Friday, 31 March 2006

And the rain came down....

Water, water everywhere. After three days of beautiful sunshine, a thunderstorm brought the end to winter. It was fun to see the lightning and hear the thunder once again. And the drops falling on our metal roof sound most welcome. I love winter, but I also love the other three seasons. I think that most folks who live in Minnesota and other parts of the midwest feel the same way. We get to experience each season, and then it changes to the next one. Never mind that it does this every year--it always feels new to me.

So the rain started on Wednesday, and continued through parts of Thursday. Today's forecast calls for near steady drops, and perhaps an inch total. Any thought of skiing on the lake is totally over. When I look out there, I see patches of white, some grey, and lots of standing water. It is supposed to drop below freezing tonight. The ice will be with us for several more days yet, but the snow is fast-disappearing with the rain beating down on it. So begins our fifth season in the Northwoods: mud season.

The birds are still flocking to the feeder--mostly the goldfinches, a few purple finches, and the nuthatches and chickadees. They are quite vocal! I saw a Canadian jay the other day, when he landed on the roof of the workshop. He had a feather in his mouth, so I assumed that it is nest-building time already for that species. I hope for lots of sunshine for them this spring. Can you imagine nesting in constant rain?!

The wolves have once again gone quiet. We heard them a week ago, but nothing since. In their place, a barred owl has taken up nearby residence and is hooting throughout the night. He is so loud, I can sometimes hear him when the windows are closed. I'm glad to hear him again, and hope that one of these days I will get a glimpse of him, either perched on a branch or swooping out of sight.

There is one last wolf sighting to report. Two weekends ago, our friend Meredith woke up very early in Diamond Willow cabin and looked out the windows. Running right in front of the cabin along the deer trails was a wolf. Meredith said that it was about 5 a.m. The path runs directly in front of the cabin, and the shoreline is just steps away. I can only imagine how exciting that moment must have been.
As promised, many moons ago, here is a picture of Cedar Point cabin in Remodel Stage 1. The wall between the living room and kitchen has been removed, thereby bringing in a lot more natural light. There is a new hearth under the woodstove, and a new shield behind the stove.

And here is a close-up of the woodstove and shield....

The next stage, which began last Monday, is the kitchen. Once again, Greg got to pull up old carpeting and generally clean the room out. On Wednesday, we brought Sharlene over and had a conference about how to arrange the appliances and new counters. Greg had four scenarios outlined on paper. After running through each one, we came up with a fifth possiblility, and that is what we will use. I won't say anymore than that until he is further along. Then I can post some more pictures, too. It is getting to the exciting part, because we can really see some great changes ahead. It will still be Cedar Point cabin, and will still have the "magic", as I call it, of being out on the point. It won't be the same as it always has been, but for those of you who really love Cedar Point, we hope that you will love it even more after this is done.

Addie and I are off to do a bit of camping and visiting next week, just within the state. We are not taking our usual bus trip this year, mainly due to remodel projects and so many trips last year. The green bus is currently being used at Cedar Point to store the birch flooring until it is installed. So Addie and I will be "roughing" it. This is about the only time of the year that I get to go camping, since we are so busy in the summer. We're looking forward to it, no matter what the weather brings!

