Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spring Projects

Spring is starting to look mighty fine around Gunflint. The ice on the lake is white in the morning but quickly turns black as the sun warms it. There is open water along the shore for a couple feet. Over where the Cross River comes into Gunflint, there is open water to the first cabin at Moosehorn. These bits of open water don’t seem like much but they are vital. As the wind comes and goes, it shifts the ice against the shore rocks and breaks it up. Except for a few bays, the ice does not melt off big lakes. It is driven against the shore where the rocks break it up and the sun quickly melts it. Bruce and I are holding to our projected May 3rd or 4th ice out date.

Around our house, Bruce and I moved the picnic table out by the kitchen windows. We even had an iced tea break there before the weather changed. The next three days were rainy and drippy. I can’t really complain because we need the water. We also put out the chairs on the north porch overlooking the lake. This is the preferred spot for a break on a hot afternoon. It is shaded and any cool breeze from the lake is caught.

Now is the time when I can open the doors and windows and let some fresh air in. Off the kitchen is a small screened porch. The door to the porch is open all summer long. It is the first thing I open every morning. Warm afternoons let me open it now. Lee and Eva’s cat, Diva, stayed with us last week for a bit. She loved sitting in the porch.

My garden is also showing the affects of warmer weather. I counted 15 rhubarb clumps that are starting to pop out. The chives are about 2 inches tall. The strawberries have leaves coming out all over. Of course, the grasses are also coming out. This afternoon I am going to start on spring weeding in the chives and strawberries before the grasses overtake them. By evening I will be glad that the hot tub is working.

Another afternoon project is removing burlap that has projected small maples and lilacs from the deer. We have not seen any deer in yard for over a week so it is time to get rid of the burlap.

I will also be dividing a spider plant that one of the neighbors gave me. One part goes back in Fran’s pot and three parts go in pots for the cabins. In our kitchen there is a 12-foot, south facing wall of windows. Bruce and I hauled in some cement blocks to put along the windows with 2 x 6’s on top. This sunny spot is where I am gathering the plants for cabins after I transplant them into new pots.

Of course, my pots are a real hodgepodge. There are two six-gallon crocks with peace lilies. Bonnie picked up 3 large pots when visiting her mother. They also have peace lilies in them. Spider plants are going into an old lard can and two enamel pieces. That still leaves me with an oval tin pan, a large metal ice bucket, a minnow bucket and several other pots to fill.

Another spring job is to get out the brush king to cut brush between the house and the lake. Each year we have cut some in hopes of getting a lake view but still leaving plenty of cover. This spring I intend to attack the raspberries that have grown up everywhere. Bruce also has a few more balsam trees that he wants to take out. Generally he does that when I am not around. I hate to cut trees.

There are still few standing dead trees left over from the 1999 Blowdown. We have slowly been cutting them down each year to use as firewood. There is a huge pine tree and a big birch that I can see while lying in bed. My goal is to get them down this spring. Then there are two more birch between the house and the lake. Bruce cuts and I haul to the wood stack.

Pretty soon we will have to get the rototiller into the garden. We brought a Mantis last spring and just love it. It is small enough that I can handle it but still really churns the dirt up. Previously I would turn all the gardens over with a shovel. This is much better.

While writing this, I stopped to water my orchid. It has 5 blossoms on it and more to open. Right next to it the Christmas poinsettias are still showing lots of red leaves. Out my office window, the iris have come up about two inches. Itis time for their spring snack of bone meal. That’s got to go on the next town list. I also opened the door. It's a still day with no wind. I can hear the birds in the trees.

This should be the end of my list but there is still a lot more work to do outside. It is probably the same way around your house when spring comes.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

April Ice

We are back to the perennial spring question – When will the ice go out? At this point I would not be much interested in walking out on the ice. It’s not black but gray. Still we have some time before it will go out.

Our best gauge for ice out was developed by a man named Don Brazell. For many years Don delivered freight and then mail up the Gunflint Trail. He was a very observant guy as he drove up and down the Trail. This is his system as it was passed on to me.

The first sign of the ice going out is the North Brule River when it is clear of ice and running freely. Within a week after that the beaver pond on the Round Lake Road leading to Tuscarora Lodge will go out. After another week, Gunflint Lake will go out.

