Monday, July 31, 2006

Canoe Trips

July and August are peak months for canoe trips. We have been sending people out on a steady basis with lots more guests still to take their trip. It has been just perfect weather: warm days and a little rain at night.

Last Saturday our daughter Shawn (Tanner's mother) returned from her annual gals' canoe trip. She has been doing this for several years now with a bunch of friends from Sandstone. It always amazes me that we don't see more women's groups taking canoe trips.

I think that people have the perception that canoe trips are really tough, rugged events. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is all in the planning. Shawn's gals aren't counting miles. They travel short hops each day and leave plenty of time for swimming and fishing. Because they are not rushed, meals are a real social event. Over the winter they get a lot of pleasue planning these meals along with the rest of the trip. Each trip has them spending two nights in one spot so they can just explore the lake they are on. On Saturday we saw a group of tanned, rested women coming off the canoe trail.

Women's canoe trips are nothing new. Back in the 1930's Katie Burns along with Ruth and Violet Merry used to take their own trips. In those days there wasn't the lightweight equipment we take for granted now. I have seen pictures of the three of them portaging their canoe together. I was recently able to read the journals these three gals kept on their trips. They would have been a fun bunch to travel with. Nothing seemed to bother them as they explored this area by canoe. And it was really exploring because the maps weren't nearly as accurate as today.

Now days we have a lot of emphasis on outdoor activity. I can highly recommend a canoe trip to give you a little exercise and help you get away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. Bruce and I are going out just after Labor Day with another couple to canoe back to Saganaga from the north side of the Quetico. I can hardly wait.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Summer at the Lake

These past few weeks have truly been summer time heaven at Gunflint. The temperatures have been in the 80's and even 90's during the day. Almost every night the heat has dropped to give us wonderful sleeping. Those in the know have gotten into the habit of closing their windows during the day and opening them at night. It is amazing how this little trick keeps the house cool and comfortable.

The beach here at the lodge has been the teen center and unofficial daycare. Every child in camp has spent afternoons and evenings playing on the beach, taking out the kayaks, and building sand castles. The chairs along the beach are filled with parents just relaxing and watching the kids play. The interaction among teens is great fun to watch. During the winter we dream of afternoons like this.

For the more ambitious there is always fishing off the end of the dock. The shady weeds growing under the dock hold a fair share of bass. Grandson Zach caught enough bass off the dock for dinner one night. Since bass are great fighting fish, even the small ones are fun for youngsters to catch.

But the main attraction for one and all is swimming in the lake. When he is down at our house, grand-dog Tucker has his own system for swimming. He will be outside with us as we work in the garden. Suddenly Tucker disappears for a few minutes and then reappears soaking wet. When ever he gets hot, Tucker just goes down to the lake for a short dip to cool off. I wish is was that easy for us.

Lee and Eva recently took Tucker across the lake to Little Rock Rapids. The two of them were going to float down the rapids to cool off just as Lee did when growing up on the lake. Well, Tucker was not about to sit on shore and miss the fun. Soon he was float down right with them.

In the north country the warm temperatures of both air and water are short lived. It makes this time of year very special for both us and our guests.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Everyone Pitches In

I am sure that you are tired of hearing about the Cavity Lake fire but here we go again. The first is up over 32,000 acres right now which makes it the biggest fire in this area since 1894 (according to the Minneapolis Tribune). Right now there appears to be no danger to any homes, businesses, or part of the Trail. As of tonight the Forest Service has the fire 45% contained. The cost is over $4,000,000 and counting.

A major fire fighting effort like this takes lots of support from the local community. Even though the Forest Service pays for this support, coming at the busiest time of the season, it is a lot of extra work for everyone. Of course, all the outfitters in the area are packing food for fire crews going directly into the BWCA. Down at Hungry Jack Outfitters, Dave and Nancy needed a little extra help so Nancy's mother, Betty, chipped in to pack food. The Proms up at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters fed many crews until a caterer came in.

