Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Which comes first--the snow or the plow?

For more years than I can remember, we have taken a few days in late fall to travel to Duluth with the kids. Usually we have gone in mid-November, to do a little shopping and see the Christmas parade. Due to other obligations, we put off this trip until this week. Our main task this time around was to get a new plow for Greg's truck. He's been using the same one for about eighteen years. It has served him well, as has the truck to which it is attached. But the time has come to replace it, and as of today, he has a shiny new Boss plow, and the old one is a back-up.

So what happens while we are gone? It snows!! How's that for ironic? Now I know how to get it to start snowing....but I don't think that Greg needs a new plow each year. We heard from Sharlene this afternoon that we had six fresh inches and that it was still snowing. We head back home tomorrow, so then we will be able to report just how much new snow has fallen on Gunflint Lake. It's exciting!! The first significant snowfall of the year always is so much fun, and I'm sorry that we are missing it. One thing I know for sure----I'm following Greg (we brought two vehicles to Duluth in order to get the plow put on over in Superior), because he has the plow.

Monday, 26 November 2007

A Good Time for Everyone

One of the advantages of self-employment is that I can steal a few extra minutes before I get up in the morning, without adding a ton of stress to my life. So it was this morning, as I listened to Greg, already up, grinding his coffee. I recalled early mornings as a child, smelling the coffee my parents were preparing, and hearing the radio they had playing. A guy named Hunter Como would sing, "It's wake up time", and then do a little trill on his guitar. It's wonderful that memories from so long ago can stay with a person. The second thing I did is something that I always do in this season: check out the window to see if it is snowing. Indeed, we are receiving some wayward flakes, softly floating their way down. When this is the case, at this time of the year, I feel a sense of relief.

The Thanksgiving weekend was a bustling and enjoyable time. We had several folks in who either cooked up their own feast, or went down to the wonderful bounty that was being offered at our neighboring lodge. We ourselves relished in one of the very best dinners I think that I have ever had. Greg's sister Geri and her friend Donn had raised the turkey that we ate, and had butchered it just a couple days prior. Addie took one bite, turned to Greg, and said, "Oh, Papa! We should raise turkeys!" I don't know that we're ready to take that on, but the difference in flavor does make it tempting. We all did our best to bring an item that was, at least in part, "locally produced". My contribution was an ice cream lemon meringue pie, in which I made my own ice cream from milk obtained at the local dairy. It is raw milk, which we have been drinking for about a year now. We had homegrown vegetables, herbs, and even a chicken from Geri, too, in case the twelve-pound turkey wasn't quite large enough. It truly was a feast for royalty. I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, too.

The wax disapppeared from the pots on Friday faster than I could melt more for refills. We made several pairs of beautiful beeswax candles, and the kids had a ball making the colored paraffin candles. Somehow, there was room in the kitchen for everyone. This year, we melted the bulk of the wax outside, and that really helped with the moisture management. Wax needs to be melted in a water bath, and in the past, it has almost felt like a sauna in the kitchen at the end of the day. Now everyone has new candles, in all shapes and sizes to burn at home, and think about the day they made them on the Gunflint.

Saturday was baking day, and I fired up the bread oven early. I had noticed last month when firing the oven that there was a lot of steam coming out of the firebricks. It seems that with all the rain of September and October, some of it had gotten under the hearth. I could even hear it sizzling. In that previous baking session, the pizza crusts had steamed rather than baked. Oh dear! During this session of firing, I saw lots more steam coming out of the chimney, and I could see where it was evaporating off of the outer walls. Maybe we've finally baked it out of there? I hope so. I baked four loaves of ciabatta, and some guests baked two loaves of rosemary ciabatta. I tell you, after several weeks of not baking, the taste of that familiar bread is so good. It reminds me of how much I love it. Then again, I know that I can't bake like that year-round, or I would weigh about three-hundred pounds! Once the bread was done, we baked off pizza for a busy group of pizza-makers in Tamarack, who came up with a colorful batch. The scent of those was enough to drive me back into my own kitchen to whip out a few crusts, then enlist Paul and Addie to put on some toppings and help bake them. Even though I can bake the same recipes in my kitchen oven all winter, we are in agreement that they just don't taste the same as those that come from the wood-fired oven.

