Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New Experiences

The other day we went with Eva's parents, Gary and Nancy Kurz, plus Kathy Scully, a neighbor who came with them, down to Ham Lake for a day of fishing. Ham is a great lake for spring walleye fishing. None of our visitors had ever been there so we could also show them a new part of the Trail. It was a perfect day with lots of sunshine and a light breeze.

When you visit the Gunflint (or any other place for that matter), it is always fun to have new experiences. On this trip Nancy had three small new experiences.

On previous trips here, Nancy has caught bass, northern, and lake trout. But she has never caught a walleye. We were all encouraging her to catch one because walleye was to be the main entre for lunch. Nancy caught her first walleye that morning. It wasn't a huge one but it was a walleye. Gary got a northern to supplement the fish for our shore lunch.

Nancy's second first was not quite as much fun. She got her first tick in the woods. It was crawling up her neck when she found it. We don't get a lot of ticks up here and they are generally the larger ones that don't carry Lyme Disease but none of us really likes to find them crawling around.

Her final first was a first for all of us. Just before returning to the Cross River landing, we all saw a mother Golden Eye duck with a flock of about 10 brand new ducklings. Even Bruce who has lived here all his life could not remember when he had seen a flock of them. They must have been really young because they stayed in a tight little group right behind Mama. It was fun to see them.

We had a wonderful day on Ham Lake. Nancy's new experiences just added the icing to the cake.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Severe Weather

Yesterday around 11:00 a.m. we received a phone call from the National Weather Service warning us of severe weather. They felt we would get hit by high winds, golf ball size hail and rain. Needless to say, we all immediately thought of what happened during the 1999 blow down.

Everyone starting "battering down the hatches." The first project was to close the dock. Several parties who were just leaving for a day on the water were told to stay put. The pontoon boat which was cruising in front of the lodge was pulled back. Lee went out by boat to warn other guests to get off the water.

On the dock, all the boats were beached. If high winds occur, the weight of those boats pulling on the dock can increase the chances of the main dock breaking free. Canoes on the beach were turned upside down.

Jason, our maintenance man, put the generator in his truck. We have a special circuit in the lodge that can be used by a generator for give the kitchen some power. A switch isolates this circuit from the main power so that we do not send power out backwards into the Arrowhead Electric grid.

Several of us tried to go on line for a radar picture but we lost our internet connection almost immediately. That was not a good sign.

Within a half an hour the sky really started to turn color. The morning sunshine has turned to gray and foggy. The hot muggy air had turned to a cool freshness. Next the sky turned very, very black and green -- just the way it looked before the blow down. We could also hear thunder rumbling in.

When the storm hit, we got wind, rain and hail. Luckily none of the three were as bad as predicted. It was, however, quite a storm to watch from inside the lodge or a cabin. For about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, it passed in front of us.

By 2:00 it was all over. By 2:30 or 3:00 the sun was shining like nothing had happened. The best part was that we never lost of electricity. For those of us who have lived here a while, not losing power in a storm is a great blessing. The lodge was even able to have their Sunday night barbeque outside.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Family Visits

When you own a resort on a beautiful lake, you love to welcome out-of-town family members. So it was that Eva's parents, Gary and Nancy Kurz, came up with one of their neighbors, Kathy Scully, for a few days. We always enjoy their visits and want to show them the best of the northwoods. Nancy came a couple days early and got the full benefit of Lee and Eva's guiding abilities.

The first day Nancy arrived, we all drove up to the end of the Trail for dinner. Going up the Trail a red fox jumped into the woods at about the Seagull Guard station. On the way home we saw a moose in the swamp just before the Magnetic Rock parking lot. Then there were two deer scampering into the woods near the Moosehorn road. But these animals were just a warmup for the next day.

On Thursday Lee and Eva took Nancy down Gunflint Lake to hike into Bridal Falls. As the boat passed the site of the Dutch Ovens, they saw Mama Bear with three little cubs. What a way to start the day! Because we had had a large rainfall during the night, water was pouring over Bridal Falls. It was another great northwoods experience.

After the hike the three of them drove into Grand Marais. While driving down the old Gunflint Trail (county road 92), another bear crossed in front of the vehicle.

The best animal sighting came on the return trip from town. They saw something in the middle of the road that look like a kangaroo - not an animal you would expect to see on the Gunflint Trail. It quickly became apparent that this was a huge wolf. The animal had his long tail standing straight up in the air because he was pooping right in the middle of the road! It's hard to anticipate what you will see animals doing.

The moral of this story is don't ever stop looking for animals as you drive up and down the Trail. If you see an animal doing something unusual, be sure to write to me about it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the year. We received our annual shipment of flowers from Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul. It took five of us an hour to unload everything. Neighbors came from all over to pick up their share of the plants. Now we just have to get everything left into the ground around the cabins. My back hurts just thinking about it.

