Friday, December 29, 2006

Gunflint Ices Over

Gunflint Lake froze over on the 26th. It is one of the latest freeze times we have even seen. As a result the lake ice is still not safe. In fact there have not been a lot of really cold temperatures, so we are not making ice fast. Everyone is very nervous about people trying to go on the ice.

Lee had a scare just the other day. One of our guests decided to go ice fishing without saying anything to us at the lodge. Lee saw him just as he was walking out onto the ice and quickly stopped the guest.

Several years ago Eric Thompson at Borderland (now Moosehorn) saw a snowmobile go out from the bridge onto thin ice. The machine and man went through. Quickly thinking on Eric’s part saved the man. Eric laid out a long extension ladder on the ice and crawled out to help the man. I don’t know that I would have had the courage to do that.

Even when the ice is “safe,” it is still possible to go through. As the air temperature changes, the ice expands and contracts. At the coldest temperatures the ice expands until the only way left is up. We will hear a loud bang as a pressure ridge explodes. These ridges can be 5’ high.

Many years ago Charlie Cook, our Native American neighbor, came over to warn us of a pressure ridge. This one had exploded down rather than up leaving a patch of open water. Overnight the open water skimmed over with ice but it was nowhere near safe. Because the lake was “safely” covered with ice, no one was expecting thin ice. Without Charlie’s warning, someone could have easily gone through.

When we look at a lake covered with ice, it is difficult for us to remember that ice is not a static thing. It is continually changing due to the air temperatures, snow load, and unseen currents. Even in the coldest part of winter, it is important to know exactly what you are getting into when you journey across a frozen lake.

As a boy Bruce went through the ice right in front of the lodge. He was quickly pulled out and hurried up the hill to his mother’s house. By the time he had made the 150’ trip, his clothes were so frozen that they had to be cut off. Bruce said it was the coldest he had ever been in his life.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Past

Like many of you, the Kerfoot family is gathering for Christmas. Eva’s sister, Nan, has flown in. Daughter Shawn along with Husband Kevin, Tanner and Emma drove up yesterday. We have a couple neighbors who will also be joining us for dinner tomorrow. It will be an overflowing table – just what I like to see.

Today I have been thinking about Christmas years ago at Gunflint. In remote areas like this, everyone who would otherwise be alone was invited for Christmas dinner. At Gunflint we always have dinner at 1:00. This allowed our Native American neighbors to snowshoe across the lake and return before dark.

Justine told me that about 12:00 she would see a single file line make its way across the lake. In addition to turkey, Mom always cooked a venison or moose roast. Netowance Plummer did not eat “store bought” meat. Mom figured she must have gotten sick from a bad piece of meat at some time.

Conversation consisted of lots of smiles since Netowance officially did not speak any English. Bruce told me that she would occasionally speak to him in English because he was a little boy and children didn’t count. After dinner, everyone would join around the table and play poker – a game that required a minimum of talking.

By the time Bruce and I were married Awbutch Plummer (Netowance’s daughter) and Charlie Cook, her nephew, were the only Native Americans still living full time on Gunflint Lake. Also by then they did not snowshoe across the lake, they came on their snowmobiles. We still ate at 1:00.

Neither Charlie nor Butchie could read or write but that lack should not be confused with a lack of intelligence or good manners. One Christmas I personally saw Butchie elbow Charlie as she reminded him to use his salad folk. Our friends were very polite and knew as much as we did about good manners. If in doubt as to which piece of silverware to use, they just waited to see what everyone else did.

One year we had a Chicago lawyer and his family for dinner. Bruce explained to Marlin the fact that Charlie did not read or write. He also suggested some topics that Marlin and Charlie might talked about as they waited for dinner. When those were exhausted, Charlie looked for something to read. The only available paper was the Wall Street Journal in the days when it did not have any pictures. Marlin was very surprised to see Charlie calmly looking at the Journal until he realized that Charlie was holding it upside down.

Tomorrow we will have a wonderful day and dinner but I miss having Butchie and Charlie at my table. Christmas dinner was a true treat for them. Once you learned to talk about woods topics, they had lots to say. I knew so little about the woods that Butchie pleasantly treated me like a 5th grade child. Once she told me the names of the trees and she had a story about each one. I could remember them much easier than if Bruce had just rattled off the names.

I am sure that all of you have memories of Christmas years ago. This is the time to bring out those memories and cherish them. Many of the people at those dinners are now gone but we should never forget them. I wish I had paid more attention to the stories those old timers could have told me. They were an amazing group of people.

From the Kerfoot family to your family, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It happened, kind of

This morning I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I was so excited to see the lake frozen. About 1/2 of the lake has frozen over with only the Canadian side still open.

Here is the link to the webcam so you can check it out yourself

When I walked to work today the wind was blowing a little stronger then I would have liked so I'm a little nervous about the wind picking up and breaking up the ice we got last night. Hopefully the ice will stay.

