Friday, June 29, 2007

Out with Stress

Last night I had a reminder of why I live up here. I spent Wednesday and Thursday in Duluth taking a friend of mine for medical tests and a doctor’s visit. The outcome was that this elderly woman would be facing some shoulder replacement surgery. I spent the 2 hours driving from Duluth to Grand Marais explaining this surgery over and over. By the time I got home about 5:00 p.m., I was beat.

There just enough time at home to change into some old shoes, grab my sweatshirt, and jump into the boat. Bruce and I had been invited to a fish fry on Campers’ Island with a bunch of friends. It could not have happened on a better evening.

The sky was clear and there was very little wind on the water. Our boat seemed to zip along down the lake. The water washed the tension from my back and neck. My mind was cleared by just looking at the passing shoreline.

Approaching the island, we could see the boats of our friends. The fire was already burning. As is usual with this group, the table was groaning with its load of food. Bruce joined Bob as the cooks. Bob took care of the potatoes and baked beans. Bruce did the fish – walleye, bass, and lake trout. Even the smoke smelled wonderful. While the two men cooked, we all snacked on veggies and dip or smoked trout.

When it came time to eat, everyone chowed down. In fact I think every single person went back for seconds. In addition to the food mentioned, we had homemade dinner rolls, pickled home-grown cucumbers, fresh Iowa strawberries, apple salad, and two kinds of homemade cookies. It was a feast that anyone would love to eat.

After dinner, we put some wood on the fire, gathered round in chairs, and just sat talking easily. We could hear the water flowing over Bridal Falls. One boat rocked gently against a rock. The mosquitoes were almost totally absent. A couple loons were calling back and forth.

Melissa and Ken got out their cameras to record the event. That was our most organized activity. Otherwise, ever so often, someone would get up and put a little more wood on the fire. We must have sat there for an hour or more with no one showing any inclination to move.

Only the approach of sunset got us moving. Then everyone pitched in to clean up. A couple 5-gal buckets of water and a stirring stick took care of the fire. Boats were loaded. Chairs folded and put in boats. Food packed up. Garbage accounted for. One last look around the campsite assured us that it was left better than we found it.

It is evenings like this that bring sanity into my life. The stress of the last couple days was gone. I hope that you have a nearby natural area where you can also get a little of the stress out of your life.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

And the Living is Easy

In spite of a rough start with fires, summer is here and the variety of guests in camp show it. The wedding reception on the new patio in front of the lodge seemed to kick the summer season off.

We just finished a large family reunion. They came from all over the country. Each night at 7:00 they gathered for dinner to talk about what they had done during the day and to catch up on each others’ lives. Each family had children who were growing way too fast and the grandparents who were enjoying every moment.

Right after they left, we had a couple check in who were here to plan their family reunion for next summer. These folks have been with us for almost 30 years. Every five years they bring their family together to share some time at Gunflint. Next summer there will be 18 of them. With grandchildren scattering for jobs, it gets more difficult to plan dates that fit everyone.

Sunday another couple who have been with us for years checked in for a week of fishing. One of their friends who used to come with her husband and now comes with a daughter also arrived. They will be out fishing every day with two guides. If past experience is any indication, we will expect to see some wonderful catches of fish.

And speaking of fish, Bruce and I have been enjoying and sharing some fresh walleye. Bruce spent a half day on Northern Light with Dennis Todd, one of our guides. We had fresh walleye for dinner that night. There is no way you can beat eating really fresh fish. Lee and Eva came down for dinner. Being pregnant Eva is limited in how much fish she can eat, so Lee, Bruce and I ate her share plus ours. We really made pigs of ourselves but it was a great way to go.

A couple days later we had visiting friends from Florida. Thirty years ago we used to go up into Canada fishing with them on fly-in lakes. In those days we would have 4-6 adults and 10 children. The kids all learned to drive boats and to fish. They cleaned fish, did dishes and swam in the lake.

