Sunday, July 29, 2007

Driving Home

Bruce and I have just returned from taking Grandson Zach back to Missouri. It was a long drive but worth every mile just to get him up here for a bit. The same was true when we returned Granddaughter Emma and her friend.

On the way back we planned our menu for an upcoming canoe trip. Last year we took a 10-day trip with our friends, Tom and Melissa, from Tucker Lake. This year we will be taken an 8-day trip with them into the Quetico. It is always fun to just get away for a bit.

We drove up the Trail during sunset which lasted the entire trip home. The beginning of this show was seeing an airplane high in the sky with the sun reflecting off it. It was probably a flight from Minneapolis taking the polar route to Europe. We have flown over Gunflint Lake several times on return flights from Europe along this same route.

After the plane flew out of sight, the main show continued. There were a few winding clouds in the sky that quickly caught our eyes. First they were yellow with some grays. Then they turned to peach. On the lower Trail the road and trees make it impossible to view the clouds all the time. Each time they came into view it was another section and another color. By the time we got to Poplar Lake the pinks and magentas were contrasting with grays in the clouds. Bruce and I would talk about exactly what color the clouds were. Before we could agree, they had changed color before our eyes. At the top of the Gunflint Hill, all the clouds were gray but the sky above them was still lit up. What a great way to drive home.

It must have been warm while we were gone. The house was hot and muggy. We quickly opened all the windows and turned the fans on. In just a few minutes the cool night air filled the house. Even on the hottest days, it always seems to cool off at night. What a blessing!

There are still some fire stories around. Bruce heard this one from Don up at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. It seems that at some point Don was manning a fire truck on the main Gunflint Trail. They were slowly working their way fighting a fire alongside the road. Don noticed a red fox came to sit right next to the fire truck. Pretty soon the fox was joined by a rabbit. Both the predator and the prey ignored each other. They moved with the truck as if sensing that it was safe for them. Don got caught up again in his job and lost sight of them. It is interesting how emergencies change relationships.

It looks like another hot day today. Bruce and I are going up to Chik-Wauk Lodge for a planning session for the museum. Slowly the museum plans are starting to take shape. We plan on opening in June of 2010 but time seems to be flying by. Even now we are all beginning to feel the pressure of opening.

Raspberries and blueberries are still ripe all over. Bruce went out and picked several cups of raspberries just around the house while I was making breakfast. We need to get more blueberries since they go into both jam and pancakes. My back hurts just thinking about bending over for them. However, in January the blueberry pancakes will taste mighty good.

A quick look at the newspaper before bed told me that the canoe races raised just over $18,000 for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department. That is the most we have ever raised and the department deserves every penny of it. Now it is time for everyone on the Trail to clear up the debris and downfalls around their homes. We can’t expect the fire department to protect us if we don’t protect ourselves first. Meanwhile, don’t forget to personally thank people in the fire department when you see them.

Time to move on to other projects. I’ll be back in touch soon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

July Days

There is no doubt that July is here. Our last few days have been calm, hot, and humid. The dock has been a busy place as many find playing in the water just wonderful. The kayaks have been out everyday with both kids and adults in them.

Grandson Zach is here now so we have been busy with him. That means horseback riding, berry picking and fishing. It also means that he gets to visit all his friends on the Trail. He and the Baker Boys have spent lots of time playing. Today he goes up to play with the Prom children. When night time comes, Zach is ready for bed. In fact last night he and Grandpa each caught a few winks before dinner.

With the hot weather, the air management in our home keeps things about 10-15 degrees cooler that outside. Every night we open all the windows. By 7:00 a.m. they are closed again and the fans are turned on. Even though we have no air conditioning, we do have lots and lots of insulation (for winter) and that helps keep things cool in the summer. Going outside, however, is still hot.

Eva and I like to go down to the lake right in front of our house. It is nicely shaded. We drag our feet in the water. Tucker is along and we throw a tennis ball in the water for him to retrieve. Yesterday Rudy was along and the two of them swam out after the ball. Then Zach came down. We pushed out a small kayak. Pretty soon we had Zach, kayak, dogs, and ball all playing in the water. Meanwhile Eva and I sat in the shade. All we needs was some cold beer or frozen Margaritas.

