Sunday, December 12, 2010

Echo Island or A Visit to Squire's Table

Echo Island, Lake Kabetogama
Voyageurs National Park

mallard feeding at shore

Echo Island is tucked just several hundred yards off shore in the southwestern corner of Lake Kabetogama. Facing away from the resorts and private camps that line the lake edge, the island sits like a shy child caught in the midst of a party—its tree-lined shoulder turned inward, protecting on the other side a small rocky bay.
Set ablaze by the late September sun, its evergreen shore warms to gold. The small island barely visible beyond misted morning water, by evening, has found itself in the spotlight.

Echo Island, afternoon sun

Taking a direct path from the sand beach just beyond our cabin’s doorstep across this narrow band of water, skirting the gilt edge of Echo Island, we found the rocky bay, entered and pulled the canoe up onto a sequestered 20-ft beach.

Butter and Eggs, Linaria vulgaris

Once privately owned, as was the case with many islands which over the years have become part of Voyageurs National Park, remnants of its previous life remain. From within a tumbled pile of what must have been, years ago, a meticulously built rock wall entry, a mink watches our slow progression onto land, and then disappears into the depths of the woods. There is a park campsite here, complete with one-seater and bear-locker, available to anyone at any time.

American Red Squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

On this day we find it empty, inhabited only by a most irritated red squirrel whose duties of the collection and disposal of pine cones evidently our mere presence has interrupted.
In the change of ownership, this small resident has risen in stature.

Red Pine with lichen-covered bark

Dense and damp within, the woods of Echo Island, aside from birdsong, are silent. A heavy blanket of needles from towering red and white pine carpets the ground. Soft and fertile beneath it, a bed of dark organic matter has formed on top of the sandy base.

moss and lichen

Cushions of moss run over every rock and envelope every fallen form.
Into it reach the roots of delicate wildflowers.
Lichens cover bark and branch.

Pink Corydalis, Corydalis sempervirens

Nose to the ground in this well-appointed space, I can see Pixie Cups and Fairy Thimbles, Witches’ Beard above me, and British soldiers below--
named for the shapes they resemble, to be sure.

Pixie cups

And perhaps for the enchantment left by time spent in the places where one might find them.
For I thought I caught a glimpse of something magical there.

Harebell aka Fairy Thimbles, Campanula rotundifolia

Squire's Table

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wandering back through my summer

I woke to a leaden sky, and a cold, damp dawn that in every way spoke of winter’s return.
I love this season more than do most--its character of change, its constant contrast from the delicate vulnerability of a single snowflake to the strength and fury of a stinging blizzard. But, given a shorter day, one bound by a hesitant sunrise and hasty sunset, I am left with little time to be in the outdoors.
It’s just as well.
This is the space between the holidays.

To that, introduce deer hunting season with its dangers to off-trail pursuits, and it's likely that a trip to the store or a jaunt along a tamer trail will, in this time, replace my walk in the woods.
I wander through my summer memories.

Lake Kabetogama
Voyageurs National Park

This is Lake Kabetogama (Ka-buh-toh'-guh-muh), an expanse of cool, clear northern Minnesota water that, linked with Rainy Lake, Sand Point Lake, and Lake Namakan, makes up Voyageurs National Park.

Un voyageur

Named for the apparently very large French Canadian voyageurs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who paddled canoes for fur trading companies along a route between Canada's northwest and Montreal, its 55-mile length is a maze of inland waterways including over 30 lakes and 900 islands. In addition to its being a water-based park, meaning that the access to sites within its boundary is primarily by boat, Voyageurs National Park is the most recent addition to the national park system, having been acquired just 35 years ago, in 1975.

The dock
Moosehorn Resort

With walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, small mouth bass, and crappie abundant in these large lakes, fishing is by far its greatest draw. Try to find just one poster promoting the area that does not boast a boatful of broadly smiling fishermen or a toothless child proudly displaying his record-breaking catch.

common mergansers on the lake

But the attraction for me was its wilderness.
Accessible to any who wishes to hike the miles of backcountry trails or step out of canoe or kayak onto the land once walked by the Chippewa, the morning air rings with the call of the loon.
A wolf print is left in the soft mud along the trail.
And the still water is parted by a beaver swimming at dusk to his lodge at the edge of this small island.

Echo Island
Lake Kabetogama, Minnesota

Translated as Rough Waters, Lake Kabetogama at 25,000-acres in size can in one moment become a small craft’s captain’s nightmare. Wind raging its length piles 5-ft waves on top of its 80-ft depths. Islands become the only refuge in a storm.
But, each morning it lay again invitingly still—shrouded in a heavy fog that obscured both boat and bird.
And begged to be discovered.

Foggy Morning

Morning Sun

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