Our schedule was really relaxed. In the morning Ron fixed a huge breakfast and we were out fishing by 10:00 a.m. By mid-afternoon we came in with fresh fish. We ate our main mean about 3:00 p.m. Bruce would start by frying up walleye fingers. Sometimes he would fry for an hour. The fish were eaten as fast as he could cook. Then it was time to cook the main food. After everything was cleaned up, the kids would swim and the adults napped or talked. About 6:00 p.m. we would all go out fishing until dark. After coming in it was time to break out sandwiches, soup, canned fruit, hot chocolate, and whatever else anyone wanted. We all slept good at night.

You will notice that there is no mention of the two women, Pat and I, cooking. We were really treated like queens. The men cooked and the kids did everything else. Also notice that everyone went fishing no matter what their gender was. Sometimes the girls had Barbie dolls in the boat but they still spent time fishing. W all look back fondly on those trips. So when Ron and Pat visit we always have to plan a walleye dinner.

I also see that the three naturalists are keeping busy. Canoeing lessons were going on at the dock yesterday. Then they all took a paddle on the lake. Tucker and I saw them pass when he was down swimming. Every week more and more people explore the woods with the three of them.

Bruce and I have spent a little time in the woods ourselves. The wild strawberries are ripe. We picked a bit the other day. They will soon be made into jam for the winter. It looks like both blueberries and raspberries will be abundant this year. In fact abundant might be an understatement.

It is a good thing as there is not one frozen blueberry in our house. I make blueberry jam but what we really like is blueberry pancakes and blueberry pie. Bruce is the pancake maker in our house. He makes them from scratch and includes corn meal, buttermilk, bananas, walnuts and blueberries. It is a great way to start the morning especially when topped with warm maple syrup.

And now just a short commercial for those of you who will be up on the Gunflint Trail on July 18th. That night the annual canoe races will be held here at the lodge. The event is a benefit for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department. This year we really want to thank the men and women who volunteer their time with the department. During the entire Ham Lake Fire, these folks worked fighting the fire and providing the necessary local knowledge for fire fighters from all over the country. In addition to the canoe races for all ages, food is sold and there are two raffles. One is for over 100 gifts from local stores and residents. The other is for a brand new canoe donated by Winonah Canoe Company. Tickets for a raffles are sold up and down the Trail from now until the event. You don’t have to be present to win. But if you are present, it really is a very fun evening.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bears Bears Bears...

My name is Kate, and I’m a new blogger on the site. I am a summer naturalist here at Gunflint, focusing mostly on kids’ activities and crafts. Though I have only been here about three weeks, there’s been an immense amount of seeing and doing, and I can tell that it applies to more people than just me.
Maybe what stands out the most to me so far is the amount and involvement of wildlife up here. There has been evidence of a bear from the previous night almost every morning, not to mention the fact that the wildlife sighting notebook has something new in it just about every time I look at it, from turtles to moose to eagles to bears. Guests and staff also have a wide variety of stories to tell about a past or recent experience with wildlife. A guest on a wildflower hike this morning mentioned that a few trashcans outside her cabin had been tipped over and pawed around in. And just today I cleaned up trash that a bear had dug through right outside the nature center. I will say that I am really glad that these are black bears and usually easy to scare away, and even gladder that I haven’t had any close encounters with them. In fact, I haven’t even seen one here on the property yet. Though this almost counts…
Just the other day I was putting out hummingbird feeders around the property. I felt kind of silly, because I was standing up on chairs to reach the hooks for the feeders right in front of windows where guests were sitting. The next morning, though, there were paw prints from a bear on his hind legs that very night in the exact same spot that I had been standing. How funny! Luckily none of the feeders were torn down.
There’s been a lot of seeing and doing happening with children, too. This past week I have been privileged enough to work with some really articulate, smart kids. The first ever Bug Safari took place with Matthew, Wyatt, and Stazs the other day, when we went around with nets catching all sorts of spiders, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, and the like. The kids had a great time exploring the many different kinds of bugs around and learning to look at them and set them free again.
The wilderness seems to be its good old self- unstoppable as far as growth and full of secrets. There are already huge patches of green on the other side of the lake, which was hit hard by the Ham Lake Fire. It seems as though this Minnesota vegetation just can’t be stopped; it is forever on its way in and forever on its way out. Always changing and moving, always with something new to see.
On another note, if I were to give a bug report I would probably say that mosquitoes still aren’t too bad, and the black flies and ticks are still around but waning. No-seeums are rare but intrusive, as well as pine beetles (who knew something with that name would be after people?). If you are on your way up, be sure you bring your bug spray, and also be sure to check out all the new naturalist programs John outlined in his last post. I’m sure I’ll be back with another post soon, but until then I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back Again

