Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last weekend was the tenth edition of Books in the Woods at the lodge. Between two authors (Libby Fischer Hellmann and Ann Bauer) and our coordinators (Joci Tilsen, Jim Bour and Lisa Wagner), we had about 40 people. This picture shows the Joci, Jim, Lisa, Bruce and I on the last night. I think that everyone in the group had a good time. One of the best parts about this event is that all the discussions are small group. That means everyone really gets a chance to ask questions. It is a big difference between what we have and listening to a lecture with 200 other people.
Of course a big part of the weekend was food. That always seems to be the case at Gunflint! Here is a picture of one of the tables at Saturday night’s dinner.

Mark Darling’s keyboard music in the background just added to the extra ambiance in the lodge that night.

On Sunday Bruce and I went out fishing for a bit. We might as well have taken a nap for all the luck we had. Bruce missed one bite but that was all the action we had. Of course, we were out driving around checking other spots. It is such an amazing feeling to just drive the car across the lake. When the ice goes out in May, I will have trouble recapturing the feeling of driving on the ice. Right now, I have trouble thinking about driving a boat across the water. In addition to trucks and cars, the lake had quite a few ATV’s and snowmobiles running around. I don’t think the catching part of fishing was too good.

Last week the Gunflint Trail lost another one of its senior citizens – Irv Benson. Bruce and I think that he may be the last of that generation to live on the Trail. Irv came up here after serving the Air Force during World War II. At that time there were a bunch of single guys in the Saganaga/Seagull Lake area. Some of them included the Powell brothers, the Waters brothers, Irv, Art Madsen, Jock Richardson, and Benny Ambrose. Most of these men found all they needed in life by living in the woods.

In 1950 Irv married Tempest Powell. From her he learned all his woods skills. The two lived on an island home on Sag that they built themselves. It was a combination workshop and home. That way both got what they wanted. They lived there for many years until it was too difficult for Tempest to get around and she moved near her daughter in Silver Bay. Irv remained on Saganaga until this winter when he moved to town where help was available.

I only met Irv a couple of times. Saganaga is just far enough away that I don’t get up there too much. Bruce’s mother, Justine, carried on a great correspondence with him over many years. I have many of the letters he wrote to her. They go back as far as 1979 in my files but there were probably earlier ones.

Here is a paragraph from one of the letters: “Beaver seem to be scarce these days. Same deal as every fall, one tries to be in ten places at once getting traps out, and sleeping/eating habits get sort of erratic, as does the care of clothing and where one puts his various scents. Tempest said I didn’t smell too good when I got home last night, but I feel that this opinion is rather selfish, as she certainly doesn’t have to be as close to me as I do during the next few weeks, and the externally induced aromatics will probably wash or wear off in time anyway.” It is always a great loss when last of these old timers goes.

On the spring-is-coming front, it is snowing outside now. It is now 3 hours after I wrote the original blog. The snow is so thick that you can’t see across the lake. We have about 3-4 inches of new snow. Bruce went to town and said that it is much worse as you get closer to town.

We had some melting this past week so slowly the total depth of snow is going down. The ice on Gunflint Lake has lifted. That means it has broken away from the shoreline and is now actually floating on the water. All the water from melted snow has drained off the ice which is why we it is so nice to drive all over.

Another small sign of spring appeared Sunday night as Bruce and I drove home from the neighbors. We saw a skunk on the shoulder of the road. Skunks hibernate during the winter. It seems a little early to see them but nonetheless a very welcome sign of spring.

This blog is a little earlier in the week because Bruce and I are going to man the Gunflint Lodge booth at the convention center for three days over the weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March Madness

We have had our own variety of March Madness on the Gunflint Trail. It has been our weather! As you have seen the past couple weeks there has been a snow storm and then lots of melting the next week. For variety this week, we tried a little freezing rain on Monday. After we had a nice sheet of ice on everything, our daughter Shawn tried to drive home. Within 6 miles she was in the ditch two times even at 10-15 MPH. They inched their way back to Gunflint. I was due to go into town later in the day. Needless to say, the trip was cancelled.