Berry picking is in full swing. Yesterday I made 19 jars of raspberry jam. One day I made 46 jars of jam. Bruce is out picking as I type this. I’ll be busy this afternoon making jam again. It seems like lots of work now but in January the jam is wonderful. I also give it away for Christmas presents or when we stay at someone’s home.

With all this hot weather, the fishing has held up amazingly well. This morning Bruce was down at the lodge talking to one of the guides. He and his party caught 80 lake trout yesterday. I think we need to go out. While in the Cities recently, I visited the Penzey’s Spice store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. They have a blend of spices called Fox Point that I want to try on lake trout. The blend is wonderful on baked salmon and should be equally good on baked lake trout. Of course, the fish has to be fresh. We are such snobs about our fish.

The canoe races last week were a great success. I know that a new record was set for the amount of money raised but don’t have the exact figure. In spite of three showers, everyone had a good time. We sold out every one of the general raffle tickets and almost all of the canoe raffle tickets. There was also a silent auction that raised money. Food was sold down to the last hot dog and sloppy Joe. Lots of people contribute to making this a very successful event.

My garden is in full swing. Each day I bring the lodge a 2.5 gal bag of fresh lettuce for their salads. This is mixed with greens that we buy. In addition we are regularly harvesting fresh herbs for the lodge. Bruce picked our first bunch of garlic. I can smell garlic throughout the kitchen just from that one bunch.

Tonight we go over to a neighbor’s on Tucker Lake. Throughout the year several couples from Gunflint, Loon, and Tucker Lakes get together on Wednesday nights for dinner. Sometimes it’s at Trail Center, sometimes at Gunflint, and sometimes at one of our homes. During the warm summer months we like to go to Tom and Melissa’s. They have a very large screened in porch that can seat about 20 people for dinner. Of course, it’s a potluck and the food is wonderful. Tonight Bruce is doing BBQ’ed ribs and Fred is doing a brisket. I can smell the hickory smoke from the smoker whenever I walk outside. With all the good cooks in our group, forget your diet when you go to our potlucks.

One day last winter we decided to do just appetizers and desserts. The problem was that everyone brought one of each. You cannot imagine how much food we had. Bruce and I were so full driving home that we just groaned all the way.

If we have dinner at someone’s home, we often play card games or dominos. The women always are against the men. No one is too intent on the rules. In fact usually Fred or Melissa will have to remind us of a “little known rule” when they want to try something. Recently Zach taught me a “little known rule” that says that the first person a play in any game is the youngest. This rule works pretty well for him in our house.

So that is the social scene around Gunflint Lake right now. Hope your life is a pleasurable as ours is.

Around the Lodge

In an earlier post, Sue mentioned how prevalent the strawberries were. Now, the strawberries have faded off and made way for new berries: raspberries and blueberries. There are raspberries everywhere. I went picking for only about an hour the other day, and filled the Tupperware I’d brought. I hardly even had to go back into the woods; they line the roads and trails all over the property. If you’re camping, it’s blueberry pancakes in the morning. If you’re at the lodge, it’s ice cream with wild raspberries. Delicious.

One of the wildflowers blooming right now is fireweed. It is a long stalk of purple flowers that blooms from the bottom up. It’s called fireweed because it does really well in distressed areas, and is often one of the first plants to come up after a fire. I was showing this plant to a guest on a wildflower hike, when she told me about how the fireweed has always been known as a countdown to the end of summer. The bottom of the flower stalk begins to bloom in the beginning of the summer, then the blooms slowly move up the stalk as summer progresses. Seed pods form as new blooms open. I thought that this was a really cool way to naturally tell time, and wanted to pass it on. Right now, I would say that most of the fireweed blooms are about halfway up the stalk, or maybe a little more.

Ever since I had help from Dennis Todd, Fishin’ Fun has been a great success. We haven’t been skunked once yet, and I think that just about every kid that’s come has caught a fish. It’s been a great time. The kids caught a bunch of small mouth bass. They’re fighters. Twice we had the fish up to the boat when the line broke and it got away.

