Didja miss me? I snuck out of town for a few days. Past the extravagantly cliffed-and-bouldered north shore of Lake Superior. To Grand Marais, the picturesque little harbor town that charms the Birkenstocks and Keds off its horde of summer visitors. From there, true north (or so I have come to believe), up the Gunflint Trail. The road has been resurfaced and some of the more life-challenging curves reconfigured. But all along the way, it meanders through thick forest land, headed ultimately to waters shared with Canada.
Part way up the Trail is a road even less traveled. An unpaved stretch just wide enough for one vehicle. A few wide-shouldered places for those times when it's necessary to back up so oncoming vehicles can pass. The end of that road marked the beginning of my time north. I stayed with a friend, whose modest cabin in the woods is the heart of my personal holy land.
Surrounded by birches, cedars, spruce trees and towering pines, mountain ash, the occasional aspen, sumac and wild raspberry bushes, the cabin is just barely visible from the lake. It is situated on a point of land, such that an intimate bay on one side and the larger lake on the other converge less than 100 yards from the cabin's front door.
Every day we were there, a brisk, cooling breeze swept across the lake, over the trees and right through the screen porch where we read and ate our meals. The sky was impossibly blue. I am always surprised to rediscover the infinite variations on green in the forest. Spikes of lavender fireweed punctuated the landscape. Some yarrow. Immense clusters of goldenrod. Good for the soul, bad for the nose. Chickadees, nuthatches, white-throated sparrows, large black crows, the occasional hummingbird. A mystery critter at dusk. Looked like a super-sized fox.
The strong wind kept the pleasure crafts off the lake. In that part of the world, most boats are small and the principle pleasure is that they are people-powered. Kayaks and canoes. Those who braved it hugged the shore, sliding silently past my vantage place on the point, where this accidental voyeur overhead snippets of conversation of latter-day voyageurs. Voices carry far and loudly across water. Sometimes I think I should stand up and wave my arms so they know I am there, hearing what they're saying. But it really doesn't matter. We don't know each other. It's a passing moment.
So why am I telling you this? I think it was triggered by my growing concern about paradise lost. About climate change, global warming, whatever is the phrase du jour. I am afraid for all of us. Those who tread the planet now. Work-booted feet of clear-cutters, oil drillers, truck drivers whose diesel-fueled vehicles belch smoke cross-country and back. (Yes, I know, where would we be without the truckers.) Feet squeezed into high-heeled Manolo Blahniks and highly-polished Berlutis. Nike and Converse-clad feet. Toddlers lurching about in J.C. Penney high-top shoes. The pope's red pumps. Bare feet, by choice, bare feet of necessity.
I am afraid for those not yet born. Those whom some want to protect at all costs, up to the moment of birth, but not one minute beyond. What are we leaving them?
I think we know, or at least we suspect. I think Al Gore is the inconvenient spokesman for what is true. He is poking at our denial and pleading with us to pay attention.
But the far left calls Gore and other environmental protectors pawns of corporate America (the logic is lost on me). The left runs in circles, crying, "We all gonna die! Whatever shall we do?" The middle doesn't give a damn, one way or the other. The right says, "Bogus! This is a progressive plot against corporate America." And the radical right says, "Well, there you have it. Apocalypse now. We all gonna die, so it really doesn't matter if we do anything about global warming, assuming, of course, that it exists, which we seriously doubt, but what the hell, therefore?!"
Back to north for a moment. Unprecedented (or close to it) heat and dryness. Raging wildfires in the Boundary Waters wilderness area. Finally contained, but not yet out. That lake that surrounds the point at my friend's cabin? I walked out to an immense boulder that used to be submerged in water. My feet stayed dry. The lush marsh where blue flag grew in profusion? A depression in the earth with just a few scattered puddles.
The signs are there, all around us. Gradual, some of them. Others more rapid, more alarming.
This will be an altogether unsatisfactory conclusion. I don't know enough about global warming to be an official spokesperson. But I do intend to get smarter about it. Can't read everything. Won't live long enough to be an expert. I did buy Gore's book. He may or may not have the best and last word on the subject, but until I find someone whose word I trust more, he will serve as my point of departure for learning. And then what?
I don't know. Maybe buy myself some walking shoes, tread lightly on the earth and spread the word. Be warned: You have not heard the last of this from me.