Thursday, August 30, 2007

We Are Home -- For the Moment

We are back from our canoe trip. I have had a couple of days to get everything washed and put away. My body is readjusting to normal life without carrying 40-pound packs on my back or tripping over roots and rocks everywhere I go. I have even adjusted to sleeping on a bed rather than on the ground.

The story of the canoe trip will have to wait a bit. Bruce and I are off tomorrow to visit grandchildren and their parents in Sacramento. We will be home on Wednesday. I have written the story of the trip but want to wait until Melissa sends me a couple pictures to include. Now that Katie has gotten me started, I am determined to include a few pictures now and then.

Meanwhile, Lee e-mailed me that one of our guests would like the recipe for Blueberry Lemon Jam. So here it is:

3 pints fresh blueberries
1 package Sure-Jell
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Crush fruit in an 8-quart pot. Add the Sure-Jell. Bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Fill your jars and seal them.

Here is a little tip I learned about making jam. I am sure that many of you do the same thing. The first step to making jam is to put your jars and lids in your dishwasher and turn it on. This heats and cleans the jars. Put your finished jam in these hot jars. Run the filled jars through an entire cycle in the dishwasher. It is the easiest way that I know to seal the jars.

Our garden is coming together. It is squash time and they have really started to ripen. We have zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and butternut squash. It is all wonderful. We also have some pumpkins coming and I suppose they are just another kind of squash. Bruce and I had baked spaghetti squash with just a little brown sugar on it for dinner the other night.

The weather is just a perfect fall day today. We got some rain the other night. It was wonderful to hear it. One of the summer home owners had family up who live in a high-rise in New York City. They brought their two-year old boy with them. It was the first time the child had heard rain during the night.

Today it was 51 degrees this morning. The maple tree across from the lodge entrance is starting to turn color. I am having trouble deciding what to pack for California. The weather map says the high today in Sacramento will be 102 and it will be 104 tomorrow. That is going to be a shock to the system.

By Thursday, I should be able to start the canoe trip story.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The things we notice

Hello -

Mom and Dad are still on their canoe trip for a couple more days. Overall the weather they have had has been really nice. There were two days where we had white caps on Gunflint Lake, hopefully Mom and Dad were going with the wind and not against it.

Like many other parts of the state we are in a severe drought. When guests ask me about the water level and if it is "normal" or not, I usually look at the cribbing of the dock before responding. The cribbing is the frame of the dock that has not moved in since it was built. So it gives me a reference point to look at and compare against the water level. Right now the water level is pretty low on the cribbing and we do need more rain. Recently I noticed another interesting permanent marker telling me about the water level in the woods.

The creek between cabins 3 and 1 has been a fixture on the property since the beginning of time (before my earliest memories). This year is the first year that I can ever remember the creek being dried up. There isn't any water going down the creek. If you look closely you can see the soil and rocks are still moist in the center of the dried of creek but you won't see any moving water.

With us in a drought this severe I noticed there is a cedar tree right in front of the lodge that isn't looking very good. It really could use some more rain otherwise we may need to cut it down when it dies in a couple of years. Seeing the cedar tree and intuitively knowing that the tree isn't getting enough water made me think back to a canoe trip I took with my dad.

Back in the summer of 1994 my dad and I went on a canoe trip. The purpose of our trip was a training trip for me as I was going to be guiding guests on canoe trips in the upcoming season. Well after going 8 or 9 portages we realized we had forgotten the map. At that point my dad took it as a challenge to get us through the trip relying on his memory, as he had no intention of turning around to get the map. We made it through the whole trip with only 1 diversion from our original route. During this trip we talked about many things like how to spot portages (portages tend to be at low points on ridges, which would lead to a high likelihood of a stream or creek near by, which would lead us to look for trees that require lots of water, cedar trees require lots of water). Of course there are other visual markers to look for, the most obvious being a brown path leading away from the water, but trees are easier to identify from long distances and sometimes the portages are hidden from your view.

So yesterday I am look at the cedar tree on the edge of our beach and see it isn't doing very well. As I am looking at the tree the trip with my father comes back to me and I remember how much water cedar trees require. The current tree is just far enough from the lake that the roots might not go deep enough to get all of the water it needs and I realized that if we don't start watering the cedar tree we might need to cut it down in a couple of years. It is a sad thought that between the drought and the changing forest we might some day not have cedar trees up here. Slowly they are disapearing.

