Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Close Encounter

This post is from Greg----

"I was on my way home from plowing snow this morning. I rounded a bend on County Road 5o just as a large wolf was about to cross. He had jumped out into the road, saw my truck coming, and didn't like his chances. So he did an about-face and jumped back over the bank and into the woods. When I got to where his impressive footprints were, I shut off the truck's engine.

Often times when a wolf wants to go somewhere and has to turn back because of a truck or car, it will walk beyond the first row of shelter-giving trees and just wait you out. This was the case today, as I spied the wolf twenty feet away. Most of his body was visible through the trees and he looked like the same big dark guy I had seen last month. A piece of fur was hanging from the ear area, dangling past the base of his jaw, and jiggling every time the wolf turned his head. Perhaps it was the result of an enounter with a deer or of getting kicked out of the pack. Didn't seem to do much harm, though.

After four minutes of watching each other, the sound of a truck coming chased me out of there, allowing the wolf to continue on with its plans. "

Sunday, 22 January 2006

More snow, more fun

It was a busy weekend, with lots of folks up for skiing and fishing. The sauna got a work out at night, and several brave folks jumped through the hole that Paul chopped out in the ice. I saw some photographs, and offered to put them on this blog, but that was declined. I'll try to find a photo of my nephew jumping in, to share. It is quite a thing to see!

We are getting fresh snow today, a nice fluffy batch with lots of big flakes. When it snows like this, it makes the whole world look so peaceful, looking from the inside out. And whenever I stepped out the door, there was no sound, so it really was peaceful out there. The groomer came down midday, and the tracks left behind look very inviting. I hope to get back on my skis in the next day or so, once the cabins are all cleaned.

We had some sledders heading down the hill this weekend, too. Several years ago, when the kids were still going to school in Grand Marais, they would get a week off in February. We would choose that week for our sledding Olympics. We got a stopwatch, and we would time each other coming down the hill. It was a blast! I can't recall now who won for the fastest time, but I do know that I went the farthest. I had started at the top of the hill, by the third power pole, and I was able to slide all the way to our back door. It was quite a run. We also figured out that five trips up the hill was equivalent to a mile. Now that is a good workout!

This evening, before it got dark, we had a buck come in. He was on the small side, but he still had both of his antlers. It looked like he had about eight points. Paul was hoping to get the deer to lose an antler right here, and tried to encourage that by running along side the deer. When he came back in, he reported that the deer had won, and still had both antlers on its head! Greg, Robert and Paul have all been out hiking on the deer trails, but so far have not come home with any antler finds. It is that time of the year, and sometimes it is as easy as walking on the right path or, as Greg has done, plowing down a driveway to find an antler in the middle. It is always an exciting treasure to discover.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

New Snow

Fresh snow today! We got about 3 and a half inches, which is enough to send the groomer out on the trails. Thank you to Bob of Gunflint Pines resort, who groomed last night and this morning, to set fabuous tracks on all of our ski trails. The trees once again have snow on their branches. A picture perfect moment.
On Friday afternoon, we had to haul hay up to the barn, to stash it in the hayloft for Moses and Jethro. I didn't help with the first load, so I missed seeing Moses pull the sled up the hill. He hasn't been called upon to do much work yet, so this was a big step for him. We don 't have all the proper rigging, but Greg was able to use one of our tree saddles to make a harness for him. It took some time, but he had the muscle power to pull the black sled up the powerline and into the pasture. I'm sure that he was rewarded with a flake of the hay. I went out to help with the next two loads. Greg and I pulled, while Robert and Paul pushed on the sled. I'm told that we were faster than Moses! While the hay was being hoisted up into the loft, the donkeys were keeping busy eating their own piles of hay. We saw a fawn come into the pasture, having jumped the fence. This little one carefully stepped up to one of the hay piles and took a few tentative bites. It kept a eye on us, and seemed jumpy. Greg told the donkeys that someone was stealing their hay, but they paid no mind. We didn't see a doe around, so we surmised that this little one was an orphan. That happens when the wolves are able to isolate a doe from the rest of the herd, and take it down. If this is the case, the fawn will also be vulnerable to an attack. The best case scenario for it would be if it is able to hook up with another doe and her little ones. If not, we agreed that we wouldn't mind if it hung around in the pasture, under the watchful eyes of Moses and Jethro, and it grew up thinking that it, too, was a donkey.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

