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October 1997

10/29/97 – Monday evening we went skating on a nearby pond. The ice depth varied from 3 to 1 inches. The cracking sound while skating was a bit disconcerting, but we only had one spot where a foot broke through. The transparent black ice allowed a clear view of the bottom of the pond. Dragonfly nymphs, lily pads and minnows were clearly visible. Also on Monday night the last canoeists departed from Sawbill. We didn’t get a chance to talk to them, so we don’t know how they navigated the frozen lake. Presumably some hybrid canoeing/walking method. On Tuesday, it finally went above freezing for the first significant time in more than a week. Some of Sawbill Lake reopened. The forecast calls for warm weather through the weekend, so there is a good chance that Sawbill will completely thaw. Statistically, it usually freezes during the first week of November.

Kathryn Olson, long time Sawbill canoeist from New Jersey, emailed and suggested that we give an update on water levels. She is concerned about the fate of beavers whose house entrances were above the waterline this Fall. The water level is a bit higher than it was in early October, but still very low. The only time in recent memory that it was lower was 1977. In that year, the beavers did have a very difficult winter, with a high death rate from predators. Drought is a historical fact of life here and presumably the prey/predator relationships are adopted to them. What’s bad for the beaver is good for the fisher and wolf. We have noticed some beavers working to add material over the house entrances.

10/26/97 – Sawbill Lake froze last night when the temperature reached a brisk 8 degrees. At least 3/4ths of what we can see from the landing is skim ice. It didn’t break the freezing point here today and the sky is clear. Likely it will get into single digits again tonight. There is one group still out. They are camped on the very first campsite on Sawbill, but are showing no inclination to try and escape. Perhaps they are planning to wait until the ice is thick enough to walk on. Some of the ponds along the back road to Grand Marais have > 2″ of ice on them already. Obie is planning to try and skate on them tonight.

10/25/97 – It is full scale winter here now. After such a warm, sunny Fall, Old Person Winter has seemingly come to stay. The ground is iron hard and the small ponds have an inch of ice on them. In spite of that, two parties are out in the wilderness for the weekend. Hopefully, they are keeping a sharp eye out for forming ice and will remove themselves before they become trapped. We are having excellent bird action at our feeders already. Chickadees, Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Grey and Blue Jays, Juncos and a variety of Sparrows have already burned through 50 lbs of seed in the last ten days. In 1995-96 we fed 850 lbs of seed just at one house. The North Shore was host to huge flocks of crows earlier this week. Some tree were literally blackened by the cawing flocks moving south for the winter.

10/23/97 – The Oberstar BWCA Bill, which reintroduces trucks into the BWCA Wilderness and and blocks a scheduled phase out of outboard motors on most of Seagull Lake, H. R. 1739, passed the House Resources Committee yesterday. This is a sad day for the BWCA Wilderness. The committee chair, Alaska’s Don Young, was quoted as saying “Make them recreation areas” complaining that wilderness designation restricts access to “the physically elite.”

Today was our first day with zero customers. The snow melted slightly this afternoon, but is still blanketing the ground. There are no cars on the parking lot and no one in the campground. We are expecting single digits tonight.

We took advantage of the lull to pump and clean all the septic tanks here at Sawbill. This is the job I always think about when people tell me I have the perfect job. All things are relative I guess.

10/20/97 – The stormy weather blew most people right out of here yesterday. There are two cars on the parking lot and one group in the campground. We drained the coffee pot in the store yesterday, because the water supply pipe for it runs outside. With the forecast for temps in the teens, we will probably be forced to drain all the water in the store soon.

10/19/97 – Here’s an interesting development on the BWCA Wilderness political front. Guy Holmes, who heads up a recently formed group that advocates use of truck portages to provide handicapped access to the wilderness, and is a director of the local “wise use” group Conservationists With Common Sense, has lied to Congress. Read the Op/Ed piece by John Galland in the Mpls Star Tribune of October 19th.

Sawbill Outfitter’s Bill Hansen will be debating Guy Holmes on the PBS program “Face to Face” on November 2nd. The “Crossfire” style program airs at 6 P. M. on WDSE-8 in the Northland, and 11 A. M. on KTCA-2 in the Twin Cities.

The weather is starting to slide back into a November mode today. In just an hour we have slipped from the mid 40’s into the high 30’s.

10/18/97 – What a beautiful Saturday it was today. We used the testing of a new canoe model, the Wenonah Minnesota III, as an excuse to get out on the water for a half hour. It was a typical summer day – fluffy white clouds against a blue, blue sky and 65 degrees. The only clue to the season were the migrating grebes and the lack of leaves. A group of moose hunters from Forest Lake were coming in after intensively hunting for ten days with no success. They were surprisingly cheerful. Glad to have had ten glorious days in the wilderness, even if they don’t have a moose to show for it. It is particularly hard for them because it is a “once in a lifetime” license, so they won’t have the opportunity again. Given the amount of work to butcher and pack a moose out of the BWCA Wilderness, I tend to think they got the better deal.

