Wednesday, 21 December 2005

The Skiing is Fabulous

This afternoon, Judith and I skied the Lonely Lake trail. We started at Gunflint Lodge, as it was already after three o'clock. We had just enough daylight to make it all the way back, stopping only to catch our breath and to admire the beautiful day. A bit of powder had covered the trail, and made for perfect skiing. Near the bottom of the hill, we stopped at the fence to the donkey yard, and coaxed Moses and Jethro to come over for some scratching. We didn't have treats, though, so they didn't hang out for long.
We've had a few fresh flakes falling here and there, and the trails are really in great shape. I noticed only a couple of thin spots, and with any luck, those will fill in and cover over soon. The weather forecast is calling for a warm-up. I am keeping all of my fingers crossed that this doesn't happen quite like they are predicting. Last week when we had the big snow, the temps were also warm---30 to 34 degrees. But it was all snow falling then. Hopefully this warm up will send the same (white) stuff to us.
While I was firing up the sauna on Monday, the winds were blowing across the lake, clearing away snow from the ice in some spots. None of us has ventured out there yet, but it must be getting thicker. I heard the booming noises that mean that it is making ice---something I hadn't heard since last March. A good sign.
Just one moose on the trail, coming home from Grand Marais last evening. The newest spot that I have been seeing them is in the Lullaby creek area. This is an S-curve, lots of good salt, I'm sure. Be sure to go slowly through that stretch.

Friday, 16 December 2005

A new layer of snow is blanketing everything, thanks to the recent snowfalls. Although we didn't fare as well as some parts of the county and the North Shore, we did collect about four to five inches or so. That brings us up somewhere around a foot of snow on the ground. It is beautiful outside. The trees are heavily laden, and the sun is shining from a bright blue sky. It looks like a perfect December postcard scene.

Two nights ago we were delighted to be awoken at 3:00 a.m. to the tune of three wolves howling in the near vicinity. I had recently read that folks were hearing them howl, but I hadn't been so lucky. During the snowstorm, the temps were up in the high twenties, so Greg had been leaving his window open a crack overnight. When we heard the wolves, he bolted over to the window to see if he could spot them. Despite the thin cloud cover, the moon was shining so brightly through it, it almost seemed like dusk out there. No wolves were right there, but the closeness of the sound sure fooled us. I do wonder, though, How loud would they be if they were just down in front? Their voices carry such a long way that it makes it hard to determine the distance in relation to their volume. Sharlene and Jim had visitors from Alaska that night, Nick and Jean. They, too, heard the wolves, and their two dogs were quite agitated and concerned over this. Several families in Eagle, where Jim is from, have sled dogs. But there must be some difference in the howling of dogs and wolves.

The Geminid meteor showers were to have been visible during the week. We were not given the chance to see them, as the sky was always clouded over. Jean mentioned that she and Nick had seen quite a few shooting stars as they made their way south through Canada.

Our errand runs to town are still filled with moose sightings, though not as many as the night of seventeen. We have seen a couple more bulls, too. One time the UPS man saw forty moose in one trip up and back down. We can't stress enough the importance of keeping a sharp eye on the lookout when driving up the trail at night right now.

We've fired up the bread oven a couple of times this week. It is sure different using it in the winter than in the warmer times of the year. I have had bread burn on the bottom lately, due to uneven heat. But the pizza has been turning out fabulous. Dare I try some Christmas cookies in there?

Monday, 12 December 2005

Ice and snow

Yesss! Gunflint Lake froze, over the course of yesterday and today. Before we left for church Sunday morning, we could see several bands of ice in front of Heston's, with just a bit of open water left. However, as we drove down the road towards the trail, we saw that the west end of the lake was still open and steaming. The kids and I spent most of the day in town, and it was dark when we got home. I opened my bedroom window about ten, and didn't hear anything. That was a good sign. If the wind is blowing, the lake is less likely to freeze over. This morning, it was completely iced over, at least in front of us. Good news!

It has been snowing lightly again. About two new inches of snow is resting on all of the cars and trucks this morning. The ski groomer came down last night, and was packing the snow on the trail. I may have to get out there and test the trails again this afternoon.....on the job research, I guess you could call it! There is a scheduled power outage at that time, so I can't be running my vacuum cleaner----may as well be out skiing.
Greg took this photo recently of the natural flocking on the shore of the lake. The water temperature was warmer than the air. As it cooled down, it produced steam, which in turn frosted the trees. We won't see this sight again for almost a year now.

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Snow and moose--they go together!

It's beginning to look a lot like Winter around here! Today it has been snowing off and on (mostly on) ever since early this morning. I love it when it keeps on snowing and the radar doesn't even show that it is supposed to be. And the forecast looks fabulous: snow is mentioned every day for the next week. Greg is out plowing as I write. Earlier today, he thought that we had gotten three inches, and it keeps on coming down. We couldn't be happier.

The moose love it when it snows, too, as the county plow comes up the trail to clear it, and to put down the sand and salt mixture on the road. This brings the moose out of the woods like nothing else. Anyone who drives the trail regularly knows the key spots to be on the lookout, and it is generally wherever there are curves. Thursday evening, Robert, Paul and I were driving home from a trip to Duluth. It was about seven o'clock when we left Grand Marais. In the hour or so that it took to drive to Gunflint Lake, we encountered 17 moose. Most were in the stretch between Lullaby Creek and Swamper Lake. Whew! Fortunately, Robert had installed our new snow tires the day before. We knew that we were in the Moose Zone, so we took it slowly and kept our eyes sharp for those tell-tale glowing points that meant that we had caught the reflection of our lights in the moose eyes. It was wonderfully entertaining---Robert commented on how he really liked to see their skinny legs in contrast to their broad bodies. And we remarked at how well-trained they all were, to immediately leave the road as we were approaching. This seems to get passed on to the next generation as each year passes. Of course, there are always a few exceptions--those that don't get out of the way in time, or when the road is slippery. This doesn't happen too often, and I find that if I drive slowly and carefully, I usually make it just fine. Oh, and my good snow tires help, too.

