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Sawbill Lake officially froze over (for the second time

12/7/09 – Sawbill Lake officially froze over (for the second time this year) on Thursday, December 3rd. It had been half frozen for about a week with only steady winds keeping the other half open. As of today, the older ice has about 4″ of snow and the newer has about 2″.
This evening, I broke out the skis for the season’s first foray up the lake. The first ski using the classic style each year feels awkward for the first few kilometers. The subtle combination of motion and balance just don’t happen right away. The muscles that are sore after the first ski aren’t the major leg muscles but the stabilizer muscles in the legs and torso. Those are the muscles that work the hardest until the hang is re-gotten.
In spite of my lack of style, I was really enjoying the beautiful post-sunset light and the otter tracks that I soon encountered. The otters travel on the frozen lakes by running four or five quick jumps and then flopping on their bellies for an eight to ten foot slide. I began to wonder if the otters experience the same annual learning curve that I do as they return to their winter style of travel.
From there, my mind turned to slush – the slush that forms on top of ice that can make winter travel in the BWCA Wilderness difficult. I wondered if the otters are bothered by the slush? Just as I was pondering the otter’s state of mind, I noticed that the tracks I was following suddenly turned off the lake up onto the shore. I skied past, wondering why, when I skied right into a large patch of slush. Smart otter.
My style deteriorated even more now that each ski weighed a few pounds more and the bottoms were covered with a layer of ice. After crossing the lake, I angled south and encountered a crisp set of very fresh wolf tracks. I followed the wolf’s route south and noticed that the wolf also avoided the occasional slush patches. As the day turned to full night, I could only see the tracks for about ten feet ahead. A rock loomed out of the dimness and looked just like a wolf curled up in the snow. Finally, the wolf and I ran out of lake. The wolf headed up into the woods and I turned up the canoe landing and headed home. – Bill