Thank you to everyone who has emailed to confirm contacting members of the House Resources Committee, especially those who’s own congressperson is on the committee. Let’s keep it up until the hearing on Wednesday.

10/17/97 –
The Oberstar BWCA Bill H. R. 1739, is scheduled to be heard by the House Resources Committee on Wednesday, 10/22/97. If it passes the full committee, it will go to the house floor for debate. The senate version of the same bill is already through the committee process and awaits floor action in the senate.

Committee Vote Scheduled For 10/22/97 – Phone Calls Needed Now!!
Contact The House Resources Committee
10/16/97 – M. E. A. weekend is upon us (it’s a school holiday for the teacher’s union convention for those of you from out of state) and the last little rush of canoeists for the season. The parking lot was down to three cars yesterday. We are always convinced that there will be a couple of cars left over at the end of the year (joke). A quick walk to the lake this morning revealed the beauty of a late Fall morning. The mirrored surface of the lake was reflecting a deep blue sky while a thick white mist hovered over the surface. The tiny air movements stirred the mist into ghostlike dancers. While we were watching, a canoe emerged from the mist, paddles flashing in the sun.

10/13/97 – We experienced a distinct weather phenomenon this morning. At 8:00 A. M. the radio reported 37 degrees in Ely. I looked at the thermometer and it was 54 degrees here. At 9:30 A. M. we had 39 degrees here. Ouch. We are draining the water from the shower house today as the prediction is for the low 20’s tonight and tomorrow. We froze the pipes in the shower house this spring when the temperature hit the teens on the 12th of May and didn’t get above freezing for several days. We scrambled to wrap the build in tarps and put every conceivable heat source inside, including the gas grill. We survived with only two burst pipes, but we don’t want a re-run this fall.

The top news of the day: The Sawbill Frisbee Golf Association, which regular readers are already familiar with, has been named “Web Site of The Month” by Discgolf Online Magazine.

10/10/97 – What a day yesterday! The wind raged all day. Our wind gauge is broken, but I would guess that some of the gusts were approaching 40 mph. At least a dozen trees fell across the Sawbill Trail. David Armstrong returned from his long solo trip and reported whitecaps in excess of two feet on Alton. He also reported hearing wolves near Adams Lake. This morning is clear and cold. Freeze up is only about three weeks away now. We got the ski trail completely ready for snow on Wednesday. I suspect we may have a few windthrown trees to remove after yesterday.

10/9/97 – October returns. It is very windy this morning and temperatures are dropping fast. Travel would be impossible on Brule Lake at this time. One of the great things about wilderness is the realization that sometimes nature holds sway and all we can do is wait it out. Several frustrated moose hunters stopped by yesterday. They are having trouble finding any fresh moose sign, much less the real thing.

10/8/97 – Heat Wave! It was 60 degrees at 6 A. M., overcast, raining and humid. Very strange weather for the middle of October. John Werth and his partner Paul returned yesterday from a twelve day trip. They had themselves flown to Beaverhouse Lake on the far side of Quetico Park and paddled back to Sawbill. They traveled all day, every day, save one.

10/4/97 – Most of the trees have changed now. A few aspens are still green, trying to garner as many sugars as possible before the winter sets in. Unlike most trees, however, aspens will continue to photosynthesize after their leaves have fallen. Aspens have chlorophyll in their bark which allows them to extend their food producing season. It is this adaptation that has allowed the aspen to be found further north than other deciduous trees, and accounts for the slight green tinge of their bark. The tamaracks along the grade road are aflame in the afternoon sun and most of the pine trees look slightly more bare as they are also heavily losing needles. Due to the drought, far fewer cones top our local white pines this year compared to last. As I look out the office window, our tall pines and aspen are swaying in a warm afternoon breeze against an idyllic blue sky.

10/3/97 – Seventy seven degrees and blue skies yesterday! Sawbill crew members disappeared to play. Natasha went paddling and OB hiked the Superior Hiking Trail east of Grand Marais. Each reported glorious views and landscapes devoid of people. They excused themselves on the basis that this would be the last warm day. Hopefully, they will not read this morning’s forecast calling for weather in the seventies for the next few days. We may never see them again! Others have heard about the weather too, as we are quite busy today for an October morning. Several groups have headed North including hopeful moose hunters. No bugs, few people, amazing scenery, who can blame them?

10/1/97 – It seems we are back to gorgeous weather. Blue skies today are accompanied by a warming trend that is to bring mid seventies by Thursday! All the wind has really knocked down the leaves, but there is still some nice color. Last night was a serious frost. Cindy’s tomatoes are likely to be a memory. Hopefully she has canned enough for the winter.