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December 1999

12/26/99 – We had an excellent Sawbill Christmas. A surprise
warm snap, along with brilliant sunshine, made Christmas a beautiful
day. Karl, Adam and Ruthie Hansen along with Karl’s fiance, Lee
Stewart, all made the trek home for the holiday. Adam and Ruthie
were admiring the full moon while driving up the Sawbill Trail
when a moose decided to gallop out of the woods directly in front
of the car. Adam did an instantaneous cost/benefit analysis and
steered the car off the road. They missed the moose by inches,
cruised through the ditch for 50 feet and returned to the road,
a ruined front tire the only casualty. Karl and Lee saw a fox
and a wolf on the Sawbill Trail on their way up. Both were unusually
large examples of the species.

12/23/99 – Clare (age 11) and I skied under the incredible
full moon last night. We were able to groom the unplowed campground
roads. It felt good to be back on the boards and conditions were
excellent, in spite of the -10 degree temperatures. The moon
was almost painfully bright, casting crisp, black shadows across
the trail.

Both Clare and I spotted a small dark creature hunched next
to the trail. Clare fearlessly approached it, thinking that it
was a small animal in trouble. When she was within eighteen inches,
the "animal" revealed itself to be a large swatch of
birch bark.

Clare commented on how much she would like to see a large black
wolf cross the trail in the moonlight ahead of her. I told her

Sig Olson’s famous story of being surrounded by a wolf pack while
hiking on the frozen Kawishiwi River in the middle of the night.
Clare said, "That would be so cool!" It could sure happen
here, as we often see wolf tracks on our ski trail. – Bill

12/21/99 – The new price lists, reservation forms, and food
menus are now updated for 2000. Follow the links above for the
latest info. Prices remained essentially the same this year.

Real winter has finally arrived here at Sawbill. -18 was the
low last night. In years past, we used to joke about the official
start of winter being the 21st of December. By that date, we have
usually had at least a month of winter – and sometimes more. We
have about 6 – 7 inches of snow on the ground. We are able to
ski on the unplowed roads and the lake, but not the ski trails

12/17/99 – Cold weather has arrived in earnest. The high yesterday
was eight degrees Fahrenheit, and the low was minus nine over
night. This morning’s drive to work provided the pleasure of changing
a flat tire in sub-zero temperatures. Fingers and lug nuts were
at odds, and it did not help that I kicked several of the neatly
piled nuts into a bank of snow. I was feeling pretty cold and
blue, so I put on all my winter gear and settled into to do the
job right. Soon, I was into my "Indy car pit stop"
mode (we change a lot of flat tires up here!) Just as I was finishing,
the only car that passed while I was working, stopped offering
help and cheery words of support. As he drove off, I realized
how lucky I was to change a flat with such good companionship;
the still woods, early morning light greeting my breaths, and
friendly neighbors with time to help. I drove the rest of the
way patient for my destination, with a keen eye for the details
that are so rewarding while driving the back roads. A series of
wolf tracks put my brief cold encounter into perspective. I considered
the past two nights nipping fiercely at wolf noses, curling their
sleeps into tighter balls. To imagine a wolf waking and stretching
in this bitter cold, with little notion of where the days successes
and disappointments lay, made me feel pretty cushy sitting in
a warm well running car, full of tools, a snack and warm clothes.
I wonder if I can ever remember or understand what it means to
wake and feel that way? OB

12/15/99 – Last Sunday was a very special day. A day I will
not soon forget or replicate. For the past week and a half, ice
skating conditions in Cook County have been good to excellent.
Skating in the BWCA is a special treat, and I have often imagined
traveling great distances. Last Friday, dining at the East Bay
Hotel and comparing skating stories of the past few days, I dreamed
with a friend about the sheer joy and novelty of skating on Cherokee
Lake. At the time, it felt like the type of idea that forever
lingers in the "what if" category.

This past Sunday, looking over the toes of three casually crossed
pairs of skates at a sheet of ice filling bays and wrapping islands,
I rested with friends on a sunny rock on north Cherokee Lake.
Earlier that day, we had put in at Brule Lake. We were skeptical
and careful, knowing that larger lakes take longer to freeze.
In forty minutes of travel, four and a half miles down Brule to
the west, we began to realize that our dream might slip into reality.
Brule had small patches of open water and a little rough ice,
but mainly black ice prevailed. Effortless skating coupled with
lifting morning fog, kept us firmly in the dream state, and we
kept checking with each other to confirm our luck. At Brule’s
west end, we found open water on the creek leading to South Temperance
and decided to approach Cherokee through the Cam to Town chain
of lakes. On short portages, we shuffled across in skate guards,
and on the longer ones, changed to our pack boots. The portages
were covered in wolf tracks – human sign non-existent. We felt
alone in this moment between paddle and snow-shoe. The fog fully
lifted on Town Lake, and under a bright sky, at the tips of long
pine shadows, we raced to Cherokee. Our skate tracks were three
urgent lines of text on a thin parchment of snow covering Town
Lake. Finally on Cherokee, we hugged, hollered, and raced off
to explore. On the north end, we found a large section of open
water. We speculated that the wind kept this section open and
wondered too, if maybe the deep water under that spot took longer
to mix and cool. We steered clear, knowing an accidental plunge
there would carry the additional weight of dangling over one-hundred-forty
feet of icy water, miles from home. During lunch we could not
believe our position relative to daylight. We pulled out the map
and considered our options, choosing a surprise visit to Sawbill.
Cherokee creek seemed a likely candidate for open water, but we
found it rock solid right to the portage. We skipped one portage
on the way to Sawbill, choosing instead a creek through a swamp.
It too was covered with a trace of snow, offering a sidewalk width,
white and winding, through brown grass and dried irises. In the
late day sun, Sawbill greeted us with rose colored ice, some of
the smoothest of the entire trip. Near the landing we shocked
Cindy who was out skating with the kids, "You came from where?!"

