8/31/99 – Much is being written in the regional newspapers
about the increased risk of wildfire in the BWCA Wilderness in
the wake of the July 4th windstorm. Our view is that the windstorm
and the fires that will follow are natural events in the wilderness
forest ecosystem. Although human nature makes it tempting to view
these events as "disasters," they are in fact a healthy
events within the forest’s time frame.
In 1995, a huge blow down event occurred in the Adirondack Park
in New York. We found a very interesting article studying the
blowdown event in the Adirondacks which has many similarities to
the situation in the Superior National Forest.
The article is available on the web on the Conservation
Ecology online magazine.
8/27/99 – What a commotion the spiders made last night! They
decorated the woods with ornamental webs on every tree and strung
streamers across the road. Their fine threads glistened in the
moonlight like bubbles in champagne. Everyone came to witness
the spectacle, and they were treated to fine sights: spiders covering
great distances between trees by "ballooning" on long
strands, and rodeo like contests of insect bundling. In a great
display of generosity, miles of web were strewn out,wrapping the
woods in a thick tangle. In the early morning light, evidence
of the celebration hung damp with dew or drifted in the wind,
living lines dancing hypnotic, graceful curves. A diehard moose,
wearing a sodden trench coat of webs, marched about pestering
the others to wake and continue the festivities. Two ravens, who
had held a mutual but distant affection, found courage in the
evening’s passion. They glided under the sun, draping themselves
in the finest webs which whipped and snapped behind them to the
rolls and tumbles of their aerial flirtations. Flicker was crazed
wearing a curly wig of web. He had lost all sense of gratitude
and began rooting around eating his hosts! A playful dragonfly
jumped from reed to reed, enjoying the whip at the reed top when
the spiders’ taught threads snapped under his weight. As the day
progressed, wind and sun broke down the threads, pieces littering
the forest like confetti after a parade. Tiny worms that live
in mushrooms collect it as ticking material. The spiders sleep
all day in the center of their webs, some waking later confused
to find themselves riding on a pine marten tail or bear snout
that crashed through their tree archways. In the late August evening
sun, the spiders reconvene under mushroom domed conference centers.
Lounging on long velvety strands of spaghum moss, in a haze of
spore, they plan the night’s activity – a hum of clicking legs.
Each night, until the frost, they will tie the woods in a different
shape, a different theme, celebrating the aspects of a good summer.
8/25/99 – Mike Coomes and Kathleen Lock sent along this photo
of their daughter Caitlan from their recent canoe trip.
8/24/99 – The evening sun lay in the tree tops and a loon flew
over calling. In the cool shade of Sawbill’s western shore, we
fished for walleyes. Before I heard the loon, I saw it – a speck
drawing a line toward our canoe, enlarging like a raindrop falling
cheekward. The call, impossibly loud from such a distant object,
cracked through the silence announcing, Loon! We paused, enrapt,
our troll drifting back, lines crossing. Closer and closer, the
loon’s neck undulating to the beat of wings. Just at the tree
tops, a warm glow lit the creamy white belly yellow, taking the
chill from the dark cool waters. I hoped the loon would call again.
I ached for that call, as if my brain, so accustomed to audio
communication, needed further confirmation of this other sentient.
A call could suggest I existed to her and, just maybe, she sensed
my well intentioned curiosity and happiness to see her. There
is a desire to connect, to become enmeshed in the workings and
lives of the pulsing surrounding ecosystem. When I chat with a
moose on the road and its big head tilts, or whistle at a curious
fox that stops and looks me in the eye, I feel accepted, like
an insider. The wilderness is foreign terrain, and just as we
seek acceptance in a smile or warm gesture in a another culture,
we seek in wildlife sightings understanding and a sense of belonging.
In the silence, approaching wing beats tapped lightly like a conductors
baton. We were scarcely breathing when a burst of yellow notes
washed down on our heads, a loon cadenza. It was so like a salutation
I grinned and waved, murmuring hello in happy surprise. OB
8/21/99 – Effective immediately, the Forest Service is allowing
open fires in the BWCA Wilderness between the hours of 6 PM and
midnight. As always, fires must be contained in the fire grates
provided at the campsites and drowned thoroughly before they are
Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, sent this poem this morning:
Once you’ve paddled and portaged
a canoe north, out of the Sawbill,
camped where fleeting glimpse
of wolf dominates campfire conversation
late into star drenched night,
interrupted only by haunting
wail of distant loon,
you’ll be surprised how often
this "wilderness yardstick" measures your life,
finding you to far
south of the Sawbill.
