-green oaks. Chicken-of-the-woods fungi thrive on a decaying oak stump, and pure-white puffballs sprout seemingly overnight on the forest floor.

 

Chicken of the woods

Chicken of the woods

By mid-month, shimmering gold is replacing the greens, and the hardy gentians and asters (and pesky dandelions!) are about the only flowers still in bloom.

Stiff gentian

Stiff gentian

Oh, almost forgot the witch hazel – the uncommon shrub whose dainty yellow flowers bloom just as the leaves also turn yellow. Fields of goldenrod have turned dusky-brown, although the clumps of big and little bluestem and Indiangrass glow a warm purple in the morning sun.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel

 

No better time for a hike in the woods than October, when fallen leaves crunch, and still-hanging leaves paint crimson-orange-bronze-purple on the hillsides.

 

Then come the October winds, a series of cold fronts, and crisp, clear nights.

By next morning, the garden green beans and zucchini have turned limp and brown – and the puzzled robins and goldfinches are ice-skating on the birdbath.

 

Ice-skating robin

Ice-skating robin

The last turkey vultures apparently caught a ride southward on the north winds, but those same breezes may have carried the first pine siskin to our feeder – along with the sharp-shinned hawk that now patrols our yard.

First siskin

First siskin

 

Hungry sharpie

Hungry sharpie

Deer have donned their winter-gray coats, and have temporarily lost their wariness as the rut approaches.

 

Winter coat

Winter coat

This month may keep you guessing. Will it be hot or cold, bright or drab, clear or hazy? But perhaps we need those ups and downs, hots and colds, brights and drabs for our bodies – and minds – to adjust from summer to winter. Ah, the joys of October!

 

Motor Mill

Motor Mill

 

 

The Way of the Canoe

September 25th, 2015


 

Canoe country

Canoe country

“There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten.”

Sigurd F. Olson

From The Singing Wilderness,
“The way of a canoe”

 

 

A crescent moon hanging over the lake in the pre-dawn. Loons yodeling in the distance. Fish for supper. Geese etching a V above the sunset. A nap on sun-warmed pine needles. Wading knee-deep to ease the canoe back into the lake to conclude a rocky portage. A handful of gorp after battling headwinds.

BWCAW Sunrise

BWCAW Sunrise

For 50 years, these feelings and images have drawn me back to northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. More than a million acres of rivers, lakes, Canadian Shield bedrock, spruce and pine forests, and wildness captured my soul on our first encounter at a college field station in the 1960s. We’ve returned numerous times – the latest in early September.

My daughter, Emily, didn’t have to twist my arm very hard when she hinted that it might be nice to have one more paddler with the group she was leading on a short canoe adventure as part of her job (this is WORK?) as naturalist/educator at the Cable, Wisc., Natural History Museum. “Let’s go!” I declared.

Portage

Portage

Besides Emily, I shared lakes and portages with a retired Chicago prosecutor, a couple of retired teachers, a financial software expert, and a 72-year-young woman whose skill, strength, endurance, and good cheer were an inspiration for all.

Fish for supper!

Fish for supper!

We canoe regularly on the Turkey and other Iowa rivers – but the Boundary Waters are canoeing at its finest. The Anishinaabe who first plied these waters, and the voyageurs who carried furs and trade goods across the North Country, found the canoe an ideal craft to travel the maze of lakes and streams. Sure, you must carry canoes and gear from lake to lake – across portages that can be steep, muddy, and long – but the waterways ultimately form a Northwest Passage across the continent.

Eagle country

Eagle country

We obviously didn’t traverse the continent – only a handful of lakes off the Gunflint Trail northwest of Grand Marais: Poplar, Lizz, Caribou, Horseshoe, Gaskin, WInchell, Jump, and Allen. Each lake has its own character, but several classic traits keep reminding you that’s you’re in Canoe Country. Scattered white pines escaped logging to stand watch over spruce, balsam, cedar, aspen, and paper birch woodlands. Granite bedrock defines the landscape, with outcrops that lure campers and fishermen. Bunchberries, blueberries, twinflowers, baneberries, and a host of other flowering plants carpet the forest floor.

