Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice Is Here

Last weekend was our first decorating weekend. We had a great time starting the decorations in the main lodge. I forgot how much “stuff” we have to put up. There is one garland with lights that goes over the west windows and the north windows in the main room. It took four of us to get it up and secured. Of course, all the garlands are artificial now. Our tree, however, was still cut on the property. Because there is so much natural light coming in the windows, the tree always looks its best at night. It was a fun Saturday project. Here is a picture of part of the process.

Tomorrow we will finish the lodge and also do the outside decorations. We have between 40 and 50 people who will be working on it. Then on Sunday we will put a tree up in our house. Bruce has to go cut it down. These times bring back memories of earlier Christmas seasons.

In the 1940’s Justine and Bill were struggling to make a living amid the aftermath of the Depression and the very real presence of World War II gas rationing. To remind guests that we were still here, they used to send boxes of pine boughs and pine cones. Bruce says that each box had to have 5 different kinds of boughs. My guess would be that they were white pine, red pine, cedar, balsam, and jack pine. Bruce was only a little kid then so his specific memories are not too good. He does, however, remember the entire family participating in the gathering and boxing. Can you imagine the wonderful smells that would fill a house when the box was opened?

Another big event that happened this week was the freezing of Gunflint Lake. On Saturday we were all thrilled to be decorating a Christmas tree inside the lodge. Outside a nasty northwest wind was whipping up the lake. We had one white cap after another. Also the lake was steaming because the water was warmer than the air. All that moist air blowing around made it just miserable outside.

Sunday morning we woke up to dead calm and clear skies. About ¾’s of the lake in front of us was frozen over. The north ¼ was steaming to beat the band. By lunch time that last quarter was frozen.

All that was left was a hole between us and Moosehorn. I tried to take a picture of that.

While we were eating lunch that skimmed over. The east end of the lake was still open but it was frozen by the 9th.

I particularly love the months when the lake is covered with ice. It is such a contrast to open water that you have trouble remembering what no ice is like. Another thing I like is that ice is not a constant. It is continually changing. Right now we have had some cold nights that are busy making ice. It was 14 below this morning at my house. But yesterday morning we had 3-4 inches of new snow. That snow insulates the ice and slows down the making of new ice. Our best case scenario is to have about a week of cold, still days and nights. This will produce 4-6 inches of good blue ice as a base. If we get lots of snow before this base is formed, the ice is frozen and we get “slush ice” which is not nearly as strong as blue ice. So right now we probably have a little of both. On Saturday someone told me that we are scheduled for a big snowfall. We will see what happens.

Of course, years ago the formation of blue ice was much more important than now. In those years everyone harvested the ice for their ice house to provide refrigeration in the coming summer months. As soon as you could walk on the ice, the perimeter of the field was marked out. The next step was to keep the ice clear of snow by shoveling or sweeping it. Without any insulation from the snow, the ice formed fast. About 12-20 inches was the thickness goal. Mom said that Gunflint froze latest and so was always the last to have its ice harvested.
On Gunflint the harvesting usually occurred between Christmas and New Year’s. This is often one of the coldest times of the year. Using either a hand-saw or a Rube Goldberg power saw, the ice was cut into chunks and popped out of the water with giant tongs. A dog team pulled sleds of ice blocks to the ice house on shore. There it was carefully packed. The edges were insulated with sawdust or sphagnum moss. I can only imagine what a cold wet job that must have been.

Today I sit inside my toasty home with well-below zero temperatures outside. Clean blue skies and sunshine make it beautiful. We will have another fire in the fireplace tonight. I think it is a good night for homemade chicken soup for dinner.

1 comment:

Dave Wygant said...

Sue, your description of Gunflint Lake freezing over takes me back to my own childhood memories south of St. Paul where I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi river. When it became cold enough long enough, the river froze across its width, but for most of the winter there was a continuous cloud of steam rising from the middle. In those days, most of the "yards" were several acres creating a very large playground for all of us kids.

I also, remember my brothers and me huddling next to the blower on our space heater in the house right after we got out of bed. We never wanted to miss an opportunity to warm up.

A third memory was building snow huts and then sleeping in them. On a cold night they were a warm and cozy place to be. So, it was a safe place to be for a group of adventerous young boys.

Time to start my own Christmas decorations. Thanks for sharing the early and historic notes in your blog. As with me, I'm sure you've gotten a number of people to remember the "good times."

Keep warm...Dave