Ah! It is good to be back in the deep woods by Ham Lake again. I have taken some minutes just to sit and let it soak in.
Heat settles on the land from a very muggy day, and it is good to find refuge in the woodland shade of the tall Norway pines. A light breeze from the lake behind me stirs the air just enough to ripple the leaves of some poplar trees nearby and give a pleasant feel to the air in the woods.
I have disturbed the woods by coming here and settling in. The insects naturally romp in to check me out but in time, after I’m quiet for awhile and my body cools off, they no longer find me, except for a stray visitor or two. One deer fly pays me the compliment of tasting me.
Now chipmunk visits me, scooting about among the ivy and fern forest floor cover about five feet ahead of me. That floor cover is just the right height, about eight inches, to give him excellent cover as he meanders about. Soon he disappears, only to surprise me with a squeal a few minutes later, when he comes upon me unexpectedly from another direction.
An osprey sails across an open patch of sky above me, apparently out fishing either in Ham Lake behind me or in Hay Lake, 500 yards to my left. He drifts lazily above the tree tops for a bit, then disappears west.
The woods are lush with growth now from some recent good rains. In a small opening in the woods I find some fresh wild raspberries as I walk about. The path into the woods today was practically obscured with growth, since I hadn’t disturbed it.
The flowering dogwood, which is no longer flowering now, of course, is putting out its seeds. I had once seen it bloom gorgeous white blossoms in May.
Now it produces seed like its continued existence depended on it. I picked one small stem and counted eight branchlets on it with 14 seeds on it. I see eight such stems on each small limb of the little tree and 10 such limbs on that tree. This it produced every year. It plans to survive with gusto.
A common loon passes overhead, headed for Hay Lake. I’ll hear his plaintive wail tonight.
The American hazelnut bushes flourish on the hillside 50 yards to my right. I am curious why I have never seen produce from that bush, which is so plentiful in these pine woods. I only mention this because I am intrigued by associations one finds with so relatively unimportant a bush. Is it coincidence?
Until a year ago, when a forester introduced the bush to me, I had never heard of it. A month or two later at a coffee shop, I saw hazelnut coffee offered on the menu.
Yesterday I was reading Barry Lopez’ northern studies book, “Arctic Dreams,” and he described an edible portion of the narwhal (of all creatures) as tasting like hazelnut (of all tastes). One is left with the feeling that after all is said and done, it is a relatively small planet on which we live.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.