Posted on


1/20/05 – We are very sad to report the passing of Mike Clair, long time Sawbill camper and all around good guy. Mike spent many hours in the Sawbill store engaged in pleasant conversation with crew and customers. We will all miss his friendly face and affable story telling.

Posted on


1/18/05 – We have just emerged from a stiff little cold snap. Today, for the first time in nearly five days, the temperature is above zero. We had a low of -34 F on both the 15th and 16th. Sunday, a winter camper couldn’t get his car started. We pushed it into the shop and warmed it up while watching the Vikings lose. Our bird feeders have been mobbed with business. Chickadees, gold finches, red breasted nuthatches, white breasted nuthatches, pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks, pine siskens, red polls, gray jays, blue jays, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, and the flightless "red squirrel" birds, are all regular visitors.

The thermometer and Carl’s face both tell the tale of winter cold.

Posted on


1/17/05 – Dave Freeman, Sawbill crew member and Wilderness Classroom founder, is in Peru preparing for Wilderness Classroom’s adventure there later this spring. He sent the following note and pictures today:

Hello everyone –

I am in Iquitos trying to cut my way though all of the bureaucratic red tape
and get permission to paddle through Pacaya Samaria National Park, which
seems to be proving hard and harder by the minute. But on the up side I am
also finding a lot of good alternatives for things we can do if we do not
get permission.

It is really, really hot down here, and during the middle of the day it is
hard to be out in the sun. I have been told that it is hotter than normal
right now, which I hope is true.

All of the new noises, smells, sights of the Amazon are amazing, and I am
looking forward to getting out into the jungle for a few days. This
afternoon I am going to go to a zoo, which is outside of town to try and
get some good photos.

Yesterday, I spent a bunch of time walking around the Benen market, and
taking photos. Talk about a sensory overload. The photos really do not do
it justice, but I am going to go back with the video camera tomorrow. It
is known for pick pockets, so I didn’t want to bring more than one camera,
but the people were super friendly, at first I tried taking photos with out
people knowing, but soon found that everyone wanted their photo taken, and
it became a great conversation piece, so that was good.

Anyway, I am off to the zoo, and tomorrow I am going to meet with the big
cahoona at IRENA to see if we can paddle through the park, and then I am
going to go out on the river for a paddle!

Enjoy the photos.


Iquitos, Peru at dusk. Benen fish market.

Strong guy. Photos by Dave Freeman.

Posted on


1/14/05 – School was cancelled today due to extreme wind chill temperatures. The high today was -10 F with a steady 25 mph northwest wind. When I was a kid, we wouldn’t have even cancelled hockey practice, much less school. Of course, we also walked two miles to school through six foot drifts and uphill both ways to boot. The low last night was only about -25 F, but colder weather is forecast for tonight. It brings to mind the Ballad of the Frozen Logger, "The weather tried to freeze him, it tried it’s very best. At 20 degrees below zero he buttoned up his vest."

Wednesday morning, when it was warm, I woke up to the sound of dozens of blue jays squawking their heads off outside my bedroom window. Later that morning, I noticed another chorus of strident blue jays about a quarter of a mile away. Finally, as I walked among the buildings here, a chorus of at least fifty blue jays had moved into one of the large red pines near the canoe yard. As I peered up into the tree, wondering what was going on, a great gray owl flew out of the tree and across the yard to another tree. The gang of blue jays followed, sounding their frantic alarm as they went. It looks like their strategy is to defeat the owl through sleep deprivation. – Bill

Picture from

Posted on


1/11/05 – It is a good time of year to start thinking about your canoe trip for the ’05 season. Permit reservations will be available after January 20th. You can apply for a permit now and the reservation office will process it on January 15th. They talk about a "lottery" for permits on the 15th, but that doesn’t really mean anything for permit reservations in the Sawbill area. If you apply for a permit anytime in the next few weeks, you are sure to receive that permit. As always, you can reserve your permit online at BWCAW Permit Online Reservations or you can let us take care of it for you. Just email us the information called for on our Permit Reservation Form.

