Monday, October 23, 2006

Foxy Lady

I have to tell you that at this time of year my bird feeder is about the most exciting thing going on around here. When Bruce’s mother, Justine, was writing her weekly newspaper column, this was when she would call pleadingly to say, “Have you got any news for the fish wrapper?” I thought about her today.

Saturday night we had an unexpected visitor to the feeder. As we were eating dinner a beautiful red fox came in. She walked down the steps as relaxed as could be. Coming around the corner, a squirrel caught her eye and the chase was on. The squirrel won.

Then the fox returned to help herself to some scraps of food that I had put out. I am trying to clean out my freezer and a few things have been in there too long. The theory is that it is better to feed the fox than fill the dumpster. At any rate the fox picked up a couple pieces, walked off to eat them and then came back for more. Freezer burned ham tasted pretty good to her.

The thing that amazes Bruce and I is how bold the fox is. We are sitting in a fully lighted kitchen with the window not 10 feet from the fox. She doesn’t seem to care about us at all. I wonder if the glare from the glass makes it difficult to see us.

All summer long we have been seeing fox on the Gunflint Trail. During the summer they all look scrawny and very, very thin. Well, partridge hunting has been particularly good this year and the fox must be getting their share. Just like our fox at the window, suddenly they are all beautiful. They’re fat, the fur is thick, and their tails are as full as can be.

Recently I was talking with a group of neighbors. They all had stories to tell about seeing animals. Tom and Melissa have several “pet” partridge on their road. Bruce doesn’t hunt there. Margit saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers on a walk. She was able to see where their nest was. Someone else has been seeing fox too.

We are blessed to live in a very special part of the country. Anyone who lives here can observe the local animals just as we do. It is a wonderful addition to the rhythm of our lives.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bird Feeders

We don’t feed the birds during the summer. If we try, the bears quickly and regularly find the feeders. Bears are not animals that you want to have around the house. Now that they are going into hibernation, the bird feeders have gone up.

It usually takes a few days before the birds find our feeders. This year the chipmunks and squirrels found them first. The chipmunks are really hungry since they will soon be hibernating. The squirrels are always hungry. They are also great fun to watch. This morning I stood for several minutes watching two of them chase each other around the yard.

We are also getting a couple of migrating birds at the feeder. Juncoes are stopping by in good numbers. Who knows how they find us out of all the places they pass during migration? Also the grackles are passing through. Neither bird will not be here much longer.

The regulars have found us. Chickadees and nuthatches are in every morning. Blue jays and Canada jays stop by. Pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, and purple finches have not found us yet.

I keep forgetting to buy suet when in town. Once that is up, we will start to get hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers and an occasional raven. My problem with suet is keeping it from the animals. We have martins and fox wandering around. They will eat the entire suet in one night. Tucker also tries to get at it.

By far our biggest raiders of the feeders are deer. They are plenty of them around and will be more after hunting season when the lodge starts putting out corn. Deer have learned to suck all the seeds out of a feeder. In one night all four feeders are empty. Even if I put out corn, the deer still empty the feeders.

So bird feeders (like all of life) present choices. We choose to feed whatever animals come along. With the flowers gone for the winter, every animal gives us entertainment outside the kitchen window.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Building A Cabin

It's a cold windy day today. Even though there are snow flurries in the air, the wind seems to be breaking up the clouds. Maybe the sun will shine. It would be a great improvement from the gray day we had yesterday.

The wind and the flurries brought to mind another fall in 1946. Dr. Katie Burns had finished her World War II service in the Navy at Great Lakes Naval Station. She along with her mother, sister, and brother-in-law were going to spend the fall and part of the winter building a cabin on Katie's property on Gunflint Lake. Much of the process was recorded in a series of letters that Katie's mother wrote to the youngest daughter who was in college at the time. Katie also wrote an essay on the project.

In the beginning of August, the family moved to the shores of Gunflint Lake. They camped in two tents on platforms until the house had a roof on it. A third tent on a platform served as their kitchen/living room. A fourth tent held supplies. Their luxury was a hand pump by the kitchen sink. It took them ten days to hand dig the well with a crow bar and trench spade.

Although there was a road down the south shore of Gunflint, it was 600 feet from the house site. That meant that every part of the house had to be portaged from the road. The other alternative was to bring supplies in by boat. Katie said they brought the first load of lumber down by boat and it took a day and a half to do it.

