Saturday, January 30, 2010

An Unusual Phone Call

Last week we received about nine inches of snow. It was truly welcome as our trails were starting to get a little bare. This was a wet heavy snow that is packing into some beautiful ski trails. Unlike most snows, however, we have not been able to just go out and pack the trails. The snow was so heavy that trees and shrubs were over laden and came down on all the trails. Since then we have had crews out with nippers and chainsaws clearing. At times it has been 4 guys for a day. Once a trail is cleared, it is groomed and tracked into a beautiful ski route. But we are not finished yet. The last two trails are Ham Lake and Lonely Lake. The guys hope to get them finished during the early part of the week. The ones that are now open are worth all the work that went into clearing.

You can imagine how many times we answer the telephone here at the lodge. So last Sunday night I picked up the phone and gave my line, “Gunflint Lodge, this is Sue.” Someone on the other end gave his name and then said, “Do you know Ben Gallagher?” Well of course I do. He is the man who bought an island in Magnetic Bay in the early 1920’s (before the road to Gunflint) and turned it into a lovely summer home. Bruce and I have lots of stories about Ben and his wife during the almost 50 years they summered here.

Imagine my surprise as I listened to this man tell me that he was working on a book about Ernest Hemingway (The Ernest Hemingway) and guns that he had owned. Investigating letters in the Hemingway collection at the JFK Library at Harvard, he came across some letters from Ben Gallagher to Hemingway. Apparently the two of them had known each other in Paris during the late 1930’s. Ben was working for a U. S. Bank in Paris and would hunt with his friend “Hem.”

One letter written in July of 1938 reads like Hemingway was planning to visit the island. Unfortunately a lightening fire destroyed the main cabin. Ben, his wife, Mama (with the accent on the last syllable), and the servants were leaving to go see what had happened and to start rebuilding. They hoped to have things in shape for Hemingway’s visit in September.

What brought the researchers to us was the ending of the letter. There Ben gives the address of where to write to him – Gunflint Lodge, Grand Marais, Minn. Roger Sanger, the caller, found us on the internet and decided to make a call. Probably only Bruce or I would have been able to help him.

We have all heard about everyone being three degrees of separation for anyone else. Well, I am TWO degrees of separation from Ernest Hemingway. So there!

Monday, January 18, 2010

January Flies By

Another week has flown by us. I am getting used to writing 2010 on letters and checks.
The lodge is quite busy with guests. Last night we got a new snowfall which was welcomed by everyone. We have sunshine today and the lake is just glistening with the new snow. As I sit writing, I can hear an occasional snowmobile going by on the lake. Ski trails are in good condition. With the warmer temperatures, people are out and about each day.
This weekend the lake trout fishing season opens on the U. S. side of Gunflint. It all sounds pretty good to me. Bruce and I are ready for some fresh fish for dinner. Living here we are really snobs about fresh fish. If we can’t eat it immediately, the fish is wrapped in saran wrap and frozen in one of those sealer bags that takes out all the air. As nicely as this treats the fish, there is still nothing to compare to eating fish that was swimming in the water just hours ago.
Adam Treeful works for us as a fishing guide in the summer and a cook in the winter. Especially during the winter, he just has to get outside. This fall he built a dog sled. The idea was that his dog, Mick, could be trained to pull the lead. Now he has corralled the house pets of other employees to help pull the sled. So Monster (Jason’s dog), Rudy (John’s dog) and Moose (Mandy’s dog) are now sled dogs. The picture is of Adam with the new team. The next step in this process is to add four dogs owned by Mark Darling on Saganaga Lake. With a team of eight dogs, Adam plans to enter into the Race for The Cure later this winter.
The deer are coming in steadily for corn at the lodge. Today there were even two of them lying on top of the berm next to Cabin #7. All these deer have brought in the wolves. There was a kill about 300 feet on the lake just in front of the lodge. All day long there was a parade of wolves and a flight of crows about the remains. In just one day the deer was totally gone.
Of course, wolves have also been seen as we go about our daily chores. I was driving down to the lodge the other day and one came out of the drive to the stable. It ran along the road to just before Cabin #27 and disappeared into the woods leading to the lake. It was a beautiful animal and I wish I could have taken a picture of it.
There is also a scrawny wolf that is hanging around for the second year. One day last year it was chasing Shadow, one of the dogs at Gunflint Pines. Shadow just made it into the porch a step ahead of the wolf. The wolf is back and everyone is watching their dogs to keep them out of this wolf’s way.
Hope I will be able to tell you about a fresh fish dinner next week.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

After the Holidays

With the holidays and one thing and another, I have neglected my blog writing responsibilities. It is time to get back on schedule.

We are in full swing with winter right now. The last week or so there has been a full moon that is just wonderful. You could walk in the woods at night without a flashlight. Living in a rural area we get to appreciate the full moon more than in a city because there are not so many man-made lights all over. Of course with the full moon comes cold weather. Over the weekend it was very still at night with no cloud cover. Our lowest morning was 31 below. That is absolute temperature not wind chill.

With all the cold nights, Don, Jason and Lance went out checking the ice Monday. Don had on his fire department cold water immersion suit. Lance and Jason had the end of a 150’ rope tied to Don’s waist. About 100 feet out they drilled their first hole. The gurgling water startled them all but the ice was 14 feet thick. After about 150 feet they had 9” of ice. In the middle it was 3-5” which is technically safe. I should emphasis that they only checked directly in front of the lodge. We are not sure about the thickness of the ice on any other part of Gunflint Lake. With the cold temperatures we have been having at night, the ice should be safe soon. Our philosophy is to decide the ice is safe to check and then wait a week. After we have tested the ice and determined that it is thick enough, then we wait another week. I can’t blame the guys because they are the ones who have to do the rescues.

With ice on the lake, the deer are coming in fairly steadily. Deer are much more willing to come in when they have a frozen lake as an escape route. Down at our house several come in each morning. We have one four-pointer who has discovered a great eating spot by my kitchen window. I am about to try feeding him corn from my hand. Don’t worry about scurvy because my deer eat all the grapefruit skins – one less thing in the garbage. They also have good potassium levels from banana peels.

The new cabins are coming along fine. They both have roofs and shingles on them. There is insulation in #26 and some on the outside. The heat systems (in floor heat) are being installed. All in all, things are coming along really well on that front. By early June they will both be ready to rent.

Speaking of summer, our August reservations are particularly strong for this time of year. We have between two and three times as many reservations as we did at this time last year. It may be that the economy is picking up a bit but I prefer to think that people are remembering how wonderful a summer week in the woods is. Virtually every other summer month has more reservations than last year at this time. It is going to be a good busy summer.

Just before Christmas Rich Johnson from Upper Lakes Foods, our primary food supplier, came up to give Don and I lessons in pizza making for a wood-fired oven. For some time Rich worked the wood-fired oven at Palamino, a restaurant in the Twin Cities. Of course, it was quite cold out so we started warming the oven the night before and kept a fire in it overnight. Rich really gave us a good review of how to manage the fire, how to not get ashes on the food, how to make the pizza, how to cook it, and how to not make a mess. Once it starts to warm up (read March or April) we will have more practice sessions. By the time we are finished the staff will be sick of pizza.

In a couple of weeks the Chocolate Lovers Weekend will be here again. It occurs January 22-24. The kitchen staff has not let me in on the menus yet but I am starting to diet in advance now. After that weekend, we all can’t face too much chocolate for a bit.