Saturday, February 24, 2007

Experiencing Eagles

We got a little snow on Thursday. It looks like more is on the way for later today or Sunday. About 6-8 inches would be great.

I have been meaning to tell you about part of our trip to Missouri. On Saturday Miranda, Sandy (Miranda’s mother), Zach and I went over to Truman Dam. They have a nature center at the dam that is set high on top of some cliffs overlooking Truman Lake. The view is spectacular from large curved windows all along the cliff side of the building.

While we were at the windows, a bald eagle soared into sight from the left and continued right in front of us. He then went almost out of sight before coming back and disappearing where he came from. Because the nature center is set to high, the eagle was soaring at our eye-level. What a magnificent way to observe the animal. There are several nesting pairs of eagles in the cliffs below the nature center which is one reason it was located there.

On the Saturday we visited the center, they had brought in two live eagles from the Springfield, Missouri, Zoo. One was a bald eagle named Phoenix and the other was a golden eagle. I can’t remember the golden eagle’s name. These are the only two types of eagles found in the United States. Every hour they presented programs about the eagles. Zach and I were in front seats for the 11:00 program.

Phoenix is a 17 year-old bald eagle. She was part of a complicated attempt to release 8 bald eagles into the wild to re-establish nesting pairs in Missouri. For some reason she was unable to forage and almost died. When her radio collared indicated no movement for two days, the monitoring staff went and found her. They brought her back to health and have used her for education ever since.

Seeing this 15-pound bird perched on the arm of an attendant just 5 feet in front of you is impressive. The eagle sits on the attendant’s arm which she rests on the crook of a stick about as tall as her shoulder. There is a rope attached to Phoenix’s leg so she can’t fly off. After fifteen years of being part of programs, Phoenix was very relaxed in front of the audience.

The golden eagle was taken into the zoo as an adult. The bird’s wing was injured so that it no longer has any ability to fly long distances. While Phoenix was comfortable in front of people, this golden eagle was not. He glared at us and twitched and was in constant motion.

The talk about the eagles was very interesting. Their eyesight is so sharp that could an eagle read, if you placed a newspaper on a football goal post, the eagle could read it from the opposite goal post. When the bald eagle picks up food or prey, the gripping strength of its talons is 2000 pounds per square inch. When the golden eagle dives after prey, he divides at 200 miles per hour. All the various facts and figures about the eagles were fun to hear but the really bonus was to just see these animals right in front of us. Zach sat still and was totally captivated during the entire show. I was too.

So if you are ever in Springfield, Missouri, try to find time to visit the zoo. If you are lucky they may even have a program featuring the eagles. If you are down by Truman Dam in Missouri, visit the nature center. Maybe you will be able to see one of the wild eagles in the air.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Glimpse of Forest Life

Lee was down at the house with Bruce and me. We were waiting those last few minutes before Brian, Lisa and the grandchildren arrived. Part of Brian’s favorite dinner, roast partridge breasts, were waiting in the refrigerator. Bruce had taken all the bones off. The meatless carcasses would be dinner for the fox, or marten or whomever.

Suddenly, young Freddy the Fox appeared. He walked right up to those meatless partridge bones and picked one out. After hopping back to the ground, Freddie sat right in front of us and proceeded to eat the entire bony carcass. He couldn’t get the whole thing in his mouth but just sat there and chewed the whole thing into pieces. We opened the door to see better. He looked at us and kept on eating. We could literally hear him crunching the bones. Once he had finished one, Freddie took a second carcass and walked off with it. One by one he carried the remaining carcasses off until all four were hidden somewhere.

The three of us watched entranced by the show. Of course, we were all trying to figure out how to keep this show going so the grandchildren could see it. How would we keep everyone from scaring the fox away? Would the food last that long? Well, you know the answer to these questions. Freddie disappeared with the final piece and the car rolled down the driveway.

Hopefully some other fox will visit during the next few days. Sam, Max and Amy will get a chance to see one of these wonderful animals up close doing something in its natural environment. Between their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, we will keep looking around to show them the activities of nature’s animals that are all around us in the Northwoods.

