Saturday, December 27, 2014


Right now I have the three most exciting words to tell you – WE HAVE SNOW!!  Cook County is one of the few places in the state with snow.  Our ski trails are groomed and tracked.  People are out all over.  It is a wonderful time in the woods.

The ice on the lake is not really reliable yet so we have been advising everyone to stay off the lake.  The temperature has gone down today.  It was 20 degrees this morning and 11 degrees when I came home about 1:30 after lunch.  The cloud cover is gone and the sun is out.  If it gets cold tonight, the lake will probably freeze up a bit more.  We will test it before anyone really goes out.

We also have wolves.  There has been a pack of 7 wolves coming down from the north side of the lake.  Yesterday we saw them on the ice around the point at the west side of Gunflint.  Sheryl got some nice pictures of them and here is one.  Later in the afternoon we saw three of them out on the ice just sitting and looking around.  Being on the lake gives them a good chance to look for any deer out on the ice.
Speaking of deer we have not seen a lot of them.  Our biggest group has been 7 animals.  We must be in a rebuilding year.  Last winter was really cold and filled up with lots of snow.  In March there was a storm that dropped 20 inches on us.  No matter how much corn we put out, it makes it hard for the deer to get enough feed.  Eventually the tide will turn and we will have fewer wolves and more deer.

I am sitting here typing and waiting for Lee and Eve and the kids to arrive.  They will be spending a few days with us.  The kids are already signed up for dog sled rides.  I am all prepared to play games and read books.  Then we will take a few minutes to bake a birthday cake for Mae.  I will get her to help with the baking and decorating.  Her birthday present is wrapped and hidden.

Life at the lodge is busy.  This week in between Christmas and New Year’s is one of our busiest times.  Because the days are short everything is compressed into a fewer daylight hours.  Coming into the lodge at night is like a fairy tale with all the decorations and the fireplaces going.  Even those of us who have seen it over and over, still get caught short sometimes.

Bruce and I hope that all of you had a good Christmas and are looking forward to a very happy new year.   


Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's Ice Time Again

Gunflint Lake finally froze over on the night of December 17th.  There was a section in the middle of the lake that just would not skim over.  Here is a picture Sheryl took on the morning of the 17th.  You can see the open water.  As a result every time we got a little wind, we would lose a little ice.  Finally we had a night with below zero temps and no wind.  That is all it took.  Now we can start to make ice.

For the past ten days we have had signs up all over warning about unsafe ice.  In fact a measurement by the dock showed that we had only a couple of inches.  All the incoming guests are told to stay off the ice.  We are not quite paranoid but it is close.

Imagine our panic this morning when we saw 1 skier and three dog sleds going down the ice.  They were about 50-75 feet from shore and going down to the west end.  Then around lunch time we saw two of the dog sleds going back to the east end.

So how do we know when the ice if safe?  Years ago Charlie Cook or George Plummer (two Native Americans who lived on the north side of the lake) would come over to tell us the ice was safe.  I am not sure how they determined this but we always waited to get the OK from them.

Today Don Kufahl and Bruce will decide when they are absolutely sure the ice is safe.  Then they wait a couple more days.  Don puts on his dry suit and gets an auger.  We tie a 50’ rope around his waist and he starts walking out.  Every 50-75 feet out he will stop and drill a hole in the ice to check its thickness.  We want at least 6” of solid ice.  While the testing is going on, a crowd (well 3-4 people) gather in the lodge to watch and help if needed.  Luckily help has never been needed.

A some years ago, two snowmobiles came off the public landing and started out towards Cross River Lodge (old Borderland).  One of them slowed down as they got to the north shore.  That machine went right through the ice.  Eric Thompson was still at Borderland.  He ran down with a long extension ladder and pushed it out to the man in the water.  As soon as the man grabbed the ladder, Eric pulled him in.  It just luck that Eric was there and knew what to do.

Even when the ice is frozen over 6”, there are still dangerous situations that can occur.  When the temperatures get really low (20-40degrees below zero), at that point the ice starts to expand but the shoreline will not let it expand enough so a press ridge explodes straight up into the air.  It can be 5 feet tall.  Water flows up and then freezes over.  

Sometimes, however, the pressure ridge goes down.  The water quickly skims over and looks solid.  If anyone walks over it for the next few days the ice will break and the person will go through.

Ice can be very dangerous so be sure to check with locals before you go out on it.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Tis the Week Before Christmas

Christmas is coming and we are getting ready at the lodge.  Most of the decorations are up.  The tree in the lodge looks wonderful.  It is hard to show it off with this daytime photo but here we are.  Out on the Trail by Birch Lake, Daryl Popkes and Tom Leddy have lit up their tree with white bulbs.  It looks great as we come up the road home.

Gunflint Lake is not frozen yet.  There is about a one mile section from Heston’s east that is still open.  We just need some cold weather and no wind.  No sense is fussing about it as there is nothing to be done.  Mother Nature has her own plan and she will not be hurried.

The animals in the area are doing very well.  Fred smith reports that there is still a lynx haning around the Mile O’Pines Road.  He probably comes down our way too but we just haven’t seen him.

Guests last weekend had a lot of moose sightings.  On Friday night about three parties saw a cow and a large calf around seven miles below us.  The two animals must have hung around the road for quite some time.  All these parties saw them over about a two hour period.  In all cases the animals stayed around enough to give a good view.  On Saturday Bruce and I drove down to Poplar Lake for a party.  We saw the cow and calf both coming and going to our party.  There is also a big bull moose between Mayhew and Birch Lakes.  Again people have had wonderful views of the animals.