The lake is still open, and it hasn't been as frosty lately. The waves seem to move more slowly as they come in to shore. It is probably my imagination, but the water seems to get thicker as the temperature declines. It is an interesting process to watch, just as it is to see it all break up in the spring. As soon as the ice is in, I will post it here on the blog.

I haven't been skiing again, but it is looking better all the time for getting out there next week. I heard that the first six miles of the Banadad are in good shape, and that the summer home road in the Bearskin/Golden Eagle area is great. With this new snow, more of the trails will be in shape for testing out. It is still a bit early to bring out the Piston Bully groomer, but that may change soon if the weather predictions hold up this week.

In the meantime, we are busy with the last of the winterizing and with holiday preparations. Battening down the hatches of the crawl spaces is an important job to remember. Over Thanksgiving, this didn't happen at White Pine cabin, and we had our first frozen pipes of the season. It took a few hours of extra heat, and then some soldering repairs, but Greg and Robert were able to get it all fixed and running. Snow is very useful when it comes to insulation for the crawl spaces under cabins. We will now be able to bank the foundations with this fresh snow, and that helps to keep the warmth in and the cold winds out. The more snow we get over the winter, the better we can bank cabins.

Addie and I have been busy making our Christmas cards. We should be able to send them out early this week, so keep an eye on your mailbox. She has also started making cookies, much to the delight of her brothers. This time of year seems to come around so fast, but then it is also over in the blink of an eye--just three weeks and we will be getting ready to sing Auld Lang Syne. Amazing!

Thursday, 1 December 2005

Early skiing

I just came in from feeding the donkeys, Moses and Jethro. What a change out there in comparison to when I wrote a few months back about them being in donkey camp at the top of our powerline. Then the weather was hot, dry and sunny till eight or so in the evening. Now we have snow on the ground, it is 12 degrees, and it soon will be dark out. We think that the donkeys actually prefer this time of year, as it means that there are no flies or mosquitoes bothering them. There's a lot to be said for that.

Since I last posted, two things came true. Unfortunately, it did rain. The temp climbed all the way to 38 on Monday, the rain came down, and lots of our beautiful snow was either washed away or reduced to ice masses. Fortunately, it snowed on Tuesday, and so it covered up that mess, and brought us about back to where we were---four inches or so on the ground.

The other thing that came true is that I pulled out my skis yesterday, and ventured up to the Lonely Lake trail for a look around. It has been more than twenty years, I think, since I was able to ski in November. That is mainly due to time, but also some years to lack of snow. Just as I remembered and expected, the trail was wet under the snow, but I still was able to ski for a good mile or so. It was great to be back out there! Several tracks pointed the way for me, but not the kind layed out by the ski groomer. Deer, fox, people, wolves and birds had gone down the trail before me. Occasionally, I would encounter a puddle, where the ground and the water were still so warm that the snow hadn't even covered things up. In other spots, my ski would plant down into slush, and the bottom would get coated. For anyone that skis, they know all about these slushy patches that instantly stop your skis on the next glide. I scraped the icy mass off my ski bottom and continued on. My "ski legs" started to come back, meaning I was able to make it down the hills and still do the snowplow. The whole time, and again today, snowflakes were falling lazily from the sky. I would love a huge snowfall right about now, but even those individual flakes start to add up. So keep it coming!

We had some days of strong wind in recent times, which means that more trees have fallen across trails that previously had been cleared. Greg and Robert are gone right now to clear away some of this. They were headed to the Cut-Across Trail over by Moosehorn Lodge, and then on the North Star trail. I look forward to a trail report from them when they get back. Our neighbors did a little skiing at Bearskin this morning, and Ted tells me that the first six miles of the Banadad trail is skiable. It is too soon for grooming, but it is nice to have a bit of early skiing going on in these parts.

At the bottom of the powerline hill, I saw a pattern in the snow from a grouse. Sometimes they flutter one wing and turn in a circular motion while they do so. I can't say why, this is all I know. But as I looked at it, I decided that it is the partridge's version of a snow angel. Keep an eye out there in the woods--you may spot one someday, too.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Pulling out the Mukluks

Belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! It was a wonderful weekend here, filled with good times, good friends, and of course, good food. We have about five inches of snow on the ground, so it looks like the start of winter. Addie was so excited on a recent day when she pulled out her mukluks. She's been waiting for the snow for several weeks now. The lake is still open, but it is cooling off. Our mornings are often filled with the grey steam off the water, and this in turn freezes on the trees, twigs and exposed blades of grasses down by the shore. It turns the shoreline into a mass of ice crystals, and it looks like a fairyland of sorts.

Our snow came in two recent snowfalls, and it does look like it is here to stay. Of course, about the time I say that, we get a freak warm-up and melts it away. Keeping my fingers crossed that this does not happen! I spoke with some folks who went out skiing all three days that they were here. They did the Lonely Lake trail, Big Pine, some of the Banadad trail, and even the South Rim! I asked about the rocks that might still be exposed, and they assured me that yes, indeed, there were still rocks out there waiting to dig into ski bottoms. We decided that those gouges and scars add to the memories of our early winter ski adventures. And that is also why we generally reserve an older pair of skis to be our rock skis! I may try to pull my pair out one day this week and see for myself how the ski season is shaping up.