The lake is still open, but many of the smaller lakes have frozen over. We saw steam rising off of Gunflint one day, a good sign that things are cooling off. The moon was full and bright throughout the nights, so it was easy to be out and about for walks. Once again we have moonshadows. The path that the moon follows in the cold months is similar to the one that the sun follows in summer--higher in the sky, sometimes directly overhead. It's a great time of the year to take walks at night, as you can see so well. Just be sure to bundle up.

We are closed again for a few weeks, with plans to re-open about the 20th of December. Greg is working hard on the bathroom at Spruce cabin, so that it is done by then. The rest of us will be busy with more seasonal cleaning, and of course, the other kind of seasonal preparations: those for the big holidays yet to come. The days will fly by, as they always do.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Reindeer Roadshow

For the last two years this has been held in Barnstaple. Last year my husband took the kids but I couldn't make it, so this year I was determined to go along. This year's Reindeer Roadshow was held in Bideford. The roadshow bit was Lantern FM, the local radio station, with a stage at the bottom of the High Street. The bit I was interested in was the Reindeer bit. They were lovely and surprisingly small (its no wonder Santa needs eight of them to pull his sleigh!)

We arrived in Bideford just as Santa was coming along the Quay and we followed the procession til we met my sister and her son. Then we wandered up the High Street for a look around, went into a shop and completely missed the turning on of the Christmas lights, much to daughter number two's disappointment (especially as she wasn't there for the Barnstaple one last week.) However, finding the reindeer on the Quay more than made up for it. We stood and watched them for ages, and she managed to touch on of their antlers, which are covered in fur. Then she cheered up even more when I lent her my camera and took a photo of the baby reindeers (well actually a baby reindeers bottom, but she wasn't bothered about that!)

There were lots of street entertainers around too and we managed to get one of them to make us some balloon animals, then it was off for a cup of tea before coming home.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Looking for Color

Although I am not colorblind, I find that during this time of the year, I have to go actively searching for color outside. For whatever reason, my mind always registers the color grey when thinking about November and April. So often during this month, the sky is grey, the water is grey, and the trees have taken on that very dark drab green that they wear all winter. Of course, there is black, and there is white when we have snow, and we even get to see blue when the sun is out. So it isn't really all grey, but it definitely is not as colorful as what we just went through with the leaves changing, or as it is in summer when the flowers and foliage are in the peak of their times.

So I went looking for red. I could only find one thing natural, and that was these little berries on the ends of this bush. They grow right down on the edge of the beach, near Cedar Point cabin. I happened to photograph them the other day, when the waves had been lapping the twigs. Most of the bush was encased in ice, but these berries were high enough to escape it.

The snowfall from last night made it easy to spot the red canoe, with just a thin blanket on top of it. Soon I hope to see that the canoe is fairly buried in white.

And finally, though it isn't true red, the roof of the sauna also sported a dusting of white. The temp was 22 degrees this morning, and we hear that it is predicted to go down. That is fine, as long as a good dose of snow is soon to follow. The insulative properties of the flakes goes along way towards preventing frozen septic pipes come January and February.

If you've never had the opportunity, you should take a peek at the work of Andy Goldsworthy. He is a British artist, living in Scotland, and has published several books of his artwork. We first discovered his books at the library, and they are a treasure of photographs of sculptures done out in nature. He finds colors in the full spectrum, and arranges them into beautiful works, and photographs them. Here is a link to some of his images: We always find inspiration in looking at his books.