On that canoe trip with my dad he told me the tribe of Ojibwa Indians across the lake used the cedar tree for many different things. Dad told me that cedar branches, when broken off, are not sticky from the sap or pitch. When the Ojibwa would go check a trap line and would camp in the woods they would break off cedar branches to be used as padding beneath their blankets. The padding was great because it wouldn't stick to their blankets, and the needles on a cedar tree are flat so the needles wouldn't poke through the blanket and into them. My dad also told me that the Native Americans would also use the cedar bough as a type of broom because it smelled good and didn't leave sap behind.

Seeing the cedar tree die is a sign of change because like the Native Americans living across the lake that slowly left the area until they were all gone, the cedar are doing the same slow disapearing act. Now we miss our Indian friends and we try to remember the Ojibwa lessons taught to us. Hopefully my parents saw lots of healthy cedar trees on their canoe trip.

Lee

Friday, August 17, 2007

Another Canoe Trip

Bruce and I are taking off for 9 days tomorrow. It is time for another canoe trip with our friends, Tom and Melissa. The spare bedroom has been a packing room for the last week. I really don’t feel prepared but we are leaving tomorrow morning anyway. At 8:00 a.m. we will have a tow up Saganaga to American Point. From there we will be going into the Quetico and up to Mack Lake. Mack has excellent walleye fishing. After that we will gradually head over to Jasper Lake for some more good fishing. I am sure that I will have some good stories to tell you about the trip. We return home on the 26th.

Meanwhile I see that Katie has raised the bar on blogs by including pictures in hers. Even though I am mainly a person of words, I have no shame in stealing someone else’s pictures. This picture was taken by Jennifer Quarberg of Winona, Minnesota, while she and her family vacationed here. It is of the female fox that you have read so much about since last winter. Sometimes it is nice to replace the mental picture of “a fox” with a real picture of “The Fox.”

After I write this in Microsoft Word, I will move over to the blog program and try to insert the picture. It could be interesting. In fact, when you read this blog, try to think back to when I am writing (8:42 a.m. on Friday, August 17th). Was there any unusual static in the air? That was probably me as I tried to insert the picture.

My garden is starting to wind down. Chives and rhubarb has really slowed to nothing. Parsley and basil are still good. Lettuce is still good for the dining room. Fennel is slowing down.

Lots of other plants are still heading toward their harvest. I have about a dozen cantaloupe on the vine. Mine are just big enough for ½ per person but they are really sweet and juicy. The squash (zucchini, summer, acorn, butternut, and spaghetti) are almost ready to harvest. Actually the zucchini has been good the last three weeks but the others are slower. Tomatoes are still very green except for some plants that my friend, Sue Schei, gave me. We have had several wonderful tomatoes from her plants. She has a great green house. Green peppers and jalapenos as just barely enough to harvest, but will be plentiful soon. Cucumbers are giving us a few to eat. Bruce cheated and looked at the potatoes. They are about 3 inches in diameter. Carrots have lots of tops but need more bottoms.

The berry season is over. Blueberries have shriveled up from lack of rain. Raspberries are down to those last ones that are good for a snack as you walk by. But my cupboard is filled with jam and there are blueberries in the freezer. Can’t ask for much more than that.

My next project is to start drying parsley. I can get enough dried flakes for Eva and me to make it through the winter. I am also making some pesto for winter. That freezes really well and tastes great on any kind of pasta. Bruce and I also like it on pizza instead of a traditional tomato sauce. Then we add some dried tomatoes from the garden for a little tomato taste.

Well, I have to go back to packing for the canoe trip. Enjoy these wonderful days of summer.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Hint of Fall

What a beautiful Sunday afternoon we are having. In the morning and early afternoon there had been a chilly wind off Gunflint Lake. The brush on the shoulders of the road is beginning to change color. It is dry enough that even a few poplars have yellowing leaves. These are just reminders that fall is coming our way. Even in August there are signs of what is coming.

We still have lots of guests. The dining room and bistro have been especially busy. I think the guests on the patio particularly pleased. Every time I look there are people at the patio tables. Maybe one day I will go out there and sit, but it doesn’t seem to ever fit into my time schedule.

We have a family reunion of 18 staying with us right now. They all have been participating in the naturalist activities. The most fun one was “Make Your Own Boat and Float It Down the River.” The river in this case was the creek running between Cabins #3 and #1 which unfortunately is dry right now. So, everyone took there boats and floated them on the lake.

Another family of guests helped entertain the ducks. Their son practiced his trumpet each day on the dock. For some reason all the ducks enjoyed his playing and would gather round to listen. When he stopped, they would all quack for more.