Let’s not forget the wolves.  In spite of a hunting season,  around 8:00 a.m. last Saturday everyone in the lodge could see a pack of 7 wolves come over from Canada.  They must have started at the Pines and then went down the lake to the west.  I am sure that they will be hanging around looking for dinner during the winter.

I have my bird feeders full with friends coming in.  Bruce has a metal box for bread for the Gray Jays and Blue Jays.  When he puts food in, Bruce bangs on the edge of the box.  As soon as he moves on, there is a steady stream of birds to take their share.  Soon the box is empty.

It is pretty warm out now but due to cool down next week.  I am ready for a big snow storm.  Eight or ten inches would be just fine.  Of course, Bruce will not be too happy about it if he is out dragging in our Christmas tree.

Lee, Eva, Grant and Mae are due up here on the 27th.  There should be a good snowfall for them to be out playing in.  They also want to take a dog sled ride.  We will see how the snow comes.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Into the Christmas Season

We are home from a great trip to Missouri for Thanksgiving.  Robert, Miranda and Zach are doing well.  As expected, Zach is getting really tall.  He can now wear his Dad’s shoes – size 12!  They have a new puppy who loves everyone.  Her name is Remington and she has endless energy.

We hit all our favorite stores to go shopping and one auction for Bruce.  The big steal was a Tupperware container of Legos for Grant and Mae.  The container was about 12 inches wide and 18 inches long and 24 inches tall.  It took the two kids about 2 minutes to get into the container.  About the only control Grandpa had was that they did not spill the tub all over the floor.  It was a good buy that will keep them both occupied for hours.

Returning home was like going into winter.  Most of the lakes are frozen over.  Gunflint is ½ frozen.  With the full moon, all we need is clear skies and no wind one night.  The next morning Gunflint will be frozen over.  Since the ice went off the lake late in May and is now going on the lake early in December, 2014 will have one of the shortest periods of open water in a long time.

Now that Thanksgiving is past, it is time to get serious about Christmas.  Most of the presents are bought or ordered or, at least, decided. 

Yesterday I started on Christmas baking.  I bake 10 kinds of cookies and make plates for each staff member.  Lee, Eva, Grant and Mae will be here on the 27th so they need cookies too.  Bruce feels he should have snacks each night.  All in all it is a lot of cookies.

Today is the day to start on Christmas cards.  I love being able to print mailing labels and return labels.  Then I can devote all my writing time to sharing messages with friends and family.  We send out about 100 cards so it takes a bit to write to everyone.

The staff Christmas party is December 17th.  It is always a nice potluck.  We will have steamed shrimp for appetizers and prime rib for the main meat.  For a gift exchange each person gets a $25 gift and we all pick in order.  Mandy is in charge so all is well organized.  It is a pleasant evening for everyone.

The final job is to plan Christmas dinner.  Today at lunch I think we decided the main entre.  Since it is just Bruce and I, we don’t want anything too familiar.  It has to be a little festive.  We will see as there is still plenty of time to decide or change our mind.

This weekend we start decorating the lodge.  The weather is supposed to be sunny on Saturday. Outside lights and trees will be put up.  John will have a crew making wreaths for cabins.  Bonnie will have trees to line the drive and the front patio each with white lights on it.  Inside there is a big tree for the lounge and one for the dining room.  Bruce loves buying stuff to decorate the lodge so there will be new things all over.

Even if you are just in the area, stop in to see us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

I AmBack

After a busy summer when I did no blog writing, it is time to get back into the swing of writing to you all regularly.

During the early summer it was cool and rainy followed by sunshine.  This meant a bump crop of strawberries and blueberries.  Bruce and I picked (on hands and knees) 16 cups of wild strawberries.  Every berry went into jam.  Blueberries have been made into jam too except for a supply kept in the freezer for pies, scones and pancakes.  I thought there were not too many raspberries but we still ended up with 36 jars of jam.

The lodge was busy for most of the summer.  Right now we are in that quiet time between fall color and the holidays.  It may still officially be fall but the snow is coming down while I write as if it is winter.  We have also had some cold weather that is more like winter than fall.  Who knows what the rest of the year will bring but right now we are on the way to good skiing conditions.

Hunting season is just over and deer are starting to come down to the lodge.  Apparently the does and young ones know that no one is hunting them.  Meanwhile we have the meat from a nice forked buck in our freezer.

Bruce and I took off for three weeks.  We went to Tanzania on safari with three other couples  We saw the most game in our lives.  One thrilling moment was being in our car while a herd of about 200 elephants walked past on all four sides.  It took 25 minutes and we loved very minute.  Another day we saw a mother lioness bring her four young cubs out to play.  You can imagine how cute those fat little cubs were.  Each day was filled with surprises as game appeared when we least expected it.  Who would think that a dung beetle could be so interesting?

After the safari Bruce and I took off for a week in Paris.  We rented and apartment and walked all over the city.  Our estimate was 4 miles a day.  Our days were divided between museums and monuments and street fairs and shopping.  Of course, the main events each day were lunch and dinner.  All those wonderful starters were our favorites – escargot, mussels, French onion soup, pates and foie gras.  It is a good thing we walked every day.

Now we are home and about to go down to Robert, Miranda and Zach’s for Thanksgiving.  I have been warned to prepare for a big surprise.  It seems that at 14 years of age, Zach is now up to 6 feet tall!  I have no idea how those kids grow so fast.

