Monday, April 24, 2006

Oops! Novice Blogger!

For those of you who read past the last posting, one of what will probably be many future mistakes appeared today. I started writing my blog early this morning but couldn't get it to post. At any rate, the computer said it hadn't posted. So I tried again in late morning and finally got it posted late this afternoon. Who knows why it wouldn't post or finally did post. As I reread the posted version, what should appear but my first attempt. Don't ask how this happened. Just pray it won't happen again.

Now that I have your attention, you really should learn about one of the great mysteries of spring. Last March the days started to warm up. On that first sunny day when the thermometer hit 32 degrees, we all thought it was time to try for a sun tan. It was so warm and nice that you didn't even need a jacket.

Well, today there is no snow in the woods or ice on the lake. The thermometer reads 40 degrees. The sun is shining. So why am I freezing everytime I step outside? When it was raining and sleeting in the afternoon, I was worried about frostbite no matter what the thermometer said. There are some things in nature that I will never understand.

Sue Kerfoot

Caution: Sawdust Flying

Cosmetic surgery is in now. So, Lee and Eva decided to give the lodge a facelift. All winter long they dreamed and thought and planned. Everyone added their two cents worth. Finally, plans were drawn up, furniture was picked out, and equipment was ordered. Now it's all being put into place.

The first step was to move the gift shop into the back two rooms of the lodge which were office and storage space. The wall between them was torn out. A small cubicle office for Dave was added. Carpeting and shelving came next. Then one side of the front desk was removed to give a wide entrance. Pretty soon we had a bright new gift shop. All the gift items and shirts are on the shelves for you to look at and, hopefully, to buy.

Where the gift shop was is now the "Red Paddle," a northwoods style bistro. It's a place were the lodge will now be serving lighter meals from noon until ten at night for guests and neighbors. Bruce and I have tasted many of the menu items and I think we will be frequent patrons. In addition to tables and bar stools, there are some very comfortable sofas and chairs for those who like to just sit and look at the lake or the fireplace.

If the bistro has a name, the dining room must also get a name. Lee and Eva decided to call it "Justine's." We all know that Mom wasn't much of a cook but she really enjoyed good food. With her name above the door, it also gave us a chance to fill the walls with pictures of her not only at Gunflint by also as a child and as a tourist. By the time we added her paddle, beaded buckskin jacket, and snowshoes, there wasn't much room left.

The changes in the front of the house were matched by new kitchen equipment in the back of the house. Then there is all the new kitchen appliances behind the bistro bar. Chef Barry and Bistro Manager Josh are anxious to put all this new equipment to work serving you some tasty meals and beverages.

Of course, everything is still covered with sawdust. On Thursday evening we will be serving our first guests. But don't worry about the sawdust. It's a Gunflint tradition that the last dust pan of sawdust goes out the back door as the first guest comes in the front door.

See you at the bistro this summer!

Sue Kerfoot

Flying Sawdust

Flying Sawdust

Cosmetic surgery is really in these days. So, the spring project this year is giving the main lodge a facelift. Lee and Eva have looked with new eyes and planned great changes. All winter they talked about them and during the last couple weeks, the changes have been implemented.

The gift shop has been moved from the front room into two back room that were formerly used as offices. Dave kept a little cubicle for his office but the rest is filled with new shelving and carpeting. One corner of the front desk was removed to offer wider access to the gift shop. Of course, we all hope that it's so inviting that you will spend lots of time looking (and buying).

Where the gift shop was, is now being turned into the "Red Paddle," a northwoods style bistro. From noon until ten we will be offering a selection of lighter menu items. A bar is being built, a couple booths, a couple tables and new furniture. I have tasted many items on the new menu. Bruce and I will probably be frequent patrons of this new eating area.

The main dining room has been renamed "Justine's." Now we all know that Mom was not much of a cook but she loved good food. Also the new name gives us a chance to tell you more about her life through the decorations. As a result the walls are filled with pictures showing various parts of her life plus her paddle, her snowshoes, her leather jacket, etc. Later this summer we will be putting in the lodge her original Old Town canoe which has been rebuilt by some people who specialize in this kind of work.

