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.