One of the highlights of the fall was the birth of our first great-grandson.  Tanner and Molly’s son, Oliver, just takes our breath away.  Aren’t you supposed to be “old” before a great-grandchild is born?

The lodge has just a couple cabins open for Thanksgiving.  Christmas and New Year’s are almost full too.  It looks like we will be ending the year with a bang.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The End of June

It is that in between stage.  We are not quite as busy as we would like and we don’t have quite as much staff as we need.  As a result I am remembering more things about operating the computer than I want to know.  More staff is due to come soon which will be nice.

Last week must have been turtle moving week on the Gunflint.  I saw three turtles wandering on the dirt roads.  I assume that they are either laying eggs or have just finished laying eggs.  Now we will all just watch for little ones to appear.

Our road construction is coming along very well.  The flag men tell us that they will be done by Fourth of July.  Even the gravel part is smoother than our pavement was.  Of course all this gravel is really doing a number on my car.  It is filthy but I am not washing it because one trip will put me right back where I am now.  I had to wash my license plate with water so it could be seen.

We are getting close to the annual canoe races.  They are held on the third Wednesday of July.  If the weather is good, there will be a 300 people here.  The first race, the long distance, starts at 6:00 p.m.  In addition to seeing all your friends and neighbors, this is a good place for dinner and goodies.  The homemade goodies go quickly so don’t be late.

We have had two days of sunshine and does it feel good.  My garden is popping out of the ground.  In a week or so, there should be a little baby lettuce ready to eat.  The rhubarb is ready for a second cutting.  Basil, chives and parsley are also ready to be harvested again.  The potato plants are almost three feet high.  My big hope is that the strawberries will be ripe when Mae and Grant are here.  They will really enjoy picking and eating them.

Fishing has been particularly good lately.  The guides have been having good luck with every kind of fish.  Last night in the dining room we cooked up enough walleye appetizers for a big party of 11.  There was not one piece of fish left.  When you eat fish that was swimming in the lake three hours ago, you realize how important it is to get fresh fish.  A friend of mine said that when she goes to buy fish, she just asks for the freshest fish they have.

The partridge chicks are still tiny but we are seeing them on the side road regularly.  Last night Bruce had a covey of 4 on his side of the road.  They are really cute as momma guards while they scamper across.  Sunshine is really good for them too.  If we get too much rain while the chicks are small, they can get sick and die.  It is not a good thing.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Normal Blog

By this last Tuesday we reached a milestone in the year cycle of my garden.  Everything was planted.  There were no seeds or plants waiting to go in.  Everything had been weeded at least once.  Now all I have to do is water and wait for plants to grow.

The past few days have been quite rainy so I didn’t even need to water the gardens..  On Thursday the wind and rain blew hard and steadily.  Friday was fairly nice and sunny.  Then on Saturday the rain started in again.  Today it has been dark and rainy all day.  I think tomorrow it will clear up and we will have some good weather.  Meanwhile the rain has caused everything in my garden to pop up. My onion sets grew 4 inches. All we need now is some sunshine to help them grow.

Fishing had been really good.  The guides have caught several large walleyes.  After taking a picture these big fish are returned to the water so they can breed another year.  The guides hold them in the water and massage them until the fish is ready to swim off.  Really and honestly those 2-3 pound walleyes are much better for eating.

Bass have been going up onto the beds.  Then they really are little hungrier and are fun to catch.  Lake trout are still in relatively shallow water and biting well.  We have even seen a few northern come it.  Northerns eat very well but most people don’t like them because of the y-bones that run down the fillets.  The guides fillet the fish and then cut the fillets into long strips.  The middle strip has all the y-bones and is thrown away.  The other two strips are cut into bit size pieces.  They fry up nicely and it is like eating popcorn – once you start, you can’t stop until they are all gone.

April has been overwhelmed lately with boxes of gifts coming in for the trading post in the lodge.  Counting, pricing, and arranging everything is a huge job.  Of course, Shannon is there to help with the work.  Shannon and Marilyn also take up a lot of the telephone answering.  Dave is there to help with everything but it keeps all four of them busy.  There is not a lot of slack time at the front desk.

Our new summer staff is coming in steadily.  Each and every one of them is welcomed with open arms.  We have been operating with not quite as many workers as is comfortable.  When the new ones come, it always takes time to train them but it sure is good to get a little more help.

All the summer activities – horseback rides, canopy tours, fishing, canoe trips, etc. are in full swing right now.  But most of all we have an influx of kids who have dreamed about endless hot chocolate all winter long.  Cookies are also high on the list.  I saw a boy once with four coolies stacked together.  He was just taking a bit down all four of them at one time.

BREAKING NEWS:  On the way to the lodge tonight we saw our first momma partridge with what looks like a brand new brood of chicks.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

We Are Asking For Your Vote

Bruce just got word that Matt Brinkman from WCCO in Minneapolis is conducting a contest to find the best zip line in Minnesota.  There are several names on the list including ours at the Towering Pines Canopy Tour, Gunflint Trail.  So we are asking you to follow the link below and vote for us.  Don’t get us confused with Kerfoot Canopy Tour, Henderson.  That one is run by our son, Lee Kerfoot.  So here is the link:
To give you another hint to vote for us, the picture on the link was taken at our canopy tour.
Thanks for your vote.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Summer is Here

We have spent the last two weekends at graduations.  Brian’s son, Sam, drew us to California.  This fall Sam is on his way to the University of San Francisco where he is entered into a 4-year nursing program.  It was great to see him with a plan in mind for the future.

