Saturday, December 27, 2008


There is nothing like the holidays to get one behind on schedules. Here I am a day or so late with the blog. We are at the better late than never stage.

Last week Don and Jacob went out to check the thickness of the ice. Here they are all dress up to go. They are checking it several weeks earlier than last year which is good news. The thickness of the ice ranged from 5 to 10 inches, another good thing. The bad news is that we have snow on the ice which is leading to slush on the ice. If anyone is planning on traveling across the ice, be sure you know what the slush conditions are on that particular lake. Later in the day after Don and Jacob came in, we noticed two deer following the guys’ path on the lake. The deer went to each drilled hole and took a drink of water.

One of my favorite slush stories happened right in front of the lodge. Bruce’s mother, Justine, had two small Polaris Playmate snowmobiles. As boys, Robert and Lee rode out on the ice in front of the lodge. Eventually, they put one of the snowmobiles in a slush pocket.

Of course, Bruce was gone somewhere that day so Mom and I were down helping the boys deal with the slush. We weren’t 100 feet off the shore but what a mess. They were in about a foot of slush. Now slush doesn’t freeze until the insulating dry snow on top of it is disturbed. Obviously a snowmobile disturbs the dry snow. This means that you must get a snowmobile out of the slush before it freezes in for the winter.

The first step is to get the snowmobile above the slush. We piled firewood under it. Lifting the machine was no easy task as the slush in the track added lots of weight to an already heavy machine. Once you get the snowmobile up, the next job is to clear the track of all slush otherwise the track will freeze solid. So first we dug out as much as possible with our hands. That’s a really fun, warm job. Then we started the machine. Two of us held the back end up so the snowmobile was resting only on its front two skis. A third person then runs the machine at full speed so any remaining slush was shot out the back. The lifters have to stay off to one side if they don’t want to get covered with spitting slush. The snowmobile is then lowered onto its dry stack of firewood. If there had been a couple of strong men there, they would have pushed until the snowmobile got to shore but we couldn’t do it. So, then final step was to make a path through the slush disturbing the dry snow until we got to shore. This was left to freeze overnight. As we left the machine, all four of us were tired and soaking wet.

The next morning we started the machine up and drove it to shore. It was put in a heated garage to thaw out all the remaining slush. Luckily we just had to deal with a small machine that was close to home. Putting one of today’s big machines in a slush pocket on a remote lake is a real problem. The boys and I alone would not have been able to get the machine out and home.

Last week we had a first time experience at Gunflint Lodge. After running the place since 1929, the Kerfoot family does not often have a first time experience at the lodge but this was such a time. One night in front of the fireplace Dave got down on one knee and asked Melissa to marry him. He had planned it all in advance and knew it would really thrill her. The next evening I caught up with them and here is a picture of the newly engaged couple.

They were both still glowing from the night before.

Everyone seemed to have a good Christmas at Gunflint. As many staff as possible made it home for Christmas. That meant that many of them were driving or flying back on the 26th to be at work on the 27th. They shared the roads with guests who were also coming up to Gunflint. Right now we have an almost full resort with people out exploring the woods all around us. The dog teams are giving rides. Guests are out snowshoeing everywhere. The ski trails are great. We even had a few flakes of snow coming down about an hour ago. The dining room is busy as the fireplaces merrily blaze away. For those of us who love the resort business there is nothing more fun than a houseful of happy, busy guests.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas is Coming

We really have the Christmas feeling at Gunflint. The last two weekends the lodge and grounds have been transformed with lights, garlands, wreaths, and Santa’s. This is a picture of Mrs. Carroll putting the finishing touches on a garland and lights over the door leading from Justine’s to the main lodge.
During all our decorating the fireplaces have been going and Christmas music is playing. Of course, Don saw to it that we had plenty of cookies to give us enough energy.

The 13th was a special day. Here is Bruce on that day which happened to be his 70th birthday.

The old boy isn’t quite ready for a cane but there might be a few extra gray hairs. He says that his gray hair is a badge of honor and that he has earned every one of them.

On the 14th the heavens opened and the snow came down. It started about noon and just kept going. By the time we had clear skies again, 14 inches had covered the ground. On top of our 6 inches, that gives us a pretty good base for the ski trails. Monday was the digging out day. Between the plow, three snow blowers and lots of manpower, everything was shoveled and cleaned by Monday night.

It is a good thing the cleanup was finished on Monday. Tuesday morning we woke up to temperatures of 24 below zero. That is absolute with none of that wind chill stuff. Although it was cold all week, now the temperature is up into positive territory. The warmer air is to be expected because the forecast calls for more snow tonight. That is the way it is around here in the winter. The temperatures are either below zero or the snow is coming down.

With all the snow both kids and our animal neighbors are enjoying themselves. We had a bunch of small children sledding down the hill past the lodge and onto the dock. The hill is just perfect for small children.