So Tuesday it rained and rained and froze at night. Our power went out for about 3-4 hours during the night. I was just starting to think about serving breakfast in the lodge when the power came back on. Other staff members were also thinking about no power. Jason, our maintenance head, was planning on coming down to get Bruce’s ice auger to drill holes to get some water. Everyone had their little plans but luckily we never had to use them.

Yesterday (Wednesday) it was in the mid-thirties for most of the day with a drizzle coming down. Last night the drizzle turned to snow. Once again we have snow out the window.

Of course, the overall amount of snow has gone down drastically with all the rain. Inch by melting inch, we are losing our snow. No more skiers are due at the lodge so we’re all happy to see it melt.

The lake ice on Gunflint is still safe. We are all watching an ice house still on the lake. It is a good size wooden one and frozen in. With yesterday’s rain, then snow, and then freezing (it was 20 degrees this morning), that ice house is stuck even more solidly than it was last week. Each day during lunch we watch to see if anyone is trying to get it out. The guys are waiting to see the chain saws come out to cut it free. That’s a really messy, wet way to release the fish house. We will be glad to look out the window at the process.

Bruce got out for a little ice fishing on Saturday. The ice is perfect for just driving out to his new favorite spot. Here he is with two nice trout.

Shawn and her friend were out fishing too but only Bruce caught anything. We had to send the trout home with those who got nothing.

Last weekend was also dog lover’s weekend. We had an abundance of dogs in the cabins. John, our naturalist, spent part of Saturday afternoon introducing the dogs to skijoring. Here he is explaining the equipment to his group.

John’s dog, Rudy, is a real expert at skijoring and he just loves it. In fact, Rudy got a little bored listening to John explain everything. There was a fair amount of barking as Rudy expressed his impatience with John.

On Tuesday (31st) we will be closing the kitchen for almost a month. The last couple days in April we will start up again. Meanwhile, it is deep cleaning time – never one of our favorite projects but very much a necessary one. Every piece of equipment will be taken apart and scrubbed to shine. We always think that cleaning is done as we go along but this week shows us how much is missed. The guys really do a great job at this project. I understand that some painting is also planned for this time.

Bruce talked with son Robert in Missouri the other night. It seems that Grandson Zach went fishing with Nick and Sandy, his other grandparents. Zach hooked and landed on a fly rod a 15-inch rainbow trout all by himself. Pretty good for a 9 year old! Robert said that Zach was pretty proud of himself. We were too.

Ou cabins are now full for the Green Up during the first weekend of May. I understand that overall reservations are up from last year. After the horrible weather we had last May, it’s is really good to hear that people are still interested in tending the forest. Motels in Grand Marais still have space for the weekend.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Hint of Spring

It seems like the mothers of all our employees read the blog. This week I want to say hello to Sandy Schreiber in Tualatin, Oregon. Her daughter, Kacy, works for us in the housekeeping department. This summer she will be a server/bartender at the lodge. So, hello Sandy!

We are kind of getting hints that spring may be coming our way. If you remember, last week I took a picture out the kitchen window of Bruce snow blowing our 10-inch snow storm. Just a few minutes ago, I took another picture from that same window.

What a difference a week makes! Of course there is no sense in getting excited about this. Mother Nature will still have more snow to dump on us.

The side road is now bare of snow and dry. That is my signal to start walking again. This summer I have a special reason to walk. The week before Labor Day we are going to Rocky Mountain National Park to do some hiking with two other couples from around here. Tom and Melissa started their walking program yesterday so I had to get going too. I must say that it felt good to be outside doing something. I am going to have to up the pace a bit if I plan on doing any mountain hiking. Right now the question is how sore will I be tonight? The first day of two miles usually leaves me groaning. I hedged my bets and took some Advil.

