Unplugged and Off-the-Grid ~ The Call of the Loons (Part 5)

Ahhhh, the call of the loons.  It is a sound that goes hand-in-hand with time spent on the lakes in Minnesota.

Loons on Long Island Lake ~ Boundary Waters, Minnesota

Across the small bay from our island campsite on Long Island Lake, a pair of loons were nesting in the tall grass between the rocks.  They did not wander far, and were never gone for long.  We assumed the nest contained an egg or two.  While we were respectful enough to give the loons their space, and observe them from afar, other residents on the lake were not as considerate.

Loons staying close to nesting grounds ~ Boundary Waters, Minnesota

On the fire-burned island behind the loons’ home, an eagle or raven frequently would perch on a desolate branch, keeping a close eye on the nest below.  The loons would nervously call out as the unwanted visitor hovered and lurked.  Then, with little warning, the raven or eagle would swoop toward the nest and one or both of the loons would make a ruckus, flapping furiously and going after the intruder.  We watched the loons tirelessly and vigorously defend their home and future offspring from repeated attacks.

One cannot not help but admire this handsome bird.

Loon on Long Island Lake, Boundary Waters, Minnesota

When the loons felt safe, we would observe them swimming by as they fished for their next meal, diving and popping up periodically at various locations in the surrounding waters.  And in the evening, as we lay in our sleeping bags drifting off to sleep, the loons called out with a distant response from the next lake over.  The long wailing calls, the more animated or alarmed expressions, and the soft murmurs between the dedicated parents-to-be, weaving into our dreams.

Loons on Long Island Lake, Boundary Waters, Minnesota

I will leave you with a brief example of the call of the loons, particularly for those who may never have had the privilege of sitting out on a summer evening listening to the haunting sounds float across a lake.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Other posts in this series:

Coming soon:  Part 6, A Change of Scenery

Unplugged and Off-the-Grid ~ Our Island Home (Part 3)

We finished our seventh portage of the day, and finally found ourselves in Long Island Lake, with the goal of setting up camp on the island closest to the portage.  A pair of loons greeted us as we began paddling toward the island.  My sons lifted their paddles and just floated along for a short while, until the loons swam past their canoe.

Loons on Long Island Lake, BWCA

Drawing closer to the island, we could not yet see the entry to the campsite, but could smell a burning campfire.  We made our way around the backside of the island, and sure enough, another group already had beat us to this lovely site.  Fortunately, Long Island Lake has numerous options, so we pulled out our maps, and decided to make our way to another island site.  The campsites are first-come, first-serve, and on popular lakes you do not want to leave campsite selection until late in the day, as you may need time to paddle or portage elsewhere to find an open site.

The second island campsite was open, so we unloaded our gear and settled in for the next two nights.

BWCA 26 6_20_13

The campsite was open enough to provide a cross-breeze which helped keep the mosquitoes at bay, yet provided shelter for our tents and campfire.

Long Island Lake island campsite in the BWCA

The island was not overly large, but a couple of paths led to the opposite side of the island and some interesting rock outcroppings on one side.  And, of course, there was the necessary trail to the latrine!

The path to the latrine

Each designated Boundary Waters (BWCA) campsite has a latrine located far from the lake, consistent with the BWCA’s rules regarding toilet facilities and water quality.  Bring your can of bug spray with you!  The latrine is usually in a wooded spot where the mosquitoes love to congregate — and you are revealing some usually protected parts not typically slathered in insect repellent!

Our island campsite latrine.
Our island campsite latrine.

The sloping rock from the campsite to the water’s edge was a perfect spot for fishing . . .

Fishing from our campsite on Long Island Lake, BWCA

. . . . or getting lost in a good book.

Long Island Lake, BWCA campsite

Perhaps once a day we would see another canoe paddle by in the distance, but otherwise we enjoyed a feeling of solitude on our little island home.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Other posts in this series:

Coming soon:  Part 4, Exploring By Canoe

The Allure of Minnesota’s Cabin Culture

What is it about going to “the cabin”?  So many residents of Minnesota already live in rustic, nature-filled settings, yet are eager to pack up the car and head out to “the cabin.”  If it is not their own cabin, or their family’s cabin, then it is their friend’s or neighbor’s cabin.  In Minnesota, it seems that everyone knows someone who has a cabin.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes facts and figures on Minnesota’s many waters.  Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” which is somewhat of a misnomer, for the state actually has 11,842 lakes which are 10 or more acres in size.  Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, only four of them do not have a natural lake within their borders.  Minnesotans have to try hard NOT to go to the lake or to the cabin.