Tucker has been enjoying the water. Bruce and I were up at Chik-Wauk last week with Tucker. I threw sticks into the bay for him to bring back. When I threw one stick, he caught sight of a low flying seagull. As the seagull passed us, Tucker took off chasing this flying bird and barking all the way. He then spotted a lone duck and swam out to make friends. The duck let him get within five feet and then flapped along the top of the water out of Tucker’s reach.

Many guests are already making plans for next summer. I heard Lee talking about the schedule of several cabins. The repeat guests are stacked in, one party right after another. It is so wonderful to see these families year after year. Many of them are almost part of the family after all these years. Some of them even take trips with Bruce and me.

The Sunday paper is calling me so it’s time to close this blog. Pretty soon I’ll even get to watch football on Sunday afternoons.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My Last Post

I know that I have written over and over again about berries and all, but I have to do it once again. And anyways, it’s my last post; I’m leaving this coming Tuesday. I am going to miss Gunflint immensely.
But back to the berries. We went on a berry picking hike this morning, and these hikes always attract a lot of families with little kids, which is so much fun. It is a laid back and tasty hike. I don’t even eat breakfast on the morning of berry picking hikes. It’s also a lot of fun to watch the little ones go nuts over the berries that they can just pull off bushes and stick in their mouths. They can never get enough, and I can certainly sympathize with that feeling. I snapped some pictures of cute, berry-laden kids with their families. Here they are.
There is a chipmunk that is hanging around who comes into the nature center all the time. He’s one of many that lives around the birdfeeders that we have, but this one is different. We named him Crunchy. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of him. He’s and eastern chipmunk, and he hangs out inside all the time. It’s gotten to the point where I can tell him apart from the other chipmunks. He likes to come in and run straight for the sunflower seed bin, where he fills his cheeks and runs back outside. I’ve been wondering lately, though, if he doesn’t have either a nest or a food store here inside. He gets locked in all the time. Occasionally you’ll catch one of the three of us naturalists talking to him like he can understand us or imitating territorial chipmunk calls to try to get him to go outside. It works maybe fifty percent of the time. It’s well known that we have mice, chipmunks, and probably voles living in the garage part of the nature center because of the fact that we store all the feed for the birds and deer in here. None of us has the heart to set up traps or allow the “black boxes of doom” to be set up outside our door. Anyways I think that it’s inevitable to have them up here with all that feed around, and the feed has to go somewhere. Just a few weeks ago we lifted the cover off the sandbox to make sand candles and found a huge store of shelled sunflower seeds and some nesting material in a little dug out hole. It was adorable. I felt bad having to get rid of it all, because the little guy had at least twice his weight in food stored under there. I’m not sure if it was crunchy or not, but it probably was. Now we have sunflower seedlings popping up every time we take the cover off. John found another nest when he moved the seed over to make room for our new piano. The amount of food in that nest had to be cleaned up with a shovel. They are busy little rodents, pointing out that autumn is coming.
For those of you who are interested, there is a meteor shower happening in the next few days. The persieds with be peaking this Monday night at three a.m. and there will be no or very little moon, so it should be a good show.
Thanks to everyone at Gunflint and all the guests who came up for such an amazing summer. I hope to see you all next year.
PHOTOS (from top to bottom): Caleb with some berries, picking a flower; Caleb with his parents and his little brother on his back, all picking berries; Sabrina with her collection of berries,
Sarah with her mom; and Sarah drinking berries from the cup. Sarah's mom tried to save some of the berries for later, but Sarah discovered all of them and they were soon all gone.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Fish Stories

Our hot spell is broken which is rather nice. The temperatures are still in the 80’s during the day. At night, the story has changed. We are now getting down into the 60’s at night. It makes for great sleeping. Today even looks like we could get a few drops of rain. That would really be a blessing.

The peak has passed for raspberry and blueberry picking. There are still berries to be picked but they are winding down. That’s okay. We have lots of jam plus blueberries in the freezer for the winter. I had fresh raspberries on my cereal this morning.

August is not generally known for its great fishing but one family of guests has had a super week. The parents, George and Mary, started out the week limiting in walleyes on their first day with Guide Dennis Todd. They also caught about 100 bass which were all thrown back. Bass are such fighters that they are just fun to catch.

The next day Dennis had them jigging for walleyes on Gunflint. That type of fishing generates lots of snags along with the fish. At some point Chris got a snag. He just couldn’t seem to drag it in or get it to release. Finally Dennis said, “Give me the line and I will break it off.” While Dennis starts this, he notices that the boat is not moving but the line is moving. That’s a sure sign that you don’t have a snag but do have a huge fish. Quickly they start reeling in the line to take in any slack. A little later Chris reels in a 40-inch northern. The fish had been lip hooked with a jig and no leader. That is a really unusual catch because northerns can bite right through line with no steel leader on it.