Forest floor

Forest floor

Most lakes sparkle clean and bright (although it’s still advisable to filter water you drink to avoid nasty parasites.) Yes, things have changed from the half-century ago when we routinely dipped a cup in the lake and took a cool drink without worry. And we now paddle 40-pound Kevlar boats, instead of aluminum canoes weighing twice as much. (But the traditional birch bark canoes probably weighed several hundred pounds!)

What hasn’t changed is the satisfaction of traveling under your own muscle power. You can almost imagine a party of voyageurs singing gaily while they paddle ahead of you – or grumbling profanely as they trot over the portages in a race to shed their two 90-pound packs and get back into the birch bark canoes.

 

Muddy portage

Muddy portage

With recognition and gradual protection over almost a century, leading up to wilderness designation in 1964, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has lured generations of adventurers. Attracting 250,000 million visitors annually, it’s the country’s most heavily used wilderness.

Wilderness? With that many people? Ironic, to be sure. But one reason the Canoe Country endures – despite almost a century of threats ranging from hydro dams to highways to float planes, resort complexes, logging, mining, snowmobiles, and utility towers – is that generations of PEOPLE have come to love its natural wonders. Let’s hope that passion helps it endure for generations to come.

 

BWCAW Solitude

BWCAW Solitude

 

 

 

 

 

Isle Royale

September 4th, 2015


McDonald Lake on Isle Royale

McDonald Lake on Isle Royale in Lake Superior – Canada in background

Fifteen miles off the Canadian shore of Lake Superior looms Isle Royale – a beautiful, 133,000-acre, one-billion-year-old hunk of rock that’s defined by contradictions.

 

A National Park since 1940, it’s on the “bucket list” for countless travelers – but still remains one of the least visited sites in the 390-park system.

 

View from Washington Creek campground

View from Washington Creek campground

Ninety-nine per-cent wilderness, much of Isle Royale’s ecosystem has been shaped by activities of humans. Indians began mining copper here at least 4,500 years ago. The natives probably imported snowshoe hares, and perhaps other animals and plants.

Snowshoe hare

Snowshoe hare

 

Nineteenth-century miners blasted into the rock searching for copper, after setting fire to the forests to clear away vegetation that slowed their efforts.

Loggers cut some of the prime trees – even with the realization that getting the timber to market across the turbulent lake could be next to impossible.

Loon family

Loon family

 

Commercial fishing thrived in the late 1700s, when whitefish and lake trout were harvested to feed fur traders and voyageurs. The industry continued well into the 1900s – and sport fishermen still ply both Lake Superior and inland streams and lakes.

 

In the early 1900s, several resorts and private clubs were developed as playgrounds and retreats for the rich from the mainland.

Bunchberry

Bunchberry

 

Caribou and lynx once inhabited the island, but disappeared about a century ago. Later, moose somehow found their way across the ice – or swam the lake – to populate the island. Without predators to control them, the moose populations cycled from boom to bust, sometimes devastating the vegetation they fed on.

 

In the 1940s, wolves came to the island and began feeding on moose, paving the way for classic predator/prey wildlife research. But with disease and inbreeding now bringing wolf populations back down to two or three animals, the balance is once again threatened.

 

Sunrise at McCargoe Cover

Sunrise at McCargoe Cover

Despite its isolation, the island is home to more than 600 species of fungi and 30-plus species of orchids, along with a rich variety of other northwoods plants.

 

Jewelweed

Jewelweed

We pondered this history and natural history on a recent week-long visit to the biggest island on the largest fresh-water lake in the world. Well, not a FULL week, because our trip was delayed a day by the whims of Kitchi-Gummi, as the Chippewa called Superior.

 

“We’re not going today,” announced the ferry boat captain when we arrived at the Grand Portage, Minn., dock for a 2½-hour ride to the island. Too windy, too rough. And if the boat captain doesn’t think it’s safe, you don’t argue!