Little Things

As I lay in bed last night, I was trying to think of what I could write here today. How do you follow something as thrilling as the sighting of eleven wolves? Those sorts of things don't happen on an everyday basis around here. But lots of little things do, and added together, they make for some intersting stories in themselves.

Mostly throughout the winter, we see chickadees, rose-breasted nuthatches, and finches on a daily basis. Occasionally, I get to see a white-breasted nuthatch, and I think of him as Speedo, because of the way he comes swooping in so quickly. He grabs a seed and then he's gone. His coloring seems streamlined, just like the way he flies in. Once in a while the pine grosbeaks show up, although I am more likely to see them at Sharlene's feeder near the rustic cabins. She gave us a great new bird feeder that is mesh, and holds lots of sunflower seeds. It has a trayon the bottom, and that has cut way back on the amount of seed that gets dropped to the ground. This makes the deer less likely to get a hold of the cast-offs. It also cuts down on what the squirrels get...that is, until they figure out how to raid the feeder itself.
Watching the squirrels learn how to get on the feeder is funny. They figure out all manners of tricks to try, from jumping from posts to hanging upside down. All kinds of feeders are on the market to foil these little furry guys. For the most part, I've learned to just tolerate them. They need to eat, too, after all. Since hanging this feeder, more squirrels have shown up, and so the territory fights have begun. Often I see them chasing each other, trying to defend their space. I saw a pair go up the tree right by the workshop. One jumped on to the roof of the shop, while the other went down the opposite side of the tree, out of sight until he was hightailing it on the ground. (Hey, I wonder if it is because of squirrels and the way they run that we have the phrase "hightail"?) When the rooftop guy saw the other getting away, he did a fantastic leap into the snow below to continue the chase. It looked so cool!

That reminded me of another time when I saw someone on that roof, poised to take a leap. It was Robert's friend Ben, on his BMX bicycle, ready to take a big jump to the ground. I was sitting with my back to him, and when someone near me said, "Barb mustn't know what is going on, " I caught on real fast. I happened to have the portable phone in my hand, and all I said to Ben was that I was going to call his dad, and I recited the number from memory. He apologized and came properly off the roof in about an instant! Now we have a metal roof there, so no more possible cool bike tricks.

Ice fishing season opened yesterday. I got a report from my neighbor Andy. He said that his party only caught one, out in front of his cabin. He heard that a group of fishermen down near Campers' Island caught five, so that sounds pretty good. The ice thickness that they found was generally around eight inches, which is what we have also measured. And the travel by snowmobile down to Campers' Island has been good. No open spots. That was good to hear. No one has reported slush, and we haven't heard of any bad mishaps. Hopefully everyone is exercising caution and going slowly.

It is snowing lightly, and it has been for most of the day. All of those little flakes add up!

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

More Wolf Activity

Some years, no matter how often I think I am observing, I rarely see wolves. This year is truly an exception. It probably helps that more of us are watching, as Greg and the kids keep a sharp eye out for any sightings. So it is that this morning, Robert alerted us to some wolf activity once again out on the ice. I heard him run from our room to his (to get his binocualars), and then he hollered down to us that there were three wolves. We grabbed binoculars and ran upstairs, where the view is least obstructed. He thought that he had initially spotted four, but only three were visible then. I thought that it was five, but the ravens had discovered the wolves also. Without binoculars, I was mistaking some little black blobs for small wolves. So I went outside, down near our landing, to stand near the dock to watch.

