Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Fall Hike in Northern Minnesota

Fall is an excellent time of year to be outdoors.  The aroma and crunch of freshly fallen leaves under foot is always a joy.  Fall is also a great time of year to see change in nature.  During the long warm days of summer animals’ chief duty is to feed a rear their young but other than that not much else goes on.  In the fall the cool days and frosty nights signal to animals winter is not far off.  As a result the woods and skies are filled with migratory songbirds and hawks.  The land mammals also move with a sense of urgency, as some know they too will be affected by the changing weather.  Squirrels and chipmunks scurry across the forest floor gather nuts and other materials for winter, while bears eat nearly every fatty food source they can find preparing their bodies for their long winter hibernation. 

Today I set out on a photo hike in the woods in my new vibram five finger treks not far from home.  As expected I found animal activity everywhere.   I was reminded of how much more there is to our world if we just slow down to the rhythms and pace of the natural world.  I typically hike very,very slowly and purposefully.  I turn my sensory perception up to the max and try to see, hear and feel everything I can as I hike.  I make it a habit to stop immediately whenever I hear a sudden sound.  Today I was barely 10 minutes into my hike when I heard a rushed scurrying noise in the woods close by.  I just froze in my tracks as always and slowly scanned the woods with eyes only and no body movement of any kind.  Not twenty or so feet away I locked eyes with a creature I had not seen in the wild for some time.  With most of the leaves on the ground this animal was unable to conceal itself and stood out on a naked tree trunk perhaps 15 feet off the ground.  I was looking right into the eyes of a pine marten.  A smile immediately bloomed on my face as the weary animal stared me down. I just moved my eyes and kept the rest of my body perfectly still.  That apparently confused him, as he seemed to ponder whether or not to jump through the branches towards me or run away.  Maybe it was my bright smile that fooled him. First he started in my direction then down the tree towards the ground and scampered along the back of a downed log and disappeared into the forest.  I always count myself lucky when I see such wild, stunningly beautiful animals in their natural habitat.  As a seasoned nature photographer I’ve seen many gorgeous, wild creatures including wolves, bears,lynx, moose and many others.  It never gets old.  The first thought that comes to mind as soon as they are out of sight is “did I really see what I think I just saw.”  It’s been that way with me for decades now.  The almost magical, elusiveness of wild things captivates my very soul.  In the woods I feel connected to every life force around me and even though I can not see the animal anymore I feel it there just beyond the trees out of sight looking back at me.    
I think I put the pieces together afterwards.  Based on what I know about pine martens I must have interrupted a hunting foray.  There were several grey squirrels shouting alarms calls throughout the woods with the loudest being the one he’d pinned near the top of a tree just as I arrived.  I kind of felt bad about it for a minute but I know pine martens like most predatory mammals are persistent and he’ll get his meal before sun down.

After about 2 hours of hiking my feet were tired so I walked down to the creek and walked right into the rushing, knee-deep water. That’s one of the many great things about Vibram five finger shoes, you never worry about getting them wet or dirty because they are design to take just about anything nature throws your way.  The water was just as you might expect it to be in northern Minnesota this time of year.  The, frigid, icy waters took all the soreness in my feet and legs downstream and out into Lake Superior a quarter mile away from where I stood.

If you get an opportunity get out into the woods near where you live by all means do so and experience the natural world at its pace and prepare to be changed by the experience.

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