Everybody is fine. There are no mice in the house -- possibly to the disappointment of the cats, but not to my own.
Eric and I started camping this year. He has backpacking ambitions that I do not share, but I suggested that I could accompany him on early jaunts to check out various aspects of the activity. In mid-May, we borrowed a very nice three-person tent from my brother and camped in the back yard. This taught us useful things about how many warm clothes one needed for a night in the upper forties, and gave me practice in getting out of the tent and putting on my shoes in the middle of the night before heading for the bathroom.
On the Wednesday before Memorial Day, we drove up to Temperance River State Park and camped in their campground. The rental car was a little tiny Fiat, but we were only staying one night and managed to cram all of our stuff into it. We arrived too late to buy firewood from the park office, but we did get the tent pitched before dark. I had reserved the campsite, so it was backed up to the bathrooms -- the real bathrooms, with hot water and flush toilets. This worked out fairly well for a person of so many nocturnal risings. The campground was nearly deserted when we got there. We had a cold dinner, I think, and made our major non-practical discovery: Temperance River State Park is a very good place for star-gazing. I hadn't expected much because our previous excursions to Lake Superior, including one during the peak of the Perseids, had all involved heavy fog. But it was a clear, dry night, not a wisp of fog, and the sky was stunning. We wandered around the deserted campsites between us and the lake, craning our necks, for several hours. I had brought the astronomical binoculars that David and Lydy most kindly gave me a couple of years ago, but we never actually got them out. It was not the right time of the year to see the Milky Way, which is disposed all around the horizon then, but Corona Borealis, Coma Berenices, and many other fine sights were visible. And Eric taught me about the Polaris clock, which was actually useful when I got up later to use the bathroom and had no idea what time it was.
The temperature got down into the thirties that night, but fortunately my sleeping bag, a gift from Eric, is extremely warm and I was able to hand over my unnecessary sweats for him to use with his summer-weight light quilt. The next day was sunny and warm. We had a cold breakfast and went down to the mouth of the Temperance River, which was breathtaking. The lake was very calm, and you could see where the river was mingling with it by the color changes and the rapidly calming local agitation of the water. Then we hiked up the Temperance River past various marvels I am hoping to upload photographs of before I post this. There is a lot of geology on the Temperance River, and some extremely ancient rocks, and waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. Near the lake the river is far, far down in a potholed narrow gorge where hidden falls alternately hide in the shadows and catch the sunlight to show that root-beer color of all the Lake Superior rivers, which uniformly have their origins in peat bogs and are full of tannins. Later the river widens but is no less rocky, and you get shallower, terraced falls and rapids. The trees were leafing out in Minneapolis, but this far north they had barely begun. The birch catkins were out, however. One could see far into the trees, dark spruce and pale birch, last year's leaves paving the ground, ferns and mysterious wildflower rosettes just emerging.
That was our May trip. On June 7th, we borrowed Lydy's car, B (for Behemoth) and went to Wild River State Park. This time we had firewood; we also had my brother's Coleman stove. We took a very pleasant, albeit mosquitoey, walk along part of the Trillium Trail, and then cooked our first outdoor meal. Thai Kitchen rice noodle soup, when well augmented with tofu, spinach, scallions, and red bell pepper, plus extra soy sauce, sesame oil, and chil oil, made a very substantial supper. The evening cooled off fairly quickly and the mosquitoes retreated. We had made a fire just in case the Coleman stove was cranky, so we sat beside it seeing things, cityscapes and Martian landscapes, in the flames and embers until it burned itself out. Then we went to look at the sky. Here we got the fog we had not had at Temperance River, but there was a moon and a moonlit foggy meadow and a few stars visible overhead, so we were contented and went to bed with grand plans for a long hike in the morning.
Temperance River and Wild River both say that their tent pads are "sand and gravel." Temperance River piles its tent pads with wood chips. Wild River does not. We each had a single sleeping pad. I have never slept on such a hard surface in my life. Every part of me that touched the ground was sore well before morning. We were both so sleep-deprived that we decided not to do any major hiking. Besides, it was a warm day and the mosquitoes were out in full force to make up for having had to abdicate the evening before. We heated water for tea and coffee, ate some random picnic food from the cooler, and packed up. We did take a scenic route back, and stopped by William O'Brien State Park briefly so that Eric could see their prairie restoration.
