Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Animal Brushes

Sheryl called yesterday to tell us about an otter she had seen in front of the lodge. Apparently there is a hole in the ice by the dock. This otter is having a great time going in and out. Otter are some of the best fisherman among our local animals. We speculate that this otter is finding some very good meals down his hole.

It is not unusual to see otters along the lake shore. Bruce and I have a spot we troll along to get lake trout in early June. There is occasionally an otter there. They are not frightened off by a boat trolling past so we would see the animal on every leg of our trolling pattern.

Another neighbor was recently telling me about her encounter with an otter. Marcia likes to take a swim in the lake around 3:00 every afternoon. About three years ago, she was in the middle of her swim when something brushed her leg. Immediately after the brush, a loon popped up beside her. Each day thereafter, she would see a loon swimming back and forth in front of her dock as she went in for her daily swim. This has continued for the past three years.

One day something else brushed her leg. Up popped an otter! Marcia was out of the water like a shot. She felt somewhat intimidated by the otter’s teeth. The otter has not reappeared but the loon is still there.

Bruce can relate to Marcia’s experience of being brushed while swimming but his brushes have occurred while diving in the Keys. Sometimes it is a shark going for the freshly speared fish in his dive bag.

A couple of years ago we were down for the opening of lobster season in the Keys. Bruce was asked to spear fish for dinner along with getting his limit of lobster. He popped up rather early during the dive and quickly motioned for us to come get him. A shark has taken an interest in his bleeding fish. Bruce had hit the shark on the nose twice to back him off but decided to get out of the water rather than fight a losing battle with the shark. The fish tasted great for dinner.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Coming Home

Bruce and I arrived home on Wednesday. As we turned in the driveway, right at the top of the hill, Freddy the Fox was sunning himself on a warm rock. He lazily turned his head to look at us and then stayed put as we drove down the hill.

Since we have been home several other forest creatures have come to visit. The deer are all over the yard looking for any tender shoots that might have appeared. Pileated woodpeckers have regularly flown by. Last night an owl was right out our front window hooting his greeting. I turned on the outside lights but couldn’t spot him. We even saw a wolf along the road.

After two weeks of restaurant food, it is time to shed those unwanted pounds. Daily walks are now on the agenda. Yesterday was just wonderful. The temperatures were in the 60’s. The road was dry and ice free. The air smelled fresh and clean. It just felt good to be outside. Today is not quite so nice was we are getting frequent rain showers. The lake level is low and we need the rain so I can’t complain. Actually, I love spring rains.

As part of our walk we stopped in at Cabin #24. Jason is remodeling this cabin. Bruce’s job is to build a fireplace. The two guys discussed when Bruce should start, the kind of fireplace, the location of the fireplace, etc. Then we walked down to the lodge.

One of the most obvious changes this year is the remodeling of the front lawn of the lodge. The present deck is going and will be replaced by a patio that is 35’ x 80’. Access will come from a large door on the east side of the lounge. That’s just before the wall that separates the lounge from Justine’s. We are finding that the bistro needs more seats. I think eating outside overlooking Gunflint Lake will be wonderful but then I’m probably a little prejudiced.

Those of you visiting us this summer will also see more trees. Lee is determined to plant lots of trees on the grounds. We have them coming in all sizes from 12 inches to 6 feet. Birch trees are going in to help define the path going west between 4, 5, and 6 next to the lake and 7 and 8 just above them. Ronnie Smith and the dock boys will be watering them all summer to help get over transplant shock.

One of my more interesting projects is with the white pine seedlings. For years I have planted these little 12-inch buggers with very poor results. A year or so ago I talked with a man whose family had run a tree farm. He told me to plant the seedlings in a special bed of sandy soil about 8 inches apart. For two years see that they get lots of water and are protected from nibbling deer. At the end of that time they will have a full round root ball. Then it will be time to plant them around the property. So in the spring of 2009 you may see tiny little white pines planted around.

It is good to be home. My own bed feels great. I am ready to get back to Kerfoot comfort food. Except for a canoe trip in August we plan to be around all summer. There are too many visitors coming for us to leave. Maybe we will see you. Be sure to stop by to say hello.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Future Trips

Only a couple more days and we will be returning to Gunflint. It is that time during a trip when I could drop everything and just go home. We have been lucky to spend two weeks with two sets of very good friends but I am starting to miss my own bed. On the 21st I am going to just snuggle down in that bed and remember our great trip and be thankful to be home.