Behind the public rooms, the kitchen has been rearranged. Several new pieces of equipment have found their way into use. There is also lots of new equipment in the bistro's bar area. Chef Barry and Bistro Manager Josh are ready to start putting their new toys to work.

Right now we are all hitting the panic button. The lodge is still filled with sawdust and meals are being served this Thursday. Lest you panic too, I must say that this seems to be the way with every Gunflint project. By 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, everything will be spotless and hot food will be ready to come out of the kitchen.

See you in the bistro this summer.

Sue Kerfoot

Friday, April 21, 2006

Ice Is Out

Ice Is Out!!

Spring is officially here now that the ice is off Gunflint. Already Bruce is talking about how great the Lake Trout fishing will be because the ice went out early enough to let the trout come up. I, of course, can already taste the sizzling fillets with sauted almonds piled on them.

This brings to mind another tasty fish treat from the past. When Bruce and I were first married, it was a spring ritual to go smelt fishing one night in early May. We'd work on our lodge projects during the day and have a light dinner. Then it was off to Lake Superior. Our favorite spot to go was Oscar Sundquist's on Big Bay up around Hovland. There was a small creek running on the edge of his property which he graciously gave us access to.

This is another fishing event that you had to put on all the clothes you owned in hopes of not freezing. Everyone needed hip waders too. After dark we would wade in the water and use big dip nets to catch the smelt. If they were really running, there would be so many fish that you walked on them. You would not be able to lift the nets out because they were so full. Hopefully you wouldn't trip and let that cold water into your hip boots.

Once we had enough smelt, Bruce would start the fire and put on the frying pan and grease to warm up. Most people gill and gut smelt but Bruce filleted them. Lake Superior smelt were so large that you could get at least one nice fillet and maybe a second smaller one. After a dusting of flour, these small fillets would go into the hot grease. In a few minutes they were golden brown. A slotted spoon deposited them on paper towels. Next was a quick pass with the salt shaker and then it was time to eat. I have to tell you that smelt fixed like this eat just like popcorn. Sitting here this morning, I can still taste them.

We tried bringing home some smelt but they never tasted as good the next day. Sometimes we put them into gardens for fertilizer but critters always dug them up. So usually we just caught and cooked for our meal and left the rest in the lake. Today those huge runs are a thing of the past but it was great to experience them.

Sue Kerfoot

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Lonely Lake’s ice started to break away from the shore near the beginning of last week. The two Labrador’s that were hiking with us that day jumped joyously into the water for an early season swim, and the saint Bernard slowly waded in behind them. By last Thursday, the ice was completely out.

Usually, it is well over a week between the time that the ice of Lonely Lake and Gunflint Lake goes out. This year, the conditions were warm enough for most of the ice to go out on Gunflint last Monday. As of today, there was only open water within sight of the lodge. The remaining ice on the lake is down at the east end.

When I walked to Lonely Lake today, I noticed the flowers of the leatherleaf plant starting to appear. The leatherleaf maintains its leaves throughout the year, as do many other members of the heath family. The flowers of this shrub have not fully opened yet, but you can see rows of tiny, white buds down each branch.

The call of the spring peeper can be heard for some distance this time of year. The tiny (about 1 inch long) spring peeper is the frog that makes a “peep, peep, peep” sound, which can be almost deafening when heard in a great chorus at close range. Over the last few weeks, I have heard them in the hidden ponds off of Gunflint Lake, and the High Cliffs Trail.

Last week, as we hiked the Amperage Run trail, I heard a large group of western chorus frogs calling out as we approached the first wetland. They sound much like the noise made when you rub your finger down the teeth of a comb.

The vast majority of our snow is gone. Today I hiked several of the trails, and only noticed a few tiny patches of snow on the west half of the mid-cliffs trail. We have been getting much more rain than snow lately, but that does not necessarily mean that more snow will not fall over the next month.

Have a wonderful week, and enjoy the many signs of spring.

John Silliman
Gunflint Lodge Naturalist

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Gunflint Lodge

Bears and Other Things

Driving home from town I saw my first bear of the summer. He was on the edge of the road and not happy to see me. As soon as the car came into view he took off for the woods. The bear was visible long enough for me to see that he was huge and healthy looking. Now it's time to remember to not to put anything into the garbage cans after the staff has emptied them for the day.

