Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's Busy On Gunflint

As it usually is, life has been busy at Gunflint Lodge this past week. The absolute first thing I want to tell you is about our telephones. For about two weeks in December we had what could be graciously called intermittent telephone service. The real problem came when anyone tried to call us because it sounded like the phone was ringing and we just weren’t answering it. Let me tell you – we ALWAYS answer the telephone. This last week the same thing has started to happen again. If you try to call us and there is no answer, assume the phone is not working. Try again. CenturyTel thinks they have it fixed but they thought it was fixed in December too. The real problem is a lot of old, old equipment and not enough customers to pay for new equipment.
On Monday night and early Tuesday morning the Beargrease Sled Dog Race came through Gunflint Lake. They entered the lake over by the bridge at Cross River and then went over to the public landing on our side and up the snowmobile trail on their way to Loon Lake. Here is a picture of one of the sleds starting on Gunflint, looking east into that beautiful morning sun.

The race starts and ends in Duluth. I believe it is about 380 miles long.

Sheryl and Bonnie spent a few hours this morning trout fishing on Gunflint. Here is a picture of Sheryl’s trout, the only one they caught.

Now here is how Sheryl described the experience: “This is my first lake trout ice fishing, ever! I'm not secretive: Gunflint Lake, MN side, minnow, jigging. The trick is to be out in the open, not in a house. It must be the shivering that causes the rod to wiggle and the line to waver, so there is added action when jigging!” They used Dave and Bonnie’s snowmobiles to get there so Dave thought he should have one fillet for snowmobile rental. They used Bruce’s ice auger to cut the hole so he thought he should have one fillet for auger rental. I think Sheryl is going to have two fillets for dinner.

Jason Merrill is getting ready for Winter Tracks later in the winter. His job is to prepare a broomball field. Today after checking the ice depth (17 inches) he brought the bobcat out to plow the field for the first time. By removing the snow, the ice will get thicker. Here he is plowing away. Both he and Bruce were concerned that the ice was thick enough to support the bobcat. We all know how men worry about their pieces of machinery.

In case the far hills look a little foggy to you, that is not your eyesight or my photography. It’s snow coming down. It is not a lot of snow but with our great base, all we need is a few inches of new snow ever so often.

I think I told you that ice fishing has opened up on Gunflint Lake. It has made the view from the managers’ lunch table very interesting. We watch ice houses being taken down and moved. Sometimes they end up in places that the fishermen at the table think is not so good. There are a lot of people dragging what appear to be heavy sleds with collapsed ice houses on them. Looks like a lot of work to me.

Last weekend was the Chocolate Lover’s Weekend. We all OD’d on chocolate. The cookies are what really did me in. I, of course, tested them for quality while baking. Then we all had to test them before presenting them to the guests. On Sunday morning even the guests could hardly take any home so we had to finish them up. I don’t think I want to even look at another chocolate cookie.

By late in the afternoon on the 23rd, the deer began to appear around the lodge and our house again. They have been here every day since. Like I said last week, our only explanation is that a pack of wolves was passing through.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Strange Day

It is a strange day today. After breakfast Bruce went out to feed some corn to the deer. Not one deer came looking for food. In fact, right now at almost 10:30 a.m. we have yet to have even one deer in the yard. I went down to the lodge earlier and there are no deer around the lodge either. Our speculation is that there is a wolf pack hanging around and the deer won’t come in. We will see what happens as the day continues.

Today is partially cloudy with the sun peaking out between the clouds. It’s about 5 degrees outside but feels colder because the wind is blowing. I can hear the wind inside my office as I type this blog. Just a couple of minutes ago I poked my head out the door to listen to the sled dogs yipping as they went down to Campers’ Island. The clouds are supposed to clear up tonight and the temperature drop. I don’t really care as we got 3-4 inches of new snow last night. We have been getting a few new inches on a regular basis. It keeps our ski trails in great shape. Bob Baker was going out this morning to groom the trails after our snowfall.

One of the neighbors saw a wolf down by the Tucker Lake Road. She said it was huge and in no rush to move off the road. It is times like that when you are happy to be in a vehicle. You kind of get a chill up and down your spine.

