The almost glowing color of the trees called me to drive the Woodtick Trail recently.
The tree-lined gravel road has become my favorite place to stop and smell the wild roses, photograph the marsh marigolds and watch the painted turtles cross the road. It's usually very peaceful and free of traffic. Of course, weekends bring ATVs and trucks with boat trailers, but I'm in no hurry and just let them pass.
The Woodtick Trail boasts different scenery as the seasons evolve. In spring large blankets of white and pinkish trillium cover the forest floor. Their large leaves hint at the bounty of green yet to emerge.
Later, the road is dotted with boat trailers, and the sides of the road are dotted with yellow lady's-slippers and their showy pink and white sisters. Elusive wood ducks burst out of the tiny roadside ponds and disappear into the trees. A beaver appears to have given up gnawing on a large tree that stands alone in a pond. Perhaps his eyes were bigger than his sturdy teeth, or maybe he's hoping a good Fourth of July storm will finish the job.
A perfect example of a beaver's handiwork, this tree appears to be waiting for the wind to finish the job.
Goldfinches, warblers, chickadees and other songbirds flit about the branches of the brush and trees. Creamy white wild calla, bright orange Indian paintbrush and droopy yellow wild oats are just a few that I recognize of the hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of wildflowers decorating the landscape. The backdrop changes weekly as earlier flowers take a back seat to the late bloomers.
Now the shady road is lit up by the fall sunshine as it bounces off the golden yellow of the aspen leaves, the warm red-orange of the maples and the deep golden-brown of the oaks. Only a few small white wildflowers and purple asters remain to add accent colors to the wooded scenery. A grouse hen scoots across the road, and indeed, the beaver's tree has finally fallen.
On my most recent drive I was surprised to see that the woods on both sides of the road for a half-mile stretch had recently been logged off. Several solitary oaks and pines stood exposed among hundreds of stumps and the still smoldering brush. At first my heart is heavy, but my sadness gives way to a cautious confidence that this slash and burn must have been done with care and concern for the environment in mind. I know that fire plays an important role in the growth of the forest and that we'll see the area thrive again in the future.
Late fall and winter drives on the Woodtick Trail will bring new and different adventures. The fallen leaves and inevitable snow will allow visitors to peer farther into the trees and spot wildlife tracks more easily. The woods will reveal new wildlife scenes to photograph and more glimpses into the ever-changing world of nature here in north central Minnesota.
The Woodtick Trail is a gravel road in Cass County maintained by the Chippewa National Forest. The trail runs east from Highway 371 north of Hackensack to County Road 5 near Longville. It runs close to and crosses the North Country Trail, a 3,200-mile National Scenic Trail (for non-motorized use) that will eventually run from Crown Point, N.Y., to Lake Sakakawea, N.D. The Chippewa National Forest hosts 68 miles of the North Country Trial.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Dispatch and a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota. Send comments or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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