Thursday, August 06, 2009

First of the Thimbleberry Picking

I've been watching those thimbleberry bushes from early spring, when they were mere stalks and just sprouting greenery, to June when the bushes were waist -high and topped with white-petaled flowers, to now, in early August, with the first berries turning soft and red.

Last Saturday, along a section of Pilgrim River, for a stream monitoring workshop, we were walking through the brush on a narrow trail, amidst lush thimbleberry bushes, not quite ripe. There were signs posted, handwritten, saying "Trespassing" "No Berry Picking". So the group of us, Trout Unlimited types, were there to learn stream monitoring, but I thought about thimbleberry jam as I walked along, Just about time to start pickin', I said to myself...

Yesterday, in the midst of preparations to go over to Pictured Rocks for guiding a trip for a long weekend, I couldn't stop myself. I grabbed a can and went out to our thimbleberry patch for a quick picking of first-fruits of the season.

The fruit stood out red among the greenery. There was generally one red thimble among half a dozen pale pink unripe berries. The rich forest loam smell at dusk was rising around me. A distant hermit thrush was piping out the day. The blush of crimson on my finger tips and raspberry richness from those ripe fruits were filling my senses. I picked the tender thimbles steadily over just a few minutes that stretched into nearly an hour, until the ebbing light made the red turn to darkness.

At home I vacuum bagged the precious fruit and put it in the freezer for combining with later harvests of thimbleberries. Much more is yet to come...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Isle Royale, July 6-11, Slow Goin'

A father and son in their own boats - it sounded like it would be a good trip - the chance to put down some miles and have a great time without learner anxiety...
When I arrived at the Keweenaw Adventure Co., in Copper Harbor, the 14 year-old pictured below was sitting on the narrow walkway into the shop, with a padded neck brace on and with a knife out, whittling on a stick. On meeting his father in the shop, I found out that in last night's hotel room that his son had awakened with a stiff neck, so he had gone to the emergency room of the local hospital for relief. The brace was worn periodically throughout the trip, whenever the boy thought of it ...
After the safety course (which was lengthy getting the youngster back in his boat), I suggested they rent a tandem but they were determined to use their own personal kayaks. With that decision the slow mode for the whole trip was established. With emotional dynamics being what they were between father and son and the overall bulk of their gear and kayak limitations we stayed in the vicinity of Rock Harbor and Moskey Basin with a side jaunt of father and I up to the entrance to Merrit Lane and back to Rock Harbor Campground on our last night. The headlamp trip back from the Lane was the highlight for me. The father's excitement and fears in the chop, with our route taking us close to the frothy basalt was a sensory delight.
Visiting Mr. and Mrs. Les Mattson, at the Edison Fishery in Moskey Basin.
A rugged spirit tree on Caribou Island
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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Isle Royale Summer Solstice Trip 2009

I had a full group of paddlers for this year's Isle Royale Summer Solstice trip during June 19 to the 22nd.
The trip was sponsored by General Mills of Minneapolis, MN and 2 employees and their spouses came on the trip along with the father of Jon, who was married to Renae. The other couple was James and Heather.
The trip started out with rain the night before at Copper Harbor. The rain continued in the morning with intermittent fog on the 3 hour ferry ride to the Island.
Paddling within the fog bank made my GPS receiver important for
accurate navigating up on the northeast side of the Island
between the Palisades, Merritt Lane and Tooker's Island.

The weather was basically clear when we arrived in Rock Harbor, unloaded the gear and schlepped it to the beach area, ate lunch and then loaded up the kayaks. Our destination was Caribou Island. Within 10 minutes of paddling out of Snug harbor a dark and ominous cloud bank appeared from out of the northwest and promptly poured rain on us. After 10 minutes, within the time it took us to pull to shore and don rain gear, the rain stopped though my anorak felt good with the shelter it provided my wet body from the cool wind.
When we arrived at Caribou Island we were surprised to find out that both of the shelters were already taken... tenting it was our only option unless we wanted to paddle further to Daisy Farm or back to 3 Mile or Tooker's Island. We had just missed out on a shelter that had been taken by 3 fishing brothers from Ishpeming, MI, who we had seen zoom past us from Rock Harbor to Tooker's in their speed boat. I cooked the whitefish alma'den over one of the few fire rings on Isle Royale. I was quite happy to get into my Moss Outland tent rather than the open front shelter as the temperature was rapidly dropping down to what I estimated was the upper 30's.