We fired up the sauna last night, and took our first sauna of the winter season. Three members of our party were brave enough to make a mad dash into the lake. Because the shoreline has some ice on it from the waves splashing up and freezing, I guess that it was more of a fast meander than a dash. I was the self-appointed safety officer, and I held the flashlight so that they could make their way to shin-deep water. Then all three of them layed down in the icy water to cool off. Yipes! A moment passed and they made it back up to land without any mishaps, all the while talking about how wonderful it was to do that. I still can't. It is so much easier for me to just walk back up and take a cool shower. I think it is because I think about it too much!

The days are noticeably shorter as we approach the winter solstice. The sun is going down around 4:15 each night. On the days that it is cloudy, it feels dark even sooner. On Friday last, we pulled out the beeswax pots and the wick so that we could continue our tradition of candle-dipping. Several people joined us in the lodge kitchen to make candles to use during these short days. We've been doing this for about twelve years or so, and it is a pleasant way to start the holiday season. The candles that the kids made in the early years still hang on our kitchen light fixture. These are the ones that were a bit misshapen or a little too fragile to use. I like to see them hanging there, to remind me of those days so long ago. Now it is Addie who most often joins me to fashion some big beautiful tapers to use at the table. We don't always use up all of the candles during the year, but we still make more. It is actually quite relaxing to stand and dip the wick for several times, watching the candle build in size.

With snow on the ground, I feel certain that the bears have gone in to hibernation. I pulled out the bird feeder and filled it. Once again the chickadees and nuthatches are busy flying in and out to scoop up the sunflower seeds. We mostly see rose-breasted nuthatches, but occasionally, a white-breasted one will swoop in. I've seen many bluejays and grey jays in recent days as well. There is still an eagle flying about, as we saw him making several passes in front of the lodge yesterday. I'd imagine that when the lake freezes over, he will certainly head out, if not sooner.

Friday, 11 November 2005

A Pretty Good Day

For this post, I turn the pen over to Greg.

When I heard the loons, I knew it was going to be a good day. November tenth. Loons during deer season. I wasn't in my stand yet, though I was pretty certain that Paul was in his, as he had left five minutes before me. (Robert got a buck on opening morning, so he must figure that he can sleep in.) But I was working my way through the woods as quietly as possible, and I heard loons. Two of them.

Once seated, a pileated woodpecker flew just overhead and landed in a nearby birch. And laughed and laughed. At me? I'm not even sure he knew I was sharing the woods with him, but these clowns are good company. As long as you're in the mood for the company of a raucous clown. The clown left and it was quiet for a while.

The loons called a few more times before a flock of black-capped chickadees flitted in and I was where they wanted to be. So they flitted about me and my stand. One landed on my leg and another on my right shoulder. Whenever he turned, his tail would brush my ear. I felt honored that they should consider me their tree stump. And then they, too, were gone.
A shot rang out from right about where Paul should be. I waited and listened for any successive shots, but none came. One shot--meat, two shots--maybe meat, three shots--probably no meat. Of course, sometimes that one shot is a clean miss and there is no chance for a second one. But then, Paul has never used more than one shot to bring down a deer. These thoughts were passing through my head as I took a long, scenic, roundabout route to his stand. In part because it was such a beautiful morning, but also in hopes that he would have the thing dressed out by the time I got there. I found Paul standing at the edge of the treeline with a big grin on his face. "I need your tag, " he said.
"Did you gut him out?", I asked.
I pulled out my k nife, thinking, "I'm sure I've shown him this before." And also thinking, " Maybe I'm being taken." But then, it wasn't even 8:30 in the morning and already it had been a pretty good day.

Friday, 4 November 2005

Snow showers and firewood stacks

Yesterday was a teriffic day for working outside. Although it was cloudy, there was no precipitation, and that is all one needs for appropriate conditions for working on the woodpile. We tackled different aspects of it---splitting, loading the skidsteer, transporting it to woodsheds near cabins, and finally stacking it. The weather felt just unsettled enough to indicate that a change was coming. So we took advantage of the day and worked until dark. By then, several new, neat stacks of wood had "appeared", almost as if they had grown overnight. Of course, all of our aching muscles indicated that it wasn't a quick process, but it certainly was a satisfying one. We also put away the last of the boats, motors and canoes, and got all of the lawn furniture stowed away for the winter. With all five of us working, things quickly got done.

Turns out, it was none too soon. Today we woke to flurries in the air and white on the trees and roofs. It looked great! Having gotten so far on the firewood chores made it a whole lot easier to enjoy seeing that snow. It snowed throughout most of the day. Nothing really stuck though, as the ground is still too warm. I do love to see snow in November, as it feels like the right time of the year for it. Hopefully it is another snowy winter like last year.

Deer season opens tomorrow. As a precaution, Greg has "dressed" Moses and Jethro, the donkeys, in blaze orange sashes and halter ribbons. They seem to tolerate them, but that's about it. Last year, I had Greg tie a strip of orange fabric around Moses' tail. Wasn't long before it was found in one of the piles that he leaves behind!

Tonight we had a campfire to burn a bit of brush that was laying around. We pulled out the special tool, and had our favorite campfire food: brats on a rake. Greg made a special rake several years ago, with straight teeth and large rings on the bottom. This is perfect for sliding near the fire, and the straight tines make it easy to rotate the brats to cook all sides. They tasted great!