Last Saturday was the Mush For The Cure. Gunflint Pines and Mary Black sponsor this fun run to raise money for breast cancer research. In addition to dog sled teams, there was a special race for the skijoring teams. Adam Trefoil, our winter cook and summer guide, entered the skijoring run. Here is a picture of him all dressed up in his finery.

He placed last but we were still very proud of him. Adam’s dog, Mick, is only 11 months old and has just a couple months of training in skijoring. They will do much better next year. We are also very proud of the fact that of the 40 teams, Adam placed 10th in the amount of money raised. The whole event raised $23,000 which is very good for only the second year.

As spring approaches, it is time to think about the Gunflint Green Up. You may remember this event from last year. It is held on the anniversary of the Ham Lake Fire of 2007. Last spring almost 500 people came and planted 50,000 trees on Saturday. The weather was contrary as usual. On Friday night just as everyone was gathering in the tent for dinner, we had a constant downpour of rain. Overnight it changed to snow and we had about five inches in the morning. Everyone, however, had come ready to work in any weather. The ground was thawed under the snow and the trees went in. Then the melting snow was there to water them.

I worked with some local Girl Scout troops. They were young pre-teen and teens. They ate, sang, and planted constantly. They probably did as much as any adult. I like to think that in 20 years some of them will come back with their children. Can you imagine being able to point to a good sized white pine and tell you children that you planted that one?

So if you think you would be interested in participating in the program, just go to http://www.gunflintgreenup.com/ (or it might be .org). All the details for this year’s program are given at this website. It is a wonderful way to teach us all about stewardship of our forests.

The Gunflint Trail Association and its outfitting companies have just come out with a new book that might appeal to some of you. It is called “Becoming A Boundary Waters Family.” Sue Arendt edited several people’s writings for the book. The premise is that there are lots of family activities that anyone can do with their children (or grandchildren) to teach them about the woods. As more and more Americans live the cities and suburbs, this book offers a great opportunity for parents and children to become familiar with the northwoods. The book is about $15 plus shipping and sales tax. I know you will all be surprised to hear that we have it for sale.

I will be watching the progress of spring all week and bring you an update in my next column.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March Is Here

The first week of March was really quite nice. We all got used to melting temperatures during the day. On Tuesday reality hit us. A storm moved in from the west with lots of snow in it. Here is a picture I took in the afternoon of a deer looking for any kernels of corn still left in the yard.
All the deer were covered with snow just like this one.
The next morning the temperatures had dropped to just below freezing. Bruce got out the snow blower and went to work on the path to the house and just in front of the garage door. Here he is.
The wind had blown most of the night so we got a lot of drifting. Jason was plowing so much snow that it was coming over the top of the plow. Jacob had trouble with the snow blower icing up. Don and Steve wished that their shovels would ice up but they just kept throwing snow around.
After Bruce was finished on the path, I went out with an 18” ruler to see how much snow there was. Most of this is new snow.
You can’t really read the depth in this picture but we got 10” of new snow. Needless to say, the ski trails and snow mobile trails are wonderful. The only problem is getting them groomed fast enough for people to get out on them.
One night this week we had our friend, Lisa Wagner, over for dinner. As you may remember, Bruce had just gilled and gutted one of the trout he caught last week. So I made a bread dressing with apples and shrimp in it. I just piled it on the baking pan and then draped the fish on top. After smelling it for an hour, we all dug in. There is something wonderful about baked fish that just flakes with a fork. Bruce was trying to tell me how healthy it was. I had to remind him of the ¼ pound of butter in the dressing. At any rate, we all pigged out and finished every morsel of fish.
Bruce and I are off to the Cities this weekend. Last weekend we exhibited at the Women’s Expo in St. Paul. This weekend we will go to a gift show for items to sell in the gift shops. Then on Sunday Bruce will place orders while Shawn and I man our booth at the Twin Cities Wedding Show. I am getting a little tired of weekends in the Cities. The best part about it is dinners. Last weekend we hit an Italian restaurant, a Chinese joint and a Jewish deli. Needless to say, Grand Marais does not offer much in the way of ethnic cuisine. Who knows where we will be this weekend for dinner.
Reservations are coming in steadily for March. I always wish they came in faster but this year we are just pleased to be getting them. March is going to be quite busy due to the good snow conditions. People are still making reservations at the last minute and we are happy to accommodate them.
Summer reservations are also coming in steadily. Bruce has been spending a lot of his time on marketing. We are lucky to have four really good people answering the telephone at the front desk. Their attitude is that we have worked hard to get these phone calls and we aren’t wasting them. When you call to make your summer plans, I am sure that you will be pleased with the help they give you. So much for the commercial.
I wish you could all see the view out my window today. It got down to 14 below last night with a full moon. Today the sun has been shining brightly and warmed it up to about 20 degrees. The new snow is just sparkling in the sunlight. All the old gray melting snow is covered up. The lake snow is full of small dips and hills from being whipped up by the wind. There is still a little wind. It is a perfect March day.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