You can reserve your outfitting with us whenever it is convenient. Our 2005 prices are unchanged from 2004. All our outfitting options and equipment rental prices are available at the links above. – Bill

Posted on


1/4/2005 – Another New Years at Sawbill has come and gone–the serenity of the winter woods temporarily shattered by a dozen or so current and former Sawbill crew members, friends, etc. Here are a few of the highlights:

Emily, Adam, Clare, Lida, Carl, Dave, Belinda, Bill, Kari, Nathan, Pat, Eric, Sonya, Jessa, Max, Laura and Jeff (with his glow stick glove) anxiously await the New Year in sub-zero temperatures on Sawbill Lake.

Bill, Lida and Clare enjoy some fine Champagne.

Earlier, at a warmer location, Bill, Emily and Max found some time to talk about their favorite BWCA routes.

Meanwhile, not far away, Frosty tells it funny while Adam looks on.

Oh yeah, Christmas. iPods anyone?

Posted on

December 2004

12/24/04 – The most common question we get from visitors in the summer is "What do you do in the winter?" Among many other things, I am the substitute trail groomer for the the Sugarbush system of cross country ski trails near Tofte. One of the regular groomers has been out of town, so I have been working on the trails nearly full time this week. Normally, I drive a Pisten Bully which is a huge snow cat like you see at alpine ski resorts. The Pisten Bully has been broken down though, so I’ve been driving a snowmobile dragging different sorts of heavy grooming equipment. The weather has been brutally cold with high winds on top of it. Ironically, the snow mobile doesn’t do very well in deep snow conditions. You have to stand while you drive and constantly throw your weight from one side to the other to keep it from tipping over or veering off the trail. Along the trail there are deep ditches and steep drop-offs waiting like clever traps that suck the 400 pound machine off the trail and hopelessly bury it on its side in deep powder snow. As a result, I am sore in every muscle and I’m sporting a fairly large frost bite burn under my chin. The trails are in great shape though and ready for the flood of holiday skiers. I also saw a lot of wolf tracks and scat on the ski trails.

We will be joined by our family for Christmas and many current and former crew members are coming up for New Years Eve. This is my favorite time of the year. Happy Holidays everyone! – Bill

The Sawbill Store is buried in snow!

12/14/04 – Sawbill has been buzzing with activity and the snow keeps falling! Last Thursday was Carl’s 15th birthday, and the family celebrated by finding and decorating this year’s Christmas tree. Carl also placed 10th out of 60 skiers at the Ely Classic Invitational ski meet last weekend at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik, Minnesota. Today he passed his driving permit written test. That is right, Carl can drive, accompanied by an adult of course! On top of all that exciting news, Sawbill received 18 inches of snow over the weekend. It started snowing on Saturday night and kept on snowing until Monday morning. The trees are caked with snow, and the ski trails are in great condition. – Dave

Carl gets ready to blow out the candles on his birthday cake, which Cindy crafted in the shape of two CDs to go with the CDs she made him for his birthday!
Carl chilling out before the start of the ski race at Giants Ridge last weekend.

Clare, Carl, and Cindy mourn loss of a broken candy cane .

Bill, complete with reindeer antlers, helps Clare string lights on the tree.

12/5/04 – The lake is perfect for skiing right now and the forecast is calling for more snow! Today, Bill and I walked the ski trail one last time to clear windfalls and get it ready for grooming. Hopefully there will be enough snow to groom the trail soon. I am heading over to Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge for a 5 day camping trip on Tuesday. I am going dog sledding! I am going dog sledding! Seven months is just too long to go with out harnessing up a dog team! As you can probably tell, I am pretty excited.

Walter, a crew member from last summer, sent several photos that he took on a trip this summer. Walter is a freshman at Perdue University in Indiana and from the sounds of it he is working hard and having fun, but he is looking forward to getting back to Sawbill, as I am sure many people are. We have heard from several other Sawbill crew members lately. Adam, spent the weekend visiting the Ter Beests in Omaha this weekend. Laura Smith, and Jeff Green e-mailed last week from the west coast where they are visiting friends they met at Sawbill, of course. They are doing well and will be heading back this way soon. Molly is in Illinois working hard writing grants for the Wilderness Classroom. And Alison, Sawbill’s famous mellophone player, recently learned that she will be heading to Nashville with the rest of the U of Minnesota marching band for a bowl game in a few weeks. What is the rest of the crew doing? Well, your guess is a good as mine, but hopefully they are preparing for another summer at Sawbill! – Dave

Storm on Alton Lake by Walter Booker

This photo was taken in the middle of October, one of the last times the crew housing was buzzing with activity.