Friday, 28 October 2005

A Good Day for Otters

The frost was heavy on the rooftops and grass this morning, but my windowbox flowers are still hanging in there. The sun is shining and the sky is clear, with the temps headed towards the fifties today. Perfect firewood weather! 'Tis the season to be putting up the firewood, so the logger brought the logs, the pile sits up high, and soon the chainsaw will roar. The splitter will go full throttle, and those of us who are so inclined (as well as those who aren't) will be stacking it in rows in the woodsheds. To some in our family, it is an onerous task, to others....almost a joyful one. Personally, I don't mind it, as there is something meditative about all that stacking...

Yesterday as I was cleaning at Diamond Willow cabin, I happened to glance out the window at just the right moment to spot an otter swimming near the shore. That is certainly an advantage of that cabin---the lake is so close that even with older eyes, I could see this little creature. I went outside for a closer look, and perched on the rocks at the edge. Soon I heard a commotion just a few feet down the shoreline, and four otters popped down the beach and into the water. I'd heard about a trio, so it was pretty exciting to see four of them. If they saw me, they didn't let on. They treated me to a show of swimming and diving in perfect arcs. Up they would pop, with their mouths full of something tasty. They would munch and crunch loudly through the morsels, making funny little noises as they ate. They stood straight up in the water, as though they were little periscopes. What a delightful show. Robert and Paul spotted them also, while they were busy pulling in the dock at Tamarack cabin.

This morning was so beautiful, we decided that it was time to take a boat ride, perhaps our last one of the season. We went over to see our friends' cabins on the Canadian side. Then we circled back, to meander the south shore. The kids saw a bird swimming in the water several yards over, so we cautiously got closer for a better look. We determined that it was a juvenile loon, as it had the coloring, and it didn't dive right away, the way an adult would. Greg whistled some loon calls to it, and it was looking around as though it expected to see another of its kind, rather than an aluminum boat. It looked fairly lonely, so I hope that it finds some company soon for the long flight south. I haven't heard any loons in a few weeks, so I had thought that they had all taken off.

The Minnesota Rovers are here this weekend, working on the Border Route Trail and the ski trails. They head out each morning with chainsaws and brush cutters, to help get the trails clear and ready for skiing and snowshoeing. It was a productive day for them today. They cleared on the Border Route, from Bridal Falls to the east, until they reached the boundary of the BWCA. Tomorrow they will tackle other areas, and I will make lasagna and fresh bread for them, as a thank you for all that they do. If you would like to learn more about the trail, the Rovers, or to learn more about the trail-clearing trips, be sure to visit their website, .

Monday, 24 October 2005

Moving deeper into fall

It feels as though we've moved into "real" fall---where the leaves have mostly come down, and nature is moving into the phase of shutting down for winter. The temperature stays mainly in the forties during the day, and into the thirties at night. Surprisingly enough, the flowers in my window box are still thriving. In fact, they have looked their very best in the last month versus the whole summer! It must be the right amount of warmth that they receive from being so close to the building.

We had our first snow last week, about an inch or so that stayed around for more than a day in places. At the same time, the Twin Cities was having a warm day of seventy-some degrees. It is amazing to me that the three-hundred mile distance can make such a difference in weather.

As we took a drive recently to drop off our recyclables, I was noticing all the different shades of gold on the trees. When ever we go to buy light fixtures, we always have to decide between shiny brass, antique gold, brushed nickel, etc. I thought about that as I looked at the trees, and sure enough, there is a difference in the types of "gold" that the leaves were showing. Some of them were bright, like I imagine the aspen trees in Aspen, Colorado to be. Others had more of a coppery color to them. And the tamaracks looked like they were flourescent.

We have been seeing more deer in recent weeks. In years past, the deer would only be around Gunflint Lake in the winter time, when Grandma Peggy would feed them. One year, the DNR radio-collared some of them, to learn where they went for the summer. Most of them travelled just to the east, towards North and South Lakes, where there were more meadows. By November, they were back again, waiting for Peggy's corn. Now we spot them more often, and not just on Gunflint Lake. The range that they cover has increased, and they must be finding more food to sustain them year-round. We no longer feed the deer here, as we found that they also ate all of the little trees that Greg had planted through the years. They still pass through, as we see their tracks.

I just glanced out at the garbage shed, as I was thinking about my bear of last month. He hasn't been back, so I think that I definitely won that round. Soon he will be sleeping away the days of snow. A fox was just enjoying himself at our compost pile. He has been around a little more this fall, even continuing to eat while we are outside. This time of the year, his coloring really helps him to blend in.

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

Flying Geese

With temps yesterday in the low 70's, many clouds, and high humidity, it felt outside like a big change was going to happen. Sometimes, you can just tell. Last night, big drops of rain fell, the wind blew, and the thunder and lightning struck. We had an inch of rainfall in the rain gauge this morning, and our morning temp had fallen to 50. This feels a lot more like fall. The Forest Service crew returned today to take out the equipment that remained in the woods after the prescribed burn. They worked in a drizzle as they retrieved and transported fire pumps, hose, and sprinkler systems. Before they left, I gave them coffee and cocoa. They would not have needed that yesterday. But this is so often the way of the weather in Minnesota!
While I enjoyed my lunch on the porch yesterday afternoon, I had opportunity to observe a tiny little bird making its way through my lilac bush and the large white pine next to it. When another similar bird came along, I noticed a bit of red on the head of the bird. It started to chatter, and the red patch expanded to the size of a dime as the feathers stood up. It was fascinating to watch, and of course it sent me right to the bird book. It was the ruby-crowned kinglet that I was watching, and the book said that the patch is only visible when the bird is aroused. These little birds must certainly be nearing their migration time.
Today was the first day that I heard geese flying overhead. I didn't see the first flock, but did catch the second one. It had to be a group of fifty! I must admit that I enjoy more seeing their return to the north, because it means that summer is coming. But it still is quite a sight and lots of sound to see a large flock moving in either direction.
Greg and Paul have returned. Robert was here briefly, then off to Two Harbors to visit friends for a couple of days. I'm told that they have over 1000 pictures to download. Since I have never been to Alaska, this should give me a decent sampling of what I missed.

