Friday, November 8, 2013

The Trail

     Oh Lord don't let me get carried away when I write this.
     The trailhead I chose was off a main highway.  Even had a parking lot.  How civilized.  And the trail, though it passes through a forest, is pretty damned civilized.  Don't know who maintains it but they do a good job.  Even a bonehead like me would have a hard time getting turned around.  Wide and well marked, really well marked.
     Guess that's the story about our civilized wildernesses in Minnesota.  To be sure they are home to lions and tigers and bears - oops, sometimes I get the northwoods confused with the merry old land of Oz - make that bears and moose and wolves, but we take a lot of the danger of stupidity out of the equation.  For a mind like mine that tends to wander one way while my feet are wandering another, that's a good thing.
     So what's the big deal about a path in the woods?  Maybe silence.  I love the silence of the forest.  The kind where the creaking of a tree can be heard for a hundred yards.  Or the wing flaps of passing birds.  Mostly what I heard was the rustle and crunch of the leaves underfoot.  Oak and aspen by the millions.  It's late Fall and what was up above in golds and browns two weeks earlier is now below, hiding`roots and rocks.  Watch your steps boy.
     Quiet has become a big deal for me.  There's a lot of distractions in my life, most of 'em self-caused or sought.  Seems like there's always something that needs my attention more than being alone with myself.   A body can never see too many reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  Out in the woods, one foot ahead of the other, my mind quiets down some.  It seems quiet on the outside quiets down the inside.
     And gets a man near to wettin' his drawers when a grouse springs up like a buzz saw as it bullets 'tween the trees.  That grouse and an osprey were about the only things that shared my morning.  Course there were others out there but they were good at not being seen and I was just as good at not caring if I saw them.
     The ground of the trail spends a lot of time rolling up and down.  Nothing at all like hiking in the mountains but in most miles there's about a half mile of up.  And on the longer stretches I puff a bit.  Gets me considering my age.  Then I have to remind myself that uphills and stairs always taxed my lungs.  Even back in my marathon days.  It's in the nature of the machine.  Gotta pump up the fire when the workload increases and fire needs oxygen to burn.  Fact of life.
     A couple of miles in there's an area that once held a small community.  Or so I read in the short trail guide the state puts out.  Can't say I ever saw any evidence of something that's not there anymore.  But there was this ten acre meadow of tall, gold colored grass on a low knob surrounded moat-like by a creek that might have been the site.  Kind of a nothing moment I guess.
     Did pass along a couple of beaver dams.  Both looked like they'd been there for a while.  And the water backed up behind them was black as the ace of spades legend tells us was feared by the Vietnamese and left as calling cards by grunts who collected ears as souvenirs.  Now that'd be something to look up on e-bay.  Wonder what a set is goin' for these days?  Or maybe that's not a nice thing to even think.
     Oak and aspen leaves underfoot, a birch now and then.  That's about it.  The pines I pass don't dominate the woods like the pictures you see in books.  And most of those I pass are jack pines.  But there are some big reds and whites.  Not big like the west coast.  Lord no.  You've gotta remember us Minnesotans aren't pretentious souls.  We're happy enough with our big being more on the medium side.  I read somewhere that even back in the pre-logging days all those majestic pines of the northland that framed the cities down south were only part of the makeup of the forest.  Ten, possibly twenty percent at most.  If the mix back then was similar to what I was seeing there's no doubt why oak was the usual wood for moldings, cabinets and doors down in Minneapolis.
     Saw a lot of pot hole water on the way.  Nothing more than twenty acres but big enough to cause a brief pause and wonder what might be swimming under the surface.  Just can't help it.  I see water that might hold fish and I begin to figure out how I could drag a canoe in over a miserable two hundred rods with little real hope for anything more that bullheads and sunnies.  The way my mind works you'd think I fish a whole lot more than I do.  Maybe the truth is that I like some things to remain a mystery.  A vision of what might be to mull over in the quiet hours of winter as the snow piles up outside the window.
     Near midway of the hike I passed a campsite atop a small nob with views of water in two directions.  One side a pond backed up from a beaver dam.  A body could pitch a tent there and float tube the water.  With no reason better than associating beaver ponds with native brook trout ... well, you get my drift.
     All in all, it was an uplifting way to spend a few hours on a windy, overcast morning.

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