We have been going on and on about the ice for a long time lately. The reason is because it really is symbolic of the beginning of winter on the Gunflint. And with this year, the timing is right on. We have all of the ski trails packed, the guests are starting to arrive for the holidays, and we have started to have some cold nights. Winter has arrived.

Yesterday I talked about the cabin renovations going on in # 20, & 21.

So far we have ripped out the old bathroom, sauna, fireplace, kitchen floor, all of the cabinets & counters, the carpet, and all of the furniture.

We have installed most of the new bathrooms which will feature a private room for the toilet, a new fancy 6-headed super shower by Jacuzzi, and surrounded the shower with tile work. The ceiling has been paneled over and now matches the walls. An awesome new fireplace has been built with local rocks. Ceiling fans have been installed in the living room and the bedroom. New carpet has been laid down in the bedroom.

We have almost finished putting up the paneling on the new bathroom walls. We still need to put in the new cabinets, counters, bathroom sink & vanity, paint the bathroom, put in the living room flooring, and install the kitchen island.

When we build a new cabin or renovate a cabin we always get nervous about finishing in time. This year is no exception! Does anyone have their renovation projects take longer then they expected, or is it just us?

Hopefully we will see you over the holidays.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Tonight could be The Night!


Last night was a close call. When I got to work this morning I saw thin sheets of it being blown down the lake. Right now it is pretty cold out and the temperature will probably be down to the single digits tonight. Best of all we do not have any wind. Tonight it might actually happen.

For those of you who are new to our blog you might not know what we are talking about, but if you have been reading it for a while you know we are talking about the ice on the lake.

The wind has died down, and it is cold out. So I feel pretty confident that the lake will freeze tonight. Check back tomorrow to see if it really happens...or look on our webcam to see for yourself.

The cabin renovations are moving along. They just finished the tile work in the bathroom and it looks really good. I'll try to post more of the pictures on our website so you can see how the cabin is coming along. We are working on Cabin # 20 & 21.

Here is the link to the cabin descriptions page.

Have a good evening.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Sunny Window

The temperature dropped a few degrees last night but the wind also came up. The lake was a charcoal gray mass of waves and whitecaps. I wonder if it will ever freeze. Meanwhile I was freezing on my walk with the wind in my face coming home.

It makes me realize that our Native American neighbors were pretty savvy people when it came to picking spots for their homes. On Gunflint their homes were all on the north side of the lake. It meant the cold, north winds were blocked by the trees behind them. During the short winter days, they also had sunshine the longest.

Now there was a little payback during the summer. They didn’t get the cooling northwest wind. They also were awakened earliest in the morning during our long summer days. Today, however, it seems to me that the north shore is the place to live.

It is interesting how being aware of weather patterns is helpful everywhere. For about 20 years Bruce and I had a home in the Florida Keys. In our first house we lucked into one that faced south and had a usable porch overlooking the canal. We lived on that porch eating meals there even during the winter. It was hot during the summer but the roof protected us from the worst of the sun.

Eventually we decided to buy another house. By that time we were really into this porch living stuff. The difficult was finding a real estate agent who truly understood us. We would tell everyone we wanted a large porch that overlooked the canal and faced south. Many agents couldn’t understand why we dismissed perfectly good homes that did not have these attributes.

We kept looking and finally found a house that fit us. Our second house had a 12 by 40 screened in porch looking south and overlooking the canal. On one side we had an eating table. On the other side of it were two very comfortable chairs for us to read in. Access to the porch was from a four-wide pocket sliding door in the living room and two regular sliding doors from two bedrooms. Because the rising sun was visible from the porch, we spent many early mornings just watching the sun come up. We sold the house but I still miss the porch.

So many people live totally inside their climate controlled homes. We enjoy the outside possibilities during every season of the year. A summer iced tea break on our north porch here is wonderful. When we can’t be out, our windows bring the outside in. The rising sun pouring into our kitchen is wonderful all winter long. The west exposure in my office keeps my orchid plant happy and blooming.

During these winter months, I hope you have a sunny window to bring the outside world into your life.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Trees

I just returned from a couple nights in the Cities. It is amazing how such a short trip takes so long with getting ready before and putting away after. The net result is that the spare bedroom is truly Santa’s workshop now. I am feeling pretty proud of myself because all the packages are mailed. Just like most of you, I am down to wrapping for people who will be here and baking cookies. Also today I get to decorate the tree.

Lee, Eva, Bruce and I cut trees on Sunday. It was Eva’s first experience actually cutting her own tree. Lee and she had spent part of a trip to Target getting all the necessary equipment for a Christmas tree. Now it was time to cut “THE TREE.” Bruce had already picked out an area of thick balsam that he wanted to thin out anyway. Christmas trees are one of the few reasons I can think of to cut down any tree. This is not a generally held opinion in our marriage.

