Woods Wealthy

Michael S. Smith

Lake Insula, in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters (2010)

I began to hear a gentle tapping on the tent fly. Then it stopped for a bit, began again, and increased. It was raining, and judging by how the clouds had looked all day and earlier this evening, the rain was likely to continue for some time.

Fine by me. Great, even. I was in my tent on Basswood Lake in the Boundary Waters, warm, had a book, a light, no place to go, and nobody nearby. Dinner had been eaten, the dishes cleaned, everything put away, food secured, canoe tipped over, tied to a tree, some dry firewood underneath. I hadn’t heard or seen a soul for two days. The tent wasn’t going to leak, water wasn’t going to soak the floor, my clothes were dry; I was at total peace with the world.


I’m not sure what such peace is worth, but in the woods, where pudding cups or chocolate of any type is currency, tundra swans on the wing are news, loon calls are music, autumn reds and yellows are art, entertainment is turning my full attention to a single leaf with interesting drops of water on it, or watching an eagle catch a thermal and soar out of sight, a rainy night after a day’s work makes me woods wealthy. I had paddled around a nearby bay that morning when I noted a beaver’s swimming off the starboard bow of the canoe. I could not reach my camera, so I contented myself by paddling without removing the paddle from the water, quietly pulling of the paddle followed by turning it perpendicular and feathering it through the water, staying the same distance behind the beaver for about a minute. Eventually, the beaver dived, but with no tail slap. That’s ideal, to be so close to an animal without obvious disturbance.

It was a gift, I concluded, after a great day such a pleasant night in the wilderness. I turned off the light and lay in the dark, listening to the tapping, occasionally increasing when a light wind blew water off the white spruce above me. I would later drop off to sleep, awakening some time after midnight to no sound. When I went outside, there was a dense mist just this side of rain, but not so dense as to hear it on the tent. It was cloudy, not because I could see clouds, but because I couldn’t see any sign of the Moon that I knew was above the horizon.

I can’t remember if I awakened later that night to the sound of heavy rain. Maybe I just dreamt it. Morning would come with gray skies, but I had no place I needed to be, other than by a warm, crackling fire having my breakfast, looking out over the lake wondering what awaited today for a woods wealthy person.