Monday, 3 October 2005

Fall Color Burst

The leaves have really come in to a full blast of color over the last week. The Canadian shore, green for so long, is now a mix of golds, yellow, fading green and orange---a true feast for my eyes. As I drive down the Trail, I feel as though I am in a bright tunnel. The two birch trees at the front corners of the lodge are also gold right now. For this short time that the leaves are changing, these two trees brighten up our store in a way that even the sunshine can't replicate. To top it off, the weather the past few days has been amazing for early October, with temps on the sixties and seventies, sunshine and lots of blue sky. Perfect for leaf-looking photo opportunities.
The Forest Service has been conducting a prescribed burn at the East End of Gunflint Lake since Friday. Called the Saucer Lake burn, this patch of blowdown is approximately 2600 acres. It encompasses the area from Bridal Falls, north to Little Gunflint Lake, east to North Lake, and south to Crab Lake. This burn is being done to protect structures to the east, on Mayhew and Birch Lakes, should a wildfire ever get going. The crews have been doing some staging out of our boat landing, so they have given me some idea of how the burn is progressing. It sounds as though it is doing what they hoped it to do---burning the fuels left over from our 1999 blowdown. Over the next few years, it will be an area to observe. I am interested to see how the forest reacts after a fire of this sort. One thing I have heard is that the fire area often yields excellent blueberry and mushroom crops in the first few years of recovery. That is something to look forward to.
Our Alaska travelers are due back in the county on Tuesday. They spent two weeks touring the southern parts of the state, from Valdez all the way down to Homer, then on up to Anchorage to see some relatives who live there. In the last few days, they visited Talkeetna, and camped for a night in Denali. They were able to see and photograph the mountain, and they also saw some grizzly bears. Once they are back, I will have them post some of their stories to this blog.
It's such a wonderful time of the year, with the colors so great and the weather so pleasant. A good time to be outside. But hurry! They say that by Thursday up here on the Gunflint, we may actually see some rain and snow mixed, and the high is to be 41. Won't be long, and we'll be pulling out the skis!

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

End of Summer

Today is the last day of summer, and it has been another pleasant one. The winds of yesterday died away, and left us with warmth and partly cloudy skies. My rose bush seems to be all done blooming for the year. I can usually count on a few last buds through the Labor Day weekend, but this year, they extended well into the second week of September. Whenever I am walking by, I really do make an attempt to stop and smell the roses!

Greg called today from Valdez, Alaska. They drove south through the Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness, stopping many times to take pictures. Now they will spend a couple of days in Valdez, and explore the area by foot, car, and boat. They plan to rent a boat to take out on the ocean, where they can go to see a glacier, and hopefully see it do some calving. On Friday, they will catch a ferry to Whittier, and then head up to Anchorage to spend the weekend with Greg's Aunt Bev, and his cousins Mitch and Rob. So much to do and see, I am sure that they are wishing for a few more weeks!
The loons are still here. I could hear them calling this afternoon as I was harvesting the hops. With the warmer weather, it is no wonder that they are still here. The warm days are a bit of a problem for the trout fishing, however. So far, the trout have not come up into shallower water as they usually do in September. The season is only open until September 30, as then it is the spawning season.

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

The Bear Score

Since my last post, the bear came to visit again. He took one look at my hasp, and made short work of bending it and tearing it out of the frame. I could almost hear echoes of his laugh as I looked it over. He actually did do some more damage, in that he put a decent claw mark on to the front of the door, and some smaller puctures on the side. Of course, his next step was to once again scatter the garbage as he looked for morsels to eat. At this point, I was feeling like the score for this game was Bear---2, Barb--1. I took the garbage to the canister, and left the shed empty for the night. I think he did come back, because the door was ajar the next morning.

The next day, our friend Tim came over, having decided to join me in my bear games. Tim had a great plan. He used a steel cable and attached it to a come-along, so that we can tighten the cable around the whole shed. He put up some braces on the corners, to hold the cable, and a few screws to hold the hooks when it is not under tension. Then he put some rags on the cable across the door. For an extra measure, we put some pieces of iron down through the porch slats, to brace the bottom of the door.

The next morning, I looked out first thing. All I could see was that a couple of the rags had been pulled off and were on the porch. On closer inspection, I could see a few new puncture marks, but that was it. Today, two nights after installation, I can see a fairly good size hole on the side of the door, where the bear came back and tried a bit harder to pry open the door. No luck though---Tim's cable is holding tight. Hooray! We've evened the score for the time being!

No word from the Alaska travelers, but I expect that they may be on their way down towards Valdez. I checked the weather report, and it looked like mostly cloudy days, with some showers possible, and temps in the forties and fifties. Not the best, but at least it didn't predict snow!

Here on the Gunflint, we are enjoying a sunny, windy day. The lake started out calm, but then really kicked up by noon, and we had a "Wes" wind upon us. Yesterday, we got about two inches of rain, and once again, it was coursing down to the lake. It was enough to postpone the prescribed burns that are planned for the eastern end of Gunflint Lake. The forestry will try again next week, if the weather cooperates.
The ravens have been vocal and busy lately. They seem to be flying in groups, hanging out in the treetops, and calling to each other all the time. When I walk by, they start up with their calls, as I am an intruder. I think of them as little gangs, dressed in black leather jackets! Of course, they really are a good-looking bird, and one of my favorites here in the woods. I just wish I knew what it is they are saying to each other.