After a warm rain on Thursday night and several days in the 50's and 60's, the ice is really black right now. The west bay is open past the main lodge building at Moosehorn. If the wind were to come up from the west today, I think the ice could go out. Of course, we have a dead calm. Until that wind comes up, the ice will just sit on the lake.

Remodeling in the lodge is coming along very nicely. Those of you visiting us this summer will enjoy the new bistro if for no other reason than that we have more dining seats overlooking the lake. I have tasted many of the food item's on the bistro's menu and they are really good.

My favorite part of the new menu is root beer floats probably because they remind me of my childhood in a Chicago suburb. My mother loved them and called them "Black Cows." Is that just a Chicago name or is its use more widespread? My delicate waistline dictates that I not indulge too often because the ice cream will stick to me just like every other tasty bit of food does.

I'm thinking of things that stick to my waist this week because of those small solid milk chocolate Easter eggs that are covered with colored foil. They are another carry over from my childhood. With no small children in the house I have avoided Easter candy like the plague but one bag of chocolate eggs jumped into my grocery cart. Now the eggs sit in a bowl in the kitchen and call out to me.

Have a pleasant Easter!

Sue Kerfoot

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gunflint Lodge

But What About the Ice?

It's fine to talk about birds and all the other signs of spring but for most of us the burning question is, "When will the ice go out?" As we think about this, let's look at the actual process of ice-out.

This process started several weeks ago when the ice "lifted." The term means that a tiny crack appear between the ice and the shore all around the lake. That left a huge chuck of ice floating on the lake. It's an important step because now this chunk of ice can be moved back and forth by the wind. Each little move crushes more ice against the shore. Sometimes the portions of ice are actually blown up onto the shore where they quickly melt.

The next step is for the rivers and streams into the lake to start flowing freely. On Gunflint the main river is the Cross River which flows into the west end of the lake. The river's flow eats away at the floating ice. Right now the ice has cleared to about 100 feet out from the river entrance. Eventually this entire bay will be cleared of ice by the river.

At the same time the wind, sun, and rain are taking their toll on the main ice chunk. It is getting blacker and blacker as it weakens. In the spring we speak of this ice as being "honeycombed." No matter how thick , this is weak ice because of all the air pockets forming. Also there is no way to predict where the ice is solid and where a walker would fall through. Of the three factors working on this ice, the most important is the wind. Wind will really weaken the ice and it will blow in from shore to shore. If you go down to the lake shore, you can actually hear the ice "tinkle" as tiny pieces break free.

For the next 1-2 weeks we will be seeing this ice flow move around. The large bays on Gunflint will literally melt free but not the main of the lake. That chunk of ice is waiting for the perfect west wind. One day that wind will start blowing the rotten ice down the lake to the east end. As soon as the ice moves up onto the shore, wind and sun will melt it almost immediately. In a day or two, the entire lake will be free of ice. There won't even be any ice left on the shore.

Right now we have started the process of moving this ice chunk around. The Cross River is freely flowing into Gunflint. Today, however, there is no wind so most of the ice will just sit there. It will probably be about the first of the month before we have open water on the lake. Anyway, that's my guess today.

Sue Kerfoot

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gunflint Lodge

More Birds

I haven't seen John's snow bunting yet but the first junco stopped at the feeder on its way north. Also a robin appeared here this morning. He was probably out so early because the thermometer ready 52 degrees at 7:15 this morning. No wonder the open window felt so good all night!

The American goldfinches, who were at the feeder all winter, are starting to replace their drab winter coats with bright yellow feathers. Soon those males will be strutting around fully covered with yellow and hoping to attract the attention of some gals.

Several other small spring happening occured yesterday. On my way to town I saw a moose who was shedding his winter coat. They really are ugly at this time of year. This one, however, looked like it had found plenty of food during the winter.

Just before turning in the side road while coming home, I looked across the lake toward the Cross River bridge. It looks like there is a spot of open water by the bridge. Bruce and I will have to drive over to check it out.

Finally, I received my semi-annual greeting from Dr. Kenton Stewart at the State University of New York in Buffalo, New York. For years he has kept track of the freeze-up and ice-out of many northern lakes. Bruce's mother, Justine, sent him the dates first and now it is my turn. One day I would like to get a copy of the records for Gunflint Lake.