One other interesting event here at the lodge is the mayfly hatch. It happened just a couple weeks ago. Mayflies hatch in large quantities all at once. After living up to seven years in the water, they come out of the water and emerge as adults, living in this stage for only one day. As adults, they have transparent, oval shaped wings, and when they fly it is slightly haphazard but pretty. In the adult stage they do not even have mouths, as their purpose is solely to mate and lay eggs before they die. Mayflies have a funny life, as they are ugly bottom dwellers for so long before they emerge into something pretty, looking almost like a child ballerina, before they die.
Picture Info: (from top to bottom) The lodge, and new patio, at sunset; Justin and Kelly with their small mouth bass (Jacey and Jordan also caught fish); and a mayfly clinging to the dock.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hello, Ralph and Bea!

This blog is for Ralph and Bea Griffis in Harlingen, Texas. Ralph called us just before dinner to complain that I wasn’t writing the blog frequently enough. So read on Ralph and Bea. See how I tell your story.

Ralph and Bea were the last private owners of Chik-Wauk Lodge on Saganaga Lake. They bought in 1958 and operated the business until 1980. At that time they sold to the Federal government. After selling they were able to summer at the lodge until about 5 years ago.

The Kerfoots have a long relationship with Ralph and Bea. As a young resort owner, Bea taught me how to make corduroy bedspreads for all our cabins. Bolts and bolts of corduroy went through my sewing machine and ended up on cabin beds. They were a huge improvement over the chenille ones that had been used previously.

In late August of 1975 Bruce flew some guests up to a remote lake in Canada for a day’s fishing. They didn’t come home. The next morning Ralph took his plane up and found them for us. Ralph’s plane was too big to land on the lake, but he did tell me that he thought he saw Bruce by a campfire. Eventually the U. S. Forest Service flew in to rescue Bruce and his two guests. The sequel to this story is that Lee was born one week later.

Today Ralph and Bruce were talking about the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center which the Gunflint Trail Historical Society is building in the old Chik-Wauk main lodge building. Word has just been received that the building as been accepted on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a big step as the society works on raising the money for the museum. It was also a big deal for Ralph and Bea who have supported us throughout the process.

Last fall Bruce and I drove down to Harlingen to see Ralph and Bea. Along with lots of Texas hospitality, they loaded us up with artifacts for the museum. We took down an empty fifteen-passenger van with no seats and came back loaded to the gills. Some of our treasures included 2 snowshoe chairs made by Tempest Powell Benson, an original painting by Howard Sivertsen, four place setting of Chik-Wauk china, a table standing on a large burl, 4 hand made chairs, an original candle wall sconce from the lodge, etc. The list goes on and on. Eventually most of these things will be displayed in the museum.

More important (and more fun) than all these things was getting to listen to Ralph and Bea tell us some stories. We started up the video camera and listened and listened. These were stories from two people who obviously loved their life on Saganaga Lake. We heard about old employees and guests. We heard stories of making Hamm’s Beer commercials with Sasha, a real live brown bear. We heard about all the funny happenings to people who run resorts. It was wonderful.

But Ralph won’t like it if all I did was talk about he and Bea in this blog. So I better tell you a few things that are going on in the neighborhood. Fishing has been really good lately – both lake trout and walleye. All the guides have been out and bringing in good catches of fish. Last night Bruce and I joined the Feeneys and another couple for a fresh walleye dinner that would not end. Patty cooked them to perfection and we ate until I thought I would burst. Of course, I saved a little room for Melissa’s chocolate pie.

At lunch today Bruce and I had our first small dish of raspberries. I looked around the house and came up with enough for two small dishes after picking for about 10 minutes. Every one of you reading this should be green with envy. There are lots more raspberries coming so get up here and pick your own.

Lee and Eva took Sybil, a visiting friend, out looking for blueberries. They came back with enough to make a pie. On Tuesday they are all coming over for dinner and we are going to have homemade blueberry pie. Who could ask for anything more?

Bruce and I are leaving for a couple days. Granddaughter Emma and her friend went home Thursday. It is time for another grandchild to visit. We are driving down to Clear Lake, Iowa, to pick up Zach for his time with us. In the afternoon before the canoe races start on Wednesday, Zach will have his lemonade stand set up. Last year he raised about $40 for the fire department. It is a great way for a child to learn to give back to the community.