Pansies brought to mind a story I once read by Deitrich Lange. He and his wife camped on Northe Lake for six weeks in the summer of 1917. They came in by the railroad from Thunder Bay to the North Lake station since there was no road from Grnad Marais. I read his diary of the trip. Deitrich kept meticulous notes because once home he wrote essays for young people about nature.

In a book of his collected essays called "Stories from the Woodland Trail," I read "Violets and Pansies." Here is just one paragraph from that essay. "The largest and most gorgeous pansies I ever saw were not raised by some rich man's gardener, but by an old hermit, who lived in the wilderness north of Lake Superior. On a beach of red shingle and pebbles on Gunflint Lake on the International Boundary, the old man had converted into beds of pansies: Pansies white, and yellow, blue and purple, and very dark pansies smiling and pansies laughing, pansies suggesting all human moods and faces. It was woth a journey of many miles to see the pansies of the Hermit of Gunflint Lake, and the old man enjoyed bringing his finest pansies to the lady in camp."

The man was George Wartner who lived on the northeast shore of Gunflint. His only way to town was to paddle or walk to the North Lake railroad station and go to Thunder Bay. It's hard to believe how isolated he was. George's story must wait for another day but think about him when you see our pansies.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lake Water

Now that the rainy season seems to have ended, we are getting some sunshine. It's not really warm because the wind has been blowing the last few days. There is nothing colder than a strong wind blowing in across the cold lake waters. With the northwest wind, we have had whitecaps at the Gunflint dock. It must be really rough 5 miles down at the east end of the lake.

The blowing wind reminds me of a story I read written by Bill Magie, an old timer who was in this country for many years. During the late 1920's he participated in surveying the international border for Canada and the United States. Part of the survey was to determine the height of our lakes with regard to sea level.

Gunflint Lake really gave them some trouble. The surveyors finally decided that when a strong northwest wind was blowing down the lake, the east end of lake was higher than the west end. Eventually they ended up measuring the lake height in the winter when the ice cover gave a constant height.

In 1999 during the blowdown we also saw one end of the lake higher than the other end. The northwest winds of over 100 miles per hour, pushed the lake waters down to the east end. Later we went down and saw the highwater marks on the shore that were up 3'. At our end the water around the docks was quite a bit shallower than usual. I can't even imagine how much water that wind blew from one end of the lake to the other.

Right now the water is high in Gunflint. I measure it by looking at the logs on the main dock. We are up to the top of the last log but still have the board on top to cover. That's not exceptionally high but is a good start to the season.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fishing Report

With almost a week of fishing behind us, it's time for a fishing report. Walleyes have been a little slow so far. Part of it is probably because the ice went off Gunflint so early. Another part is probably due to the fact that we don't have a lot of night fishermen. Bruce and I (now that we are retired) enjoy going out at night but we pick our nights. If the weather is nasty, you might as well put on all your winter clothes for night fishing. Even so, you will freeze. After the beginning of June, we'll try to get away for a couple nights.

The same early ice-out made for great lake trout fishing this spring. It always takes at least a week and sometimes two weeks for the trout to start bitting after the ice leaves. Everyone has been having good luck on trout with almost any kind of bait. There is also quite a spread as to the depths that trout have been found. Generally speaking they like around 50 degrees of water temperature. That's why you find them so deep in the summer months. Finally lake trout are caught easily during the daylight hours when most of our fishermen are out.

Another good biting fish so far has been the smallmouth bass. These are really fun fish to catch because they fight so hard. When you eat them, they taste just a little sweeter than walleye and not as rich as lake trout. These fish will continue to bite well through their spawning period the second and third weeks of June.

Eventually, Bruce and I will get out for a little fishing. This retirement life is just too busy right now. Meanwhile, I can dream about fresh fish for dinner.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Today appears to be our second day with some sunshine in what felt like forever. An east wind had kept moisture laden clouds over us for some time. There wasn't a lot of heavy, heavy rain but there was lots of misting and drizzle. Combined with the east wind, it was not gardening time.

Yesterday there was sunshine and there is today too. Everyone who can is out in the garden. As things dry off it is perfect for planting. Bruce and I are working on getting our replacement strawberry plants in.

Last year the grass took over the strawberry bed so this year we are starting out with new plants. But before anything can be planted, the grass roots have to be dug out. Even with a rototiller to break things up, it is a miserable job. Today is the day that we are going to get it finished (no matter what). Tucker is coming over to supervise the work.

I have planned a really easy dinner for tonight. By the end of a day in the garden, I'll be ready for the hot tub, shower and Advil in that order. I sure won't feel like cooking an elaborate dinner. In fact, Bruce is lucky that he's getting dinner.