Spring comes a bit slower here in the north, but it does eventually come.

Sue Kerfoot

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gunflint Lodge

There have been many new signs of spring appearing over the last two weeks. I saw my first robins of the year at about the same time as I heard my first red-winged blackbirds. The crows have also journeyed here from the southern part of the state to join their relatives; the ravens, blue jays, and gray jays for the summer. Last week, I saw my first snow bunting, brilliantly colored in his bright white and black breeding plumage. A few days ago, several gulls appeared and are currently waiting for the lakes to thaw.

When I reached down to point out the club mosses along the trail on a recent hike to Lonely Lake, I noticed that as I touched one, the yellow spores were released in a small, billowy cloud. Club mosses are ancient relatives of the ferns who maintain their green color throughout the year. Many scientists believe that the club mosses were once the size of trees, and were around before the dinosaurs. Now, they are less than a foot tall.

The lakes and streams of the area are starting to lose their ice. Most of the streams are flowing freely with a layer of ice above or below the rushing water. The ice on Lonely Lake is breaking away from the edges, and there is only thin, dark ice over the springs. Gunflint Lake’s ice is still solid in places, but getting very thin in others. When I climbed up to the top of the high cliffs a few days ago, I noticed that the areas of open water around the Gunflint Narrows, and the mouth of the Cross River have drastically increased in recent days.

Have a wonder week, and enjoy the many signs of spring.

John Silliman
Gunflint Lodge Naturalist

Monday, April 03, 2006

Gunflint Lodge

Closing the Lodge

Yesterday the dining room in the lodge closed for a couple weeks. During this time we will be adding and rearranging equipment in the kitchen, moving the gift shop and installing the bistro. In preparation Lee and the front desk staff were removing everything from the gift shop while Chef Barry supervised the cleaning in the kitchen.

The whole scene reminded me of when we used to close the lodge each fall since we didn't use it during the winter. While the guests were finishing breakfast, everything that could not be frozen was either thrown out or moved up to our house for the winter. Even though we worked at this during the entire previous week, there still was a great amount to move. Also all of the business records had to go up to the office in the house.

Everyone in the kitchen was busy sorting the last of the food and cleaning each piece of equipment as it was either emptied or no longer needed. Lunch that day was a buffet of leftovers. The last of the cleaning was finished after lunch with the final job being to mop the floor and haul the garbage to the dump. It really looked nice but I knew that next spring everything would have to be redone.

Bruce was anxious to have the building completely emptied and the kitchen cleaned so he could drain the water. Without all the heat generated by the kitchen, two wood stoves, and two fireplaces, all the water lines would freeze overnight. Usually by about 4-5:00 that afternoon, he could start draining. He had done it so many times that it took only about an hour.

By then I was up in our home trying to put stuff away and figure out what to serve the staff for dinner. (In those days we provided the staff with all their meals.) The next morning
most of the staff would be leaving and we would have 2 1/2 months to do fall chores before guests started coming for cross country skiing. That night, however, it just felt good to eat dinner in the house and know that another summer season was finished.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Gunflint Lodge

Spring Can Be Contrary!

I should never have bragged about spring rains. You already know what comes next. It snowed last night! It was just a dusting but it was also a reminder to me that it is much to soon to say the snow is over for this year. The snow is already melted but it did not look pretty late last night.

Another harbringer of spring has appeared. This morning at breakfast Bruce and I saw our first chipmunk. They have awakened from their winter nap. When my strawberries are ready to pick, I am not as happy to see chipmunks but right now this one looked pretty good.

When I drove to town on Friday, I noticed that holes have started to appear in the ice covering the North and South Brule rivers. The progress of the ice on those two rivers gives us a pretty good indication of when the ice will leave Gunflint.

The deer are still hanging around the house even though we have stopped feeding them long ago. Now they are interested in the remains of last year's lawn which appeared as the snow melted. They are also eating the bark on several bushes. I assume that spring sap may be making these stalks a little juicier. This afternoon I will be spraying all the bushes and small trees around the lodge with some miracle substance that is supposed to discourage the deer from eating them. We will see what happens.