Another neighbor was snowmobiling down Gunflint to go fishing on Tuesday. He came across a dead coyote on the ice. My immediate question was how he knew it was a coyote and not a wolf. The answer was its size. Coyote are lots smaller than wolves. Again we speculate on what happened. It probably was a wolf kill.

Gunflint Lodge is starting to be an engagement capital. This week we had Emily and Matt get engaged. He popped the question during a pre-arranged stop on their dog sled ride. The mushers conveniently got lost in the woods during the moment. Here is the happy couple at dinner that night.

Bruce and I along with Daughter Shawn spent last weekend in Minneapolis. We exhibited at a three-day Women’s Expo and a one-day Bridal Fair. Both events were in the same building which was handy. The Women’s Expo was not always as busy as we might have liked. During one quiet moment Bruce was enticed over to the booth across from us. They advertised an instant facelift in a bottle. Here is Bruce sampling their wares.

He didn’t buy so I guess his face will continue to sag.

Sheryl and Bonnie took a day off yesterday. They went up to Grand Portage and hiked into the High Falls on the Pigeon River. Sheryl said it was just gorgeous. Here is her picture to prove it.

With the cold temperatures we have had this winter, there are plenty of ice creations to see anytime you get near water.

One of the neighbors on Seagull Lake reports that a lynx has been hanging around their home for the past couple of days. She has seen it but can’t get a picture. She is a little concerned about her dog and won’t let him out alone. A lynx could take a dog with no trouble. Meanwhile there are lots of rabbits and fox around to keep the big cat happy.

This weekend is the chocolate lovers’ weekend. I have been baking cookies for their cabins, the front desk, and the car ride home. I also made a pumpkin seed-cacao brittle to be crumbled on one of the salads. The rest of the salad is endive, roasted beets, goat cheese, and a vinaigrette. We have found appetizers, entrees, pastas, and desserts that all have varying degrees of chocolate flavoring from just a hint to very intense. I hope that everyone enjoys it.

I just walked back to the kitchen. Still no deer coming in. It is very strange.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January Doings

Although January is not our busiest winter month for guests, there still seem to be a few around. Our phone is ringing and people just want to get away for several days. We are happy to have them come to visit us.

As you know, Bruce and I like to spend some time talking with guests, usually in the evening. It is not just a one way street of us telling stories about Gunflint. This last week, I was talking with a couple of gals who were up. Next thing I knew they had some recipes to e-mail for some vegetarian entrees. Bruce got to talking to another couple about our planned trip to Greece this fall. The wife was an archeologist who had worked in Greece and knew it well. She was going to send me some names of books to read about the country. We truly have a very interesting group of guests.
Anyone who has been around the lodge may have noticed that the managers try to eat lunch together at the big table in the main room. Here is a picture of us today.

We eat at 11:30 each day. The cooks prepare us something. We are not fuss and don’t object to leftover or trying new recipes. A bigger decision is what side of the table to sit on. If you decide to look out the window, then the face of the person opposite you is in the dark. Sitting with your back to the window doesn’t let you observe the activities on the lake.

You might think that not much is going on out there but that would be a mistake. Just the other day we had quite a bit of activity. The morning started by observing a group of crows about 500 feet out. They were feeding on the remains of a deer the wolves had killed the night before. Even with binoculars, we could see that most of the deer was gone. Some guests saw 4 or 5 wolves hanging out by the point just west (left) of us. The crows were still there at lunch.

In the late morning and throughout lunch, the dog teams were out giving groups of guests short rides on the lake. In addition to giving the guests a taste of a dog sled ride, it was a training trip for new dogs.

The next thing to show up was two snowmobiles with one of them towing a large ice house. It promptly got stuck in slush just in front of the lodge. We watched them push it out, get another tow rope, and attach a tow rope to each snowmobile. With two guys driving the snowmobiles and two guys pushing the ice house, they managed to get out of the slush. Then they stopped and the two pushers got on as passengers on each snowmobile. Would the machines be able to tow the ice house with two riders? They did but it was probably just down to the next slush pocket. Tomorrow ice fishing for trout opens up on Gunflint. Those guys earned a nice catch.

Things are just as entertaining during the summer as guests recreate at the beach or canoeists paddle past. I must admit that today at 20 some degrees below zero with a wind, there was not too much activity on the lake.