Last weekend Shawn’s daughter, Emma, took her place in the graduation march.  We get her for the summer as a server in the dining room.  After that Emma is off to St. Thomas University where she plans to major in business.  Like her cousin, it is great to see her moving forward.

During all this time, the seasons continued to move forward here at Gunflint.  Spring was gone.  The leaves are out and it seems like summer.  The leaves on the trees look really great.  I think we are finished with evening freezes.  That means it is time to start planting.

We planted a few things before the graduations.  They survived cool weather.  The green bean leaves were munched to nothing by what we assume was a rabbit.  They are growing more leaves but it put them back.  After I am finished with the blog, I will be going out to plant more flowers and vegetables.  There is a nice breeze so hopefully the bugs will not be too bad.

We had an interesting happening over on the Round Lake Road.  Just as you make the sharp left turn before the public landing, there is a small creek that comes in from the right and goes through a culvert to the Cross River.  It is so small that I think most people never see it.  That all changed the other day.  Somewhere above the creek there must be a beaver dam creating a pond.  With all the heavy spring melt and rains, the dam gave way over night.  Suddenly there was a flash flood taking out the road and rushing into the Cross River.  This brown mess of mud and dirt ran into Gunflint Lake.  It also ran into the water system of Cross River Lodge.  Their faucets were giving out brown water.  It all clears up in a day or so but at the time it is not nice to deal with.  Also the county had to come up to rebuild the road and put a new culvert in.  Even beaver engineers make occasional errors in judgment.

Speaking of rebuilding roads, about 6 miles of the Gunflint Trail is being rebuilt by our side road.  I think that section of the road has been rebuilt once in the 46 years that I have lived here.  You can be sure that it really needed some help.  The spring frost heaves slowed us all down.  I will not miss them at all.  It is surprising to see all the new culverts that are going in.  I suppose that will take care of the spring bumps and dips.

This is all you are getting.  My garden is calling me.    

Thursday, May 22, 2014

More Stories From The Past

Here are just a couple announcements I have been asked to make.  On June 7th at 10:00 a.m. there will be a gathering of friends to remember Dennis Todd at the Conference Center at Gunflint Lodge.  There will be a video shown of his life.  Coffee and cookies will be served.

Then on June 14th there will be an informal memorial service in for Eleanor (Mat) Matsis at the Conference Center at Gunflint Lodge.  It will be at 2:00 p.m.  Coffee and cookies will be served.

As of the 19th, the ice was officially off Gunflint Lake.  It took a bit to leave but it is nice to have open water.  Remember I told you that we had ice on the 18th up to the big point just east of the Lodge.  No one could get through it.  Then that night, it all went.  When the time is right the ice can go in an instant.

We have had some really nice rain this week.  With a couple of days of sunshine, I expect that the leaves will start to appear.  It is when we get what I call a green haze over the trees and it only lasts a couple of days.  Then we get the lime green leaves which darken into the deep green leaves of summer.  It is fun to watch.

Even though summer is here, you might enjoy an excerpt from Grandma Spunner’s diary.  It is from December 12, 1932.  Grandma writes “Justine and Gowan attempted to go for the mail at Shultzes and had a terrible time – ran out of gas both ways and had to walk and did not get home until 2:30 a.m.  Dad and I sat up for them.  About zero to 14 below at night.”

A couple days later Grandma writes some more about Justine’s experiences getting to town and back.  On December 14th , “Justine went to town after supplies – very cold.  She drove down in 3 hrs. and staid all night with Jene”  Then on the 15th we hear “Very Cold.  30 below and drifting some.  Justine drove home from town alone with supplies.  Shoveled for 5 hours down around the Pines.  Everyone on line calling up about her and Mr. Gapen sent men to hunt her.”  Eventually she made it home.  It makes our trips to town look pretty easy.

The other night my bird feeder attracted quite a bunch of birds around dinner time.  They included blue jays, purple finches, gold finches, Baltimore orioles, red-breasted grosbecks, gray jays, chickadees, nuthatches, hummingbirds and various gray and brown birds.  The thing that really got my attention was how colorful it was around the feeders.  With the birds zooming in and out, there were constant bits of color all over.  It was wonderful.

It is time for grandchildren to graduate.  Bruce and I are off to California to see Brian’s son Sam get his high school diploma.  Then next weekend Shawn’s daughter Emma graduates from high school.  It is hard to believe how quickly they grow up.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Just A Nice Week at Gunflint

Today’s picture is another one of Sheryl’s.  She sent it to me for identification.  Of course, I didn’t know what it was.  Bruce and I worked with our Roger Tory Peterson book and found out it was a Yellow Headed Blackbird.  What made it difficult is that the picture shows a real yellow head but the description talks about it being a yellow-orange.  Also the white markings are matched in the picture.

Had our first hummingbird in today.  Bruce says it was a male but can’t tell me why.  At any rate it is nice to see it back.

Jon Schei has been doing really well fishing on Gunflint and Seagull.  Even with the ice not completely out he has managed to get trout, walleyes, and northern in the last few days.  The biggest northern was 43 ½ inches long and the trout ran up to 8 lb.  We got one fillet from the trout and could not eat it all for dinner the other night.

The west end of Gunflint is clear of ice but not the east end.  We were out today exploring.  When you get down to the east end of Gunflint there are broken pieces of ice floating everywhere.  It is amazing how noisy they are as they bang and grind against each other.  All we need is a northwest wind.