Our first full day of paddling started in the late morning; we waited for the one shelter to be vacated and moved in our gear. A short paddle to the Rock Harbor Lighthouse, where Jon was very interested in viewing the displays, then over to Edison Fishery to talk to Les Madsen, then one of the group's highlights, viewing the boneyard at the wolf and moose study site at Bangsund cabin. Both Rolf and Candy Peterson were there, so we had a good sit-down talk with them as well as a stand-up question and answer session out in the boneyard with Rolf.
We arrived back at the shelter on Caribou Island after an extended paddle tour outside the harbor area and heading southwest toward Saginaw Point. Tom and Renae elected to head back to Caribou and then we followed a bit later.
The next day we packed up and headed first back to Tooker's Island and then for a fast trip up on the north side of the Island. James and Heather wanted to put in more miles while Tom and Renae decided to paddle with us to Rock Harbor and hang out there. Jon, James, Heather and I then paddled up the outside of the Island and past Tobin Harbor to Merritt Lane then past Blake Point to the Palisades. The temptation to keep paddling west into the 5-Fingers was strong but Heather was reluctant to continue on and a gray bank of fog was moving in on us rapidly from the east. It was a bit of a "slog" in the fog with Heather anxious to not be left behind in the fog (don't worry Heather, we will always wait for you!), but we were finally greeted by Tom as we emerged out of the fog close to his sea-side table at the old Rock Harbor Lodge, where he was having a cup of coffee.

We were all anxious to get back to camp on Tooker's Island so we headed into the thick fog with the GPS orienting us on Tooker's. There was a motor boat seemingly going in erratic movements as we paddled out of the Snug Harbor area southeast toward Tooker's. The farther we paddled to the east, the closer the larger boat's sound grew. I began to feel like we were being hunted and I called for everyone to bunch in close together and I started to blow my whistle as the boat grew very close. Out of the fog it loomed - a NPS cruiser which was indeed zeroing in on us with his radar. The ranger came out of his cabin and asked what we were doing. I nearly asked him the same thing, but said that we were on our way to our camp on Tooker's. He said that we should be hugging the shore, at which I pointed to the fog-dimmed outline of the shore and said that was what we were trying to do. He was concerned that there were some fishermen on a boat who had just arrived at the island and were trying to find a place to dock. He was also concerned that we might be hit by a boat without radar. He also thought that we should have lights on our kayaks in the fog. He had to be the critic on something but finally wished us a good stay on the Island and motored off. We paddled back to our last night on the Island, glad to have a shelter to stay in for the night. Soon after arriving, the fishermen came in and docked for the night. It was 4 young Calumet guys and an older man. They slept on the boat as they hadn't gotten a camp permit. In the still night air I could hear them laughing and talking as they downed their beer and drifted off to sleep to the sound of their urinating into the water from the dock.

After rain and fog, our world focused into clarity

Banks of fog would rob us of a view quite abruptly,
like in this non-view of Merrit Lane looking outward
toward Tobin Harbor

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Just before we headed out from Tooker's Island to catch the Ferry
back to Copper Harbor. Our group was dressed for the weather!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Spring Time '09

The second guided sea kayak trip (June 12 - 14) was "Paddling the Keweenaw" with 2 men and myself. We went from Bete Gris, on the east side of the peninsula and finished at Copper Harbor. The scene above is Craig passing a distant Gull Rock Lighthouse, looking toward the mainland, after visiting Manitou Island. Our way back to the mainland is a 3-mile paddle. No facilities and camping where you will, the Keweenaw is a different experience than camping where I'm going this week, Isle Royale, where my group of 6 will be camping in designated camp sites, probably with shelters and picnic tables.
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Spring Time '09

With the anticipation of so many people in the outdoor industry and enthusiasts from all over the country, we journeyed in March down to Madison, Wisconsin for Canoecopia, the largest outdoor expo in North America.This is a view of our booth, which publicizes Keweenaw County and those businesses that make their tenuous home in this mostly forgotten peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior.

