When Spring Comes Back With Rustling Shade…

Before some intelligent and well read reader calls me on the carpet for stealing someone’s words, let me give full credit to Allen Seger who left a small farm in Iowa to go and fight in France during World War One. He wrote a poem during the spring of 1918 titled; I Have a Rendezvous with Death that included the title I used to label this blog. Those beautiful words touched my heart when I first heard them on a long ago Memorial Day. They still do.

After a long winter of naked branches waving in the winter wind tiny flames of green fire are shooting out of the tips of birches, popular, and maple, as the northern woods are alive with multiple shades of vernal green. It is something that won’t last. In a few weeks all those different shades of spring will fade into the deep green of summer, so right now really is a lovely time of year around Ely and the Boundary Waters.

If all that weren’t enough color, the marsh marigolds are blooming out in the swamps forming a golden green carpet worthy of stopping to take a photograph of the first showy wild flower of spring. In town gardens are coming alive with beautiful colors as the tulips, violets, and daffodils rise up to greet a warming sun. The air is scented with the smell of freshly mowed grass as people try to keep ahead of the hoard of dandy lions before the can go to seed. Spring is a busy time and all the local gardeners are happy to be working in the good earth.

Anglers are reporting fair luck out on the water as the fishing season shifts into gear as things start to warm up a little making it pleasant to be out on the water. My eagles on the far side of Shagawa Lake are on the nest, but so far the eggs haven’t hatched. One sure sign of spring is the crows have hatched out in the nest that sits in the top of a big pine in the Ely School Yard a block from my home. The early morning air is filled with the singing of birds and the squawking of the hungry young crows.

All winter long the Front Porch Coffee and Tea Company has been filled with familiar faces of the dedicated core of people who actually winter here. Now each morning at the coffee shop is an adventure as the town starts to fill with strangers. If you don’t like the company today, just come back tomorrow and it will all change. Ely is a great place to meet interesting people each spring, and it really isn’t difficult to do. Ely is still a small place where a little effort on your part to break the ice. All one has to do is smile and say hello. The rest seems to take care of itself. I have started a lot of friendships at the Front Porch.

The other day someone asked me what I would be sure to take with me if I was thinking about spending time outdoors during a Boundary Waters Spring. Without having to think, I told them to either purchase a head net or bug repellant with them. There was a time when no angler from Ely would ever wear a head net, because wearing a head net was a sissy thing to do, and Ely was a manly place. Back in the day no one would be caught dead wearing something as unmanly as a head net, so when the bugs came out in the spring we would always stick with whatever Bug Dope had the most deet in it. To me it is still about the deet. Deet is the bad tasting stuff in most of the repellants that bugs just hate. Unfortunately some people I know hate deet almost as much as they hate the bugs, and they chose to wear head nets. Ely is a lot freer than it used to be. I would still get teased if I wear a head net, because I am from Ely, but if you come to town no one will say anything if they see you wearing a head net out in the boat or garden.

The prime reason for the need for either one or the other is the Arctic Black Fly. People in Ely called them sand flies, but whatever you call them, they are still one of the negative aspects of spring time in the Boundary Waters, and you can’t afford not to be ready for them. Nothing can ruin a spring camping trip faster than if you hit the spring hatch of Arctic Black Flies and you don’t have something to keep them at bay. Right now there are only a few hatched, and pretty easy to deal with. The thing that both the Arctic Black Flies and mosquitoes are waiting for is a good spring rain. The one thing that both sand flies and mosquitoes need in order to hatch a new generation is water. If we don’t get that rain things will be pleasant out in the woods or garden, but if we do start getting a lot of spring rain, then things start to take off, and before you know it the area buzz is quite literal. Someone asked me at the Front Porch if these were the No See Um Flies, and I told them now. Arctic Black Flies are small, but you can see them quite easily.

To me sand flies were more the case of being a No Feel Um Fly, because when they bite you and draw blood, you don’t even realize it until long after the damage is done, and the offending fly is long gone. All of a sudden you feel an itch and when you reach over to give that itch a good scratch you find a wet bump. You pull back your hand, look at your fingers, and notice the blood. That’s when you go for the mirror and take a look at the damages. Most of the time the bite scabs up and heals just fine, but sometimes the bite can get infected and then you really understand why you wanted a head net or some high test bug repellant.

After years of camping and fishing in the Boundary Waters my way of dealing with the spring hatch of Arctic Black Flies is that same way good woodsmen have been dealing with them for many years. Most of the good woodsmen I know always wore long pants and long sleeve shirts with button pockets. They also wore two pair of socks, and if the bugs were out in force, those old men with their strange looking farmer tans, would tuck the bottom of their pants into their socks. They did this because they kept protected from both sun and bug bites. It also saved them and the world from having to use a lot of bug dope.

A few summers ago when the State of Minnesota was running tests on the water Ely was pumping into Shagawa Lake they were surprised by the high levels of deet found in the discharge. When they looked for the source of the problem, they found that all the deet came from people taking showers in Ely. The hatch of mosquitoes and sand flies was so high that people wearing short pants and tee-shirts were lathering on so much repellant that when they showered it caused concerns at the local water treatment plant. It was bad for Shagawa Lake, and probably not good for the people wearing that much bug dope.

When a woodsman dresses right it just makes for a better trip. Save the short pants and tee-shirts for the end of the day. If you are planning on going out into the Boundary Waters you should dress to handle it. When in Rome, do as the Romanians do, and when in the woods wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. The reason I mentioned button pockets earlier, is because that’s where you need to carry a small container of good bug dope, and a well buttoned shirt pocket will always keep things safely where you want them. I’ve seen lots of people lose lots of valuable things, because their shirt didn’t have a button pocket.

If I run into a hatch of Arctic Black Flies, I reach for my bottle of deet, and put a little on the back of my hands. I don’t use my fingers, because like the bugs, I don’t like the taste of bug dope. A trick I learned from an old angler was to use the back of your hands to apply the deet to the back of your neck and around your face area. That’s really all it takes to keep sand flies and mosquitoes at an acceptable level so you can enjoy being outside and doing what you love.

Glen at Lucky Seven told me that he is seeing a lot of anglers who are having some good luck out on the water. You need to know what you’re doing, but if you’re looking for a wonderful place to drop a line, why not come up to Ely. The multiple shades of green are stunning, and the sounds of loons singing across sky blue water is always something special when spring comes back with rustling shade and apple blossoms fill the air.

Mike Hillman

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