Posted on

April 1999

4/29/99 –



OB opens the ’99 Sawbill Beach Club in the traditional style, one day after the ice leaves Sawbill Lake. Estimated water temperature: 32.001 degrees.

We’ve had several inquiries about the return of the loons. We have heard several loons calling as they fly over, but have yet to see the return of the pair that nests on south Sawbill Lake. They may have been surprised by the rapid meltdown too. Last night, I heard the woodcocks doing their mating flight and the wood frogs started to croak in the black spruce bog. – Bill


4/27/99 – 7 P. M. It’s official. The ice is substantially clear on Sawbill Lake. Only a narrow band of ice along the east shore remains, but the experts say when the lake is 90% clear of ice, you can declare it out.



Carl Hansen with his fishing pole, but before you call the game warden, be assured that he is just sailing his "Paddle To The Sea" which he recently carved during a course at the North House Folk School

4/27/99 – The ice on Sawbill is not out, but there is no measurement, because my measuring hole is gone. By 8 o’clock last night, Sawbill was about 30 percent out. Carl, Clare and I went for a sunset paddle. The main snowshoe and ski trail heading north up the middle of the lake proved to be more durable than the ice around it. For almost half a mile, the white track, about four feet wide, floated by itself with black, ice cold water on both sides. Ski tracks were plainly visible on it, giving me the irrational urge to put on the skis and try it. Halfway up it, we cut across it with the canoe and it broke at that point. The inertia from our collision carried the end away and a quarter mile of pure white ski trail floated off down the lake.

I expect Sawbill to be officially out by the end of today and will try to find the time to post it here as soon as it happens. – Bill

4/25/99 – A beautiful Sunday afternoon finds the Hansen family jogging, playing catch, washing windows, installing screens, and sunbathing (Cindy) – ahhhh Spring. The summer-like temperatures have taken the lake ice down to 9" in less than two days. At this rate it could be out on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Owl researcher, Bill Lane, sent us the following excerpt from his recent journal. Bill has been in the area for the last six weeks gathering census data and observing the behavior of the Boreal Owl. This is his thirteenth year of research on the diminutive owls. – Bill

April has thus far been unkind to my receptive ears. One low-pressure
system after another has swept across northeast Minnesota, and the winds
have put a damper on completing, even starting my surveys. Bad weather
means that I have no release for my compulsive/obsessive owl disorder;
that I have no excuse to not wash my polypropylene and cook proper
meals. I get six, maybe seven hours of sleep. Life could be viewed as
good. But, I am a biologist and when the weather sours-I get antsy.


In a good year, when nest sites have been located, the weather doesn’t
matter. Something is always happening at the nest, be-it the female
leaving to defecate and cast a pellet, or the male making a food
delivery. Okay, I confess: it’s not exactly like watching a parade-more
like a bobber in a hole in the ice. Nest-site observations do however,
help to answer the myriad of questions about the boreal owl that gnaw at
me every field season.


Of course, in order to locate nests that I can watch in bad weather, I
first have to locate males. My search for boreal owls is facilitated by
the male’s unique song (generally 10 notes per bout; 10 to 12 bouts per
minute) and its extreme audibility (I have heard males from a distance
of over 2 miles). When the male’s song changes though, something is up.
Most notably, the frequency of his singing bouts increase and you sense
that there is a bit of excitement, a little more urgency in his song.
If the short bouts are replaced by a continuous series of notes
(prolonged staccato), our bachelor owl may have found a potential mate.
It’s kind of like a singles bar.


In reality though, the prolonged staccato song provides me with only a
brief glimpse at the courtship of the boreal owl. The question remains:
what is the entire process like? Recently, during yet another weather
interruption, I had the opportunity to put a month’s worth of
observations on one male to use. I had located him on 11 March, and
over the next few weeks, he proved to be a consistent singer, but for
the most part unexcited. Sunday night (4 April) I made a
slumped-shouldered drive up the Sawbill Trail to see if anybody would be
singing in the fog, rain, and tree-creaking winds. At his spot, I
stopped and heard him immediately. I decided to record his singing
activity, feeling it was a better option than talk radio. For the next
hour he sang, averaging 15 bouts per minute. This guy was excited.
When I heard the female, I knew why.


As soon as she vocalized, the male went into a bout of prolonged
staccato, and I went into the woods like a bull through the streets of
Pamplona. When I finally arrived at the cavity tree, the male sat in
the cavity entrance and was in a singing frenzy. I timed his bouts, and
they peaked at 20 per minute, but only for a short time. When the
female vocalized again, he initiated another bout of prolonged staccato,
lasting for 2 min and 9 seconds-without interruption! With nothing to
do, I made myself comfortable and sat beneath the tree letting events
take their course.


I stayed at the site for 4 hours. In that time, the female entered the
cavity three more times. Going through my mental-rolodex of owl
behaviors, I tried to determine where this pair was in the courtship
process. Obviously, judging by the males singing when I arrived on the
site, she was already on his territory. I sensed an opportunity to
expand my understanding of the species. It doesn’t happen often, but I
found myself hoping for bad weather.


My hopes were exceeded the next day, when heavy snow warnings were
issued and flags on the Shore were stiff, like the flag on the moon.
The weather cooperated, the female didn’t. I arrived at the cavity site
at 1830 (owls don’t adjust for Daylight Savings Time), and sure enough,
8 minutes later I heard the male singing during his journey to the
cavity. At this point, I told myself “the female will be here in no
time.” I didn’t even zip up my coat. The male sang at 14 or 15 bouts
per minute. Snow started falling. He bounced from the cavity to a
pine, then a spruce branch not more than 10 feet above me. One hour
passed. The winds picked up and he just kept singing. At 2230, I
recorded three observation in my field book: 1) male still singing; 2)
female a no-show; and 3) getting hypothermic. I arrived at the site
during the springtime and left in a blizzard.


Weather conditions improved enough for surveys on Tuesday, but I did
manage to visit the site again, convinced that the female was an
integral part of the cavity tree’s avi-fauna. At 0200, I got out of my
truck and was met by silence. That in itself told me that things were
getting serious. After 20 minutes the male started singing, first in a
subdued staccato, but when the female vocalized, he did his thing. He
let out a prolonged staccato song lasting for 1 minute 54 seconds,
interspersed with a two second pause, then 2 min and 11 seconds of
prolonged staccato. I believe I now know why birds have air sacs.


The next night (8 April), I arrived at the site at 1830. Sure enough at
1836, the male flew right into the cavity and started singing away. At
one point, he dropped to the bottom of the cavity and continued
singing-probably admiring his song. At 1905:40, the female vocalized
from a small stand of black spruce approximately 50 meters to the west.
The male, as you can probably predict by now, went into another bout of
prolonged staccato. At 1910, she again vocalized but stayed in the
black spruce. Then, after my many mental pleadings, she arrived at the
cavity and didn’t even pause. She just flew right in. Interestingly,
she appeared to have something in her foot, which I deduced to be some
nesting material (I often find moss and lichen at the bottom of owl
nests).


The male took off to the east while she sat at the cavity entrance
wondering where her Fabio went. At 2116, with the female tucked deep in
the cavity, the male arrived again, made a brief vocalization, and then
made a delivery to the female. I packed my gear and headed to my
truck. There would be no more frantic singing and no more courtship
behaviors to watch. It was again time to hope for good weather.


Questions or comments? Please direct them to:


4/24/99 – Sawbill Lake ice 15". I saw seven moose on the way home from Ely last night. Northeastern Minnesotans For Wilderness had its annual membership meeting at Camp Du Nord on the north arm of Burntside Lake. It was a beautiful day. Temperatures near 70 degrees, blue skies and black ice on Burntside. A small, but dedicated group of local folks who support wilderness, discussed the issues, heard from the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park managers, shared a meal, and danced to the Wild Thyme band. Becky Rom, an Ely native and daughter of pioneer outfitters Bill and Barb Rom, gave a moving tribute to her childhood mentor,
Sigurd F. Olson, on this 100th anniversary year of his birth. – Bill

4/21/99 – Sawbill Lake ice: 16". I saw five moose on the way home from town last night. The moose are shedding their winter coats right now, which turns them nearly white and very scroungy looking. They seem more skittish than usual, almost as if they are embarrassed by their shabby appearance. I guess it is like that bad dream where you are at school and realize that you are only wearing your underwear. If the moose could blush, they probably would. – Bill

4/20/99 – The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency was here yesterday doing research in Sawbill Creek. They are studying Sawbill Creek in connection with a study of the effect of development and logging on watersheds. Sawbill Creek is a control for the experiment. In other words, it is a creek without significant development or logging that they can compare to other creeks to quantify any changes that might occur. It is well known that logging increases the water temperature in adjacent streams, which reduces trout populations. – Bill

4/19/99 – Sawbill Lake ice depth: 17", 6" of slush and 11" of solid ice.

4/16/99 – Sawbill Lake ice depth: 20".

4/15/99 – The ice on Sawbill Lake is 24" thick. The top layer is about 5" of slush ice and is pretty degraded. Then there is a middle layer of 4" of water. Finally, 15" of solid ice. There is plenty of ice for travel, but you would sure get your feet wet. The weather service keeps predicting snowfall, but so far Spring weather prevails. Redwing blackbirds and starlings are the latest migrants to arrive at Sawbill.

The kids and I had another startling natural event on the way home from school today. As we passed the steel bridge that crosses the Temperance River six miles north of Tofte, we were astounded by the condition of the river. We made our way onto the bridge and stood in awe. Apparently, the river ice had formed a major dam somewhere upstream. The ice dam had broken and sent a flash flood of water, ice and debris down the river. The rampage was four or five times the usual height of the river. The galloping, coffee colored water was choked shore to shore with huge ice blocks. Amongst the turmoil were dozens of whole trees, ripped from the river banks by the violence. The whole stew was moving along at about ten miles per hour. As we watched in amazement, the ice and debris began to thin, and within ten minutes the river was back to straight water with just the occasional ice flow. We were tempted to race back to Temperance River State Park to watch maelstrom drop over the high falls, but I was frankly scared to get too close to that kind of raw natural power. – Bill

4/14/99 – We have finally worked the bugs out of our new microwave radio-telephone system that was installed nearly a year ago. The system had some minor problems at first, but had deteriorated throughout the winter until it was barely usable. Good detective work by technician Steve Schuh finally solved the problem yesterday and we are enjoying truly clear telephone conversations for the first time in our history. We are not popping the champagne cork until it has worked trouble free for a couple of months, but I feel we are on the right track.

Part of the radio-telephone work required me to climb the 180′ tower on top of the Lutsen Mountains Ski Area yesterday. It was 60 degrees and completely calm (a rare occurrence at that altitude). The sky and Lake Superior were a matching deep blue. The view was spectacular for 360 degrees. The ski area was closed, but they were having their annual crew party. It was fun to watch people having a relaxing day of skiing on the very hills where they work so hard the rest of the season. In the quiet, I could clearly hear their conversations as they paused to rest on the slopes. It was an exhilarating, yet strangely calming experience. – Bill

4/11/99 -Today is probably the last day of skiing for the year. Water is starting to pool on the ice around shore, making it difficult to access the ice sheet without getting your ski boots wet. After my chilly plunge last year, I am a little gun shy about spring ice.

4/10/99 – 28" of ice measured on Sawbill Lake today. This is still more than enough for skiing. I skied from the landing to the Ada Creek Portage and back (12 miles) in 52 minutes. 30 minutes up and 22 minutes back. It gives you a clue which way the wind was blowing. With the 20+ mph wind at my back, I felt how the Olympians must feel all the time.

As I came flying back down Sawbill, I noticed a critter on the ice ahead. As I drew nearer, it resolved into an otter, loping across the widest part of the lake. My course brought me into a perfect intersection with the graceful animal. I thought it surely must see me, as I was right in the middle of the huge sheet of white ice. When I was about 100 yards away, it suddenly stopped, looked at me, and then doubled its speed toward shore. When it hit top speed, it dropped on its stomach and slid for 5 feet or so. It would run five or six steps and then slide again. By the time it reached a spot of open water near shore, I was only ten feet behind it. It did one last belly flop, coasting well over 15 feet and slipped like greased lightning down the hole. – Bill

4/7/99 – We were greeted by seven inches of new snow yesterday morning. It continued to snow lightly through the noon hour, then a few peeks at the sun and rising temperatures melted about half of the wet snow. Karl Hansen and Lee Stewart, Sawbill’s first seasonal employees, were forced to take a snow day on their second day of work. When they tried to drive up the Sawbill Trail from Tofte, they encountered 14+" of heavy snow in the hills above Lake Superior. Skies are leaden again this morning, making almost a week of rain, snow and fog. It is a good omen for the summer that we are having a wet weather pattern now. Hopefully, we will avoid last year’s nearly disastrous drought. – Bill

4/5/99 – OB is off for a few weeks of vacation, so the newsletter is likely to be less descriptive for awhile. We returned from a week in the Caribbean to be greeted by freezing rain, slush, gray skies, wet snow, and slushy mud – a sure prescription for depression. Actually, the signs of Spring are encouraging, especially the brightly colored birds that are flocking to the feeder. In the midst of the gloom and rain, the birds have been providing a chorus of beautiful song.

The BWCA Wilderness Permit Reservation Office was having phone trouble last week. If you tried to call and couldn’t get through, it should be OK now. Remember, it is a new toll free number this year: 1-877-550-6777 or on the Internet at: www.bwcaw.org. – Bill

Posted on

March 1999

3/31/99 – I was amazed by reports from our Minneapolis weather correspondent, Kathleen Heikes. Known to some of you as the apple of OB’s eye, Kathleen also doubles as a diligent observer of the meteorological phenomena of the banana belt metro region. She reports that a high of seventy three degrees and strong warm winds, thawed Lake Harriet last night! Amazed, I wondered about our ice, and once again, am impressed at the difference resulting from a couple hundred miles. Sawbill lake has exactly two feet of ice, and a 14 inch blanket of snow sleepily covers the forest floor. However, today’s appearance of a grackle and booms of an approaching thunderstorm, suggest that Sawbill Lake may too ice-out early this year.