8/19/99 – We received two interesting emails from Sawbill campers.
John Mills wrote:
Just wanted to report a wolf pack sighting. My canoeing
partner and I were
camped on North Temperance, on the island site at the north end.
Saturday evening we heard, we heard wolves yelping in the not
and were quite astonished to hear them, as it was my first such
21 trips up north.
The next morning (Sunday), we headed south toward Brule
at around 7:45 am.
Just as we cleared the southern portion of the island, Mike spotted
pack (4 wolves, two browns/whites and two grays) circling a cow
and calf off
the little island to the south. I had just got a glimpse of them,
they split for the mainland, presumable due to being startled
by us. I
have never encountered wolves before Sunday, and thought you might
interested in the event.
I couldn’t get the wolves in a pic, as they were too far
away by the time I
got my camera out, but did catch the cow and calf.
Phil Coates wrote:
Subject: Warning about campsite #21
While camping in this site last week (during the storm)
a red squirrel
licked some peanut butter off of one our of camp knives. Liking
picked the knife up and carried it up the white pine tree.
Be warned that there is a Red Squirrel with an attitude
hiding out on
campsite #21. He is armed and believed to be dangerous. Be careful
8/18/99 – Another chapter from the July 4th storm has closed.
For several days last week, we were mystified by a Royalex
canoe abandoned on the Alton to Sawbill portage. The canoe was
grotesquely indented at the stern and was equipped with fishing
gear. I received a call the other day from Dave Nelson, and he
was asking if the Forest Service could drop his canoe at our place
for him to pick up. An odd request, and then the light bulb lit.
Dave proceeded to tell me a very amazing story.
The afternoon of the storm, Dave and his girlfriend were on
a day trip from their camp on Alton. They were seeking big pike
on Sunhigh Lake when darkness descended at mid-day. They leaned
the canoe against a big pine and crawled under it to wait out
the storm. Then, Dave says, "all the trees starting coming
down." They were trapped below the canoe when a pine fell
across the canoe mid-beam. Dave painfully extracted himself and
then carefully assisted his girlfriend whose head was pinned below
the bow seat. Sans saw, Dave began to dig out the canoe but quickly
ran out of soil. To extract the canoe, he pounded it out, bashing
the stern with a rock. The canoe popped back into shape (amazing
Royalex), and the couple headed toward Wonder Lake. About one
hundred feet into the Wonder to Alton portage, elevated ten feet
off the portage, in a tangle of wind blown trees stretching in
all directions, Dave determined portaging was infeasible. The
canoe was abandoned, and they negotiated a 200 rod maze of pine,
birch and aspen. Exhausted, they rested while staring at the mile
and a half of shore and woods between them and their campsite.
After wading, swimming, and bushwhacking, a tree hammered tent
greeted them. They extracted the tent and slept uneasily on bruises
and concerns of being in the BWCA without a canoe – up the river
without a paddle.
Their luck continued in the morning when not a canoeist was
in sight. Dave improvised a raft from his Thermarest and huffed
and puffed to the Alton to Sawbill portage. In disbelief, he saw
not a soul, and splashed in to continue his arduous trek to the
landing. Finally, a camper in the bay, spotted him pushing a Thermarest
through the water, and loaned Dave a canoe. Dave immediately returned
to his girlfriend and they headed home.
A few weeks later, the sawyer crew that cleared the Alton to
Wonder portage retrieved the canoe and, mysteriously, left it
as a conversation topic on the Sawbill side of the Alton portage.
Finally, the canoe was towed to the Forest Service guard station.
There’s not a fish in it, but that is one hell of a fish story!
8/15/99 – There is a fire ban in effect for most of the BWCA
Wilderness for the rest of the season. Due to the large amount
of blow down associated with the July 4th storm, fire danger will
be very high throughout the fall, no matter what the weather does.
The leaves and needles on the fallen trees have dried to the point
where they are very volatile. Only the area west of a line from
Kawishiwi Lake to Malberg Lake is exempt from the fire ban.