Meanwhile chaos has come to live in the Kerfoot household. Those noisy, delightful, exhausting grandchildren are here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Let the Games Begin

Everything is in a state a readiness in the Kerfoot household. It’s not quite like Christmas Eve but, for a grandparent, it’s the next best thing. This afternoon the three California grandchildren arrive. Of course, their parents are bringing them but the adults don’t count.

The house is clean and ready to have kid’s games and books spread all over. Their own private indoor swimming pool (the hot tub) is clean and full. We have more snacks, treats, and junk food in the house than any time in the last six months. Kid friendly meals are planned. My only hope is to either eat enough or send home enough snack food so that Bruce and I don’t end up with lots left for us to eat.

Winter in the woods is a great time for kids. Just riding a sled down our driveway, walking back up, and coming down again keeps the kids busy and happy. Luckily their parents understand that the key to outside fun is warm clothing. For California kids, they do really well.

This year I am determined to get more pictures but don’t hold you breath. It’s always more fun to play with the kids than to take pictures of them. Maybe I will remember to get the camera out once. What I really need is Eva’s mother, Nancy, here. She is the all time greatest picture taker.

We have lots of options for things to do. Bruce wants to take the two boys ice fishing. Lee thinks we ought to have a bonfire one night and roast marshmallows. There is skiing and maybe a sleigh ride down at Okontoe. Birds and deer need to be fed. Snowshoes are available. Inside building a fire in the fireplace is guaranteed to please everyone. I think we will run out of time before we run out of things to do.

I hope that there is a special time of year in your life when grandchildren come to visit. It is often nice when that time is not a holiday but just a time to spend with the kids doing ordinary things.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Home Again

Greetings from Minnesota again. Bruce and I took a short little trip this past couple weeks. The most important part of the trip was going to Missouri to spendsome time with Grandson Zach on his birthday. It was nice to see his parents and other grandparents but he was the gem of the trip. We hope to have him spend some time with us again this summer. I asked Zach if he wanted a 1-night or 2-night canoe trip (his first). He answered, “One week.”

After returning from Missouri we spent some time in the Twin Cities, or at least, I did. Bruce flew down to Kingston, Jamaica to interview students for jobs in the States this summer. For 10-12 hours, all he did was interview students in an un-air-conditioned office. I, meanwhile, contended with Minnesota cold. Much of my time was spent at the Minnesota Historical Society library.

So Saturday we arrived home. Since then we have both been battling horrible colds. Bruce brought his home from Jamaica and graciously shared it with me. We both feel like death warmed over. Hopefully we are over the worst now.

Winter is still with us in the north land. The ski trails look good but there is not a huge snow base like previous years. Even so, Lee says that people are getting out and having a great time.

I see Lee is now adding pictures to his blogs. Soon he will gently suggest that I join the modern world and learn how to do it myself. Maybe later this month when the three California grandchilden are here.

As usually, one of our animal neighbors found a novel way to welcome us home. Freddy the Fox, Jr. (he is smaller than Freddy the Fox) appeared at our window yesterday morning. Underneath our kitchen windows we have built up a wall of sand held in place with rocks. It really adds lots of insulation to the exterior walls.

So I walked into the kitchen and Bruce immediately said, “Be quiet.” It’s not our usual morning greeting. He pointed and I looked out the window. Junior was crouched with his butt to the window and his head looking over the edge of the rock wall. We figured he must have smelled one of the animals that make their homes in our rock walls. For about five minutes Junior remained motionless.

Then suddenly he pounced down. He had caught a mouse. The mouse wasn’t quite dead so Junior dropped him. He rolled the mouse over so the animal couldn’t bite him. A couple more chomps and the mouse was dead. Two more chomps and the mouse was eaten. There was literally nothing left of that mouse.