This time of year, rocks seem to hatch through the lake surface. As the ice settles and the snow pack melts from above, rocks which protrude above the water, but lay buried during winter, appear to push up. Cracks radiate from these points, and there is a sense of anticipation while looking down on them, as if imminently something may come forth. In fact, in or very near these cracks, otters squeeze in and out. They burrow to the water, taking advantage of the thin ice on top of the rocks and the melting that occurs between the solar heated rocks and ice pack. Neat circular holes, otter size, dive into the cracks. Near each hole were massive amounts of otter scat composed solely of crayfish remains – the otters are living high times. There were so many holes, so many busy otters. I’d like to see them from above with time lapse photography – otters zig-zagging across the lake, lacing the holes together, and heads crunching crayfish popping up smooth icy shoots, over and over, like prairie dogs in a field. Next, a special lens to see through the ice, to watch their sinewy bodies twist and turn in the opaque light, exchanging knowing grins above the perturbed crayfish.

Rocks hatch and others appear to have fallen from the sky, smashing into the lake. After several big winds this winter, large rocks are surrounded by banks of windblown snow. Eddie currents at the base of a rock maintain a snow free collar right down to the ice. The warm weather softens and sculpts the edges of the banks so that the rock seems to sit in an impact crater. The shallows in which the rock sits are obscured, so it seems quite plausible the rock is from above. Thus framed, the details of the rock begin to stand in stark contrast to the surrounding white sheet. Lichens of green, yellow, blue and orange invade the lake canvas like a painting’s first brush stroke. The earliest open water appears near these rocks, as if Spring waited there all winter long. Soon the sky will dab water on the lichens, painting the lake from dawn to dusk, finishing a painting every evening. OB

3/29/99 – Yesterday was a gray, wet day. The sawbill trail was a soup of deep ruts, frozen lumps, and gravel slush. Former crew members Jeff Thompson and Michele Thieman were visiting, and their cars left quite an impression climbing Two Mile Hill – sort of an automobile foot step chart for the cha-cha. Such is the nature of early Spring. A junco just flew by, affirming that last sentence.

Late last night the weather cleared. I watched light, wispy clouds pass the moon like a freight train going by. A high brisk wind carried them noiselessly. I wondered at their destination, and envied their flight through the starry night. Oh to be an angel hobo on that boreal line. Instead, I settled into a cup of tea, watching the moon fade on and off to the cloud’s streaming pulse. The snow in the yard flashed from white to charcoal, and over and over shadowy trees were erased and redrawn. The shadows changed subtly and slightly, according to the passing cloud’s cargo. My eye chased the shadows, trying to fix them, failing just as it does with the northern lights. It was a mesmerizing scene. I stood staring, not moving, my body loosening, as if something inside might lose tether, lifting with the steam of my breathing and tea. Cold and fatigue drew me inside. At six a.m. this morning, the same clouds lumbered past, and I smiled knowing it was not a dream, knowing there will be another chance to cast off and drift, far from port and schedule. OB

3/26/99 – I soared across the tops of the white pines, and glided like a wolf through the forest. Ski skating conditions prevail across Sawbill lake. Early this morning, the old growth white pines, along the campground trail, cast crisp shadows, like cookie cutter voids cut into the bright lake. I skated from tree top to tree top, stopping and standing on some, looking for meaning, as if the horizontal lines of branches folded out from the dark trunk were a giant Rorschach ink blot. Near the Alton portage, the dogs and I followed a line of wolf tracks. She went at a gallop across the portage. At the Alton end, she leaped a huge drift, running two strides parallel to the slip face, and then, with a deep set of prints, across to the other side. The dogs snorted deeply in her tracks – Sunnie squealing and scanning the horizon. Their paws were half the size of hers.

It is warm today, and I have a door open cooling the house which bakes in a southern exposure. The yard is full of a cacophony of bird calls. When I close my eyes, it is as intense and exotic as a market scene in a remote Asian province – as difficult to interpret, too. Yesterday, Mary Alice pointed out the pine siskins, whom I had mistaken as juvenile gold finches. The confusion the crows cause is a mystery as well, as they seem innocuous. Big and dark, maybe they just seem scary, like a big old Wal Mart dropping into the local economy. OB

3/23/99 – Obie and I skied down the Temperance River this morning. We must have covered about ten miles of river. The river froze during very high water last fall. With the water level naturally dropping over the winter and the recent warm weather, huge blocks of suspended ice have collapsed, leaving the river pocked with stretches of open water that are four or five feet lower than the snowpack surface. The huge holes have rounded edges and some have refrozen, so the contours of the riverbed are quite dramatic, but easily skiable. A stiff north wind, combined with the gradual downslope of the river, made for some fast progress. At some points we got going so fast that we dropped into downhill tucks and rocketed along for several hundred feet in this pose. We covered the distance in one hour and fifteen minutes. – Bill

3/22/99 – This may be rash, but I am declaring victory in the Great Marten War of 1999. After engineering multiple new fortifications on the store building and a rapid response to the opening of a new front on the crew building, no marten has breached the walls for three days. Vigilance is vital for continued peace with honor.

Crows have returned to the northwoods, joining their larger raven cousins who are year ’round residents. This morning a crow is timidly snatching sunflower seeds from beneath the bird feeder. One of the many sleek red squirrels has taken offense to the interloper, and is making repeated runs at the crow’s tail. The gleaming black bird seems relatively unconcerned, giving a little hop and a dirty look whenever the squirrel gets too close. – Bill

3/18/99 – Obie trapped marten number eight last night. He had to camouflage the trap inside a cardboard box with a marten sized hole in it. He used a third of a jar of raspberry jam for bait. We are convinced that this marten was trapped inside the building after we closed off every possible marten break-in point. I hope so. I’m getting tired of being outsmarted by weasels. – Bill

Sawbill’s poet laureate, Ed Dallas, sent the following email this morning:

How goes the
battle with the martens? I had some strange dreams last night on the battle.
It seems the National Guard was called out, turn it into one big military
campaign. Tofte was the control center and the had the Sawbill Trail closed
off. A SWAT team was called in with tanks, rockets etc. They looked at it as
a hostage situation, with guess who as the hostages!! Poor Obie was Duct
taped to a log with one mean marten ready to chew him into little bits of
bloody flesh!! The Guard thought the phone calls, the marten’s hisses and
squeaks, was some kind of code and they called the CIA in to break the code,
but they couldn’t. I wish I could tell you how all this came out but just as
the dream was getting to the end the mouse trap in the kitchen went off and
woke me up, I had one dead mouse. Hope you guys don’t put much stock into
dreams!!


Well have a good day and if you need a Colonel to lead the troops into
battle let me know as I am a Colonel of Auctioneering, but the martens don’t
need to know that, just the Colonel part.


ED

3/17/99 – The recent freeze and thaw cycle has hardened the lake surfaces making them perfect for travel. I skate skied to the extreme north end of Sawbill Lake and back (12 miles total) this morning in less than 50 minutes. As I write, it has begun to rain hard and the temperature is near 40.

We are still locked in battle with the local pine martens, whom we have started to regard as outright criminals. After trapping seven of the little buggers and blocking every possible entry to the store building, they chewed the corner out of the wooden garage door and continued to raise havoc. In addition to their other pranks, at least one has now become trap wise and won’t be tempted into our live trap again. Apparently, it is no problem for them to find their way back from a 6 mile car ride. We are beginning to realize that we may not be smarter than the martens. I would hate to resort to having to kill them, but we are reaching the end of our rope.

We have discovered how they communicate with each other. Several times during their siege our telephone system lights have informed us that someone was talking on a line from the store building. Upon investigation, we found a phone that we thought the martens had knocked off the hook. Now we know that they were actually calling their marten friends and relations to invite them to the kegger in our store. – Bill

3/12/99 – Somewhere near Sawbill today, a group of wolves have found their mark. The place starts as virgin snow with four or five linear sets of wolf tracks radiating away like tendrils on a jelly fish. Light fades in the eyes of the prey, and a snowy paw mosaic forms to the rhythm of meat snapping from bone, warning growls, and soft strong shoulders bumping and jockeying. A raven discovers the scene, and circles calling in an ancient tongue. Satisfied muzzles stain red, and drops of blood dot the packed snow like the finishing touches on a Jackson Pollack painting. Raven sits patiently with his brothers and sisters, black holes in a lush pine backdrop. A young wolf, tail between legs, lies wiggling below a large male, submissive, yet keenly aware of the larger wolf’s every move. A sunny birch full of finches sings incessantly. Noiselessly, a red squirrel navigates skinny spruce branches with a pine cone the size of its head. As the wolves recede, a raven swoops down and waddles in for inspection. A panting wolf stops, and quizzically tilts her head at the snow, as a vole burrows about in a white universe a foot and a half below. In today’s strong sun, snow drips from branches and an exquisite pine scent feels like Spring. Wolves clear their bowels and circle their glossy red and white sculpture, curling into gray balls. They dream as a pack, dreaming their woods into the next day. OB

3/10/99 – The pine marten saga continues. We have now trapped a total of five martens from the store. We aren’t entirely sure if they are five different martens or if they are returning cross country from their Siberian exile. I was forced to return to my favorite spot, the crawl space, where I discovered that they had forced my repaired screen again. I repaired and resecured the barrier (I went a little crazy on it – muttering all the while). This morning, there were fresh marten tracks leading under the deck, but my screen repair appears to have thwarted them. Obie read that martens will dramatically expand their range during years of low prey populations. I think they all just head for Sawbill.

3/8/99 – We have been struggling with the local pine martens (basically, five pound weasels if you aren’t familiar) all week long. It started last week when a door on the store building failed to latch properly and blew open during the night. A pine marten climbed the screen door and chewed through the screen. Failing to notice the hole in the screen, we shut the outer door, apparently trapping the marten in the building. We noticed the next day that many items were knocked off of shelves, garbage cans upended, etc. We opened the doors and went away for awhile, assuming the trapped animal would be grateful to depart, especially with no water being available in the building. All was quiet for a day or two when we discovered, to our surprise, the store thoroughly trashed. We decided that the marten was living in the store, unwilling to leave, and must be trapped. We contacted the local D.N.R. wildlife biologist and he loaned us the appropriate live trap. He also advised us to keep our fingers away from the trapped animal. He said, "They can get their noses through the mesh and they bite like a sewing machine." Within twelve hours we had trapped the interloper and given him a five mile ride down the Sawbill Trail. Satisfied, we arranged to return the trap to the biologist. The next day Obie noticed one item was knocked off the shelf again. We scratched out heads, but were in denial. The next morning, we were greeted by more marten mischief in the store, including an actual sighting of the beast. The trap was retrieved and reset. This time, success came within the hour. This marten got a shot of red spray paint on his butt and an eight mile road trip. By that night a third culprit was captured, sprayed and delivered. In the morning I put on old clothes and entered the nether world of the dreaded crawl space. After crawling the length of the building on a rough dirt floor with as little as twelve inches of head room, I found the secret marten entrance. The original trapped marten, desperate for water no doubt, had found a screened foundation vent that was hidden by the front deck and torn through it. I fixed the screen and minutes later trapped a fourth and (I hope!) final marten.

The four martens were quite different in their reactions to the trap. The first worked itself into a lather, but was reluctant to leave the trap when it was opened. The second cowered in the cage and gave us reproachful looks. The third was fairly relaxed and even finished up the uneaten bait during his car ride. The fourth only had one thing on his mind: bite hard and bite often. If you came within three feet of the trap he would hurl himself at you with a growl that would chill Stephen King’s blood. – Bill

3/4/99 – I apologize to our regular readers for the lack of entries. March is the month folks start thinking paddling. The reservations and inquires are coming in like the last blizzard! With Bill and Cindy in Arizona, the work of three has become one, and the newsletter received low priority. Vacationing in Arizona, and lots of reservations, are classy problems! I’m not complaining.

Cold overnight here. The snow is very crunchy and walking on it sounds like having bowls of Rice Crispies for shoes. With the return to cold weather, I have been closely monitoring the lake for a crust that will support skate skiing conditions. After ice-skating, this is my favorite activity. When the lake surface becomes like a mid length shag carpet, skate skiing is a dream – effortless and exhilarating. The only way to improve upon that experience is to find skate ski conditions on the rivers. The slight downgrade adds to the fun, and a person begins feel the way it is for the water falling to Superior. OB

Posted on

February 1999

2/28/99 – Former crew members Cathy Iverson and Dan Seemon are visiting for the week. Their arrival was heralded by intense moans and gyrations by the dogs. Dan and Cathy are a doggie nirvana of snacks, walks, and sweet talk. A very gray today, which began in a thick fog. Yesterday, thunderstorms were reported along the shore! Quite odd for this time of year.