12/2/04 – Cold temperatures and a little more snow have put us in a winter mood here. Dave and I skied over to Alton on Tuesday. Sawbill Lake was completely frozen over with no sign of thin ice except near stream inlets and in the narrows. Alton was still more than half open though. The lake got slushy on Wednesday, so neither skiing nor skating were possible (sigh). Today looks good though. It was 1 degree F last night with an inch of fresh snow. I plan to ski up Sawbill in the dark this evening. – Bill

Bill examines the open water where the stream from Alton Pond empties into Sawbill Lake.

Posted on

November 2004

11/29/04 – Sawbill Lake froze over on November 24th. I ice skated up to the first narrows on the 26th. The ice was two inches thick, but quickly warming temperatures made it kind of rubbery. That, combined with ominous cracking sounds under my feet, led me to cut short my skating fun. Over the weekend, a couple of inches of snow have spoiled the good ice skating, but I look forward to cross country skiing on the lake today.

Fourteen year old Sawbill crew member Carl Hansen got his braces removed this week, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Before and after.

11/24/04 – As winter’s grip begins to change the landscape, I am getting anxious for the day when I can strap on snowshoes, or skis and head out onto Sawbill Lake to welcome another winter in the BWCAW. In the summer I am often asked about winter in the boundary waters, and when I tell canoeists that winter is my favorite season I am often greeted with quizzical looks. However, with the proper equipment, and some basic knowledge winter is a wonderful time to enjoy the BWCAW.

I will be leading several winter camping trips out of Sawbill this winter, designed for people who would like to give traditional winter camping a try. Trips accommodate up to 4 participants, and each night will be spent camping in canvas tents that utilize a wood stove for heating and cooking. While traveling between campsites, participants will travel using skis and snowshoes, and will help pull the groups gear on traditional toboggans. The goals of the course are to provide participants with an enjoyable traditional winter camping experience, and teach basic winter camping and travel skills. The trips are being offered through Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, and we will be using top quality equipment provided by Empire Canvas.

Trip Dates: Saturday, 1/29 to Tuesday 2/1, and Thursday, 2/3 to Sunday 2/6

Cost: $450 per person

Click here for a detailed trip description! ( Microsoft Word Document 80 K)

Let me know if you have any questions, or would like to make a reservation.

– Dave

(312) 505-9973 (cell phone)

(218) 663-7150 (Sawbill)

A canvas tent, heated with a wood stove, is a wonderful place to relax after a day of winter fun.

11/22/04 – In this odd period of limbo – between autumn and winter – everything seems to be waiting. The woods are gray and look dead. The lake is too hard for paddling and too soft for walking. The campsites are empty and forlorn. Absent are the smell of wood smoke, the distant sound of an axe splitting wood, and the drifting sound of faraway laughter. The wind, blowing almost constantly, takes on a high, harsh sound as it rips through the naked branches and brush. Only the pines soften the sound with their whispering needles, sounding at times like voices or a car on a distant gravel road. When the wind stops, the loudest sound is the blood being pumped through your ears.

Belying these human impressions are the wild animals, who seem to be energized by this difficult season. During a long run last week, I was treated to an incredible parade of wildlife. A bald eagle flew no more than fifteen feet over my head as I crossed Sawbill Creek. She was cruising low up the creek bed in search of a tidbit to eat. In the next mile, a totally white snowshoe hare crossed the road right in front of me. Further on, a spruce grouse erupted from the roadside which surprised me in two ways – by the sudden eruption of drumming wings and seeing a grouse at all when the population is seemingly at an all time low. Another mile and a pileated wood pecker hammered on a white pine snag near the road. I always think of Woody Woodpecker when I see these huge birds. Another mile, and a great gray owl dropped from a tree just ahead of me and cruised on silent wings to another tree across the road. Great gray and snowy owls are being seen frequently around the area due to a rodent shortage farther north. I turned onto an old logging road and observed several piles of wolf scat along with clear wolf footprints. After a mile, I turned back and came upon a new pile of wolf scat that was not there just a few minutes before. I stopped, let my breathing slow down, and listened carefully for any sound of the pack, but to no avail.

