6/29/99 – Getting busy here, as you can probably guess by our
newsletter hiatus. I just got back yesterday from a 3-day jaunt
out of Round Lake. We paddled over to Gabimichigami, then to Little
Saganaga, then back to Round. Why so far away, you ask? Simply,
I failed to take the advice I dole out about 100 times per day
over the phone and "get my permit early." We had a little
incident with the canoe during lunch on Little Sag one day; she
decided to take an unexpected day trip, without consulting us,
the paddlers, beforehand. The demeaning part is that a canoe will
really sail in a brisk wind, much faster than with two laboring
paddlers. So, I took an unplanned swim – in the rain, and lightning.
Again, it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t advise against it in
every single canoe orientation I give: "Pull your canoe all
the way up on shore and turn it over, even if you’re just stopping
for a lunch break." I used to think it presumptuous to follow
one’s own advice religiously, now I just think it will keep my
underwear from getting soaked. ‘Till next time . . . AWH
6/19/99 – The dragonflies are swarming now and the black flies
(aka gnats) are just an unpleasant memory. The black flies got
a public relations boost this year when they were featured in
an article by outdoor writer Sam Cook. Sam writes for the Duluth
News Tribune. He is an excellent writer, so his black fly article
was picked up be wire services and spread around the country.
The black flies were no worse than usual this year, but their population
peak coincided with Memorial Day weekend, giving thousands of
holiday campers the opportunity to experience the ravenous horde.
The dragonflies are a pleasure to watch. They are incredible
fliers. They can fly in any direction, including backward, stop
on a dime, and never run into each other. If an airplane could
be engineered with the performance characteristics of a dragonfly,
the world would be a lot more fun. – Bill
6/17/99 – Here is the poem by John Oberholtzer that was read
on the For
The Birds radio program yesterday:
I’ve seen gulls leave a leg hanging down as they fly. Cruising
in front of my car, the foot swings back and forth at each turn
like a rudder. Crows and hawks bounce into the air, and then,
slightly askew, feet and legs dangle, communicating out of use,
away from land.
I’d let my legs swing too. Rappelling, or on a trampoline,
legs sweetly float. We share with raven feelings of fatigue. We
know the strategies of gull when she seeks a relaxing posture.
All creatures of sinew and bone, of pull and push, are relieved
to let it all hang out, seeking the sensation of loose and relaxed.
In dreams, legs hang. Flight comes naturally, and the weight
of legs is felt. Odd pressures on the hips, and tingling in the
soles, remind us how infrequently our legs are allowed to drift.
Below a parachute the feet tickle, as if shoes my slip off without
the ground to hold them in place.
I want to follow gull over the break wall; out over the depths
of the lake, my legs like pants drying on a breezy clothesline.
Fold my wings with raven, as he lets go to tumble toward his mate.
Drop my legs with eagle, and feel the wind and splash on my toes
grabbing for trout.
I swim naked with my friend, dangling in clear water. Her breasts
float from ribs relieved to feel the sharp cool. We dry in the
sun against a rock, torsos and arms like sleepy orangutans. Awakened,
we jump back in, floating flat, forest debris peeling off our
bodies, zigzagging slowly to the bottom. Our hair undulates in
the waves. Raven swims overhead, legs pumping imaginary water,
sun dancing on obsidian talons. Gravity seems to slip, and it
feels imminent we will drift into a sky full of water, birds,
earth and people, gently bumping and slowly drifting over the
6/16/99 – This morning OB’s poem "Bird Legs" was
read by host Laura Erickson on the public radio syndicated program
The Birds." The program is heard on the stations of the
Great Lakes Radio Consortium. We’ll get a copy and post it here
tomorrow. Congratulations OB.
Frost was observed on some of the roofs here at Sawbill this
morning. The forecast is calling for even colder temperatures
We took the Sawbill crew ’99 group picture last night. With
the controlled chaos that reigns here at Sawbill, it is a rare
moment that finds us all together.