I am sure that you think I have dropped off the face of the earth. Well, I’m back.

At this time of year Bruce and I are very busy with foreign students coming into the U. S. to work for 4 months on a J-1Visa program. We got started in this business three years ago as a kind of retirement hobby job. The first year we brought in about 25 students from Jamaica. This year we have 250 students from all over the world. While many are working in various resorts in Minnesota, we also have students on ranches in the west and with moving van companies all over the country. Bruce or I meet all the students coming into Minnesota and bring them to their job.

It’s a lot of driving. Last week Bruce met students in Minneapolis on Monday. He overnights and then drops them off on his way home. He drove 800 miles in the two days. On Friday I drove down, picked up students that night, and dropped them off on Saturday. My trip was 780 miles long.

Then on Sunday I drove down to Minneapolis for a Monday morning meeting. This one was a little different. It was a planning meeting with Split Rock Studios who are working with us to build a Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center on Saganaga Lake. They are designing the entire project. Hopefully we will then have enough money for them to build and install the entire project. It will make for a super museum.

The museum will cover the natural history of the area and the cultural history of the area. About 1/3 of the exhibits will explain the boreal forest surrounding us. The other 2/3’s will deal with the various population groups who have lived here: prehistoric peoples, Native Americans, voyageurs, miners, loggers, resorters and local residents. It is turning into a very exciting project and much bigger than we expected. If you would like to learn more about this, go the website for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society.

Yesterday Bruce and I spent quite a bit of time driving around the burned spots on the upper Trail. We have out-of-town guests who wanted to see it. Of course, there are lots of burned over areas just down to bare rock. But there are still lots of green, unburned sections. It is hard to figure out why one place burned and another did not. In many places we saw trees that were burned on one side and green on the other. How does this happen? I suspect we are all going to think about this for some time to come.

At the lodge, spring projects are getting finished. Last Saturday, the patio had its first event. It rained Friday night and Sunday night but Saturday was a beautiful evening for an outside wedding reception. I think people are really going to enjoy outdoor eating on the patio.

Ronnie Smith and her helper, Carl, have got most of the gardens in great shape. Now it is just a matter of waiting for the plants to get a little bigger and to burst out into blossom. The evening rains have helped this process along.

Our garden is just about done and we are all starting to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Asparagus, fennel, chives, parsley, basil, and rhubarb have been really good. They all go down to the lodge once a week. Yesterday we ate our first broccoli. Bruce normally isn’t a big broccoli fan but he loves this because it is so tender. We will eat broccoli from now into September. My lettuce is also about ready to start harvesting. This is one of Eva’s favorite products of the garden. By next week it will start to go into the lodge salads. Strawberries are turning red. We don’t have enough of those for the lodge so Bruce, Lee, Eva and I will eat them and make jam.

Yesterday during our drive we stopped at one of Bruce’s wild strawberry stops. We’ll be going back again to pick there. The berries are red and big. Big wild strawberries in this area are about the size of the tip of your little finger. All the picking is done on your knees. The jam from them is wonderful. Of course, you have to be on my A-list to get a jar of it.