We also can't forget to mention all those people from Grand Marais who have added to their busy summer work load. This includes people like Como Gas with deliveries to keep all the trucks, boat motors, and fire pumps running. And Pete Grezczyk is making extra trips up the Trail deliverying Pete's Potties. Peteson's Disposal is taking carry of the garage from 450 people. These are not glamorous jobs and the people doing them have considerably lengthened their work days to do their part. They deserve a pat on the back.

You might ask, what are the Kerfoots doing? Well, we have opened up Sue's Chinese Laundry. Have you thought about how many dirty clothes 450 people generate? Yesterday Lee, Bruce and I did 60 loads of wash in the laundromat in Grand Marais. Today my grandson Tanner helped and we did 58 loads. I can guarantee that it is a great way to sweat off a few extra pounds. As we dropped off today's clean clothes, I saw the pile of dirty laundry starting up.

So rest assured that not only are we grateful for all the fire crews, but the community is also doing all they can to support their efforts.

Monday, July 24, 2006


It is amazing that even though I am in my fifth year here, I am still seeing new things. These sightings of new things can be everything from a pattern of yellow-bellied sapsucker holes on a tree that I have walked past many times, to a new butterfly, bird, animal, or flower.

A few days ago, I was paddling down the Granite River on a day trip and noticed a plant with a purple spike of flowers nestled between two giant, precambrian boulders. Next to this plant were swamp candles, and on top of the boulders were a incredible amount of blueberries. A wide variety of lichens covered the rocks themselves.

I noticed that it was very different from the purple flower most common at this time of year, the fireweed or great willow herb. This new plant not only had different leaves, but individual flowers that looked like a combination of an angel and a ghost, complete with wings, spread out feet, a lighter face, and dark red eyes. This incredible plant turned out to be the purple fringed orchid.

As you travel down the various trails of life, even if thise trails are very familiar to you, don't forget to be observant of everything around you, and you will be pleased at what you find.

John Silliman
Gunflint Lodge Naturalist

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fire News

Virtually since this fire started, I have been going up to the 10:00 a.m. Forest Service briefing at the Blankenburg landing on Seagull Lake. The Forest Service has gone out of their way to make sure that anyone interested knows exactly what the status of the fire is. It is nice to get maps and accurate briefings at these meetings. Maps are also posted at several spots along the Trail and in Grand Marais.

Especially after last Sunday, we have seen the fire grow steadily and alarmingly fast. It has been too hot and dangerous to put men on the ground to fight it. Islands on Seagull have succumbed to fire. The winds have blown the fire in every direction.

The picture has changed in the last few days. By this I don't mean that the fire is out, but almost no wind for the past few days has slowed the spread. Cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and a small amount of rain have all done their part to cool things down. Everyone is feeling cautiously optimistic.

Yesterday we got news that Seagull Lake was being opened for day recreation. More men and planes are steadily arriving. By the end of next week we will have about 1000 people involved.

Also the Forest Service felt it was safe to put 200 fire fighters on the ground attacking the flames. Previously men on the ground had been extremely restricted which we can totally understand. The fuel from the blowdown is extremely dry and stacked several feet high in many areas. Yesterday more crews were getting out with fire pumps to work on putting the fire out at several points.

So we are breathing a little easier on the Gunflint Trail. In spite of all you may have read, there is not, and never has been, an evacuation for this fire. At Gunflint our guests have been able to recreate normally throughout the fire but no one likes to see a cloud of smoke. Perhaps the uneasy comes because it reminds us that Mother Nature is still in control of forest fires as long as she wishes to be. We are not quite as powerful as we like to think.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Summer Activities

This past week, like many of you, I have gotten caught up in summer time activities. Even though daylight gives us extra hours, there still are not enough hours in the day.

We have had company "coming to the lake." For a period of time we had more guests than beds in the house. Grandson Zach slept on the floor of our bedroom for two weeks. Now we actually have one empty bed in our house. In spite of the hustle, we hate to see guests depart. It seems like the times in between seeing them are much too long.

Last night was the annual canoe races at the lodge. Probably 300 people turned up on a perfect summer night. The property owners on the upper Trail lakes did a marvelous job with pre-planning and execution of the races. But at the end, we are all pretty pooped out.

The lodge has also been especially busy which is really good news. Lee and Eva and their staff have been working very hard. Also many of the guests are old timers so Bruce and I like to spend a little extra time saying hello to them.

The garden is growing wonderfully but that includes the weeds. I look at them every morning. Berries are ripening and Bruce tries to get a little picking in. We did OK with strawberries. Blueberries have been sparse but raspberries are good. No matter what, we will still have lots of jam to pass around.

Of course, we have all had the Cavity Lake Fire hanging over our heads. It has stayed in entirely within the BWCA but smelling the smoke regularly gets to you after a bit. For those of you who would like to keep track of the fire, go to Once there go to the current fires button on the left. There is a button for "Cavity Lake Fire." It will give you the latest maps and updates which are usually done in the late morning. When you visit the second time, don't forget to "refresh" so that the latest information comes up. This fire is certainly an example of Mother Nature during exactly what she wants. The Forest Service has a lot of equipment and manpower on site but even planes can't do too much when you have flame lengths of up to 50 feet.

I hope that your summer is as much fun as ours.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Dock Ducks

Feeding the mallard ducks that hang around the lodge dock is one of the favorite activities for young and old during their stay at Gunflint. Mallards are not native to this area. I thought you might be interested in how we came to have them. This is the story as related by Justine in her book "Woman of the Boundary Waters."

"Years ago most ducks on the lakes were mergansers, known as fish docks. Don Lobdell, who operated Rockwood Lodge on Poplar Lake, had connections with the McGraw Game Farm in Dundee, Illinois, and undertook transporting mallards to the Gunflint Trail. The Minnesota Game and Fish Dept. arranged to ship mallard ducklings to Don. Some of us along the Trail agreed to raise and release the ducklings, and we built houses with fenced enclosures. Don met them with his car. He transported them to Rockwood Lodge, which became the distribution center. We took 75 of these little balls of fluff and coddled, fed and pampered them. When they were a few weeks old, they were banded by Charlie Ott, one of the game wardens. It was a program repeated for three years. The banded ducks, who survived the firing line on their southward flight, returned each year to raise a new brood in the area."

Our ducks today are the descendants of those ducks that arrived here in the early 1960's. By September they will all be fully grown and ready to fly south. Many will make it back next year to start the process again.

But even here at the lodge, there are dangers for the little ducklings. Last week several guests and staff were around the dock when a bald eagle came down to attack one of the ducklings. Along with the ducks at the dock, we also have a Canada goose nicknamed Bruce the Goose. When the eagle came after the duckling, Bruce drove the eagle off and saved the little fellow. Everyone was really surprised. I guess that Bruce has earned his corn for the summer.

Just as an aside yesterday a small forest fire started on the Trail after an early morning lightening strike. The fire is south and west of Seagull Lake. We can smell the smoke here at the lodge. The Forest Service will continue to work on containing the fire today. As of yesterday the fire had burned about 300 acres.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Be Prepared

Most of us are familiar with the Boy Scout motto of "Be Prepared." Recently two incidents on the Trail reminded us that the motto is still valid.

One of our employees decided to hike the KeKaKabic Trail to Ely on his days off. It is a 42 mile hike. Since he had never done it before, several people offered him the use of a GPS but he refused them. Also he had to decide between hiking boots and sandals. The weather was hot and sandals sounded best.

At this point you probably know what happened. The lodge got a call from him on his cell phone late the last night. He was lost. The batteries on the cell phone were running low. Lee activated the Ely area search and rescue. They found him and there was a happy ending to the story. Ironically he was still on the Trail and within 1 1/2 miles of the end of the Kek. His feet were so blistered up that he would not have been able to walk the last way in.

A second incident involved a father and 16-year old son. They decided to canoe from Gunflint Lake down the Granite River and out at Larch Creek. Upon leaving in the morning, the two told their hosts that they would be back by 1:00 p.m.

By 5:00 p.m. the pair had not appeared. The outfitters was contacted and a rescue party was sent out leaving from the exit point at Larch Creek. The rescue canoe caught up with the two at Magnetic Lake. They had made it all the way to Larch Creek and started up the creek. At the first beaver dam (there are six on the way to the road), the pair decided this was wrong and they started back out the way they had come in. Once again it was a happy ending but our pair of canoers were obviously unprepared for beaver dams.

So don't let our benign looking forest surprise you. When planning a trip make sure that you have the proper equipment and a good idea of what you will be encountering along the way.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Weather Change

Warm summer days left us yesterday. I don't know exactly what happened but yesterday was not fun along Gunflint Lake. The temperatures were not so cold but there was a cold east wind. Bruce went fishing with Nick, Tanner and Keean. Zach and I stayed home.

For 6 years old Zach is a pretty tough little guy. He had decided that today he wanted to play at the beach. There I was sitting on a lawn chair watching him in the early afternoon. He had on a pair of swimming trunks and a t-shirt. I had a jacket and put his towel across my legs and was still freezing. Zach was running around building his sand castle and running in and out of the water.

Zach lasted about an hour on the beach. All the time he was building, dancing and singing to himself. When we got home, even he was cold. We put a small fire in the fireplace to warm him up.

Meanwhile on the lake the guys were getting 10 or 12 bass. The big catch was Tanner's northern. It weighed in at about 8 pounds. Bruce filleted it and took out the "Y" bones from the middle of each fillet. Combined with the two bass that came home, it's enough for a nice fish dinner.

Fresh fish is one of the joys of living on the lake. By March I look at any fish left in the freezer (not too many) and decide I can't face frozen fish. So we wait until the season opens. A catch like yesterday's is just perfect for all of us.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Warm Summer Days

Today has turned into one of those warm summer days we all dream about in January. It didn't start out that way. Last night we laid in bed listening to thunder approach us. The heavens opened for quick, hard downfalls of rain. When the thunder moved on, we could hear more in the distance coming along. As we sat at breakfast, the rain continued to come.

About 9:30 or 10;00 a. m. the sun began to peek out until there was not a cloud in the sky. Probably due to the rain last night, the humidity soared. Our saving grace was a wonderful breeze off the lake. With every window open, the entire house was filled with a cool breeze.

After lunch I took Tucker down to the lake for a swim. He will swim out and chase any stick you throw in. At the same time a mother mallard decided to take her four ducklings right past our bit of shoreline. Tucker was interested enough to make a couple fake charges but Mama and I didn't let him get close. I threw a stick and Tucker lost interest in the ducks.

Sitting down by the lake was wonderful. I had a large rock with a little depression to sit in. It was in the shade and the cool breeze hit my face. It was so pleasant that I had to drag myself back to the house to put clean sheets on the beds. Even in paradise we have to do these mundane chores.

Meanwhile Bruce was out trying to get a few wild strawberries. Either the bears have eaten them all or everyone has picked them because he found nothing. We will have to make due with wild raspberry jam this year.

Memories of this day will also help get us through the winter.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

It's that time of year!

Yesterday I looked out my window towards the lake. Something caught my eye and I had to go rushing out the door. It wasn't anyone in trouble on the water. It wasn't one of my perfect grandchildren doing something wrong. It was a tiny spot of red. In fact it was lots of tiny spots of red.

The raspberry bush outside my window was filled with ripe berries! I ran out to pick a quick handful just to make sure they were as good as last year. Today I knew that raspberries were going to be the subject of my blog. In order to get into the mood, I went out and ate a couple handfuls while the blog was loading. Those of you who don't live near a raspberry bush, eat your heart out.

I like strawberries and blueberries but raspberries are the very best. All winter long I look at them in the grocery store. The price is somewhere between $3 and $4 for 1/2 pint. That's one cup and they don't even taste good.

One day soon I am going to sit down in front of a whole bowl of raspberries. A little sugar will go over them and perhaps some half and half. Once a year I allow myself this treat. It is the time of year when I know my life is truly blessed and I am rich. Another night I will have raspberries over vanilla ice cream before going to bed. Who could ask for anything better?

Most of our raspberries go into jam. Bruce is a great picker and I make the jam. Then we spend all fall and winter giving the jam away. We have friends in Florida who get some. One of them will send me empty jars with "Please refill" notes in them. There is our son and his family in California. Another son and family is in Missouri. Eva's parents are in Connecticut. Oh, and don't forget the neighbor boy who is in his medical residency in Phoenix. There are not very many people who will turn down a jar of wild raspberry jam.

We get to be a little snobby about it. One day my friend, Pat, and I were shopping in a grocery store in Key West. We looked down the aisle at another shopper. I couldn't help but remark, "Look at that poor woman. She has to buy store-bought raspberry jam!"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Garden Vs. Weeds

Now that July is firmly here, the garden is really starting to produce. I have been able to bring down to the lodge kitchen lettuce, basil, parsley, rhubarb, and chives. It seems to disappear into the kitchen and never come to light again. Of course, I know that Chef Barry is putting it all to good use.

Then there is a bit of this fresh produce that never makes to the kitchen, the lodge kitchen that is. Bruce and I seem to get our share of fresh food. Unfortunately for the lodge, there is only enough broccoli for Bruce and I at the moment.

Also the berries are starting to ripen. This morning I made my first jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam. The last two days we have been filling up on fresh peaches, Daughter-in-law Miranda sent up a huge box from Missouri. We have eaten peaches for breakfast, made one fresh peach pie, and put up 39 jars of peach preserves. During the winter, these will be a special treat.

Bruce has been busy picking wild strawberries. They are only as big as the tip of your little finger but, oh, are they sweet. After a trip to town for more jars and Sure-Jell, they are my next project. Meanwhile the picked berries are resting safely in the freezer.

In between harvesting we are fighting the battle with weeds. Bruce has particularly been working on the tomatoes. He has weed plants bigger than his tomato plants. I think as of this afternoon he and his good buddy, Ron Malina, have finally finished weeding and staking all the tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes even have little green balls on them. When we eat these tomatoes fresh off the plant, it's like eating candy.

I have spent my time weeding the strawberries and peppers. The peppers plants had also disappeared into the weeds but they are now standing tall and in the open. Various squash are covered with blossoms. I think there may also be a few watermelon trying to grow in the northwoods. We will see what happens.

Just in case you are wondering, our grandsons Tanner Gadomski and Zach Kerfoot arrived and they are still perfect.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Odds and Ends

Sometimes I don't really have a short story to tell you but do have a bunch of odds and ends that you might be interested in. So, here goes.

A couple days ago we had another Mama Moose with new calf sighting. My advice to is to mark your calendars because the last week in June must be when all the Mama Moose decide to show off their babies. It's kind of like a moose Easter parade.

Lately there have been some garbage bags along the Trail. These bags are part of the annual Trail clean up done by its residents. Those of us who live here are proud of our home and want to keep it clean. If visitors don't see garbage in the ditches, they are more likely to not throw stuff. The residents have been cleaning up for at least 15 years.

Fishing has picked up. The guides tell me that I will have a report some to pass on to you. Heck with the report, how about a couple fillets.

We got a nice rain last night which is certainly welcome for strawberry, blueberry and raspberry lovers. All the bushes blossomed out nicely and this rain combined with lots of sunshine will give us big fat berries. The rain also promotes lots of weeds in my garden but that's another story.

With the coming of July, the Trail is really exploding with visitors. We are always glad to welcome them.

Bruce and Tucker took a magazine writer on a hike the other day. The writer asked what to wear and Bruce suggested long pants and good shoes. He arrived with shorts and sandals! Fifteen miles later, the writer's legs and feet were really a mess. My 67-year old husband got a kick out of showing this 20 or 21-year old fellow how to trek in the woods.

The Kerfoot household is welcoming grandsons this weekend. Tanner and a friend just arrived yesterday for about a month. Zach gets here from Missouri on Sunday. He will be here for about two weeks.

I might not be quite as diligent writing or you may get tired of hearing about my wonderful, intelligent, perfect grandsons. Just so you know, I have 4 other grandchildren. They are also perfect. Good thing they are not all here or you would really be tired of reading about them. Also don't forget that I have one grand-dog, Tucker. He's pretty special too.