The Dark Side of the Woods . . .
Awakened at 1 am by a low flying and very loud helicopter which was shining a light around the woods (for at least 20 minutes around my house) was a scary thing on Wednesday. It looked like something from a spy movie … it is far from a common sight here in the middle of the wilderness. (suspenseful pause as I explain)
This blog has been my place for sharing the beauty of the northern Minnesota woods which I love. Besides my posts of complaints about bugs, long very cold winters, woodchucks, nuisance squirrels and an occasional raccoon bandit you will find my words and pictures to be positive and loving about my forest home ( … even my woodchuck pictures are not dark ). I have neglected sharing the dark sides of living in the wilderness probably because I keep those aspects in the very back of my mind.
The reality of the situation is that this is “the wilderness”. If you have never lived beyond developed city life, let me show you the wildness of it …..
The nearest town, hospital and store is 30 miles away. There are trained first responders, but where I live it would still take at least 20 minutes for someone to get here .. and that would be if I could reach someone if I was away from my house. Cell reception is faint and does not exist in most woodsy places. My nearest year-round neighbor is about 3 miles away. There are summer visitors and campers closer as the area population doubles (at least) in the summer. The roads are gravel and everywhere you look are woods … trees, brush, lakes, rivers and wildlife … no open horizons in the immediate area. Most of the cabins and houses are down little roads of their own and not visible from the main road. I find it beautiful … but, dangers do lurk. If I dwelt on the dangers, I would not be able to live here .. so I keep them in the very back of my head and I practice caution when out in the woods.
Ironically this week, Kathy over at Lake Superior Spirit and I had our minds in the same thought stream. Kathy did a great job at explaining to city dwellers what life in the woodsy wilderness is like this week, too. (check it out)
Personally, I do not fear the wildlife except the timber wolves and a rare large cat – both of which are fearless. (okay, I don’t like snakes or bats, either). I find the creatures living here amazing and beautiful. (Sorry, this is where I need to stop and talk about bears :-))
People are taught to fear bears – they hear a story about a bear hurting someone somewhere and that makes all bears mean and aggressive, but that is not happening in my woods. (the helicopter had nothing to do with a mad bear). Minnesota has black bears – not grizzly bears. Black bears are timid, rarely seen and naturally prefer not to be around humans. Their biggest crimes are raiding bird feeders and garbage cans (usually at night), it is all about finding food. The bears spend their summer searching for food and teaching/protecting young cubs – they are not naturally vicious creatures. If you do see one, respected it, as cute as they are … never try to feed it and it will most likely run away. A healthy black bear is not going to aggressively come up to you in the woods and steal your berry-picking bucket … Seeing one while in the woods is a rare thing … that is why the hunters “bait them” for weeks before the hunt. Black bears in Minnesota are not what should scare you about the woods. We really do not have poisonous snakes to worry about (only one I think) either, just a few poisonous plants and they are easy to avoid. Our main hazards are biting bugs, extremely cold temperatures, deep snow, the thickness of the forest, and the waters of the lakes and rivers.
The biggest hazard is simply the combination of the wildness of the woods and careless human behavior. Accidents do happen in the woods.
The safest way to experience the woods is with another person or letting someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Personally, I have worried about falling and breaking a leg when out cross-country skiing alone, tipping a canoe, or getting turned around and lost in the woods. There are crazy (fearless/foolish?) people (I am not one of them ;-)) who take big chances by tempting the lake ice when not very thick, traveling too fast on ATVs and snowmobiles, fishing in boats while under the influence, and not preparing for the cold weather when venturing out. People do get hurt out there in the wildness.
(end of suspenseful pause) The midnight helicopter search Wednesday was a first for my area. It was being used to look for an 80 yr old woman who went out blueberry picking and did not come home. Seeing the search and rescue team, sheriffs and locals all gathered in the search the next morning was a big wake up call to the hazards that do exist in the woods … even when you know your woods very well. This woman has lived in the area and picked berries in her “secret spot” most of her life. (by the way, it is my secret spot, too ;-)). When I “stop for blue”, I know it is always important to keep an eye on where I came from because it is very easy to get turned around while bent over picking your favorite berry (it has happened to me) … and, that is what happened to her (possibly a bit of dementia involved, too).
This story put a big empty-feeling hole in my stomach, it brought the darker realities of the woods to the forefront again. This woman was very lucky, she spent two days and a night in the woods and was found safe .. just hungry and dehydrated. There were so many things in her favor for survival … The weather was pleasant, people “knew she was missing” (that is a big one), she was dressed for bug protection, and It sounds like she did the smart thing … when she did not know where she was, she sat down and waited instead of wandering farther into the woods.
“The more we deny that we have a dark side, the more power it has over us.” ~ Sheryl Lee
The Minnesota Woods … All Wilderness … must be treated with love and a healthy respect for all sides of its nature. There is a dark and a light side to my woodsy home. The dark side can be managed if you are aware of the hazards and take precautions. Be a boy scout when out in the wilderness – always be prepared and put safety first … it is truly wild out there.