I took a break from packing for a canoe trip to write last week’s column. I’m on a bit of a break from drying and putting things away from that trip as this week’s column is written. The Boundary Waters area has been wet this year, for a change. Fire danger signs were posted in the low to moderate range instead of high, as it’s been for the past several years. Rainy weather continued while we were there. Full rain suits were essential not only to keep a bit drier and to ward off at least some of the mosquitoes, but also to break the wind and keep a bit warmer. A couple days of our trip felt more like late September than late July. Portions of some of the portage trails were flooded or ankle deep in mud, too.
The beautiful north woods remained damp and cool even when the sun finally came out. That’s nearly ideal growing conditions for mushrooms, and the woods responded with more colorful varieties of fungus that I have ever seen. I haven’t identified any of them yet, but took pictures of a fiery scarlet mushroom about two inches high and a sulfur yellow-orange one that was nearly six inches across with little white crinkles scattered over the surface. An animal had been nibbling on that one. Other mushrooms were purple, tan, pink, brown and there were even a few white ones.
My son and I saw relatively few people for the five days we were out. I was surprised by that since late summer is normally among the busiest times for the Boundary Waters. Someone at Grand Marias told us they hadn’t had much summer up there this year. We passed a few groups of canoe campers on their way into the back country as we were on our way out. The silence and solitude we were able to enjoy were a bonus I hadn’t expected at this time of year on the American side of the boarder. The only man-made sounds we heard for several days were the soft splashing of our own paddles and a distant airplane or two. Loons serenaded us every night and wolves joined in the chorus briefly one night. Hermit thrushes sang from deep in the woods every day.
We enjoyed exploring new lakes we hadn’t visited even during the rainy days. Rain forced us into the tent a little more than we might have been had the weather been drier, but even that had its appeal. It was dry there and out of the wind. We wrapped up in our sleeping bags, read books and played cribbage. After writing about Aldo Leopold last week, I decided to read more about him on the trip. “A Fierce Green Fire” by Marybeth Lorbieki is an illustrated biography published in 1996 by the Falcon Publishing Company. As I read there in the tent, it dawned on me that I had mixed up some names in last week’s column. Aldo’s mother was Clara; not Estella. Estella was his wife. I should follow another bit of Aldo’s advice to avoid such mistakes. He always wrote multiple drafts of his essays. After each new draft, he’d put it in a special drawer in his desk to “simmer” for awhile. He said that while nothing in the writing changed during that simmering period, he did. The new ideas and new ways of expressing them always seemed to improve the end product. He wasn’t writing a weekly column, though, and I’m never that far ahead of the due dates.
The cook kit, coffee pot and water purification pump are washed and put away. The tent is finally dry and ready to be refolded and put on the shelf. The fishing tackle has been dried and put away. The canoe is back in place on its rack, hanging from the garage rafters. They’ll be back out again soon, I hope. My five-year-old grandson says he wants to come back to Iowa and go camping with Grandpa.
(Steve Lekwa is retired director of Story County Conservation. He lives in Nevada.)