The next day, Carl and Clare were held up on their way home from school by two bull moose with full antler racks. After they recovered from seeing a car approach them, the bulls began to spar with their antlers while Carl and Clare watched with delight. – Bill

11/11/04 – After several days of high winds, it turned colder last night and the wind slowed down. The sheltered bays on Sawbill Lake are covered with skim ice, signaling the practical end of the canoeing season. Hopefully, it will soon be the ice skating season! – Bill

The ice near the Sawbill canoe landing forms interesting patterns that draw the puzzled attention of Homer.

11/08/2004 – This weekend was our annual traditional cookie baking weekend. Cindy’s mom, sister, niece, and nephew joined us for a marathon of cookie baking and seasonal music. We all gained three pounds, but a good time was had by all.

A small sample of 2004’s creative cookie work.

11/5/2004 – As you can tell from the lack of newsletter entries, things have been very quiet around Sawbill. The seasonal crew have all dispersed around the country, the canoes are put away, inventory has been taken, and we are waiting for the lake to freeze. We rented a canoe yesterday to Bob Clark and his son Nick from Belvedere, Illinois. They went out overnight and then were blown back in by the wind and cold. It has actually been fairly warm for this time of the year. I don’t expect the lake to freeze for at least another week. – Bill

Posted on

October 2004

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

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

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

Click here for more pumpkin carving fun!

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

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

Where did all the cars go?

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

Loren fills his tank and starts his engine.

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

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

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

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

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

Captain John Turner

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

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

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

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

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

I sure wish my 5th grade class went canoeing!

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

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

Dave enjoying the silence before paddling to work.

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

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

Loren and Molly pulling hard for the Sawbill landing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A beautiful fog covered morning on Sawbill Lake

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

Randy checking his nest on the Mississippi River

Randy showing off a flathead catfish

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

Swirling waves crashing against the shore of Lake Superior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

September 2004

9/27/04 – Sawbill Outfitters will begin taking reservations for 2005 on the handicapped accessible campsites here at Sawbill Campground as well as Crescent Campground on October 1, 2004. We manage two handicapped accessible sites, H1 and H2, on the southern shore of Sawbill Lake, and one site, #9, at Crescent. All other campsites will continue to be first-come, first-serve. Please call (218-663-7150) or write ( to make a reservation.

Sawbill employee Jasmine Hanson returned from vacation yesterday sporting a rather auspicious towel around her wrist. With great dramatic flair, she revealed a brand spanking new tattoo last night at approximately 8:04 p.m. CST. Although we were all rooting for the Sawbill logo, she opted instead for something resembling a leafy bracelet. Not a bad choice.

Sawbill employee Jasmine Hanson unveils her latest section of body art.

9/23/04 – Sawbill’s annual used equipment sale has begun! I’ve organized these sales a few times now, and this year’s batch of equipment is in excellent shape, especially the canoes. Thank you to our customers for taking great care of our stuff over the past few summers. Check the Used Equipment Sale Page for details!

9/22/04 – There has been a lot of activity this week, and I feel bad that I have not been able to update the newsletter more often to keep everyone up to date. One big event that is coming up is our annual used equipment sale. Bill and I have been busy getting canoes ready for sale and Adam and Ruthie have been busy sorting through all of our equipment and pulling out items to sell, and the equipment sale will officially start tomorrow! Below are a few photos from this week to give you an idea of what has been going on. – Dave

Dave Schuldt (right), and his brother, Don, came up on a trip this week. This was Dave’s 46th trip and he was figures that he has spent almost a year in the boundary waters when you add all the trips together! Dave was a campus minister at the University of Iowa for many years and he has introduced over a thousand people to the BWCAW over the last 45 years.

Sawbill’s very own Adam Hansen takes a lungful of air before blowing out the candles on his 24th birthday (yesterday). Cindy made him a wonderful cake in the shape of a 24 gauge shot gun shell complete with candy Bee Bees.

Yes, another picture of Penelope, the six week old puppy that graced Sawbill with a surprise visit from Alaska last week. Everyone always asks what our miniature Timberline Tent is for. Well, it is a puppy tent of course!