So that was our camping experience before we went back to Temperance River on September 15 through 17.
In the meantime we had discussed and researched the question of sleeping pads, and Eric had pointed out that having two light foam-pads was much cheaper than buying one of the cushy inflatable pads, so in the end I handed my pad over to him because it was a bit small for me, and ordered two larger Thermarest light-weight pads instead.
Eric also made and tested an alcohol stove, using a 5.5-ounce cat food can scrounged from our copious supply, and a hole punch. He made a windscreen of heavy-duty aluminum foil and a pot stand of hardware cloth, and bought a two-person cook set: pot, lid, and a clever pot-holder that could double as a handle and also allow one to remove the lid without burning oneself. He successfully boiled water on his back deck, and later we took the cookset out into my back yard and cooked a cup of Uncle Ben's Instant Brown Rice, which upset the ants a lot but was perfectly edible.
That was our out door cooking experience before we went back to Temperance River.
We -- by which I mean I -- don't do well with early departures, and we only see one another once a week, so we planned to drive as far as Duluth on Sunday evening, the 14th, stay in a hotel and eat at the Duluth Grill, and then go on up to the park the next day, in plenty of time to buy firewood and set up camp before sunset, which was alarmingly earlier than it had been in May.
Eric arranged to collect the rental car at 3:30, meaning he would probably arrive at my place around 4:30. I was still scrambling to get everything ready when he texted me to say that he was running late and would tell me about it when he saw me. He arrived at 5:30, and I was actually ready. The rental car was a Volkswagen Tiguan -- they were out of subcompact economy cars. This was lucky on two counts. The first was that Eric had chosen Enterprise for several reasons, among them that they will come and pick you up and take you to the car-rental facility. However, they only do that on weekdays. So he bicycled over to get the car, and halfway there a pedal fell off his bike. He said that biking with one pedal was faster than walking, but it wasn't any fun. The Tiguan, however, was more than large enough for him to load the bike into so he could take it home and get his stuff.
When we drove north on I35 to Wild River, we had decided to wait until we were out of the Cities to get gas, and ended up in a suburban morass in both Arden Hills and Columbia Heights that even Google Maps had trouble getting us out of, and lost a lot of time. So this time we waited until Lino Lakes, and pulled off at a Holiday right by the exit ramp, with a very clear path back to the freeway, and got the gas. Eric put the key in the ignition, and the car took exception to this and locked the ignition up. There was no owner's manual in the car. There never is. I guess people must steal them; I don't know, but it's very annoying. Volkswagen tech support was closed. Enterprise didn't answer its phone. Eric finally gave the steering wheel a violent yank to one side, and the car condescended to start. Eric explained that he had once had the same thing happen with a U-Haul truck and tech support for U-Haul told him to yank the steering wheel. He had tried this at once with the Volkswagen, but apparently the maneuver needs to be done with a lot more violence than seems reasonable.
We were late enough getting to Duluth that we just went straight to the Duluth Grill. We discovered this restaurant in May. Before it opened, the only place in Duluth (other than the excellent co-op) that was vegan- and vegetarian-friendly was Pizza Luce, which is well enough, but not something we have to drive to Duluth for. The Duluth Grill grows vegetables and herbs in its parking lot and is perfectly clear on the concepts of vegetarian and vegan. They have some odd prejudice against soy -- you get coconut milk to put in your coffee if you don't want dairy, and their go-to vegan protein is chickpea-flour polenta. This is a little dry when made into an "omelette," but really delicious when cubed and fried as protein substitute in a stir-fry. I can also eat fish and goat- or sheeps-milk cheese, so there's a fair amount of choice for me on their menu. The first time we were there they were perfectly fine with making the ratatouille, which comes with polenta, in the vegan form, and then letting me have the goat cheese that goes on top of the regular version.
Eric and I split an order of onion rings, because we were hungry. He got the bleu cheese dip and I got the ketchup. I then had fish tacos, which were excellent. Eric ordered the Wrenshall pasty, which comes with bleu-cheese-and-bacon coleslaw. He was quite confounded by the extreme richness of the pasty crust and the high proportion of beef in the filling. We took half of it, along with one of my tacos -- the onion rings were pretty filling -- back to the hotel, had a relaxing evening, and went to bed.