At any rate the four of us walked around looking at the tops of trees. We always look for a good top and then cut as much off the bottom as needed to get the correct size. The tree must be examined from every angle. The trunk must be checked to make sure it is straight. Because the growth of branches is affected by nearby trees, one not so good side is allowed. That side goes against the wall.

Once the choices are made, it’s an easy job. Just zip with the chain saw and the tree is down. A little trimming and into the garage it does to thaw out. Lee and Eva put newspaper under theirs to soak up the thawing snow. That night they put on all the lights, ornaments and ribbons. On the bottom was a beautiful handmade skirt that Grandma June gave them for a wedding present. The tree looks lovely and I can see the glow in their eyes whenever we talk about it.

After all these years, Bruce and I are a little slower getting the tree up. We also have a few stories about getting trees. My favorite happened one of the first years we were married. On Sunday Bruce went out to cut the tree. I stayed in and was baking cookies. Suddenly the power went out. It was a beautiful, calm day. I thought, “No, he couldn’t have.” But, yes, he could have. The tree fell on the power line. Everyone from us up the Gunflint Trail lost their power. It was the most expensive tree we ever had.

I hope your tree is a pretty as ours. This will not be a stylishly decorated tree. For all I know, it may not even be political correct. Most of the ornaments have been with us for a long time. Many of them have stories attached to their coming into our lives. The tree skirt was a gift from Sheryl, one of our managers. I will have to get geared into watering the tree. It’s not something I remember easily.

But each night I will remember to plug in the lights. They cast such a warm glow in the living room and in our hearts.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Unlimited Stars

The lake is not frozen yet. Bruce and I made a quick trip to Chicago. We expected to see solid ice when we got home but no luck. In the morning before the wind comes up, parts of the lake are skimmed over. As soon as the wind comes up, the skims break up.

We watch carefully for freeze up and ice out. Many years ago Dr. Kenton Stewart of the University of Buffalo started keeping track of this information for lakes across the country. First Bruce’s mother, Justine, and now I received letters with post cards each fall and spring to record our dates.

I asked him once if he could send me a printout of Gunflint Lake over the years. He replied that it’s just on bits and pieces of paper. Dr. Stewart needs an assistant to put all this into an Excel program. Someday he will be able to send the information out to me.

Meanwhile, we look each morning to see what happened overnight. Once it freezes, we watch the dogs carefully for a bit so they don’t go out on the ice before it is safe. Even for us it is tempting to go out but I just think about how cold going through would be.

Once the ice is safe, one of my favorite activities is to go out on it at night. On a clear night to stand and just look up is wonderful. We have so little artificial light here, that the number of visible stars is overwhelming. I feel sorry for city folks who don’t get the star show that we get each night. Somehow unlimited people and shopping doesn’t come close to unlimited stars in the sky.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Decorating for the Holidays


Today was the second "work" day of our Holiday Decorating Package. If you don't know about this package here is how it works: guests arrive on Friday, and on Saturday they "work" for a couple of hours (usually 4 hours) by helping us decorate the lodge for the holidays. Then the guests get Saturday afternoon off to enjoy the snow and northwoods. Sunday most of the guests checkout of their cabins but stay on the property to enjoy the facilities until the early afternoon.

Right now the lodge is in it's holiday glory with lots of garland and wreaths up all over the place. This year we bought 1,000 feet of new 16" garland. Somehow the guests have managed to put it everywhere without being overwhelming or overkill. It looks great. The lodge decorating really helps get us ready (and excited) for the holidays because the lodge looks fantastic, the christmas music makes us smile a little more, and the snow on the ground is fresh!

If you are coming up to Gunflint for the holidays I hope you enjoy the decorations as much as we do. If you don't like how it looks, then I encourage you to stay with us next year when we decorate the lodge. I'm only half serious, because everyone loves the decorations.

Seriously though if you are intersted in helping us decorate the lodge here is the link to the package. This has been a very popular package with families. Many families come back every year so you might not be able to book a cabin unless you plan far ahead. Today I even overheard one family asking a different family about something that happened two years ago. The guests really get to know each other (and so do the kids).

Much to my dismay the lake isn't frozen over yet. It has been cold the past couple of days but the wind was blowing hard enough at night to prevent it from freezing over. Now that the wind has calmed down the temperature has gone up. So maybe it will be cold enough to put a thin layer of ice out there tonight. If I don't post a blog tomorrow you can check out the ice on our webcam

I haven't made much progress on the Laurna Landvik book, Oh my Stars beecause we had a tourism conference here at Gunflint on my days off. Hopefully on my next days off I will be able to read more of the book.

If you have been here in the past during the winter months you will remember how many deer we have on the property. Well this year is no different. But what is different is that this year we have a 10 point buck roaming around. Hopefully you will be able to see him when you are here.

