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October 2004

10/26/2004 – In anticipation of Halloween, several Sawbill crew members and former crew got down to business with some good old fashioned pumpkin carving. I’ll let the pictures tell the tale. Click here for the photo gallery.

Kirk, Bill, Tess, Adam, Molly, Carol, Clare, Loren, Carl, Jeff, Britta, Carley and Dave dig in.

Crew member Jeff Green carved a likeness to fellow crew member Loren McWethy. Jeff sought to capture Loren’s rapper
alter-ego–Lolo Baynx.

Click here for more pumpkin carving fun!

10/22/2004 – Although MEA weekend has temporarily spared us from the rituals of closing down we undergo every October, the telltale signs are starting to appear. Yesterday, we emptied our canoe yard and celebrated with a game of touch football in the new void. All of our Kevlar canoes get the privilege of living indoors for the winter, inside the dome (you remember the dome, don’t you?). Stacked vertically, we take excruciating care to make sure the canoes are well situated, and not likely to tumble over like dominoes. As hilarious as that would be in a Three Stooges spot, we try to avoid this scenario at all costs. Another sign that the end is near: one very empty parking lot. It’s a sad time for all of us this time of year, but just think: only six month till ice out (and the opening of the Sawbill Beach Club) in 2005.

Please don’t fall! Some canoes stare down at us for their winter perch.

Where did all the cars go?

10/19/04 – The cold fall weather has sure made it quiet around here. We are averaging two customers a day over the last couple of weeks. The fall weather has not stopped crew member Loren McWethy from having a great time though. Just this weekend Loren reached the highest point in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain, and he also went on an overnight camping trip into the BWCAW without a wood stove and canvas tent like Dave uses. Loren claims that his secret to staying warm is liquefying his food and consuming it in less than half the time it takes to chew. He says it is the most efficient way to consume energy. I think I’ll stick to the fork and knife and take my time at dinner. -Jeff

Loren fills his tank and starts his engine.

Minnesota’s highest point is conquered and the tank is emptied.

Waiting for his extra fuel to thaw he takes a look to the West from Eagle Mountain.

10/16/04 – Well, it looks like winter is continuing to blow in today. We received another blanket of snow last night and the winds have caused white caps on the lake. The winds did not seem to intimidate a couple of moose hunters though as they hauled in their prize on the last day of the season. We also received a kind message from a Sawbill Newsletter fan. He wrote:

Hi there,
I haven’t seen Sawbill in person for about a decade. I don’t think I have been by you’ll since before I started college in 97. I just wanted to express "my deepest thank you" for your web site. I have been able to look in on the BWCAW and remember the times I spent there with my family because of your site. You’re site has meant a great deal to me in the past, you can only imagine how different the Mohave, Arabian, and Midwestern deserts are from my upbringing in Minnesota. In the past six years I have lived in Ecuador, Spain, Virginia, North Carolina, Kuwait, Iraq, and Oklahoma; during all that time I have missed the north woods a great deal, but your site has allowed me to visit it, in a way.
Thank you for continuing to do what I came to know you for doing so long ago; you’re ability to teach and pass the joy of the BWCAW is remarkable and noteworthy.
John Turner
CPT, US Army

We would like to thank Captain Turner and everyone else who have sent their praises about the newsletter. -Jeff

Captain John Turner

Mark Neil and Joe Pfannenstein from St. CLoud displaying the cow moose they shot yesterday on Java Creek.

Alison enjoying her commute to Sawbill more than her commute to class.

10/14/04 – Snow! A half inch of snow fell over night, and snow continued to fall all morning. As I paddled into work this morning snowflakes stung my face for the first time in many months, what a great sensation.

After a few false starts Bill was finally able to pry himself from his duties here at Sawbill and go out for a few days of solitude. He left on Tuesday and came back today. Bill was not the only Cook County resident enjoying the BWCAW this week. All of the 5th graders at Sawtooth Elementary School in Grand Marais came up to Sawbill on Tuesday to go canoeing and to learn about the importance of Leaving No Trace. The students were at Sawbill all morning and everyone had a lot of fun. They really liked Homer and Sunny, and gave them a lot of extra attention. – Dave

Bill portages down to the landing for his annual fall solo trip!

I sure wish my 5th grade class went canoeing!

10/12/04 – This morning I awakened to the shrill chatter of a squirrel greeting the day outside my tent. The sunlight streaming through the walls of my collapsible home cast delicate brown shadows of birch leaves and balsam boughs onto the cream colored canvas overhead, signaling that another clear, calm, sunny day had begun.