I went to town on Tuesday and there was still ice on the North Brule River. It is my guess that within the next couple of days, the ice will be gone on the river. That would make the ice out on Gunflint Lake about May 4th or 5th. We will see how accurate this is.

Meanwhile I have a little story to tell you about driving a truck on the ice at this time of year. About 15 or 20 years ago in April, we had a load of firewood to deliver to Charlie Cook who lived on the Canadian side of Gunflint. Shari Baker, who was then a young college student, had split the wood and loaded it into the pickup. She was a little nervous about driving across the lake so Bruce said he would do it.

Everything looked great as the pickup disappeared behind the point of Charlie’s bay but they never came back out. After a long, long time a single snowmobile came putt-putting across the lake. It was soaking wet Bruce on Charlie’s machine. Bruce had driven the truck over some thin ice just off Charlie’s dock and the truck started to sink. The plow on the front of the truck kept it from totally sinking. Then he and Charlie had found some old boards to further hold the truck up.

Of course, the question was what to do now? Eric Thompson came over from Borderland to help. The three of us gathered a come-along, ropes and a set of pulleys and took off for Charlie’s. Justine was not thrilled to be left behind so she went over to the bridge at Cross River with her binoculars to watch.

Shari and I laid out the come-along and pulleys. Bruce and Eric attached everything to the truck and a tree on shore. Before the truck was high enough to be totally out of the water a rope broke. Now it was Mom’s turn to help, she drove up and down Gunflint Lake borrowing chains – two from the ambulance, one at Gunflint, one at Borderland, another one at Heston’s – until they linked from the truck to the tree on the shore. Finally we were able to raise the truck completely out of the water and onto long boards to keep it out of the water.

The next problem was to get the truck home. Every day the ice was just going to get worse. The guys decided to wait until we had one last hard frost which came in a couple of days. They went over at first light and used the boards to lay out a track to drive on. Once Bruce got going, he never stopped until he was on shore at the lodge.

The moral of this story is that even locals who know everything should stay off the ice in April.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Back Home

Bruce and I have been running around the country for several days. First I spent 2 days at a trails conference for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. In addition to the museum going in at Chik-Wauk, we will have a system of hiking trails. Since this is all starting from nothing, Kathy Lande and I went to learn how to do it correctly.

Then on Friday Bruce and I made a flying trip to Missouri to pick up some Adirondack chairs for the lodge. Robert had found an Amish man who made them several years ago. Lee ordered 30 more. After three days of driving and with a full van we arrived home about 8:00 p.m. last night. It sure felt good to get home.

The Trail is very quiet at this time of year. We saw more animals than cars. Two fox and a partridge were joined by a moose. We have seen very few moose this winter. Don’t really know why but the light snowfall allowed the moose to easily go anywhere in the woods. Also there was very little salt put on the bare road. Moose generally like to lick the salt off the road.

At any rate I had just commented to Bruce about if we ever going to see a moose again. Then around the corner we saw one. It was a last year’s calf standing right where the picnic table is at Swamper Lake. He looked rather bedraggled and lost. The setting sun was directly behind the moose so we didn’t get a really good look at him. Also because of the curves, it is not a good place to stop. I have never seen a moose in that spot before.

We got home and started unpacking the van. Before we could finish the fox with the short front leg appeared to welcome us. I ran in and found some food for him. Don’t know what we will do when I run out of food. You just know that the animal doesn’t hunt as well with that short leg. Who knows, he may get some leftovers. At any rate there will be no food in our garbage for a bit.

So now we are settling in again. There is lots of work in the office to catch up on. It’s back to walking and trying to lose some weight. Bruce is down at the lodge now to see if he can start on one of his fireplaces this afternoon. I hope to get the greenhouse going later this week. Just like at your home, there is a endless list of projects.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Minnesota Springs

Spring has come and gone on the Gunflint. In fact, fall and summer have too. We are back to winter. On Tuesday and Wednesday we got 6-8 inches of snow. It was probably one of our biggest snowfalls of the season. Bruce says it would be beautiful in November just before deer hunting opened. In April it is not so pretty but there is not much to be done about. To add insult to injury, the temperatures have dropped too. Each of the last two mornings we have had a reading of 3 degrees. Eventually, spring will truly be here.