The wolves must be pretty close into the lodge. What makes me say that is the number of deer that are bedding down by our house. Just like the cabins, our house is earth-sheltered up to the bottom of the windows. It helps keep us nice and toasty warm all winter. Imagine my surprise the other day when I walked into my office and saw a deer bedded down right in the iris patch. After lunch the deer was still there and another was right next to the window. Here is a picture of that.

If you look between the legs of the closer deer, you can see the other one bedded down. Today when I came back from lunch at the lodge, there were three deer bedded down. One was just above the house and two were right outside the garage door.

If you happened to be on the Trail on Saturday nights during the winter, be sure to stop by if for no other reason than to listen to Mark Darling play his keyboard from 5:30 to 7:30. Here he is.

There is something about live music that just livens up the place. It is fun listening to him but you can still carry on a conversation.

The menu is completed for the Chocolate Lovers Weekend. I now have seven different kinds of chocolate that will be used for various recipes over the weekend. We are testing and tasting them now. An extra surcharge should be added to guest bills for the weight loss program Bruce and I need after tasting all this chocolate. Guests from other resorts are welcome to join us Friday and Saturday in Justine’s on the 23th and 24th for the chocolate feast. (Just be sure to make a reservation at 388-2294) Each night we will have a medley of 3 chocolate appetizers, chocolate in a salad, 2 entrees with chocolate to pick from, pasta with chocolate, and two chocolate desserts to pick from. Needless to say, all the regular menu items will also be available. Right now the most surprising item has been the chocolate and almond covered bacon. It’s really good!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Let It Snow!

This is turning out to be a really great winter for snow. It is like the ones we used to have several years ago. The best estimate we have is 24-30 inches so far. A little of this variance comes from whether you just measure the number of inches that have fallen or whether you measure the depth of the snow on any given day. This picture shows you the snow bank on the main dock. The truck in front of it gives a way to gauge the depth.

Down at our house Bruce is happy to have the high snow banks. He calls them his bumpers. Our driveway is very steep. On really warm days when the snow is particularly slippery, we come to a complete stop at the top of the hill, put the car in neutral, and coast down. Even so the car occasionally gets going too fast. That’s when the bumpers come into play to stop it.

Going uphill on those days is also great fun. It can’t be done without four-wheel drive. If the driver is inexperienced with driving on snow, Bruce gives them a little help. We save all the ashes from our fireplace and use them to make a path for the wheels. It works every time.

All the snow has made slush pockets on the lake. In fact we have not been able to run any dog sled rides until a slush-free trail was established on the lake. Today was our first day to run this trail. Here is a picture of Linda and Neal with two guests. You can see how the dog team is tethered front and back to the trees frozen in the ice.

I left the lodge before they came back, so I’ll find out tonight how it went.

As I looked at the pictures, it surprised me how dark they were. I took them about 1:00 p.m. on a bright day. I suppose that even this early in the day, we are starting to darken down. It's 5:00 p.m. now and almost totally dark.

Once a trail is established, it will stay free of slush all winter. This is because the ice gets thicker on the trail than other places. That makes it stronger and less likely to crack from the weight of the newly fallen snow. Slush is created from the weight of the snow pushing down on the ice until the water beneath is under so much pressure that the water is able to crack the ice and seep out into the dry snow. It rarely seeps out through all the snow which is why you can’t see it. All you see is dry snow. Although this year there is so much snow that several slush pockets have soaked through all the snow. That is the best thing because it will freeze up that night with no insulating snow. As you can tell, I think all the changes that occur in the ice over the winter are quite interesting.

Bruce and I were in Duluth yesterday. It snowed most of the way down but wasn’t too bad coming back. We saw one moose going down and 2 moose coming back. The two were running on the road, one on each side. One was a young cow and the other was a young bull. We were only about 3-4 miles from home and had decided that we were not going to see any moose. Suddenly we saw lots of tracks on the road and slowed down. It was a good decision because this pair thought they owned the road. Remember when you drive the Trail to look for fresh animal tracks and slow down if there are lots of them.

As we turned off the main trail at the lodge corner, Bruce noticed that someone had gone into the ditch. It is a common happening at our junction. In fact, we have all done it too. You have to slow down almost to a complete stop before making the turn. Then you take your foot off the brake and make the turn. If you keep braking through the turn, there is a good chance you will end up in the snow bank.