Today is pie-making day. That is my assignment for the Thanksgiving holiday. I'll also be getting things ready for our annual tradition of dipping candles on Friday. The kids were really little when we first started this......Addie still enjoys dipping candles with me, and we have several guests and friends who will join us. It's a good way to start the busy holiday season.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Christmas Lights

I don't normally go in for this sort of thing, but as I had nothing much else to do today, and as there was someone reasonably famous coming to do it, I thought I'd make the effort and go and watch the Christmas lights being turned on. The someone reasonably famous was Joss Stone, a devongirlie herself, and a someone who is involved with local charity Amigos International. (She made a visit with them to Uganda, my daughters teacher went too and helped to make a video and educational pack that is going out to school across the county.)

Anyway, me and my littlest one trekked down to Barnstaple's newly re-vamped Square, along with hundreds of other people, and were only able to squeeze our way to about half way to the stage area, hence the blurry photo. Joss came on and sang 'Son of A Preacher Man', turned on the lights then left again. There were some pretty spectacular fireworks (look and learn Chivenor) and then it was all over.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Quiet Times in the Woods

It was nice yesterday to wake up to a fresh dusting of snow on the rooftops, and once again covering the Canadian hills across from us. The previous days had been warmer, into the low forties, and had melted the little snow we'd had. As I drove to town, I also saw that the warm-up had re-opened the two lakes previously skimmed with ice. No longer were Little Iron and Swamper capped and smooth. It seemed strange to see the wind lapping small waves on them. It won't be long, however, until they have ice that will stay for the winter.

The snow, though it is less than a half-inch, helped put me in the mood for the day's task: More work on our annual Winter Tracks Festival. This is the fourth year of the festival, and we are busy planning for all of the activities and events that celebrate the fun of snow and cold. Last year's festival was a great mix of skiing, snowshoeing, ice-fishing, snowmobiling, and other traditional winter sports. We added to that lots of great snow sculptures, winter pizza at the bread oven, and some ice fishing and snowmobile opportunities. At the last minute, we had a wonderful snowstorm that brought us just what we needed---several inches of fresh, fluffy snow. Unfortunately, it also made travel poor for some folks, so they were not able to make it all the way up here. Still, it was a great weekend, and one that I would highly recommend. I am busy working on the brochure and the website changes. It should be updated within the next couple of weeks. When it is, I'll put a link here so you can check it out.

And here we are, less than a week away from Thanksgiving. The time flies for all of us, doesn't it? We will be celebrating here, with dinner at Sharlene's. Jim will be back from Alaska, and other family members will be joining us. On Friday we will again be dipping candles. That is our "Day after Thanksgiving" tradition, and it is always a wonderful time with friends joining in. The smell of beeswax will linger in the air, and I've come to associate that with this holiday.

The animals have been very quiet, at least in my realm. We saw a moose on the way to church last Sunday, but that's it for large animals. We've not seen any deer. The most of the activity remains around the bird feeder. Some pine grosbeaks have shown up, and their lovely rosy feathers add a nice touch to the other colors that I see among the birds. A goldfinch also came by recently. He hadn't yet lost his bright yellow summer colors, so I had to look twice to see what it was. Most of the time, we only see the goldfinches in their winter drab. In the summer, they find new places to be, so I miss out on the yellow stage. For years, I didn't really watch the birds much. I'm still amazed at all that I was missing, for it is an active and entertaining sight.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The Weather Then and the Weather Now

It's not often that I can remember the weather on a particular day several years ago. Some specific event needs to be tied to the day in order for this to happen. For example, many folks in these parts can remember the 32 inch snowfall on Halloween 1991. Hands down, the easiest to recall is the big windstorm on the Fourth of July 1999.

But on this day, back in 1988, I can remember that it was snowing. We already had some snow on the ground. It wasn't falling hard, but it was enough to cover the road, and the plow wasn't out yet, early on that Sunday morning. I had been up a large portion of the night, while Greg and little Robert slept upstairs. When I woke Greg up about 5:30, I said, "Greg, it's time to go now." And he said, "Time to go hunting?" I smiled and said, "No, it's time to go to the hospital."
I was in labor with Paul, who has turned 19 today---just about two hours ago, if we want to get technical about it, as Paul's little sister insists.