Lee and Eva have gone to visit her family for a couple of days. We have Dog Tucker and Cat Diva staying with us. Our visiting friends have Dog Molly with them. Between the three animals getting used to each other, it is a three-ring circus. Diva learned this morning to push the screen door open and get outside. Tucker (5 times her size) would never push a door open with his nose. Molly is busy guarding her food or licking Tucker’s bowl for anything left in it. If you pet one animal, the other two are right there for attention.

Tonight we are going to a potluck at one of the neighbors. Bob and Sharon Baker are leaving with a motor home for three months in Alaska. We are all saying goodbye with a little bit of jealousy. They are one or two reservations but otherwise plan to just roam around. It really sounds like a great trip.

Hopefully, I will get back to writing a little sooner next time. Enjoy these nice summer days.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Naturalist Program Profile

We have an exciting summer planned for the Gunflint Naturalist Program. This year we have three naturalists for the first time. There is Deb from Ohio, Katie from Colorado, and John from Minnesota.

Deb is doing mainly activities for families and adults. She has a lot of experience in a camp setting, and has a BA in Geology from Ohio State.

Katie is our kids and crafts naturalist. She has experience at a canoe camp on Lake of the Woods, and will be a sophomore at Colorado State University in the fall, majoring in English.

I (John) am the Head Naturalist and will be doing activities for people of all ages this summer. This is my sixth year at Gunflint. My BA is from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where I majored in English-writing, and Environmental Studies.

We have many new programs planned for this summer. One exciting new activity will be the Saturday Night Sing Along. All three naturalists are at least novice guitar players, and will lead songs as well as tell stories. We will be singing songs that kids and adults will enjoy. It will be the only program of the week where the entire naturalist staff will be present, and will be the grand finale for our week of activities.

This list below is of activities have not been offered in previous summers, but which will be offered on a rotating basis this year:

Birch Bark Bookmarks Craft
Birch Bark Sampler Craft
Northwoods Candle Holders Craft
Northwoods Magnets Craft
Seagull Lake Day Kayak Paddle
Fantastic Fen Hike to Lonely Lake
Geologic Sills of the Caribou Rock Trail Hike
Geology of the High Cliffs Hike
Lady’s Slipper Hike
Medicinal Plants Hike
Medicinal Plants of the Mid-Cliffs Trail Hike
Photography Hike to Lookout Point
Wildfire Ecology Hike to Magnetic Rock
Kid’s Only Amazing Science Experiments
Kid’s Only Bug Safari
Kid’s Only Nature Discovery Hike
Fire and Ice Geology Canoe/Kayak Paddle
Intro to Kayaking (Upon Request)
Wildfire Ecology Pontoon Cruise
Saturday Night Sing Along
Sensational Snakes Presentation
Wildfire Ecology Presentation

Even though we have so many new activities, we are still offering many of the old favorites. They are listed below:

Boat Trip and Hike to Bridal Falls
Boat Trip and Hike to Little Rock Falls
Deep Bog Excursion
Candle Making Craft
Dream Catchers Craft
Northwoods Pencil Holders Craft
Caribou Rock Day Hike
South Rim Trail Hike
Brant Lake Day Canoe Trip
Granite River Day Canoe Trip
Ham Lake Day Canoe Trip
Stairway Portage Day Canoe Trip
Animal Tracking Hike
Aurora Borealis Night Hike
Berry Picking Hike
Celestial Legends Night Hike
Wild Edibles Hike
Kid’s Only Fishing Fun
Kid’s Only Hobo Hike
Kid’s Only Make a Boat and Race it Down the River
Kid’s Only Pizza and a Movie
Kid’s Only Scavenger Hunt
Kid’s Only Story Time
Kid’s Only Supper and a Story
Beaver Canoe Paddle
Cross River Adventure Canoe Paddle
Loon Canoe/Kayak Paddle
Intro to Canoeing (Upon Request)
Dessert Cruise
Early Morning Pontoon Cruise
History Cruise
Photography Cruise
Snack Cruise
Great Lakes Ghost Stories Presentation
Gunflint Lodge History Presentation
Life of a Voyageur Presentation
Minnesota Ghost Stories Presentation
Misunderstood Wildlife Presentation
Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes Presentation
Gunflint History Tour

All Gunflint Lodge/Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters Guests are invited to participate in the many activities we are offering. There will be between three and seven activities offered each day throughout the summer.

