Friday, April 30, 2010

Full Circle Superior: Just keep going

You ever want to just keep going? Head out with no plans to turn around?

Kate Crowley and Mike Link took off yesterday morning on the very first leg of their walk around Lake Superior.

It was quite a scene in Canal Park for a blustery April day normally reserved for gliding gulls and stormwatchers. Mike has always been a people magnet, with his charisma and his knowledge of the natural world, so I was not surprised as he led and read his way through his own kick-off ceremony. The wind and the waves washed out most of his readings and Kate's thank you's, but the spirit was infectious.

It was pretty cute to watch Mike and Kate with their children and grandchildren. The big crowd accompanied them as far as the Lift Bridge and the start of the sand beach.

They will be accompanied by an RV sag wagon, and most of their hikes will be daylong stretches along the shoreline and adjacent trails. Watch for their rig at various beaches and overlooks as they head counter-clockwise around the big lake.

I think this will be a great experience for them, and I'm optimistic that they'll complete their journey. I might even join them for a day or two late this summer or fall as they come down the Minnesota shore.

Guess what? They started their hike with a hike out of our forthcoming Hiking the North Shore! Hike 7: Duluth Beach Walk. Except they're not going to turn around and come back like a day hiker would.

They are going to just keep going.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Best time for the trees

"The best time to plant trees was twenty years ago.
The second best time is now."

That's wisdom from the Minnesota Tree Planting Handbook. It's especially true the next two weeks on the North Shore. Community groups and resorts are all ready for a busy tree planting season, and they really want your help. Earn a very cheap stay at a Gunflint lodge, or just help out the neighbors in Hovland.

The Gunflint GreenUp has become a huge event. After the 2007 Ham Lake fire,Gunflint residents and businesses turned crisis into opportunity. It's not just a tree-planting event, it's also a half-marathon and live music with dancing. It's May 7-8. They've had so much success planting trees that they aren't planting anymore, instead doing the VERY important work of clearing grass away from the trees that were already planted. That's called "releasing," and there's lots of work to do.

If you really want to plant trees on the Gunflint, get in touch with Boundary Country Trekking. They're planting trees along the Banadad Trail. Stay at Poplar Creek Guesthouse for cheap and help out. Their dates are April 30-May 2, May 7-9, and May 14-16. Volunteers eat well and stay two nights double occupancy for $89. Call Barb or Ted at (800) 322-8327 or write

On the North Shore proper, head for Hovland on May 1 or May 8. The good folks of the Flute Reed Partnership are planting 1300 white pine, black spruce and white spruce. Meet at 9:00 AM at the Hovland Town box lunches will be provided! Contact Rick Schubert if you have any questions,

Plant trees...good for you, and good for the North Shore.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Looking for Old Sam Peabody

Walking through Duluth's Canal Park this morning, on my way to a meeting at the Amazing Grace bakery, I heard a very familiar song through the din of traffic and construction. Like in the old game show "Name That Tune," I could name that tune in three notes.

"Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody."

(or was it "Oh My Canada Canada Canada?"

I went three or four summers in the BWCA hearing the song of the white-throated sparrow but never ever seeing the bird. They hide so well in the thick shrubs next to the lakes. So I listened hard and the next time the sparrow called I walked in the direction of the sound. I did that three or four times until I reached a little corner of rocks and spruce trees in the corner of the parking lot, I was surprised to pick out the bird right away, perched on a short mugo pine. Like in the BWCA, these shrubs were near water, the famous Canal Park fish fountain.

The video above captures another whitethroat on another pine tree. I love how the video captures the bird listening, looking around, hearing other sparrows sing, then launching into its own song. Actually, it's just like our psycho poodle, who goes out on the porch and does the same sequence. Listen, look around, bark, listen, bark.

Poor little lonesome white-throated sparrow was looking for love in all the wrong places. I hope he's moved on to some fitting shoreline or outcrop deep in the North Woods. But I'm glad I found him when and where I did.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

North Shore ski season review: One finger up

Someone must have found this glove and placed it oh so delicately...and provocatively...on a shrub next to the Piedmont ski trail here in Duluth.

Probably there was no foul intent, but it sums up a lot of peoples' feelings about the sudden and early end to the ski season here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Memo to green things: Be careful now

The dog and I walked...WALKED...the Piedmont ski trail here in Duluth today. The alder bushes look like a cluster of shy scared green people stepping outdoors all wrapped in heavy blankets and just beginning to let the blankets go loose.

Yes, it's the end of April and I had no right to think I might still be skiing. Still, the last time I was there it was very early March and the woods were full of snow. The air today was gray and cold and nearly felt like snow, after weeks of way-above temperature. Two miles from Lake Superior and I could still feel her chilly breath.

Anyway, the North Shore forest seems to be responding reluctantly to the early warm spring. Yesterday's 30 degree temperature drop in 30 minutes might have made the green things a bit more reluctant, like they're saying, "Told you so."

Yet the shrubs in the woods inevitably leaf out. It's like Nature Central sent out a memo.

April 21, 2010
To: Plants
From: Nature
Re: Green up

The warm early spring might have fooled you. Green up should begin, but be careful now.

Flowers are starting to come up as well, like the Canada mayflower slowly unrolling the first of its two leaves. In today's gray and cold, nothing seemed to be in much of a hurry.

The only plant that seemed like it was getting ahead of itself were the marsh-marigolds down in the little forest cricks. Their leaves were big and bold, and the flower buds already have a yellow hue. Maybe they didn't get the memo.