8/14/99 – I opened this newsletter today and was shocked to
see how long it has been since we made an entry. My apologies
to the regular readers. The whole Sawbill crew gets a little frazzled
this time of year.
Clare Hansen, age 11, and I were able to sneak away for a four
day father/daughter canoe trip this week. We entered at Kawishiwi
Lake and visited the pictographs on Fishdance Lake, before camping
on Alice Lake. We traveled up through Thomas and Fraser Lakes,
got temporarily lost on Roe Lake, and came back to Kawishiwi through
Boulder, Adams, and Malberg Lakes.
On the 238 rod portage between Cacabic and Thomas Lakes, there
is an infamous swamp section about 200 feet long. Sometime in
the past, the Forest Service built a corduroy walkway across the
slough. Over the years, the walkway has sunk about a foot below
the surface of the muddy water. If you stay right in the middle
of the trail as you cross the marsh, you will be fine. If, however,
you stray from the center, you will sink to your waist or higher
in the foul smelling mud (known to veteran canoeists as "loon
shit"). Clare had a brush with fate when she stepped just
off the beginning of the boardwalk and got her foot thoroughly
stuck. Fortunately, she was able to patiently extract her foot
without losing her boot.
Some other canoeists on the portage were not so lucky. A girl
about Clare’s age did have her shoe sucked off just moments after
we extracted Clare. We saw the same group after lunch on Fraser
and asked them if they had found the shoe. They said they had,
after an hour and a half of feeling around in the grime. They
also found two other shoes! It makes you wonder what else might
be in there. Perhaps a boy scout or two?
Our trip concluded on Thursday with a long day of travel in
the pouring rain. We stayed dry in our Helly Hansen rain suits
though, and kept our spirits up by making up silly songs. Clare
turned to me as we approached the last lake and announced that
she was not going to paddle because she didn’t want the trip to
end. I asked her if she would really prefer setting up a drenched
tent and eating dinner under the tarp to a hot meal and a warm
bed at home. Without hesitating, she said yes. I love that girl.
8/4/99 – Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, comments on his
recent canoe trip out of Sawbill:
I am still thinking about the canoe trip and the fun we
all had. Everyone liked the snowshoe rabbit that came into camp
every night on North Temperance and was like a pet dog. Then there
was the two dragonflies at the island camp on Burnt that flew
in and cleaned up the gnats. That was something to watch.
Now I don’t know what it is about that first portage from
the Sawbill to Smoke but every time we hit that portage there
are people there that have lost something. Last year it was car
keys this year it was a life jacket! Plus after I had told the
guy he should be standing on the wood walkway, he went through
the bog up to his chest!!! He didn’t have to be worried about
get dirty for the rest of the day.
But the best thing on the whole trip, in my book, was the
campsite on North Temperance. Our tent faced west and on the first
night laying in bed looking at the sunset was out of this world!!
Here was this near perfect reflection of three clouds, a pinkish
rose color, framed by the tent door and just as the color was
starting to fade a loon landed on the lake right in the middle
of the cloud reflections. It was so beautiful. Both nights the
loons called like crazy on the lake. – Ed
8/2/99 – Last night was the annual Dome Dance at Sawbill. It
is a chance for our excellent and hard working crew to blow off
some steam and have fun. Line, square and circle dances were called
by Terrence Smith, caller extrodinaire from Duluth, and father
of crew member Laura Smith. Fiddling was provided by Laura, Mark
Boggie from Two Harbors, and Tom Van Cleve from Grand Marais.
Besides the Sawbill crew, the dancers included some Sawbill campers,
wilderness rangers, and some folks from Grand Marais and Tofte.
The highlight of the evening was the world debut of the Sawbill
Band. It is made up of crew members playing instruments that they
have never played before. What they lacked in technical skill,
they made up for with enthusiasm.
The 1999 Sawbill crew is among the best we’ve ever had. Hard
working, cheerful, committed to wilderness – truly a pleasure
to be associated with. – Bill
8/1/99 – We had two great groups of high school kids here this
morning. The Zackley Youth Group from the 1st Congregational Church
of LaGrange, Illinois, and the youth from the Flossmoor Community
Church of Flossmoor, Illinois, are both long time customers, friends
of Sawbill, and the BWCA Wilderness. It is a joy for us to deal
with such lovely, intelligent, and alert youth. Both churches
run excellent programs for their young people and we are proud
to play a small part. – Bill