birch trees stand in contrast to vibrant folliage in
Minnesota's North Shore.
ó Rattling down Highway 61 toward Lutsen, Minn., just
past dawn, I squinted to watch a shaggy gray animal lope
across the road. "Whatís that? A dog?" I was
pretty sure it wasnít, but I didnít want to look
foolish. Ever the optimist, I had been fooled before; Iím
forever mistaking tree-ensnared plastic bags for owls, or
ordinary crows for eagles.
though, was no dog. Doug slowed the Jeep and we watched
the animal trot up a driveway, pass a sleeping house, and
disappear into the woods. "Wow," he said.
fall, my husband and I head north for a week of hiking. In
the old days, when I lived in Duluth, I could zip up the
Shore any old time, even just for the afternoon, but since
moving to the Twin Cities it has become a major
production, involving time off work, bags of gear and
provisions, and five hours in the car. We almost always go
in late autumn, when there are few people and even fewer
bugs. The weather can be anything from sweltering to
freezing, but as the leaves drift down, the views of Lake
Superior from the ridge along the Sawtooth Mountains grow
unobstructed and there is no better way to bid summer
were staying in a rented cabin five miles up the Caribou
Trail from Lutsen along with our two dogs and our friend
Erik, who joined us for a few days on his way to Europe.
We had brought, but would not need, rain gear. Also: wool
caps, Polarfleece jackets, and mittens, all of which
seemed foolish in light of the glorious weather. The days
were spectacular ó warm and sunny, the brilliant golds
and reds slightly past peak but still dazzling. Except for
sleeping, we spent all of our time outside.
the mornings, we took our coffee down to the dock to watch
the mist rise off Caribou Lake and to see how close the
grebe family would come to shore. In the long afternoons,
we lounged on the deck eating smoked fish from Zupís
grocery store in Silver Bay and laughing at a chipmunk and
a blue jay as they fought over a feeder full of seeds.
(The chipmunk always won.) In the evenings, we strolled
back down to the dock to watch the sun set over the
colorless water. Even at dusk, the air was balmy, and
winter felt very far away.
morning Erik packed me, the cowardly non-swimmer, into his
kayak and pushed me off toward a quiet bay, where I
paddled about tippily. It was so shallow I could easily
have beached myself on a rock, or waded back if I
capsized, but it was also a lovely perspective, floating
along at grebe-level, looking down at the swirling
minnows, tormenting my dog Rosie, who stared after me from
shore. When I paddled back to the dock, she leaped into
the water and splashed out to greet me.
then it was Erikís turn. He turned the kayak toward the
open lake and was gone the rest of the afternoon. Every
now and then he texted us a picture of an eagle or a hawk.
"Cell reception out here is great!" he messaged.
by then Doug and I were getting happily lost in the woods.
This was what we had needed, for months ó one solid week
of unstructured time, poking around, outside, in the wild.
the next few days, we hiked miles ó to Hellacious
Overlook, to Alfredís Pond, to our favorite spots along
the Superior Hiking Trail. The dogs wore blaze-orange
vests which we Velcroed around their sturdy bodies; even
deep in the forest, we could hear the boom! boom! of the
grouse huntersí guns.
trudged single-file along pine-needle paths, watching for
wildlife. But the weather remained stubbornly summer-like,
and the woods were sleepily quiet. In years past, we had
scared up grouse, followed eagles through the trees,
spotted a black bear and a snowy owl (not together), and
spooked deer. One autumn we rounded a bend only to
encounter a shaggy, huge-headed moose, and we
instinctively grabbed the collars of the dogs, who were
both too startled to bark a word. But this year, other
than a bold young fox that hung around our cabin, we didnít
see so much as scat.
night, we built a campfire and stretched out our legs,
toasting our toes. Doug tossed another birch log onto the
blaze and we watched the sparks fly up into the dark. High
above us, the sky turned milky white and green, and
pulsated: the Northern Lights.
chatted about our day, our jobs, Erikís upcoming trip to
Italy, and then ó "Shhh. Whatís that?"
Through the trees came a haunting, spooky chorus, three
times: Arrrrrooooo. Arrrrooooo. Arrroooooo. I was glad the
dogs were shut in the cabin. Wolves, and they sounded
Erik left, the days grew chillier. One night there was
strong wind and hard rain, and in the morning many of the
trees were bare. We dug out the hats and Polarfleece, and
we wrapped Rosie and Riley in blaze-orange, but there was
no need; the grouse hunters had moved on. The wind felt
sharp and Novembery, and the choppy gray water of desolate
Alfredís Pond had whitecaps.
night, we built one last campfire, but this time the
wolves stayed quiet and clouds blocked any Northern
Lights. It occurred to me that I hadnít seen the
friendly fox for days. Even the chipmunk had disappeared.
spent that last evening packing the Jeep, stuffing it with
our books and clothes and unused rain gear, and eating all
the leftover smoked fish so as not to haul it home.
next morning, we woke up to snow. We had gone up north to
bid farewell to summer, but over one cold night it was
summer that said goodbye to us.