I was awakened by a loud thump, and saw that Eric was not in bed. I called out to him and got no answer. I leapt up and ran to the bathroom, where to my horror I found him lying flat on his face, and not responsive. I ran back and got my cellphone, and then thought that 911 would ask questions I didn't have the answers to and that Eric would be irate if he had to go to the ER for no reason. I spoke to him and patted him, and got some groans in answer. I took a closer look and saw that there was what seemed like quite a lot of blood soaking into the hotel carpet where his head was. I spoke to him again, and this time he spoke back, leapt to his feet, took one look at himself in the mirror, and bolted into the shower. He said a few minutes later that he had looked like Oliver Wells playing Banquo's ghost, only with somewhat less blood.
I got his glasses for him and a wet washcloth for his head wound, which was swelling and still bleeding. Then I put on some random clothing over my pajamas and got some ice. Once he was established with an ice pack, he started looking for the number of his insurance company's nurse line and I started looking up head injuries on the internet. WebMD terrified me, but I looked at the size of his pupils and asked the questions they recommended, and all was fine on that front. There was no joy on the number for the nurse line, however. Eric had had his wallet stolen a few weeks ago, and didn't have a new insurance card yet. The number apparently is only on the card. I did a search for public nurse lines in the Duluth area, but every nurse line now is locked up tight with an insurance company. Before Pawlenty got his claws on Minnesota's budget, HCMC had a nurse line that anybody could call for free. I used it a number of times when David and Raphael and I were all uninsured in the early years of this century. But Pawlenty cut all useful things' budgets, and the nurse line is no more.
Eric emailed his doctor, since he couldn't call anybody useful. I cleaned up the blood in the bathroom and soaked the towels in cold water. "Cold water for the marks of blood," I said, remembering Mrs. Williams unnecessarily giving this advice to Jack and Stephen in Post Captain. It worked, too.
Eventually it had been two hours and I checked Eric again, and he was still fine, aside from feeling as if he had been punched in the face, which of course he had. We discussed the situation. His pasty and the unexpected richness of the meal he'd eatenhad disagreed with him, which is why he had gotten up in the night; and the hotel has very high toilets. He used the term "vasovagal reaction" and felt that unconsciousness had preceded and been the cause of the head injury rather than proceeding from it, so there was really no reason for alarm. I stated categorically that we couldn't possibly go camping now and that he shouldn't drive home either, and sent email to my household and family. Eric remarked mildly that he didn't think it would be necessary for anybody to come fetch us, and decided, he told me later, not to argue about the camping at the time.
I decided that he didn't really need to be checked every two hours, as WebMD recommended. I gingerly cleaned up the scalp wound with the rubbing alcohol I had brought along for tick bites, and found in my toiletries kit a large and ancient bandaid dating from the time I spilled boiling peppermint tea down my front when I had the flu. It was just the right size for the lumpy bleeding head injury, so I applied it; and we tried to sleep. I kept waking up and making sure he was breathing, and around six a.m. I did wake him up and make sure he was lucid. He was momentarily quite puzzled at why I was behaving so oddly, but finally said, 'Oh! You're checking on me!" Sometime before that I called the front desk and got our checkout time extended by an hour, which was as much as the very nice man at the desk could do without consulting his supervisor, who came on at 11.
At 9 my brother called me back and I talked to him in the bathroom. He said he could come and get us any time. Lydy had also said that she or she and Steven could come get us, though not until the following day. David volunteered the use of his car, but had to work. Lydy's car was showing the Check Engine light, which was why she either needed to use David's car or come in Stephen's. Raphael looked up bus options for me. This was all very cheering.
I hated to do it, but I woke Eric again so we could consider the options. He checked his email, and most miraculously, there was a message from his doctor. She asked a bunch of questions, but basically said that if he had been unconscious for less than five minutes and had none of a list of alarming symptoms, he should be fine to continue his trip, camping and all. So I dithered for a while, but the doctor's remarks were really quite clear. She, too, used the term "vasovagal reaction," which pleased Eric immensely, since he had called it the night before while the blood was still streaming down his face. I emailed everybody to say we would continue on our trip; Eric also emailed with details of what his doctor had said.