Construction went slowly because there was no electricity. Also no one had any real building experience. They had only read books about building a cabin. After seven weeks the cabin was enclosed with four walls and a roof. By then the weather had gotten to the point where camping was not much fun. The bears were also getting very brazen and had found their way into camp several times.

Although they continued to sleep in the tents for a bit, they were able to put the hand water pump into the kitchen of the house. Between that and the stove, cooking and eating were a little easier. With just the outside shell, the house was not too warm. Mrs. Burns writes that the inside temperature was "under 60."

The next most important project was to build the fireplace. You have to understand that none of them had ever done this before. All fall they gathered rocks. It took five weeks of work to build the fireplace. The really low blow was learning that the completed fireplace had to sit for two weeks before they could use it. You can imagine how wonderful that first fire felt!

The last step that winter was insulating and finishing the interior. Walls were erected. Stairs were built to the second floor. Flooring went in and was hand sanded before filling, staining and waxing. It was on-the-job training for all of these "carpenters" and they were very proud of the results.

Today it is hard to appreciate the difficulties that Katie and her family encountered building the cabin. Construction supplies were hard to get. Even grocery shopping was a major project. You called in a grocery order from the only phone at Gunflint Lodge and it was delivered by the mail truck which only came three days a week. They baked their own bread. Meat was in short supply. It was hard to find time to fish for food with all the demands of construction. At one point Mrs. Burns wrote, "My present problem is to conjure up a dinner out of 5 wieners -- our only visible meat supply." No electricity meant no freezer or refrigerator.

It was sixty years ago this fall that Katie and her family built the cabin. On cold fall days like today, I wonder if I would have been able to do it. Katie is now around 90 years old. She still summers on Gunflint Lake and is as sharp as a tack. Her stories of those early years have entertained and amazed me. Hopefully someone will say the same about me when I reach that age.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Brush With Winter

After my last blog, you know that we got a little snow around here. Thankfully, it was not as much as some parts of the East got. Nevertheless, we got about 6 inches of snow at Gunflint. There was more at the highlands around Poplar Lake.

Friday was the actual snow storm day. It was a the perfect day to be inside looking out. We had a blistery wind with snow coming down off and on throughout the day. Bruce and I
cranked up the fireplace. All of our outside garden projects were finished. We felt very smug standing in front of a blazing fire. Our homemade soup dinner tasted great and fit the outside weather.

Bonnie Schudy, our outfitting manager, had a little different experience on Friday. She and a friend from town were on a canoe trip to Long Island Lake. Coming home on Friday they had to go through Rib Lake. As you may know, the water in all our lakes is very low this fall. Rib is never very deep so the water in the lake was down to 3-4 feet in depth. Unfortunately for Bonnie, it was just cold enough so that a skim of ice covered the lake. They had to break ice all the way across the lake to paddle home!

On Saturday morning the temperatures started to rise. Bruce and I went to town on slippery roads. Coming home in the afternoon, the road was dry and bare. The sun was out.

Sunday was also nice and warm. The wind picked up in the afternoon. The staff had started to put the dock across the lake while there was no wind. We disconnect the entire dock from the main cribbing. Then it is pushed like a barge across and tied to the shore in Charlie Cook's bay. It sits there all winter. In the spring the ice totally melts out of the bay with no wind problems. When the ice leaves the entire lake, we push the dock back for the summer. But going over this fall, the guys had to fight the wind that came up in the middle of the project. It is finished now and everyone is happy.

With all the cold weather, some outside jobs got behind schedule. So the crew who is laying the cement blocks for our new staff building was working on Sunday. After the blocks are laid, then they have to pour the cement pad for the new building. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that the warmer weather holds.

When Bruce was pouring the pad for cabin #24-25, the weather did not hold. They poured the cement anyway because there was no choice. Then the pad was covered with plastic. Finally the plastic was covered with sleeping bags unzipped to lay flat. The plastic and sleeping bags provided enough insulation to slowly cure the cement. It was a close call. It was also a mess to clean and wash all the sleeping bags.

Today virtually all the snow is gone. The wind has shifted to the east which is our foul weather wind. Bruce and I are going out to cover the small white pines so the deer don't eat them. I saw two deer at the top of the driveway this morning. We have already covered the maples and lilacs. Then I am going to cut down the last of the burdick seeds and get rid of them.