Friday, 16 September 2005

More beautiful days

Fall continues to give us some wonderful days. We had some rain earlier in the week, and my rain gauge checked in at just over three inches. Yesterday, Addie and I took a trip to Duluth. Perhaps I am biased, but I thought that the best fall color was in Cook County. We saw bright reds and oranges on the maple trees, sunny yellows on the ash trees, and just the beginnings of color on the birch and aspen. Surprisingly, in a few places on the Trail, I noticed that some of the tamarack trees are blazing their own bright gold. Usually this happens in October, after many of the deciduous trees have already dropped their leaves. I really enjoy seeing this conifer that annually drops its needles. The leaves further south of us seemed to be drying and withering without displaying much color. This sometimes happens up here, too.
Here is the latest report from Alaska:
Greg writes, "Tuesday on the school trip we traveled about a hundred miles down the Yukon to Coal Creek Camp. That evening, Marlis, Ma and I made spaghetti dinner for the group. Lana brought a big bag of meat from a Dall Sheep her mom had shot as well as a bag of shaggy mane mushrooms. We cooked them up and set them in front of the kids after first getting our share. The plate was empty in seconds. After clean-up a group of us sat out watching Northern lights and shooting stars. The lights were dancing all across the sky from East to West, with only some in the North. Lots of green and some purple.
The next day while the kids were collecting their water samples, Elva, Ma and I panned for gold, but found no color. Earlier in the day Paul, Randy and I were panning and found a few flakes. Not enough to buy a cup of coffee, though. "
The three fellows, Greg, Robert and Paul, plan to leave Sharlene and Jim in Eagle sometime this weekend, and head off to see other parts of Alaska. As I hear more of the plan, I will post it here.
The moon will be full tomorrow, on Addie's fourteenth birthday. Many folks have been seeing some wonderful northern lights, but I am afraid that we haven't stayed up late enough to see them! With a full moon, it is even harder, as the sky is so filled with light. We'll keep an eye out, just in case.

Monday, 12 September 2005


After several days of hot and humid weather, the skies have changed and it is raining. This is most welcome, as we have been in an extended dry spell. It was raining so hard for a while, the water was making gullies as it flowed down to the lake over our road. I dashed out to check the rain guage, and saw better than two inches already. There is a small fire burning south of us, about fifteen miles or so away, on Homer Lake. I'm sure the fire fighters will be glad for this rain, too.

The guys in Alaska emailed recently. They have been continuing their visit in Eagle, and had this to say:
" I met Nellie Biederman ("Ma" from Max and Ma). She is a real sweet lady. About 83 years old. I read about her in that Eagle history book and also through Jim's stories.
The leaves are starting to drop off the trees but it's still very peakish as far as color goes.
This is the first library I've been in that has a big old wood stove right in the middle of the floor. And almost as many movies as books. It's in an old log building. Way cool. " ----Greg
This week, they will be getting a ride on the Yukon River, which flows by Eagle. Once they leave Eagle, they plan to head towards Haines, as they heard that the eagles migrate through there. They also plan to visit Valdez.
The leaves here on Gunflint Lake are still more green than any other color. The underbrush, on the other hand, is in full color. When I was walking this morning, I enjoyed the various yellows and browns on the ferns, the reds of the sumac bushes and moose maples, and the purple of the fireweed and New England asters. It certainly is a lovely time of the year.

Friday, 9 September 2005

More adventures, at home and afar

The adventures continue here for Addie and Barb, as we keep the home fires burning while the guys are in Alaska. On Tuesday, I discovered that my decision to wait to go to the garbage cansiter was not a wise one. A bear had gotten into the shed overnight, and had scattered garbage near and far. This happened extensively last October, when a bear was able to tear apart the door that kept the garbage secure. Greg built a new door this summer, thicker and heavier than the last one. Only trouble for me is that it didn't yet have a latch on it. Addie and I cleaned up after the bear and took the cans to the canister. We went to town that afternoon, and one of our first purchases was a hasp for the garbage shed door. It is installed now, and things have been quiet since.
Two days ago, we fired up the bread oven to bake and make pizza with some friends. The weather this week has been wonderful, so we were able to eat outside by the oven. While we sat there enjoying our pizza, I noticed a barred owl come swooping through the gravel pit. It landed on a spruce tree branch about 15 feet from us. What a sight! He looked us over, then turned his body around, but kept an eye trained in our direction. A nearby squirrel sensed/saw the owl, and immediately launched into a flurry of noise. The owl decided to take off, and when he was gone, the squirrel made its way to the very branch that the owl had occupied. The squirrel kept up the chatter while inspecting the branch. I wonder what he expected to discover there?
The travelers made it into Eagle on Monday night. The drive took some extra time because they had to keep stopping to take pictures. Greg says that the fall colors are incredible right now, lots of reds and yellows all around them, from the underbrush on the ground to the tops of the trees. They took the historic tour of Eagle, and have been doing some reading about more of the history. They are enjoying meeting friends of Jim and Sharlene, and getting to know the area that we have heard so much about. Upcoming plans include some cranberry-picking, and a ride on the Yukon River.
I heard on the radio that there was recently a large solar flare-up that may cause some trouble in the coming days with sattelites, radios and other types of transmission. My ears perked up because solar flares often mean incredible northern lights. We will keep our eyes checking in the northern skies this next week, in hopes of seeing some displays that include colors. Sometimes, these flare-ups also bring the viewing to audiences south of us, so you should watch for them, too.