I had gotten some of the blood out of the carpet the night before, but the stain was still there and still wet. Once we were dressed and packed up, Eric found the housekeeper and warned him about the blood, and left him a large tip. We threw away the leftover pasty; I ate my fish taco; and we packed the car. We were of two minds about the Duluth Grill, and I was still of two minds about Eric's driving anywhere. He suggested that he drive a bit and we could both see how it went, and we ended up going to the Duluth Grill with the intention of seeking out something light. I don't think anything could have been heavier than that pasty, anyway. Eric had a basic breakfast that included a nice side of kale, and I had the vegan version of their breakfast skillet, which was a bed of hash browns lavishly covered with hominy and black beans and salsa. Their salsa, like all of their condiments, was made on the premises and extremely fresh and tasty. I also had a nice pot of Darjeeling, given how short of sleep I was. I called my brother and took him off alert and thanked him profusely.
It was becoming increasingly clear even to one of my worrying disposition that Eric was fine except for a stiff neck, a large lump on his forehead and various scrapes, so we admired the flower-and-vegetable gardens in the parking lot one last time, and drove north out of Duluth to Temperance River.
We loved the drive, the changing topography and the changing trees and underbrush, the glimpses of the lake, the full-on views of the lake, the road cuts through fresh pink or weathered gray or black blocky igneous rock. Fall color was not much advanced. Some sugar maples had turned or partially turned, and the sumac was strongly considering the matter. The grass on the sides of the road was full of tansy, asters, and goldenrod in full bloom. We stopped at the park office and got our firewood, though we had to go back for a map and a fire starter. Our campsite had a resident chipmunk, which presented itself almost at once, in case we should want to feed it anything. The campsite had a view of the lake, not so much framed as somewhat obscured by a handsome couple of birches. Still, you would just glance up, and there at the end of the road was the lake.
The campground was full of darners. There was a mown space near the bathrooms, surrounded by shrubs and taller vegetation, in full sun at the time we arrived. Darners sailed and darted through the air as thick as the leaves that were not yet falling. There were a lot of mating wheels. The one darner that landed on the wheel of the car was very probably a Canada darner, and all the ones whose color I could see were blue and brown, so mosaic darners of some kind or another; but they were too active to provide much information. In between them and lower down swam large numbers of yellow-legged meadowhawks in red or amber, hovering and turning after gnats and no-see-ums. On subsequent days, the meadowhawks were less in evidence, but there were always many darners.
Our campsite was decorated with ferns and a lot of seeding fireweed. The fluffy seeds blew through from time to time and occasionally drew a darner to mistake them for something edible.
We, by which I mostly mean Eric, though I held things down a time or two, pitched the tent, and we put our pads and sleeping bags and night things into it. Then we set off in the remaining light to climb Carlton Peak. This sounds more impressive than it is, but it was fairly steep in spots. In other spots it was flat and boggy, and once it was steep and boggy. The trail is part of the Superior Hiking Trail, and winds among spruce and birch trees. It was packed with exuberant ferns and brilliant moss, set off by the occasional clump of asters and one gorgeous set of orange-spotted mushrooms that Eric pointed out and photographed. Here and there granite interrupted the trail or the hillside. There were a lot of young, bright spruce saplings crowded under their elders. And many, many fallen birch logs, which do give an understory an air. Eric was keeping an eye out for places that I could sit down if I needed to. My knees have been acting up recently and sometimes they have a small tantrum. He told me that he had marked some nice birch logs as possible seats, but as it turned out, they were shells held together by the tough birch bark, while their centers had rotted out. As we got higher up, there was more and more rock, til the trail was a mixture of twisting spruce roots and granite, some of it level and some not so much.
It was a three-mile round trip, which I could do on the flat easily enough, but things kept getting steeper. I finally had to sit down; Eric found me a nice rock and then scouted ahead and came back to report that the summit was not very far off and had actual benches. So I toiled up the remaining slope, and there was a little flat spot with two benches, large and small spruce and birch trees, random pieces of granite, and glimpses of intriguing prospects through the trees. It would be very interesting in early spring. We had tried to climb to the peak in May, but the obvious way there -- Carlton Peak Road -- started out unimproved and rapidly degraded into not there at all. The little Fiat was not up to the task, so we turned back; hence our eagerness to find a better way. I'd found a Yelp! review that helpfully said that one should take Sawbill Trail instead and find the parking lot and trailhead for the Superior Hiking Trail. Eric confirmed this with his SPT maps, and so we succeeded this time around.
