Monday, 27 February 2006

The Short Month

Not only is February the shortest month of the year, it also seems to be the one that flies by the fastest. Can the absence of those few extra days really make that big of a difference? Perhaps it travels so quickly because each day brings us a little more daylight. Hence, the nights aren't as long, and before I know it, March is nipping at my heels.

Winter returned to these parts a week or so ago, sending us temperatures in the "teens below zero" range. We all dressed a little warmer, so were prepared in that respect. But we weren't ready (as we never are) for the frozen pipes that soon followed. One frozen septic pipe and one frozen waterline kept Greg and the boys quite busy one weekend. They got the water line thawed, but the septic line still waits. Fortunately, it is in Cedar Point cabin, which isn't habitable right now anyways.

A week ago today, Greg began to dismantle the living room at Cedar Point. He and Robert emptied it of furniture, and proceeded to tear up the carpeting, which we unceremniously tossed into our garbage canister. Greg always loves to get rid of old carpeting. He is definitely a wood guy, through and through. He went to Duluth to pick up his birch flooring later in the week, and will be very happy when he is installing it later this coming month. But I am getting ahead of myself. He also took out the tile covered "hump", for lack of a better word, that was next to the wood stove in the cabin. That really made him happy. Not only will it increase living space a bit, but he also will be installing a new slate floor for the woodstove. Another good thing happening there is that he is finding locations where mice have been able to enter the cabin. Some hardware cloth and expandable spray foam should go a long way towards deterring the little critters. This is the first stage of the remodel. Once the living room is complete, he will tackle the kitchen to give it a facelift.

This past weekend, the Gunflint Trail hosted the second annual Winter Tracks Festival. The schedule was very full, with all sorts of winter activities to try, and some competitions, too. Our guests participated in skiing, the childrens' passport program, and the poker run to name a few. On Saturday night, we joined other Trail folks at Gunflint Lodge for an excellent barbecue, and then dancing to the local band called Critter du Jour. Great music! The musicians got us all organized to do some line dances, round dances, and even a waltz. It looked like everyone was having a lot of fun. Plans are already underway for next year's festival, so keep an eye on the website for further information.

In addition to longer days, we also have had a bit more wind than earlier in the winter. Over President's Weekend, Greg and I took a snowmobile ride to our friends' cabin on the Canadian side of the lake. Thanks to strong winds for the two days prior, there were several moguls and dunes on the lake. Makes for a bumpy ride on our old sled. The wolves have been heard, but not seen. The last couple of nights we have been delighted to be awoken by them. They are singing at all odd hours, it seems, and it sounds as though they are very near by. Sometimes if the moon is bright enough, we will get up to look out the window, hoping to see them on the lake. No luck so far in catching glimpses of them. Both Greg and Robert reported seeing huge numbers of tracks when they were out recently---Greg in his plow truck, and Robert on the Piston-Bully while grooming the ski trails. Robert said that it looked like they had a real party running all over the trail through the fresh snow.

Thanks to several inches of snow last week, the trails are in excellent condition. Skiers are having a marvelous time out there.

Sunday, 12 February 2006

Sort of Nature Related

For anyone who has been in our kitchen, I wanted to post this photo. Greg has been working to get the new birch table and cooktop finished and installed. We bought the cooktop a few years ago, and he started to build a table for it. Time in the summer is at a premium, so he was able to get only as far as building the top, and cutting pieces for the base. A week or so ago, he brought all those parts into the kitchen, to begin the final assembly.

The kitchen was abuzz with activity for several days, as he attached, glued and sanded the table together. Then he applied a finish coat to the wood, and dropped in the cooktop. Robert and Greg moved it to the center of the kitchen. Yesterday, Greg connected the gas and electric to it, so that by the time our dinner guests arrived, we were cooking on it. Wow! My dad retired from the Duluth Water and Gas company, and one of his favorite expressions was "We're cooking with gas!" And we truly are now, for this stovetop has so much more power than our old one. There'll be some good cooking coming out of this kitchen for many years ahead now.

The table is made primarily of birch, from a tree that went down behind Tamarack cabin a few years ago. I actually heard it go that day---a loud crack and then a crash. Greg cut the tree into lumber himself. The trim on the ends and legs of the table is mesquite wood, brought back from his aunt's ranch in Arizona. Greg also cut that wood. It is a beautful piece of furniture.

On another note, I just got a fishing report. We had a group of folks in for the weekend, who fished mainly right off of our point, out from Cedar Point and Diamond Willow cabins. They are bringing five lake trout home with them, and they caught and released a few lakers. The largest released were around 8-10 pounds. This is good news to hear, as the fishing out front in recent weeks has been quiet. Glad to hear that there is now some action. Maybe we'll get a line in there yet. Then I could cook fresh lake trout on the new cooktop.

Friday, 10 February 2006

More wolf reports

The days keep rolling on by, the moon is getting fuller, and the sun is shining longer. I heard last week that mid-winter was on February 3. For some, I think that winter starts in November and ends in April. But technically, as the season goes by the calendar, mid-winter was last Friday. It actually feels more like winter now than it has for most of the season so far. We have had temperatures that went below zero, and days that stayed in the teens. Not much for new snow lately, but fortunately, no more melt-downs.

It seems as though it has been very quiet outside lately. We didn't see much activity from snowmobiles or fishermen last weekend, so the lake was filled with silence. The wind hasn't been blowing as much this winter as some in the past, so that also makes it quieter. And we haven't heard the wolves howling. But we finally got to see them again.

