It was ten years ago this summer that a wave of destruction passed over the BWCA and rolled across the North Shore and Lake Superior. I remember how the sky turned green in Little Marais and my weather-wise wife exclaimed, "Something's coming!"
Ten years later, it takes an experienced eye to see the impact. I hiked around Blackstone Lake east of Ely this weekend. I remember the trail well before the blowdown, as it was the main corridor for Outward Bound groups headed in for rockclimbing at Ennis Lake. And I hiked it five years ago, when you could still see trees all flattened in one direction.
Our son, on that trail this weekend, had been a one-year-old toddler exploring my parents' cabin the day of the blowdown. Both he and the trees have grown up. Where once we saw fields of dead and down trees, the new growth of aspens and hazel and balsam fir has closed off the sight lines and hidden the downed trees. Trees grow faster than boys, if you can believe it. It's a green tunnel now, and only the experienced eye really sees the blowdown anymore.
This trail, like most of the dayhiking trails affected by the storm, was on the edge of the blowdown. Destruction in 1999 was not complete here. It was far worse in the heart of the Wilderness, and the long-distance trails like the Kek are still recovering.
Many pine trees, nimbler than the old aspen, withstood the wind here. The pines remain high above the new growth. And in some places, like the north shore of Blackstone Lake, a forest of tall red and white pines remains:
If our kids can't see the impact of the windstorm now, how long will it be until it's just a memory for all of us? The trees will keep on growing even as my boys top out at 6 feet tall. I'll be one of the old-timers soon enough, talking about the Storm of '99 to folks not even born then. They'll politely nod and smile. Blowdown? What blowdown?