A moose is frequenting the "roller coaster" section of the Sawbill Trail. He has been lying in the road licking salty ice chunks from the cars. Standing up is a stiff laborious affair for a moose, and I sort of feel bad interrupting the licking. However, I wonder how healthy those big salty blocks of road grime are? Fortunately, this year the snow banks remain within the moose comfort zone for hurdling. Most of the moose I have seen, eagerly duck into the woods. A few winters ago, the snow banks were very high, and the prospect of bogging in them, kept the moose zig-zagging down the road. There were some long drives to town that year, and stressful days for confused moose. I am glad when the moose quickly dash to safety, though my observation is limited. It is great drama to see such a huge animal melt back into the woods, as quickly as it appeared. Sometimes, I focus too much on the radio, road and work day. The brief appearance of a moose resets my mind, reminds me of the aberrant nature of the road clearing in a thick forest full of creatures. I stop the car and try to catch one more glimpse. The daily reports of environmental degradation make these encounters more precious. It is such a treat to understand we are still sharing the world, part of a community. OB

2/26/99 – When I walk out under our tall pines, listening to the wind in their tops and seeing the happy blue above, I am glad. The dogs stretch, moan, roll in the snow, and nip affectionately at my gloves. We have all been holed up in front of the computer for too long. There is plenty to do this week, as Cindy, Bill, Carl and Clare are exploring Arizona. There is still work to do today, but it will have to wait. Gust, the older of our retrievers, is starting to move a little more slowly. I tried to encourage him to go out and run, but he lay still, pretending confusion. I finally got him out the door, where he immediately curled up. I asked if he would prefer my company – immediate comprehending wag of tail, Sunnie, our younger retriever, crooned and shook her fanny. Out we went, walking far below the old growth white and red pines blowing a big sunny sound, invigorating our spirits. Soon both dogs were running, leaping, pulling each other down. In the warm sun, on spongy snow, I joined the game – fake charges, leaps, and rolls.

I think of our pines from above, how they rise out of the canopy, a small red and white pine hill in the forest, a pine bloom. We walk about, the dogs and I, they, diligently nose to the ground, me, straining my neck staring up at the pines. Such wise animals dogs, to explore and enjoy that which is underfoot, instead of seeking the mysteries of the tree tops. I can’t help myself though, wondering how it is up there – dancing in the wind with all those long green needles, stretching branches high. A glorious existence, to be the first to know what the wind carries, the first to see the sun, and the last to see it go. I’ve climbed up there a few times, wedged in among branches and an intoxicating scent. Swaying at the top of a big old pine, forest stretching as far as I can see, I’ve sensed an illusive spirit, another way: lonely, wild and ancient. A hint at the way in which the earth is operating here. It is an exciting sensation and a little odd. A red squirrel’s repetitive click up there seemed less like scolding and more like a maniacal laugh, entirely foreign, a siren from another pulse and pace of life. High up there, everyday, those pines sway back and forth in the air, the same air our chests rise and fall against. It has been that way for a long time, long before our way of knowing. The sensation is one of transcendence, and it feels good. Good because of the sneaking suspicion that abstract thought only penetrates so far, and because we intuit an exoticism and enlightenment, typically reserved for extraterrestrials, right in our midst. OB

2/22/99 – One of the all time great groups of Sawbill returned today from their annual winter camping trip. All are distinguished members of their respective communities, who come to the northwoods to "act like adolescents" (note the fuzziness of the portraits).



The Consortium – Winter Addition (L to R) Rich, HMFIC (His Majesty First In Command), Voyageur, Marmaduke and their ski tracks (what’s in those cups?)

I experienced a "once in a lifetime" wildlife sighting today as I was driving to town to fetch the kids from school. About seven miles north of Tofte I noticed an animal running in a snowmobile track alongside the Sawbill Trail. I assumed it was a fox, as we see them frequently in this area. As I drew abreast of it, I was startled to see that it was a bobcat. Instead of bolting into the heavy cover, like every other bobcat I’ve ever seen, it sat down. I braked to a stop and then slowly backed up until I was right next to it. It seemed unconcerned, even when I lowered the window and spoke to it gently. I was able to study every detail from a distance of about five feet. Its face was like an ordinary house cat, except nearly twice as big. Heavier, longer legs, huge feet, and a short tail distinguished it from a tabby. As I tried to sear the moment into my memory, I suddenly realized that what I had first taken for whiskers were actually a dozen porcupine quills protruding from its muzzle and nose. The poor miserable thing was probably starving, explaining its strange behavior. I briefly entertained trying to use my Leatherman to remove the quills, but thought better of it, both because the cat wouldn’t have allowed it, and my philosophy that nature should be allowed to take its course. This brought the realization that I was adding to its stress with my presence. I whispered "good luck" and rolled away. I watched in the rear view mirror as it crossed the road and padded into the woods. – Bill

2/19/99 – Every year we face the task of removing snow from the roofs here at Sawbill. Four of our buildings are not strong enough to bear the weight of more than four feet of snow. When the snow reaches a depth of three feet, we shovel it off to avoid being caught by large storm.


Obie, Jake and Carl on the roof of the Sawbill Store, viewed from the front.

2/17/99 – Cross country skiing at night, with a headlamp, the night before last brought on another astounding optical illusion. A fine snow was inexplicably falling under starlit skies. The snow, and perhaps a slight haze, obscured the dimmer stars, letting only the brightest shine through. The Milky Way, which is usually prominent as a gauzy band of light across the sky, could not be seen. When I stopped for a breather and tipped the headlamp back to look at the sky, its beam reflected on the tiny, falling snow crystals. Suddenly, it appeared that the Milky Way was falling to earth, each tiny star a sharp, cold ice crystal. Last night the snow had stopped and the Milky Way was back in its place. In the sub-zero cold each star shone without a twinkle, as solid as time itself in the vastness of the universe. – Bill

2/12/98 – A gorgeous storm blew across our home last night. Strong winds howled and swirled, sculpting six inches of light snow into whips and ridges. The warm weather of the previous week had left a dirty crust of snow and treacherous icy footing. Today, it is all frosted. Pure white rolls over every corner and edge. As the day progresses, the birds’ activity is recorded in the light snow at the base of our feeder. Gros beaks hop about, fluttering their wings on the snow for support. Like micro snow shoe tracks, the paths of the gross beaks slowly encircle the feeders – their little wing prints like leaves accumulating in the Fall. The grouse must be glad, as they count on fluffy snow for hiding and warmth. In the next few days, skiers and snow shoers all over the North Shore will be treated to the shock of grouse exploding from the snow in a burst of white and noise. Very intense. As the light fades, the beauty is intensifying. It is time to turn off the computer and step out the door.

2/8/99 – Former Sawbill crew members Kate Ferguson-Surbaugh, Steve Surbaugh, and Jason Morse are on a winter camping trip this week. They departed yesterday, along with current crew member John Oberholtzer and Snoose Surbaugh, the dog. They were surprised I’m sure, as we were, by an unexpected half inch of snow last night. Otherwise, the temperature is balmy and they are doubtless having a good time. Kate and Steve worked two years for Paul Schurke’s Wintergreen Lodge in Ely after they left Sawbill, leading winter camping trips.



Obie negotiates the canoe landing en route to winter camping.

2/6/99 – Adam Hansen, Sawbill crew member and Frisbee Golf champion, competed yesterday in the regional high school cross country ski meet. He won second place in the classic race which earns him a spot at the Minnesota State High School meet next week. Congratulations Adam.

2/5/99 – I just finished tying a canoe on a customer’s car! Don’t worry winter campers, the lakes are still solid. Mary and Jeff Krejci are enjoying a week of skiing, and decided to buy one of our Mad River Explorers. Jeff and Mary were our first customers of 1998, beginning their trip May third. Although technically our season has not begun, I think the purchase of a kevlar canoe warrants their designation as first customers of 1999. Congratulations Mary and Jeff. Since this is the first mention of this achievement, we’ll call it the "Krejci Award". Winners will receive a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, and a picture taken with Bill, Cindy or Obie. I suppose the last customer of the year deserves recognition. Come to think of it, this year that was very nearly Jeff. Hmmm… Okay, great, the Fall "Krejci"! First place will be awarded a hot beverage and a photo op with favorite outfitter. After forty-two years, finally a solution to the lack of business during the shoulder seasons.

Posted on

January 1999

1/31/99 – We’ve been skiing in the moonlight every night. On Friday night, Clare Hansen took along a catalog and picked out her new swimming suit by moonlight in the Sawbill parking lot. She was able to clearly see the pictures and read the text. Saturday night, Carl Hansen read a Garfield book in the same spot. As the week progresses, the moon rise will surpass our bedtime. Our nocturnal skis are truly a "once in a blue moon" experience.

1/28/99 – I snowshoed in a section of tall pines near the Perent Lake Road yesterday. The recent snow is wonderful: sugary and light. Eight inches of it sifted like sand through the rawhide webbing, step after step. Snow was drifting off the trees and wetting my face. A squirrel alerted me to his stash of white pine cones below the snow. He must have been processing the cones all during the storm. Little cone chips were mixed in with the snow about five inches down – a neat soup to run my hand through. I thought of that squirrel nibbling away, the snow piling up on his head. Nearby the stash of cones, a grove of hazel held more squirrel treats. Four and a half feet off the ground were dozens of drying mushrooms. Wedged into the forks of hazel branches earlier this summer, the mushrooms were perfectly dehydrated. I saw one, and when I tuned my eye to them, I was amazed at how many there were. I thought of my friend who dehydrates mushrooms and prizes them above all else that he dries or jars. I wondered if the mushrooms were a treat for the squirrels, as well. The mushrooms had a musky odor and were rather pretty. Brown and twisted, stems hanging down, they were like little seahorses suspended in the hazel. The old timers say the height of stored mushrooms in the woods predicts the snow depth for the winter. These mushrooms were still a couple feet above the snow. I’ll check them again in a month or so. It was a treat to look into the woods as a squirrel might.

1/27/99 – The snow is floating down and settling on every twig and branch. The snow, the grey dawn light, the clouds, and even the birds are all absorbing sound, giving the world a hushed, cottony aspect. About 4" fell overnight. 6" – 9" is expected, with more possible in the higher elevations (that’s us).

1/23/99 –


L to R – Obie Oberholtzer, Rich Hicks, Chris "Jake" Hicks, and Jason "Jake" Morse

Rich and Jake Hicks stopped by before their winter camping trip yesterday. They were excited and looking forward to beautiful weather. They were heading out toward the Lady Chain and will stop in on Sunday with a report.

1/19/99 –


Sawbill Parking Lot Monday, 1/18/99

This is a sight you don’t see every day at Sawbill, especially in January. Forty seven people from the 1st Lutheran Church of Fargo spent Martin Luther King weekend camping in the wilderness. This is the second year this well organized group has done this, although with fewer people last year. They are very careful to split up into groups of nine and take completely different routes. They enjoyed the balmy temperatures and snow, but were somewhat buffeted by the 30 mph winds that blew them in on Monday.

1/16/99 – Yesterday marked the first day in 28 days that we didn’t record a below zero temperature. This morning we awoke to an incredible 29 degrees. On the way home from school, Carl and I saw four bull moose in a group. Three were adolescents, with modest antlers. The fourth was a giant, with a huge rack — but only on one side. Imagine having a forty pound, two foot long weight glued to one side of your head. On the same trip we saw one of the largest, most beautiful wolves we have ever seen.

Jake Hicks, brother of former Sawbill crew member Hans Hicks, visited on Thursday. He started out to ski to Burnt Lake, but was turned back by slush about a mile up Sawbill Lake. Two parties are out camping this weekend. Hopefully, they have found a way to avoid the slush.

1/12/99 – Bright sunny day and very crisp, -8 as a high today. A dusting of snow covered the ski trail yesterday. Usually this is good news, but this snow, having fallen during sub-zero temperatures, was very difficult to wax for. The snow holds the ski, a sensation like being in a slow dream where it is taxing to move. I found myself stopping more often due to the exertion. The woods are very quiet after a new snow. No wind or animal stirred. I stared for a long time up the length of a dead jack pine, spiky and sun bleached. In such total silence, the mind seems to expand, and it felt as if my thoughts and the thinking apparatus of my mind, were among the woods. A slight ringing deep in my ears, moved out. The jackpine silhouetted against the sky and the snowy spruce, seemed less like observed objects and more like a backdrop inside my head, by which other thoughts passed. Sort of a mental screen saver. I stood thus transfixed, until the cold crept into my feet and hands, tweaking my mind like the sensation of losing a vision of a three dimensionally drawn object. I skied, warming my feet and hands, acutely aware of the tunnel of boreal forest wrapped around me, drawing closer with the dusk. I headed home moving as if in a womb – silent, warm, nurturing, seeking a timeless dimension of pine, snow, and silence.

1/8/99 – The news is good at Sawbill for the birds. Jays, finches, nuthatches, and chickadees have spread the word, and our yard is full of flight. On cold days like these, avian logic calls for a lot of movement. Each bird flies sortie after sortie from spruce to feeder, feeder to aspen, etc. I’ve been observing a blue jay leaping among the lower dead branches of a whitepine. Each leap is a cupped depression in four inches of snow frosting. The jay lands, fluffs her feathers momentarily, and leaps again. Leap, puff, fluff, leap, puff, fluff. It looks like great fun. I try to imagine how it must feel to pop around like that. I wonder if jays look forward to soft branches and fluffy landings like we anticipate good skiing and snow shoeing. The blue jays have character. They seem less cautious than the other birds, and their blue suit does not really match, especially considered against the fashionable gross beaks. Yet, they crash the party like an eccentric relative, dining on old Kraft Mac and Cheese like it was caviar. They’re the bird for me: poorly dressed, brash, and too proud to pester campers for handouts like their drab, bulkier, grey cousins.

1/6/99 – It is bitterly cold here this morning. Only -10 at 11 AM, but a 25 mph wind is making it fairly inhospitable, especially down on the lake. The wind has carved wildly sculptured drifts on the south end of Sawbill. Slush has crept in under the snow at certain spots on the lake. It’s proof of the superior insulating qualities of snow that water can exist in liquid form during this bitter cold snap with only 8" of snow covering it. The slush makes travel on the lakes virtually impossible during weather this cold. If your ski or snowshoe breaks down into the slush and then you lift it up into the air – bang! – you have a fifty pound ice cube on your foot.

