I take a day to heal my toe. It’s red and oozing, so Susie calls one of her herbalist friends who suggests I make a poultice of yarrow and plantain (an opportunistic weed). I get to masticate the bitter greens myself. We first tincture the toe with an oily concoction of echinacea, lemon and other helpful ingredients I have forgotten, then squish on gobs of green goo and wrap it in a paper towel.
I don’t know how it works, but those plants pull out the infection and everything quiets down. Good food, good beer and good conversation helps too and I’m up with the birds and back where I started, right into the swamp filling my clown shoes with water.
The mosquitos are still here awaiting my arrival. I slosh through the muck and keep my bug net on tight. It’s chilly out with wild wind quacking every aspen leaf.
Still I hear an American redstart and black throated green warbler through the din, their simple question-like song, the sound of this forest.
I’m not on the ‘state trail’ long before cutting into the woods on a footpath. Two logs are set over a deep, almost still, creek. At the first campsite sitting high above heron pond, I pop in to use the loo. It’s a hole, of course, but with a fancy seat above that’s been closed so I keep a dry bum.
Again, the trail is relatively flat, but undulates up to thick forest, leaves whooshing like a jet engine in wind gusts – then down to beaver ponds filled with dead trees, sentinel totem poles above bright yellow lily pads in sky-blue reflections.
Today is my favorite day already because it’s dry, chilly and my feet feel amazing. I can’t believe their resilience. A bit of rest, some chewed up green leaves and correctly fitting shoes and I’m right as rain.
I climb up to a knoll filled with giant oaks. I’m not sure I have ever seen ones like these before – extremely tall and straight. There’s not much below, so the feeling is like a manicured park. I catch a glimpse of Lake Superior, blue-gray and forbidding.
This section travels far inland and won’t get close to the lake until Gooseberry Falls. That means a lot of woods, but these are really interesting woods. A sign tells me that recently, the trees – primarily aspen, birch, balsam fir, basswood, maple, and oak – were showing signs of distress and decay.
As a remedy, the Department of Natural Resources has been thinning the older trees to allow for natural regeneration – although they are also planting white spruce and white pine.
Every mile or so, a different sign pops up telling me when the public sale of timber happened and what the strategy is for regrowth. Happily, the forest is behaving just as intended, growing back lush and thick, though it will be another decade before all the scars are gone.
I leave the new forest to dip low to a beaver pond, crossing on his dam and looking to a lodge thick with purple irises. The wind is so brisk, I don’t need my bug net.
At the Sucker River I crack up wondering if they’re referring to me. Two cranky teenaged boys carrying enormous packs and smelling of smoke fly by with barely a grunt. The parents, Missy and Don, are not far behind and tell me they’re training for Isle Royale. Don’s theory is the boys are less cranky and more speechless running into a lone female hiker.
I’m startled to see anyone after so much solitude the day before, only to realize this is a much prettier locale than the snowmobile swamps.
Giant ferns grow as high as my chin and I meet a mother-in-law and daughter who call themselves Breathless and Bellows. They’re knocking off sections one weekend at a time and are so happy the humidity is gone today.
Me too. Funny how weather can make or break a hike.
It rains just a little, sprinkling up in the tops of the canopy and never reaching me. I reach more views of the lake far in the distance. Bright orange and yellow hawkweed along with daisies seem to smile as I pass.
Seeing Gitcher Gumee puts that silly song my Neil Diamond in my head:
Sit your laddy down on your daddy’s knee.
And ain’t it a nice place to be?
I have no idea what it means but it’s a catchy tune.
I keep singing and loving every minute of this very best day when I come upon Chris and son Wyatt in matching neon orange jackets and headnets, their sweet lab, Reilly, leading the way. She immediately leans into me with her butt within scratching distance and Wyatt proudly tells me how far they’re headed today. It’s kind of a super highway out here in the blustery wind.
The drops of rain give way to sun which dapples the light in my green sanctuary. A grouse peeps, then panics, crossing the trail behind me, peeping all the way. “You’re never going to scare off predators behaving like that!” To which she crosses in front this time, the volume ever so much louder, and giving me the side eye before she chills out in the trees.
The trees pull back to reveal a set of ponds with yellow flowers like fists reaching to the sky. A dragonfly with a turquoise body and velvety black wings flutters to a leaf at eye level. A from k’thunks.
My campsite sits right on a bend of McCarthey Creek as it glissades down a moss-covered rock to a deep pool, the water tinted a reddish-brown from leaf litter. I set the alicoop and eat dinner under my head net, then head to the magic glade to soak my feet.
Nymphs dance in the air above me eating or scaring away the mosquitos which only moments earlier swarmed me. I can hardly believe my toe looks totally normal as if there had never been a problem at all. A song sparrow fills the air with music of enough complexity to keep Messiaen in business.
I think how lovely it was with my friends yesterday – Susie who sends prayers to anyone and everyone in need, and Brian of the infectious smile who said marrying Susie was the best decision he ever made. They left an impression on me of accepting the joy of each day as a gift, of looking for adventure in small things and of being full of gratitude.
I am so grateful for whatever was in that healing elixir, and for the time I could take before starting again with new shoes and better weather. I’m entranced by this mystical grotto where my feet are soothed in the cool.
But what is this? Leeches! Just two, well, four…I pull their long, slimy bodies off and head up to the tent. In bed before it’s dark and sung to sleep by the forest.