Our morning adventure was called exploring.  Before we left it was called fishing.  We each found the bottom numerous times and I lost a spinner but there will be no fresh fish for dinner in the Kerfoot house tonight.  It was wonderful just to be on the lake after a long winter.  When we have open water, it is hard to imagine what an iced over lake is like.  When we have ice, it is equally hard to imagine what open water is like.

The new staff housing is finally ready to be occupied.  Everyone on the staff helped in the end but Sheryl is the one who kept us moving along.  It has been a long pull but these 16 rooms were badly needed.  One of the first buildings we can get rid of now is the OD (Outfitters Dorm).  Bruce thinks it is over 50 years old so we really have gotten our money out of it.  Bonnie already has plans for the space it sits on.  She is going to turn it into a place to wash canoes after trips.  We always do this but it was at one end of the building and always in the way.

Bruce and I are getting into gardening.  He has cleaned up the raspberries and strawberries.  We started some plants in the house.  Today the green beans and zucchini went into the garden.  The tomatoes are not quite ready.  Yesterday the seed potatoes were buried.  I worked on the flowers by the front of the house.  My day lilies and peonys are coming up nicely.  Bruce protected them all winter with a mound of snow.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day At Gunflint

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone.  We are having a pretty good day at Gunflint.  Sheryl sent me this picture of sunrise on Gunflint Lake.  As you can see, we still have ice.  My hope is that the ice will be gone by the 15th.  A huge wind storm would help that happen.  A northwest wind would push the ice down the lake and out.  One more sign of spring is that the ice is gone on Lonely Lake.  On Tucker Lake we just need a little wind for the ice to be gone.  Pretty soon you will see me out there blowing.

The new staff building is almost finished.  Monday and Tuesday should be the last days for the plumbers, electricians and carpenters.  The carpet is down.  Now it is time to hang the curtains, clean the dust out, fill the kitchens and put in furniture.  Sheryl is going through the building today making her list of what we still need to buy.  Generally it is a bunch of small stuff that mounts up – clips to hang shower curtains, hangers, odds and ends of small kitchen stuff.  Someone will have a busy time in Duluth to pick up all this stuf.

If is clears up this afternoon, I hope to get into my garden again.  Each day I haul some dirt for the beds where things are packed down.  The first day I moved 8 wheel barrel loads.  Yesterday it was only five when I tipped the fifth one over and had a few choice words to say.  Then I spent time weeding the incoming plants.  Today I hope to get the strawberries organized.  There are also the day lilies in front that need a little weeding.  My three rhubarb plants are coming up quickly.  I also need to clean out the grasses that are growing in the chives.  That is a mess every year.

The birds are still eating us out of house and home.  Most of the juncos have moved on north.  The flocks of them have degenerated into a bird here and there.  The goldfinches have completely changed color for all practical purposes.  They provide a beautiful splash of color in the pine trees.  Yesterday I filled my hummingbird feeders and put them out.  I know it is a little early but we will see what happens.  We have been seeing a steady number of partridge on the side road.  Bruce wants to keep them healthy until hunting this fall.

I am still working a transcribing Grandma Spunner’s diary.  She must have been out of town for a couple of weeks and Grandpa Spunner took over the writing.  I could see the difference in handwriting immediately.  His was much easier to read.  The tone was also different between the two of them.  Grandma always talked about how beautiful the weather or the day was.  Grandpa would just comment on the awful weather.  Of course, as we all know, there is not much that is pretty about snow in April.  I must be about half way through the diary.  We will see what happens.


Sunday, May 04, 2014

May Has Jumped Out on Us

We’re in a waiting mode.  Waiting for the ice to go out.  Waiting for the snow to stop.  Waiting for the fishing season to open.

The ice out seems to be the easiest.  After a revision, my date is now May 15th.  Last Thursday, May 1st, Bruce and I went to Duluth.  Both coming and going we agreed that the water on the North Brule River was flowing freely.  This is crucial to predicting when the ice will go out.

Years ago we had a mailman named Don Brazell.  He started out running a bus route from Duluth to the resorts on the Gunflint Trail.  It was during the days of gas rationing for World War II.  Then Don moved into being our mailman.  He was a very observant person who kept track of everything and even wrote it down.  After several years Don noticed that one week after the North Brule ran freely, the ice on the small lakes when out.  And one week later the ice on the large lakes went out.  For those of us living here, Don’s predictions have generally proved true.  We will see in a couple of weeks.

Summer staff is starting to come in.  It is a good thing.  Spring projects have piled up almost as fast as the staff arrives.  I am in my usual fix of trying to remember everyone’s name.  Thank goodness for name tags.

Wednesday the grain arrived for the horses.  Then Thursday the horses arrived.  Today a load of hay arrived.  Mandy is starting to take the horses out on the trails.  They are not very happy because of the snow all over.  Nonetheless, we are back in the stable business.

The deer are basically gone for the summer.  Now all the corn will be used to feed ducks.  We have a few ducks but they are not very happy.  What looks like open water is just standing water on top of the ice.  You can almost see the shock on their faces when they come in for a landing.

The snow is off almost all of the dirt roads.  In its place we have pot holes, mud and overflowing water.  We got a new car this winter but I haven’t even tried to keep it washed.  One trip up the Tucker Lake Road and it is covered with dirt.  I would like to drive a bit in the rain as that will clean off some of the mess.

I have a table set up in front of our south-facing living room window.  Bruce and I are trying to get a jump on the growing season.  We planted tomatoes, green beans and zucchini.  So far the green beans are really doing well.  The other two have not appeared yet.  Of course, weeds have come up all over.  I have been weeding to keep everything clean.  We will see how it all goes.