We got Robert up and into his carseat, and set off for the hospital in Grand Marais. Sometimes people will ask me if we were ever worried about getting to the hospital in time. I tell them that for the first one, we could have gone all the way to Chicago, so I knew that we would have time. I recall that the snowy road really helped me when I was having contractions, almost like a cushion against them. Nearer to town, the road had been plowed and was bumpier, and much less comfortable.

Gramma Sharlene met us in town to watch Robert. We labored through the morning, and Paul arrived shortly after noon. Interestingly, I had made the comment to Greg previously that if the baby were to come on that Sunday, he would be able to watch the Chicago Bears football game from the hospital. Sure enough, he got to watch the second half.

Paul mustn't have been paying too close attention to the game. The Bears Fan gene didn't get to him. Instead, to this day, he remains a loyal fan of the Green Bay Packers.

Today, the skies are overcast, and the wind is blowing from the south. That means that it is warm. When I went to check for the mail, I didn't even need a jacket. It is 48 degrees outside. What a difference. The weather is supposed to change tomorrow, and I hope that means that it cools off and snow comes our way. We won't be skiing for Thanksgiving, but it would be nice to have a little snow on the ground.

Paul is enjoying a day off, where he doesn't have to do any work if he chooses not to. Considering that during the seasons when we are open, and he can be asked to work up to sixteen-hour days, I'd say he deserves a bit of time off. Happy Birthday, Paul!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Tractors and Tires

Yesterday, the temperature went up to the low forties, so the lovely snow that we had last week all melted away. It was pretty while it lasted, and a good view of what is to come. And since Greg still had to finish some mowing on ski trails, it was helpful to have bare ground again.

When he went out a week ago to do his part of the trail system, he was only able to get halfway through. Then a tire blew out on the tractor, and that was it for that day. He hitchhiked back to his truck, and ordered a new tire. We picked it up in Duluth last week, and today he and Paul went to the trail to change it. I joined them to assist with transportation, and to take a few photos. It was a sunny day, and with our blaze orange, it was a colorful autumn scene.
When the tire first blew, Greg was several feet back from where he stopped. He wanted to position the tractor so that he would be able to make use of a nearby pine tree when it was time to change the tire. He was able to drive forward just a bit. The tractor was on a slight incline, so he knew that he would need a chain and come-along to stabalize it. With Paul on the come-along, and Greg on the jack, they were able to get it to this point.

And if you look closely, you can see that the new tire is in place. I'm not sure that I was of much help, but I did contribute to the colors of the day. Greg was then ready to finish the mowing job, though not without a few more pitfalls. On the Powerline trail, a leftover piece of electrical cable got snagged and wound itself around the mower. Not as easy to remove as it is for me when a piece of fishing line gets wrapped around the vacuum cleaner, but the same idea. A few odds and ends broke or came loose as he mowed along, but fortunately, he had the right equipment and parts to fix them. Lots of trees to saw out of the way also. A busy time on the trails, and certainly a reinforcement of the fact that Greg is glad that he is not a farmer.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Snow and Chickadees

While I don't know if it is here to stay, it sure looks good on the ground! The snow fell in big flakes, floating down from the sky, just like a storybook. The ground is cooling down, so that helps the snow hang around for a while. It's been a stretch since I can recall snow in early November, with the mixed up seasons we've had the last few years. Though some of us aren't quite ready, I am happy to see this.

It does mean that I need to be more diligent in keeping the bird feeder filled. Mostly we have been seeing our usual chickadee friends, and the rose-breasted nuthatches. I've also seen the white-breasted nuthatch almost daily. He comes swooping in so fast, I have to look twice to see if it really is him. Then he flies off right away, to go stash his seed somewhere.....I saw him stuff one into the big cedar tree by the workshop recently. I didn't realize that birds hid seeds away like that.