If you join in on our activities, we guarantee that your northwoods experience at Gunflint Lodge will be greatly enhanced. With your new found knowledge, you will have a greater understanding of the northland than you have ever had before.

John Silliman
Head Naturalist
Gunflint Lodge

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Viewing the Fire

Yesterday Bruce and I took a walk part way in on the Magnetic Rock Trail. Our purpose was to see if any morel mushrooms were out in the burn area. Unfortunately, we were not successful.

The trail, however, offers an amazing view of the Ham Lake fire. You can certainly see lots of the fire by driving up and down the Trail. To really get a feel for what a fire does and how things regenerate, it is necessary to get out of your car and walk into the woods. Magnetic Rock offers a great trail that gives you lots of exposure to various parts of a fire.

First, here’s a little background. The Magnetic Rock Trail is about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4’s long one way. Generally speaking it is a gentle uphill all the way in. It terminates at a large rectangular rock set on end. The rock is about 30-40 feet tall. It you have a light magnet with you, it will stick to the rock in some places. Hence, the name of the rock. It is possible to walk from the rock to the Gunflint Narrows Road but I suggest you only do that with someone who knows the trail. Your best bet is to come out the same way you came in.

Once you go over the creek, you enter a bedrock ledge. This area was burned back in 1976. Then after the Blowdown of 1999, it was burned again as part of the cleanup. Now it has been burned one more time. We did not walk in far enough to know how close the burn gets to Magnetic Rock.

Almost immediately upon leaving the parking lot, you come into burned over areas. It is spotty with some patches of green remaining. I am amazed at where green patches are found. Before you get to the pond, there is a little strip of trail that is lined with flowering bunchberries about a foot wide on each side. Once you get past fringe, the area on both sides of the trail is black. How did that little strip escape the fire?

The green coming up is already unbelieveable. There are ferns in the burned area that are 18-24 inches tall. Labrador Tea, Bunchberries, Clintonia (Blue-bead Lily), and Star Flowers are well represented. I saw two tiny reddish leaves coming up in lots of places. They may be Wintergreen. There was also one green plant that I believe was Wild Ginger but don’t quote me on it. This plant was everywhere.

Perhaps the most striking flower I saw was a Wood Lily. We found it in a little 10 x 10 foot area that had been surrounded by fire but not burned black itself. The flower was on a rocky area with little soil. All of a sudden this orange flower hits your eye. I saw one other in bloom and two more with unopened buds on them. Probably there were lots more but I didn’t go wandering around much off the trail.

Another surprising find were blueberry bushes with green berries on them already. This is really early to see the green berries. With all the rain we have had, a couple weeks of sunshine will give us a wonderful blueberry crop. Last year the blueberries were terrible so I am ready for a bumper year of berries.

So try to plan a hike up the Magnetic Rock Trail for a closer view of the fire and re-growth. For those who just drive up for the hike, my commercial sense forces me to tell you that the Red Paddle Bistro at Gunflint is a great place to stop for lunch. By June 17th, we will not only have regular dining inside, but the new outside patio will be available for meals overlooking the lake.

Meanwhile, on another note I finally got to reading a little about our red fox and their marriage habits. Apparently a male and female will join together for the mating and early raising of their brood. The young fox stay with their parents until early September. At that point the entire family separates. So we will watch to see what happens to our family. The kits have already been moved from right by the lodge to some spot across the road. We have also learned that there is another fox family down on the Mile O’Pines Road.