Our wooden pathway to the lake is almost clear.  Maybe tomorrow I will walk down to see how the ice on Tucker Lake is doing.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Grandma Spunner Tells Stories in 1931

It’s a good thing there is a calendar to remind me that we are at the end of April. On Thursday night we got 9 inches of snow – ugh! By Friday evening it had melt down to about one third of where we started in the morning. There is a lot of slop and mud around. Bruce thinks the melting snow will help the older snow melt faster by filling it with water. I sure hope he is correct.

New birds have been coming in regularly. Robins are now with us but I don’t know where they are finding any worms to eat. Today there was a red-winged black bird at the feeder for the first time. Grackles are also here regularly. The juncos are now flocks rather than one or two. The gold finches still are not completely turned yellow. Their backs have patches of brown mixed with the yellow and the backs of their heads are still brown.

Tuesday we came home from Duluth in two vehicles. I turned in the Tucker Lake Road and stopped to get our mail. Bruce’s truck was still on the main trail. As I turned in, my headlights caught a huge lynx crossing the Tucker Lake Road. He was very tall and lanky. I could see the fur all the way down his legs. He just glided across the road and then was gone. Bruce never got to see him.

Lately I have been working on transcribing Grandma Spunner’s (Justine’s mother) diary from the winters of 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1933. I am just into January of 1931. Her handwriting is large and flowing to the lines above and below and the words before and after. It is easiest to handwrite the text and then I will type it into my computer.

So I have learned that Grandpa and at least one other man are always working on wood. Some of it probably was firewood but they were also building a cabin. A man named Art seemed to be the carpenter. Bruce thinks it was Art Smith whom Bruce knew as a carpenter. Grandpa was certainly not a carpenter. Grandma Spunner refers to her work as the “usual” or the “usual housework.” I don’t think she was too thrilled with it. Evenings with friends and neighbors were often spent playing cards and talking, sometimes to as late as 2:00 a.m.

One of the interesting things is how Grandma regularly spoke of the ice forming on Gunflint Lake. Now I am not a scientist and don’t really know much about global warming. I can tell you that on January 1st, 1931, Justine took a dog sled ride and went canoeing on the lake. Grandma’s diary seems to indicate that the lake froze solid on January 15th. On January 16th Grandpa caught his first fish through the ice. It will be interesting to read what happens in the next couple of years regarding when the lake freezes.

I think about the large change in Grandpa and Grandma’s lives the Depression made. Previously they lived in Barrington, Illinois and were relatively well to do. They had servants. Grandpa was a lawyer and banker. Grandma taught elocution and started the Barrington Women’s Club. The Depression came and Grandpa was ruined financially. The lodge stayed because his wife and daughter owned it. Now they lived a very basic life in the wilds of the northwoods with few amenities. How would we have handled this life style change?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Struggling to Get Into Spring

Welcome to the winter wonderland on the Gunflint Trail. We took an overnight trip down to the Twin Cities. Until we got past Duluth, the weather was snow and slop on the road. You wondered when winter was ever going to stop. Yesterday we came home and the Gunflint Trail was dry all the way up. Even the Tucker Lake Road was bare. Today we woke up to snow everywhere. During the mid-morning hours we got about 4 inches. When I drove down to the lodge, it was unplowed snow, melting stuff and rain. What a mess. The county plowed up while I was at the lodge. Now the wet mess is freezing and slippery. Tomorrow it is supposed to be 50 degrees. We will keep our fingers crossed. Even the birds were exceptionally hungry. I put out two huge buckets of sunflower seeds. Also our bird’s variety has increased. The juncos are starting to migrate north. That means I have seen two of them. Bonnie claims to have seen snow buntings going north but I have not seen them. Purple finches and pine siskins are at the feeders. Goldfinches bodies’ are turning yellow now. The birds have patches of yellow and tan. I would like to be able to tag them so I could follow the color change in a specific bird. We saw what appeared to be a morning dove one day. Back at the lodge, the deer are beginning to wander off. We only have a few pregnant females so they must be getting ready to give birth. It is always a fine art to determine how many pregnant females there are. Also we never get to see the results (fawns) so that makes it even more of a guessing game. Don went out and drilled a hole in the ice to see how thick it is. He got 36 inches which is quite a bit for now. Also the North Brule River does not have free running water yet. The river has to be totally running. Then two weeks after that Gunflint Lake should be open. You do the math. Even though the ice seems to be safe, there is no one (men nor animals) on it. I think there are probably places where the ice is not really safe. This might be where we have spring holes. Of course, no one knows exactly where those are so it is better to just stay off the ice. My favorite time of the breakup comes towards the end. There are little tiny bits of ice that are floating around. When they move, the ice pieces tinkle. For some reason I just love to hear this sound. It is getting to be graduation time. Over the Memorial Day weekend we are going out to California. Brian’s son, Sam, graduates from high school. He is going to the University of San Francisco. Back in Minnesota, Shawn’s daughter, Emma, graduates and is headed to St. Thomas for college. I don’t know how they grew up so fast.