We are working very hard to finish the cabin renovations we are currently working on. We have been renovating cabins #20 & 21. Here is a link to see the progress Believe it or not these cabins will be totally ready to rent for the holiday season. We will post more pictures as soon as there is significant progress to update you on.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Webcam, snow, ice & Books in the Woods

Hi Everyone,
It is snowing at Gunflint Lodge again. We woke up to another couple of inches of snow on the ground. So far we have about 8-9 inches of snow in the woods. Nearly enough to start packing the ski trails. If you would like to take a look at what we are seeing, here is the link to our webcam

Right now we can barely see across the lake because that is how much snow is coming down. For most of the day on Saturday we could not see across the lake because it was really snowing hard. Hopefully we won't be able to see the other side of the lake for much longer.

Everyone who lives on a lake has been talking about the same thing for the past couple of days/weeks, "when is the ice going to arrive?". We are getting closer to having a frozen lake. My prediction is that guests who arrive for the second Holiday Decorating Weekend will see a frozen lake. It is a calm cold day today. The sides of the lakes have been freezing up for a couple of days, and we are starting to see chunks of ice floating around in the middle of the lake.

Last year the lake didn't freeze until pretty close to Christmas so we are much further along this year than last year. When the lake finally does freeze is when it feels like winter really has arrived, so we are all still looking forward to the ice and snow.

These are the days we have been talking about for the past 6 months. During the busy summer and fall months, when we are really stressed out, we keep telling ourselves that it is "one day closer to snow". We look forward to this because it gets quiet around here and we can enjoy life in the woods a little more.

Finally I want to tell you about some fantastic authors we got for our annual Books in the Woods package at the end of March. We have Laurna Landvik and Will Weaver. A couple of people really help find the authors. Those people are Lisa Wagner and our friends, Joci Tilsen and Jim Bour, at the Valley Bookseller in Stillwater MN. The three of them work for months to get great authors to come to Gunflint for this fantastic event.

Anyway, back to the authors and their books. I like to read business strategy books, or hi-adventure books by authors like Clive Custler, so when Lisa or Joci tell me the authors I usually have never heard of them. This year was no exception. So I went out to the book store and bought two of Laurna Landviks' books. I just finished Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. I must admit that the title didn't get me excited (remember I read business strategy and hi-adventure books), but the book was really good. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it, but don't worry I won't give you a book review because I don't think I'm totally qualified other than to tell you that I really enjoyed the book. Now I am really into "Oh my Stars", also by Laura Landvik. After reading two of Laurna's books I will have to read a couple of books by Will Weaver so I will feel prepared for the event in March.

If you want to know more about the package here is the link

Now that I have finished writing the blog I can clearly see across the lake (so it isn't snowing very hard), but the lake it smooth as glass. Maybe it will freeze up today. Maybe we will get snow all day long.

Have a good day.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

It Really is Here

I have been accused of falsely predicting that winter is here. Today I am telling you that it really is here. Yesterday we got 6-8 inches of beautiful white snow. Everything is gleaming this morning with a new coat of snow.

Even during the middle of the night, the moonlight showed us a winter wonderland. As people my age tend to do, I was up wandering around in the early morning hours. Without any lights on, the moon lit up the snow in the yard. It almost took your breathe away.

This morning the clouds have passed. The lake is steaming as it cools down before freezing. The wind had not come up when Eva and I were walking. It looked like there were several places in the middle of the lake where the water might have been skimmed over with ice. Of course, once the wind comes up, these skims will break apart.

In order for the lake freeze, we need a clear skies, calm winds, and cold temperatures. Large sections of the lake must freeze at a time. So now we have Magnetic Lake frozen. Some of the bays like Charlie’s Bay and the Summer Home Bay are also frozen. Next will be the bay in front of Moosehorn. Then the ice may start to work its way across from our side of the lake. My neighbor predicts that the lake will be frozen within a week. I think he is correct.

Last year the final freezing of the main lake happened during daylight hours. It took a bit before we realized what was happening because usually the freezing occurs at night. Throughout the day the ice slowly covered the entire surface of the lake. It was just fun to watch the process as the day passed.

Once the lake freezes, we have a period of time when it is not safe to go on it. Theoretically you can walk on new winter ice when it is only 3 inches thick. None of us would go before it is 4-5 inches thick. At that point we might send someone out to test the ice. We might also decide to just wait another week because there is no rush. The Native Americans who used to live across the lake were traditionally the ones who declared the ice safe. Now we just wait and wait until there is no doubt. The results of walking on unsafe ice (a cold bath at a minimum) make us all willing to wait.

Once the lake is frozen, it is not a static thing. Snow loads and varying temperatures constantly change the ice on our lake. But that is a story for another day. Today we will just enjoy the new snow and steaming lake.