By the beginning or middle of July, there will be a great crop of strawberries in the garden. We had fresh strawberries for breakfast just to remind us of how good they taste. Store-bought berries are no where near as good as ones raised here but you get the idea.

If you are lucky, you'll get on the homemade strawberry jam list.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Northwoods Mothers' Day

Mother's Day is a holiday even in the northwoods. The husbands and children just have to plan a little bit further in advance. Mothers also have to compete with the fishing opener but it all seems to work out.

One thing that is the same everywhere is that the phone lines are busy and it's not with reservations. Children are checking in with Mom. I got my first call about 8:00 a.m. this morning. Since most of our children are scattered, the phone keeps me in touch.

Looking at the wildlife around us also reminds us of mothers for the next month or so. Most of the young in the woods are born now. In fact the other day, I heard a story about one Mother's Day not too long ago. The entire family went fishing and had pretty good luck. On the way home they got a bonus. Rounding a corner they came upon Mother Moose with a newly born calf.

I also remember some 40 years ago when the Trail resorts used to get baby mallards to raise each spring. At Gunflint "Mother" Eleanor Matsis would feed them at the dock during the day. At night a trail of corn would lead them up into a safe pen to spend the night. The descendants of these mallards still come into all our docks for corn throughout the summer months. By fall they will eat out of your hand.

Recently there had been a mother fox living on the Trail along the Loon Lake stretch. Her kits like to lie on the sun-warmed pavement of the road. One resident puts out chicken bone treats for them. Locals know to watch and slow down to see these cute little young ones.

We must not forget that the mother walleyes are spawning now in many of our rivers. These huge females can have over a quart of eggs to lay. Then along comes the smaller males to fertilize the eggs. In a couple weeks there will be lots of tiny walleyes. We all hope that many of them will grow up to the 1 to 2 to 3 pound size -- just perfect for eating.

Happy Mother's Day to all kinds of mothers everywhere.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Fishing Opener

Tomorrow is the opening of the fishing season. Traditionally it is also the opening of the resort summer season on the Trail. So today we are having traditional weather -- freezing rain, an east wind, and touches of snow in the higher elevations.

Dave is down on the dock getting everything ready. The new boats and motors were supposed to come Wednesday but came yesterday. He has the license stickers on the boats but, due to the rain, has to put each boat on a trailer and haul it into the garage to put the license number decals on in a dry location.

Meanwhile John is breaking in the motors. They have to be run at variable speeds for some time before general use. It is a wonderful day on the lake for scenic boat rides. No one else on the staff is trying to take John's job away from him.

Bruce is going out again today to collect minnows. He set three new traps yesterday. He also moved a couple of non-producing traps to different locations. Tucker went along to make sure Bruce did a good job.

By this afternoon, every boat will be outfitted with anchors, paddles, a full tank of gas, and landing nets. By early tomorrow morning they will all be out. In this weather the fishermen will be wearing many layers of clothing. Those of us who live here won't be out. We pick our days and wait for nice weather.

By the later afternoon fisherman will start to come in. The newspapers will be calling as they collect fishing reports from various lakes. In the Red Paddle our anglers will meet to swape stories of fish caught and fish lost. It's a fun time of year.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

First Run

The minnow man went out yesterday afternoon for his first run of the year. He had to get his homework done in the office before he could go play in the woods.

You never know what will be encountered on this first run so there was quite a lot of stuff to take along: all the traps, a canoe, a chain saw, bait, hip boots, etc. The traps only get carried in once and will stay there until next fall. The bait is the heels of bread from the lodge. A chain saw is in case there are trees down on the back, back roads he goes on. The canoe is for one special place that he canoes in to set his traps. I've never been asked to go there. Also you can't have Tucker (a frisky dog) and Zach (a frisky boy) in the canoe at the same time.
Finally, the water is still high so he needed hip boots.

It drizzled and rained all morning so he was making plans to cover himself in rain gear. Then after lunch the moisture stopped coming down. By the time he left about 3:00, things were starting to dry out. After being tied to his computer all morning and half the afternoon, even wet woods and pouring rain would not have kept him in.

In a couple of days he will go back to gather in his harvest of minnows. Perhaps the beaver will have chewed down another tree or the moose will be along the shore of a back pond. Loons might even be calling. The minnow lakes probably aren't visited by 5 people besides him each summer. They are tucked away off unmarked paths and not large enough to attract visitors but they are a beautiful part of this country. Visiting them offers a welcome break from the daily routine.

Monday, May 08, 2006


When Bruce retired from active management at the lodge, he was immediately promoted to minnow trapper. It was a position that he had held as a young boy. The promotion tells you which direction Bruce was going in the lodge hierarchy.