Thursday, 16 March 2006

A Wolf and the Crows

Today is beautiful and sunny, though the temperatures are more winter-like than spring. According to the calendar, the Spring Equinox is on March 20. It's true that winter doesn't really end here in the Northwoods as soon as that. But we can still see the beginning signs of the seasonal change. Most noticeable is the length of day. Sunrise today was 6:12, and sunset is 6:08. The dark days of winter are but a memory.
We dipped down to five above last night, so our morning walk felt brisk. Instead of travelling on the road, we took to the frozen lake, where travel was easy. The snow on the ice is very hard, thanks to weather changes in the last week. It was easy walking as we trekked down the eastern shore to check on our neighbor's cabin. On the ice, we saw tufts of fur, evidence of a recent deer kill by the wolves. It was directly in front of the lodge, and we could see many, many wolf tracks, as well as the trail that indicated that the wolves had pulled the deer from the shore to the lake. It looked like it was probably just last night that this occurred. Our window was open all night, but we never heard a thing. I imagine that the hunt is fairly silent, but if the wolves had howled, we surely would have heard them. Further down the lake, we came across the spinal column and ribcage of a doe. The skull was still attached, as was one pelvic bone. The lower jaw lay adjacent to the other bones. It was all picked clean. Again, there were several wolf tracks, and also bird tracks, most likely from ravens. It seems that most often what we see are all the leftover pieces of the story that unfolded earlier.
But last Saturday, Greg and Paul had the opportunity to see some of the story in action. A neighbor stopped in shortly after nine a.m., to get his fishing license. He casually mentioned that he had just seen a deer run across the road in front of his car, followed by a wolf. He said that it was right out in our parking lot. Usually, I am looking out at the lake, hoping to see the wolves. In this case, I was at the computer screen, and I should have been in the kitchen looking out the back windows. Drat! I put my jacket on, and headed outside to see if I could catch a glimpse of anything interesting. I saw Greg just leaving the donkey yard, so I waited for him to come down. Then I casually asked him, "So, did you happen to see a deer and a wolf run by here recently?" Lucky guy, he had seen it, from up on top of the hill by the barn. I told him what Ron, our neighbor had seen, and we decided that we would walk the road to the point, and some of the deer trails, to see what we might find.
I noticed that the deer we saw were very tense. They were definitely on high alert, and would run at the slightest unusual sound. Greg and I paused often, hoping to see something, but we weren't able to. We headed back towards the lodge, stopping to see the latest developments at Cedar Point. We got back to the lodge about 45 minutes after I had first left. Paul greeted us at the door, and inquired about our venture. When we reported that there was nothing to report, he smiled a sad smile. He said, "I feel really bad for you guys. I saw you start to walk on the road to the Point, and just before you cleared the big woodpile, I saw the wolf come running back this way, chasing two deer right through the parking lot!" So while we were tracking him to the east, the wolf had turned the chase and headed west, the direction from which he had originally come. Paul said that it was so exciting to see the wolf. He was trotting at a fast pace, his tongue hanging from his mouth, and he turned his head long enough to look right at Paul, standing in the window.
We headed back outside, this time to the west. Again, I noticed how alert the deer were, but nothing else. I figured that the chase had continued off to who knows where, and that I had really better get myself back to the lodge and do some work for the day. Later, we heard that one of our fishermen had seen the wolf, too--first while it was chasing the deer, and then a second time when it was alone and headed to Canada.
Recently we had a conversation about predators and prey. On the one hand, it would seem to be a very hard job if you were in the prey category. Being chased up out of spot where you might be sleeping or eating, suddenly in the run, literally, for your life, seems like a pretty tough thing. But then we talked about the predator, and how difficult it must be for him. To have to work so hard for your food can't be a picnic, either. (Sorry about that!) As was probably the case on Saturday, there must be many times when the predator is very hungry, but isn't getting the food he needs when the hunt goes awry. At that hour of the morning, several people were out and about, tending to chores or recreation, and unknowingly, interrupting the nature of things for some other forest dwellers. It's an interesting thing to think about.
March and April in past years have been fairly active months for spotting wolf activity. We'll keep the window open at night, and our eyes on the woods and lake in the daytime, to see what else we can learn about the wolves.
The recent snowstorms in southern Minnesota have missed us, so we still have only our original snow. We did get a slight dusting on Tuesday, but that was it. Some of the trails have been recently groomed, making use of that new snow, but the conditions still should be classified as spring skiing. A couple that skied yesterday told me that the snow was crusty in places, but then when going through areas that were both sunny and shady, one could feel the differences. This usually amounts to some good speed in the shady spots, and then a big slowdown in the sunny spots. It can get interesting on the hills, especially if you have some pretty good speed going down.
Our anticipated harbinger of spring has come along: The crows have returned! The folks in California wait for their swallows to return to Capistrano, while we wait for our crows. I've heard tell that these birds only go as far away as Grand Marais for the winter. It is rare for me to see or hear them in the winter, until they return sometime in mid-March. It was March 11 this year. So now, each morning I wake up to their noisy banter and know that the season really is a-changing!

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

March's entry

It's safe to say that March has come in like a lamb. Weather reports around the first were predicting a snowstorm. We waited, hopefully, for the lion of a storm to show up. Unfortunately, it went south, as most of them have this winter. Hardly a flake came down. Our temperatures have moved into the low thirties during the day, and the mid-twenties at night. Despite missing out on last week's snow, we did get nearly three fresh inches on Sunday night. Greg was out plowing bright and early yesterday. We are maintaining about twenty inches of snow on the ground. The days are getting light much sooner.

The birds have been so fun to watch. I think that we go through more sunflower seeds in late winter than any other time. The flocks of goldfinches have been large and steady. I get a kick out of watching some of the females stake a claim in, not on, the bird feeder. They happily eat seed while chasing other birds away with merely a peck or two. I can hear them singing early in the morning now, too, which is the return of a very welcome sound. Soon the crows will come back to our neighborhood, and we'll hear their rough calls signalling that spring is on its way.

The birds fill our ears in the daytime, and the wolves are still singing at night. Greg heard them at dinnertime last night, Robert heard them at 11:00 one evening, and they still wake us up in the wee hours with their choruses. This is certainly the year of the wolf! I heard a report on the radio this morning that the wolf population on Isle Royale is up to 30, from 17 last year. The fellow reporting has been doing a study of the wolves, and he told of seeing (from an airplane) one of the packs attacking the alpha male of a neighboring pack. In about ten minutes, the attackers had killed the wolf. They usually do this to steal territory from a rival pack. One of the alpha male's companions had seen it happen. He went back to the rest of his pack, and it took about thirty minutes for the them to realize that something was very wrong. Finally sensing the danger, they all took off. It was an interesting story of communication and hierarchy.

Over the weekend, one of our guests had the opportunity to see two wolves while she was skiing alone on one of the trails. Just a brief view, and the wolves ran off. We discussed what to do if one sees a wolf like that in the wild. My experience was that the wolf ran away almost instantaneously when it realized what it was looking at. Joyce looked it up online, and sent me this link for more information. It was interesting to read (especially the part about a wolf rarely attacking livestock---I guess Moses and Jethro are safe), and so I wanted to share it here.
Greg continues to work at Cedar Point. I will take some photos soon to post here, as I am beginning to see progress. It is exciting to see a remodel in process like this. Greg comes up with some great new ways to use materials, and the result is often a surprise to me from what I have pictured in my mind. I am sure that this will not be an exception.
Trout season is still open on Gunflint Lake, until March 15. This morning I saw one snowmobile headed toward the east end of the lake. Shortly after, I saw a truck go by. Now for many of you in the Twin Cities and other parts of the state, this is a fairly common thing to see. But for me, it is extremely rare, since this lake doesn't usually cooperate. I gasped when I saw it, causing poor Greg to wonder what in the heck was wrong. I can only hope that the lake and the ice cooperate, and that the truck makes it back safely. We once had a game warden get his truck stuck at our landing in early March. It wasn't easy to get him back on solid ice.