I dressed quietly, leaving my two tent mates, Molly and Loren, buried in their sleeping bags. The cool morning air mixed with the forest floor’s slowly decomposing golden carpet to produce a sweet, musty smell that made my nostrils tingle as I ducked out of the tent. Sawbill Lake’s smooth surface was painted with the reds, yellows, and greens of the surrounding forest. I sat by the water’s edge soaking in the silence, staring at my wild surroundings and reflecting on the many choices I have made that had brought me to this spot.

Dave enjoying the silence before paddling to work.

I mulled over the last 12 hours in my mind as I sat by the water’s edge, preparing to paddle to work. Last night after work, Loren, Molly, and I paddled out to one of the first campsites on Sawbill Lake. The black sky was blanketed with stars that left pin drops of light on the lake’s surface as we traveled. Then we lounged for several hours in a massive pile of sleeping bags talking and laughing until finally drifting off to sleep.

Now a stone’s throw from my bed, I was enjoying the morning calm before paddling to work. Sitting by the lake reaffirmed the value of choosing a life path that allows me to be surrounded by wilderness. After warming ourselves by the heat of the tent’s wood stove for a while, my friends and I slid our canoe into the water, paddled a mile down Sawbill to the boat landing, and portaged back to work. This evening I will paddle back to my campsite for another night in the wilderness; I hope others will consider trying a wilderness commute. – Dave

Loren and Molly pulling hard for the Sawbill landing.

10/11/04 – There has been a lot of activity around here over the past week, and sometimes it is hard to keep newsletter readers informed. Since a picture can be worth a 1,000 words I have decided to use mostly pictures for this entry. FYI today is another spectacular day, but the weather gurus are calling for cold, snowy weather in the near future. – Dave

Happy Birthday to me! Sawbill celebrated my golden birthday with a tasty gold cake prepared by Cindy.

Cindy, Molly, and Jasmine are all smiles during their sauna at Sweet Grass Cove last week. Each year the fall crew members take a day off and go to Sweet Grass Cove on Lake Superior for body work, saunas, and quick dips in a very chilly lake.

Last night was Jasmine’s last night at Sawbill. To celebrate we all played "Pit" a card game that includes lots of yelling, and laughing, two of Jasmines favorite activities. We all wish Jasmine well as she heads out into the "real world". Go Jaz go!

This morning Craig Sunnarborg, from Esko, MN, and his hunting partner brought in a bull moose that they shot on Kawishiwi last night. There have been a bunch of moose hunters in the area this year, and this is the second moose that has been brought by Sawbill.

10/10/04 – The cool nights and warm days of Fall often provide surreal paddling experiences for early birds that get up before the sun golden rays burn the mist off the lakes, and dries the fiery red Moose Maple leaves. The other day I awoke as the suns warm glow was just starting to settle on the tree tops. The traces of fog visible through my window urged me to rise early. I began trotting towards the landing with a canoe on my shoulders and a paddle in hand when I caught site of the lakes mirror smooth surface. Sawbill was layered in fog making it hard to distinguish where the water ended and air began. A juvenile bald eagle eyed me as it scanned the shoreline for a meal, its molted coat catching the golden rays of the pre-dawn light as it flew. Paddling north the bow of my canoe pierced the lake’s glassy surface. Points and Islands appeared and disappeared as dense patches of gray fog floated across the lake. As the yellow morning light turned to day a slight wind sent tiny ripples dancing across the lake. Soon the sun was high in the sky and the misty morning was a fading memory. As I drifted south towards the landing, slowly pushed by the growing North wind, I was transported back to other fog filled morning paddles.

A beautiful fog covered morning on Sawbill Lake

Several years ago I spent 80 days paddling the Mississippi River from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. Most mornings we awoke early, usually camped a stones through from the river. One foggy morning in near Davenport, Iowa, during the first week of October 200, will remain etched in my memory forever. The fog was so thick that we could only see 100 feet in any direction. We were worried about getting run over by barges, so we stayed close to shore, out of the shipping channel, and kept our ears, and eyes open. After about half an hour a small, fishing boat floated in and out of view in the drifting fog. In it stood a commercial fisherman pulling his nets, looking for catfish to sell to restaurants in Chicago. We paddled over and talked to Randy, for a long time. He showed us his fish, and gave us a glimpse into his life when he taught us how to wash the nets, and explained that he wakes up at 4 AM every morning to come out fishing before going to work at a nearby fish processing plant because he just can’t imagine not fishing every day. Randy regaled us with stories of the 50 pound monster catfish he had hauled aboard his boat, and warned us about the barges and other dangers along the river. I will never forget Randy’s, toothless grin, warm eyes, or the fog covered river that brought us together. – Dave