It's Busy Up Here!

Before I start, it's time to say hello to Annie and Eugene Greeno. They are Bonnie at the outfitters parents. They were just up visiting the kids over the weekend. Annie is an exception canner of pickles, saurkraut, tomatoes and tomato soup. In fact all of her canned goods are to die for.

Life on Gunflint Lake has been busy this past weekend and into the week. On Saturday the various activities for Winter Tracks were held up and down the Trail. At Gunflint we hosted the Snowboot Ball with dinner and dancing. About 100 people turned up. This was after a very busy afternoon in the bistro with people stopping by almost constantly.
On Sunday Winter Tracks was over but the local snowmobile club hosted a trout derby on the lake. Here is a picture of the scene that afternoon.
A road had been plowed on the lake so people could drive on it. Needless to say, our ice is plenty thick. Fishing was good and they accumulated an entire board of fish for the contest.
On Monday some neighbors were out fishing. They came across a tip-up (used for ice fishing) that was frozen into the lake. Someone must have set it and forgot to bring it in. At any rate the neighbors dug it out and started to reel in the line. There was a 9-lb. trout still hooked on the line. The funny part was that this fish would have been the big winner the day before.
Monday was also a busy day at the lodge. One of the middle school classes came up for some winter activities. They sledded, fished, played broomball and carved snow figures. We had lunch for them at the lodge. Several fathers came up to do a little ice fishing. For the third day in a row the lake filled with fishermen.
Of course, by this time even Bruce is ready to go fishing. He and Bob Baker went out this morning. Bruce had a couple things to do before he could go out so Bob got a head start on fishing. He caught 3 trout and released one of them to stay at the legal limit. Here are the two Bob kept.
Ten minutes later Bruce came out.
I went out after lunch to see how they were doing. The lake is so perfect that I just drove out to their spot. Before Bruce left I asked if he wanted a sandwich packed but he was in too much of a hurry to even think about food. When I got out on the lake, it was a different story. Where were their sandwiches and coffee? So back I went to the lodge to get sandwiches, cookies and coffee. Not only do they want take-out service but they also want delivery service.
The guys caught two more trout (one while I was getting lunch). While Bruce was cleaning ours, he remarked on how easy it was to just drive out on the lake. The conditions have to be perfect but does it make fishing easy. One of our trout produced two big fillets – two dinners for us. Bruce gilled and gutted the other one. I will stuff it and bake it one night for dinner.
While we have been looking at the lake, Sheryl has been looking at the great ski trails. Here is her picture of one of the newly groomed trails.
In the background is the high cliffs. March offers some of the most wonderful skiing of the entire winter. It warms up during the day. Today was in the 30’s. It felt like summer. I know that a day in the 30’s in May will feel like winter.
Now only are the ski trails in great shape but the snowmobile trails are wonderful. We had two guys stop in for lunch yesterday who had snowmobiled from Side Lake up north of Hibbing. They said all the trails were wonderful. Each weekend we are seeing lots of machines stop by for lunch.
If you are looking for one more ski trip or snowmobile run, this is the place to be. The trails are all in top notch condition.