Independence Day at the Steger Wilderness Center
Story and photos by Nick Sallen
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As the morning sun rose into the clear skies, my father, brother, his girlfriend and I broke camp in preparation for our final day of paddling in the Boundary Waters. Our plan was to canoe through Pipestone Bay, Newton Lake and leave Fall Lake before noon in order to drop off our rental equipment, and head back home before the Independence Day parade in Ely.
I was dropped off at the Steger Wilderness Center and said farewell to my family. The entire weekend had marvelous weather, and today was no different. As I went up the trail to set-up my tent, I noticed specks of green, red, blue and even violet hanging from a few low brush plants alongside the path.
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I couldn’t believe my eyes, even after closer inspection! Blueberries are typically harvested towards the end of July, not the beginning. As I made it back to my tent site on the cliff overlooking the marsh in Bumtown, the density of blue and violet berries hanging from the low brushes increased greatly.
After setting up my tent, I started to collect ripe berries by the handful. Everywhere along the lichen and mossy rich rocks was thousands of antioxidant filled small berries ready to be consumed.
My mind started racing with all the new edible possibilities- blueberry jam, pie, pancake and fruit salad! Then I remembered what Will said earlier this year as we walked to collect rocks at the quarry, “In late July, this area will have many blueberries,” he said, pointing at large rocks to the east of the path.
After collecting a couple of cups of blueberries, I thought the other residents here would enjoy berries from the first harvest. So I went back to the lodge, grabbed an empty 800mL mason jar, and went up the path to the quarry.
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By this time, I had been collecting berries for over an hour and the mosquitoes had already lapped up enough blood to start a new generation of blood-sucking pests. If I collected five cups of lowbrush wild blueberries, I could give some to the community and keep some for myself. After two hours, I met my goal. It was time to escape the swarm, enjoy the fruits of my labor and relax for the rest of the day.
The sunset led to explosions of light and sound in the night sky. Shortly after 10pm, I sat up in my tent as a symphony of bangs illuminated the southern part of the sky. I unzipped my rain fly to catch a glimpse of the firework show that was coming from Ely. As I stood there soaking up the moment, I noticed fireflies glittering around the marsh. The moment was perfect.
With a handful of sweet berries, I crawled back into my tent after the show was over. This was my first Independence Day celebration away from Minneapolis, and I think it’ll be memorable for how beautiful and blue it was.
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