It was an amazing day, full of pleasures like racing into big
banking turns, switching to skate backwards, and seeing all of
Cherokee Lake recede from view. I skated ten feet off shore so
fast the cedars blurred, stopped on a dime and levitated, peering
through crystalline ice above rocky mute stillness There was a
vastness of opportunity that day. The easy speed we achieved took
us from Brule to Sawbill in six hours. Standing in the middle
of Cherokee on top of such wondrous means of conveyance, I began
to wonder about the ice on Frost Lake, the ins and outs of Little
Sag ice, and how Gabi, so open and wide, might be the best of
all ice. It was the sort of day where the limits of the natural
world strangely combine and lift, the kind of day that rewards
the mindfulness of closely watching the country with the opportunity
to be part of its ephemera. I am uplifted after Sunday, knowing
that in the mysteries of the Northwoods there are dreams that
pop down on the landscape lucidly and gleam like Oz.

Today, a light snow falls that will bond to the ice and pebble
it, or pile in shallow banks, both of which will slow skating.
The snow is welcome, because we can’t wait for skiing. It’s late
arrival is the topic all over Cook County. Inevitably, likely
before the evening is out, I will join my voice with my neighbors’
complaints about the lack of snow. However, I will do so disingenuously.
Thus far the snow has been perfect, hiding in corners on Brule,
slim to none on Ada Lake, and confused on Sawbill, slipping away
in disarray. OB

12/9/99 – I apologize for the long silence here. I have been
struck down by the flu from hell. Based on other’s experience
with this virus, I should get some energy back tomorrow. To add
insult to injury, the lake is frozen enough for excellent skating.
I have carried bits of overheard skating conversation in and out
of fevered dreams for the last five days, so I’m not sure what
is reality, but it seems that there is much black ice and fairly
smooth. OB has, of course, been logging the miles. He cracked
his head a good one last week, but seems to have suffered no permanent
damage. Two people he was skating with fell through some thin
ice, but fortunately, it was only thigh deep, so no harm done
there either. If my health does return, I’ll try to get some pictures
up here. – Bill

12/3/99 – Sawbill Lake refroze for the third time on Monday,
11/29. Since then, it has turned quite warm again and the ice
is starting to degrade. I have never seen it freeze and thaw three
times, much less the four times it seems to be headed for.

Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, stopped in for a rare
visit on Monday. Ed was in the area helping a friend train some
dogs for the upcoming mushing season. It was a treat to see him
and hear some poetry first hand, including this one:

long chase ends

the wolf licks

a bloody paw

Here is a great email we received from long time customer and
friend Ron Holtman:

O.B. Your notes about the red pines reminded me of a canoe
trip in Algonquin Park in my youth. We had blazed a new trail
into the northern part of the park that had been logged – back
then the canoe routes had not been completed into that area and
we created some new trails. Here was my recollection (written
many years later). Ron Holtman -Wooster, Oh

Walking a quiet trail

I come upon a lumber camp

long deserted.

Expectantly, I open doors with care,

Perhaps to find an antique tool

or some old hermit living there.

The stillness here seems odd.

These cabins once were filled with raucous men

who toiled with saw and ax,

rough roustabouts

who took their wages from this timberland.

The trees they cut,

whose stumps are now but mounds of earth,

were primal growth

of massive oaks or stately pines;

of such a size that two,

with arms spread wide,

could not span their girth.

For native ones with lesser needs

the trees were gifts

of their Earth Mother’s generosity;

living beings which

with the wood’s inhabitants

shared their bounteous limbs and leaves.

To others later claiming rights

by legal deed or treaty

the trees seemed better used for commerce,

masts of ships or charcoal fires,

or furniture for those at ease.

I try to visualize those ancient giants now removed

replaced by planted rows of lanky firs

whose genes, someone has shown,

assure much quicker growth and uniformity.

And so I ponder there my children’s loss

and speak in anger

of those rough hewn men,

in woolen union suits,

who I contend clear cut this land.

Enough, I say, No more.

But as for me, I do have needs

necessities, a house of pine

and paper reams

and oaken chairs to grace my floor.

The source of these

is lumber yard or other place

that sells commodities

or products ready made,

and buying there I fail to see

their ancestral link to forest floor.

But I should know,

the hands that sent that timber down

are my hands too;

and all my PACS and lobbying

and all my righteous indignation

will not reclaim for future’s sake

what those weathered foresters,

in my name, have taken.

Sawbill Outfitters is a proud member of Northeastern
Minnesotans For Wilderness
which is working to organize the
many people who support the wilderness and happen to live in northeastern
Minnesota. Visit their site for more information on BWCA Wilderness
issues and what you can do to help protect the BWCA Wilderness.