We visited Voyageurs National Park the wrong way last weekend.
The park, right at the northern border of Minnesota, is more than one-third lake, and nearly all of the land is best accessed by boat — or by ice, once the lake gets there. We didn’t have a boat and had just a few hours, hardly enough to get introduced to a few hundred square miles. But it was my birthday week, and the fall colors were still hanging on, and we won’t be in Minnesota forever, and we had a beautiful Saturday to spend, so we went for it. It’s the wrong approach to truly see this place. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
We hiked the Blind Ash Bay Trail, a nice little loop near a park entrance. Golden aspen and birch leaves, long pine needles and green mosses carpeted the often waterlogged forest floor. There’s still growing to do even in October, including for spiky little plants, like miniature Christmas trees and cacti, that I’d never seen before.
Hopefully we’ll have the chance to get more thoroughly acquainted.
It’s time for another photographic sermon on the worth and beauty of the small, this time delivered in the steep, lush Silver Creek valley below Fairy Falls. The falls anchor a nice little hiking spot just on this side of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The forest there is in full swing, and so are the small-scale inhabitants of the forest floor.
I haven’t been able to identify these little green starfish-looking plants, which unfurl just a few millimeters wide. If anyone can help me out, just let me know. I do know the next photo is a crown-tipped coral fungus — an old acquaintance from down South.
Observe the little nodules that sit in the middle of each segment of these liverworts like a nucleus in a cell. They’re so small that I didn’t notice them when I was taking this photo, only after. Now that’s the good stuff.
Now that we’re getting above freezing during the day and dropping below freezing most nights, it’s starting to feel like a normal Arkansas winter up here. You all might recall my being dazzled by the delicate and varied forms ice took down south; something I didn’t appreciate fully there is that many of those forms depended on this cycle. When weeks go by below freezing, ice becomes monolithic — sheets of ice and blankets of snow. But when the process can start fresh each night, its results are more fleeting and more interesting.
For whatever reason, I’ve had the easiest time finding beauties like these this season in the humblest of places, sidewalk puddles. So I like to call them sidewalk art, crafted not with chalk or spray paint but with bubbles and H₂O.
Soon very different shapes will dominate the outdoors; some are already emerging.
This has been a winter unlike any I’ve experienced — a cold blast in the minus 20s before wind chill, several feet of snow, weeks below freezing. And all of a sudden it’s gone.
I know we could still get a snowstorm in the next month or so, but it’s hard to look around at all of the dripping and gushing and not conclude winter has lost its grip. We’ve had some moderate flooding around the Cities, including near where I work, and catastrophic flooding to the south in Nebraska and elsewhere that’s directly affecting old friends of mine and their families.
We could get some of the same, but for now, things are just soaked. This past weekend I went down to Minnehaha Creek to see the back and forth between freezing and thawing. It was a good bookend to my visit back in December when the freezing was really taking over. Streams of snowmelt have carved channels and miniature canyons in the snow and ice, and the creek is gushing.
One of my favorite things with the thaw is watching water and bubbles flow under ice and take on a lava-lamp-like mode. I also found a kind of ice that’s new to my repertoire: etched with wiggling lines as if shattered but whole and smooth to the touch.
I also went further along the creek than last time, all the way down to where it joins the Mississippi River. An orange bluff there seems to be made of the softest sandstone. People have carved names and designs all over it, of course, but I was more impressed with nature’s own contribution. The rock is covered in tree-like, branching tufts of sandstone powder that crumble to nothing at the slightest contact. Nature always one-ups us.
Happy spring, everyone! I’m as glad as anyone to see it.