Two fox have been coming in regularly. They are both small but one has a short front right leg. We think it may have been caught in a trap but it is hard to get a good view of the leg. Certainly the animal moves around very well.

It is the second animal that has us wondering. We think it may be a female who is pregnant. Her lower middle seems to be dropping down. She seems very broad in the beam. Also she is very brave about getting food. She will take food from both Bruce’s and my hand. She is very gentle about it but also comes right up to us. There is a small, heavily wooded tree area between our garden and the road. That is where she goes with her food. Perhaps there is a den in the woods. We seem to think that kits come early in May. It would be fun to see them out sunning in the garden.

Not all the other animals in the neighborhood are happy to have the fox around. There are noticeably fewer squirrels and chipmunks. The other day we watched a squirrel cautiously poke his head out of his hole in our rock garden. A few minutes later he looked out from another hole. Then there was a final hole he looked out of. When he finally came out, it was to stand on his hind legs and look up at the rock garden behind him. This is the first time we have seen that kind of activity.

Today we also had a frozen, dead chipmunk outside the kitchen window. I enjoy watching the antics of chipmunks but wish they would just disappear in late June and July. That is when the garden strawberries are ripe. Chipmunks love to move in and take one bite out of each strawberry. I am not very willing to share with them.

During the snowstorm I ordered my garden seeds for this summer. One of the sales clerks was very apologetic. Their order department was so busy that they could not ship my order for two weeks. I told her not to worry. I wasn’t going to be planting anything for some time yet.

The snowstorm did bring one project to a dead halt. The weather had been so nice that I was agitating to get the garden furniture out. There were several days when it was nice enough to eat lunch outside. That dream will have to be put off for a bit yet. Instead I hauled in more wood for the fireplace.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Trail Excitement

For many years Bruce’s mother, Justine, wrote a column for the Cook County News Herald. It started in the 50’s as a way to keep seasonal residents informed about what was going on along the Trail. She would let them know that the snow load was getting pretty heavy and they better have someone check their cabins to see if they needed shoveling. Or she would comment that the ice is off a particular lake.

One of Mother’s more interesting challenges was getting her weekly column to the newspaper office. During the winter months of November through April, mail was only delivered three days a week. Even when we got daily delivery, it seemed she was always looking for a way to get the column to town. For fourteen years the most reliable way was to send it with Robert or Lee on the school bus. By the time they were out of school fax machines were in use and the problem was solved.

By April, Mom was always running out of things to talk about. There was not a lot of activity on the Trail. I can hear her voice on the phone asking, “Have you got anything for the fish wrapper?” Today I feel in much the same position. The most exciting thing I can think about is when Bruce and I burned the brush pile on Saturday night. It’s that quiet around here.

Actually it was fun. In a city you don’t get to burn leaves and brush any more. I can remember doing it as a child in the Chicago suburb I grew up in. Well, Bruce and I have a spot in the west yard where we pile up stuff all year. Every spring we give it a good burn. By now the pile is ten feet tall and bone dry.

Saturday was kind of a rainy, misty day. I went over to Gunflint Pines to get a burning permit. Then I called the sheriff’s dispatcher to inform them that we were going to burn. The only hours you can burn are between six at night and eight in the morning. After dinner Bruce went out to start the pile. He uses an “old Indian fire starting technique” to start the pile – gasoline.

By the time I loaded the dishwasher and got out, the entire thing was blazing. You couldn’t get within 15 feet of it because of the heat. By now it was gently raining and still the fire burned on. I know our neighbors, Bob and Sharon Baker, could see it all from their house on top of the hill. We watched the fire burn for about an hour until the ground was wet all around from the steady rain. Once a fire starts to die down a bit, then you have to start poking at it with a hoe or a rake to get all the little bits going.

Sunday morning the fire was out. It had rained lightly all night. The big logs were burned to nothing. Bruce will get the bobcat to re-arrange the ground. In a couple of weeks we will start another pile. The intermittent rain on Sunday and even today assured us that the fire was dead out.

So that was a thrilling activity for the weekend. We have also had a few animal visitors. On Saturday we had two pileated woodpeckers right next to the house. Yesterday the lame fox was begging. He/she has a right front paw that is shorter than the other three. I found some old freezer burned meat (I am sure you have nothing like that in your freezer) and put it out.

Next time I will try to find something more exciting to write about -- I hope.