One of the interesting things we have been doing on this trip is to plan some future trips. Our friends Ron and Pat and Don and Dorothy will be coming with a bunch of other friends to Turkey this fall. Then the six of us will fly to Egypt where Doug and Patty and Tony and Diane will join us for another part of the trip. Both in the Keys and in The Villages we have been talking about itineraries, flight schedules and what to bring. This process will continue through phone calls and e-mails until we leave this fall. Also during the summer months we will be scanning the TV schedule for programs on these two countries. I already have my Lonely Planet guide to Egypt plus a map to figure out where everything is. By the time the trip is over, we will have enjoyed it for several months of planning before we even leave.

When we get home, the canoe maps will come out as we plan a canoe trip with our friends Tom and Melissa. There are always lakes we (even Bruce) haven't seen or would like to go back to. As with any Kerfoot trip, planning the menu will take a great deal of time. The only sure thing is that it will include freshly caught walleye for dinner. Because we are all in our 60's, we don't fit the profile of average canoers but we have a wonderful time. Exploring the lakes along our route offers us an endless variety of experiences. Interaction with the birds and animals of the northwoods cannot be predicted but will occur. This is definitely a trip where sleeping in my own bed at the end will feel wonderful.

The next time you hear from me it will be from Gunflint. Then Bruce and I will be starting the hard part of any vacation – taking off those extra pounds we put on during the trip.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Retirement Plans

Bruce and I are experiencing two very different styles of Florida retirement. Last week we re-visited owning your own home in the Florida Keys. It is a style we have known quite well. Most people live in their own home or mobile home. This is changing, however, as more and more small, tight condos are being built. Originally the development was started for people who enjoy water sports – fishing and diving. Canals were dug to provide more water access for all the boats. Now many people live on a canal and never go out on the water. There are lots of shops and restaurants. There is also a mix of ages in the population. Because living on the water has such a huge appeal, prices for homes are very high in the Keys.

This week we are in The Villages about one hour north of Orlando. This is a huge community built by one family starting about 20 years ago (a guess) and built on old farmland. Everyone is of retirement age. There are now 25,000 single resident homes with more on the way. In addition to all these homes, there is every kind of service and recreational facility you could ever want. All of this is connected by roads and golf cart paths. Just about every person has a golf cart to get around the area. We are talking about thousands of carts. Everything is immaculately maintained. Prices are reasonable and affordable. Homes vary in size and price.

So yesterday we spent over two hours driving around the area on golf carts. Bruce and I were luckily following Tony or we would have been thoroughly lost. Today we may rent a pontoon boat on a nearly lake and tour the chain of lakes. On Sunday we are planning to go to an international polo match held at The Villages.

Yesterday we learned of a huge flea market held in a nearby town on Monday. This one has 4,000 vendors. There is both a retail and a wholesale section. It opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes at 3:00 p.m. Bruce loves flea markets so I am sure that’s where we will be. Luckily we are flying home so we can’t buy much.

Both the Keys and The Villages offer very different life styles than what we are used to on the Gunflint Trail. Bruce and I are still looking forward to returning to our own home on the Trail. Meanwhile it is great fun seeing how others live.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Still Down South

Bruce and I are still enjoying the Keys.

The day before yesterday Bruce had one of this more disasterous dives. It was nothing dangerous but everything went wrong. We got out to Kemp Channel. As he was putting on this flippers, the strap on one snapped in half. He managed to jerry-rig it together. Then the tide was running much stronger in the channel than we had expected. It makes it just that much harder to explore an area. Once under the water he kept have trouble with his flippers. Then when he decided to give up, he could not inflate his BC because the regulator didn't fit properly. He swam over to the bank and stood up on the bottom. If he had been in a place with deep water all over, he could have just dropped his weight belt and popped up. By the end of the dive, Bruce was thoroughly disgusted with himself. No lobsters on the dive just added insult to injury.

Yesterday a third couple joined us. Today the three men are going out diving. By the time they got all the gear on the boat, there is no room for the three women. So we are going off to Key West to look around for a bit. One of my favorite shops down there is Fast Buck Freddie's. I love the name. They have really nice merchandise that is attractively arranged. Of course, just walking the streets in Key West is entertainment. Who knows what we will see.

We did have one disappointment today. Yesterday all three gals bought three tickets for the $6 million Florida lottery. We didn't win. Well, we almost won. Pat got three numbers on one line and she won about $5.00 with no extra zeros. Pat and I have always bought lottery tickets together when I am in Florida. It is the only place I buy them. Our deal is that we will split the winnings. Even though we have never won, we have had great fun spending the money over the years.

