The Dark Side of the Woods . . .

darksideAwakened 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)

wilderness

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.

darkside2

Check out my most recent photo post:  Calling all Monarchs

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~ by bearyweather on August 3, 2013.

15 Responses to “The Dark Side of the Woods . . .”

  1. I’m glad the woman was found and safe. Yes, you have to be ready to meet the wild country on nature’s terms at all times. Quite a few people have died in western Montana so far this summer because of mistakes they made… un-necessarily.

    • Montucky, I thought about you and your adventurous hikes in the wilderness while I was writing this. I know that your area is much more “wild” and hazardous then mine .. especially, if you are not aware of how to hike safely. Have you ever done a hiking safely how to post?

      • I have not, but perhaps I should, although my attitude toward safety in the wild country is very far from the usual.

        • That would make it even more interesting … you have me in a cliffhanger already … what makes it unusual?

          • I believe that existing safely in a wild area is not a group of things to do or not do, nor a list of what to take with you, although you may develop such a list. I don’t believe it can be taught very well either, as in a class. One has to seek knowledge and understanding of the natural world that can still be found in wilderness and wild places. This must be done by an individual for his own edification and while some knowledge can be found through documented experience of others, it is not complete until verified over time by the individuals own experience. At its core and at the very start it requires an individual who is willing to hold himself and only himself accountable for this kind of understanding as well as for his own well-being.

  2. It’s easy to get turned around in the woods. I grew up in the woods. Nearest neighbor a mile away. Still no cell reception there. Lots of rattlesnakes, bobcats, and bear…the bear have been known to take dog food, bird seed, or all the corn in the garden!

    • Suzi, I am glad that I do not have to worry about rattlesnakes. Yes, the bears are all about food … any thing they can find. The berries and ants are abundant here this year and it looks like there will be a good crop of acorns for the bears, too. I bring my bird feeders in every night.

      I think the most dangerous times in the woods are when we are too comfortable with nature and don’t consider what could go wrong. thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this piece. Thank you for sharing a bit of your little slice of the earth! You said it so well..Respect wildlife!

    • Thank you Karen. I am glad that you enjoyed your visit … I love sharing my little piece of wilderness … it is a precious thing that is vanishing from our world.

  4. First, I am so glad the woman was found safe. What a scary incident–and I can imagine being awakened in the middle of night to those shining helicopter lights as being very scary too. What a great blog you wrote. You live further in the wilderness than I do. We are only 12 miles from the nearest town, so we’re a little bit more insulated from it all. I liked the way you expressed our woods-dwelling relationship to the black bears, too. It’s really quite rare to even see one. I remember a story a Native American told about her grandma and a black bear picking the same berries. She gave the black bear a swat on its behind and it went running. Don’t think I’d ever have the courage (or stupidity?) to do that!

    • If you are making noise while in the woods, I don’t think you will ever see a bear… they run away. The swat on its behind is funny and would probably work, but I would not advise it. 😉
      I have bears on my mind because our Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers is in a big legal battle with the local DNR to be able to continue his life’s research. They want him to take the radio collars off the bears he has been studying for several generations and have forbid him putting cameras in the bear dens this winter… WHY? Those cameras have taught the world so much about black bears … Maybe the DNR is afraid that the world is going to love bears and see how loving they are to their cubs? Grrrr….

      Click here for: More about the battle with DNR

  5. I’m very relieved the woman was found safe. And I can imagine how frightening it would be to hear a helicopter in the middle of the night out in the wilderness. I live in a very urban area with “ghetto birds” flying overhead a lot representing a different sort of danger than what you have. Much as I love nature, I’m pretty sure I’m cut out to be a city girl, but I admire those of you who live so much closer to nature than I do.

    • Candace, you are much braver than I. The dangers of city living are 100% scarier to me then my woodsy dangers. The dangers of nature are well-known, mostly scientific and rather predictable. When it comes to “people” dangers in the city .. they are not always known (especially to us rural citizens), tending towards psychological instead of scientific facts, and very unpredictable.
      Unkind people are much scarier to me than a surprised bear. 😉

  6. I’m so glad she was found, and that she did everything right. I’ve found myself in short-lived moments of panic when I thought I was lost in the wilderness (hiking on vacation), but was lucky enough to get back on track soon enough that I didn’t have a heart attack. The wildness here is so different from your wildness. The water is where I think I might get lost, rather than the woods.

    • Getting turned around while you are bent down on the ground picking your favorite fruit is every easy to do here .. and all the trees look alike. 😉 There is always a lake or river to bump into here … those 10,000 plus lakes and rivers are everywhere up here.
      I heard on the radio the other day that Minnesota has more shoreline then any other state … that surprised me.

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