Before long, I counted five for certain. Most of them stopped and laid down on the ice, while a smaller one leaped and played with the others. Then I saw another join the five, so we were up to six. I was pretty excited, as that is the most I'd seen at one time. One of the pack had a bone or something, and another stole it from him and sat down to slurp on it. They looked alot like they had the other day, which I had written about previously. They seemed to be satiated, relaxed, and willing to spend some time letting me watch them. I knew that they were aware of me, as they kept looking towards the south shore.

I went inside to tell the kids that there were six. Robert and I went back upstairs, and when he looked through his binoculars, he said, "Well, actually, Mom, I count eleven." I grabbed my binocs, counted, and sure enough, there were eleven of them! I had to let the others know. I ran downstairs, and then outside to tell Greg, who was talking to our neighbor John. We all went down to the lake, and the eleven were still there. Once again, some were resting while others were on the move. They eventually made their way completely to the Canadian shore, and vanished into the woods.

While we watched them, we talked about how many deer they would need to sustain a pack so large. I went to do some checking online, and learned that typically, a wolf will eat up to one-fifth of its body weight. The average wolf weighs 75-100 pounds, and the males are larger than the females. Their normal consumption is five to ten pounds of meat a day, washed down with lots of water. The digestive system of a wolf is so well-refined for processing protein, that almost all of the meat is broken down and utilized by their bodies. That is why the scat from a wolf usually contains just hair and bone fragments. This would mean that one deer would not suffice for this many wolves---at least two would be needed. I would guess that they don't necessarily all hunt as one pack, though. I need to check out a book at the library on this subject to learn more!

Originally, the kids and I had planned a trip to Duluth for today. The weather report included a chance of drizzle on the North Shore. That is enough for me to postpone travel until a more suitable day comes along. In this case, I'm very glad that we are at home, for we would have missed the opportunity for such a magnificent wolf sighting.

Monday, 9 January 2006

Sunshine! And an Ice Report

The sun is out today, for the first time in several weeks. I could tell that everyone was getting a little anxious with all of the grey days that we have had. It was mentioned more than once on our local radio station, WTIP. When they start talking about it there, we know that it is worth mentioning. This is the first sunshine we've seen in the new year.

While in my room yesterday to do a chore, I happened to glance out the window to see three wolves on the Canadian side of the lake. Two were resting right on the ice, near the island. The third wolf was traversing from east to west, a couple hundred yards behind his companions. Whenever I see wolves on the ice, I tend to drop everything I'm doing, grab the binoculars, and watch them. This first happened in my earliest years up here. I remember seeing two of them out there on Christmas Eve, and I couldn't stop watching, no matter what else had to be done that day. When I see them in the morning like this, especially if they are in no hurry to get anywhere, I imagine that they are relaxing after a long night's work of hunting and gathering. In most cases, they have just finished attacking and eating their fill of a deer from the south side of Gunflint Lake. We see evidence of this in the form of discarded carcasses, first devoured by the wolves, and then picked clean by the ravens. We've learned to notice when a group of ravens is gathered on the ice or in the woods. It often means that a fresh kill is nearby. Though not a pretty sight, it is a part of nature's ways, the food chain, and it means that we will continue to see magnificent creatures like the wolves.

While Greg was out plowing today, he, too, got to see a wolf. This one was on the road ahead of him. As he approached, it headed down the driveway of a neighbor. Greg got a good look at it as it ran off. He said that it was very large and it had a full bushy tail. Another wolf report came from our friends who have a home up on Seagull Lake. For the first time that they know of, a pack of wolves now lives in the vicinity. Someone saw five of them resting on the ice of Seagull, and others have seen them running on the ice and in the woods. One person saw a lone wolf chase a deer out on to the ice, and despite its best efforts, the deer escaped. The deer seem to have widened their range since the blowdown occurred, and we are now seeing this in the increasing number of wolf packs as well.