Friday, April 11, 2014

April at Gunflint

Bruce and I were gone for a few days at the beginning of the week. We were both impressed by the amount of snow that has melted in just those few days. Since then it has continued to melt even more. At lunch today, someone told me that the snow has melted a foot in the last few days. Certainly our driveway at Tucker Lake is almost bare. My seven-foot snow banks are down so I can look over the tops of them. Out in the garden I still can't see the outlines of the raised beds but the raspberry canes are now visible. The real day to watch will be tomorrow. The forecast is for 70% chance of snow/rain. Rain would be wonderful but snow is not so welcome. Freezing rain is a terrible forecast so that would be nice to avoid. April is a month when I seem to always be looking forward. We are not very busy and I look forward to getting into the summer season. Reservations are coming in and I look forward to having them come in faster. The ice is getting a little bit dark and I look forward to open water. The snow is still here and I look forward to bare ground. Once the ground is bare then I can look forward to planting my garden in June. Once the garden is planted I look every day to see if any little plant has popped up. But let's get through April first. Some friends on the lake and I are getting ready to start a new project. We want to record all the stories we know about earlier residents of Gunflint Lake. Of course, there are going to be lots of conversations about how we should have asked Justine or Peggy about their stories. It is truly amazing how fast information about people can just get lost. So four of us are going to work on what we know and can find out about those who lived on Gunflint Lake before us. I am betting that we will find some amazing stories to save. At the Tucker Lake house we have two pine martens who seem to have taken us over. Usually just one of them appears but this morning both were here together. Last night they ate the chicken bones Bruce put out. This morning they were cleaning up sunflower seeds that the birds had dropped on the ground. How many sunflower seeds does it take to fill up a pine marten? Now that the Tucker Lake road is down to bare ground, Bruce wants to start walking on it in the morning. We usually do very well at this until Bruce feels that he should be at the lodge at 7:00 a.m. It is a wonderful walk of 1 mile to the Gunflint Trail. He is usually in a race when he does it but I take a more leisurely approach. The nights have been quite warm and we have been able to open our bedroom to fresh, outside air. What a joy it is.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring is in the air

It truly feels like spring today! The thermometer on the south side of the house (sun) reads 55 and the one on the north side (shade) reads 50. Most of the snow has already melted off the roof but now it is softening up in the driveway. I am beginning to get a touch of spring fever. The front door is opened some to try to get a little of that stuffy air out of the house. The one to the screened in porch is also open. Even with an air handler, you just need some fresh air in the house at this time of year. Besides I can hear the birds singing with the doors open. Don’t get the idea that the snow is really going. At my house there are still snow banks taller than I am. The Tucker Lake road is covered with snow. There may be a few spots that are bare gravel but not much. If you meet another car on our road, one of you will have to back up. It is going to take a lot of melting before we have a two-lane road again. While we are ready for spring, the weather man says that Monday night is going to dump a bunch of snow on us. It will probably be as much snow as had melted the last couple of days. I think I will cry if that happens. The deer are getting very nervous lately. Sheryl opened the lodge about 6:30 this morning. She looked out the front windows and there were several deer curled up sleeping on the patio. It is the safest place they can think of to stay away from the wolves. I can’t say that I blame them. While all our thoughts are on spring and summer, my thoughts are partly on the fall. In November we are going on a safari in Africa again. This time we have added nine days on the end in Paris. As soon as we decided, I ordered my Paris guide books and a good city map. They make great reading at the end of a long day at the lodge. My sister and brother-in-law recently spent a long time in Paris. She is giving me information about which area of the city to stay in. It will give Bruce some clues about the different places to look. Judy has also been complaining because the croissants are not as good as they used to be. Well, yesterday in the Wall Street Journal there was an article about the best places to get old fashioned (read exceptional) croissants in Paris. I clipped that article out and put it in the Paris folder. Just an update on the changing colors of the goldfinches. A few, very few, seem to be changing into bright yellow right at the top of where their wings attached to the body. This is a very scientific study that I am doing so stay tuned in for breaking news in future blogs.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring is Here -- Almost

The picture is of Bruce enjoying one of our first days of spring.  That was Friday when we got 6-8 inches of new snow.  Lee and Eva were coming with the kids and he had to plow so they could get into the driveway.  Then today we got real spring temperatures.  It was 20 below this morning.  The snowbanks which were beginning to shrink are now well above my head again.  With these temperatures obviously there will be no melting today.

I have to admit that it is glorious outside.  Our ski trails are in perfect condition and the snowmobile trails should also be great.  Neighbor Fred tells me that we have received about 100-110 inches of snow the winter.  Bruce says that our snow will outlast our skiing customers.  Lee says that they have lots of bare ground in the Twin Cities.

The fishing was wonderful this weekend.  We had a group of men in Cabin #27 who really struck gold with Lake Trout.  They limited out and still threw back about 20 fish.  They were fishing right in front of the lodge within easy walking distance.  It is a great way to end of season.

Bruce and I spent most of last week in the Twin Cities with April from the front desk.  It was our regular spring buying trip for the gift shops.  We spent two days just looking and two days buying.  Bruce gets really frustrated buying at these shows.  The reps bring in temporary people who can’t work the computers and don’t know the product lines.  In spite of all, a few new things are going on the shelves that will tempt you all (we hope).

Our biggest spring project – new staff housing – is moving along very well.  All the sheetrock and interior painting is finished.  The ceramic tile is going into the kitchens and bathrooms.  The exterior siding is going on.  Cabinets and closets will be next on the list.  There will be 16 rooms that can accommodate about 35 people.  It is scary to think how big our staff has gotten.  When Bruce and I were first married there were about a dozen people living on the entire lake during the winter.

I have been watching the birds at my feeders.  In particular the American Goldfinches are turning color.  During the winter their bodies are a plain beige color.  During the summer their bodies are bright yellow.  So far I have noticed that the yellow color starts to come in at their heads a progress down the body.  Now I have to watch to see how the color change continues.