Monday, 5 September 2005

Warm Start to Fall

It's been a lovely Labor Day weekend here on Gunflint Lake. After a few days of strong northwest winds, the lake calmed down on Saturday and the temperature rose into the seventies. We've enjoyed days filled with sunshine, and a couple of nights filled with Northern Lights. The aurora was shooting streaks of white and green into the sky in the early part of the evening, and in the wee hours, they were shimmering and dancing. I haven't seen much of the Lights this summer, so it was great to have them back.

Greg, Robert and Paul are off to Alaska with Sharlene. They flew into Fairbanks, and are now driving the Taylor Highway into Eagle. We had a brief report from them, the morning after their late-night arrival. They got to see Northern Lights from the airplane over Canada, and they could also see thunderstorms in places below them. Greg said that the lightning strikes looked like flashbulbs popping off. As we hear from them, I will post notes here about what they are seeing and doing.

I had my first adventure in the absence of the guys this morning. One of our boats escaped during the night. A guest came to alert me, so we pushed out another boat and headed onto the lake to look for it. The winds were from the south, and I soon spotted it on the Canadian side of Gunflint. It was up against the rocks, no worse for the wear. We shook it loose, tied it to our boat and slowly headed back across the lake. I'm not as experienced in driving a boat as Greg or Robert, so we did get a bit wet from the waves and the spray. We made it back, got the boat back up on shore where it belongs, and came up to finish morning coffee. Not quite what I pictured for my Monday morning, but a good adventure nonetheless. I knew that the boats and motors would be my biggest challenge while the guys are gone. I'm hoping that I've had my time with them, and it all goes smoothly from here on out.

Some folks told me that they canoed into Daniels Lake yesterday to do some fishing. They paddled around the lake, fishing and exploring, and then decided to try one last place near a rock pile. Low and behold, it was the lucky spot, for they found about fifteen bass in just a half-hour.

Thursday, 25 August 2005

August Mist and Loons

The mornings of late have been cool enough for steam to form on the lake and in the lower wet pockets of the woods. It lays and shifts and rises, revealing the darker hills behind. The view is softened and as the sun rises the mist melts away like ice cream on the tongue.
This summer, it seems as though we've heard more loons calling than in years past. Most of them will stay around for another six weeks or so. Some hang on longer. I remember one very cold November morning a couple years ago. As the moon was setting and the sun wasn't even close to rising, Paul and I were sitting in the woods on opening day of deer season. The lonely wail of a loon had no trouble penetrating the leafless understory and reaching us. It is the latest I've ever heard a loon.

Summer fawns

The recent cold snap has moved on, and in its wake, we have been enjoying some warm and wonderful sunshine. The last two days we saw temps in the seventies. As I sat out on the porch in the sun yesterday, I was reminded of last year, when September turned out to be a nicer month than August. I wonder if we will be treated to some more of that warm weather in this next month?

On Monday, I turned on to our side road from the Gunflint Trail, and a little fawn dashed across the road. It still had the reddish brown coat that I have come to recognize as their summer color. The spots were almost faded on it. It reminded me of another fawn that we had seen earlier this summer. Greg and I were on our way up the North Loon Lake road, and we spotted a doe and a fawn in the road. As we approached, the mama took off in a flash, and the baby dropped to the ground just like a pancake! It dropped with its hips splayed apart, and seemed to be trying to get as flat and as invisible as it possibly could. We got out to look at the little guy (gal?), and we decided that it must have been very very new to this world. I had always heard from the DNR that if you encounter a fawn all alone in the woods to just leave it. It is not unusual for the does to leave the little ones for short periods of time. In this case, we were able to get pictures of the fawn, and observe it for some time, before going on our way. When we passed by a little while later, I looked to make sure that it had moved on, and sure enough, there was no sign of it. It feels odd to "interrupt" nature sometimes, as we had inadvertantly done, and I can only hope that it all had a happy outcome and the little one got back together with its mama.

The birch trees have begun to change some, flashing yellow, and even dropping some leaves. This doesn't seem to be widespread, but it is noticeable in some spots. It feels strange to see leaves on the ground in August! The maple trees on Maple Hill just outside of Grand Marais are beginning to turn also. They are showing the first hints of orange and red. This seems to be right about on the schedule that I remember in years past. Ready or not, here it comes......the seasons keep on changing, whether I am ready to move on and be done with them or not.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Stars and butterflies

The reports coming in say that the meteor showers are not quite as good as we first anticipated. Those able to stay awake long enough have seen a few, mostly small ones. Here and there, a good tail has been spotted. Our friend Dan said he saw some reflected in the calm lake the other night. He has been experimenting with astrophotography. He used both 400 and 800 speed film to photograph a number of constellations last night. We look forward to seeing the results once they are developed.
Robert camped out on North Lake last night with friends. He slept outside, just ten feet from shore. There were a few mosquitoes at dusk, but otherwise not bad at all. He said that the moon was quite bright for a while. When he looked up at the trees, he could see the reflected light from the moonbeams on the lake dancing through the leaves. He was up earlier than his camp mates this morning, so he went hiking through the woods. He came upon the old bones of a long-dead moose, but no other unusual discoveries.
The fire on Alpine Lake is about 46% contained, and they feel they will reach 100% containment by Saturday, August 20. The fire is holding at 1335 acres. The cooler weather, and a quarter-inch of rain on Monday night assisted with the fire-fighting efforts. Our hats are off to the many crews working so hard to keep this under control.
Our friend Judith has brought to the lodge a cage that contains two chrysalises of monarch butterflies. It originally contained five, but three have come out from their cocoons and flown away. One of the remaining is turning from green to black, so this means that it, too, will soon be released to fly away. Such an exciting thing to see! I saw a monarch butterfly in our yard a week ago. It isn't often that I get to see these, so it was a treat. We mostly see the yellow and black swallowtails.
There is a beautiful little moose maple tree up near our mailbox that is currently sporting a bright red coat! It is common for these stunted maples to turn early, so it seems to be right on schedule.