With the opening of fishing season quickly approaching, Bruce is getting his traps out. Pretty soon he will be hiking through the nearby woods to set and bait these traps. Like many people who have grown up here, Bruce loves to be in the woods but usually his hikes are in connection with a work project such as minnow trapping. He notices every change along his trails, sees all the game and generally enjoys the walks.

Over the last few years many different people have accompanied him about these rounds. Perhaps his favorite pal is Grandson Zach who now likes to lead the way. Eva and Lee's dog Tucker is another favorite. Tucker checks out every smell on the path. If you get asked along, don't expect a leisurely stroll. Bruce was taught his woods lore by our neighbors, Charlie Cook and George Plummer. They taught him a fast steady pace that never changed no matter how much or how little gear you were carrying.

I particulary like it when the wild strawberries are out. As soon as those tiny berries appear, Bruce takes along a one-cup margarine container. He will pick berries just long enough to fill that one cup. When he returns home, they are cleaned and frozen them until there is enough for a batch of wild strawberry jam. Usually by the end of the season we have about 24 jars of this delicious spread.

But at this time of year, just being in the woods is enough to make minnow trapping a joy.

Sue Kerfoot

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A New Project

Those of us who are retired always seem to get involved in more than we planned. Everyone reasons that since we are retired, we have lots of time. Bruce and I have really fallen into that trap. This time the bait waved at us was in the form of a museum for the Gunflint Trail. If you know the Trail, you may remember Chik-Wauk Lodge on Saganaga Lake. It was bought out by the U. S. Forest Service in the late 1970's as part of the 1978 Boundary Waters legislation. Part of the deal was that the owners, Ralph and Bea Griffis, could live in the lodge building as many years as they wished. About 6 years ago, health reasons forced Ralph and Bea to stop coming up. The entire community was sorry to see them go.

Since that time the Forest Service has be trying to come up with a use for the building. One of their thoughts was a museum. So the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byways committee was approached. One thing led to another and now we have The Gunflint Trail Historical Society, an IRS 501(c)(3) corporation (non-profit). The society is seeking to turn Chik-Wauk into a museum.

The main building was built in 1934 as the result of a 1933 fire that destroyed a brand-new (the first guest had yet to enter) log lodge. Nunstedts (the original owners) were not going to have trouble with fire so they built a beautiful rock structure that is about 40' x 50'. We are now starting the process to get this building on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The resort sits on a tiny peninsula overlooking two small pristine bays just off the main Sag channel. Around the two bays is just about every type of terrain and vegetation found in the Boundary Waters. It is a wonderful site.

Over the fall and winter many people have been dreaming about what could be done at this location. The museum dedicated to the history of the people of the Gunflint Trail is a done deal. But everyone's dreams have expanded from that point outward. The plan is now to develope intrepretive trails, wildflower trails and bird watching areas. Not much has ever been organized for people interested in the wildflowers and birds of the Trail.

If you are interested in this project, contact me directly at my personal e-mail, In addition to members for the historical society, we are really looking for people who can tell us stories of past days on the Trail. Pictures, old brochures, letters, maps, postcards, etc. are actively being sought out. There are a lot of people living out of the area who have a long history of coming to the Gunflint Trail and we would like their stories. If you like to frequent antique stores, spend a few minutes going through their old postcards for any from the Gunflint Trail. Ebay has them periodically but they are expensive.

Don't hesitate to contact me with any ideas that you may have about the project. It seems to be getting bigger every day and we need lots of help.

Sue Kerfoot

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Garden Work

Now that the Red Paddle Bistro is open, it's time to get the gardens ready for planting. On Saturday, May 29th, the Spring Work Weekend was held at Gunflint. Bruce had a group of people who helped him add rock walls around cabins #4, and #5. He also added a new garden between the two units.

I also had a group of people who helped weed flower beds on the west side of the lodge. The task went very fast due to the addition of a new miracle tool: a Mantis rototiller. It is amazing how much power tools help a job go faster. You still have to get down and pick out weeds but the ground is really loosened up much easier than by hand. Of course, you also need to weed around all perennials by hand. Needless to say, things look much nicer now.

Another group of people raked leaves all over the grounds. Then there were those who helped move firewood, split firewood, bring out lawn furniture, and clean the canoer cabins. It was a great group of people who all worked very hard.

Sunday was time to finally get the Kerfoot greenhouse planted. I am a little late with this project but did manage to get 26 flats up and growing. In a week the first plants should appear but it will be over two weeks before the last ones pop up.

This afternoon it will be time to get back into weeding the beds in the vegetable garden. The new tiller should be a great help. Actually the greatest help will be the hot tub at the end of the day. My body feels the exercise a bit more than it used to.

Sue Kerfoot