An American merganser sits on a raft a short way out from the shore of Ham Lake as I was coming out earlier. Her marking identified her as a hen.

She crouched and rested herself for a short time, letting a light wind gently rock the raft under her. After a few moments she stood up and began to preen herself luxuriously, on her shoulders, under her wings, on top of her tail. After a good rest she took off for other parts, launching herself like an arrow in her straight, strong flight.

I found the woods showing the aging of late summer, almost everything still full green before the first frost, which is due tonight. But here and there one sees the yellow and brown of first fall change.

Normally I don’t talk about squirrels in the summertime, but save them for midwinter, when there is less animal life around. But you’ll forgive me for one anecdote that  has more to do with nature in general than with squirrels. I caught a red squirrel in one of these Hav-A-Hart live traps and put the trap by the car to carry him away, because he had become a regular at the bird feeder. This morning as we prepared to go I found the poor little fellow had died. I laid him out carefully on a brush pile.

As I looked at him, it set me to thinking there must be several thousand of these red squirrels across northern Minnesota. Yet a year from now almost all of these will be dead, having been replaced by the next generation that has come to succeed them.

And yet what a thorough housekeeper mother nature is (I know I have mentioned this before, it staggers my imagination). As I looked at the little fellow on the brush pile it occurred to me that in four score years of experience in the woods I have never seen a dead squirrel in the woods. Or much of anything else, for that matter. The woods could be a garbage heap. Hmm. How thoroughly mother nature disposes of the dead.

Now there’s a sight! A yellow headed blackbird just flew by in the open space of sky in front of and above me. He was sounding off with great umbrage with his ack ack ack ack. That’s first for me here.

An now a ruby-throated hummingbird just flew by my head. He hovered for a few moments five feet to my left, and then flew off. He gave me a good look at him.

And now another one comes in, hovers a bit and then flies off. This is getting to be hummingbird haven.

I must confess, however, that I am wearing a red cap. Their appearance probably doesn’t have anything to do with my sweet disposition.

And now the ground cover rustles to my left, and I suspect the arrival of chipmunk. Sure enough, there he is. I can make out his stripes among the leaves. He sees me, I am sure, but he doesn’t seem to mind me if I remain still.

Now chipmunk No. 2 noses in from my left, nibbling away at something. And here comes No. 3 from in front of me. And there goes pileated woodpecker by. His loud kik kik kik closes off my day.

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.


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