On Wednesday the canoe races will be held here at Gunflint starting at 4:00. A new activity this year will be the silent auction. So many wonderful gifts have been donated that the committee decided to put some of them in a silent auction. Whether you buy raffle tickets or participate in the silent auction, there will be lots of gifts to tempt you. If you can’t come, just pray for warm weather and sunshine.

That's what is going on along the Gunflint Trail. Summer is passing quickly but we are enjoying every minute of it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It’s a Great Day for the Ducks

It seems like just about every time Deb, John or I are completely booked for a boat activity it rains like this. And as we look at the radar, there are few signs of it stopping. It looks like it will only get worse before it stops (whenever that will be). Deb was supposed to do her Fire and Ice Kayak Paddle, using our brand new kayaks, and I was supposed to do the Kid’s Only Fishin’ Fun, which the very rightfully famous fishing guide, Dennis Todd, helped me out with last night. I was all set up so those kids could get a great catch. Dennis has been up here fishing for some twenty odd years, and it is well known that he knows the area like the back of his hand. His secrets seem pretty well guarded. He runs a fishing seminar every Monday night at seven in the Conference Center, and I will vouch that it is immensely helpful, not to mention entirely free. I went last night. I’m really glad I went, and the other two guests that came were, too. You can bet that as soon as those kids and I can get a boat out, you’ll see pictures.
Really, though, none of us can complain about the rain. We needed it pretty badly. I guess the only thing to do is give in, drink coffee, and sit by the fire. I can’t say that sounds all too bad. And, of course, the ducks are loving it. They toss and spin in the waves near the shore, or they huddle up on the dock.

One more thing—Happy Birthday! to Jason Hughes, who’s a bartender and server here at the lodge. (7/11!)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Summer Odds and Ends

The Fourth of July has come and gone. Suddenly summer is upon us. I don’t know where they came from but the Trail seems loaded with people. Every time I see the naturalists out, they have a large group of people following them. Guides are booked every day. The horseback riding is so busy that each horse has two scheduled days off each week.

Bruce has been out picking wild strawberries. So far I have made 8 jars of wild strawberry jam, 8 jars of domestic/strawberry jam and 8 jars of peach jam. No, we don’t grow peaches up here but Sam’s Club had some really nice ones. Bruce tells me he has to pick 2 more cups of wild strawberries for another batch. That doesn’t seem like much when I write it, but these little things are tiny and picked on hands and knees.

We are into the grandchildren’s visiting cycle. Tanner, at sixteen, works the dock fulltime for Uncle Lee. He and his friend, Keean, both live in a dorm at the lodge. It is their first stab at independence. They have a car but it is kept at our house and only used with permission. They are experimenting with cooking their own meals with Aunt Eva and Grandma as backup. I think it is a great summer for them and a real growing period.

Last week we picked up Emma and a friend in Duluth. They are with us for one week. Two 11-year-old girls certainly change the routine in a house. We have lots more giggles. The TV is on more than usually. Each day has time at the lodge dock just to see who is around. Yesterday the three of us went horseback riding. The night before we played dominoes. They are both fun girls to have around and the week is going quickly.

On the 16th Zach comes for a week. He wanted to be here during canoe races. One of the things he does is to run a lemonade stand to collect his share of money for the Volunteer Fire Department. A cute little 7-year old makes a lot more on lemonade than his grandmother would make.

It is time for another commercial about the canoe races. For almost 30 years these races have benefited the first Gunflint Trail Rescue Squad(ambulance) and then the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department (fire and ambulance). The members of these groups have put in lots of time to learn firefighting, to become EMT's and to teach the community about Firewise safety around their homes.

With the Ham Lake Fire this spring, we all saw the results of years of planning and training. Not every building was saved but lots were as these men and women dropped everything in their lives to work on this fire. Such intensive work means that equipment suffered and needs repairs and replacement. The canoe races offer a chance for the community to say “Thanks” by making sure there is enough money to have the best equipment.

