(This column was first published in the August 25, 1997 Buffalo News.)

 Our annual trip to northern Minnesota was very different from past years.  We stayed in an island cabin associated with Tim and Dana Austin's Rockwood Lodge on Poplar Lake.  This lake is along the Gunflint Trail just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  We took day trips hiking or canoeing north into that restricted area, each night returning to an electric range and feather beds.

 No sleeping bags nor tents.  No heavy packs.  Only canoes and day packs to carry across portages.  It was, we all agreed, "wimp year," but I guess we have come to that.  The weather gods acknowledged our new status, providing us perfect sunny days and comfortably cool nights.  This continued a long dry spell and fire warnings were posted.

 The difference between the motor-banned Boundary Waters and Poplar Lake was only noticeable on our last day when a single jet ski roared around our island.  In an interesting contrast to the Fair Use bill that would open more Minnesota lakes to motorboats now being considered by our congressional delegates in Washington, a petition by the Austins and their friends in this area would exclude jet skis from this lake.

 Midsummer is never the best time for bird watching, but this year seemed exceptionally quiet.  On one day we hiked seven miles though the forest past four lakes seeing or hearing only a half dozen birds: a loon, a red-eyed vireo, a song sparrow and three crows.

 Birding on our island was a little better.  A hummingbird family kept us entertained.  We sat on our porch and watched these feisty little birds buzz up to the feeder mounted on a nearby cedar.  These birds' tempers are as evident as their musculature and they were intolerant of each other at the sugar water.  A bee also visited the feeder immediately after each of the tiny hummers fed to pick up their spillage.  When one bird returned too soon, the bee immediately drove it off.

 We were also visited by one of those small mixed flocks of birds that gather in preparation for migration.  A red-breasted nuthatch canvassed our trees, oblivious to the drab yellow-rumped warblers and a single blackburnian warbler still in its bright orange, black and white spring plumage.  Below two white-throated sparrows and a chipping sparrow hopped about the rocky hillside.

 One evening, reading through the cabin guest book, I found an interesting entry which I copied to share with you:

 "Late July 1997.  What a pleasant two weeks we have spent at this delightful resort.  Canoeing, swimming and hiking; bird, animal and wildflower identifying; all those things I recall from my earlier experience in the Girl Scouts have come back to me and I have been able to share them with my family.

 "Our time here was marred by only one mishap.  On our third day we hiked north past Otter and Partridge Lakes to the Canadian border.  We had a picnic lunch there on South Lake.  On the return trip my dear husband Bill, who was following the children, must have missed the path, possibly turning off on the Boundary Trail.  When we reached the highway and Rockwood Lodge, we found that he was no longer with us.

 "We have especially missed Bill's powerful stroke while canoeing but Junior has filled in admirably.  We have also found how many games are designed for four rather than three.

 "Perhaps Bill will have made his way back to our home in Minneapolis by the time we return.  If he has not, I plan to report him missing."

 I certainly hope Bill made it.