Another great slider is the otter I saw at the dock. He would run a few steps and slide on his belly. We think he may be living under the dock. The otter is a little confused because he keeps going into the dock house. He must be looking for some minnows.

Of course, we also saw some wolves on the lake over by the point just west of us. They like to curl up on the ice and watch what is going on. What that really means is that they are keeping track of any deer movement on the ice. Two were on the ice that day. During the winter the wolves are very visible as they move across the ice.

The deer have been coming in for some corn, banana peels, and grapefruit rinds. One of the does is quite interesting. On the left side of her head just below the eye and to the side of her nose is a hole 1-2 inches in diameter. On the human we might think it was in the area of her sinus. At any rate this hole goes all the way through the bone. When she breathes, steam comes out. There is frost on the hair all around it. The hole is fully healed and she is quite healthy looking otherwise. Our guess is that it might have happened in a fight of some kind.

This last picture is a “guy thing.”

Our friends Ron and Pat Malina from Florida have been visiting. On Saturday the guys were sent out to cut down a Christmas tree for the house. Ron was given two cameras to record the event. They went out and got a great tree. As they were walking down the driveway to the house, Ron’s hand brushed the cameras in his pocket. They had forgotten to take a picture. So the two guys walked over to the trees bordering my garden and took this picture. They were going to pass it off as being taken where the tree was just cut. Of course, they were laughing so much that the true story came out.

If you have been having trouble getting us on the telephone, it is not that we don’t want to talk to you. For the last two weeks we have been experiencing “intermittent” phone service. That means more no service than good service. By now Century Tel has given us so many explanations that no one knows what the truth is. At any rate, we seem to be up and running now but who knows what will happened in an hour. Because our internet is satellite, you can always get us that way – most of the time. When you live at the end of the road, these modern conveniences work only when they want to.

All of us here at Gunflint wish you and your families a very merry Christmas.

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.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Holidays Are Here

I got home from Missouri on Monday and Bruce got back yesterday. Bruce had a meeting in Duluth he had to attend. As expected, we had a great time. The star of the show, Zach, lived up to advance billing.

Our first event was going to the Kansas City Chiefs football game on Sunday. They lost miserably to the Buffalo Bills. We, as this picture shows, had a great time tailgating before the game.

Robert and Miranda and friends do it every home game. By now they have it down to a science. At any rate this was a first of many over-eating adventures we had during the trip.

Monday we drove down to Appleton City to deliver a motor to Dennis Todd, one of our guides. We came home with a smoked chicken, homemade pickles, and homemade pickled okra. I generously gave the okra to Miranda and Zach. They both love it.

Also got home in time to pick up Zach at school. Every day after school he stays for a program run by the YMCA until Miranda or Robert pick him up at 6:00. Miranda had left authorization for us. Once we showed an ID, we were on our way. That meant the grocery store as I was cooking venison for dinner. Grandpa and Zach also found a few treats to bring home. We picked Zach up Tuesday and Wednesday too.

Thanksgiving Day was really an eating event. There were 11 at dinner and everyone ate too much. Miranda fixed most of the excellent meal. The rest of us concentrated on staying out of her way and setting the table. At the end there were enough leftovers to do it all over again. We worked on those leftovers throughout the weekend. It was a sacrifice but tried hard to eat them all.

Friday was the Science City at Union Station. Here is a picture of Zach and his father rerouting water to float balls in different directions.

The two engineers loved it all. They also landed airplanes and flew helicopters. I tried to take a picture of Zach riding a bike across a tight rope 20 feet off the ground but the picture didn’t turn out. After the museum and lunch we went shopping. What else do you do the Friday after Thanksgiving?

Saturday was really Bruce’s day. We drove south and joined Nick and Sandy (Miranda’s parents) at an auction. Bruce loves auctions and doesn’t have much chance to participate in them up here. Needless to say, he filled the car with treasures. After lunch today Jason Merrill, head of maintenance, and Bruce divided the spoils. The workshop now has an abundance of screwdrivers, sand paper and I don’t know what else. The finale to Bruce’s auction was a late lunch at a wonderful barbeque spot – another Missouri favorite of his.

Things are about the same at Gunflint. We had 125 people for Thanksgiving dinner. There is now about 3 inches of snow on the ground. The last few days have been cold and windy. The two otters are still hanging around the dock. I had four deer in the yard this afternoon. They ate all the bread I had put out for the birds. Tomorrow, they will get the rinds from our morning grapefruit.

Like many of you, tonight we start the rounds of various Christmas parties. I am working on cards and ordering gifts. Next will be baking those favorite cookies that have been requested. Robert and family will be here on the 26th. He has already put in his dinner orders.

It is a busy time of year but certainly one of my favorites. Be sure to take time to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the season.