A tundra scene from our trip up on Hudson Bay. BeginningApril 2 and ending on our return to Minnesota on the 15th, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge (where I work as a dog team guide) journeyed up to Thompson, Manitoba where we loaded 20 Inuit dogs, 3 freight toboggans, all of our gear, and ourselves onto the Tundra Train for a trip up to Wapusk National Park, where we hopped off the railroad track onto the boreal tundra for a dog team trip through the polar bear denning grounds, camping at eskers and travelling out to the coast of Hudson Bay and then travelling up to Churchill, the end point of our dog taem trip.

This is a scene from the first sea kayak trip of the season, June 2 - 5. I had been back from taking the Wilderness First Responder class in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin (May 16-24) with a week to relax and get my gear together before going over to Munising for this trip. My son Muir and I guided a group of 11 boy scouts and their 2 adult leaders on a paddle and 4 day camp on Grand Island. Here is a few of our hearty voyageurs in Trout Bay.

A common scene on Mackinac Island, where Lynn and I went June 7th through 9th to bicycle, see the sights on this historic place in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary. Cars are not allowed on the island, but we had a stress-free time of getting around by bicycle and foot, staying at a Bed and Breakfast just out of town.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring Across The North

It's almost the middle of the month of May, but the leaves are only beginning to show their green growth (willow). Birds from rose breasted grosbeaks to phoebes to pine siskins to goldfinches are making their nests (the phoebe is nesting under the garage porch eave for the first time in 15 years) and the Canada geese are already parading on our waterways with their goslings.
Our garden is peaking a bit of green cold crops from under the coat of mulch, warmed in their bed. The cold crops are tolerant of the seasonal dusting of snow (yes, still possible, as last weekend showed) and few hours of freeze at night that characterize our cool Lake Superior spring.
The coyotes were yipping and carrying on at our field and woods edge last night at around midnight. They woke me at the advent of my slumber, which I was glad for - to hear them roust about closely. I will go out to our back field to check the red pines that we planted and have been watering. One of them was dug up and dead; noticed on Sunday when I was carrying water from the stream to water the trees. I wonder what chose to dig the little seedling up. No tracks could be seen.

I am beginning to pack for the 9 day Wilderness First Responder class that I am taking in Wisconsin over the next week plus. Tough time to be leaving, with so much to be done around here, but it seems that each season has its own reasons for me to stay home...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reverence For Nature

The historic Episcopal Church in Eagle, Alaska

What is the place for reverence in viewing "the wonders of the natural world"? Pantheism, the worship of nature, is what many fundamentalist Christians would call showing excessive attention and concern for the fate of the flora and fauna of natural areas. The Christian Bible cautions the believer to worship the Creator, not the creation. The person who doesn't believe in God (or Jesus Christ as the son of God) is termed a pagan and is to be pitied and if possible shown "the only true way of the cross of Christ." There is some room in more liberal churches for those who want to practice "creation care" but for those who follow the fundamentalist church the creation care movement is suspect for offering allegiance too closely to nature's creatures rather than Creator.

Rick Bass, a leading writer and environmentalist, who lives in a rural area in northwestern Montana, addresses the question of reverence for the creation, as put to him by some seemingly Christian "friends" in his community. His answer, in the following essay, told after an encounter with a female painted turtle, is both humble and wise.

This essay was in the May 2009 issue of the Shambhala Sun Magazine

The Turtle

by Rick Bass

Surely I am becoming a pagan; and not through any formal rejection or even dubious re-examination of the mystery of my childhood, Christianity, but more through the evolution of some closer fit between my spirit and this Montana landscape. So glorious does this engagement feel some days that I must confess, in the beginning I wondered if I was not being tempted somehow by the archetypal devil himself—for surely anything this pleasurable had to be sinful, even lustful; and worst of all, placing myself, rather than any God, at the center of things.

I’m not even sure what a pagan is exactly—perhaps I’m misusing the word—but yesterday, after I had dropped the girls off to play at a friend’s house over on the backside of the valley, just across the state line, in Idaho, I encountered a painted turtle crossing the gravel road, traveling from one marsh to another, and my spirits soared, at the life-affirming tenacity of her journey, her crossing, as well as at this most physical manifestation that indeed the back of winter was broken; for here, exhumed once again by the warm breath of the awakening earth, was the most primitive vertebrate still among us.