Friday, 12 August 2005

Cooler days and donkey camps

The weather is taking a turn towards the upcoming season. The nights are comfortable with lows in the low sixties and upper fifties. Quite a difference from the nights in the seventies. The wind came up strong today from the northwest. Each year, I start to feel a note of fall in the wind sometime in August. I think that it happened today. Last year it came at the end of July. The wind makes things more challenging for the fire fighters working on the Alpine fire. We are thinking of them today, hopeful that it isn't too difficult given the conditions.

The Perseid meteor showers have begun in the night sky. Last night was cloudy, so we didn't get to see any activity. But we are clear today, so we might have some excellent viewing---provided that I can stay awake long enough! It sounds as though the display might be more spectacular this year, given the moonset around eleven-thirty. We are always fortunate to have a clear view of the sky, without the lights of a city. But sometimes the moon is so bright that we can't see the stars all that well anyway.

We have had a bit of rain in the last few days, but not enough to make a difference in the state of the forest. The Forest Service has put on a level two fire ban, so that campfires are not allowed in the blowdown area. If you are headed into the forest to camp, be sure to bring a gas or propane cookstove. Temperatures for the next week are predicted in the sixties, and a little rain to go with that would be very welcome.

The berry crop is declining, but for the tenacious, it is still possible to find some blueberries and a few raspberries. I saw some thimbleberries still on the bushes today, too. The goldenrod is blooming, as is the tansy. I need to go up to our Observatory to see what is blooming there. We usually see asters in purple and white coming out about now.

Speaking of the Observatory, our two donkeys, Moses and Jethro, have set up a camp up there. They have been busy mowing down the grass and keeping the deer away from all of the white pines that are growing in there. I think the donkeys are a bit lonely to be so far away from all of us down here at the bottom of the hill. But we do appreciate their diligence in keeping the grass cut. Greg reports that the white pine are up to ten and twelve feet in that area. Amazing! This growth has all happened since the Blowdown in 1999. It is wonderful to see this new forest coming up.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Alpine Lake fire

As many of you know, a forest fire was detected on Saturday, near Alpine and Seagull Lakes at the end of the Trail. The Forest Service and various other agencies have been agressively working on it since then, with both air support and ground crew. Here at Heston's, we see and smell smoke at times, depending on the wind direction. As the crow flies, we are about eight miles away from the fire. This morning, it is raining softly. This is a very good thing, as every bit of moisture helps when there is a fire burning. We feel confident in the work that the USFS is doing, and our thoughts and prayers go out to them and all of our friends and neighbors at the end of the Gunflint.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Hot days of August

The hot weather returned for the first few days of August. Though the temperatures did not go all the way up into the nineties, like a few weeks ago, the humidity rose. Once again, the lake was the very best place to be. Last night, Greg invited me to take our new-to-us kevlar canoe on a short ride to the Canadian shore. It was calm, and the sun had just set. What a wonderful canoe to paddle! I enjoyed the quiet way that it slipped through the water. I was also fascinated watching the sky as we went. Recently, I have painted fabric to represent sky and water. Observing cloud shapes and colors in the dusky sky gave me some new ideas to try the next time I take out the paints.
The blueberry crop continues to produce. Someone told me that she thought that if all of the residents and all of the visitors on the Trail went out to pick the berries, there would still be plenty leftover. Sounds like a great year! I hope to get a day next week in the patch myself. I'm sure the bears must be satisfied as well.
While driving to Loon Lake a day or so ago, I noticed that we have begun to see some color change in the foliage. This is not unusual for this time of year, but I find it startling nonetheless. Hasn't summer been here for just barely over a month? How can we be seeing the early signs of fall? It is usually in the underbrush that I first detect the yellow leaves. The raspberry bushes, too, are showing signs of color change. The fireweed is standing tall with beautiful purple flowers, but it hasn't switched yet to its fuzzy stage. Good! That means that we still have some summer yet to enjoy.
August is such a wonderful month. Already I notice that the mosquito crop is on the decline. Today the heat broke, and we had mid-seventies, as well as a strong northwest wind. The night temps are predicted to be in the 50's--perfect.

Sunday, 24 July 2005

Singing Loons

We awoke this morning before six to the sound of two loons singing in front of the lodge. Who could argue with a wake-up call such as that? For whatever reason, this year in particular has been filled with their music, both morning and evening.
Shar, Addie and Sophie have been busy in the last few days picking blueberries. The crop is once again fantastic, though Addie says it is not quite as good as last year. We have had some rain, which helps to plump up the green ones. Looks like we will have some berries in the freezer to enjoy in pies and scones this coming winter.
Our temperatures have been running mostly in the seventies this week, and the nights have cooled off to the high-fifties and low-sixties. It is such a welcome relief from the eighties and nineties that we had earlier in the month.

Friday, 22 July 2005

Heston's Nature Notes

Greetings from the sunny Northwoods!
On Gunflint Lake, we often get to see activites in the natural world that we want to share with neighbors, friends and guests of our resort. Thanks to the Web, we have the opportunity to share these things on a different basis, one where you can read and see pictures more regularly. Stop in when you can, to see what is new in our outdoor world.