Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Red Jacket

I've returned from a trip to my home state where I savored the best winter in 30 years. Knee deep snow, freshened almost daily to maintain its brilliant whiteness combined with an equally white cold, crisp and dry, the slightest wind stinging the skin. I walked my favorite hikes through the gray deciduous forest and along the banks of a frozen over Mississippi River.

Thoughts come fast as I run the Harrison portage. Each step a thought, each ten steps a change in theme.

My friend, Richard, writes of "losing the light" in a fine story that merges his father and their experiences in the outdoors. It is a rich metaphor for so many things. When I arrived in Minnesota, my dad handed me his old red wool jacket. It's RCMP red, really red. He's had it for forty years and I wondered what had become of it. I've wanted it for some time, but would never go so far as to ask. How did he know? It fit perfectly and I wear it today. It will get worn many more days. "Losing the light" brings that all to mind. Losing the light.

So much has happened in the ten days that I have been off the water. I don't know what any of those things are, I just know, and I am here often enough to recognize them when I see them. I set out on the big lake calm under gray skies. The hills that rim the lake have little color left in them, the greens giving way. A thin mist falls at times from the sky, although fall may be the wrong word. A thin mist occupies the air. There are some common mergansers, some western grebes and many goldeneyes, the latter two, birds that come here more often in bad weather.

At the big lodge I retrieve a tire from a foot of water. It is an arm breaker releasing it from the bottom with the mud that has packed its entirety. Turning into the east channel of the burial island I find a pair each of northern pintails and green winged teal. The channel is very shallow today and choked with deadfall from nearby alders. I take and hour and cut and haul wood clear of the channel with a rope and saw that I packed today.

Work done, I head north to seek out the changes that I know have happened, for they are not here. I am rewarded spotting a merlin on the north shore. Change 1 - the 75 foot long dirtberg that laid off of the north point has sunk. Change 2 - the "chop top tree", a landmark in my maps of the bay, has been cut down. It was ugly as hell, the owners long ago having butchered its limbs so that it was nothing more than a 20 foot tall stump.

I get out in the NE lagoon to check animal tracks, finding many good raccoon prints and good beaver sign. I find a second dead goose that scavengers have just started to eat. I cast some raccoon tracks but ruin the casting when I lift it some ten minutes too soon.

As I cross the bay to my exit, I spot an eagle to the left, then two more and finally a fourth. They are disturbing the coots and ducks something fierce, but there is no hunt going on here. They are circling and whistling and interested only in each other. I've seen this before and I believe it is a territorial discussion. When eagles moved into the south nest I noticed that the north nest pair changed its hunting and eating perches. All this commotion is occurring just about where the imaginary dividing line is between the north and south nests.

As I portage home, a woman stops and tells me that they have my postcard from this project. She says her husband wants to go out with me sometime. I tell her that I'm up for it.

1 comment:

Kathleen Faulkner said...

Ah, yes, the red jacket.. for me, it was the green filson. Such gifts.