9/20/04 – On Saturday I was greeted by the pop..pop..pop..of a grouse hunters shotgun, and the crisp, clean, sweet smell of fallen leaves.  Sunday found me climbing all over a pile of logs, as I bucked up firewood to be split and stacked at a friends wood cutting party. Today, Laura Smith, a former crew member, and I snuck out for a few hours of paddling through the wild rice covered marsh lake. When I mull the last three days over in my mind I come to two conclusions, Fall is here, and Fall is my favorite time in the North Woods.  Of course, after a moon lit ski on a crisp winter night, a day of lake trout fishing in the spring, or an afternoon of blueberry picking in August, I might choose a different favorite season.  However, this week Fall is my favorite season and for good reason.    In the Fall the boreal forest bursting with a colorful array of activity.  A giant party before ice and snow cover the land for a long cold winter. – Dave

9/19/04 – An extremely cute little puppy wandered into the store this afternoon. Penelope, a six week old black lab and chow mix from Alaska had a lot of fun snipping at Homer’s tail and wandering around beneath Sunnie like she was a jungle gym. -Ruthie

Penelope wants to rub noses with Homer, but she can’t reach that high!

9/18/04 – This morning marked the opening of grouse hunting season.  As Adam and I prepared for our first early morning walk through the woods of the hunting season I was reminded of our last grouse hunting experience, which unfolded during a seven-week dogsled trek through Northern Manitoba last winter.  As we loaded 600 pounds of dog food, 300 pop tarts, a canvas tent, wood stove, sleeping bags, six sled dogs and all the other necessities into our truck for the thirty hour drive from Tofte to Norway House, Manitoba, we were unsure of the regulations for bringing a firearm into Canada, so we decided to leave Adams trusty 410 shotgun/ 20 rifle combo named Steve behind.  We figured if we wanted to hunt grouse or rabbits along the way we could probably buy a gun in one of the remote villages we visited along our route. 

We knew immediately after leaving Norway House that we were missing out on some tasty meals. In the winter the sharp tailed grouse often perch in black spruce trees and they are very reluctant to fly away in the deep cold.  At night in the comfort of our warm tent we would tally the birds we could have easily shot.  When we reached St. Teresa Point after two weeks of travel our tally was up to 10 easy birds, and many more maybes.  As we entered the village we were immediately taken to the local TV station for an interview.  We parked our team outside and went in for our hour-long TV stop.  It was sort of like being on Larry King Live, where callers called in and asked us questions, except our host was translating everything we said in to Cree.  We mentioned several times that we were looking for a shot gun to hunt grouse, or chickens as they the locals called them, but the only offers we got were a high powered rifle, and a bow with arrows.  Our search continued for three more weeks, during which we visited two other communities and saw many more birds.  By this time we were desperate, and our new friend Hector, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Gods Lake Narrows came up with a plan.  He was flying to Winnipeg in the morning, and if we delayed our departure from Gods Lake Narrows by a few hours we could pick up a pellet gun that he purchased in Winnipeg and shipped back on the planes return flight. The thought of fresh grouse meat to go with our smoked caribou meat and fresh Lake Trout was too much to pass up so we agreed to Hectors plan. 

Adam proudly displays the grouse he shot with a pellet gun in Northern Manitoba last winter.

We set off from Gods Lake Narrows with one CO2 hand gun, 1,000 rounds of pellets, and forty CO2 canisters.  After sighting the gun we were ready for some grouse stew!  The next day I caught a glimpse of a grouse as it few into a thick stand of black spruce along the trail.  Adam and our other travel companions were several minutes behind me so I told the dogs to be QUIET and snuck back into the woods to find the grouse.  Giddy with excitement, Adam loaded the eight round magazine of pellets into the air gun and I kept my eyes fixed to the bird sitting motionless in the tree fifteen feet above my head.  Adam crept up next to me, took aim, and POP the bird fell to the ground.  Adam pounced on the bird, wrung its neck and we had grouse for dinner.  It works, it works the pellet gun actually works!" That night, we set up camp and we cooked up a tasty grouse stir fry, savoring the each hard-won morsel of grouse meat. I will never forget that grouse, but I think Adam and I will leave the hand air gun behind and carry shot guns into the woods this Fall.  No grouse were shot by the Hansen hunting party this morning, but there is always tomorrow. – Dave

Fennel, Adam’s favorite, and his 5 brothers and sisters gobbled up the head, guts, and feathers of the grouse making sure nothing went to waste. If you would like to see more photos, videos, and journals from our adventure last winter click here!