This is spring on the North Shore. The wind may shift, and the temps may not hit 60 again until June. Yet nature marches along.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I now pronounce you goofy

On my drive back from Arizona, I listened to the audio version of William Kent Krueger's Purgatory Ridge. Purgatory Ridge is a fictional North Shore location, just west of Beaver Bay. It was pretty cool running across dry flat South Dakota while immersed in Northeastern Minnesota. The mystery plot is riveting and the action spreads from Ely to the North Shore to the depths of Lake Superior.

The CD's producer, Books in Motion is based in Washington State. The Northwest performer, in addition to relying heavily on "Fargo" for his Scandinavian character accents, has some issues with pronouncing North Shore landmarks:

Here's "Tett-a-goo-chee"

Okay, that's a common mistake. But here's "Grand Ma-ray-iss"

The little town at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 1 is "ILL-ghen." Oh, and the vast Ontario wilderness north of the BWCA apparently is pronounced "kwa-TEEK-oh."

My own town's name is butchered all the time. At the Super 8 in Dillon, Colorado, the clerk read my address as "DULL-ith."

Thanks for trying. Next time, check those pronunciations with the author, who knows better.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yield to the trail

A good trail gives you comfort. There's a reason those blue blazes on the Superior Hiking Trail are called "assurance markers." The SHT is well-marked and easy to follow, but it's still comforting to see those rectangles of paint.

Today I hiked five miles through Canyonlands National Park on the Neck Spring Trail, up in Island in the Sky. The first quarter mile of the trail was very hard to follow. The route ran on slickrock and vandals had knocked down many of the cairns. I felt unsettled. It was not enjoyable. If I'm hiking, especially if I'm hiking alone, I like to walk and enjoy the surroundings, not focus on the turns of the path.

Eventually the cairns got better and the route became clear. And I could relax and yield to the trail. I loved it. The cairns were set up just perfectly so as you approached one, the next one came into sight. The cairns led the perfect route down the Navajo Sandstone to the valley below.

Yesterday I had to yield even more. I had to totally set aside my own need to navigate and simply follow the leader. After at least five visits to Moab and Arches National Park, I was finally able to sign up for the guided tour of the Fiery Furnace (through, if you're wondering). The Fiery Furnace is a maze of sandstone fins in which it is VERY easy to get lost (ask me, I've been lost there). I tried for a while to keep track of where the ranger had led us, but soon realized I was thoroughly lost...and took comfort in following the group and the ranger through and out of the labyrinth.

Hiking in Canyonlands today, I kept thinking of a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Not the scene at Double Arch in the beginning, but the scene at the end as Indy works through the final challenges to reach the Holy Grail. In the last challenge, he has to have the faith to step out into the void. Which he does, only to find that there was an invisible stone beam underfoot. He proceeded safely to find the goofy immortal Knight from the Crusades.

A trail through the woods (or through the desert) is a lovely, nearly spiritual thing. I yield to the trail.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The lupines are blooming... Arizona. I went for a guided wildflower walk yesterday in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, outside Carefree. Not only lupine but the whole palette of desert wildflowers were blooming.

Naturalist Edwin Way Teale came up with one of the great big-picture observation, that spring moves north across the continent about fifteen miles per day. Let's do the math.

It's April 5. The trademark lupines along Highway 61 bloom in late June, as I've observed in this blog. According to Google Map calculator, it's 1415 miles from Carefree AZ to Beaver Bay MN. But we're as much west here as we are south (gee, that's why they call it the "Southwest"). For the Teale analysis, we're about 900 miles south.

900 miles at 15 miles a day. That would take 60 days. Which would put the Highway 61 lupines blooming June 1. It's been a freaky early spring on the North Shore, but not that early. Teale's observation is within range, however. It would have been ten or twelve miles a day instead of fifteen.

I love big broad natural history patterns! It's true, I am a nature dork.

So spring wildflowers are down here in Arizona and I can promise you they're coming north. When will the cactus bloom in Minnesota?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Goodbye old friend

My daypack for the last 20 years has been a miracle. Just a month old, it was stolen by a car prowler in Seattle and we just happened to find it in a dumpster three blocks away, emptied of anything "valuable." But far more valuable was the pack itself and all the adventures it's been on.

Wherever I've gone, it's gone too. To Germany and back. Down the Green River in Utah. And up and down and all over the North Shore, spring, summer, fall and winter.

When the seams began to burst, Get There! Designs in Ely fixed it up and made it good for another 4 or 5 years. Now the seams are really going. The nylon is so worn it won't hold the thread used to fix it.

I splurged on a new pack at REI last month. I'm not feeling real good about it yet. I found one that was as simple as the old one and nearly as big.

Thank you, Sally, for that wonderful birthday present back in 1991. May be the best present ever. Especially since I've gotten to share it with you so many times.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Coho canoe

In the early Lake Superior spring, coho salmon move in schools from the South Shore to the North Shore as the water warms, stopping for a few weeks at Duluth's Ship Canal piers. If I were only a fisherman, I'd be totally happy now, as this prime fishing spot is right in my backyard.

Instead, I just observe. Pickup trucks line our block as the guys park and head out to the piers. This spring has been so early that the motorboats are out too, trolling back and forth by our house to catch the fish many call "Lake Superior candy." Fisherman must wait hours in between bites, and the cost of those trolling boats must far, far exceed the protein value of any fish they might catch.

But the guy in the canoe was after my own heart. He paddled back and forth dragging a single line. What a great view and a great day to be out on Lake Superior.

Good luck coho canoe guy!