The summit was full of pale fluttering insects that, when finally persuaded briefly to land, turned out to be tiny, tiny moths; probably very fancy ones if one could see them through a camera lens or binoculars, but they were too busy dancing in the sunlight to alight anywhere for long. It got chilly, and we reluctantly started down. There were far more views on the way down, when we weren't scrambling and keeping an eye ahead. They were still fragments between the trees, but very pleasing nonetheless.
The trail crosses the road at one point, so I sat on the steps there and let Eric go the last little way to the parking lot at the trailhead, collect the car, and then collect me. He had hoped there would be views of the lake from the summit, but the area was too leafy. But when we drove back down the road to the campsite, Eric pointed out the lake to me. I had, with my Midwestern eyes, interpreted it as a dark gray band of cloud on the horizon. I had a lot of trouble making the shift in perspective to see that it was a body of water below us, until we were close enough to see some variation in the color of the water.
When we got back to the campsite, Eric actually cooked on the alcohol stove, occasionally watched by the chipmunk. We had whole-wheat couscous with a packet of Knorr vegetable soup mix and some chopped onion I'd brought in the cooler; then we added broken-up silken tofu, soy sauce, and olive oil at the table. It was surprisingly tasty and sustaining. Eric made the fire and we sat by it while the sky darkened. It took a long time for the fire to burn down and I was very sleepy when it finally had. It was a clear dark night. Sitting in our campsite with the light on the bathrooms blazing away, we could see the Cygnus portion of the Milky Way with its dark rifts. We walked down to the lake and saw the stars inside the Great Square of Pegasus, and as a special treat, with our unaided eyes we saw the double cluster between Perseus and Casseopeia. I've seen it through a telescope by the kind auspices of jiawen, so even though it was just a misty patch, seeing it with my eyes was exciting. Eric was also very pleased to see Fomalhaut, which he is still used to being higher in the sky in the Bay Area. It was low but perfectly visible. And we saw Delphinus, which is a constellation I always like to admire.
It was cold and late, so we went back to the tent and went to bed. When I got up for the inevitable bathroom trip, parts of the sky had clouded over, but a patch that held Orion, the Pleiades, and Mars shone out, while the half-moon disported itself with a triple rainbow ring all around. It was a windy night, air roaring through the birch and evergreen trees; and you could also hear breakers crashing on the shore of Lake Superior.
In the morning the alcohol stove provided hot water for coffee or tea and for instant oatmeal, which we had with soy milk. The chipmunk raced through the campsite several times. I don't recall at exactly what point it came right up to Eric and later to me and looked expectant, but it only did that once, apparently deciding that we coudn't take a hint.
Eric had gotten up before I did and gone down to the lake and over to the mouth of the river, where he saw a merganser running on the water to get past the turbulent place where the river entered the lake.
We had decided to leave the decision of whether to stay a second night until we had spent the first night. I had had some trouble with the organization of my possessions and the need to crawl in and out of the tent repeatedly, which my knees didn't much like, but in the lovely morning I decided I could take another night of it. I'd promised to let Raphael and David know what we decided. This meant we had to charge up our cellphones with the car charger and find some wi-fi. Eric had always wanted to see Grand Marais, so we put all the food into the car and drove off along Highway 61. Most regrettably, we had forgotten to bring any music, or we might well have played Dylan.
This drive was also interesting, with more and more views of the lake and a sudden change in the topography, and in the height and nature of the trees; then another sudden change back so that the landscape looked more as it does near Tofte and Schroeder and Temperance River. Every time we crossed a creek or river we gaped in whatever direction was handy, either towards its mouth at the lake or upstream. Many of the rivers were far down in rocky gorges, some almost invisible; a few were wider and more placid. We also passed Five-Mile Rock, which I mistakenly recalled as the cause of the Mary Ellen Carter's demise, but I remembered about a week later that that was actually Three-Mile Rock.
Grand Marais was windy and quite cold. I liked it, perhaps possibly because of a strong literary background in seaside towns. I kept thinking that this or that place would be an intriguing one to stay, and wanting to go into bookstores. Eric found it too touristy, but was glad to have gratified his curiosity. We stood by a wall overlooking Lake Superior for a while, looking at the red boulders and gravel and a flock of gulls, and then stopped for gas, since it was either cheaper or the same price as at the Holiday in Tofte. Eric had taken advantage of the cellphone service to check the weather forecast for Wednesday, which said showers, but didn't say when. I was able to text Raphael and email David from my phone, but the phone had been behaving oddly in the matter of text messages, so eventually we stopped in the parking lot of an IGA where there was a little piece of the 4G network, and I called Raphael and left a message. David was at work, so I didn't call him.