9/16/04 – It has been a great summer for me. I was rarely at Sawbill but spent six months traveling all over northeastern Minnesota in search of votes. Losing the Democratic primary election against an entrenched opponent was disappointing, but the overall experience was great fun. By the first of September we had nearly 800 volunteers and contributors. All were intelligent, good hearted people who really care about making their community – and its politics – better. I am not personally discouraged and will continue in public service where ever I can best help out. Thanks to everyone who expressed support and encouragement. – Bill

9/15/04 – I’ve just returned from Bill’s election-night party, and I’m sorry and disappointed to report that the results do not appear to be going in Bill’s favor. Not all of the precincts are reporting yet, so I’m still holding out a glimmer of hope that the tide may turn– after all, this time two years ago we all thought Bill had won, and it wasn’t until the vote counting was completed that it became clear that he had come in an extremely close second. Despite the apparently glum outcome, the overall mood of the party was optimistic. There were many supporters present, and it was heartening to see so many good people working so hard for something they believe in. I’m at a loss for what else to say, and I hope that Bill will see fit to post something in this space himself within the next week or so. -Ruthie

9/14/04 – I’ve received several requests to post more pictures of two of the most beloved members of the Sawbill family– Golden Retrievers Sunnie and Homer. The dogs are having a good Fall so far. They spend most of their time lounging in the sun on the back porch, nosing around behind the store counter until someone reaches for the cookie box, and making occasional excursions to the campground to socialize and put on their most convincingly pathetic starvation faces to try to con campers out of a spare hot dog or marshmallow.

Sunnie (above) is the older of the two pups. Her eyebrows and muzzle have begun to gray, which is the easiest way to tell her apart from Homer. Sunnie’s left eye was surgically removed a few years ago after a nasty infection. She’s recovered well and trains regularly to get back in pre-surgery cookie-catching form.

Homer (above) also lost his left eye to an infection, several years after Sunnie lost hers. Homer’s cookie-catching skills lag far behind those of Sunnie. His strategy is to wait it out and let the cookies fall where they may before snapping them up, even if that means letting the biscuit bounce off of his face before it hits the floor. People often imagine that Homer takes his name from Homer Simpson or the great Greek poet Homer. In fact, he is named after BWCA entry point #40, Homer Lake. Homer’s favorite attention-getting maneuver, known as "the carwash," involves nosing up between someone’s legs, then squeezing himself all the way through to the other side. His nicknames include Muñoz, Homeboy, and MC Homer. -Ruthie

9/13/04 – Tomorrow is primary election day in northern Minnesota. Bill Hansen is running for Minnesota House of Representatives in district 6A. Watch this space for updates as soon as the election results roll in. -Ruthie

9/10/04 – We’re always doing our best to keep up with technological advances here at Sawbill. Usually that means investing in the newest, lightest Kevlar canoes or upgrading to ultra energy-efficient washing machines. This summer Dave and Adam have been seen scaling Frank and MA’s roof and poring over computer help files in order to bring another new form of technology to Sawbill: Wireless Internet! The signal is only strong enough to reach the areas around the store building, and the satellite Internet system we use up here struggles on windy or rainy days, but if everything’s running smoothly, you should be able to open up your wireless-equipped laptop on the store porch and send emails or check the latest weather reports. -Ruthie

Adam demonstrates the power of wireless internet. Homer and Sunnie think they heard someone say "cookie!"

9/8/04 – The yearly Carleton College trip came and went this past week. Close to 100 incoming Carleton freshmen and group leaders arrived on three buses from Northfield, Minnesota on Friday. They split into twelve groups and entered the BWCA from several different entry points in order to keep each group separate and minimize their impact on the wilderness. The "Carleton kids," as we affectionately call them, are invariably polite and well-behaved. We’ve even had several become Sawbill crew members over the past years. Current crew member Loren was the student coordinator of the Carleton group last year. He did such a great job, we hired him to work here full time this summer!