On Saturday, I asked Robert to head out on the ice to check on the thickness of it. We haven't had a lot of cold weather, and several people have been asking how the ice is coming along. Twenty yards out, Robert punched his first hole through, and it was about eight inches. He went twenty more yards out, and it was six inches thick. I have seen snowmobiles travelling slowly around the south shore of the lake, but still none out in the middle. But I figure if the wolves are out there, it must be improving. The morning temp today was 17, and then we dropped to fourteen. This will help, but what we'd really like are some cold nights.

The winter hasn't stopped Robert from working outside on his '67 Mustang. On Saturday, he removed the old transmission, and then installed a different one. He is working under the canopy that houses the sawmill, so while he has a roof above him, he is still subject to the elements. Gotta love a car to want to do that!

The groomer is out and running today, thanks to a fresh batch of snow. I hope to try those fresh tracks yet this afternoon, as I hear they are doing the Lonely Lake trail. It's just too nice to stay indoors.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

A Visit from Hessie

Happy New Year to everyone! What a whirlwind the holidays were up here in the woods. While many folks were expecting a visit from St. Nick, we were most fortunate to have a visit from Hessie. She appeared on the ice in front of the lodge one day......thanks to the hard work of Sarah, Charley, Judith, Nic, Luc and probably a few others, too. Sorry if I missed your names. Hessie has been keeping watch on the ice, cautioning us all to use care when walking or skiing on it. The weather still hasn't been cold enough to make us all feel totally confident in the ice. As a result, we are sticking close to the shores. A number of people have been travelling near shore, going about three miles or so down the lake. I even saw some fellows ski-joring right by. I wonder what their dogs thought about Hessie?

The temperatures have been hanging lately in the high twenties and even the low thirties. We have been most fortunate to hold on to our snow, and so the winter activities continue. Yesterday, Gerrie and I took a snowshoe hike to the Brice Breon trail. The snow was a bit "cakey" . This meant that every so often I had to stop and knock the balls of hard-packed snow off of the claws under the ball of my foot. But the temp was great for going along at a steady pace, and the scenery was gorgeous. The moisture in the air had frosted up the treetops, and there was a bit of fog off on the Canadian side of the lake. A section of the trail goes through some rock outcroppings, and here and there we saw some wonderful ice formations where water had been dripping and freezing like a waterfall. Very nice adventure.

On New Year's Eve, we fired up the oven at eight in the morning, and then stoked it heavily throughout the day. By five p.m. it was hot and ready. First we baked the usual four loaves of ciabatta, then four loaves of bread, and roasted up several pans of vegetables. The last to go in to the oven was the marinated lamb. What a delectable array of foods to add to the spread already in the kitchen. It was a Moroccan feast, shared by friends and neighbors. Then we had a wonderful concert in Spruce cabin, with harp, bass, guitars and electric basses, saxophone and flute---a delightul mix of classical, contemporary, jazz and rock. It is such a gift that these musicians give to us each year. We are most grateful for it. After the concert, some folks brought out the cantankerous movie projector and coaxed it into working long enough to watch some old silent movies. Finally, we rang in the new year with a campfire, out in the cold. It was our traditional New Year's eve celebration and we all had a great time.

One group of cabin guests arrived on Monday night, for their first-ever winter stay at Heston's. They have been coming up in August for about fifteen years, and they wanted to see Gunflint Lake when it is frozen. On the way, they saw many deer on Highway 61. Then on the Gunflint Trail, they saw two moose. As if that weren't enough, as they turned on to the little road that leads to Cedar Point and Diamond Willow cabins, they saw a timber wolf running right in front of the car. He stayed his course, trotting ahead of them on the road until they came to the fork, where he went right and they went left. Amazing! I can't say that I have ever seen that much wildlife myself in such a short time.

If you have tried to leave us a comment in the past, and found that it was not possible without first registering, please know that I have fixed that requirement. It always takes me a long time to become computer-program saavy. Thanks for bearing with me, and feel free to comment away! We hope that everyone is off to a good start this January, and that the New Year is a kind and hopeful one for us all.