The sugar maples are slowly turning, a few bright-orange prodigies lighting up the hillsides. The salmon are spawning in Speckled Trout Creek. The Mighty Bear, the local classic rock radio station, is choked with commercials for hunting gear. Jonathan, the park maintenance superintendent, promises me moose stew from the roadkill he butchers and freezes every year around this time.
The woodpile is untouched so far, except for the single log I use to prop up the head of the elderly sofa-bed every night. It is raining today, but September at Superior has been two weeks of glorious t-shirt weather, against all predictions that I’d be crouched in front of the fire. Instead I was swimming in the lake.
A huge swarm of flying ants hatched in the cabin. They flew in my face and hair and the ungainly queens crunched lightly underfoot like ant tempura. They did not succumb to a delicate swat like mosquitos, so I sprayed them with my carpenter-ant death spray and swept up hundreds of bodies. Then I began to fret about the birds eating poisoned ants.
“Most birds don’t like ants,” said Tim laconically. Smart birds. After that I marked my territory with death spray every day at 3.45pm, when the hatch of the day began.
Last time I’d had flying-ant fun was in my college flat in Dublin, where they streamed out of the wall one afternoon when we were watching _Blind Date_ instead of going to lectures. We were all hapless housekeepers, and I think it was my flatmate Pat–or possibly Phillip Bouchier-Hayes–who suggested we should pour honey all over the wooden floor to trap them. Oh, we trapped them all right. They were stuck to the floor long enough to chip off and sell as amber when we ran short of milk money.
A large family of aphids hatched by the porch picnic table when I was eating dinner on Tuesday. Most seemed to think that the purpose of their very new life was to follow the tomato salad into my mouth, and they made a mad dash whenever an opening appeared. They were delicate, gauzy creatures with white powder-puffs around their midriffs that dissolved as soon as you touched them. Presumably this powdery stuff was either for camouflage or it had a foul taste to deter birds; I can confirm it tasted foul to me. It made them look rather like the ghosts of all the striped mosquitos I’d slapped this summer; benign ghosts who didn’t sting but floated reproachfully in my September dinner.
The weather was headed towards autumn yesterday, so Tim decided to take me on a last canoe ride to Rix Township, about an hour down lake towards the Montreal River. His father bought him the red, chestnut-wood canoe the year I was born. “Nice to take the two old girls out,” he said as I climbed in, unsteady as ever. Of the two I am in marginally better shape, if only because my seat is not broken.
We passed a mink in the water, which evoked a profane Hail Mary from this recovering Catholic: “Blessed art thou, a mink swimming.” He was a sleek and beautiful furry tube, a wet weasel. They are native up here, and so are not the pests they are in Europe. We turned the canoe around to follow him, and he rewarded us with a filthy look and a powerful surface dive, reappearing behind a rock we couldn’t reach.
A bald eagle followed us out and back. Did my weedy paddling made me look a more likely prey than the mink? He perched in a tree and and watched, and I was charmed. I’d never seen a bald eagle before, and he looked just like the cranky old lads in the box of _The Muppet Show_.
Halfway out, there was a house-sized rock in the water, and above on the cliff we saw the long naked roots of a red pine, exposed when the rock fell. It happened last year or the year before, and I would have liked to have seen the explosion from a safe distance. I wanted to stay well out from the cliff face after that, but was drawn back in by the diabase dikes, crevices in the native granite filled with much younger black lava stone. Some were narrow, like Flintstone escalators in the cliff-face, but one was as wide as barn door.
We ate roast-beef sandwiches on a slab of pink rock, then turned back when the rain started and the wind picked up. Canoeing with the wind behind you is like working in a surging economy: you think that you are powering along solely due to your own skill, strength, and talent, and it can be a shock to turn around. Still, in the stern of a sturdy old canoe, maple paddle in my hand, I find bouncing over the waves as much fun as skimming fast across flat water.