Before: Sawbill gear neatly awaits the Carleton group’s arrival. After: Piles of dirty equipment waiting to be washed and put away.

With Labor Day weekend behind us, things have quieted down a bit at Sawbill. There is still lots of work to do, and a steady stream of customers in the store and rental department, but the pace of things has mellowed. It feels like Fall. -Ruthie

9/7/04 – A large, loosely joined group of musicians gather at Sawbill campground every year around Labor Day to socialize, fish, and play music late into the nights. Dubbed the "Fish ‘n’ Pick," the event has gathered momentum over the years and now draws a sizable crowd. -Ruthie

The "pick" part of Fish n Pick. Photo by Dave Freeman.

9/6/04- It’s been feeling like autumn off and on all summer this year, but tomorrow we’re making it official; the Sawbill store and rental department will switch to our fall hours starting Tuesday, September 7th. We’ll be open from 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week. -Ruthie

9/5/04- In 1997 at the 40th Sawbill reunion, Mary Alice Hansen announced her intention to write a book about Sawbill. Unbeknownst to many, she has been steadily gathering information and working on that book for the past eight years. I sat down recently with Mary Alice to discuss the book and her experience writing it.

The idea of writing a book was not a new one for Mary Alice. She has been writing since grade school, and even aspired to become a journalist during her college years. I asked her if she followed an outline while writing, but she said no: "I just followed my nose," she declared. "I tried to think of all of the questions people have asked me over the years about Sawbill, and set out to answer them. The first question many people would ask was ‘How did you get into this?’ so it seemed natural to start the book there."

She emphasized her commitment to writing a comprehensive history of the whole Sawbill area — not just Sawbill Canoe Outfitters. Topics as diverse as the history of Sawbill Lodge, the CCC camp, and the development of the Sawbill Trail are each given their own chapters and consideration.

Lastly, I wanted to know what’s next for Mary Alice. I know she keeps busy working for the Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte and plays bridge for fun, but is there another book in the works? Perhaps a work of fiction or poetry inspired by her northwoods home? "Oh yes, I’ve got several other books I want to write," she exclaimed, "I’d like to do a whole book about the history of Sawbill Lodge, perhaps write one about the fish houses of the North Shore, and possibly even a readable but detailed history of the BWCA. I have no ambition to write stories or make things up, there’s plenty of history to cover."

If you’re wondering how you can get your hands on a copy of Sawbill, be patient. The manuscript is currently being prepared for publication. Watch this space for more information about an official release late this year or early next year. -Ruthie

9/4/04 – Labor day weekend is upon us! The past two days have been warm and sunny– some of the nicest of the whole summer. The Forest Service Campground is at capacity with folks looking to enjoy one last beautiful weekend before we finally have to admit that the summer is drawing to a close.

Everywhere I look, I’m confronted by irrefutable signs of the impending season change. Clare and Carl Hansen make the daily trek to school in Grand Marais. They are enrolled in 11th and 9th grades, respectively. It’s hard not to notice the brilliantly hued trees lining the Sawbill Trail. Bill Hansen logs hundreds of miles on the Trail and throughout the congressional district as his primary election rapidly approaches.

Clare looks confident and Carl looks frightened as they prepare to leave for their first day of school. Photo by Cindy Hansen.

As the temperature climbed near 80 today, I decided to bike down to the lake for some beach time. Basking in the sun felt just like August, but the lake’s icy chill left no doubt in my mind that September has arrived. -Ruthie

9/1/04 – Today is Mary Alice Hansen’s 81st birthday, and the phone has been ringing off the hook. It was my job to answer the phones this afternoon, and it seemed like every other call was for Mary Alice. Lida and Cindy whipped up a beautiful cake that tasted as good as it looked. They cut the cake into pieces, added colorful frosting, and arranged the chunks of cake into the shape of a flower. At 1:30 the whole crew gathered in the office to sing MA happy birthday, and gobble down mouthfuls of tasty cake. As an added bonus warm, sunny weather has blown in, and more warm weather is in the weekend forecast! – Dave

Mary Alice blows out the candles as everyone prepares for a piece of the cake!