1/5/99 – John (Obie) Oberholtzer returned yesterday after a month long sabbatical to work on his writing. He is writing a series of northwoods essays that he hopes to have published. A fair amount of this newsletter is authored by Obie, so you are probably familiar with his style.

One interesting phenomenon we are observing this year is the frequent visit by flocks of Goldfinches to our bird feeders. For the past forty years we have seen Goldfinches only during migration. This year they hung around longer, which we attributed to the warm weather. Now, the weather has turned cold with a vengeance, but the Goldfinches remain daily visitors. Chickadees, on the other hand, are usually plentiful visitors here in the north. This year (and last) we have only a handful.

1/1/99 – A quiet evening of board games and charades got the Hansen family (plus Molly Richardson, Adam’s girlfriend) through the evening and into 1999. I was able to uphold my tradition of greeting the new year on the ski trail. A nearly full moon provided ample light to see the trail. It cast sharp black shadows across the path and made the fresh white snow sparkle in the clearings. In spite of a -24 F temperature, the outing was serene and comfortable. Ed Dallas, the poet laureate of Sawbill, was moved to this haiku:


winter’s first full moon

greets new year – up north some plan

for cold midnight ski

Happy New Year.

Posted on

December 1998

12/28/98 – The combination of a wicked head cold and lack of any real news has prevented a timely update of this newsletter. We are enjoying a very relaxing vacation. Adam and Ruthie Hansen are back from school. Ranna Hansen and her children, Marc and Marie, are visiting from their home in Maple Lake, MN. This morning, snow is drifting down softly and steadily. The retrievers are curled up on the porch and covered with a half inch of white fluff. We are skiing on the unplowed campground roads and the lake (when the wind permits). Perhaps today’s snow will allow grooming and track setting on the ski trail through the woods. The trails near Tofte are groomed and reported to be excellent, despite having the bare minimum of snow.

12/24/98 – The Hansens will be celebrating Christmas in Hovland, MN with Cindy’s mother Arline, on the shore of beautiful Lake Superior. Christmas morning will find us here at Sawbill. Carl and Clare will be up early to see what Santa left in their stockings. The rest of the day will be devoted to skiing, skating, visiting and eating cookies. Happy holidays to one and all 🙂

12/21/98 – The winter solstice is a highlight for us. It is a brilliant cold day with fresh snow on every twig and branch. The sunlight is all the more precious for its scarcity. Clare and I set a track on the lake yesterday for cross country skiing. We were able to put in a fast 12 kilometers before sunset. With a little extra snow last night, we should be able to groom the unplowed campground roads today. The lake may be a little inhospitable for the next few days. The forecast is calling for -25 degrees with a 20 mph wind. Brrr…

12/17/98 – Scott Harris, longtime Sawbill BWCAW traveler and father of former Sawbill crew member Katy Harris, adds by email:


Bill,


I enjoy your newsletter and pop in regularly.
Feel free to improve on this, but I figured this is probably the only way I
can get in the newsletter short of destroying a canoe.


There once was a man with a woodsy purpose.


Who skated fifteen miles on an icy surface.


He saw the remains of a Moose by a bay.


He thought they might have been there just for a day.


And he told us about it on the Internet, instead of using cursive.

12/15/98 – Ed Dallas, the poet laureate of Sawbill writes:

I have found a new form of poetry that works well with condensed prose. It is call haibun. Haiku is placed within the prose. I tried it with the 12 -10 -98 entry to the newsletter. I hope you like it.


lake ice – sky mirror

clouds pass beneath feet – steel blades

etching reflections


ice reflects vivid

colors – small sky arched rainbow –

dark clouds ride cold wind


winter favors none

some make it to spring – others

become gnawed bone piles


wolf pack surrounds moose

winter scavengers must wait

risk takers eat first


red snow

where moose

became wolf

12/10/98 – Sawbill Lake is now solidly frozen from one end to the other. Although the ice is not perfect, it is smooth enough to allow comfortable skating anywhere. Today, I skated a 15 mile circuit in just over an hour. The clouds were black on the bottom, then purple at the next level, fading into pink, and finally snow white on top. The colors were diffusely reflected on the glossy ice surface. One cloud produced a small, but intense, rainbow, also reflected. I found myself skating directly down a rainbow path, surrounded by miles of broad stroke pastels. As I drew abreast of Kelso Bay, about halfway up Sawbill Lake, a sudden movement just inside the bay caught my eye. A raven lifted off what looked like a pile of debris on the ice. It was the remains of a moose, devoured by wolves and scavengers. The moose had fallen about 20 feet from shore. All that remained was blood, hair and the contents of the large intestine. Nearer to shore was a single front leg and the about half the hide. Every shred of flesh had been picked from the hide. The massive leg bone had been sheared clean in half by the powerful jaws of the wolves. Large, bloody wolf tracks led away from the kill, across the gleaming ice. A few small pieces of bone were scattered widely around the area, but everything else was eaten or carried off, including the skull, spine, and three legs with hooves. There is tragic and exultant beauty in the ancient dance of predator and prey.

12/9/98 – Carl Hansen is nine years old today. He received a globe, a Wallace and Grommit clock, and a boom box for presents.

We are excited about our new photovoltaic tracking system. We have mounted 36 electricity producing solar panels on 21′ poles. They turn automatically to follow the sun across the sky, thus increasing dramatically their output of electricity. They join the 40 panels previously mounted on Frank and MA’s roof. As far as we know, Sawbill now has the largest solar system in the midwest.


Sawbill’s new tracking solar panels.

12/8/98 – Skating is the order of the day.


Bill, Cindy and Obie showing their style.


Open water lingering near the Smoke Lake Portage on Sawbill Lake.

12/7/98 – Finally, some cold weather. It is 19 degrees this morning. We need some snow now, as many of us are going through ski withdrawal. It looks like we may be able to skate on the lake today, so that is some consolation. Due to the lack of snow, the hiking season has been extended this year. I hiked two portions of the The Superior Hiking Trail east of Grand Marais this weekend. I encourage anyone interested in the Northshore to check out the trail. It is accessible at many locations for small day trips or for overnight outings. It goes through many beautiful woods, including gorgeous sections of old growth. The vistas over the lake are many, and the trail is well maintained. I hiked a section of cedars rooted high on a ridge above Durfee Creek. Their dark leaves, and twisted shapes, were very evocative at dusk. I returned just as all light receded from the woods, the cedar trunks were elusive shadows, and the only sounds were my crunching feet on frozen leaves.

We’ve had good reports from our crew members. Jason Morse will be a certified teacher in one week, and we are glad that he plans to return to Grand Marais to seek work. Many of you may remember Dave Freeman from LaGrange IL. Dave started working for us in 1994, but missed last year. He surprised us last month by offering his talents to us again in 1999. Adam Hansen just returned from Germany, where he was the Gambian representative at the Model United Nations. Former crew member Patti Olson is enjoying her neuroscience program at Northwestern. She reports it feels self conscious to be learning how the brain works, while using it so intensely. Erik Hoekstra hopes to return to Sawbill next summer, and he will be entertaining Adam and Eric Frost this weekend at UW Madison. Laura TerBeest picked out the family xmas tree in Omaha over Thanksgiving Break. In short sleeves, she was still too warm – weird.

12/3/98 – Strange days here, lately. Cindy and I just went to check out the lake, and it felt very much like our Spring inquiries regarding break up. The ice is five inches thick, and degrading rapidly as the lake is bathed in sunlight and full of puddles of water. Warm winds from the West are not helping.

Yesterday, a slush layer had refrozen, providing fairly smooth skating. The ice looked just like Spring. On the surface, leaves and other bits of debris were encased in shallow displays, where they had melted into the ice on previous warm days. I skated the perimeter of the lake, as I was nervous to move very far from shore, after Bill’s chilling episode last year! Five inches of ice is plenty thick, but when it is composed of slush and has floated up, I err on the side of caution. It was enjoyable to cruise along the shore, dodging in and out of partially submerged trees and overhanging cedars. A wolf must have had a similar interest, as her tracks were with me most of the way. (She investigated beaver’s lodge longer than me.) Once the ice has slightly broken away from the shore, it depresses under my weight. A faint crackling, watery sound accompanied me as I cruised along.

On warm days, the water that accumulates on the ice surface needs to drain. Gravity bores holes through the ice, perhaps at the location of a small imperfection. The holes vary in size from six inches to two feet in diameter. They look like ornate starfish, as they are surrounded by drain channels that lead into them. Seen from a skater’s vantage, these channels look like aerial views of canyon systems. Five or six encircle each hole and they are slightly depressed. Refrozen the day I skated, I was able to inspect quite closely these dark stars in the ice. The time for skating is so brief, it is truly a treat. I have to physically remind myself of the danger below me, when I become too enraptured. I put my hand in one of the holes I have drilled and feel the life drain out of it in seconds. Recreation and aesthetics take a backseat to self preservation in this sol.

Posted on

November 1998

11/27/98 – Our traditional Thanksgiving weekend is progressing nicely here at Sawbill. As in many years past, Tim Velner and Gus Gustason, from Duluth, are camping in the campground with friends. Today we will all play in the annual "Sawbill Bowl" touch football game on the snow covered lake.

We will be inspired by our own Cook County High School Vikings, winners of the Minnesota state high school championship in an exciting game at the Metrodome in Minneapolis yesterday. Cindy, Carl and Clare Hansen left Sawbill at 5:30 A. M. to attend the game and were treated to one of the most exciting games in Prep Bowl history. The game was decided in two overtimes with the Vikings triumphant 38 – 32 over a plucky team from Adrian, Minnesota. Over 1,000 Cook County fans made the long trip down to the Dome. Not bad for a county with a total population of 3,200.

11/24/98 – The sun rose beautifully over Lake Superior this morning. Intense pinks, dark purple backlit clouds, and powder blue skies. A slight swell gently rolled in from the Southeast. Each morning, I prop my groggy self up to look at the lake. I watch as long as I can hold myself in that fuzzy state, warm blankets calling me back. Later, I breakfast with all that sky and lake. Finally, out the door, I hear the roll of waves and crisp sounds of rock washing back and forth. Ravens and seagulls soar in the distance. In my car, the lake is at my side, and, in my head, a gestalt of light, moving water and flying black and white dots, accompanies me over the hill and into the woods for another day of repairing canoes.

11/21/98 – We received the following email from Tom Weiss in Chicago:

I saw the photo of Harvey Diehl using the “Plankmaster 2000” paddle on the
news page. Many novice canoeists use this particular model around here before
they can afford to use a real paddle like a Martin D-28. My personal favorite
is a ’58 Les Paul, but the problem with them is that they don’t float and they
are useless unless you can find an electrical outlet. I’m not sure an
electrically powered paddle would be acceptable for use in the BWCA anyway.


And does the paddle stop working if you drop your pick? Will the number of
strokes per minute increase if you use a capo? Then there are alternative
tunings. Which one do you use for the “J” stroke?


Still envying you after all these years – snow or no snow, -50 or 100+ deg F.
It doesn’t matter. It is always beautiful.

11/20/98 – We have received some snow in each of the last 13 days, including 11" on Wednesday night. There is a total of about 18" on the ground right now. Yesterday, we groomed our cross country ski trail for the first time. Skiing is excellent, but the forecast is calling for unseasonably warm weather next week.

On Wednesday morning Bill, Carl, Clare saw five moose in a group about three miles south of Sawbill. Heavy snowfall covered the three small bulls and two cows with white blankets. After a moment of mutual observation, they trotted off together into the woods.

Longtime customer Harvey Diehl of Iowa City sent this picture of himself using an unusual paddle in the BWCA Wilderness. After the trip, Harv leaned the "paddle" against the dumpster in the parking lot. Somehow, it ended up hanging in the Sawbill Crew bunkhouse, where it remains to this day.


Harv making water music.

11/17/98 – The weather forecast is calling for a foot or more of snow in the next 24 hours. Many people wonder what we do with all the canoes. The aluminum and Royalex canoes snuggle under a thick snow blanket. The Kevlar canoes get stored in the dome, standing on end. We have also received our first shipment of new canoes for next year. We put those in the dome too, making a total of more than sixty canoes standing around looking foolish.


Obie proudly shows off 16 Wenonah Minnesota II’s standing on end.

11/13/98 – We have a few inches of snow on the ground, and Sawbill Lake is covered with a half inch sheet of ice.


Clare looks north from the canoe landing.

A skim of snow is on the ice, which is pretty, but not so good for our ice skating hopes. Ski skating would be perfect with that dusting of snow bonded to the lake, but any ventures to the lake will have to await a few more inches of ice. Ice skating is such fun up here. It is wonderful to explore without the confines of a rink. Last week, I skated a few days on a small pond down the road. For two days a perfect dark glass surface provided conditions for flying in the November sky. The pond bottom, stumps, weeds, scaly lily pad roots, were crystal clear below my feet. The ice has such a great feel and resonance, like some space age industrial plastic. On one end of the pond, the remnants of the forest that was flooded, stand like gates in a slalom course. Each tells a story of weather and decay. Such incredible details, etched from wind, boring insects, and wood peckers. The birches are slightly smooshy under their weatherproof bark, flexing at the slightest touch. It’s a sculpture garden on that end of the pond. We tried to leave no trace, but one of our beginning skaters in desperation tried to use an old spruce to help him brake. They broke, each to the ice! It was wonderful to jet around, spinning forward then backward, coasting and listening to our blades. Along the shore, we traveled slowly examining Fall’s dried arrangement, which we knew would soon be covered. Skating provides such a magical feeling. The time for it is brief, before the snow comes, and the feeling is so unlike other modes of movement. A treat of our winter lives here.

11/8/98 –


The Hansens take a Sunday afternoon Kelso Loop.


