Archive for July, 2020

Climb on!

Stretching out over the driveway is a reach of wild grape vine. During daily walks to the mailbox I’ve been noting its growth. Its parent vine twists and climbs up a tangle of willow growing next to our drive. It does not have its own stout stem so it has evolved to pull itself higher against gravity using the anchor of other trees or structures. 

Mountain climbers hammer metal pitons into the cracks along their climbing route. These become anchors to affix their climbing ropes. 

Similarly wild grapes provide their own organic pitons. Slim green tendrils blindly reach out from the ascending vine and seek anchor points by snaking themselves around nearby tree branches, wires or any firm structure. Once anchored, the vine continues its steady sprint to the sun.

The vine I have been watching over the past week had boldly sent a new exploratory reach over the chasm of our driveway. New leaves, the solar collectors that make photosynthesis possible, add weight to the reaching vine and it is clearly losing its pathfinder advantage to gravity as it droops earthward. 

The vine’s stretch is something to behold. Like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece, Hands of God and Adam, the tip of the curling tendril appears to plead for connection.

Ultimately grape vines will summit in the canopy of a tree where it will spread its photosynthetic carpet of foliage. Sometimes the weight of the vines, foliage and fruit can pull a weakened limb out of a tree and then all comes crashing down. And once again the intrepid vine will snake its way to another nearby ladder.

Late spring or early summer is when the broad leaves can be gathered for stuffed grape leaf rolls. I collect tender leaves near the tip of the vine that are roughly four inches across. 

You can use your imagination in making the filling but I recently used cooked rice, shredded salmon, chopped shitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions with a couple of cloves of minced garlic and some other favorite spices. Nuts are also a nice option and chicken or lamb is also good.

We like to blanch the leaves for a moment to make them supple for easier rolling. You can also marinate grape leaves in olive oil, vinegar and salt and store in a wide mouthed jar in the fridge for future use. 

Remove the leaf stems, spoon a tablespoon of filling on the flattened leaf and roll it starting from the leaf base. Then fold the leaf sides towards the center covering the stuffing. Continue rolling the leaf towards its tip creating a short, cigar-shaped morsel. Apply a bit of olive oil to the grape rolls before eating. These are simple and delicious. 

I need to head up to the mailbox and make my daily observation of the futile effort of one bold grape vine. But hey, if you don’t dare go where no grape has gone before how does one reach out to new possibilities?

Unseasonable Visit to the Deer Shack

For over thirty years I’ve made the annual November pilgrimage to the deer shack. I’ve only been there in autumn and winter. However, with an opportunity to help maintain a seven-mile section of the 300 plus miles of Lake Superior Hiking Trail, my wife and I couldn’t resist a first summer visit to the old shack. 

Rather than stay at a motel, we opted to don our backpacks, swing our legs over our mountain bikes and spur our “bush ponies” into the wilds. 

It was a hot day when we pedaled away from the car and headed down an old abandoned road. There are no public roads within a mile of the shack. With the dry summer conditions we made surprisingly great time and arrived at the lush jungle of tall cow parsnip and curly dock that almost hid the front of the shack. Both plants are edible and if necessary they could provide nutritious condiments to the sandwiches we brought in. 

Pushing open the unlocked door, we were pleased to see the shack clean and in good shape. The interior atmosphere reminded me of the torturous “hot box” used to house Lt. Colonel Nicholson in the epic war movie, The Bridge Over the River Kwai. With only three small, fixed windows with no screens, there was no way to air out the stuffy shelter other than to keep the door open for a while.

High on the wall, above an upper bunk is a faint penciled declaration of the shack being built and the names of the handful of builders. The date was July 4, 1940. 

Years ago one of the late builders was reminiscing of that summer day. It was hot. “The next morning the black flies were so bad they looked like pepper in the pancakes.” Luckily they had the river to refresh themselves and fetch drinking water.

Before bed, Nancy and I bathed in the rapids of the nearby river to cool our bodies down. It felt good to lie down on the old bunk for the night but the goodness didn’t last. Whether it was a squadron or just a patrol of insurgent mosquitoes, they managed to sing in our ears and sneak in for a bite. 

In an hour our sleeping sheet was littered with the carnage of self-defense. Eventually the temperature started to cool down. Surprisingly we finally slept and sometime during the night found ourselves pulling the sleeping bag over us. 

The next morning we cycled to a rendezvous point to meet the work crew. With the pandemic in progress, we kept ourselves a good distance from each other while instructions were meted out. We spent the warm day clearing brush and fallen trees from the trail.

When we returned to the shack after the work day, we jammed scraps of tissue paper in any opening of the nearly 80-year-old walls to prevent a repeated mosquito incursion.

The next morning, we breakfasted on our hard-boiled eggs, banana bread and coffee while sitting in the front “yard.” We relaxed by pressing wild flowers and writing in journals. 

Last November I had noticed that every page of the shack journal had been scribed on so we packed in a blank notebook. This would be the third shack journal over the last thirty or so years. Sadly none were kept prior to that. Most of the entries are from strangers who discovered the charm and shelter of the shack. 

I came across an entry from “George” penned back in June 2002: I decided to day hike (without pack) and see the area in detail when I happened upon this wonderful deer shack. I figured I owed myself a relaxing time with a chair and table so I stayed here.  It was nice to get cleaned up, been out here since Wed. 5/29/02. I’m in no hurry but tomorrow I’ll be on my way THANK YOU VERY MUCH for the chance to stay here.

We tidied up the shack, put on our packs. Before pedaling off, I turned for a last look. Thank you dear Deer Shack.