 

5 a.m. ferry from Grand Portage

5 a.m. ferry from Grand Portage

The waters calmed by the next morning, however, so we boarded the Voyageur II at 5 a.m., and watched with anticipation as the dark shadow on the far eastern horizon gradually took shape as Isle Royale.

 

Isle Royale Lighthouse, Menagerie Island

Isle Royale Lighthouse, Menagerie Island

Once at the park, the contrasts continued. Margaret and I were able to take ferry shuttles to three different campgrounds, while our daughter and her boyfriend hiked and backpacked about 50 of Isle Royale’s 165 miles of trails. Something for both slow-paced “seniors” and more energetic explorers. Either way, a fun adventure!

 

 

Boardwalks traverse Isle Royale's creeks and wetlands

Boardwalks traverse Isle Royale’s creeks and wetlands

Here is a sampling of more delights from our trip.

 

Full moon at Rock Harbor

Full moon at Rock Harbor

 

Camera bug

Camera bug

 

Red squirrel - camp robber

Red squirrel – camp robber

 

Towering pine

Towering pine

Thimbleberry

Thimbleberry

Herring gull

Herring gull

Cormorant rock

Cormorant rock

Great River Rumble – Juy 27 – Welcome to Osterdock!

July 28th, 2015


Osterdock cozy campsite

Osterdock cozy campsite

Little town – BIG Welcome!

Packed-in boats

Packed-in boats

Massage? I needed that!

Hurrah for Susan's Mobile Massage!

Hurrah for Susan’s Mobile Massage!

 

Liquid refreshments

 

Coolin' off in the beer tent

Coolin’ off in the beer tent

Entertainment

Boys in the band

Boys in the band

Boogeyin’ Rumbers

Never too tired to boogey!

Never too tired to boogey!

Turkey River hospitality

 

Thanks, Elaine & crew!

Thanks, Elaine & crew!

Iowa evening

Bedtime at Camp Osterdock

Bedtime at Camp Osterdock

It’s full moon week

Moon over Osterdock

Moon over Osterdock

Another great day on the Turkey

 

Osterdock sunset

Osterdock sunset

 

 

Great River Rumble – Garber to Osterdock – July 27

July 27th, 2015


Foggy, breakfast at the church (more good food!), no hurry, beautiful morning, wide valley, loafing on the sandbar

Through the fields, down to the river

Through the fields, down to the river

Morning meeting

Morning meeting

Warm-ups with Mary Jo

Warm-ups with Mary Jo

Laid back on a lazy river

Laid back on a lazy river

Cool board meeting

Cool board meeting

Rumblers galore, on the way to Osterdock

Rumblers galore, on the way to Osterdock

Great River Rumble – Elkader to Garber – July 26

July 27th, 2015


Red sky in morning . . .

Red sky in morning . . .

Rain (and lightning!) delay, soggy but undaunted, church bells, on the Turkey at last, sweeper surprise, majestic Motor Mill, Gary & the river barometer, bald eagles, Garber welcome, delicious church dinner, volleyball, ZZZZZs

Rain (and lightning!) delay

Rain (and lightning!) delay

Soggy (but undaunted) launch

Soggy (but undaunted) launch

Sweeper!

Sweeper!

Rexster in the lead

Rexster in the lead

Rumblin' past historic Motor Mill

Rumblin’ past historic Motor Mill

Sandbar rest stop

Sandbar rest stop

Gary's paradise

Gary’s paradise

The river barometer

The river barometer

All ashore at Garber

All ashore at Garber

Garber campground

Garber campground

Hawk & Sophia - Good music!

Hawk & Sophia – Good music!

Big Blue Sky & Bill

Big Blue Sky & Bill

Volleyball champs!

Volleyball champs!

Church supper - YUMM!

Church supper – YUMM!

 

Great River Rumble – Elkader arrival – July 25

July 27th, 2015


Checkin’ in (all 184-plus paddlers!) – Camping in Founders Park – kiddie choo-choo train – boats on the riverbank – free sweet corn – barbequed chicken – music – ear plugs.

