from the Porcupine Mountain archives

On the morning of our second day, we get up and take a rowboat out onto Mirror Lake. We row into a cove where we sit in silence and watch as the wind blows across the water and the ripples bend along the edges of water lilies. A Common Loon dives and resurfaces, sits for a moment or two, and dives once again. The forest reaches down to the shore, where there are reeds and grasses. There is deadfall interspersed, and tall conifers living out their final years towering above the canopy. There are no human voices. No sounds other than the wind and the water lapping against the side of our boat.

We spend the second day hiking through the extensive portions of old growth, which is like hiking through a fairy tale. This may seem overly romantic, or just silly, but it is true. There is a reason that the deep, dark woods is a recurring theme in the fables and tales we’ve passed down from generation to generation. There is mystery in the play of light and shadow.

There was a powerful windstorm some years ago, and the gnarled roots from the upturned trees at times seem poised to reach out and grab you, twist across your ankles and pull you down with the worms and the crawly things. In the night, I understand why the forest was also once a place of fear. In the night, without a moon or fire, the darkness is complete. You can hear the forest alive all around you, but there are no names for the beings dwelling there save those conjured by the imagination. And the wolves.

We spend our second evening in a cabin by Greenstone Falls. As the day falls, slowly, the light changes every two minutes, so you look up and the landscape has shifted all around you. But you haven’t gone anywhere, you haven’t moved from this spot where you’ve sat hunched and distracted by some new mushroom, some strange phenomenon of moss and fern, or the way the light plays against the trunk of a tree.

Walking up a hill behind the cabin to gather firewood, I am momentarily startled by what I imagine to be a black bear with his tan muzzle staring out at me from beside a tangle of fallen branches. We had seen one crossing the road on the way in, and the visitors’ log in our cabin indicated that the previous occupant had enjoyed the privilege of one looking through the windows and wandering around the camp the morning before.

My wife and I sit for an hour beside a shallow pool lined with smooth stones as the day slowly wanes. We are amazed by the dragonflies, who are astounding acrobats, and apparently ruthless carnivores (as one landed before us two days later clutching and devouring a butterfly half its size). They zip up and down, patrolling the length of the stream, investigating wood tangles and fallen logs. A few dive-bomb the pool, splashing down and sending out small ripples across our tiny pond. We are amazed by this behavior, and search for explanations. Are they drinking? Are they eating water bugs? Later, after a little research – Were they laying eggs? The mystery persists.

A cluster of hemlock branches extend over the water, and we notice a small green inchworm, what may have been a Hemlock Loooper, descending along a line of silk, only to stop in midair when it becomes apparent he is set to disembark in the middle of the stream. Left dangling, our Looper pauses. Life is ultimately about choices, it seems, and this fellow has made a bad one. However, success and determination go hand in hand, so over the next half-half hour we provide commentary, encouragement, and wait with baited breath as he slowly reels in his line and ascends back from where he came.

At one point, a dragonfly appears and hovers directly beside the helpless larva and seems to consider whether he’d be a worthwhile snack. Fortunately for the Looper, the dragonfly departs, and we sit until he finally hoists himself back onto the needled branches and disappears.

The light dims, and the mosquitoes are on us once again.

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