Tucker is coming down to spend the afternoon with us. He just loves to poke around outside. If he runs around enough, he may even go for a swim. The other day when we hiked into Mine Lake with snow and rain, Tucker took time for a swim in that lake. I can't imagine anything worse.

Have a good day. I know I will.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Adjusting to the Weather

Bruce and I had planned to go with Lee, Eva, and Tucker to Judge Magney State Park on the North Shore today. We were going to walk into Devil's Kettle and then visit some other spots on the shore that Eva had not seen.

As you may know, we are under a winter storm watch today. During our wanderings at night we watched the temperature drop from 47 degrees at 4:00 a.m. to 33 degrees at 8:30 a.m. There was a nasty wind on Gunflint and some of those fluffy white things coming down. It didn't seem like the time to drive 65 miles and hike along Lake Superior.

On the other hand we didn't want to give up on the day. The five of us don't get many days to do stuff together. So we came up with a plan that worked for the day's weather. First we all dressed warmly. Even though it is October we had on long underwear, hats, gloves, etc. Second we picked a hike that didn't expose us to the wind. In other words we stayed in the woods. Finally we picked a hike that was near to home. That way if the weather really turned sour, we didn't have a long drive home.

We ended up hiking in on the Kekakabic Trail to Mine Lake. Eva had never been in to the lake. There are still some remains from the mining operations of the Paulsen Mine in the 1890's to be found along the lake.

In its day things were really hopping at Mine Lake. People thought that it would become a center for iron ore mining. Geologically, this area is part of the Gunflint Formation which is the tail end of the Masabe Iron Range. There was a railroad built from Thunder Bay to the mine. They took out one carload of iron ore and discovered it was taconite. Edward Davis did not develope his refining process for taconite until many years later so that was the end of mining operations.

Today it was just a nice hike for us. Tucker had lots of sticks to chase. We threw snowballs like kids. Mine Lake is small and quiet but very pretty. It is hard to relate what we saw today with what we know happened in the past.

But my point is that no matter what your plan is, you can always find a pleasant way to spend some time in the woods. The key is to be willing to adjust to the weather. In many respects it was a stinky day outside but we had a great time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Daily Encounters

One of the nicest things about living up here is that I have encounters with the resident animals almost every day. Now you realize that none of these encounters are a big deal. They just add a little extra zest to my days.

Let's take yesterday. The human part of my day had me taking my walk in the morning. Then I spent the rest of the morning at my computer trying to get caught up. The afternoon was in the garden getting a little section ready for winter. That night we drove down to a neighbor's home to look at movies from the 1940's on the Gunflint Trail. Nothing exciting there.

There was no wind at all during my walk. I don't walk with an Ipod or anything because I like to hear the natural sounds around me. The reward yesterday was hearing something rustling in the bushes along the side of the road. I stopped and finally located a grouse not 10 feet from me. He was not happy at being seen and quickly flew off. How many other grouse had I already walked by?

Part way into the walk I met Eva and Tucker. We walked the remainer of the road together. At one point a raven fly overhead and cawed at us. Even Tucker looked up to watch the bird.

At the end of the walk, I was coming down the driveway and noticed a squirrel alongside me. He was happily munching on a mushroom cap. I think it is one that we wouldn't eat but obviously he was enjoying it. It was easy to watch him for a few minutes.

My office at home has large windows that look out over some iris and the sky. About 11:00 the phone rang. While talking, I often look out the window to see what is going on. My reward yesterday was a bald eagle flying by. The bird quickly was out of sight but it makes your heart jump for just a second.

That afternoon we were out getting more of the garden ready for winter. As is often the case, Tucker was with us. He will run around for 3-4 hours while we dig, pull weeds, and spread horse manure. It was hard not to watch Tucker and the squirrels and chipmunks play tag together. Of course, Tucker always lost.

Finally last night Bruce and I drove to Hungry Jack. We saw several deer along the way. It's the usual about now. But we did notice that the deer are starting to change from a reddish brown hide to their more grayish winter hide.

So my day was filled with lots of small encounters. Each one was no more than a couple minutes. These encounters constantly remind me that there is another natural world surrounding and intertwining with the lives we humans lead. Sometimes it's hard to remember that in the middle of a city.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Taking Our Dog Tucker into a New "Wilderness"

In our family Eva gets the first walk of the day with our dog Tucker. The morning walk takes Tucker on the fringe of the wilderness down our side road.

