Stepping stones

We’ve recently returned from a three-week road trip to visit family and explore new places. We experienced sun and heat, smoke-filled days and nights, a full moon, and a sky filled with countless stars. We traveled through miles of corn, soybeans, sunflowers, grasslands, badlands, prairies, mountains, and black hills. The diversity and beauty of our country is truly amazing.

On our return to Minnesota we stayed one night at Lake Shetek State Park in the southwestern part of the state. As we explored the park and lake we walked across a causeway connecting the lake shoreline to Loon Island. The causeway was constructed as part of a WPA program. Earlier in the day I had seen a family swimming and relaxing at the end of the causeway. But as I walked again in the calm of late evening my attention was drawn to these rocks that extended from the sandy beach into the lake. Their pattern seemed to be welcoming me back to the land of 10,000 lakes and asking me to come along, follow each one, into the coolness of the lake.

A quiet morning at the lake

It was still early in the morning. The red sun had risen and managed to shine its light through the smoke and haze that has blanketed our area. There were swallows sweeping above and over the lake, gathering insects, resting on the pontoon cover, then continuing their aerial acrobatics. Occasionally I could hear a bird off in the distance. But as I sat at the end of the dock, my attention was focused about 20 yards in front of me. A loon was gracefully floating by, intent on things other than my presence. It went to the south, then to the north, and then it dove under the surface. After what seemed like an unusually long time, it reappeared…with a snail and some greenery that it found on the lake bottom. It floated by me, turned, dropped everything from its beak, dove down again, and disappeared for another long time, only to resurface way out in the center of the lake.

I treasure these simple moments – the quiet of the morning, the birds, fish, and animals doing what they do in the early hours of daylight, and the ritual that has played out for decades and eons. And I try to imagine someone sitting by this same lake shore observing a similar moment one hundred, two hundred, maybe three hundred years ago.

An unsettling summer sunrise

The other morning dawned cool and calm. There was steam coming off the lake surface, and the sun was a red ball rising into a hazy yellow and murky sky. It was quiet except for the sounds of geese and ducks calling off in the distance. On this day there was never much of a wind so the sky never cleared to it’s usual bright blue.

We’ve had numerous days like this one of hazy sunshine, partly due to increased humidity but also from the smoke of Canadian and northern Minnesota wildfires that have drifted into the area. The sunrises and sunsets have been unusual and unsettling, and yet quite beautiful.

A carpet of trillium

Spring has been announced by the bright green leaves that are emerging and by the ephemerals that are popping up before the tree canopy is full. The white trillium have pushed through the carpet of leaves and winter’s debris to open up to the bright sunshine. Each flower has three white petals that bloom above the three broad leaves. For a very brief time the woodlands of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are brighter with a carpet of white trillium.

Spring emerging

It’s the shortest season here in the North. We’ve had snow and cold, freeze warnings in the mornings, and then it’s spring. All around plants, birds, animals are emerging. The ground is littered with leaves, pine needles, twigs, and branches. The trees are budded so there is no shade over the garden. But if you get down to ground level and look closely there are signs of spring. The trillium are up above the dead leaves and some of the other wildflowers are poking their shoots and leaves up. These ferns are about eight inches tall now but they will be hip height in a matter of a week. The fernheads are wrapped tightly in a ball but they will unfurl and spread their own shade over the ground below. And quickly the temperatures will rise, the humidity will increase, the lightning will crack and the thunder will roll, and spring will have passed to summer.