Yesterday, Greg rescued a chickadee that had hit the window. He fetched the little one and brought her in to the lodge where it was warm. He held her for a while, and then the bird started to flutter her wings, as though she was ready to take off. So Greg went out to the porch to release her, but the bird just sat in his hand. They came back inside, and then repeated this procedure a second time. This time, once outside, the bird quietly sat on Greg's hand and closed her eyes for a little nap. So he came back in and put the bird into a large empty flower pot, and give her a little hot Andouille sausage for a snack. Evidently, this was just the thing to wake the bird enough, as she started fluttering for freedom from the pot. Greg picked her up, once again stepped out on to the porch, and for another few moments, the bird still sat in his hand. Then she must have decided that she liked the menu outside better than the one posted inside, as she quickly took off.

Now that we have a bit of snow on the ground, we'll be able to see animal tracks more easily. One of the fellows who so diligently plows the roads up this way told me that he has seen many wolf tracks in the gravel pit by the Cross River. One day, he noticed tracks from a young moose, and then he saw tracks from a wolf. He didn't follow them to the ending, but he said that he expected that the moose probably didn't make it out of that one. I sure hope that we get to see wolves this year in the numbers that we did a couple of winters ago.

Monday, 5 November 2007

A Bit of Snow

This morning, we woke to a brush of snow on the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake, but only wetness over here. I think it is because the wind is blowing strong from the northwest. As it comes across the warm waters (!!!) of the lake, it melts the snow to water before it hits the ground. So here we are, warmer by the lake. I wanted to share this picture with you, as it is our first look at how the north shore appears with snow as a backdrop to the burned trees that are left. I am interested to see the change as we progress further in to the snowy season, and to see the contrasts that surely will appear.

It was a good weekend to finish up outside chores. I'm not sure where they come from, but a stray pile of firewood here and there shows up, and once again we find ourselves stacking it. I think that Greg loves chopping the wood, and so he goes around when we aren't looking, leaving piles behind. It is such a feeling of accomplishment when those stacks are done.

I also tried a bit of deer hunting on Saturday, which for me was more of a walk in the woods on a pretty morning. Greg took me out with him, and we went up to his stand for a while, and then did some more walking. The morning was warm, at about 31 degrees. The most memorable moment came when a chickadee landed on Greg's rifle, and sat there observing him for about a half a minute. Greg watched him when he left, and it then flew over to me, about forty yards away. The little bird hovered just a foot in front of my face for a moment or two, and then flew on. I think that next time, I will take a small baggie of sunflower seeds with, and see if I can entice one to land on my mitten.

The squirrels are still real active in the woods, stashing away food for the coming winter. I enjoyed watching one scurry around as I quietly sat out there. I like the industrious nature that they have all year, but can especially appreciate it in the fall. Some of the tasks that we must do are of that same nature---gather and store, gather and store. I wonder if they get to rest some in the snowy months ahead?

On our way to church yesterday morning, we noticed a thin skim of ice on Little Iron Lake. Soon it will be a thick coat, and winter will be well on its way. Ready or not, here it comes. I think that we are close to ready.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Bonfire Night at RMB Chivenor

We've not been here for a couple of years and when we got here last night I remembered why - far too commercialised!

RMB Chivenor is three miles outside Barnstaple as you head towards Braunton. A couple of years ago, for the anniversary of Guy Fawkes' failed attempted at blowing up parliament, the Marines decided to team up with the Roundtable and hold a combined fireworks celebration. Then they just carried on doing it. In my opinion it was much nicer when they did it at Barnstaple Rugby Club. You walked in, watched the fireworks, which were done to music, then came home again.

At Chivenor, you drive onto the airfield through a shambolically organised ticket 'gate', then walk to what can only be described as a money trap. There's the stall selling the obligatory glow-in-the-dark toys which inevitably fall to bits after two minutes, numerous fairground rides, a whole row of fast food vans and, most strangely, a Santa sleigh playing Christmas songs!

