On Friday, Tom and I are ferried from the Birch Lake Campground boat launch to Loonsong Cabin. The freshwater spray from the bounce of the boat is a baptismal reminder of belonging. We pass the gabbro cliff face marking the entrance to our bay, make a wide sweep around hidden boulders, and motor to the cattywampus, grey-weathered dock jutting out among lily pads and clumps of grasses. The grasses lie on the water like chartreuse fans on dark chocolate wallpaper. We unload our provisions for the week and organize our belongings inside the tiny cabin. After lunch we paddle our canoe around the peninsula. I set the pace in the bow. Tom counts the strokes, then calls—ready, switch. It feels good to move our travel-weary muscles. In the north bay, a snake threads its way down a rock; a large snapping turtle splashes into the water. I never tire of the beauty of the white birch among the dark greens along the shore, or of the birdsongs and lapping waters of this lake country. We return to the cabin, skinny dip in the lake, and nap. That evening we celebrate being here with steaks from the grill and an Il Cocco Brunello. At dusk we watch a beaver trailing its V-wake in the bay. A slap of its tail, and it disappears.
kisses in secret places
the purple blush
of a wild iris
A clear, calm day greets us Saturday morning. I pack a picnic lunch: pb&j for Tom, peanut butter and banana for me, chips, carrots and celery, cherries, and two dark Dove chocolates. We canoe south along the western shore of Birch Lake and pass the desolate landscape of an intentional burn that, five years ago, flared out-of-control. A bald eagle perches high up in the black skeleton of a pine. Further along the shore, a second eagle eyes us. We round the rocky point of the island where we snapped a picture of the two of us for our 2014 Christmas card. We tie the canoe from its bow to a birch and set up camp chairs in the spotty shade of a solitary pine growing from a crevice in the granite shelf by the water’s edge. I pose for a picture as Tom runs into the frame. The camera blinks and clicks a maybe-Christmas-card-2022. We enjoy the afternoon, reading and writing to the background music of ripples on granite. Back at the cabin, Tom chops wood for a sauna and clears water grasses and lilies from our swim path into the deeper waters of the lake. A three-foot, yellow-ribboned, garter snake startles me on the way from the cabin to the sauna. Tom chases it into the woods near the swim path. I sauna, but don’t swim.
a stunted red pine
gnarly twisted branches spray
pompom bursts of green
Night descends clear and dark. Stars fill the sky.
an old woman
gazing up through the milky way
Sunday morning arrives with a whistle as the wind blows through the open windows of the cabin. A strong breeze scatters the mosquitoes, a perfect morning to hike the peninsula trail. We don our hiking boots and assemble our hiking poles. We tromp the trail through the woods, flushing a ruffed grouse protecting her nest. Over the years wood-fall and new growth have reshaped the path. Exploring the peninsula trail remains a study in woodland environments, from damp lowlands of ferns and mosses to a higher needle-strewn path through outcroppings of boulders, white birches, and red pines. In the afternoon a storm sweeps in. Thunder booms. The wind picks up to a howl. The distant lakeshore disappears in a blanket of falling rain and fog, then the nearest island is hidden from sight. The wind, rain, and spray sweep across our bay. As the storm escalates, the gabbro cliff face becomes an apparition, a wrath-like presence hovering near us. The tented gazebo pulls against its stakes. We play Wingspan cozy and safe in the cabin.
a ruffed grouse
brown fan behind fallen birch
sharp mewing cries
Mosquitoes swarm after yesterday’s storm. The air is still. Dark clouds gloom over the lake. It feels like rain is coming, so we carry our books and writing materials to the tent gazebo. A steady rain begins to fall and continues all morning. The rain patter reminds me of summer camp and canoe trips, snuggling into a sleeping bag with a good book or notebook and rain-permission to read, write, or nap. I wonder: why do I need rain-permission?
after the rain
one note at a time
I wake Tuesday to Tom clapping after the mosquitoes that invaded the cabin during the night. The blood suckers left a row of welts like pearls across the back of my neck. Rain is predicted in the afternoon, so we decide to canoe to a near island. Exploring two bays along the way, the canoe whispers among the lily pads and grasses. An impassable marsh of cattails and a rocky point separate the two bays. We pass a beaver house and follow the beavers’ path through the lilies. In a shallow marsh, water plants are nibbled to stalks just above the waterline. We wonder if moose might have foraged here. Forty-nine years ago, canoeing in the Boundary Waters, we spotted a moose and her calf. We have been looking for moose ever since.
We paddle on to an island campsite and settle in for the morning. The lake laps the rocks at our feet. The breeze shifts from the south to the northwest. We finish our picnic and pack up quickly to head back to the cabin. As we paddle into the rising wind, a black cloud with visible rainfall rolls toward us from the west. Just as we arrive at the canoe landing, the rain begins to fall. We spend the afternoon in the tent gazebo.
a black duck squawks
across the lily pads
a canoe whispers
I sit on the dock, a mug of coffee slowly cooling between my cupped hands. Wordless prayers rise with morning birdsongs on a clear day. A Queen Anne’s Lace stands like a small tree on the shore by the dock. Wild rice is now growing above the water among the design of grasses lying on the surface at the edge of the bay. The beautiful wild iris is browning. Fragrant White Lilies are unfolding on their round, notched pads. Standing above the water near the dock, the tight globes of the Bull-Headed Water Lily are a scatter of yellow polka-dots.
After a morning on the dock, we canoe north on Birch Lake, then east up the South Kawishiwi River to the campground just beyond the highway route #1 bridge. We paddle to this destination point every year we stay at the cabin. We set up our camp chairs in the shade of a pine, watch kayakers paddle the river, and small outboard fishing boats putter by. Today’s paddle back to the cabin is the easiest ever, since the breeze is gentle, and remains at our back.
the bay mirrors the sky
clouds race across the water
On our last day here, we sit side-by-side on the dock like two sunning turtles, each of us journaling, immersed in our own thoughts. I look up and see two snappers turtle-paddling the bay. We watch their slow progress through binoculars, hoping they’ll come closer. Tom tells a turtle joke involving a bar and a penis. There’s enough breeze today to keep the mosquitoes from bothering us. The shifting wind picks up again and blows through the trees with an occasional whistling rumble, as if a distant train. The shifting wind and the waves on the lake would make canoeing challenging today. We’re content staying at the cabin, sitting on the dock, and in the gazebo.
For twenty-two years, Loonsong has been an emotional and spiritual refuge for me. It is a healing and renewing place where I unwind, read, write, play games, explore, sit and stare. I am more present to myself and to Tom when I step away from responsibilities and stressors into the quiet, the beauty, the remoteness, and enter this time without expectations. Tomorrow, we leave. I wonder: how will I carry the gifts of Loonsong into my future?
an orange moon rises
coruscating dark waters
into a path home