It was not a busy road, but I stopped anyway and picked up the turtle. Her extraordinarily long front claws, so like a grizzly’s, confirmed that she was a female—the longer claws are useful in excavating a nest in which to lay her eggs—and I put her in a cardboard box to show the girls upon my return.

I continued on my way, down across the giant Kootenai River and into Bonners Ferry, to run errands, and then drove back to our friend’s, where all the children examined the turtle with appropriate and gratifying fascination. They learned the words “carapace” and “scute” and “plastron,” and a bit of the natural history of the painted turtle, but what I suspect lodged deepest in their memory was the mesmerizing hieroglyphics, or cartography, of red and orange swirls on the underside of the shell; and the image that probably went deepest into either their consciousness or subconscious, into the matrix of memory and formative identity—or so I hope—was the three of us stopping on the trip home to release the turtle on the other, safe side of the road, pointed down toward the larger marsh—the direction she had been headed—despite the fact that there was still no traffic.

We kept watch over her then, as she slithered her way through last autumn’s dead grass, and the newly emerging green-up, toward the cattails and chilly dark waters that would receive her and the future of her kind.

I hoped the specific tone of sky at dusk, the call of snipe circling overhead, and the shapes of these specific mountains—these mountains—were imprinting themselves, this one April, as deeply in the minds of my young daughters, along with this leisurely, almost nonchalant yet considered act, as deeply as the chemistry of a river is said to imprint itself upon the bodies of young salmon. These are the sights and scents and tastes and sounds and textures, the logic and the reason, that hopefully will help form the matrix of their childhood and their individual characters.

I’m grateful to that one turtle for the opportunity to help show them consideration. I’m grateful to the color of that sky at dusk, and to the unique and specific shape of Haystack Mountain, to the north, and to the scent of the pine and fir forests, early in the spring, for helping form that calming matrix, as sense-filled and tangible as a bough of fir branches spread beneath one’s sleeping bag on a camping trip far back into the mountains, the mythic mountains of childhood.

We stood there and watched her clamber on down into the dark waters. We don’t have turtles in our marsh. Our marsh is one of several in a chain of wetlands that is perched at the edge of an upthrown fault block that parallels the valley’s main river. The closest turtles are but a quarter of a mile away, down in one of the huge wetlands created by the river’s high waters each spring; but there are no turtles in any of the marshes on that shelf up above the valley—the shelf on which our marsh, and several others, is perched.

We are a hundred feet too high, it seems, for turtles—an elevation of thirty-three hundred feet, rather than the valley floor of thirty-two hundred. Maybe, however, the warming earth will allow this marsh to receive them in my lifetime. Or it might take a hundred years, or two hundred, beyond that, but no matter; I dare not tinker with so ancient and established of a species—trying to coax it into a place it might never have been before. Perhaps this kind of reverence, respect and reverence, more than anything else, defines a pagan; I don’t know. Whatever it is, I know that I feel it strongly.

If this kind of attentiveness to, and gratitude for, the creation is excessive, or unseemly in our species, or, worst of all, ungodly, then I apologize for having been snookered by the dark forces; but know that I will go to damnation for having been an ignorant or mistaken man, rather than an evil one.

Some of my neighbors—friends—frown on the zeal, the restless tenor, of my environmentalism. They counsel me that with eternity at stake in the unending afterlife, there is little point or economy in getting so fretted up about clear-cuts when our mortal time here is so temporal, and the earth is but a proving grounds for the far greater and lasting struggle of our souls, our eternal salvation.

And sometimes—when I’m really tired of the struggle—I want to believe them.

But someone—their God, my God, somebody’s God—put the spark and light of peace and joy and worship and awe in my heart, when I stand in a cathedral of ancient cedars, or when I am far back in the distant mountains, so close to the sky and a scale of time greater than my own brief stay—and that spark tells me that for me, activism is a form of prayer, a way of paying back some small fraction of the blessing that the wilderness is to me; a way of celebrating and protecting that creation, and a way of giving thanks.

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