The races will be held at Gunflint Lodge on July 18th. You can participate in several ways. One way is to buy raffle tickets for the general raffle of over 100 gifts. The odds are lots better than the Lottery. Another way is to buy raffle tickets for the Winonah canoe raffle. Once again the odds are really good. You can also come for the night to visit with friends from up and down the Trail. Volunteers will be serving food and beverages. The money from the food sales also goes to the Fire Department. If you can’t do anything else, send a check to the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, % Dave Clutter, 60 Voyageurs Point, Grand Marais, MN 55604.

The raspberry crop is starting to look really good. I have been checking at some favorite spots and it won’t be long now. I have my sugar, jars, and Surjell on hand but, most of all, I just want to sit down to eat a bowl of raspberries. You have already heard my story about eating raspberries. All year long I look at those ½ pints boxes (1 cup) of raspberries selling for $3-4 in the grocery store. When Bruce and I eat that first large bowl of homegrown, that is when I know how rich my life is.

The weather has been beautiful, hot, and sunny – true summer weather. We open all our windows at night and close them in the morning. It keeps the house about 10 degrees cooler than outside. One of the reasons for this is because the cold winters demand that our homes be especially well insulated. With a little air management, this helps us keep cool in the summer.

My garden is really starting to produce. Each day I have been able to take a large bag of lettuce down to the lodge for salads. Basil, fennel, chives, parsley and rhubarb also make their way down to the lodge. Bruce, Eva, Lee and I have been enjoying a few things that I don’t grow enough of for the lodge – broccoli, asparagus, strawberries and green peppers.

Well, I have to go out to weed this wonderful garden. That is a never-ending job.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

New additions of all sorts

Hello Again!
When I made the last post, I had not yet seen the Big Black Bear that has been leaving evidence of its midnight roams of the property. The other night, though, I got to see her. Sitting on the dock with a friend in the wee hours of the morning, she came out of the dock house… followed by two cubs. It was a really special thing to see! They walked over to the lodge, babies following their mother, and then all three of them climbed the cedar tree on the back patio. The mom then came down and started to forage for food, which was about the time that we snuck by the lodge and went to bed. I will admit that I was pretty scared—mothers with their cubs can be very aggressive. I wouldn’t suggest walking around alone at night, and if you see Big Momma Black Bear and her cubs, be sure to give them plenty of space- and remember that wild animals are always unpredictable.
There is also a couple other additions the the wildlife that hangs around the lodge-- two families of loons that live on our west end of the lake now have babies: two each. They are sooo cute; just little brown balls of fluff that follow their parents around. The mallards also have babies. One mother duck had nine ducklings that are hanging out on the beach next to the dock.

The other day we did our first run of a new craft activity—the Birch Bark Sampler. It consists of birch bark postcards (which actually go through the mail), birch bark picture frames, and birch bark bookmarks. Everyone who came got really creative. Everything they made was spectacular, and I think everyone had a really good time (as you can tell from the photo).

This second photo shows a group of women from Adventures in Good Company, an organization that gets together adventurous women and organizes vacations for them. I took them out to Magnetic Rock, where we found blueberries already (that was awesome). It is especially interesting to take that hike because it is one of the areas that recently burned in the Ham Lake Fire. You wouldn’t believe how green it is already. You can see that a little from the photo. One thing is for sure: the view of magnetic rock is now much less obstructed.

I’m going to continue taking photos from around the lodge and outfitters, so that everyone who’s not up on the trail can see what’s going on. I also just think that photos can add a lot to posts.

The lodge now has a new patio, and between family reunions and weddings, it’s getting a lot of use. It’s beautiful. While I don’t know what the previous deck/patio looked like, I know that this one is a great outdoor addition so people can sit and gaze at the lake.

It’s strange how living up here in the woods seems to get to you. I am getting more and more used to being surrounded by few buildings and a lot of trees, and having bears and moose as neighbors. While it is nice to spend time in town, Grand Marais is seeming more and more like a Duluth than a tiny tourist town. Slowly, I miss the woods more and more whenever I leave them for town. It’s like the woods are getting inside me and taking over. Even the bugs seem to be biting me less and less. Speaking of bugs--

The bug report: black flies and noseeums seem to be past their peak, but mosquitoes are getting just slightly worse than they were. Still, they’re not too bad. Sitting on the dock at sunset is still pleasant as ever.