6/14/99 – Wow, there is lots going on: thimbleberry blooms,
dragon flies, bindweed, turtles crossing the road, hawkweed, fragrant
rose blooms, dying black flies, other flies biting, large leaf
aster carpets the forest, baby moose sightings, so much bunchberry,
good bass fishing, sweet little twin flowers, bumble bees, calla
lilies, box elder bugs, lupines, swallowtail butterflies, blue
flags, fluffy air from dandelion heads and diamond willow, aspen,
and birch catkins, star flowers, coral root shoots, hopping toads,
and several hard to identify moths. June is busting out all over!!
6/10/99 – There are holes above the shower house. Two days
ago, a brief but intense storm stampeded over Sawbill. Several
big pines came down, two of which danced hard with the shower
house and dome. The dome stood firm against a big jack pine. Above
the shower house, in those windy moments, a good size white pine
snapped half way up, viciously slamming into the women’s roof.
Breaks from above gather more speed and are always worse. Several
small holes and a crushed eave were the result. Luckily, we have
good carpenter friends on the North Shore, and I am presently
listening to the final touches of reconstruction. In the aftermath,
we took a long hard look at the big trees around our buildings.
Typically, we err on the side of letting as many trees stand as
possible, but a couple diseased white pines loomed ominously near
too many buildings, so we took them down. One of them was about
eighty years old and has long provided shade above the shower
house and office window. Yesterday’s hot sun glared more intensely
above the computer. I looked out and remembered the new hole in
the forest over the showers. It is significantly brighter out
there, and likely, a tad bit warmer. I’ll miss that tree, a tree
that stood for forty years or more when this spot was just forest.
A tree that, until it was gone, I had not realized was part of
my mental map of this place. At night, I look up at the big trees
to guide me through the dark paths. Last night as I was moving
between buildings, the trees were drenched in a quick, heavy rain.
I stood below one, against dry warm bark that the storm was too
brief to dampen. The stars reappeared rapidly, so rapidly that
the dripping pines still sounded like rain. I imagined a starlight
rainbow. All I saw were moppy, dark heads of pine, mourning in
the night breeze. OB
6/9/99 – At the base of my brain, a flycatcher’s song has taken
root. For the past several weeks, an Empidonax Flycatcher has
been emphatically calling a sharp, simple "per-wee!"
We rarely see the flycatcher, but its call is the backdrop for
all our comings and goings. Several nights, I have heard the flycatcher
so clearly that I pause, surprised to hear the call so late. But,
like reaching land after a long windy paddle, still feeling waves
roll through limbs and heart, it was an illusion. While fixing
canoes or unloading stock, the flycatcher call cuts into my conscious,
distracting my concentration, drawing my mind into the woods that
press so near. I’ve seen the flycatcher only once, threading in
and out of the tree tops, alighting briefly, calling, then off
again – each spot a little knot cinched with a "per-wee",
darning our clearing back into the forest canopy. The insistent
flycatcher tunes me to other calls, bits of sound that roll into
our compound like errant balls from neighbor children. I am reminded
of the fun nearby, the treats and wonder that first brought me
here and are too often obscured during busy times. Worn out, at
the end of a long day, all that remains is the flycatcher. A beacon
pulsing in my head, in the darkness of my bedroom, it guides me
through the inconsequentials of the day, into a morning so full
of chiming birds, I wonder if I will ever feel down again. OB
6/2/99 – Veteran Sawbill crew member, Dave Freeman, ended an
interesting overnight canoe trip yesterday. He left Sawbill about
5 PM and traveled to Wine Lake. He took the 480 rod portage north
of Lujenida, but turned west in the middle and followed a little
used trail to Frederick Lake. He spent the morning fishing on
Wine and then returned to Sawbill by Noon.
Dave is renowned for his long distance solo canoe trips through
the wilderness. It isn’t that he travels fast, but he is relentless.
He first came to our attention when he took a week long solo trip
at the age of 16. Two weeks ago, he graduated from the University
of Colorado with a degree in anthropology.