So now we are up to yesterday. Dennis is out fishing with them again. This time it is Laura’s turn. She hooks into a large fish. The fish starts to wrap itself around the anchor rope. They have a real mess getting the fish and the anchor in at the same time. I can just see it in my mind’s eye. Laura’s catch ends up being a 29 ½ inch walleye. The funny part is that about 15 years ago Dennis was guiding this same family. That day Dennis got the 29 ½ inch walleye. The family now has pictures of both catches.

If you are planning at canoe trip in the BWCA, there is a total fire ban on right now. Everything is dry, dry, dry. Bruce and I were picking berries on the Magnetic Rock Trail. We passed lots of greens that were just wilted to the ground due to no water. The blueberries were also starting to shrivel up.

Lunches and dinners at the lodge have been just wild. One of the big attractions is the new patio. I was down last night helping out. The people sitting out on the patio were having a wonderful meal. There is something about eating next to the water that makes everything taste better. On one hand we would love to get rain but not during meal hours. We need every extra seat on the patio for guests. It is terrible to be so picky about when we get rain.

My job during the dinner hours is nothing special. That means I pour water, clean tables, and talk to people. Luckily I have never learned to operate the new computer system so I can’t take orders. The advantage to having me is that I can SEE what needs to be done. Also I have a limitless fund of stories to tell people who are waiting to be seated or to get their meal.

Bruce and Tucker are about to leave to check the minnow traps. They have been slow lately. Our saving grace has been that the guides are doing lots of jigging which does not take live bait. Even the lake trout we caught last week were caught on jigs.

I am about to do my weekly harvest in the garden. Today I will get snow pea pods, zucchini, parsley, basil, fennel, lettuce, and jalapeƱo peppers. The tomatoes are not ready yet nor are the green beans. The planting of both of these items was delayed due to the fire. Lettuce has been wonderful. I bring down a 2-gallon bag to the lodge each day for dinner salads and entree salads in the dining room. My lettuce patch is 40 feet by 4 feet long. It produces a lot!

Have a good day!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

All Dried Up

The fire ban is back on. For campers, it’s a huge bummer. I took a trip just a couple days ago into North Lake for a night, and definitely missed the camp fire action we usually have. But that’s the way things go. The last thing any of us needs is another forest fire. We had a few really hot days that contributed to the dryness, and it hasn’t rained in a while. It’s true that everything is very dry. Just this morning, we were doing Make a Boat and Race it Down the River, and we spent about forty-five minutes making boats only to find that the creek was completely dry. All that was left was a mud puddle in the slow spot where we usually race the boats. Hard to believe, considering that in the beginning of the summer it was overflowing. Instead we just floated the boats in the lake, but I realized that the lake is down, too. You can see it when you go through the narrows, or even when you jump off the end of the dock. When I first arrived, Tanner (Lee’s nephew) said that it was nine feet off the end. Now it can’t be much more seven. That’s a lot, considering that Gunflint Lake is eight miles long and about a mile wide.

There’s been a lot of guests that I’ve talked to about a website that forecasts the northern lights. Well, I finally found the site, and it’s actually one that can be understood by people other than astronomers. It’s www.gedds.alaska.edu/auroraforecast/. You go to the site, and then click the button near the top left that shows the North Polar view. They use a scale of one to eight to show how likely it is that you’ll see northern lights. It’s pretty cool. The next few days are supposed to be pretty quiet.

A reader (okay, it was actually my brother) pointed out to me that I really should have put up a picture of the fireweed that I talked about in my last post. So here it is, fireweed, which is growing closer and closer to the end of its bloom and the end of the summer.

On one of our last fishin’ fun excursions, with Hannah and Maddie, we caught fourteen fish. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera. We were all still pretty excited at our catch. A lot of them would have been keepers, too! We could actually watch the fish come up to the leach and eat it, as we said, “Okay, here comes one! Get ready… wait… wait… okay, REEL!!!” On another trip just recently Emma caught four bass on her first-ever fishing adventure. Andrew and Ben also caught five and two fish, respectively, for their first time. Fishin’ Fun has been especially exciting lately. I just had to brag about those kids catching fish.

Another local event happening up here is the Fisherman’s Picnic. It’s a local festival that has been going on for a long time. Last night there was a street dance and fireworks. All over the street vendors were selling glow sticks and other flashing things, like glasses, rings, light sabers, and bracelets, and just about every kid was running around with them. It was beautiful; the beach was nearly completely lined with people, with spots of colorful light glowing here and there, reflecting off the water with the fireworks, waving around with people dancing in the street, or doing cartwheels, or having swordfights. It felt like something out of a picture book. The band that played was spectacular, too. I hear that it’s one of the busiest nights of the year in Grand Marais.