Imagine their surprise when they portage into Kelso Lake 🙂

11/3/98 – Cindy and Bill Hansen, John Oberholtzer, and Jason Morse attended the memorial service for former Sawbill crew member Hans Hicks in Duluth on Monday. Over 200 people, mostly from the Duluth rock climbing community and the UMD Outdoor Program, attended the gathering in Leif Erickson Park on the shore of Lake Superior. Jason, John and Bill all spoke of their memories of Hans, along with about ten other people. Hans was a shy and quiet man, but had many friends and admirers. He was a trained biologist and geologist, an expert rock climber and kayaker, and a great lover of wilderness. Jason recalled Hans’ powers of observation and toughness that he observed on their many canoe trips. Bill talked about his sensitivity toward and deep knowledge of wildlife. OB reminded us of the reality of clinical depression and entreated the gathering to remember that friends and family are a support network in times of despair.

Friends were asked to bring an environmentally friendly object to place in Lake Superior in Hans’ memory. A flask of Sawbill Lake water was poured on behalf of the entire Sawbill crew, past and present.

11/1/98 – David and Kathryn Olson, from New Jersey, were nice enough to point us to this picture they took with a video camera during their canoe trip this year. They are not naming the lake where they spotted it, to protect it from hunters.

You can see more pictures from their trip here.

Posted on

October 1998

10/31/98 – We are mourning the death of former Sawbill crew member Hans Hicks. Hans took his own life in Duluth earlier this week. Hans worked at Sawbill in ’94 and ’95. He had been working his way through school at the U of M, Duluth and was near graduation. Hans was an avid climber and canoeist. He was well loved by his co-workers and will be deeply missed. There is memorial service scheduled for 2 P. M. Monday, November 2nd at Leif Erickson Park in Duluth.


Hans Hicks (bottom left) with the ’94 Sawbill Crew.

10/29/98 – Our gravel is slowly disappearing. As the amount of vehicle and foot traffic decreases, the cover of leaves on the gravel intensifies. Taken as a whole, our graveled areas begin to resemble a leafy quilt. On the path to lunch, the aspens predominate, in the canoe yard, dry birch leaves, and by the workshop, golden white pine needles. The aspens are pasted flat, as they came down with the big rains. At first, they formed a glorious yellow and gold mosaic path. Their paving still resists our feet, but age has turned them gun metal blue, purple, and sienna. When I stand in the middle of all those aspen leaves, and stare down, my eyes ache slightly, and the pattern and texture of the leaves fade, leaving just globes of color shifting hues. In places where the birch and aspen mix, texture is more noticeable, as the drier crumpled birches, with larger teeth, form ridges and peaks. Our golden retrievers prefer the patches of white pine needles, and they strike quite a colorful pose as they snooze in the noon day sun. Below the red pines, cones dot the leaves like little ornate knots tied in the quilt. The red squirrels are still knocking them down, and they make quite a thud or bong depending on which canoe they land. The squirrels run back and forth on the ground, sewing their cones away at the edges of the gravel. Everywhere I walk, the thick covering of leaves gives Sawbill a sleepy feeling. Several buildings are little used now, and leaves pile around their doors and tuck in at their foundations. I so enjoy these dashes of color on the gravel. They brighten the day and remind me of the quiet and solitude that is just around the corner. They hint at the ice skating to come, as some of them will be locked mid drift below our skates. Finally, they tell of the snow. A few of them will roll around on all the white – either falling late, or blowing out from some windswept place. At some distant winter moment, a subtle change of time will take place, and the leaves will take on a new significance. They will become reminders of warmth, summer, paddling, or the crew’s return. The landscape holds a multitude of signs and stories in place for us, awaiting the whims of our interpretation. We craft the meaning, but it is stored out there. If we do not attend to these natural reservoirs, a stream from a distant place will dry, leaving us thirsty. Indigenous people around the world see life in rocks, trees, and wind. They hear stories from them and endow them with family titles. Listen to the leaves, they speak to us. Not verbally, but symbolically they foretell and remind. They tune us to color, light and beauty. It is a dialogue. We look at them, and they shine back.

10/25/98 – October weather returns, and the parking lot empties. We await Bill and Cindy’s return. We are a little concerned for their well being, because they did not pack their sunscreen! With the rain and cool weather, the crew is holed up doing inside jobs. Carl and Clare Hansen have not been seen today, and we believe it has something to do with a twenty-five hour Scooby Doo jam session on the Cartoon Network. Bizarre, but enticing, as I was once a huge Scooby Doo fan, and that basement TV viewing binge may provide a wilderness experience the likes of which I have never considered! Anne "Strupie Doo" Strupeck was supposed to leave this morning, but awaits word on her ailing car. As a result, she will be consuming scoobie snacks with us, too. Gorgeous bright read strawberry leaves provided a dose of reality, when I walked out to check the oil in the diesel generators which allow us to watch Scooby.

10/24/98 – The paddle season continues! Another day has dawned with blue skies and mild temperatures. The parking lot, empty last week during the rainy weather, has eight cars, and already this morning we have sent out a few parties. During the forty-two years Sawbill has been sending people into the wilderness, there have been few seasons that have provided such ideal conditions for paddling and camping. The enduring season is putting a damper on a tradition we started this past Spring. In the empty parking lot, under a blue sky, in T-shirts, we threw a frisbee around with no concern of hitting trees. We spread out to each corner and stretched our arms and legs with long throws and heroic catches. Cindy, Michele, and I so enjoyed that novel bit of play, we planned all summer to relive the event this Fall. We stipulated the lot must be totally empty. Michele is gone now, but Natasha and Annie remain as worthy replacements. Oh, the parking lot must be snow free, as well. It’s so hard to recreate those sweet moments in life.

10/23/98 – Bill and Cindy are enjoying nice weather on their canoe trip. Dry blue skies and sixty degrees, as I sit here wondering why I am in the office! The next two days call for more of the same, and we plan to take advantage of the mild weather to shovel out fire grates and put canoes away. The snow buntings have returned to our area. They are a migrant from the treeless areas north of here. They are predisposed to seek out open areas, and, in our area, they congregate on the gravel roads. This preference results in a very nerve wracking fleeing pattern. As a car approaches, the buntings fly as fast as they can, and, for as long as they can, right in front of the grill of the vehicle. In so doing, they avoid turning into the foreign boreal woods. Like dolphins off the prow of the ship, they surf the wind just off the hood, flashing their white wings with dark tips. It is amazing the speeds these birds can achieve in a short distance – outrunning a car going 45 mph. Eventually the issue is forced, and to avoid becoming a hood ornament, the birds choose the lesser of two evils and duck into the woods. Occasionally, a bunting is too slow and is lost below the bumper. This is sad for all of us, but sentiment is varied regarding our role in the fate of the hobo bunting. Two forest service personnel’s ideas perhaps sum up the debate. One person was sad, but did not feel endangering himself, or vehicle, by braking was worth the bunting’s life. His harsh but pragmatic conclusion, "During this time of year, the bunting replaces the dragonfly on the car grill." The other person, distinguished herself by putting a vehicle in the ditch in an attempt to avoid a bunting. Karmically, I identify with the latter, but in practice, I err on the side of the former. My middle road solution, is to take my foot off the gas, and coach the birds, "Come on, Come on!" So far, the words don’t help, but they make me feel better.

10/20/98 – It is a good time of year for the permanent crew members to go paddling. Bill and Cindy leave on a trip tomorrow, and I just returned from a three day trip exploring the north end of Sawbill. I welcomed the rain, but wondered how my partner, a first time camper, felt about so much moisture. She said she expected cold rainy weather, and felt content to see what the rain had in store for us. Expectations are such a critical aspect of wilderness travel. All of us have different agendas in the wilderness, but by entering it, we all agree to become part of the processes of a wild place. Sometimes this is not easy. All summer long, I speak with people who choose to end trips early due to inclement weather. I understand their disappointment and fatigue, but I am occasionally frustrated by a lack of understanding and their choice to not mentally prepare before the trip – to not consider the entire picture of the natural system in which they travel. I am frustrated, because I feel their experience is incomplete. I have seen such beauty in what our cultural consensus deems the nastiest weather. It is so good to know a place in storm.

The sound of the wind the other night was amazing. Howling from some distant point, it roared across the lake and ripped viciously into the trees at our site. Jack pines swayed back and forth in ten foot arcs. Having seen countless wind thrown trees, my heart raced at the prospect of spending a night in a forest that looked like a breezy wheat field. I would hate to die below a massive jack pine. I accept the risk, because I know during the next big storm, when I am cozy in bed at home, I will think about this stand of trees flying through the night. My heart will race then, as I contemplate the wailing, dark, exotic nature of the wild place adjacent to my door.

All night, we experienced the storm. It became like a performance, one of those day long affairs that are common in Eastern cultures, where the audience tunes in and out. We swam back to consciousness during the loud scenes, laying there in pitch dark, wide awake, attuned to the slightest straining branch. Rain drops on the rain fly were like gamelan. At 4am the wind was so strong, I went out to check on the canoe. In unlaced boots and a rain jacket, I wrestled the canoe to a safer spot. I switched off my head lamp and got into that storm.

In the morning, the scene was transformed. The water level had risen a few inches, redefining our footing for canoe loading. The spaghum moss was incredibly puffy, and little buttons of mushroom caps were beginning to dot the forest floor. A beaver dam was washed by a smooth foot of water, which we polled over with some difficulty and rode back down gleefully. We paddled home, and everywhere forest was floating with us: brown cedar sprigs, birch leaves, sticks, all being patterned into long lines or floating mats. I stroked under that sky, thinking how it was the night before, trying hard to imagine all this debris suspended in the air. Trying to glean from that darkness full of flying bits of forest, one more grain of understanding.

10/17/98 – It seems the drought is now officially over. We have had over 3" of rain in the last two days. Last night, it poured a steady rain for hour after hour. This is a sound we haven’t heard for more than a year.

Ken Gilbertson, director of the excellent Outdoor Program at the U of MN, Duluth, was camped in the campground last night with a group of freshman that have never been north of Duluth. Yesterday, he stood on an exposed rock on the edge of Sawbill Lake. This morning it was nowhere to be seen.

10/13/98 – This morning we felt the annual magic of the first snowfall. The air had that fresh smell that only comes with snow. Only six cars in the parking lot this morning.


Left, the season’s first snow. Right, close up of canoe, snow and leaves.

Jeff Beck, one of our favorite group leaders, has been out this week with his family. Here they are, moments after coming off the lake, posing with the snowy canoes.


10/11/98 – Small powder blue bugs hatched in profusion yesterday. About the size of a gnat, they appeared early in the day and hovered aimlessly, in the warmth of a beautiful day. It was nice to have their company, as small blue insects do not appear everyday, and they are fun to observe. Today they are gone, and I am left wondering about their life cycle. In these woods, there are so many life forms laying in wait for the right conditions. As I walk from building to building, I peer into the woods and think about all the species with which I share this space. On the forest floor, wispy white threads of mushrooms push and spread about, hazel nuts fall silently seeking purchase in the soil, and star nosed shrews burrow to and fro in search of a bouquet of prey which would star admirably in any science fiction movie. I wonder which life phase the blue bugs have transitioned into today. Which nugget of genetic material have they deposited, what does it look like, and to what pulse and energy source does its clock run. So many silent, marvelous mechanisms interpreting and tracking each day. I look into the woods, appearing mostly static at any given moment, and I think of all the processes and data collection silently whirring around me. The web of life is tangible and the word organic hits me like never before. As I drift there and fixate on the forest floor, it begins to undulate and transform. Small peaks and troughs of land quicken in succession around my motionless body. A raven’s call cracks in my skull like a bell, and I smile, amused at my imagination and in awe of the energy surrounding me.

10/9/98 – Coming back from Grand Marais, I was driving down The Grade in the "Old Van". It was a perfect day to be driving. This was the umpteenth town trip I had done over the three years I have worked at Sawbill. It was one of the most memorable. As I slowed down to take a glimpse of Lichen Lake, I was astounded by what was in front of my eyes. After parking the van on the side of the road and rolling my window down, I took a deep breath. The sun was no longer above. It had actually moved down into the cluster of trees across the small lake. I could have sworn it was living and breathing within them. This yellow glow was something I had never seen in all my life. The seasonal change was clearly apparent. My camera was with me at the time, but I was in one of those moments in which a photograph could not even begin to capture the picturesque view. This most pleasant memory would do the justice. As a big smile came on my face, I remembered exactly why I am here, why I have worked in this amazing setting for the past three seasons. I acknowledged the energy here; the energy which no one can put into words, but that which we can all feel. After several minutes of pure bliss, I headed back towards Sawbill. My reflections moved along, as well, and soon I was thinking about what it has been like working here. Ever since my first canoe trip with the Flossmoor Community Church, I have been intrigued by the portrait of this land. After four years of canoeing with my advisor "Uncle Doug", I was hooked, and applied for a position on the crew. This summer, I was able to take three fabulous trips with friends. Each one had a particular style to it. Most people would agree that each canoe trip is special and unique in its own way. But, we cannot ignore the common denominator between past trips and those to come. The intense beauty, unique calm, and extreme quiet takes us away from the daily "civilized" routine. This may be the last season I work at Sawbill. There’s no way to tell at this point. And, if it ends up being my final season, I will have no regrets. I have had an incredible three summers working with people who share the same interests in the outdoors. In ten years, when I look back on these summers, I will have the fond memories of nature, friendship, and humor.

10/6/98 – We are finally experiencing some "normal" October weather. A spectacular storm is in process, blowing 30 mph east winds and dropping over an inch of rain in the last 24 hours. Almost everyone has abandoned the BWCA Wilderness, except for a few hapless moose hunters, who I picture huddled under a sagging tarp, facing a hissing fire and hoping for a break in the clouds. Several trees came down across the Sawbill Trail yesterday. Cindy had to unlimber the trusty bow saw while delivering Carl and Clare to school.

