Our field trip to Hobson Memorial Forest on Thursday offered a chance to spend part of the morning in nature’s classroom. Prior to the field trip, I didn’t know that BSU owned a piece of the forest, so it goes without saying that I had never been there. But any day in the woods is a good day.
After a short drive to the forest northeast of Lake Bemidji and a short hike through the rustic log cabins area on our way to the amphitheater for a quick briefing, we were turned loose to explore in solitude. Leaving the amphitheater area, I anxiously looked for a way to separate myself from the group and an alternate exit down a game trail helped me slip out of sight within seconds of departure. We had a half hour. I didn’t have a watch. There would be a whistle when time was up. I was soon out of whistle range. Now, what natural wonders could I find?
Before I could escape deeper into the woods, the ridge trail I followed dropped into a clearing where a boardwalk snaked through a bog leading to a beaver lodge. It looked as though the beavers could have designed its route themselves – easy access to the shoreline timber, but a long drag back. I didn’t dare pay a visit; I was unannounced and the first few steps down the boardwalk looked precarious at best.
Back up the ridge, I came across a deer enclosure where university scientists study the affects of the white-tail herd outside the enclosure versus the protected vegetation inside the enclosure. Time to get off the game trail, and deeper into the woods. I cut cross-country between the ridge and swamp. Weaving through deadfalls and blowdowns in the soft soil just above the water table, I came across a favorite perch of a resident squirrel where winds had found the breaking point of an immature oak. No chatter of discontent with my presence, but it left behind part of its cache for later, or for better feasting elsewhere.
Working away from the water and into the woods, I interrupted two male American Redstarts squabbling over something so intensely that their game of give and chase brought their course within inches of me. In fact, I had to side-step them as they dove through the underbrush. A second later, I gathered myself and my camera to capture brilliant black and blaze woods warblers, but they called a cease to their dispute to elude their intruder.
I must have hit some tall grass somewhere because a half dozen wood ticks were making their way north along my legs looking for a warm spot to engorge with indulgence.
The forest, bursting with growth from a late spring of blanketing snow and soaking rains, created such a fluorescent green, I strained to remember the last time I had seen as rich a color. Tiny pops of lavender and red were revealed along the way deeper into the woods. The whole place smelled washed clean by the rains the day before. The rains had also left the forest floor damp, soft, and quiet, perfect hiking conditions for discovering something with the element of surprise.
Deeper into the older growth trees and thicker underbrush I lost the cool breeze of the morning and waves of mosquitoes began to sing into my ears. I’ll cross one more ridge and then I’ll turn back, or maybe the next ridge after that. I don’t want to turn back. I have to have been gone for a half hour, but I’ve only just begun to explore this place. To turn back now would be anticlimactic. I didn’t have enough time to even begin to map things out in my head. But fresh white-tail tracks told me it was time I make tracks myself before someone sends a search party.
I picked up another class member along my way back who had neglected any recognition of a watch as well. Together, we rendezvoused with one of the instructors who was on his way back from looking for stragglers at the amphitheater. I never heard a whistle. We were the last ones back. Nearly left behind. I took only photographs, and left only footprints, as the saying goes, but my senses were still computing all the information they had just received.