State Park camping? Usually not my thing, because the thought of crowded campgrounds is the antithesis of solitude I seek in nature. I found myself in prairie/farm country for Memorial Day Weekend, however, and Maplewood State Park was the closest thing to public forest land that I could find. ..and of all the days to seek solitude at a State Park… Memorial Day Weekend is probably one of the worse choices outside of winter time.

Still– I found an open reservation for a backpack site on the south side of one of the Park’s lakes. The other two backpack sites were more remote, but already reserved, so I settled for the one albeit far from the campground was also from private. A trail grazed the edge of the site, funneling horsebackers, bikers, and joggers right past my camp. On the other side, the lake, which fishing boats found to be a popular bay for bass and panfish. Too many people in the woods for me, but still better than a campground.

Fortunately, the birds and other wildlife still outweighed the people that occasionally passed by. My little campsite by the lake proved to be a great spot for birding. A brief list of species seen:

Eastern Kingbird
Common Yellow Throat
Yellow Warbler
Baltimore Oriole
Tree Swallow
White breasted nuthatch
Redwing Blackbird
Northern Shrike
Brown-headed Cowbird
Gray Catbird
Canada Goose
Trumpeter Swan
American Robin
American Redstart
Ruby-throated hummingbird

At night, I was startled by a beaver pacing in the lake out front of my camp and occasionally diving with a thunderous slap of his tail. The tree frogs and American toads thrilled a continuous chorus that sometimes harmonized and sometimes clashed with dissonance.

The next morning, I awoke to birds singing again, and then to the sight of a lady jogging the trail running past my tent. Then, later as I got out of the tent, I ignored the tubby chap who muttered sheepishly as he walked the trail past my site as I was fastening up my jeans getting dressed.

Oh, to be deeper into the wilderness and away from people… but it was good to be in the woods nonetheless.

First Orchid Hunt

I stole some time on a Thursday after work to go orchid hunting. Let me first be clear in saying that orchids are protected, rare, and don’t transplant well at all, so when I say hunt, I mean ‘find them, appreciate them, and leave them.’

My hope was to find the calypsos– early bloomers, beautiful blooms, but rare to find. Research told me they like to dwell among the cedars. I knew of a good stand of white cedar with wet feet a ways farther north, so that’s where I headed.

The weather was hot, the mossy woods humid,and the mosquitoes were thick. There were visual rewards immediately with marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), starflowers (Lysimachia borealis), and hepatica/anemones of a couple varieties.

There were a lot of mosquitoes. I lathered up in lemongrass oil, which seemed to keep them at bay, but it also seemed to sting and burn my derm. I came across some bluebead lilies (Clintonia borealis), not yet in bloom, and many moss-covered logs were sprinkled with dainty Three-leaf Gold Thread (Coptis trifolia).

I came across some delicate green flowers on a spire, and I recall seeing some orchids of that description (e.g. adders mouth and frog orchid). I was pretty sure what I found wasn’t an orchid, but it was an interesting little plant so I documented it anyway. Later research proved it to be a naked miterwort (Mitella nuda). How’s that for a name? I also encountered a lot of false lily of the valley and many white violets (there are several varieties that closely resemble each other and I didn’t distinguish which I had found).

Besides all the early swamp flowers, I did, in two spots, find some orchids as I had sought to do. Unfortunately, what I found was two communities yet unopened and a seed pod from last year’s bloom. Both communities looked to be one of the yellow ladyslipper varieties, and so I may have to try to get back out there in a week to see them in their glory. Did I mention there were a lot of mosquitoes?

I didn’t cover all of the 40 oblong acres of cedar, but eventually emerged from the lowland and crossed the highway and summitted a steep ridge of pine slope overlooking from the other side. Uvularia, wild sarsaparilla, and other plants abounded. I found a campsite shelter to later revisit and took an unplanned slide down a slippery, descending wooden walkway with occasional missing boards.

Daylight was growing short, and if the pitcher plants were blooming, I wanted to catch some pictures in the late sun’s light. I trudged back to the car and headed to one of my usual haunts. The upland forest floor abounded with blooms of strawberries, violets, jack-in-the-pulpit, and more uvularia.

I got out of the woods and into the spruce swamp and open bog. Bog cotton, bog laurel, and so many other plants. And so many more mosquitoes. The bog laurels were so gorgeous, it was almost worth the fight of a million mosquitoes to see it.

I found the beginning nub of a pitcher plant bloom coming up, but it was far from blooming height. So as daylight waned, I beat my way back out of the wild and headed home… exhausted, sweaty, and moderately successful in my quest: many interesting botanical sights, and a couple of orchid discoveries- though premature to blooming. I shall return! (hopefully in a week to see the ladyslippers in their glory).

Trout (in lakes) Opener

I love a lake where solitude can be enjoyed without the interference of two-stroke engine noise. Minnesota Fishing Opener, when most lakes are a ruckus of motor racket, is also the opening for stream trout in lakes. And so I hiked into a non-motorized area to a lake that is undeveloped, non-motorized, and solitude from society.


Everything should be artful; fishing included. While others may have been conquering lakes with 200+ horsepower and a mortgage worth of electronic gear, I found a tranquil location to paint en plein air with a fly rod. Is it snobbish of me? Perhaps. But in fly fishing, even the lure itself is a work of art.

The scenery, the lure, the casting action, and the traditional garb and gear are all works of art in flyfishing. Come success, even the colorful pattern on the brookies, browns, and rainbows are paintings by the Creator himself.

Though I’d prefer the native brookies, I headed to a remote lake stocked with brown trout, and cast away the evening. Even in my non-motorized solitude in a wilderness area, I still couldn’t completely escape the clamor of two-stroke. Somewhere in the distance, the rumble of an ATV was still casting its noise all the way over the trees to where I stood.

The sun got lower and the celestial colors heightened. After many pendulus casts, I finally met with success and pulled in a fish. Well, ‘fish’ may be a generous name for it; for although it was the size of a small trout, in reality it was just a large minnow. Beautiful, mirroring scales glinted in the evening sun, the golden shiner was at minimum a guarantee I wasn’t completely skunked.


Daylight vanished and I hiked back to through the dark woods with the rosy sky behind me. My wicker creel was empty, but I had met success nonetheless. I had caught some solitude, some peace of mind, and a wonderful experience; and also, not to be forgotten, a very large golden shiner minnow.

An awakening bog


I often find myself in a black spruce bog/swamp during the winter when the solitude of snow covered evergreens is most inspiring. The soggy peat is easy to navigate when buried under an even blanket of snow. Few have been my trips into the swamp, however, when the snow is gone and the way is wet. This spring, I went where I had gone a month before, when spring revealed crimson pitcher plants gasping for air through the melting snow. Now, beginning of May, the snow and ice were all but gone and the mounds of moss fully revealed. I rediscovered a concentration of pitcher plants.

Earlier I had found only last fall’s red survivors, but now there were verdant newcomers to see. I found again more of last year’s cranberries on the moss: still edible, and still tasty.

The leatherleaf, still rusted from fall, lit the sphagnum on fire in the open clearing of the bog. I hopped high spots back into the wooded spruce swamp, and finally onto higher ground. I came across a beaver-made pond spanning two levels with a trickle filling one from the other. Ducks came, went, and passed over: woodies, green-wings, golden eyes. The chorus of peepers and leopards was pleasantly deafening. A grouse was playing percussion behind me. Spring was singing. And I didn’t want to leave.