One of Bruce’s errands was to interview some high school students who are applying to Cornell University for next fall. Bruce is an alumnus of Cornell. He has interviewed 6 students so far and it has been most interesting. His report back to the school will not make or break any student but it just gives a human face to the application process. Listening to the scores of the kids on the ACT’s and SAT’s, all the activities they are in, and all the jobs they have had just makes me feel tired. If these are our college-bound kids, we have nothing to worry about.

Reservations are coming in steadily for the rest of the winter. As part of our monitoring process we keep track of how many days of cabin rentals we have for each month. Right now January has passed last year’s mark at the end of the month for nights of cabin rentals. That is really good news because it means we can expect a nice increase in business for January. I am sure that a lot of this is due to all our snow. So, let it snow!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! We had a great time at the lodge. There were just over 100 people for dinner, about 30 showed up at the bonfire and then about 30 were in the Bistro for midnight champagne.

The house is quiet today. Robert, Miranda and Zach left for home about 5:30 a.m. Ever since they arrived on the 26th, things have been hopping in here. On his first day Zach went sledding down our driveway, took a dog sled ride, fed the deer and reacquainted himself with the staff at the lodge. Here is a picture of Zach and Carter sledding.

The expressions on their faces tell how much fun it was.

The best picture of Zach feeding the deer happened about 5:30 one night. Here he is.

You can tell that the deer have no fear. We have had up to 14 deer in at one time. There is a growing list of food that they eat. This week we added the rinds from cantaloupe. Of course the birds will eat almost anything the deer leave.

Most of our bucks have lost their antlers already. This morning we saw one that still has antlers. It’s a ten-pointer and does he look majestic. No one else was allowed into the yard as long as he was there. Dave at the front desk says this buck has been around for about 8 years. No one has spotted him during hunting season nor does anyone know where he goes. Now that the season is over, he is back to come into our feeding areas.

Another of Zach’s activities was cross country skiing. He went around the Big Pine Trail twice one day and loved it. Not too bad for a Missouri boy. He also learned a lesson that day about keeping your ears covered. When his ears started to hurt, he complained to his mother. Miranda warmed them up with her hands and pulled his cap down until the ears were completely covered. Frost bite is nothing to mess around with.

Our forest has appeared in the lake just off the dock area. As you may remember from last winter, we freeze small pine trees into the lake in an upright position. They act as hitching posts for the dog teams when rides are given on the lake. We used to use 4x4’s but they kept getting buried in the snow or snowmobiles ran them over. Ten foot trees work lots better.

Another project of Zach’s was to help in the dining room one morning. I was doing dishes and noticed that suddenly the front desk was filled with people and another bunch was looking for clean tables to eat breakfast at. I called Bruce down from his office to help at the front desk. Miranda and Zach went out to clear and re-set dining room tables. Then Zach came in back to help me do dishes. Mandy and Mark, who were waiting tables that morning, gave Zach $10 for his help. Did his eyes light up with that! I asked him if was going to tell his class at school about doing dishes.

Last night Zach fixed dinner for us. Well, he and Miranda and Robert did it together. For Christmas Zach had asked for a cast-iron Dutch oven which was what we gave him. He had learned how to cook a boneless pork loin in it so that was a main entre at our dinner last night. He and his father put a metal garbage can on the screened porch just outside our kitchen. The garbage can lid was put on upside down. Charcoal was lite and put on the lid. The Dutch oven went on next with the pork loin and some apple cider. The lid went on and them some burning charcoal on top of the lid. In a very short time we could hear the cider boiling. About half an hour before it was done, some cinnamon-covered apples were added. It made a great dinner along with everything else Miranda fixed. We ate way too much.

In fact, Bruce and I have been eating too much throughout the holiday season. This morning reality entered with our breakfast – cold cereal with bananas and an orange. My excuse for this weight gain was that when children come home, you get requests for their favorite meals and you try to make them all. In this home that includes making eight kinds of Christmas cookies and fudge. As soon as everyone had a good portion, the cookies were put out for the guests at the lodge. So, Bruce and I are back to reasonable meals again but we also have to shed a few pounds.