Perfect view with book in hand

My husband grew up in Minnesota and that cabin culture is part of who he is.  While I could be content puttering around my gardens “in town” to unwind, or just renting a cabin on a lake for a weekend once a summer to get my fix, it became increasingly important to my husband that we find a little spot of land on a lake that he could call his own.  And isn’t marriage all about compromise?

Casting off the dock 

For several summers we simply pitched a tent on our little lake parcel, enjoying our private campsite, fishing from shore or taking out the canoe.  The boys were just starting school and we still had most of our weekends free from scheduled activities.  We eventually had a simple cabin shell constructed, doing finishing work in stages and completing the work ourselves when our skills allowed.  As our boys grew older, schedules became busier, and time for all of us to get to the cabin on a regular basis is harder to come by, and so that time is all the more treasured when we have it.  

Loon pair in northern Minnesota

The simple pleasures are what makes the cabin a special place — watching the loons float by and listening to their haunting calls, sitting among the birch and pine with a book in hand.  When the boys were younger, they would craft imaginary strategic games and play them for hours in the woods.   

Boys in the woods

Even in recent years, the cabin is still a place where teenaged boys can find the time and space for some creative play — garbage can lids turn into shields against stick swords and the battle ensues!  Boys will be boys at any age.

Never too old for imaginary play

Summer months bring lazy days, launching into the water to cool off and enjoy the seemingly endless depths of the lake.

Summer lake time

Cabin time is almost synonymous with fishing time — sometimes from the dock, sometimes from a boat on the lake itself.  When the fishermen in my family land a big one, I hear the frantic call from the dock — “GET THE CAMERA!”  I rush down to the dock, camera in hand, quickly snapping a shot or two before the big guy is released to enjoy another day.

Northern Pike: The one that didn't get away

Cabin time is time to just hang out, use your shirt as your hand towel, and let the layer of dirt act as additional sunscreen.  The boys have great immune systems and no allergies to speak of, which I chalk up to a healthy dose of dog fur, dirt and grime over the years!

Sizing the day's catch on the dock

The cabin is the ideal spot to hang with man’s best friend.  Running down the tree-canopied roads . . .

A shady run with the dogs

. . . watching the fish swim by the dock . . .

Best friends on the dock

. . . or tolerating an extra player during a marathon game of Monopoly.  Cabin memories, all of them.

Monopoly:  the black lab version

As days draw to a close, the colors play across the lake’s surface, and a person cannot help but pause and reflect. An owl may call through the dark woods — like the Barred Owl with its unmistakable call:  “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”  The wolves may howl in the distance, the deer may quietly meander down their well-worn path to the lakeshore, and the frogs join in chorus to sing their evening songs.

Contentment on the dock

Perhaps it is that evening sauna that relaxes a person as it purges the body’s toxins, or just as likely it is the other aspects of the cabin that create the restful escape — no urge to run to the grocery store and stock up for the week, no temptation to go into the office and get caught up at work, no running here and there with concerts, sporting events, conferences, social activities, and all the other details of our daily lives that sometimes leave us feeling tired and worn, even as we enjoy them.  Sleep at the cabin is somehow more restful than anything experienced “at home.”

Sunset on the lake

Numerous articles recently have highlighted the importance of escaping our multi-tasking world:  spend some time in green space to ease brain fatigue  (per the New York Times), take a break from multitasking to return to the essence of our humanity (per this video from KarmaTube), untether from our smart phone leash (per this column from Sam Cook).  Only by doing so can we fully appreciate the simple beauty of the world, . . .

Peaceful paddle at sunrise

. . . and be fully present while spending time with each other.

Paddling along the lakeshore

What is it about Minnesota’s cabin culture?  Come and experience it for yourself and you will understand.

Hammock at the cabin

Ciao! ~ Kat