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.