Elkader GRR camp

Elkader GRR camp

Boats on the riverbank

Boats on the riverbank

Great River Rumble – 2015

July 27th, 2015


GRR

This year’s Great River Rumble will paddle 106 miles in seven days, departing Elkader on the Turkey River on July 26, and arriving at Savanna, Ill., on the Mississippi, on Aug. 1. We greeted the paddlers in Elkader, and will follow them part-way down the Turkey River, posting occasional photos and comments. Official registration numbers were 184 and counting.

I tallied 25-30 kayaks and canoes Monday. A lot of boats – and a lot of people connecting to the river.

Thanks for coming to northeast Iowa!

 

Connecting with the Turkey River

Connecting with the Turkey River

 

July: Worth Sweating For!

July 6th, 2015


ppl cone flrs

It’s not just the Independence Day fireworks that set early July ablaze.

Our prairie glows in the morning light. Dew sparkles on the drooping petals of purple coneflowers. Bumblebees probe the golden blossoms of St. John’s wort.

bumblebee, st john's wortClusters of butterfly milkweeds wave their orange greeting to the sky, attempting to lure an increasingly rare monarch butterfly to stop and lay some eggs.

bfly milkweedThe common milkweeds – which we’ve let grow as potential monarch habitat in the flowerbeds and among the tomato plants in the garden – perfume the evening with a sweet, powerful scent hardly befitting a “weed.”

michigan lily

The Michigan lilies nod from behind the safety of the fence we erected to keep the deer from munching off their buds. A scattering of spiderworts poke up from the prairie – but the deer have thinned their ranks dramatically. spiderwortMust be something especially flavorful and juicy in those lily-like buds and flowers.

Spikey heads of rattlesnake master shoot up from tough, spikey leaves. Not your prettiest prairie flower, perhaps – but a great support for spider webs!

rattlesnakemaster, cobweb

Many birds and animals have successfully produced the next generation. Turkey poults – mere balls of fuzz but still able to fly – flit away from the roadside at the hen’s warning “putt.” Raccoon babies shinny up a tree ahead of mama when a car’s headlights betray their late-evening foray.treed coons

Just the ears of the twin fawns reach above the grass, as the youngsters bound along behind the doe along the edge of the woods.

twin fawns A buck – ignoring the antics of the frisky offspring – waits until dusk to cross the open prairie.

velvet buckHis velvety rack already sprouts eight points that loom dark and heavy in the fading light.

A hairy woodpecker – old enough to don a red crest but young enough to want parental care – begs for breakfast from its father at our feeder. A patient rose-breasted grosbeak drops seed after seed into the gaping mouth of his almost-grown baby.hairy wp & baby

The diligent bluebirds already have raised one brood, and now are nesting a second time. We wish them success – and welcome their garden patrols in search of cabbage butterfly larvae on our broccoli plants.

New life, vibrant colors, and refreshing smells invite us outdoors – despite occasional heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. We tuck away the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of SUMMER to retrieve from the recesses of our mind next January!gberg fireworks

 

Water! Cool water!

June 14th, 2015


male cardinal

 

With temperatures in the 80s and the dew point pushing 70, we wimpy humans may retreat to the cool of an air-conditioned house. But birds have a better way.

 

A steady stream of feathered bathers took dips and drinks in our backyard pool on a recent sweltering afternoon. And what entertainment for us, as we watched from the window of a slightly cooler house!

female cardinal

Perhaps lured by the gurgling of water of the recirculating, pump, a pair of robins began the aquatic antics. Then came the male and female cardinals, splashing and shaking vigorously before hopping to a nearby shrub to preen.grosbeak

 

The impatient rose-breasted grosbeak butted in before the cardinals had finished, making it a public bath. Not to be outdone, a catbird appeared on the edge of the pool, then furiously ruffled its feathers and sent spray flying.

catbird

The common yellowthroat, more nervous than the larger birds, jumped down, then up, then down again onto the wet rocks. The masked warbler finally zipped away to the seclusion of a more private grooming perch.yellowthroat

 

A more reserved mourning dove walked along the rock wall, occasionally pausing for a drink, but too dignified to take a plunge.

dove

Lesson learned: For better birding, try water!