Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gunflint Excitement

It has been a busy few days on Gunflint Lake.

My favorite part of the busyness has been centered on the grandchildren. They kept us all moving. I played lots of games of Old Maid, Fish, Crazy Eights and Dominoes. The boys went snowmobiling with their father and grandfather. Their dad took them ice fishing. They visited the dog yard. The deer were very cooperative and came in regularly. Here is a picture of Max trying to feed the deer out of his hand. His sister Amy is watching.

He was able to get them to smell his hand but not actually eat out of it. I guess that will happen next winter. Generally I would say that they did all the things we hope kids come to Gunflint to do.

Yesterday we all got a treat. J. T. McMillion who worked for us when Robert and Lee were 2 and 4 came to visit. Only J. T. likes to come to visit in a novel way. He flew his Piper Cub airplane on to the ice in front of Gunflint Pines. The three grandkids, ourselves and the entire Baker clan were there to welcome him in. Here is the plane on the apron of the “landing strip.”

I can remember earlier time when J. T. flew a plane to Gunflint Lake in the winter. He took one of our employees up for a ride in another Piper Cub. They decided to land on North Lake. Unfortunately they landed in a slush spot and had to push the plane out quickly before ice stuck to the skiis.

We are all very proud of J. T. He worked hard and got his commercial pilot's license. Now he is a full captain for Southwest Airlines. It took a lot of work and a lot of peanut butter sandwiches for dinner as he accumulated hours. Too bad Southwest doesn’t fly into Duluth or Minneapolis.

There was a bit of excitement at the east end of the lake these past three days. One of the casualties of the Ham Lake Fire was the Preus family homes on the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake. All their homes were burned to the ground. The first of these homes had been here since the 1920’s when J. A. O. Preus (one time governor of Minnesota) bought land and built his first cabin on the lake.

Everyone in the family decided to rebuild. They contacted a Canadian contractor who took on the project. Getting materials in for the six log cabins was a project. One step of this project was accomplished these last few days. Greg Gecas from Heston’s plowed an ice road from their dock to the Preus land across the lake.

Starting on Tuesday, the contractor and Greg hauled several trailer loads of dimension lumber over. I was there to see the load leave this morning. Here is a picture of what it looked like.

As the first truck and trailer started moving across the ice, you could hear the ice cracking and groaning. Even though the ice was plenty thick and safe, it still sounded ominous. We could see fresh cracks in the ice. But the guys knew what they were doing and everything made it across with no problems.

Years ago they used to haul logs from logging operations across the lakes. The driver always rode with his door open in case he had to jump. He also never drove out of his lowest gear. The weight of the log load pushed the ice down beneath the back end of the truck. This meant that the truck was always going up hill. It sounds a little scary to me.

On Gunflint Lake we have great ice conditions this winter. As a result many fishermen are driving down the lake to their favorite spots. Before trying this, be sure to check with someone on the lake to be sure that conditions have not changed and it is still safe. We all look at the ice as something solid but it can change very easily. So don’t take a chance and be sure to ask for local information on any lake you decide to drive on.

Bruce and I are off for a couple weeks again. This is the last fling before summer. I will try to write from our sunny destination in the Florida Keys but don’t be surprised if I am having too much fun to write.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Winter Days and Nights

Bruce and I are back in town after a quick trip to Jamaica to interview students who want to work in the U. S. this summer.

I am having a grandmother’s perfect week. Last weekend we spent with Grandson Zach in Missouri, on the way home we stopped to see Grandson Tanner and Granddaughter Emma, Grandson Grant was home, and today Grandson Sam, Grandson Max, and Granddaughter Amy arrive from California. How could I ask for anything better?

It sure is good to be back on the Trail. The last few days have been cold but it has warmer up considerably today. With a busy weekend upon us, it’s nice to get some warmer weather. Also the full and partial moon has lit up the forest each night.

Bruce and I have enjoyed a fire in the living room fireplace every night. We take turns bringing in the wood during the afternoon. It is all stored on the north porch so this is not a difficult job. Each summer we gather wood from dead trees around the house. There are still some standing trees from the 1999 Blowdown. By this time the wood does not have a lot of BTU’s in it but it burns cheerily in the fireplace. Next spring you will see us out again replenishing our supply of wood.

Sheryl at the lodge shared the enclosed pictures with me.

I always feel a little odd standing on the ice and looking at the lodge. The feeling you get from the lake changes dramatically as the ice goes on and off with the seasons. Right now when we are in the middle of winter and can probably drive a car on the ice, it is hard to image open water. In the summer it is hard to imagine being able to walk across the lake.

To some extent I also get interesting feelings from the high cliffs behind the lodge. It usually happens when I am up on top of them. You can really see a long distance across Magnetic Lake and down towards Saganaga Lake. My most frequent thought is that I can understand how the pioneers in this country wanted to see what was on the other side of the next hill.

The view this pictures shows of the high cliffs is also due to the 1999 Blowdown.

However, this view is changing each year. During the summer of 2000 you could see all the way across the patch of trees that were flattened in the back basin by the Blowdown. That year we planted 5000 conifers of various species. Today those trees plus the natural growth of poplar, birch, and brush is big enough that you can’t see across the new growth any more. This is especially true during the summer when the leaves are out.

I walked back to Lonely Lake not too long ago. Throughout the walk there were clumps of birch trees that had come up around the stump of a dead birch. Straight young poplars were all over. Spruce trees are now 3-4 feet high and balsam are right there with them. White pine and red pine are a little slower to grow but you can see them too. There are enough trees that the wild raspberry bushes are getting squeezed out. Once the trees really take hold, they grow amazingly fast. It is very reassuring to see the forest coming back.

Today was Bruce’s day to smoke a ham. He has done this for years and has developed several secrets to the process. One is to spend the money to buy a good whole ham with a bone in it. Then there is his secret sauce which even I am not allowed to know all the ingredients. The final secret is Missouri hickory wood for the fire. Fishing guide Dennis Todd supplied with a huge load of it last year. Our home smells like smoked ham ever since he brought the finished product in.

The smoking smell must have attracted the deer. We have not started feeding them again but they come in anyway. Today two of the deer were eating right out of Bruce’s hand. Of course, I didn’t know he was doing it so there is no picture. You will just have to take Bruce’s word for it.

Bruce and I were recently talking about the morel mushrooms. We plan on looking for some this summer in early June. People who are more knowledgeable than I say that the best time to hunt them is when the lilacs are blooming. With a little luck from the weather (a mix of rain followed by warm sun) there should be a good crop in the Ham Lake Fire areas. It amazes me when I see these morels dried and selling for $10-20.00 an ounce in the grocery stores. Apparently no one has perfected a way to cultivate this particular type of mushroom. When they are freshly picked and cooked that night, they improve any meal.

Another thing we have been doing during these winter nights is planning our canoe trip Tom and Melissa. The four of us pour over maps and look at portages. Melissa and I are trying to avoid a repeat of last year’s long portage. Wouldn’t you know that Melissa likes a route that has one portage that is 1 ¼ miles long. I’m going to have to train for it. Taking off a few pounds wouldn’t hurt either. We also wonder how the fishing will be. I can almost taste the fresh fish. Certainly they are better than the ones we ate from the freezer the other night (which weren’t that bad).

These are the great, momentous tasks and plans that take up our winter days and nights.