Red Squirrel: a Curious Boundary Waters Nuisance

Red Squirrel: a Curious Boundary Waters Nuisance

If you have been to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, you surely recognize this little guy. There seems to be at least one present at every campsite, if not several.  They tend to make themselves known to you – red squirrels often voice their irritation with me for invading their space by perching in a conifer at about my eye level and chattering loudly in protest. When they are not engaged in this activity, I often see them chasing each other through camp or munching on cones, leaving the shredded remains piled below them.  However, speaking of shredded remains… Red squirrels are intelligent creatures, and are not shy about checking out your gear (as seen in the photo above). If your equipment is piled on the ground, expect that they will hop over and check it out. I’m sure that they are able to either pilfer food from many campers, or that they are given handouts by well-meaning visitors (a practice that is not recommended). Either way, red squirrels in the BWCA are generally not afraid of people and curious about what you have brought them. One year, for example, we had our bag of food hanging in a tree while we went out for a canoe ride. Yes, it was hung properly – at least 10-15 feet off the ground, at least 5-8 feet away from the tree, and hanging at least 4-6 feet down (I’ve heard many different opinions on exactly how many feet off the ground and away from the tree and branch you are supposed to hang food, but we follow these rough estimates. Sometimes the area trees don’t offer you a perfect scenario). Anyway, we thought we had outsmarted the critters by hanging our bag while we were out. You can imagine our surprise when we came back to find a pile of shredded blue chunks of plastic material!  It turns out that some enterprising squirrel had made an impressive leap to our bag, or scaled down the rope, and was perched on it slowly chewing his way to our food! Lucky for us he had only gotten some nuts, but we had to come up with another bag to store our food in the rest of the trip. Red squirrels are about half the size of gray squirrels and are found in nearly all of Minnesota, but are most common in coniferous areas. Natural food they eat includes acorns, seeds of conifers (in the cones), mushrooms, maple seeds, and more. They often cache food for use in the winter. Red squirrels are predated on by cats, coyotes, foxes, hawks, weasels, marten, and more (Here is a great video of a pine marten going after a snowshoe hare in the BWCA!). As demonstrated by their loud chattering, tail flicking, and foot stomping, red squirrels are very territorial and will let you know when you have invaded their space. Related articles: Packing Food for a Trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness A Squirrel Tale, in Which I Also Shoot a Deer Planning a Trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness...

Backpacking Fare: Dried Mushrooms

Backpacking Fare: Dried Mushrooms

  When planning meals for a backpacking trip, it’s nice to be able to work in some variety.   If you are going on a longer trip, this is especially true, and lightweight foods are essential. For everyday cooking at home I prefer fresh mushrooms over dried, but things have a way of tasting so much more amazing after a day in the outdoors. Dried mushrooms are OUTSTANDING after a long hike! Dried mushrooms lend an earthy, meaty taste to a meal, and make a nice addition to soups, noodles, rice, or grains. With the right seasonings, you could even serve them up as a side dish!  We always take them on our trips to the Boundary Waters. Cooking tips for dried mushrooms: If you have the luxury of time, soak the mushrooms in hot water before cooking them (use purified water!). The beauty of this is the water you soaked the mushrooms in makes an excellent base for soup, or can subsequently be used to boil noodles in. If you like softer mushrooms, dice them up before cooking them. We often like to leave them be; it’s fun to be able to easily identify the different mushroom types as you eat them (if you happen to be using a variety of dried mushroom types). It will take longer to cook your mushrooms if you leave them whole – plan your cooking timing accordingly. The rehydrated mushrooms can be sautéed in cooking oil (we prefer canola). The addition of dried, minced onions makes for an irresistible aroma when...

Backpacking Fare: SPAM – the Master of Versatility

Backpacking Fare: SPAM – the Master of Versatility

I consider SPAM to be one of the most versatile meats to bring backpacking. You can now purchase SPAM in a bag (!), which is perfect for backpacking in the Boundary Waters, where cans are not allowed. Besides, backpacking with cans of food is impractical. In it’s simplest form, you can eat bagged SPAM raw. It can be used as a topping for crackers, or in a lunch wrap along with some hot rice, Chipotle-style. If you’re in a rush, eat it straight out of the bag. Our favorite way to eat SPAM in the Boundary Waters is fried, for breakfast. The meat has fat in it, so you can choose whether or not to oil the pan. We usually add just a small drop for good measure. It’s excellent on its own, and even better with maple syrup. Fried SPAM can also be added to pretty much any kind of rice meal in the BWCA, it’s hard to go wrong. It feels more natural in meals that would likely have ham in them, such as a wild rice mix, or something more grainy. Shore Lunch makes excellent soup mixes that do well with a SPAM addition, particularly the Wild Rice and Broccoli and Cheddar versions. We have tried both with delectable results. If you have any additional ideas for the use of bagged SPAM, please leave them in the comments section below. It’s a staple in our backpacks and I would love any new...

Backpacking Fare: Wild Blueberry Pancakes

Backpacking Fare: Wild Blueberry Pancakes

Whether you’re enjoying the gentle warmth of the sun on your shoulders while gazing out over a calm lake or huddling under a tarp to escape the rain, there is something inherently comforting about the sound and smell of sizzling pancakes in the wilderness. Although this is at least a two-dish meal (a bowl/pot to stir the pancake mix in, and a pan/pot for frying), it’s a meal that’s worth the extra effort (I’ll take a hot pancake over a cold energy bar any day). When you mix in a handful of juicy wild blueberries, you can even forgo the tiny bottle of syrup! To find wild blueberries, you will need to camp at the right time. In the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, we are always able to find them around the month of July. Berry picking IS allowed in the BWCA and Quetico, but make sure to leave some behind for the wildlife and other campers. Wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) is a short, spreading, deciduous shrub, which grows best in wooded or open areas with well-drained acidic soils. This is another plant we have no trouble finding along the trails. Ingredients for Wild Blueberry Pancakes: Pancake mix that only requires you to add water (this is key – do not get a mix that requires milk or eggs, unless you are camping from your car with a cooler) purified water (for information on purifying your water while camping, read this article) oil for frying (I prefer canola, but vegetable will also do) wild blueberries Make them like you would any pancake: stir the water and pancake mix together according to the package directions, toss in blueberries, and fry them up in the frypan. Make sure that there are significant bubbles all the way through the pancake before flipping it, and thoroughly heat the oil before frying the first...

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at Dawn

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at Dawn

While camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, we woke up early to watch the sun rise. Listening to the loons call, birds chirp, and fire crackle as the sun slowly brightened the sky was pure...

Backpacking Fare: Wild Raspberries

Backpacking Fare: Wild Raspberries

Wild raspberries (Rubus sp.) are one of the ultimate backpacking foods, because you don’t have to pack them! On the other hand, you aren’t guaranteed to find them either. They happen to be fairly abundant in Minnesota, and can be found in clearings, along edges of woods, and in thickets – i.e; along the edges of trails! Raspberries are a sun-loving plant. It’s quite easy to fill yourself up on raspberries if you happen across a good patch of them. Raspberries are a prickly shrub that grows to about 1 – 5 feet in height, and are often ripe in early to mid summer. In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we find ripe wild raspberries in July every year.  Handle the plants with care, as the bushes can be quite prickly. Wild raspberries are high in vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. When backpacking, they are excellent eaten on their own, added to pancakes, tossed into some edible wild greens such as dandelion leaves, added to some white or red wine (if you happen to backpack with a small cardboard box of wine), or, if you’re feeling extra luxurious, added to s’mores!...