Labour Day at Lake Superior

Autumn graciously hung back and allowed summer to run a last blue-sky Labour Day weekend. The summer people have headed south. Yesterday the highway was clogged with camper vans; today there are only the familiar trucks. Beth and the maintenance crew are scrubbing down the primly-named “comfort stations” for winter storage, clearing out the fire-pits, chaining the gates to the campsite.

Autumn graciously hung back and allowed summer to run a last blue-sky Labour Day weekend. The summer people have headed south. Yesterday the highway was clogged with camper vans; today there are only the familiar trucks. Beth and the maintenance crew are scrubbing down the primly-named “comfort stations” for winter storage, clearing out the fire-pits, chaining the gates to the campsite. The contract naturalists have packed up their slides and unclipped their nametags. The rest of the staff, freed from preparing endless talks and nature hikes, have time to play.

In the afternoon I tried to find the old Frater trail with Ranger Tim and Chris, another naturalist. Earl Devlin, who settled this little Beaver Rock cove in the twenties, had cut this trail himself. It ran four miles uphill to the train station at Frater Junction so the family could collect supplies on foot. It’s so long out of use we never knew if we’d found it or not as we bushwhacked and followed old logging tracks, stepping over bear scat and mounds of moose droppings. Fresh moose dung looks just like chocolate-covered almonds, a thought which had tormented me on the Coastal Trail some weeks ago. Bear scat looks like small cowpats.
   “Is that because of all the berries?” I asked.
   “No, bears shit soft no matter what they eat,” said Tim authoritatively. I was glad I’d had the foresight to pack two naturalists.

We pushed through stands of balsam fir and crossed a gravel pit and then a creek, picking the last of the raspberries. Up on the ridge stood massive yellow birch, somehow missed or left by the loggers in this new-growth area. From the rotten stump of one giant grew three saplings: a maple, a white pine, and a red pine. The white pine had been cropped by a beaver.

Tim gave me jewel-weed tubes to chew, each tiny, saffron-like thread pinched off the end of a red-orange flower that looked like an orchid. The drop of nectar sweetened my tongue. Hummingbirds love them. Then he gave me small twigs of yellow birch to chew: wintergreen again. Manufacturers used to extract it from wintergreen leaves, then from yellow birch (it’s synthesized now). Snowberries have that exact flavour, too. Why is it so common in nature?

Chris caught a tiny spring-peeper tree frog, bleached as a sand-crab, with suckers on each exaggerated finger. I popped a puffball to see the spores rise in a dusty cloud. We picked some morel-like fungus with an intense mushroomy scent to identify later, not realising we’d be too drunk and lazy to pull the books out. Tim wrung a cup of water out of a clump of spagnum moss, a naturalist’s party trick after five dry days. They confirmed each other’s species-identification in a comfortable shorthand while I lagged behind twenty-year-old Chris, as unsure of this jargon as if he were discussing his favourite PlayStation games. The blackflies chewed at the tops of my ears while I swatted uselessly and shouted “Feck off! You should be dead! It’s September.”

We turned back after a few hours being happily lost. A defrosted chicken and a glass of wine called, along with the promise of a fine beach sunset to drop the curtain on the summer. It was warm enough to be still giggling there after dark, a demolished bottle of Viognier and some beers stuck neck-down in the sand, while the chicken managed alone in the barbecue. A yellow crescent moon hung dead-centre in the lake and lit a tempting canoe trail to the horizon. Stars shot towards the water. My warmly-lit log cabin sent a homesteader’s welcome from the little hill.

I’ve always loved September, a month studded with more new-year possibilities than dreary January. I love every megabyte of the first-day-at-school pictures my teary friends send of their kids. I am fizzing with ideas for the next few months–a visit from Leelila? from Adam? October in Ottawa with Claire? A roadtrip down the west coast from Vancouver to San Diego? Winter in Ireland? Or in a cottage in Spain? A book proposal?

Oh, lordy, it is great to be poor, and free, and rich in friends.

3 thoughts on “Labour Day at Lake Superior”

  1. “WATERRFALL,” The Hndrix cover on wrecking ball, sounds beter than the original. do you think it might be a HAWAIAN tune? best suited to the ukelele?

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