10/4/98 – OB (A.K.A. "Obie" and "John Oberholtzer"), Sawbill employee extrordinaire and frequent eloquent contributor to this newsletter, is currently on vacation in Florence, Italy. Here is a copy of email from him:


Subject:     Buonosayra
From: John Oberholtzer, q09@fionline.it
To: Ciao@sawbill.com
Howdy,
Just finished seeing the Duomo, and I passed a little internet storefront.
Florence is so amazing! We have seen so much amazing art, architecture,
and sculpture of the Renaissance. Really great. It sort of leaves me
reeling.
The Italians are so incredibly fashionable. Lots of beautiful people
walking down narrow medieval streets, or racing around on mopeds, cell
phone in one hand, cigarette and handle bar in the other. The food –
incredible!!
See you all soon.
Ciao,
OB

10/2/98 – Bill and Audrey Johnson stopped by Sawbill earlier this week while they were in the area taking in the fall colors. Bill, Audrey and their three children, were stalwart Sawbill campers in the 1960’s and early ’70’s. It was good to have them back in the store after all these years.

The fall colors are at their peak right now. The drought and warm September kept them less dramatic than past years, but still beautiful.


Left: Looking west from the landing. Right: The store 10/2/98.

Posted on

September 1998

9/28/98 – Here is an email we received from Chris Ray:

Mr. Hanson,


Thought you might enjoy a column I wrote for The Grant County Herald
following our trip to Cherokee Lake in late August. We really enjoyed
our trip to Sawbill and hope come come back many times.


C. A. Ray


Portage is a French word for torture.


My wife, son and two of our friends just
returned from our first extended stay in
Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. On
Tuesday morning we “put in” as they say up
there, on Sawbill Lake, 24 miles north of Tofte.
Putting in consists of putting your canoe in the
water and loading it with everything you are
going to need for the next couple of days. Each
item was carefully selected, but still we were
dismayed at how much stuff we had in our two
canoes. But they were riding well in the water
and we pushed off, saying good-bye to our
cars, electricity, running water, Coke and
“civilization.”


The wind was against us as we paddled six
miles to the north end of Sawbill Lake. The two
hour trip was exhausting but we were still
enthusiastic and excited to face our first portage,
an 80 rod trek to Ada Creek.


Map makers traditionally use rods instead of feet
to describe the length of portages. They do this,
I now realize, so the trusting fools who
approach the easy sounding 80 rod portage
don’t realize it is really a formidable 1,320 feet!


The weight of what we brought with now
became very real to us. As we loaded up with
tents, sleeping bags, clothes, rain gear, food and
of course the canoes themselves, we realized at
least two trips across the portage would be
called for. Two trips across, loaded with gear,
meant at least one trip across empty … three
trips in total. Our 80 rod portage had now
become 3960 feet!


Of course this was only the first portage, there
were three more before we would reach our
destination at Cherokee Lake. The first portage
was not only the shortest, it was also the only one
across level ground. Portage number two was
hilly and narrow enough to challenge a mountain
goat, number three, which was supposed to be a
10 rod stroll between Ada and Scoop Lakes,
was lengthened to 110 rods of rocky, muddy
and potentially ankle-breaking creek bed.


The final portage was 180 rods and went over
the Laurentian Divide which divides the Hudson
Bay and Mississippi River watersheds. Oh, by
the way, did I mention it was hilly?


Finally, after eight and one-half hours, we
paddled down Cherokee Creek into what has
been called one of the region’s most beautiful
lakes. Cherokee Lake didn’t disappoint in that
regard. Unfortunately we were so exhausted we
didn’t have much time for sight-seeing as we
sought out a island campsite and set up camp.


That evening there was a gorgeous sunset,
impossibly black star-studded sky and the
flickering of northern lights. Later wolves
howled and loons’ haunting calls echoed up and
down the lake. We could have seen and heard it
all had we not been so stiff we couldn’t move
from the campfire.


Before the sun rose the next morning my wife
made me leave my comfortable sleeping bag for
an early morning paddle. Stiffly I crawled into
the stern of the boat and we pushed off. We
found ourselves on a mirror still lake, mist
clinging to the shore as a struggling sunrise cast
the scene in a soft glow. The stiffness in my
neck, shoulders, back and legs began to melt
away as we drifted past small islands, and huge
granite outcroppings, trying to keep as silent as
possible so as not to disturb the reverential
atmosphere.


“This is it,” I said to myself. “This is what the
experience of the Boundary Waters is all about.”


Our trip back a few days later was, if anything,
even tougher than the one going in. Our muscles
were still stiff from the first trip and the six mile
paddle up Sawbill Lake was not only against an
even stiffer wind, it was in the rain.


But through it all, I remembered that morning on
Cherokee Lake, how clear and soft the water
was, as we dipped our paddles, how the jagged
granite and pointed pines contrasted against the
gentle pink sunrise, how a loon’s call would
echo for miles.


We’ll be back. Shorter and fewer portages for
sure, rice cakes instead of spaghetti, but we’ll be
back. The Boundary Waters experience is
impossible to forget.

9/25/98 – We received the following email from Dave Hart of the "Bloody Knees Canoe Club":

Hello Sawbill!
Yes it’s been over a month since our adventure in the BWCA this year.
We really enjoy reading your newsletter, and wanted to share our
experiences with you. The website (http://home.att.net/~davehart) has
been updated and has two accounts of our trip (one very very brief, and
Scott’s rather long diary). We also have many pictures (many more will
be added too) from this year as well as the Routes page. We never did
get an “after” shot of our knees when we came back. I’ve included three
pics you might enjoy–“BKCC before”; “BKCC after”; and “the youngest
Bloody Knee”.



Again, we had a wonderful time and we want to thank you for providing us
with gear and friendship. We look forward to seeing you again next
summer.

9/22/98 – We had a visit yesterday from Bill Janelle. Bill lived at the Forest Service cabin here at Sawbill in the summer of 1942, when he was six years old. His father, Harley Janelle, worked for the Forest Service. Due to WW II gas rationing, the family was posted at Sawbill, nearer to the work site. Bill has many fond memories of that summer, and was delighted to find the cabin intact and well cared for. Bill, along with his mother Marie and younger sister Harlene, moved to Tofte when school started. The family lived in Schroeder, near the Temperance River, and Bill attended first grade at the old Tofte school. In the spring of ’43 his father was transferred to the Pleasant Hill Ranger District near Clarkesville, Arkansas. Bill and his wife Dottie now live in California. He is retired from a career in the military.



9/19/98 – Looking back on the past four years, Jeff Thompson prepares to perform his final transportation, as a Sawbill crew member. Jeff is one of our senior crew members who won’t be returning next year. The last day is a poignant one for all of us. I have seen Jeff depart for countless driving trips, and over the past four seasons of work and play, he and I have become good friends. We go through a bit of withdrawal when the crew leaves. After living, eating, and working together a sense of family develops. When a crew member leaves forever, it is like sending a kid to college. We’ll really miss Jeff. His easy going manner and sharp wit, set the tone for younger crew members, helping to nurture the typical laughter and laid back spirit that prevails at Sawbill. Several of our staff are considering options next summer that will begin to track them into a career. We encourage them, but take solace in the fact that many of them delay those decisions, once they are away from the Northwoods for several months. I have hope we will see Jeff, Michele, or Annie again. I understand their eagerness to discover the work life has in store for them, but I caution them to not feel too urgent. So many of our former crew members wonder from their settled perspective, why didn’t they just put in one more season of paddling and exploring in the Northwoods? If next year Jeff drives you to your wilderness lake, let him know what you think of his decision to return. Some of our greatest wilderness advocates and thinkers spent their youth working at wilderness edge businesses. The people they met and experiences they had, impacted their entire lives. We have to give ourselves time to learn from each phase of life, otherwise, we are frustrated, when we later learn that the ideals and virtues of one time were on the mark and should have been more closely heeded.

9/18/98 – The warm weather seems to have arrested the colorization of foliage. It remains beautiful, with about 40% still green. The balmy temperatures are slated to disappear after this weekend. The return of Fall should speed things along. I like to picture the snow line moving south every day. It isn’t all that far away now 🙂

9/15/98 – We received the following email from John Hawn in Iowa yesterday:

Your notes of 8/26/98 express the feeling of the BWCAW to me more than
most. "…silence covered us like a blanket." I remember hearing an
individual leaf softly "crashing" branch to branch to the ground on a
particularly beautiful autumn evening in the BWCA a few years ago. Keep
up the great work.

John also sent us the link for a good satellite photo of Sawbill and the surrounding lakes. Thanks John.

9/12/98 – This morning we were treated to what has become a rare sight. Gray skies filtered the light from the rising sun. Gauzy fog drifted among the brilliant trees, leaves rainslick, shining, and vivid. For a few moments the world was an impressionistic masterpiece. Daubs of color blending to form exquisite shapes – wild and dreamlike. Then as the light intensified, they transformed into the familiar landscape of our daily surroundings.

9/10/98 – The weather continues to be perfect. Perfect for wildfire too, unfortunately. I had the great fun of flying in the Forest Service’s 1956 DeHavilland Beaver bush plane on Tuesday. We flew over four fires, but the most interesting was the Bluejay fire, located north of Hazel lake and east of Polly Lake. This fire was started by lightning on July 14th and is still burning. It is only ten acres or so in size, but in the last few days it has burned across a swamp and entered the heavy timber. The Forest Service feels that a warm windy day could turn Bluejay into a significant fire.

The flight over the BWCAW revealed many hillsides of blazing color as the combination of drought and light frost at night have jump started the Fall season.

The Mark Trail comic strip is currently featuring Mark’s wife Cherry on a BWCA Wilderness canoe trip. If you follow it in the paper, she is currently being threatened by a bear. Mark Trail is available on the web, although delayed by a couple of weeks. On the website, she is currently being threatened by a moose.

9/7/98 – Beautiful, cool September weather has returned. The underbrush is starting to get pretty colorful. Within the next two weeks the trees will explode with vivid reds and yellows. The air already has the magic elixir smell of Fall. Waves of warblers and other small birds are passing through on their way south. Their presence is a subtle beauty – tiny flashing gems in settings of colorful leaves.

9/5/98 – Labor Day weekend is hard upon us. The store is full of families at this moment, excitedly preparing for their canoe adventures in the BWCA Wilderness. In three short days it will be back to school for most of the kids and back to work for the parents. The gorgeous weather that we have come to take for granted is continuing for this holiday weekend. If the weather pattern doesn’t change, we will be rivaling Hawaii for climatic beauty.

Edwin and Richard Millard are here from Chicago and Alabama respectively. The Millards started camping at Sawbill in 1952. Lee (Millard) Stewart is working here this summer. Edwin is her father and Richard is her brother. Richard has donated two signs that he picked up when the Forest Service changed from steel signs to wooden signs in the early 60’s. He has kept them all these years and has now donated them to be hung on the wall in the outfitting building. There are, of course, no signs (or lookout towers) in the wilderness now.


This style of sign graced the wilderness beginning in the late 40’s

Posted on

August 1998

8/31/98 – Those of you who watch the Sawbill
Weather ’98
page, may have noticed that our weather observer, Ruthie Hansen, is now listed as "former weather observer." Ruthie began school today at the Minnesota Arts High School in the Twin Cities. She is taking a usual load of high school courses and then receiving special instruction in Literary Arts. Quite a change for a kid who has been home schooled on the edge of the BWCA Wilderness for the last few years. Perhaps we can entice her to write a few entries for the newsletter describing the contrast between the solitude of Sawbill and the urban art school.

A group of musicians who visit the Sawbill campground every year were just here again this past weekend. This loose group of musical friends has been making friendship and music at Sawbill for almost 15 years now. They fish and camp all day, then at night, they pull out guitars, fiddles, banjos, mandolins and basses, unlimber beautiful voices and make music around the fire until the wee hours.

8/27/98 – A rare bit of excitement on Tuesday when a camper became lost in the woods overnight. Kevin Griffith, age 20, from Owatonna, Minnesota decided to hike across a peninsula on Sawbill lake and meet his friends who were in a canoe. He became disoriented during a rain squall and tried to backtrack to camp. Instead he headed due north into very remote and wild country. When he realized that he was thoroughly lost, he panicked and ran for some distance. He eventually fell and spent the night where he fell, among some moss under a pine tree. In the morning, after an estimated half hour of sleep, he decided to stay put until rescued. He ate three flies, a berry and a nut. He reported that the flies had no taste, but the berry made him queasy. He tried to capture a dragon fly, but it was too quick for him.

Kevin’s group called and searched for him until well after dark. In the morning they paddled into Sawbill and we notified the Cook County Sheriff. Deputy Sheriff Tim Weitz mobilized the Cook County Volunteer Rescue Squad. He also notified the Forest Service, who were able to call several nearby wilderness rangers on the radio. Within hours, the deputy, rescue squad, rangers and two Sawbill crew members were on the scene and cooperating in a well organized search. About 2:30 P. M. two of the rangers, Gary Robinson and Ellen Hawkins, heard a faint response to their calls on a megaphone. They plunged deep into the rugged forest and within a half hour they had located Kevin – wet, tired and hungry, but basically OK.

We were all impressed by the excellent work of the deputy, rescue squad and wilderness rangers. it is nice to know they are there when you need them.