Usually the morning walk is 2 mile round trip hike. Upon returning to our office Tucker takes a nap until after lunch time. Then around noon, My wife or I take Tucker on a walk down the side road for a much shorter walk so he can stretch his legs for a couple of minutes. After his mid-day walk he takes another nap until the late afternoon. Eventually Eva tries to coax me away from the office for a late-afternoon walk with Tucker. We take him into the wilderness, off all the roads, and only on the hiking trails.

When you are walking in the wilderness it is easy to see first hand how Mother Nature is getting everyone ready for the upcoming winter. All of the leaves on the trees are in peak fall colors, the grouse were on the trail eating trying to fatten up, and we saw some geese overhead flying. Tucker loves this hike because it is continually changing. Recently we have been seeing a grouse or two on the hike. Tucker usually sees the birds, stops, stares them down, then takes off full speed trying to catch them. He doesn't bark, or growl, just runs full speed. The grouse always see him and easily escape to nearby branches. Once they are safe in a tree, Tucker returns to the trail and eagerly waits for you to throw the next stick. Tucker's life returns to his normal routine.

This past weekend we took Tucker into a different “Wilderness”. It was a wilderness he had never seen before. We took Tucker to the Twin Cities. This was his first time into a city of any size. We were participating as a vendor in DoggiePalooza at Hyde Park, in Saint Louis Park. When we are getting ready to go on vacation, Tucker gets upset every time he sees us packing our suitcase. This time Tucker was going to join us, but no matter how we tried to get him to relax he didn't understand he would be joining us, until we let him jump into the car before pulling out of the driveway. We left "Our Wilderness" around 6:00 PM and didn't get to "Your Wilderness" until midnight.

When we got to our hotel room, Tucker immediately sniffed the entire hotel room. After the once over he decided that the bed we brought for him was unacceptable. He slept on the couch in our hotel room.

We got up early Saturday morning drove to Hyde Park and set up our booth. Tucker had never seen this many people at once. This was a foreign "Wilderness" to him. There were tables being set up, booths were being decorated, people we walking everywhere with their dog in tow. Dogs in all shapes and sizes were everywhere. A big giant Irish Wolf Hound was followed by a tiny dog being carried in a lady's purse. Needless to say Tucker did not get any naps in and was totally exhausted when we loaded up our booth into the back of our car and started the drive North. Tucker only woke up once on the drive home, and that was when we stopped for gas. Being a "New Wilderness" can be totally exhausting.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Morning Walks

After almost two weeks of overcast and rainy days, this morning dawned with clear skies and sunshine. As I started started my morning hike, Eva and Tucker plus one of the guests and her dog joined me. Walking down the bright sun was in our eyes and it felt wonderful.

Of course, we paid for sunshine with a hard frost last night. The frost was do to happen anytime soon. Most of us who live here love the winter and the first frost is just a step along the way to winter. Anything left in the garden is truly done now.

It was fun to watch the two dogs play as we moved down the road. I bet they covered twice as much ground as we did. Every so often Tucker to stop and stare into the woods. You wonder what he is seeing or perhaps smelling. All the time the dogs are walking and playing, their tails are wagging back and forth. Living on the Trail is heaven for a dog.

It wasn't too bad for the three humans either. Fall colors are at their peak. Due to the frost the air was freeeze and clear. I suppose the English would say it was "bracing." There is a slight fall smell to the air that is the smell of decaying leaves. To me it is a very distinctive part of fall.

Coming home the sun warmed our backs. The two miles evaporated as we talked and walked and watched the dogs play. Tucker flushed a partridge on the side of the road. A Canadian jay flew overhead. In the distance a crow told us what he thought. The slight breeze in the trees provided the background music. Our field of vision periodically opened up with views of Gunflint Lake.

I hope there is a place to walk in the woods near your home. Walking brings you truly "into" the country. It is entirely different than driving because now you are a part of the surrounding forest.

Bruce and I have made several trips to Africa. One of our favorite places is the Serengeti in Tanzania. We have spent many days observing game in the endless plain. On our last visit we had a coffee break in the middle of the plain. It was the first time we had gotten out of our vehicle. Physically standing (rather than being in a car) gives you a different feel for the vastness of this area. I loved it.

The same is true in the woods. There must be something deep within our ancestry that recognizes and responds to having nature surround us. Think about it the next time you take a walk.