Summer reservations are coming in steadily.  As always, the bigger cabins for families are filling in first.  Up at the outfitters we are getting more groups wanting to go out into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  In fact that sounds really good to me right now but I don’t think it is going to happen.

Friday, March 07, 2014

I'm Back

The last six weeks have not been good for writing a blog.  We spent two weeks visiting grandchildren.  Lee and Eva with Mae and Grant went down to Orlando with us.  While Bruce and Lee attended a conference, Eva and I took the kids to Disney World.  The guys even got to spend a little time there with us. It was wonderful! Then we came home and drove down to Missouri for Zach's birthday.  Zach is really a great young man.  The only problem is that he is now undeniably 4 inches taller than I am. 

We were back at Gunflint by the 14th.  I tried for a blog but my computer didn't connect.  Just as I was getting ready to move over to Bruce's computer, his had some electrical issue.  At any rate, now things are back working.  At least Bruce's computer is working.  Mine still has issues.

The month of February was a combination of cold, cold temperatures and lots of snow when it warmed up.  Many of the snow banks around the lodge are high above my head.  The lake water levels are going to be very high this spring as things melt.

One of the most interesting things to watch this past month has been the interaction between the wolves and deer.  That is a polite way of saying that the wolves have been eating very well.  We have had several kills that were right at the lodge.  Sheryl came in one morning to see wolves feeding on a freshly killed deer right on the patio.  One night at 7:00 p.m. the wolves took another deer in front of Cabin #8.  The guests in Cabin #5 got up to use the bathroom around 1:00 a.m. and looked outside.  The deer carcass had been dragged onto the ice and there were seven wolves feeding and playing.

Perhaps the most surprising encounter occur during our last storm.  The snow was really coming down and you could only see a little ways onto the lake.  Several deer were on the patio where a guest was feeding them.  They were all concentrating on the guest.  Unbeknownst to anyone a wolf came up and hid just over the lip of the patio.  When the guest came in, the wolf jumped into the midst of the deer.  It was a case of too many animals to pick from.  Finally he took after a deer running to the east.  At the same time a couple guests were walking to the lodge from that direction.  They spooked the wolf and he took off across the lake with no dinner.

Construction on the new staff housing is coming along very well.  All the sheetrock and insulation are in place.  Windows started to go in yesterday.  Interior painting will be finished next week.  A sample room is going to be set up next week to make sure that all the cabinets and furniture fit in correctly.

Work is also in the planning stages for some remodeling on Cabins #18 and #19.  New cabinets, fireplaces and ceramic tile will be going in them this spring.  There is always something to spruce up.

I am started to get excited about my garden.  We are still eight weeks before anything can go in the ground.  Looking out the house windows, you can't even see where the beds are.  It just makes me feel good to think about planting stuff.

Summer reservations are coming in very well for both the lodge and the outfitters.  Bruce has a lot of packages (as usual) to pick from.  If nothing seems to fit you, just talk with him.  Bruce will make up something special just for you.

As I have been writing this it has started to snow.  Who knows how much we will be getting.  Bruce will bring the plow over and I will have my shovel to clean up the edges.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Animal Encountes Everywhere

This last week was another snow week.  On Wednesday and Thursday we got several inches of new snow.  It has been many years since we have had snow banks as high as they are now and there are several snow months still to come.  On Friday after everything the newly groomed, the entire Gunflint Trail was glorious.  Our weekend guests knew they had stepped into a winter wonderland.

It seems in the winter we have lots more animal sightings than in the summer.  I always feel that winter is when we truly know that this forest is shared with all the resident animals.   The new animal this year is lynx.  One of the neighbors spotted a lynx chasing a squirrel.  Both animals were distracted by the car.  The lynx recovered just a couple of seconds quicker and he caught the squirrel.  Our squirrel and rabbit population had gone down as the lynx population has increased.

Sunday morning the guests in Cabin #2 had a surprise.  They stepped outside their cabin to walk down to the lodge for breakfast.  Who should be on the road to greet them but a lynx.

Of course, not all is sweetness and light with our animal population.  The guests down by Cabins #17 and #18 woke up Saturday morning to find a freshly killed deer outside their windows.  They had not heard anything.  The kill was so fresh that at 7:30 in the morning the animal’s remains were still steaming.  Sunday the staff dragged the remains down to the lake.  I am sure that it is almost gone today.

On Friday one of our guests checked in all excited.  When she was six years old, she had seen a moose in Wyoming.  Since then she had never seen one.  Driving up the Trail on Friday she saw five moose.  You can’t imagine how excited she was.

Our neighbor Dave Tuttle also had a close encounter with a moose.  He was driving home in his pickup with the plow on it after dark and south of Swamper Lake.  Suddenly he realized that the black lump in front of him was the butt of a moose kneeling down to lick the salt on the road.  Dave couldn’t stop so he headed for the center of the road.  There he can react to the way the moose moves.  By an inch he missed the moose but now his truck’s rear end is sliding an may hit the moose.  Dave steers out of it, doesn’t hit anything and stays on the road.

The fishing season for lake trout opened on Gunflint Lake on Saturday.  We had a fair number of fishermen out in front of the lode.  It seems like people were getting fish.  I talked with a family who got five trout on Extortion Lake.  They worked for them walking down and up the big hill to get to the lake.

Great progress is being made on the new staff housing.  It is a huge building with 16 rooms.  Each room can accommodate 2-4 people and has a bathroom and kitchen.  For seasonal staff it should work out very well.