We drove back to our campsite, which was much warmer than Grand Marais, and made sardine salad with more of the onions, mustard, and vegan mayonnaise. I then discovered that Coborns' had delivered the wrong bread. I'd ordered Breadsmith Honey Whole Wheat, but we had gotten an English muffin bread instead. Fortunately, unlike many English muffin breads, it contained no dairy. It was a nice enough bread, but we both much prefer whole grain. The lunch was quite satisfying, though, so we set out to explore another portion of the Superior Hiking Trail. Eric was interested in actually seeing some of the campsites set up for the hikers. At Temperance River State Park they are contradictorily near the Cross River. Our lovely hike up the river in May had been heading for those campsites, but we didn't have time to get there before we needed to drive back to Duluth. It was, in fact, six miles, which is way past my abilities at the moment. Eric consulted the increasingly useful maps for the trail, and discovered that the trail we had followed from the mouth of the river crossed a road before heading for the campsites, and that there was a trailhead and some parking at the side of the road. So we drove to the trailhead, which put us three miles from the campsites rather than six. I was still very dubious about how far I would get, but we started out, figuring that we would just see.
Before we started up the trail to the campsites, we went down to look at the river. There was a waterfall with a lot of flat slabs of granite to walk out on; the falls at that time was a thick thread of brown water tumbling down a narrow space and then widening out into rapids. Eric took some pictures, and then we set out on our explorations.
It was a sunny, hazy, somewhat humid day, and we were both soon covered with sweat. The mix of trees in the forest was very different from that going up Carlton Peak. There was a lot of maple, basswood, and some oak, and comparatively less birch and spruce. Eric also noticed at some point that trees we'd been carelessly categorizing as yet more spruce were actually hemlocks. The way was very boggy in places, with pretty good boards laid across the marshier bits, a lot of shrubbery I couldn't identify, ferns, moss, purple and white asters, and some wildflowers I didn't recognize. It was as beautiful as the other section of trail we'd hiked the day before, but less austere. It was also, if possible, even steeper. Eric went ahead to check things out a couple of times and spurred me on. In time he told me cheerily that the next bit was so steep that there were actually steps. Well, there were logs laid across and the earth between them had been gravelled, but it was all on a sufficiently steep slant that I told him, "I am going up this on my hands and knees, and I am coming down it on my butt." After the first half of this intention had been accomplished, there was a flattish bit and some more fragmentary but pleasant views. Fall color still was not at all advanced, but the sugar maples were turning; some were all blazing red or orange, some were still half green. They stood out like beacons in the overall green of the forest. Mosquitoes came out and bit us in a desultory way when the breeze died.
We reached a steeper area, and Eric scouted ahead again. This time he came back shaking his head and said that he could not in good conscience take me up any more slopes like that. He'd hoped that the trail would go along the side of the bluff, but it was now clearly headed right over it. I apologized profusely for not having gotten in better shape, but he said he was quite satisfied with the progress we'd made; it was getting actually hot, and more full of mosquitoes, and he knew more than he had before. Also, of course, the trail was beautiful.
We went back down, again seeing different views that we were at more leisure to appreciate. I have occasional failures of proprioception, not really vertigo, but a general feeling that I don't quite know whether where I want to put my foot is a good idea. If I have something to hold onto, or even just to brush lightly with my hand, I'm fine, but I tend to suddenly get paralyzed when there is no convenient tree or railing. I believe this to be a side effect of one of my medications. Eric was extremely patient, giving me his hand whenever I developed the idea that if I took another step I would fall off the trail. And I did, indeed, go down the so-called steps on my butt. Luckily, I was wearing a pair of men's cargo pants from Land's End (women's cargo pants don't have good pockets, to my intense annoyance). They were described as "stain resistant," and while I didn't really care about that when I bought them, it was true and came in handy. The dust and dirt had dropped off my pants before I took them off that night.