If you read the last blog, you know that one of the great discussion areas is where we are eating dinner. Last night we ate in and were forced to eat lobster and stone crabs. Tonight we are going out. We will meet the guys at our favorite Cuban restaurant in Key West. It is in a residential neighborhood on a back street. Ron and Pat learned about it years ago because the wife of their airplane mechanical was a waitress there. I already know what I am going to have - roast pork, yellow rice, black beans and fried plantain. The meal will cost about $10 and is more than I can eat. Afterwards we will come home for dessert -- Pat's Key lime pie that you heard about in the last blog.

I hope that you are having as nice a day as we are.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Greetings from the South

We made it down to the Keys. I finally figured out how to write a blog from a computer other than my own so I thought you might enjoy hearing from me.

For those of you who don't know, Bruce and I owned a second home in the Keys for about 20 years. The first house was on Summerland Key and the second was on Cudjoe Key. Both Keys are located about 20 miles from Key West. We spent our time down here diving, fishing, and maintaining a house. The saltwater environment demands lot of maintenance. Eventaully we sold because we decided it was more fun to travel than to maintain a house.

Like any change in your life, there were pluses and minuses to selling the house. For Bruce and I the biggest minus was our porch. We had a 40 by 12 screened porch that looked over the canal. On each end of the porch, a bedroom had a sliding glass door opening to the porch. In the middle was a four-wide pocket slider that practically doubled the size of our living room. We ate most meals on the porch, we relaxed with the newspaper, and we watched the sunrise. Today we are going over the visit our neighbors and will look at the porch.

Bruce and Ron went out yesterday in the boat. Bruce did one dive but the visibility was terrible. He had about 5 feet. He tried to spear a fish but missed. The lobster were nowhere to be found. So we went down to Key West for dinner.

One of our great priorities while down here is figuring our which restaurant to eat dinner in. Last night it was a Half Shell Raw Bar. Between us all we had conch chowder, Oysters Rockefeller and grouper sandwiches. It was wonderful. After dinner we went over to a local ice cream shop. The ice cream was good but watching people walk by was better. Key West is a great place for people watching especially sitting outside on a warm night.

Today the wind has shifted to the north. It is not a good wind for diving. Bruce and Ron are going to fix something on the boat. There is always something to fix on the boat. Maybe tomorrow the wind will die down and we will all go out. The guys dive and Pat and I are the boat tenders. After 20 years we have lots of stories to tell about these activities.

So I hope you are all enjoying winter at Gunflint. Lee tells me they got another two inches. As I sit here in shorts and tee shirt with bare feet, I feel rather detached from the snow.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Cool Snow and Warm Seas

I know that most of you in Minnesota are digging out. We got more snow too. All it did was turn the Gunflint into a winter wonderland. Once you are dug out, get on the phone and make plans to come up. All the trails are in glorious condition. It is so wonderful outside.

Our animals still continue to amuse us. The wolves have been really after the deer. So the deer have figured out the best place to lie down at night. It’s in the sled dog yard! The sled dogs are, of course, chained with some distance between them. The wolves don’t like coming in among the barking dogs. The deer have figured out where the middle ground is between all the dogs. Pretty smart animals.

Meanwhile down here at the house, Freddy Fox, Jr. has a girl friend. They both appeared outside out kitchen window last night. She is a little shyer than he. Lee came down for dinner and we had just finished making pigs of ourselves over some walleye. There was one small piece left. Bruce threw it to Freddy who gobbled it up. Next we were throwing some of Tucker’s treats which seemed to go down equally well.

We assume that Freddy and his girl friend are paired up for the delivery of spring fox kits. I don’t know exactly what the gestation period is for a fox but assume about 6-8 weeks or somewhat like a dog. In the May we often see young kits sunning themselves on the warm pavement of the Gunflint Trail.

Bruce and I are about to take off for two weeks this Monday. On Tuesday we will fly to Fort Lauderdale. Then we drive down to the Keys for a week with friends. The second week will be spent with friends north of Orlando in The Villages. I am having real problems convincing myself to pack summer clothes.

The Keys are one of our favorite places. We owned a home there for about 20 years. Bruce is an avid diver especially when hunting lobster or spearing fish. I snorkel some and tend the boat. The whole area is so laid back that we practically live in shorts and sandals. Being Kerfoots, we are planning meals in our favorite restaurants.

Not too many years ago we were with the Red Cross in Florida for some hurricane. The group we were with decided they wanted fish for dinner. Their idea of a good fish dinner was Red Lobster. Bruce almost died. The next time we went out for fish, we picked the restaurant. It was a little local place that just served fresh, local fish.

Don’t forget to come up to play on our ski trails. We will miss seeing you but the skiing is so good that you won’t miss us.