It isn’t often that we see this side of the animal existence in our woods. Even though we all know this happens, we have a tendency to put these more messy parts of animal life into the back reaches of our mind, just like we bemoan wolves killing deer. Yet we need to be reminded that this is part of the natural selection process. I have to tell you, that is was amazing to see an expert hunter practice his trade.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Making Snow

Here is our first attempt this morning to make snow by throwing boiling hot water up in the air when it is really cold out. Overall it worked pretty well, about 50% of the water froze in mid-air. The thermometer in the lodge said -38 degrees outside this morning so you know it was cold.

Today was a big check out day. We had the majority of the resort checking out today and the maintenance staff had to jump start 13 vehicles today! By noon all but 2 of the cars had been started. I still am shocked that 13 cars needed to get jump started! I am not saying anything negative about those 13 cars, more just surprised at how cold it was and how difficult it can be to get your car going.

Here is a second picture from our attempt at making snow.

I think the first picture turned out better.

I hope you are all keeping warm.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Mercury has Dropped

You better be wearing your long underwear if you are venturing outside for too long. It is cold out! At 8:00 AM the lodge thermometer read -24 degrees out. At 10:30 AM the lodge thermometer read was getting colder!!! The wind was blowing like crazy from the west/northwest. Like my mom said in a past blog, we only count the weather in absolute numbers. I have no idea how cold it was if you include wind chill, but I am sure it was at least -60. Now this isn't the coldest weather I can ever remember at Gunflint, but in the past two winters this is the coldest.

Growing up we used to have a couple of days every winter that were -50. That is not a misprint, yes I wrote NEGATIVE FIFTY. For those of you from the city, it probably is not something you can imagine. Growing up we didn't know any different. All we knew was you really had to be careful and you spent as much of the day as you could inside. If you had advance notice that it was going to be this cold you would try to haul in several days of wood for your wood burning stove. Then you wouldn't have to go outside to get more wood to heat the house when it was this cold.

Of course there are many things that require you to go outside even when it was this cold. Usually it was one of the most unpleasant experiences...going to school. Its not that I didn't like going to school, but it probably can be more accurately said, I did not like going to school when it was -50. Let me tell you why.

Usually when the really cold weather like this came in we were not ready for it the first night. So that means we did not, or we forgot, to plug in the head bolt heater to the car. If the car wasn't plugged in the night before then we were not going to be able to get it started in the morning. With no car that means we couldn't drive to the bus stop. We only had two alternatives left, and neither was appealing. For those of you who live in the suburbs you probably have a garage. Growing up I didn't have a garage, and we still don't today. Now back to the story.

If the car wouldn't start we would try to start a snowmobile. Occasionally we could get a snowmobile started and my parents would drive us to the bus stop. But to get the snowmobile started in that cold of weather you had to be outside for about 15-20 minutes to try and get it started. Back then you did not have electric starts, everything was done by hand.
It never was any fun to try and get the snowmobile started, but it beat the alternative.

So now you must be thinking this is crazy. It is -50 degrees outside at 6:00 AM in the middle of the winter. The car wouldn't start. The snowmobile won't start. My parents were insisting I go to school no matter how much I complained and whined. So we would walk the 1/2 of a mile to catch the bus. That was never a fun experience, but my parents never let us have any excuses for missing school.

Growing up in those conditions gave you a healthy dose of respect for Mother Nature. Several years later when I got my drivers license I never forgot those cold morning walks to the bus. I would always do a couple of things. First I would always remember to plug in the car. Second, I always had cold weather gear in the car at all times (including a down sleeping bag). Third, we would always call home from town before starting the drive...then my parents knew if we were not home in an hour to come looking for us. The phone call was drilled into our heads and it still is some thing I do everytime I drive home...of course now my excuse is that I'm calling to see if the lodge needs anything from town before I head home.

If tomorrow is just a couple degrees colder I will try throwing a bucket of boiling water in the air and seeing if it will freeze. Normally the temperature needs to be about -30 to -35 for the water to freeze in mid air. If I get a picture I will make sure to post it on the blog.

I hope you are all warm tonight.


P.S. my mother-in-law just called from CT to tell me she heard Thunder Bay (the closest town in Canada) was -36 before the wind chill. I just might have luck with that bucket of water yet!