We had a conversation later that evening when I reminded Eric that we had also hiked a piece of the Superior Hiking Trail from Duluth when we were up there in May, and that the trail seemed to me to be all of a piece, like a series of gardens designed by one person. He said it had probably been scouted and marked out by one person. The bits of the trail that I've seen have a meandering quality with a lot of attention to fairly small views, through the arches of leaning trees or over large rocks. There are many small-scale exquisite bits: twisting spruce roots over pink rock with a patch of moss and a scattering of orange leaves; ferns between birch trunks; ferns around rocks; fallen birch logs covered with moss and bracket fungus; boulders decorated with lichen and leaned over by more ferns. It's extremely pleasing to look at at almost every turn.
When we got back to the campsite, Eric started the fire at once to try to keep the mosquitoes at bay. It was very smoky, which did keep them at bay but annoyed us in a different way. The wind was variable, and mostly blew the smoke right over the picnic table. Eric eventually became a human bellows until the fire was hot enough not to smoke. Then he lit the alcohol stove, again watched intently by the chipmunk, and cooked a couple of packets of Thai Kitchen instant rice noodle soup. We added tofu, onions, spinach, soy sauce, and olive oil at the table, and it was once again tasty and satisfying. Then we sat or lay around near the fire, moving to avoid the smoke when the wind changed.
The sky was clouding up. We had some brief glimpses of constellations as the clouds moved away in the wind, but more clouds kept coming up. At last we admitted that we would not have another evening of star-gazing. Eric said he was completely prepared to go to sleep at 8:30. I said that I didn't think I could do that. I normally go to bed at 1 a.m. In any event, it took the fire long enough to die down that it was between nine and ten when we went to bed, and I was plenty tired enough to go to sleep.
At some point in the night, I heard Eric make a sound like "Baaaph!" followed by the very calm remark, "I think there's a mouse in the tent. Something ran over my face." My supremely wise response to this was, "Jesus Christ. Where are my glasses?" I knew where they were; I'm not sure whom I was addressing. I put my glasses on. Eric located the mouse with his flashlight, I unzipped the tent flap, and we crowded together well away from the opening while Eric chivvied the mouse with the light. It did not want to be in the tent at all, and ran featly around the extreme edge, got lost in my raincoat briefly, and then went out. It was a plump, sleek little mouse. Eric said, once we had zipped up the flap and gotten settled again, that when he felt it run over his face it was very obviously a mouse -- little tickly feet, brush of fur, weight not that of an insect, maybe some body heat too. The unfortunate sequel to this event was that some time later I heard or dreamed that I heard a rustling right next to my ear, in my raincoat. It was the second night in the tent and I had not heard anything like that, though there were plenty of noises outside. I told Eric I thought the mouse hadn't left, or there was another one. We opened the tent flap again, but didn't actually see a mouse, so we shut it up once more and tried to go back to sleep.
In the morning when the light was beginning, rain began plopping and pattering onto the tent. I kept hoping that it was just dew falling off the trees -- this had happened at Wild River -- but it went on for too long. It was not, in the end, a great deal of rain, just enough to mean we had to pack up things while they were wet. We had a bit of a scramble to get fed and dressed and packed. The chipmunk ran along the concrete curb and carefully checked out the alcohol stove, then raced down the road towards the lake. We left before the time we had decided was the latest we could leave. We had lunch in Duluth at the Duluth Grill. I don't actually recall what Eric had this time. I got their breakfast stir-fry in the vegan version, with the cubed polenta, onions, red bell peppers, broccoli, garlic, and a huge bed of amazing kale, with a side of red flannel hash. This meal amply made up for any lack of vegetables while we were camping.
We had an easy drive back to Minneapolis. It was hot and sunny there. I was exhausted, not having really gone back to sleep after the second, probably imagined, mouse incursion; but Eric spread the tent parts to dry in the back yard. I undertook to check them before sunset and put them away if they were dry, but in fact he drove home, unloaded his stuff, returned the car, took his bicycle to Sunrise Cyclery, got new pedals, and arrived back at my house in time to pack up the tent himself.
ETA: There were no mice in the house when I began writing this entry, but Lydy informed us this morning that she had found a dead mouse in the sunroom in the formerly cat-free zone, now occupied by the temporary cats. So at least one of them is a mighty hunter.
Also, I want to get this post up and it is quite long enough, so if I do post photos, I'll put them in a separate entry.