During this time of self-isolation, which has never been difficult to do for yours truly, I find it especially important, now more than ever, to touch base with Mother Nature. We can all use her embrace.
Over the past two weeks I have visited a special place numerous times that belongs to everyone — La Salle Lake State Recreation Area. Indeed, we Minnesotans are lucky to have these public lands and all their scenic wonders that we do; be they parks, recreation areas, scientific and natural areas, wildlife management areas, public forests, national parks and refuges, and more.
Spring is here, even in the northland. Last weekend on La Salle while skiing I heard my first Canada goose of the season. The day before while my grandson Lincoln and I were “snow walking,” we saw a pair of trumpeter swans on LaSalle Creek and the Mississippi River. And as I cross-country skied on the Challenge Trail and on the shores of LaSalle Lake, I saw four bald eagles, a great-horned owl, and several ruffed grouse.
I encountered plenty of animal tracks in the snow, too — deer, grouse, wolves, coyotes, fisher, and snowshoe hare. Lincoln and I even tracked a trumpeter swan adjacent to the flowing Mississippi. The large imprints in the snow made by the swan’s enormous webbed feet looked comical, almost alien.
We laughed out loud at the images. And we were delighted to discover “otter slides,” where river otter frolicked in the snow and into the river. The top of a ledge of remnant ice, above the shallow headwaters of the river, had been used by an otter as a makeshift dinner plate: It had feasted on mollusks.
On my cross-country ski outing, I found the remains of a deer that gray wolves had killed. The signs in the snow were easy to read: The two wolves had used one of the oldest tricks the species know to bring down large prey. They had run the deer onto the lake ice. By then the deer was likely exhausted and had at long last succumbed to the wolves’ tireless pursuit.
The bald eagles of the LaSalle chain of lakes that I observed were exceptionally interesting and beautiful. A mature pair circled above me, while another pair — two immature eagles — soared nearby. I assumed they were the adults’ offspring from last season: The older pairs’ tolerance of these youngsters seemed to suggest as much.
Somewhere close was a nest, but exactly where I didn’t know. I searched for it in the treetops of several giant white pines and red pines near the shore and up high on the mountainous ridgeline. I’ll find it someday.
I wondered how many bald eagles over the eons have used LaSalle as their breeding territory. Native Americans fished and hunted LaSalle thousands of years ago and, like me now, undoubtedly gazed skyward at soaring eagles wishing they could fly, too.
What, I also wondered, were these eagles feeding on? After all, we’re a few weeks out from open water as the ice across LaSalle Lake is still thick and still plenty hard. It’ll be a while before it all melts.
My answer to that question was answered an hour later when I saw an eagle standing on top of a deer carcass adjacent to the roadway. Pulling over before the eagle flew off, I watched the large raptor through my binoculars as it used its heavy beak to rip pieces of flesh from the carcass and swallow.
A few yards away, on the ground and in trees, a boisterous group of ravens croaked their collective disapproval at the eagle. I couldn’t help but think that the ravens’ dissonance probably had more to do with the realization of their true pecking order than actually directed at the eagle itself.
As such, it is most fitting for us that during troubling times we search for solace and true meaning by connecting with someone or something. For many of us, it is nature and all her grandeur, peace, and wildness.
By doing so, whether it’s just a stroll in the backyard or within a favorite secluded piece of Earth somewhere, new discoveries are certain to unfold before us in ways we hadn’t imagined or expected … as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Take care my friends. Stay safe and well.