Jun 22, 2011

Solstice Wolf

I spent a whole summer up here and never saw a bear. Or a wolf. Less than two months after getting up here this year and I've got both of them in my sights, plus a mamma moose and a baby moose and a bull moose. Ever since I saw those dark black wolves skipping across two feet of snow on Squirrel Lake at about 80 mph back in Wisconsin, I've been yearning... aching... for another encounter with the canine rex of the woods, and on the longest day of the year, my wish was granted.
Click pic for big version

I was out in the remotes, driving a hiker to the far end of the park, when we came around a corner and saw it running directly at us, up the roadway... It's a baby moose, was my first thought, but it quickly stopped it's trot and wheeled to the north, escaping our sight up into the brush... And there was no question, that was the closest I'd ever been to a timber wolf, and it was a lunker. I stopped the truck where it ran in and whispered out... here, chip chip. whoo whoo whoo...

Nothing. The woods shimmered, we're hiding him, get along, so long, so long.

So we proceeded, never got a picture, goose-bumps both. I told the hiker, most folks never get that close, I've not done it, no, that's a rare thing you just experienced... I rolled down the window and gave a loud yip into the wilds. That's something most don't get to see, that's a good omen for your hike. We both smiled... We knew it was special.

I marked the mileage and on my way back through I stopped on the spot... a straightaway a mile past a moose pond. No track though. No sign. A ghost like all the rest, probably... A long gravel road and just me and a truck and the silence. Three miles back to the turn, 14 miles to the road home. Nothing. Maybe he was watching me. Nope. Alright let's go... 

I took a sip of coffee and put the truck in gear, went around probably three corners and then I saw him again, running in the same direction but away from the truck this time. He was at least twice as far away this time, but you could still tell how big he was. A tall beast. Lanky. His head would have reached up over the front of the truck, easy. The legs on this thing... an easy trot, gliding west.

But this time it held the road, finally turning back and looking at me, idling in the road. I got my camera out and fired off a few shots, blindly out the window, mesmerized. Smokey mixtures of grey with red shoots out of the back, it gazed back at me with a calm curiosity, then trotted off to the north again... hiding out until the roadway was cleared... The same wolf twice! Or maybe it was a different member of the pack, if there was a pack on this long and rainy day, this solstice, noon exactly.
Nice print, notice the next step in the upper right.

I caught my breath and pulled up to where it dissolved into the woods, put the truck in park and got out, leaving the door wide open. Up ahead I caught the tracks in the shoulder of the forest road, big wolf tracks, almost as big as my hand out-stretched. There was moose tracks on the same line, too. Was my boy following the moose? Coincidence? Hard to say. Back to the truck and home, full of hope, excitement, coffee. Back darkness, today we appreciate the light. 

Jun 18, 2011

Monsters on the Clearwater Loop

Me and the fellers got out to the beach yesterday, as it finally got above 70 and we all had the afternoon off. Great time. We met a few other fellow trail residents, including a couple with a big friendly black dog named Monster. All of us had a blast playing catch on the endless sandbar, and it felt like summer for the first time. 
Johnson Falls, cooking

A week earlier the majority of our Clearwater crew got the rare opportunity for a group camping trip in June, and with two nights on the table we set out on the Clearwater Loop - one of our most popular trips in the mountainous eastern boundary waters: Clearwater to Caribou, to Little Caribou to Pine (passing Johnson Falls) to McFarland, to John to Little John to the Royal River, to Royal Lake to South Fowl to North Fowl to Moose to Vaseux to Fan to Mountain and finally back into Clearwater. Although we paddled this route in June it had yet to feel like summertime in the northern wilds, with vicious winds peppering our faces as we looked across the water into Canada. But it was no longer springtime, either. The bugs were thick, the nights no longer cold. 
After work on Monday we set out on calmer waters, racing all the way to the middle of Pine, one of the biggest lakes in the region, finally securing a dynamite campsite on the north shore, which featured a huge granite slab on the shoreline. Once night fell, Martini led a fantastic craw-dad hunt amongst the rocks, and we managed to fill the kettle for a breakfast feast. 
I was feeling alive, like an animal, so I grabbed my sleeping bag and set up on the slab under the stars that night, the first time I've done that in a long time. Clear skies and the Milky Way running over my left shoulder, the sound of doomed craw-dads scratching at the pot to my right, I remember thinking, wondering, I guess, what the chances were that this was real... giggling...
In the morning the light was uncoordinated, probably because of the storm moving towards us.
We waited out the rain and ate tiny lobsters, then began a long day of paddling into the wind. For all of us, it was the first serious paddling of the year. By afternoon we had made our way out to the border lakes and into Moose, where turning back west, the waves worked with us.
Approaching a mild point, Erik proclaimed someone would catch a fish here, and sure enough, it was his trolling line that was soon crushed by a monster laker, which we later ate for dinner on Mountain.
 Tuesday night I was seduced into the art of hammockry, and I must say it was comfortable sleep-floating between two pines. Erik and Tori, also in hammocks, reported the sounds of a terrible attack on the Canadian side of the lake during the night.
They said it sounded like an animal had become a meal, screaming. 
The wind shifted back to the west on Wednesday, and we struggled home, sore and happy. Once unpacked we hit up Trail Center for Prime Rib Night and feasted ourselves, satisfied. Then it was back to work, and thoughts of new adventures...

Jun 3, 2011

Passport renewal portal

Planning a month-long trip into Canada's Quetico Provincial Park this October, I need to renew my passport so I can get my RIBC for extended paddling operations across the border... Which meant I needed to find my old passport and get new pictures taken. Luckily I packed my 1999 passport and the Grand Marais Postal Office has a 'specialized' 2x2 photo setup.
Thought it would be interesting to look at them side-by-side, and I wondered to both of them, who is that person? What are you thinking? What are you looking for?
Same as always, I guess: Adventure. But that doesn't say it all...
I think about everything that's happened since 1999 and it just baffls the mind. How far have you come in the last decade and change? Then naturally I think: Who will I be in another 13 years?
Today is tomorrow, though.
2011 finds me living amongst the capillaries of civilization, near the skin and nerve endings, but maybe this wild country is more civilized than the tikky-tak down south? At any rate, I get to sit in a canoe at 5 in the morning and look at things like this:
And this:
Remember, Friendo, Today is Tomorrow... I'm not sure whether to appreciate or laugh at the absurdity of time


Here's a few more random pics from the last week:
Banjo Creek is full of tiny brookies!
Herb garden rabbit-proofed with stumps, shoots showing.
Magnetic Rock Trail, berry scouting. Magnetic Mystery Rock and debris field originated from impact crater in the Upper Peninsula, I'm told.
My spiritual, fitness and wardrobe guru, Doctor Kwas, with a nice false morel.