Yesterday, I hiked past Bean and Bear Lakes and climbed to the top of Mount Trudee. I set up camp among the boulders and white pines on the rounded peak with Tettegouche Lake and the north shore wilderness stretched out at my feet and the gray expanse of Lake Superior fading into the low sky to the south. The day was cool, drizzly. The deciduous trees -- maple, oak, birch -- are now at that stage when their buds spread apart like miniature hands. The dime-sized new leaves are so raw that they haven't developed chlorophyll yet: instead of the intense green of summer woods, this early spring forest is a mosaic of pale pink, beige, and deep burgundy; secondary pigments visible only during a leaf's brief birth and its autumnal death.
The light rain and lake wind coax me into my sleeping bag at dusk and I'm lulled to sleep by a steady purr of sprinkles on the tarp over my head. When I wake later, in black darkness despite a nearly full moon, the purr has intensified to a clatter, sharp like the rattle of raw grain or the chatter of teeth. The wind whips the edges of my tarp so that I'm thankful that I re-enforced the stakes with rocks. Out across Lake Superior I glimpse tangled nets of lightning.
I've always relished the starkness and energy of storms. That's one reason I seldom carry a tent when I camp. In a tent, you're walled off, set apart from the world that surrounds you. As in a house, your view is confined and boxed by windows and doors, the details blurred behind a veil of mosquito netting. My tarp keeps the worst of the rain off my sleeping bag without divorcing my senses from the beauty of the night.
Lightning flashes overhead. I count ten seconds before the accompanying grumble of thunder: the storm is close. After the neon brightness fades, I’m enveloped in a black embrace. The rain chitters like fire.
But then my ears detect something -- maybe -- a noise apart from the wind, from the rain, from the far-off, steady swell of the surf. An uneven sound, a voice -- yes, there it is again. Definitely a voice. Singing maybe, humming: talking to itself. I can't make out the words: it's just a general, distracted mutter, something that sounds like "dum, de, de, dum."
"Who's out there?" I want to question, but don't. I know the answer: no one. I'm six or seven miles from the nearest road. It's the middle of the night. It's pouring rain.
"Dum, de, de, dum." Whatever the singer is, it's getting closer. I still can't make out anything familiar in this sound. I can't imagine what sort of creature would be humming like this, casually and fearlessly advertising its presence to the unknown night.
"Dum, de, de, dum."
My eyes strain to penetrate the darkness. They're focused directly on the source of the voice when lightning flashes, blue, somewhere very near. In the momentary daylight, I see, among the boulders to my right, what looks like a basketball made of pine needles that’s moving inexorably toward me.
"Dum, de, de, dum."
I can hear footsteps now, shuffling through loose gravel and last fall's leaves. The porcupine pauses for a moment as thunder bellows, then he resumes his calm, music-laden advance.
The second thing that I learned? Porcupines don't like to get wet. This one crawled under the tarp with me, curled into a ball against my hip, sighed once, and almost immediately began to snore. I didn't close my eyes the rest of the night.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources