Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Closing the Garden

We haven't had a hard frost yet, but Bruce and I are working at closing up the garden. Last Sunday we spent about four hours picking tomatoes. Even the green ones will ripen inside and be better tasting than those we buy in January. Chef Barry had his staff busy chopping and freezing everything that was ripe. They will be greatly enjoyed this winter.

When you start to pick everything, it is amazing at how much there is. In addition to tomatoes, we picked zucchini, jalapeno peppers, chile peppers, green peppers and parsley. The peppers and zucchini went to the lodge. I dried the parsley and had a big bag of parsley flakes for Eva and for me. They actually smell like parsley and are green not brown.

It's been a week since we did this and already things are growing back. There are more jalapeno peppers to pcik. Bruce brought in another dozen zucchinis. As long as there is no frost, they will continue to grow.

On Saturday I dug out the potatoes. Part go to daughter Shawn, part to Eva and part to us. We still need to perfect our growing technique for them but it is getting better.

The carrots are still in the ground. I'll let them stay there for a few more weeks. When we need carrots, I go dig them up. Also the broccoli are still growing. They have been providing us with food for almost 3 months.

Of course, harvesting is not the biggest part of closing the garden. Now I need to clean out all the leftovers from beds. That debris goes in the compost pile. Then the perennials like strawberries, chives, asparagus and rhubarb need a last, good weeding. We will plant garlic in one bed this fall. It will be the first up next spring. Once everything is cleaned and weeded, Bruce will cover it all with a thin coat of horse manure. That can sit all winter and enrich our beds for next summer. With 17 horses, there is lots to go around.

Other parts of the yard need to get ready for winter too. I will pull out all the annual flowers and put them in the compost pile. The perennials will be cut back and perhaps transplanted to another location. Then horse manure goes on top of everything. In our regrowing woods, small trees will be covered to protect them from the deer. I tried spraying them last year but was not satisfied so we will go back to covering.

Afternoons are when I do most of this work. The morning is spent in the office. I have also been trying to walk a bit in the morning. Down to one of the mailboxes and back is 2 miles. In January Bruce I will be be taking a trip to Australia. Part of the trip is a six-day hike at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. We have to carry about 15 pounds so I am practicing. This morning I put a 10-pound bag of sugar in my day pack. The hardest problem is to not find an excuse to skip the walk. Combined with working in the garden, the walk will (maybe) talk a pound or two off.

Mix in a few meetings and you know how our fall days pass. It is a quiet lifestyle but we enjoy it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fall Days and Animal Sightings

I went to town early this morning for a 9:00 meeting. Just driving down the Trail was wonderful. Some of the lakes were still steaming. The sun was just high enough to shine over everything. It was such a gorgeous fall day that even the morning sun in my eyes was welcome. On the way in I saw a partridge feeding on the shoulder and a red fox. The fox was thin but looked healthy and had a full, bushy tail.

Top honors for animals sightings has to go to the minnow trapper, Bruce. The first sighting this week was a pack of three wolves that just stood and looked at him. It has always been unusual to see any wolves during the summer. They are very elusive so this was a first even for Bruce. This year we have heard of more wolf sightings that ever before.

A couple days later Bruce came across a family of five beaver. Again just seeing one beaver is unusual. The whole family is great fun. Some were on shore chewing on branches while one splashed his tail when Bruce was spotted. The others didn't move. Just like we humans, the beaver are enjoying the warm fall sunshine.

Bruce has also been particularly adept at spotting partridge. The hunting season for these tasty birds opened last Saturday. We have a nice cache of them in the freezer. Three of the birds will provide dinner tonight. Lee and Eva are coming down and it is her first partridge dinner. Hopefully she will enjoy it.

In the Kerfoot family we have a traditional fall dinner that features partridge browned and baked with cream of mushroom soup. The side dishes include wild rice with mushrooms and onions plus baked acorn squash. Just like your family, shared meals have always been part of the fabric of our lives together. So don't call us around 6:00 p.m. tonight. We'll be too busy eating.

September is moving quickly into October. Make sure to spend some time in the woods this weekend. It clears your mind.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More Fun Things

Just a quick word about the Famine Lake fire before moving on to something more fun. On Saturday we woke up to overcast skies, cooler temperatures and higher humidity. There was some rain Saturday night. Sunday brought more rain and clearing skies that afternoon. The wind shifted to the northwest. Today we have cooler temperatures and overcast skies. In the early afternoon it started a gentle rain which has continued off and on. Also yesterday the Forest Service flew in several crews to deal with the fire. The upshot is that things are pretty well under control unless something really unexpectedly happens. So, make your plans to come visit us on the Trail.

Now let's spend a little time talking about the last of our canoe trip. As with any trip in the wilderness, we had lots of animal encounters and all of them were fun.

One of the most unexpected occurred at the base of one of our waterfalls. I looked just 25 feet ahead and saw what looked like a brown stick moving across the water. Bruce thought it might be a mink. When the animal got to shore and climbed out, we discovered it was a red squirrel. Neither of us had ever seen a red squirrel swimming.

Another object moving across the lake in front of our canoe caught our eyes one day. It was an otter. He quickly swam to shore and climbed up on a rock. There he sat eating a fish and watching us go by. If he hadn't had the fish, the otter might have let us come closer to him. Otters are known as curious animals.

One morning we were fixing breakfast when a bird started flying back and forth over us. He was really talking to us. It turned out to be a pileated woodpecker. He must have been really upset with us because he just kept on and on with his tirade.

Another day we came around the corner after a portage and encountered a beaver swimming right at us. The beaver was towing a poplar branch and didn't want to let go. He got to within 10 feet of us before slapping his tail and diving. Tom and Melissa were a little behind us. They got to see three other members of the family.

Bruce spotted a seagull in the sky one day with a fish in its mouth. The seagull dropped the fish over the rocks surprising us all. Suddenly we saw why. An osprey was taking after the seagull and the gull was flying as fast as possible to keep away from the larger bird. Then a bald eagle joined into the chase. Eventually the gull evaded both larger birds and flew away.

We saw lots of loons and mergansers on almost every lake. They must be starting to think about flying south. A blue heron gracefully rose from the shore one day. There were also several species of long-necked diving ducks that we never could get close enough to for identification. Our best guess was grebes going south.

Thanks to Bruce's skill, we also encountered ample fish for appetizers several nights and dinner one night. The dinner of fresh walleye and one bass disappeared. We all felt it was the best dinner of the trip. Bruce also caught several northern which were returned to the lake. One northern broke off the lure (no leader) and then a few minutes later was dumb enough to bite again. Bruce landed him this time and got back the lost lure.

There were also things that we didn't see and hoped to see. We saw no deer, bear or moose. We saw no mallards. The nuthatches and chickadees remained unseen and unheard. It wasn't until we got down to the end of Kawnipi that we started to see a few Canada Jays. I am sure that a lot of it has to do with the changing vegetation as we came into more stands of poplar and birch and ash rather than pines.

Today we have a wet, cold rain outside. My house seems infinitely cozier than sleeping in a tent but we will be out on the canoe trails again next summer. Maybe we'll meet you there.

Friday, September 15, 2006

For Your Information

Those of you in the Twin Cities (and perhaps elsewhere) may have seen that there was an evacuation on the Gunflint Trail today due to a forest fire. This is true, however, we anticipate that it will be very short lived. Here is the story:

Due to lightening last week, a forest fire was started at Famine Lake which is just north of Winchell Lake in the BWCAW. Up until yesterday it was not doing too much. Yesterday the afternoon the south wind came up and the fire started to run north. It came about 2 miles north. The south wind came up again this morning.

At about 1:00 p.m. today the decision was made by the local sheriff, Mark Falk, to have a voluntary evacuation. As a very conservative precautionary measure we decided to evacuate all our guests. However, Bruce, Lee, Eva, and I are staying home tonight. Also most of our staff decided to stay even though they had the option of leaving.

Tonight the winds have died down. The pilots of the USFS planes acting as fire spotters land at our dock. As a result we sometimes know what is going on before anyone else. Right now the fire is 4 1/2 miles away from the Gunflint Trail. Tomorrow our weather forecast is for cooler temperatures and possibly rain if not tomorrow, then Sunday. Everyone we have talked with in the USFS anticipates that this fire will die down dramatically tomorrow. Also we know that there are several swampy places in between us and it.

As it now stands, we think tomorrow Gunflint Lodge will be up and running as usual. One of our groups who left (40 women from Eau Claire, WI) have aleady called us to say that they will be back tomorrow night. We still have lots of fall color and Indian summer weather to offer guests coming our way.

The Third Day

On every trip there seems to be one day that does not go quite as well as you hoped. Day #3 was our day for this to happen. The day started out nicely. We portaged from Dorie Lake into Twin Lakes via the 144 rod Deux Riveries Portage. A short paddle across Twin Lakes brought us to the Deux Rivieres which is shown as a small winding river of about 2-3 miles on our map.

Only a few minutes into the river we came to a beaver dam across the entire river. We were canoeing downstream at this time and the dam was easy to cross. In very short order we came to a second beaver dam. After crossing that dam, the river was shallower that we would have liked. The third dam was not far from the two previous ones. At the bottom of this dam, the river was only 2-3 inches deep. We had no real idea of how far the river continued before reaching Sturgeon Lake.

Melissa and I were sent to walk in the tall grasses along the side of the river. Tom and Bruce had to get the canoes down. Alongside the trickle of water was wet, muddy muck. The men tried sitting in their canoe and using their paddles as poles to push along but it was exhausting work. Finally they took their boots off, rolled up their pant legs, got out of the canoe and dragged the canoes forward. Each step left them between ankle and knee deep in wet mud. This last for at least a mile and probably more. By the time the canoes were on Sturgeon, both guys were beat.

Naturally, we encountered a strong head wind on Sturgeon Lake. It was our first really strong wind and not much fun especially after dealing with the mud and low water in the Deux Rivieres. In high winds like this Bruce prefers to paddle close to shore where there is a little protection.

As we paddled along, a dead tree stuck out from shore over the lake. I went around it with no trouble. Just as the middle of our canoe passed the tree, a strong gust of wind drove the entire canoe into shore. The tree overturned the canoe and put both Bruce and I in the water before we even knew what was going on. It all happened very fast.

For years we have both been telling people what to do if you dump in the lake. All of this repetition kicked into action. All four of us (Tom and Melissa from their upright canoe plus Bruce and I) started counting heads. Once there were two on the surface, Bruce and I grabbed onto our canoe. Luckily we were only 15 feet from shore. With Tom and Melissa's help, we were able to retrieve all our gear except one cup. Both of us were soaked but the temperature was warm. We paddled on.

We stopped for the night at a nearby campsite. Slowly all our gear was taken out of the pack to dry. It was surprising how little of it was wet. So everything got set up or put on the line to dry. Everyone was unhurt and no gear was lost. The sun was shining and things were drying.

Just as most stuff was dry, we noticed black clouds coming in. Rain had not been on the schedule for today on top of everything else! But, of course, there was nothing we could do about it. Tom and Bruce rigged a tarp up over our campfire and eating area. As thunder and lightening crashed around us, we stood eating our dinner under the tarp.

That night both Bruce and I had damp corners to our sleeping bags. Since the temperature stayed warm, we were able to ignore the wetness. Besides, we were both so tired from the activities of the day that sleep was no problem.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

We're Back!

Yesterday the four intrepid explorers returned from our canoe trip in the Quetico. It was a wonderful trip. There is so much to tell about it that I have decided to spread it out over three blogs. Today I will give you the general route of the trip and overall impressions. Tomorrow will be the "Day From Hell." Then I'll finish with some fun encounters with animals.

Bruce and I along with Tom Shank and Melissa Anderson left the Trail on the 5th at about 6:30. By 10:15 we were on the north side of the Quetico Provincial Park at the Nym Lake Entry Point. The weather was beautiful with very little wind. We paddled for about an hour before coming to the portage into Batchewaung Lake. This 165 rods portage would be our longest. Naturally it was also when we had every bite of food for the entire trip on our backs. Each of us had to make 2 trips. I didn't quite die but it certainly brought home the fact that I am a bit out of shape. We camped that night in Batchewaung Bay.

Day 2 took us down Pickerel Lake into Pine Portage Bay and a 91 rod portage into Dorie Lake where we camped for the night. I especially remember this camp site because of a log that was perfectly placed to act as a back rest when I sat on the ground. It was almost like sitting in a chair.

Day 3 went from Dorie Lake into Twin Lakes and then down the Deuz Riviers to Sturgeon Lake. You will hear a lot more about this day tomorrow.

Day 4 we canoed into Russell Lake past Chatterton Falls and portaged into Chatterton Lake. The falls on this trip were wonderful even with low waters. It's hard to believe that much of the water from the northern part of the Trail drains toward Hudson Bay through the falls we would see. This also meant that from this point on, every portage was going uphill. Thankfully the food supply was going down. We paddled up Chatterton Lake to Split Rock Falls and stayed at a wonderful campsite where the tent spots were covered with nice soft moss. My body loved it.

Day 5 started out with the 72 rod portage from our campsite into Keats Lake. Next was "Have A Smoke Portage" into Shelley Lake. Then 3 more portages into Kawnipi Lake. There was virtually no wind so we paddled down Kawnipi to the entrance to McKenzie Bay. We were so lucky to make that day without wind in our faces.

On Day 6 we paddled to Kennebus Falls and entered the Falls Chain. First was a 30 rod portage into Kenny Lake, then a 95 rod portage around Canyon Falls , then 111 rods around Koko Falls and finally a 36 rod portage into the lake (unamed) just east of Wet Lake. Just getting to our campsite was an accomplishment that day.

On Day 7 we took the last three portages in the Falls Chain. They were all pretty short because the low water enabled us to get up close to each falls but rocks made them difficult to cross. We ended up in Saganagons and took Dead Man's Portage and found a campsite near the Silver Falls Portage.

Day 8 found us doing the Silver Falls Portage which was not nearly as bad as I had expected. Of course, our food was down to almost nothing and even I had toughened up a bit. Also the fact that this was our last portage of the trip gave us all a little extra energy. We camped that night on the mainland just south of the Cache Bay Ranger Station. There was no wind on Cache Bay was we paddled across it. Bruce and I spent a very pleasant hour or so visiting with Janice, the Quetico Park Ranger at Cache Bay. She has been there for 22 years and we all knew lots of stories about the area.

Day 9 was our last day and we had planned about 4-5 hours to paddled in across Saganaga Lake to the landing. Our lucky held. There was no wind and we made the trip in 2 hours.

Let me tell you that September is a wonderful time to be in the woods. We saw parties every day but not lots of people. The north side of the Park is primarily a conifer forest. By the time we hit the fire burns along the southern edge of Kawnipi, poplar, ash and birch trees were much more abundant. The colors were great.

The weather was warm for September. We went swimming about half the days. We had ice on the bottoms of our canoes only 1 morning. Our sleeping bags were warm and we were never cold at night.

Bruce was a breakfast and dinner cook and we ate very well. The favorite meal was fresh fried walleye (caught that day), cheddar broccoli rice and hot apple cobbler. Melissa brought lunches and we had rye crisp with sausage and Asiago cheese or peanut butter and jelly. Dessert for lunch was fruit cups, puddings, candy bars and gorp.

Melissa was also the entertainment chairman. She brought along Yahtze dice and score cards. The entire game fit into a small ziplock bag. We played 6 nights of a game each. It was an easy fun way to end the day. I've got to say that we laughed over each game and we laughed throughout each day.

Tomorrow I will give you a little bit more on the trip.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sue Is Still On Her Canoe Trip

Sue is still on her canoe trip so I have volunteered to fill in for her so you regulars of her blog know what is happening at the Gunflint Lodge. My name is Peter, and along with my wife Jeannette, have been a guest at the Lodge, since Sempterber 5th. We are from California so this is a big change of scenery for us. I was last in the Boundary Waters 18 years ago and have been trying to get Jeannette to join me on another trip for many years. This year she agreed and I chose the Rustic & Plush Combo package at the Lodge as the best way to acclimate her.

It allowed us to spend two days in the area doing day trips, so we could practice our paddling and portaging. Then we could come back to the Lodge at night for a good meal and to sleep in a nice cabin. Since we are both over 60 we wanted confidence before heading out for a three day canoe trip in the Quetico. After two days we felt prepared and left on Friday with our guide, Brian Gallagher. The weather Friday morning was cold, windy and overcast. We were concened that a storm was on the way, but fortunately it blew over by the afternoon. We set up a base camp in Cache Bay in mid afternoon just as the sky was turning blue and the sun coming out. Since then the weather has been gorgeous. Plus, we have probably only seen two mosquitos.

Our time in the Quetico was absolutely fabulous. We are not interested in fishing so spent our time exploring lakes where we hoped moose would be hanging out. We found some magnificient no name lakes that the Ranger said had probably not been visited in the last two years. From the way the portages looked she was probably right. Gliding around these lakes is something that you need to experience because words don't do them justice. They were great areas for Moose, but even though we were quiet and searched in the right spots we didn't get the thrill of seeing them. But we sure tried.

Having our guide Brian along made the trip so much more enjoyable. He has been a guide for 20 years so he knows the area very well. He took a solo canoe so he didn't help us with the paddling, but he wanted to do the cooking, clean the dishes and carry the canoe on portages. So while the trip was hard work, he gave us a chance to relax and save some of our energy. Plus, he gave us a lot of information about the area.

We came back to the Lodge yesterday and today took another day search near Little Iron Lake, an area that is known for Moose. It was beautiful and we didn't see another canoe, nor did we see a Moose. However, just being there was a joy and besides not seeing a Moose gives us an excuse to come back.

I also want to say what a great time we have had hanging around the Lodge. The employees can't do enough for you and go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. The food is excellent and there is plenty of variety.

So needless to say we have enjoyed our visit to the Gunflint Lodge. In fact Jeannette is now talking about coming back next year. She loves canoeing and being in the wilderness.

I wasn't asked to write this blog, and we are not getting anyting for it, but I just wanted to share my experience with others who may be thinking of taking the same type of vacation. If anyone has questions or wants to share their experiences at the Gunflint Lodge with us feel free to send us an e-mail message to pfechh@aol.com. We may even see you here next year.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Off We Go!

For most of the last 38 years, Bruce and I have sent you folks off on canoe trips. There never seemed to be enough time to take one ourselves. Well, tomorrow it's our turn. Bruce and I and Tom and Melissa are leaving on an eight-day canoe trip! This will be the third canoe trip that Bruce and I have taken together.

We leave Gunflint at 6:00 a.m. to drive to Nym Lake on the north side of the Quetico Provincial Park. From there we go south (more or less) to Saganaga Lake. All four of us will be seeing some new country and revisiting past trip locations. For the first three days we have lots of paddling down big lakes and very few portages. That's good because our food pack is a little heavy. On the first day we have only one portage but it's a half mile. That's 1 1/2 miles after we all make a second trip.

The past few days have been the next thing to dead calm on the water. Bruce is dying because he doesn't want the wind to come up and we should be on the water today. I know that we need rain but at this point it might as well wait for another week or so. If we have to paddle into a heavy wind on any of the big lakes, it is not going to be pretty.

Bruce is the cook since he has the most open fire cooking experience. We packed the breakfasts and dinners together. At this point I should assure you that our marriage survived but it was nip and tuck. We have enough food for a month. The food pack weighs 50 pounds.

You notice that I am ignoring a few of the more difficult parts of the trip. The sleeping bag will not be quite as comfortable as my bed at home. Certainly the shower won't be as good. I might also be a bit sore from paddling and portaging but nothing that Advil can't handle.

It looks like the fall color is going to be spectacular during the trip. I love September in the woods: beautiful sunny days, cool crisp nights, and no bugs. Of course, we can also have cold, windy, wet days but, please, not on this trip.

So watch the weather in the Quetico. Eat your heart out thinking of truly fresh walleye for dinner. I'll tell you all about it when we get home.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Fall Routine

We have been having an absolutely beautiful fall so far. It seems strange to be writing on September 1st about a beautiful fall but it really has come early. Although the days and nights have been warm, it is not the same as summer warm. I have seen mid-fifties for temperatures each morning about 6:30-7:00. In the evenings it is warm enough to sit comfortably outside with just a sweatshirt on. Nights are warm enough to leave a window open but there is still a cool breeze coming in. It won't be long before I'll close every window at night.

Last week we had a cool night so Bruce and I built the first fire in the fireplace of the season. When we built this house, we debated about whether to put a gas fireplace in or not. It is much more convenient and easier than wood. Luckily we decided on a wood fireplace. In spite of the work and mess, there is nothing like a wood fire. It warms the entire room and I don't mean just the temperature.

Leaves seem to be turning everywhere. The ferns along the roadside are brown in many places. Birch trees are turning yellow but poplars are still green. I haven't seen the ash or tamarack turning yet either. Those will wait until later in September. Down close to Grand Marais the maples are also turning.

Meanwhile the garden is still producing as if there is no end in sight. We have not bought zucchini for the lodge in weeks and I still find huge ones. Tomatoes are really vine ripened this year. The past two years we had to finish them off in the garage but not this year. Every other day I harvest about 10 pounds of them (we have A LOT of tomato plants). Corn is ready faster than we can eat it. Basil, chives, peppers, and squash are also making their way to the lodge kitchen. Even pumpkins are nice and orange. The only thing not ready yet is the Indian corn. Bruce planted a row of it for decorations in the lodge. We will see how it turns out. Carrots and potatoes are still adding on those last few ounces of growth.

Our meals are also starting to turn toward fall food. Pot roasts and hearty soups sound really good. Pasta will soon join them on the dinner table. I'm even thinking about trying to eat down the freeze. This is a once a year project that I start with good intentions but never really get finished.

I am sure that many of you will soon be into fall routines. Probably the only one I don't do here is to rake the leaves. So I miss the smell of burning leaves from when I was a child. We have a huge burn pile from spring that has been drying all summer. One night we will burn it and enjoy the smokey smell.