Finally, we had some readers stop at the lodge who wanted to see the garden and Tucker. The front desk gave them directions and shortly after we had a car drive in and out. The garden doesn’t look like much because we are still weeks behind in our work. But the point is, stop in and say hello. Bruce and I are always happy to spend some time with visitors. In spite of his barking at strangers, even Tucker loves visitors.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

It's Been A While

Times flies when you are having fun like we do at Gunflint so I am a little late on this blog. I could try to justify myself by listing what I have accomplished this past week but it is not that exciting. Let me just say that not much has changed in the Gunflint neighborhood this week.

Now that the fires are out, we have received quite a bit of rain. As usual this is a mixed blessing. The ground is now thoroughly soaked. The pine trees planted over Memorial Day weekend have gotten a great start in their new locations. The lake level has risen and will continue to do so. We may even get the fire ban lifted which would be nice for canoeists.

However, the only thing that is growing well in my garden is the weeds. I have even taken to weeding in the rain just to get the job done. The patio project has slowed to a crawl. The slate that is in looks wonderful but there are still lots of rocks to be put down. Even though I know we need rain, I do get tired of gray days.

The animals seem to be doing well. Mother Fox has moved her young from the crawl space under Justine’s house to a new location. No one has seen them for over a week. Mother and Dad are still appearing at our house for handouts each day. Bruce’s latest gifts are some minnows he froze for the ice fishing he never got to. I have been giving them last year’s partridge over Bruce’s objections.

The cabin remodeling is really coming along. Today Bruce expects to have everything but the slate on the top of the hearth finished on his last fireplace. He can’t wait to get that project off his back. Five new fireplaces went into cabins this year. I am sure that Lee will find some more places for fireplaces this fall.

Reservations are coming in steadily for the summer and fall months. We have some extra pressure because there are lots of crews around working on the repair of telephone lines from the fire. Accommodations at this time of year are tough for them to find.

People up at the Seagull/Saganaga area still do not have phone service and may not have it until mid-July. A shared line has been activated into the fire station on Seagull Lake but that isn’t much.

Special thanks should be given to Verizon for setting up emergency cell phone service on the Trail. Their engineers were up quickly to survey our terrain which is terrible for cell phones. They added some stuff (that’s a technical term I won’t explain to laymen) to the top of the Gunflint Lake tower. Then they put up another tower on Saganaga where Frank and Patsy Shunn’s home used to be – it was burned. I have been at Shunn’s and know that from that location you can see the high cliffs behind Gunflint. Mom and Patsy used to talk to each other by CB radio. This service does not absolutely reach everyone but it is a great improvement.

Now the question arises as to whether this should become a permanent service. There are pros and cons to it. The Gunflint Trail community has always prided itself on being set aside from many of the intrusions of modern life including cell phones. Not everyone visiting this area agrees with that point of view. Cabin owners may wish to be able to use their cell phones from home rather than paying for a land line phone they only use during several weeks in the summer. Some guests just can’t live without their cell phones.

Even those of us who live here would like cell phone service sometimes. Years ago I took Robert and Lee into the swimming pool in Grand Marais for pre-school swimming lessons. These lessons were held at night during the winter months. Often Bruce was gone to sports shows and there was no one at home. I never had any trouble on the road or with the car but it could have been interesting if I did. There is the no man’s land between the Trout Lake road and the Bearskin road. It would have been nice to know that I was only a phone call away from help.

Then we have to talk about the BWCAW. Do we want people talking on cell phones while on a wilderness canoe trip? Does it become a matter of public safety? No matter what kind of cell service we get, there will be blanks in the reception. What happens to the person who really needs help but is in a blank spot? There are no easy answers to these questions.

Cleanup of debris from burned homes is now in full swing. The county had to set up a special area complete with all the necessary permits to receive the debris. The Forest Service has reopened areas for homeowners to deposit vegetation that they clear from around homes. We are all getting another lesson in what defensible space around a home means during a fire.

Finally and most importantly, I have been given permission to make an announcement for Lee and Eva. The end of September they are expecting their first child. As you might expect, we are all thrilled. I am sure that this new grandson will be as perfect as our other six grandchildren are.