Sunday, October 28, 2012

And Know How to Use Them

     Last week I began. Mid-Fall is a good time in the woods. Before the deer hunting crazies and after the bugs have gone to bed for the winter. Fall color is a thing of the past unless you look down. And when I'm pumpin' along I do a lot of that. That's where the color lies and under which roots and rocks are hidden. Lookin' up to see where that woodpecker is workin' a tree trunk calls for a moment's pause. Watch your step is a rule of thumb. Unless you get a thrill outta brief flight.
     It rained for most of a day when I first hit the cabin. The woods and roads were wet. Not a problem on asphalt but sand is another story. You wouldn't think it but sand floats. Or so it seems. During a downpour you can feel yourself sinking. Immediately after, footing is loose and bike tires tend to have a mind of their own. Skidding sideways on two wheels holds little appeal for me so I left the bike home when I headed north to the trail.
     There was no doubt in my mind where I'd begin. In the five mile stretch I'd chosen, a double handful of lakes would be passed, three of which I'd fished. Though I'd be alone, the waters would be like visiting old friends. Not much more than a passing howdy but a visit nonetheless. 
     My only concerns involved stayin' on the trail and hunters. Like I'd said it wasn't as yet deer season. Grouse was the game of choice. A glance in the mirror assured me I looked nothing like the bird. But the thought of a local doctor pluckin' buckshot from my southern exposure held no appeal. That blaze orange always set off the blue in my eyes clinched the deal. Atop my blaze sweatshirt I threw on a fishing vest. Lots of pockets for compass, keys, hard candy, phone, camera, and it kept most of the orange exposed. A matching stocking cap to warm my skull and I was set.
     Visibility of the trail was an unknown to me. I had no idea of its usage or how well it was maintained. A cover of dying summer weeds and fallen leaves might have worked their magic and turned the affair into a disappearing act. The compass in my vest wasn't so much carried to help me find the North Country Trail as it was to point me in the way of the sand roads. Should I become unsure as to where I was, south was my friend.
     Goes without saying I missed my access point. I knew exactly what I was looking for. But my brain picture and reality didn't actually go hand in glove. Lucky for me I knew the area well enough to know when I'd screwed up. Back when I worked for Fedex our system was a lot like that. We didn't always know where a package was but did have a good idea where we lost track of it.
     A mere five minutes lost, I was parked and walking to the trail crossing. Started by firing off a shot of the official marker. Then climbed the embankment leading to a long, slow rise. In our part of the world mountains don't exist. Seriously tall hills are a long way off but hundred foot rises, like the one under my feet, do happen here and there. In fact they're all over the place 'cause of the glaciers. This is moraine country. Dig down a bit and you'd hit piles of boulders, the grit that melted off the ice as it retreated to the northeast.
     Northern Minnesota is lake country. But the lakes aren't but the deep spots of much larger glacial melt pools from the last ice age. A person takes a look at Leech Lake and thinks, "ooh wee, that's some big lake." And it is. But like an old timer once said about Lake Bemidji, "It ain't but a spit in the fryin' pan compared to Lake of the Woods," compared to those glacial waters it ain't much.
     So the start was a lot like the entire day's walk. I was either goin' uphill or down. A single glance up the track said there'd be no need for the compass. Though passing through a randomness of trees, the trail was wide, well maintained and marked. Every thirty strides or so, a blue slash was painted on the closest tree. Every few hundred yards an official metal stake appeared. Let me know I was still on the North Country Trail and wouldn't have to share it with motorized traffic. Gettin' lost would be a challenge.
     The Minnesota Trail Guide said timber wolves now roamed this far south. A passing thought said maybe, a very skeptical maybe. However, no more than a city block in, I came upon the scat of a very big dog who apparently liked to eat things with the fur still on, or maybe a wolf. Didn't make me feel like Little Red Riding Hood. But it did get me to wondering about the state I've sunk to when I find a pile of crap interesting philosophical fare. From what I knew of the animal it doesn't trust people a lot and goes out of its way to not be seen. Nice to know they still exist in our world. I made a mental note to not bleat like a tender lamb and moved on.
      Unlike my afternoon of scaring trout in the state forest, this day was deep in silence. Not much wind. Total overcast to muffle what little sound there was. Just the rustle of leaves underfoot and the shupping of my pant legs. Sounded like someone was always comin' up on me from behind the way the cloth whopped my shoes. That sound's always there when the long pants are on. Just that it usually gets lost in the background noise of the civilized world. Not so along the trail. There it dominated. Hard to shut it out.
     I stopped to shoot a picture of a log covered in multi-colored fungi. My camera glitched. Wouldn't take a picture and wouldn't close. Once again civilization had reared its ugly head. Simple solution: first I found a softball sized rock. A solid piece of granite with no observable cracks. Next, finding a waist high boulder, the moss covered kind this moraine area has in abundance, I calmly proceeded to reduce the camera to something less than the sum of its parts. Whistled while I worked. Thankfully I always carry matches for emergencies. Or random sacrifices. With them I was able to build a small fire and melt the shattered parts back into a single clot. I call it Modern Man's Revenge. A fine addition to anyone's collection of 21st Century Folk Art. What the hell, it woulda been another photo that would either have disappointed or been ignored once seen.
     Ten minutes in and the real world came calling. No, not in the form of paws and teeth. I had my phone stuck in the fly vest and it buzzed and chimed 'til I answered it. Actually I wouldn't have broken stride had it not been Lois. So I found myself in a position I'd never wanted to be, on the phone while walking a national trail. As it was I stood in a narrowing of the path where it passed through a mini-grove of white and red pines. Nice spot. A person I love on the line.
     Seeing the lakes I'd fished many times in the past was a treat. Mostly in the sense of a negative view.  Yoo hoo! Wave to the me who ain't there on the lake. In years past while behind the wheel for Fedex I'd fantasized about building some kind of shelter near the best of the lakes. Even picked a mental location for the cabin. The trail passed directly through the spot I'd imagined but had never seen. For once reality exceeded fantasy. Would of been a great spot and view.
     Reaching one of the trout lakes it was time to turn around. Again the quiet dominated. A hawk passed by fifty yards away. The sound of its wings beating the calm air gave it away. I could almost hear it breath and fart from exertion.
     Another pile of wolf scat. Solid and black. Tasted like mice and snickers bars. Probably 'cause Halloween wasn't far in the future.
     I spooked a grouse near the end of the walk. Or should I say it spooked me? I'm another one of those irrational dreamers who attributes perfection to nature. It is what it has to be. And wild creatures never err in their abilities. The grouse taught me otherwise when it distinctly whacked a bush as it escaped like a bat out of hell. How about like a grouse from the underbrush?

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