It was yesterday, as Greg and I were walking to a neighbor's cabin. We had been asked to turn on the electricity to the cabin. I was walking with my head down, so as to keep my footing secure. There are some icy patches on the side of the road from our meltdown on January 27. Greg suddenly turned to me and whispered, "Did you see that?!" He indicated up ahead on the road. I looked and could see a wolf running, then it stopped and looked towards us, then ran ahead. Greg saw two, while I saw only one. We jogged up ahead to where they had been, but of course we couldn't see them. I did notice two deer in a yard, but they didn't seem spooked at all. We continued on, and as we approached the cabin, I heard a snowmobile stop on the lake. I ran ahead, just in case the snowmobile had stopped to see the wolves. Sure enough, there they were, the two wolves, running out from shore not far from us. They were heading towards Canada at a good clip. The snowmobile was joined by a second one, and after a few moments of watching, they proceeded down to the east end of the lake. About that time, a third wolf came running out from the U.S. shore, about a half-mile further down the lake. He ran to join the first two. What amazed me most about this sighting was that in the space of about ten minutes, Greg had first spotted them on the road, and then they were on the Canadian side of the lake. Those animals can run!

We turned on the electricity, took a quick look at the lake, but didn't see any more wolf activity. I suggested that we walk back to the lodge following the deer trails through the woods. Sometimes you can find antlers along these paths. We didn't find any then, but we did see chunks of meat. More surprising is that they were fresh, such that they hadn't even begun to freeze. This meant that the wolves had been eating a freshly killed animal somewhere nearby. We kept looking for it, hoping to see more wolves, but no luck. It must have been deeper in the woods than we were seeing. Since it has been so long since I'd seen anything of the wolves, it was quite exciting to have yet another encounter.

Winter is about the only season that we see the wolves. After seeing them so often this year, I think I'm going to miss these guys come spring time.

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

On the Road

Since my last post, I have been on the road some. Greg and I went to Duluth last Thursday, a trip that started at 6:30 in the morning. For the first time in several months, I was able to see the sunrise in the eastern sky. The lodge faces to the north, so our usual first glimpse of the sun in the winter is on the Canadian hills. The kitchen windows face south, and east to some extent. But the arc of the sun at this time of the year generally keeps the sunlight below the tree level, obscuring much of the eastern sky. As the month moves along and the days get longer, we can almost see the sunbeams raising up a little more each day. By the third week or so, the sun is clearing the trees enough to bring larger amounts of light back into our kitchen. We like to celebrate the return of this sunlight---the days are definitely getting longer and spring will eventually arrive. It never seems to matter what the groundhog has to say....winter will be as long as it wants to in these parts.

An advantage of driving so much is the opportunity to see moose. On that Thursday morning, we saw one moose in the usual stretch of the trail. Then as we passed the turn to the Pine Mountain Road, just past the south Brule River, I saw two moose. One was standing smack dab in the middle of the road, looking down at us as we whistled past. For whatever reason, I always picture these moose as though they are commuters, waiting for their bus to come! Yesterday, Addie and I went to town, and got an excellent look at a moose right on the roadside. This one was busy eating, and another car was pulled over watching it. Unfortunately, my passing by made the moose head into the we unexpectedly ended the showing. Sorry about that!
And last night as we came home, we saw six moose. The road was relatively dry, as we hadn't had fresh snow up to that point. Why they were out in such numbers is a bit of a wonder, with no salt to lick up.

We did get some snow after midnight, so that there is a fresh layer this morning. Greg says that it is about two inches, and he is out plowing as I write. Our temperatures are back into a normal range for this time of the year. We experienced the warm-up last Friday to the tune of 43 degrees--yikes! But fortunately, our snow held on farily well. Now with some fresh stuff, plus more predicted, perhaps we can get on to a more normal weather pattern. I'm not holding my breath though!

While on the road to Duluth, we saw many deer and ravens, and also some eagles. This is somewhat of an unexpected sight to me in the winter, though very welcome. With no leaves on the trees, it is easier to watch them for longer stretches as they soar through the sky.

Our road trip on Monday took us to Thunder Bay, to pick up some parts for a woodstove. We didn't see much in the way of wildlife. But I always enjoy the drive up through Grand Portage and north of there. The terrain to the northwest is rugged, high hills and to the southwest, Lake Superior with its islands. Very pretty. Robert commented that he could even see Michigan at one point---by having a quick view of Isle Royale. Once we crossed into Canada, the hills smoothed out, more like farmlands. Lots of snow up that way.

Our trip to Duluth included dropping some lumber off at Greg and Shele Hull's sawmill in Two Harbors. They will take the birch boards and finish them off, so that we can install them as new flooring in Cedar Point cabin this spring. Greg has a few other ideas for the cabin, too. He plans to start later this month, and we will post pictures here as we go.

The wolves were howling two nights ago. It started out with a bunch of whines and squeals, then suddenly burst forth as a full chorus. Next I heard a couple of barks, and then two or three long low howls. Just as quickly as it started, it was done. I like how they first warmed up their vocal chords, and then jumped right in to the song. We haven't spotted them lately, so I'm probably just not looking at the right time.

At the end of February, the Gunflint Trail is sponsoring its Winter Tracks Festival. I have been charged with writing out the registration flyer for this event. The list of activities for the weekend, February 22-25, is just amazing. You can read more about it at the website . If you are wanting to come into the woods and have lots of options for things to do, this would certainly be a good weekend to consider. Most of the activities are free of charge, and they sound like plenty of fun.

Time to clean some cabins, then perhaps get out to ski. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for snow in all of your parts of the state, too---that is, if you want it! If not, you can always send yours up to us.