So after negotiating with the children that they were only allowed on one ride, and letting them nag their Dad into buying them a multicoloured light sabre each, we stood to wait for the fireworks. It was a pretty average display that lasted only about 15 mins - no music. Shortly after this the bonfire, a large ship, was lit. We stood and watched it for a while then came home. Bring back the good old days when bonfires were proper shaped and you were allowed to toast marshmallows next to them!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

A Hike to Bridal Falls

Ever since it started raining in early September, we have been talking about Bridal Falls. With all of the water that has fallen, we knew that the falls had to be running like we'd not seen before. The challenge was getting there.....and this proved itself true in a couple of ways.

We finally found a day when all four of us were home, the lake was somewhat calm, and it wasn't raining. This was about a week ago, so it was cold outside, but we just bundled up a little more, and headed out. If we didn't take this opportunity, we probably wouldn't get another. The ride down was a bit bumpy, thanks to the waves, but we all stayed dry. That is a good thing when one is on a boat ride in late October.

Greg pulled the boat up in the usual place, just to the west of the creek. It's probably south, if I were to get technical with a compass, but it is easier for me to orient by saying west. We all got out, and found that without hip waders, we weren't going anywhere. The creek was easily overflowing whatever "banks" it might have had at one time, and had spread throughout all of the surrounding woods. The trail was no where in sight. We decided that we would need to get back in the boat, and try mooring more to the west of the usual trailhead---towards where the large hill that makes up so much of the south shore of Gunflint Lake might offer some higher and drier ground.

We found a new place to tie up the boat, and proceeded to disembark right through the dense shore brush, and pick our way through the woods. We headed generally in the direction of the falls, and for the most part were able to initially keep our feet dry. Soon that changed. We got into a large area that had been burned in the spring, and it, too, had standing water. Downed trees, blackened with char, sometimes allowed for crossing, if they were sturdy enough. Since Greg and I both had rubber boots on, we were faring a little better than the kids. But I found it imperative to first brush aside the bright yellow leaves of the thimbleberry bushes that were everywhere. Since we still had not had a killing freeze, the bushes were all standing tall. They hid the ground enough for me to know that I couldn't chance blindly planting my next step, as my left foot is still a bit unsteady following last winter's dancing escapade. It boils down to the fact that it was a very slow hike.

We eventually found our way to the original trail...or something close to it. Here is a photo of Addie, as she walks along side of the trail. The creek was still overflowing, and finding all sorts of pathways in its journey down to the lake.
As we drew near to the falls, we could hear it, which isn't all that unusual. This time, however, the volume was much louder. We went as quickly as we could, even though there was clearly no chance of the water slowing down. A spectacular view awaited us....

Bridal Falls, rushing over the edge, in five different places. I couldn't get it all in one photo.
It was fascinating to just sit and watch all of the water course over the edge, and then continue on down the stream. Paul and Addie bushwhacked up to the top, so that they could see the view of it from another direction. Greg went up to join them, but I knew that it was best if I stayed down below. My achilles tendon has improved impressively over the summer, but I didn't want to push my luck, since we still needed to hike back out.
When it was time to leave and start that hike back out, I wished that we had marked our trail with flagging ribbon. Once again, it was an interesting challenge to decide where to go next.

When I ended up on a log like this, I knew that I needed a picture of it. My kids know how much I do not care to be in this position....but sometimes I have to. Slow and steady, I can usually make it ...and in this case, I could even snap a photo. (Look Ma, no hands.)Finally we were back to the boat, and we started our bumpy ride back to the lodge. The wind had not died down, so a side trip to the east end of the lake was postponed. We won't make it down there this year, but that's fine. The water will still be high in the spring when the ice goes out. That will be a great time to visit the east end, and to see what is left of that beach!