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Boreal Community Media

SENTINELS OF SUMMER: an essay by local writer John Bragstad

Jul 18, 2023 12:13PM ● By Content Editor
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By local author and writer John Bragstad for Boreal Community Media - July 18, 2023

Almost everyone is familiar with sentinels as guardians, watchers, protectors. 
But there is another meaning. In science, sentinel species are those sensitive to 
environmental changes and can alert us to danger. Examples: lichen growing on 
rocks, herd animals like caribou. 

For me, sentinel has a different meaning: those markers of summer that make it
so special, that tell of time’s passing. 

We are now engaged in a whole riot of delights for the senses. And changes,
even in midstream. Permit me to list a few of what I describe as sentinels of 

The slow coming-to-the-end of black fly season. 
Campfires down by the lake. 
Nights played out at cabins or a remote beach. 
Canoe trips anticipated or already enjoyed. 
The marvelous Solstice Festival or Fish Pic. 
Berries soon to appear.

Gardens ripening in the sun. 
Flowers in summer brightness. 
An uptick in tourists and liveliness in town. 
Stars studied now more than at 10 below. 
Our harbor made more interesting by boats arriving. 
The warm rain.  
The sounds of a baseball bat with hits to left field. 
Reunions and get-togethers, old friends and distant family.

What, for me, is the true sentinel of summer - the glory of this most immediate
point in this wondrous season of the year? What is the indicator species that
tells me all is well, that instructs me, that would point to a troubled spirit if I
were not to notice it too often?

I’d point to the Bluebell of Scotland growing in remarkable places along the
shore. Only a few months ago, this was an ice shelf lining Lake Superior. Today,
in the cranny of rocks, on the least likely, tiny spit of precambrian, in teaspoons
of sand, they grow in a delicate splendor. They are, to me, the tough-guys. The
harshest of environments, and yet, here they are. A good model for me of what
tenacious living is all about.

And so the questions: what is your sentinel of summer, the best of the season?
Is there a moment, a time, a place that represents this season in its truest
fashion? Do you have many, or is there one in particular that reminds you
summer passes too quickly and you better catch (and appreciate) this one thing
before it is over? 

Is there something your spirit attaches to, a sentinel of health and well-being,
mindfulness and appreciation? Something you wouldn’t want to let go before
the summer has finally run its beautiful course?

About the author

John A. Bragstad has been a therapist, working with couples and individuals, for 25 years. He is self-published and is enjoying retirement. Lake Superior is just off his front porch.

He has written three books: Compass Season, Loon Laughter at Midnight, and Who's Watching Whoo? They are available in Grand Marais at Drury Lane and Lake Superior Trading Post, or at

Related: Meet your Boreal Community Media Freelance Journalist: John Bragstad

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here