8/26/98 – We are receiving good help the past week from several former crew members. Mary Zinn from New York City, has returned the past two years to take a break from her city life and aid us during a very busy time when many of our crew our packing off to college. Mary and I returned late the other night from an outing in town. It is so quiet at Sawbill then. After a bumpy, loud ride on the trail, the silence covered us like a blanket. We quieted ourselves and our steps, in an attempt to fully tune into the silence. It is so tangible – thick and dark, all around, there is a sense that you could reach out, take hold of it, and take it in. Mary said it made her ears ring. How different it must be from the New York soundscape. She left me there, and I tried to nail down this elusive feeling that there was a rich substance all around me called quiet, which seemed to have a cool resistance when I waved my arm through it. A loon broke the spell, and the air was crisp with their calls. I shut my eyes and listened to an incredible chorus of loons. There were differing intensities of calls – those that seemed to be coming from Sawbill, and then more from other lakes. I strained my ears, and thought I could hear very distant calls. Though I can’t be sure, since sound seems to play tricks, it seemed I was hearing loons calling from many lakes. I tried to think how this sounded to loons. Could they hear this for miles, and did they respond from lake to lake? And why so many joyous sounding calls simultaneously? My human sense was that it was a communal celebration of darkness and solitude, a celebration of being a loon and living on such amazing lakes, in this dark sky that made their calls sound so great. I stared into the void of darkness, and those calls became visual – red blossoms of notes rising into the air. I imagined a birds eye view of our surrounding lakes, and could see those plumes of notes drifting up and fading into a glow of sound. As I peer out the window tonight, I see the northern lights are on. Perhaps a remnant of last night’s audio energy, like the buzz in the air after a wonderful summer concert, but more ancient and strange.

8/24/98 – Hectic, very hectic, this past week at Sawbill. I apologize to our loyal newsletter followers for the lack of entries. One of the loyal readers, Dean Elling, returned from a canoe trip yesterday. It was the first trip with his son Thomas, who looked to be five years old. They had a great trip, and returned scruffy and beaming with smiles. Thomas’s cousin, Akiko Takechi of Japan, has an interest in the BWCA, and Dean and I had planned to surprise her with a picture of her relatives. Unfortunately, technology conspired against us, and only half the picture loaded into the computer. Akiko, I can report that Dean and Thomas were in high spirits despite a long session of book reading in the tent, while waiting out a stormy day. We appreciate Thomas’ patience with the weather, as we are eager to receive any rain at all these days. Dean reports a growing interest among Japanese people with Northern Minnesota. Please come check it out, Akiko. A crew member of ours is headed to teach English in Japan this Fall. It seems there are several layers to this nascent Sawbill Japan connection!

Despite the lack of moisture a major bolete mushroom bloom is surrounding the Dome. I have never noticed so many mushrooms surrounding the dome so uniformly. I wonder if this is a confused mushroom pilgrimage. The dome looks very much like a mushroom, as it begins to poke out of the ground. Considering the purported power of the mushroom from early experimenters in psychodelia, I wonder if I should prepare for a huge stalk to lift the dome skyward? I’ll keep you posted. On a more grounded note, the large leaf asters are blooming in profusion. It is quite a sight to see open areas covered in their knee high lavender blooms slightly smelling peppery.

8/19/98 – The fire ban has been lifted. The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted last night to lift their ban of open fires in the wilderness. As usual, fires are only allowed in the fire grates at campsites. It continues to be extremely dry here, so campers should be very careful with their fires.

8/16/98 – The Bloody Knees Canoe Club began its seventh annual trip this morning. They promised us some rain, but were only able to produce a light shower just after dawn.


Bloody Knees Canoe Club "Before"

8/15/98 – A fire ban has been declared for the BWCA Wilderness. Open fires are not allowed. Cooking must be done on stoves. Not only is the fire danger extreme, but water levels are approaching record low levels. So far, the only closed route is the Frost River. The Louse River is getting tough and the Phoebe River has several sections that are slowing progress.

One of the lightning caused fires from back in mid July has come back to life. An inch of rain on July 27th was thought to have drenched the fire, located east of Polly Lake. For eighteen days there was no hint of smoke. Two days ago, the fire suddenly rekindled, moving from the swamp where it had been burning, up the hill, and into the timber. The Forest Service is closely monitoring its progress and doesn’t expect it to develop into a major fire.

8/12/98 – A good friend of mine has been such a stimulation for nice hikes and thoughts about the processes of the natural world. The other day she suggested we explore a section of old growth maple that grows near Lutsen. En route, thimbleberries and raspberries threatened our intention to reach the maples, but we persevered and made for the gnarly old trees. These maples are like a wood in a fairy tale. Open walking prevails under a thick canopy that filters down green light around trunks that twist and split in all directions. Millions of ten inch maple seedlings carpet the floor, each desiring a sliver of sunlight that might allow it to become the next blackened, cracked historian of that hillside. To peer so far into the woods, unencumbered by balsam, aspen seedlings or alder tangles, is such a delight in the boreal forest. The clarity is uplifting. We felt light there together. There is a sense of potential in places like this, as if anything can happen. We stood together quietly, drifting. Slight crashes tumbled into the solitude. With a gasp that turned to broad smiles, we saw what can happen in those woods. A sow and her two cubs ambled by. Transfixed by the energy and beauty of those big black balls rolling through the woods, we went unnoticed. They moved casually, but steadily, across the hillside, stopping occasionally to sniff or lift up debris in search of insects. It was a pleasure to see, and provides a nugget of memory to transport myself back to those woods.

This same person was wondering about the early onset of leaves this Spring and how that will affect the Fall leaf display. She had heard that leaves will change and drop sooner, as a result of the warm Spring. This did not seem to jive with my notions of the onset of the Fall colors, which are based on concepts of temperature change and less sunshine. A forester at the Tofte Ranger Station explained how an early Spring sets a clock in motion for the life span of leaves. This clock, plus or minus a little, runs out after a certain amount of time. He made an analogy to blooms, which similarly will set fruit earlier, if they bud earlier. With leaves and fruit, this seems to be the case this year. Some color change is already evident in the forest, and rosehips are approaching a rich red. Pin cherries are translucent and red, reminding me of their abundant floral display early this Spring. Each inquiry provides provides a glimpse at the complexity of the natural order. Lucky to have such inquisitive friends.

8/11/98 – Wow, so many wonderful customers today! Willard and Vivian Stevens have been camping in the Sawbill campground for years. Jeff Krejeci and I spoke on the phone today, and he and his wife have been coming for the past few years. A young family, new to Sawbill, returned with good reports from Brule. Each of these people represent a thread in a wonderful tapestry of experience. Willard has been entertaining us for years with his dry wit. He amused me today by explaining how to use the tongue of a worn out shoe for a sling shot. I recall a conversation from years ago, over a soda, in which Willard described in great detail the workings of a municipal natural gas system. It was first hand, from a guy who put in more than thirty years as a gas man – fascinating. Each year the thread is renewed with a hug from Vivian and another laugh from Willard. Jeff called today to see about buying a canoe at the end of the year. His voice reminded me of my conversation with him and his wife way back in May. It was a clear day with a slight breeze, they were the first customers of the year, and I was so pleased to think of the experiences awaiting these easy going folks, in a Spring wilderness. Jeff’s call took me back to that thread, and helps me see more clearly, in the murkiness of August, what a fine weave this season is proving to be. The family from Brule, who I spoke with at length, yet cannot recall their name, returned with such appreciation of the beauty and pride at their accomplishment. I am drawn to people who are so gentle and considerate in their interactions with others. Our tapestry is blessed with threads like them. They were disappointed with the campers who damage green trees at the campsites. They wondered how we will preserve this place, when those behaviors, sometimes, seem far too common. Thinking back on their concerns and their obvious love of their children, I am hopeful that their kids will find ways to tackle these problems, becoming the threads in a fabric which is durable and fashionable.

8/10/98 – Troop 571 of Mound, Minnesota arrived for their first canoe trip out of Sawbill this afternoon. Keith, Steve and boys send their greetings to the relatives who are watching this site. They are surely the most colorful boy scouts we have seen in awhile.


8/8/98 – There is a wonderful article by John McPhee in the current issue of the New Yorker magazine describing the joys of swimming with a canoe. McPhee was raised in the Maine canoe country, but many of his observations travel well to Minnesota. He describes gunwale pumping, the means of propelling a canoe by standing up on the rails in the stern and bouncing up and down. Jean Raiken, a Sawbill pioneer, was famous for her gunwale pumping technique. In the late ’20’s, she could be seen pumping her way down Sawbill Lake, sunset blazing behind her, singing lusty songs at the top of her lungs. She was always amused by local legends that developed about the beautiful and mysterious "Indian Maid" who haunted Sawbill Lake.

McPhee also writes a wonderful description of deliberately swamping a canoe, which inevitably leads to the discovery of the air pocket trapped under the overturned canoe. The space under the canoe is a magic place, with a diffused shifting light and a tympanic sound effect. Novices will often emerge into this space with a shout, causing sharp pain to the ears of anyone sharing the air pocket. Usually, the swimmers just listen to their own excited breathing, with an occasional whispered comment, until the urge strikes them to roll the canoe right side up and the bright, busy outside world is revealed.

McPhee finally points out, by dramatic example, how this canoe play actually serves the serious purpose of training for an accidental capsizing. When I tipped over far from shore, deep in the Quetico, late in October, all those years of canoe swimming reassured me that I really could float my pack back into the canoe, gather up paddle and map, and swim the whole works a quarter mile to shore. Despite a water temperature in the high 30’s, I was quite comfortable from my swimming effort by the time I reached shore. The plastic pack liner produced my dry change of clothes, and I was on my way in fifteen minutes.

8/3/98 – One of our favorite groups, Jan Moravec and party, left yesterday and we miss them already. This group of young women have been wilderness canoeing together for many years – literally since they were young girls. They have a great attitude toward fun in the wilderness and have charmed successive Sawbill crews for many seasons.

Many old-timers are returning to Sawbill at this time. The famous Consortium group is currently in the wilderness for their 21st year. On the campground, we have the Kubiak brothers: Bob, Bill and Tom are all former Sawbill employees. Tom has the distinction of being employee #1, all the way back to 1957. Many other campground regulars are back this year. One of our chief joys in this business are the friendships that have developed and continued for so many years.

8/1/98 – Tom Glenny has been canoeing out of Kawishiwi Lake and Sawbill Lake since 1947. Most of those years his companions have been boyhood friends from his home town of Rockford, Illinois. As you can imagine, over the years they have developed many traditions and generated many stories.

Their most famous story involved the sneaking in of a gallon of ice cream, frozen with dry ice, for an annual birthday party on Malberg Lake. The surprise worked perfectly and has entered the lexicon of great BWCA Wilderness practical jokes.

Another tradition of Tom’s group involves packing in a roadside mail box which is installed at the lakeshore of their campsite for the amusement of passers by.

Tom’s son Stuart has participated in the trips since he was a boy. For the past few years, Stuart has brought a youth group from his church. The ice cream story is retold each year and the mailbox has become part of the youth group’s tradition too.

This year, Tom and his friend Glenn drove up from Rockford a day after the youth group began their trip at Kawishiwi Lake. They took a fast canoe and caught up with Stu and the youth group on Polly Lake. They approached the campsite ringing a bell and calling out "Good Humor man!!" With them they had letters from friends, family members and the church which they deposited in the waiting mailbox. After greeting everyone, they broke out a gallon of ice cream and the whole group enjoyed an ice cream social on the shores of Polly Lake, more than twenty miles from the nearest freezer. Tom and Glenn bid the group goodbye, returned to Kawishiwi, Sawbill and finally Rockford.

Tom commented that some people might think he is crazy to have gone to so much effort just to deliver some ice cream. Our response was to confirm that he is indeed crazy:-)

Posted on

July 1998

7/29/98 – On my recent canoe trip I had a singular experience with wildlife. It didn’t involve the glamour animals like moose and bear. It involved the humble and lowly toad.

Although I have known since grade school that toads eat insects, I have never actually seen one catch a bug, other than on the Discovery Channel. On the night in question it was very warm and I was half out of my sleeping bag. Also, the tent was set up on a fairly steep side slope, so I had slid off my Thermarest and my arm was pushed hard against the screen door of the tent. The vestibule was half open and a huge, luscious, full moon was half way clear of the horizon, accompanied by a loon symphony. As I gazed upon this beautiful celestial body in a half sleep, I was startled by the silhouette of a huge, black creature blocking fully half of the moon’s face. As I quickly rose back to full consciousness, I realized that the creature was actually a toad who had hopped up on the edge of the vestibule at just the right angle to create the astonishing effect. As my eyes adjusted to my brain’s new perspective, the little fellow hopped inside the vestibule and was lost in the inky blackness of the earth therein. I soon fell back to sleep and might not have given it a second thought had I not been mysteriously awoken some half hour or so later.

The moon was fully up now and flooding the landscape with its magic light. I lay with my arm still tightly pressed against the no-see-um netting of the door, wondering what had disturbed me. Slowly I became aware of a light, but distinct, tap – tap – tap against my arm. I lay quite still for several minutes, mystified by this phenomenon. Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I carefully engaged my trusty mini-mag flashlight and pressed it to the screening to illuminate the vestibule space.

There was my friend the toad, camped out an inch from the mosquito netting, looking back at my blazing torch with what I took for indignation in his eye. He was capitalizing on the horde of mosquitoes, drawn to the warm-bloodedness of my arm through the netting. He was happily picking them off just as fast as they could land with intent to bite. I lay back down and carefully restored my arm to its vulnerable position. It only took about two minutes for him to recover from his moment in the spotlight and get back to work. Tap – tap – tap, about every ten seconds until I drifted off to sleep, protected by that wily predator, Mr. Toad.

7/27/98 – Yesterday we received our hardest rainfall since the 13th of March. During about six hours we received 1.17". The wildfires burning in the wilderness are presumably out and the water levels have rebounded slightly. It is surprising how quickly the evidence of yesterday’s rain has disappeared. Today is sunny, 70 degrees and breezy.