Randy checking his nest on the Mississippi River

Randy showing off a flathead catfish

10/7/04 – The weather has been gorgeous at Sawbill, and every second spent outside is real treat. Yesterday Bill, Loren, and I took a day off and spent the day at Sweet Grass Cove on Lake Superior. Basking in the sunshine and listening to the waves crashing against Lake Superior’s jagged shoreline was the perfect way to spend the day.

Swirling waves crashing against the shore of Lake Superior.

Stone sculptures add to Sweet Grass Cove’s relaxing atmosphere.

Life at Sawbill drifts on. Each day a few canoes are rented and a few are sold. Sunnie and Homer are following their seasonal pattern and getting more active by the day; for some reason they are far more active in the winter. The balmy weather has shoved ski season a little further towards the back of my mind, but today was perfect afternoon to groom the ski trail in preparation for the coming snow. Loren and I grabbed the nippers and the chainsaw, and set off to clear windfalls and nip the brush that tries to over take the trail each summer. It is hard to think of a better way to spend an afternoon…well,except in a canoe. – Dave

10/4/04 – SNOW! I woke up this morning to be greeted by the first accumulation of snow this year! I have been watching the occasional snowflake drift from the sky for weeks–one customer even reported seeing snow on Malberg Lake in August–but today was the first ‘serious’ snow. The first snow of the year is always exciting, even if it melts by 11AM as it did this morning. The sight of the first snow makes me eager for winter and the feel of a freshly groomed ski trail underneath my skis. But winter has not arrived yet; for Pete’s sake, Cindy’s tomatoes are still trying to ripen up. I am looking forward to another month of solid paddling.

Cindy’s brave tomatoes posing in front of the snow-covered deck.

10/3/04 – Yesterday dawned sunny and warm, and I decided to partake in one of the more popular activities of the fall, leaf-peeping. The Sawbill area is blessed with some of the most rugged terrain in Minnesota, which offers those in search of color the opportunity to admire the leaves from mountain-top vistas. Hoping to investigate reports of a line of color separating the trees of the shore from those of the interior, I decided on hiking up Britton Peak, a short steep hike located along the Sawbill Trail. I enjoyed the sunshine filtering down onto my head and the distinct smell of fall leaves in my nose as I hiked upward, picking my way around the rocks and roots that cover the trail. As rumored, the trees on the lakeside of Britton Peak are stubbornly holding on to their green, while those up the Sawbill Trail have either lost their leaves or are at the peak of their color. This difference can be explained by temperature differences; the water of Superior helps keep the adjacent land from dropping below freezing in the fall. In Bill’s words, "you know when winter is coming because it becomes warmer at the lakeshore than at Sawbill. You know when summer has come because it is colder at the lakeshore than at Sawbill." After enjoying the view and the colors, I went for a quick jaunt along the Superior Hiking Trail. Just last week, Sawbill employee Scott completed the entire 200+ miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. Aside from a few mishaps caused by a malfunctioning water filter, Scott had a great trip and even ran into another Sawbill employee, Jasmine, while on the trail. – Loren

Left: The view from Britton Peak with Lake Superior and the popular Carlton Peak in the background. Right: The colorful view looking away from the shore.

10/1/04 – October has arrived, and with it, moose hunters and cold, crisp weather. The moose hunters, whose two week season opens tomorrow, have been arriving at Sawbill in increasing numbers to scout out the marshy areas nearby. Each year, 246 groups of up to four people are given a once-in-a-life-time moose-hunting license in a lottery that draws thousands of bids. Sixteen permits are given for groups entering the zone that encompasses Sawbill and extends up to Brule. Moose hunters–the sane ones at least–generally stay close to put-in spots like Sawbill in order to avoid portaging hundreds of pounds of meat long distances.

In other animal news, the birds around Sawbill seem to have become dissatisfied with their dwindling food sources and have begun to hungrily jockey for position at the bird feeders outside the office window. The birds in the area are voracious eaters; Sawbill distributes 500 pounds of bird feed annually, and up to 800 pounds in a big year!

A black-capped chickadee pays a visit to the bird feeder outside the office window.