Just a bit of random trivia: “Grand Marais” is French for “big swamp”

The Bug Report: Almost no black flies lately. Still some mosquitoes, but not terrible. Starting to see some horseflies and deerflies, but not a tremendous amount.

Summer is Moving On

August has run in upon us before we are ready. I am sure that the Fourth of July was just a couple of days ago. When I look at my calendar for August, it will probably be flying by just as fast as July did.

A couple days ago I got an e-mail from an old employee. He had just completed a canoe trip down the Granite River. On Clove Lake, he spotted a pair of Trumpeter Swans with a cygnet or young one. Kent says the cygnet cannot fly for a while after it is born. So his thought was that the pair of swans will be staying on Clove for a bit. If you are planning a canoe trip through that area, be sure to look for them. Also remember to stay plenty far away so they do not feel harassed.

Animals are popping out all over. There is a wet area on the way up to Seagull that has regularly had a momma moose and two calves. Bruce and I have been up to Chik-Wauk several times this past week. Twice while coming back we have spotted a wolf. One was between the Blankenburg gravel pit and Seagull and the other was between Cross River and the North Gunflint Lake Road. Each animal was not startled by the car and did not run off. I think they were in no rush because they were just as hot as we were. At any rate, both were magnificent animals.

Eva’s mother, Nancy, is visiting. We went blueberry picking with her one morning. Nancy and I make a good contrast to Bruce. We pick cleanly and his bucket is a mess. Of course, he also gets twice as many berries as we do. We got a enough to freeze a bag for winter and to make 14 jars of blueberry lemon jam. Not a bad morning’s work.

My basil in the garden has been particularly good. This week I supplied the lodge and still had lots left. So I spent a little time making pesto. My friend, Bev, gave me this recipe. The worst part about it is cleaning the basil. Otherwise you just dump everything into the food processor. I package it in one cup portions and freeze it for winter. Now there are five dinners worth in the freezer.

Yesterday we decided to go lake trout fishing with Nancy. For several weeks the guides have had excellent luck on North Lake. Lately the water level going down the rapids between Little North and Little Gunflint has been too low for the guides to drag their boats up. We took one of the smallest boats the lodge has. Bruce was able to drag the boat up into Little North.

The lake was beautiful. We saw lots of seagulls and loons. But, more importantly, the beeper on the fish finder kept going off as it spotted fish beneath us. After trying a couple of spots with no luck, we found the honey hole. Within an hour we had our limit of nice size fish and had thrown a few back in. That was enough for us.

We sat and drifted, ate our sandwiches and generally enjoyed being on the lake. There was one other boat and we saw one group of 4 canoes going toward the South Lake portage. There was enough breeze so that we didn’t get too hot. Of course, I got a little too much sun but it was no big deal. As you might guess, fresh lake trout, garden green beans, and fresh salad from the garden make a great dinner.

Last week we had a team from the International Boundary Commission stop by to rent a boat for a bit. They were surveying all the boundary markers in the area. Going through the narrows from Gunflint to Magnetic, you may have noticed one of these markers. They are embedded in rocks, square-shaped and topped with a pyramid shape. On the sides they have an identification number and say “U. S. Canada International Boundary” or something close to that. These are not the actually boundary but they are points from which star sightings were taken to establish the boundary in the middle of the lake. As we went down the lake, I noticed this team had painted all the markers white. I saw more markers than every before.

There is an interesting story about the establishing of the international boundary in the area. In addition to marking the border, the team cataloged the elevation of each lake in relationship to sea level. These elevations are still found on some of the canoe maps of the area. By looking at them, you can tell if your portage is going to be generally uphill, downhill or level.

At any rate they had trouble on Gunflint Lake. It seems that they kept getting different water elevations on the lake. Eventually, they figured out that the northwest wind pushes enough water to the eastern end of the lake, that the eastern end is higher than the western end. We saw this same thing happen during the 1999 Blowdown when the eastern end was several feet deeper than the western end. For the surveyors, the solution was to measure the lake in the winter when the ice made the lake the same elevation all over.

It is Fisherman’s Picnic weekend in Grand Marais. Bruce and I are off to town. We walk in front of the Red Cross vehicle and throw candy to people watching the parade. It is dumb but kinda of fun. Those little kids get such a smile on their faces when you throw them candy. In fact every one enjoys getting a little candy.