Don and Lorraine Anderson, long time seasonal residents of the Sawbill Campground and blueberry aficionados, report that many picking patches are barren of berries, others have dry berries, while others (they’re not saying where) are loaded with sweet, juicy berries. Raspberries are also ripening and promise to be at least mediocre this year.

7/25/98 – Moose sightings have been frequent on the roads recently. Luckily, speeds on our gravel roads are slow enough that moose car collisions are very infrequent. Typically, there is plenty of time to slow the car for a nice sighting of the moose, while it decides the appropriate course of action. When I see them from a long distance, I find myself squinting down the road wondering what crazy really tall people are standing in the road. I have learned that the moose sense of curiosity requires a fairly lengthy appraisal. Most moose stand staring, until a car is within 75-100 yards. Usually, the moose choose to flee, and they run down the road looking for a suitable entrance to the woods. This process is usually brief. Occasionally, a moose is more choosey – running a slalom course of indecision, hunting for just the right opportunity. We try not to stress the moose, so we drive slowly and stay far back. We are also motivated by the possibility of unusual behavior. It is not uncommon for moose to have brain worm, and those guys can act very strangely. They appear drunk and act uncharacteristically bold. A couple of winters ago, Cindy had a two hour standoff with a moose, which included a fair amount of judicious backing, as the moose approached her, seemingly oblivious to her presence. Years ago, a moose that was apparently content to stroll by Bill’s car, out of the blue, jumped up and crushed in the windshield. It returned to its casual saunter, after this strange bit of moose instinct had satisfied itself. Long waits are typical in the winter, as the steep, thick snow banks near the road are not conducive to a retreat from the road. As annoyed as I sometimes become about the delay, I am always pleased that my tardiness is due to a moose and not a traffic jam.

7/24/98 – Another fire has been discovered in the BWCA Wilderness. The Blue Jay Fire is just east of Polly Lake. It is less than an acre in size and is burning in a dried up beaver pond. This area was logged in the ’60’s, before the BWCA Wilderness was completely protected from logging. The Forest Service says that it probably won’t spread much unless the drought deepens dramatically. They are not fighting any of the fires burning in the wilderness, and there is no danger or concern for canoeists.

7/23/98 – A day in the life of a crew member at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters. I woke early today. I sleep in a loft in our outfitting building. A triangular skylight above my bed frames a small section of a large red pine surrounded by the sky. Like Monet’s haystacks, the color and mood of that red pine indicate the weather and season. This morning the tree was crisp against a cool morning blue sky. We are miles from the closest municipal power source, so my first task is to be sure our generators are in working order. I make the coffee for the customers and enjoy an hour of relative calm before the inevitable rush of a late July day. The rest of the crew arrives and we go to work renting canoes and talking to people about the wilderness. With so many buildings, facilities, and equipment, many small repairs are required, and we assign a different person to rectify these problems each week. This morning a broken flush stem on a toilet is the culprit. The work is varied, and I return to the office to deal with the previous day’s receipts. Our dogs have free run of the place, and they snuggle and snore at my feet, as I try to interpret a crew member’s cryptic note about a sale that went awry. Interruptions are the rule. The kids come in and out wondering what to do because summer is so boring. Sometimes, the intensity of the sky makes us drop our work to spend a moment in its splendor. The other day, a long line of yellow clouds marked the leading edge of a front that unleashed a fury of rain. So nice to be employed by, and work with, people who appreciate the spectacle of nature. The wooden gunnels on a kevlar canoe were returned broken today, a big job that must be started immediately, as most of our kevlar canoes are booked in the days to come. At the end of the day, the beautiful light lingering on the tops of our ancient red and white pines, reminds me that I need to update the newsletter with the sights, sounds and activities of our life in the Northwoods. I write these lines, with the editorial assistance of several talented crew members. Finally, the work is done. In the few hours before exhaustion, we play – a paddle like last night, a game of cards or a swim and sauna. Below the window in the dome, my eyes adjust to the darkness, and I can just make out the red pine under a canopy of dark blue and twinkling light.

7/22/98 – A storm rolled across the forest on July 14th, touching off numerous fires with lightning. By yesterday sixteen fires had been found. Two of them are within the BWCA Wilderness and are being managed by the Forest Service as “wildland fire use for resource benefit.” In other words, these fires will be watched closely and allowed to progress naturally if they offer no risk to civilization. One of the fires, named Bow Lake Fire, is near Malberg Lake and is about fifteen acres in size at this writing. The experts say it has little potential for dramatic spread due to its location near several large swamps. The other, called Fallen Arch Lake Fire, is near Lake Isabella and is only a half acre in size, so far. Neither fire has closed any portages, campsites or entry points yet. The rain yesterday dampened the fires, but did not put them out. With no rain in the forecast, it is likely that we have not heard the last of Bow and Fallen Arch Lakes.

7/18/98 – Fishing has been a little slow the past few days. Alan and Arlene Olson, parents of former crew member Patti Olson, managed to catch enough fish, but said it was work and that the walleyes just weren’t biting. Al and Arlene have been coming to the Sawbill campground for years. Two great people. Their age hasn’t deterred their youthful spirits, and together they portage and paddle to their secret spots just about every day. They have such a nice way with each other, and I suspect the ritual of fishing is a sweet joy in their relationship. Not too many couples fish together that regularly. The ones who do, always seem to have that special something in their marriage. They borrowed Patti’s lightweight kevlar canoe for this trip. Al is much happier portaging kevlar, after many years of labor under an old Grumman. It’s really nice for us to have the regulars return each year. The older folks restrict their activity a little more each year. Eventually they stop coming altogether, and that is always sad. Arlene enlightened me in this regard. She knows her and Al’s days of portaging and paddling are limited, but she is so glad for the time they had and adamant in her opposition to an accommodation that would allow for easier access. She likes the wilderness just the way it is, and wants it that way for her kids and grandchildren. Such gratitude and consideration in those sentiments. Luckily for us, Al and Arlene have lots of years left. Unfortunately, not enough to make us another Patti!

7/17/98 – Apologies to those of you who regularly check the newsletter. Our most frequent contributor, Bill, has been paddling with his family. Stay tuned for highlights of their journey. Upon departure of the family, the crew found itself tending to an unusual patient: Sunnie our golden retriever. Bill, Cindy and the kids decided to only take Gust, Sunnie’s brother and the more reliable canoeist, on their canoe trip. Sunnie is truly inconsolable. I am the last person to personify animals, but in this case, I must say, Sunnie has the blues. Sullen, slow moving, and limp sum up Sunnie’s demeanor. Our typically ebullient retriever is one sad puppy.

The last few days have been idyllic. Blue and green dominate the view from the office. Such a joyful combination of color! The white lily bloom is contributing to our colorscape. I paddled through hundreds of these the other day on a portion of Marsh Lake. Incredibly thick – the tangle of flowers, twisted stems, and massive leaves held me tight when I stopped paddling. Such a fine feeling to be suspended there, caught between water and sky. Hundreds of yards from shore, in a sea of lilies, I became acutely aware of my immediate surroundings. Dragonflies darted about, etching impossible flight paths in the air, which seemed to hang ever so briefly like the smoky remnants of fireworks. Small metallic blue beetles crawled around the leaves and blossoms. The blossoms have a nice but unusual odor, not unlike the discs placed in urinals – strange. Tucked inside each bloom, are a group of yellow stamens, perfectly symmetrical and pure. They look just like sea anemones. In that small white cocoon, the yellow is so intense it glows. Occasionally, the wind causes a lily pad to jut out of the water, exposing its rich purple underside. Drying in the breeze, these purple crescents bind all the colors together. I broke away from the lilies and swam in a channel flowing with cool water. Drying on a hot rock, sun rays streaming into every pore, I contemplated nature. Wind in the grass lulled me to sleep.

7/14/98 – Two unusual wildlife sightings were reported by canoeists yesterday. Actually, the same sighting reported twice. A fawn deer was reported swimming down the shoreline on Alton Lake. It appeared distressed, but unwilling to take to land. Later the same day, the fawn swam across Sawbill Lake. Some canoeists spotted it from a distance and were quietly observing. The fawn spotted their canoe and immediately swam toward them. It pulled up along side their canoe and they guided it to shore. Again, it was unwilling to leave the water. There was no sign of the doe. Speculation is that wolves were involved in the incident, although bears are also major predators of deer fawns.

7/9/98 – Continuing the jolly mood of the previous night, four crew members sought the occasionally appealing entertainment of a night on the town and headed up to Lutsen Ski Resort for some pool, darts and general good times. Following the late-evening closing of Papa Charlie’s Bar and Grill, Michele Thieman, Jeff Thompson, Natasha Warner, and Annie Strupeck sought outdoor entertainment and opted for a wade in the Temperance River. This river, which meets Lake Superior in a beautiful pool just south of Tofte, winds through valleys in the Sawtooth Mountain Range, and gently rolls alongside a portion of the Sawbill Trail. Departing westward from the Trail, about 5 miles north of Tofte, is the Six Hundred Road. This road has always appealed to me, for it sports a grand bridge complete with wooden wheel guides and large iron sidebars and invites me to travel a road that narrows into green, lush woods. I had just driven over the bridge that very afternoon, across the Temperance River, and thought about the time I spend on the lakes, and the rushing rivers I forget. The foreshadowing of this afternoon’s drive led our party to park under the full moon and make our cautious way down the banks of the beautiful river. What began as a wade soon turned into an actual swim. The rocks provided many slippery footholds, and rather than continue the hopeless task of remaining upright, the four of us simply sat down and allowed the easy current to carry us. The water was a cloak – silky and black and strangely silent. I heard no gurgle in my ear, but instead was enveloped by the surprising quiet warmth. We were awash in the white light of the moon, yet still hidden from one another by the darkness of the night. The belly crawl back up the river provided us with a soothing massage, as the current washed over our arms and legs and provided that very small resistance that gives the muscles of the body pleasure and rejuvenation. These golden days of summer are alive and well.

7/8/98 – Former crew member Jason Morse surprised us with a visit last night. His popularity with the crew and his love of basketball, led to a game of hoops on our gravel court. Towering over the court is an eighty-foot white pine which serves double duty as shade provider and support for the backboard. Tough dribbling conditions prevail on the gravel, but we always manage to have a good time. We left the court paved with our footprints and a slight dusty haze settling. Heated from the contest, we headed for the lake, arriving just as the light was fading. The sky was perfectly reflected, but rippled as our weight depressed the dock, which creaked and moaned on its old timbers. Jeff Thompson sported a beat pair of Nikes, no socks, cut off shorts, a smile, and a great shock of hair swept back from wind, sweat, and sun. He was a pure manifestation of summer. As I told him this, we laughed, repeating together our saying this year, "these are the salad days" – a little joke between us that seems old fashioned and overwrought, but feels so true. We swam and flung ourselves off the dock in wild jumps (Jeff risking pain for the glory of applause.) We saunaed, and the remaining concerns from the day melted into the oblivion of cedar and steam. Under a bright moon, we headed for the deep sleep that comes after a day of hard work, sweet play, and camaraderie. Some days it seems we lead the life of Riley up here.

7/6/98 – An impromptu paddle last night turned into a spiritual experience for two Sawbill crew members and a visitor. Testing our new Wenonah Minnesota III canoe, the three paddlers made quick work of the Sawbill dock to Alton portage run. They enjoyed a classic summer night, keeping track of the time of day by the early evening whistling of the white-throated sparrows and the laughing loons. Glorious light on the trees literally made for a golden moment. An evening work detail set a deadline for this quick expedition. A brief look at Alton was the only expectation for portaging across the 30 rods. Back on Sawbill, loon calls and fluttering wings, lead the party to a small bay sheltered from the breeze. After a few moments of silence, a beaver was spotted 75 yards away, heading for the canoe. Initially, he did not seem to notice the canoe, but then made a 180 degree turn, gliding back along his path and slipping silently into the water. Waiting in silence, with eyes pealed, revealed nothing but the realization that the wilderness and the universe were in perfect order.

7/4/98 – It is a beautiful Independence day, and many patriotic day trippers are enjoying one of our great national treasures today. OB snuck out yesterday in Bill’s beautiful Seliga wood and canvas canoe. Some of you may have seen this canoe, as it hangs in the dome. Built by a master, Joe Seliga of Ely, it is a pleasure to paddle. It holds a line better than any canoe in our fleet and is responsive to the slightest paddle stroke. The joy of paddling this canoe goes beyond performance, however. It is a pleasure to look at the craftsmanship and to listen to the distinctive creaks of a wood craft and the solid resonance created by placing a paddle across the gunnels. The lap of water on the taut canvas provides the ideal soundtrack for drifting and leaning back to take in all the sights. Wood and canvas canoes were very common in the Northwoods until the lighter weight aluminum and composite canoes replaced them. My back is pleased by this transition, but it is always sad to see handcrafted technologies become obsolete. Fortunately, Bill’s Seliga ensures that the wood and canvas experience will be an option for Sawbill crew members.

7/2/98 – Looks like another beautiful weekend for the BWCA. Warm weather, blue skies, and a slight breeze complete the view from the office window at the moment. Despite all our dry weather, we have had enough moisture to have a nice mushroom bloom. All types are popping up, making the forest floor more colorful and interesting. Squirrels and moose have their favorites. The Bolete mushrooms, which are my favorites, bear the evidence of squirrel munching, but I have never seen a moose eating one. They are large brown spongy mushrooms, and I eagerly await my first sighting of a moose gobbling one of them down. Last year during a Bolete bloom, a very friendly Russian couple treated us to a Bolete feast. They told us about spontaneous mushroom hunts, where entire families would hear word of fungi in the woods and rush out. Apparently, mushrooms enjoy a better reputation in Russia. A very loud and unusual mid day loon call just carried in above the fray of a busy day. Such events help to reset the psyche when the crowds descend on Sawbill.