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:


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,
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
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 –
See you all soon.

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

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

“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 ( 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

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.

Posted on

June 1998

6/30/98 – Contrary to popular belief, there are many BWCAW travel permits available for the rest of the summer. July is particularly open. You can check out availability, and even reserve a permit, at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Reservation Center. The entry points near us include: Hog Creek – #36, Kawishiwi Lake – #37, Sawbill Lake – #38, Baker Lake – #39, Homer Lake – #40, Brule Lake – #41, & Brule Lake Only (must camp on Brule Lake) – #41A.

6/29/98 – Warm sunny weather. People returning from the wilderness are aglow with it. Ruddy, hairy, relaxed: they beam from ear to ear. The sun was wonderful all day, illuminating the tree tops and clouds in yellows, oranges, and purple in the late evening. A party of four novice women found great success and solitude on the Lady Chain. They overcame the difficulties of long portages, including the rocky portage from Ella to Grace. On a large rock in the middle of Grace, they baked in the sun and experienced profound silence. Out of the city, away from routine, on a carefree sunny day, the mind begins to relax and shift focus. There is an immediacy of reflection in these moments. Unlike our daily rush, in the wilderness we can slowly consider, try on different ideas, work on those big questions for which we never find time. On a rock in the middle of a lake, the world becomes very small. Here and now is the focus. Tiny objects like fish bones, pebbles, and lichen are the source of scrutiny and speculation, and sometimes, on a clear sunny day, these ruminations hint at something bigger, something lost and long sought after.

6/28/98 – Frank and Mary Alice Hansen are back from Texas. They tangled with the terrible weather in Minneapolis and ended up coming home late. They are grateful to be back into the "cool" weather.

6/27/98 – It is a quiet day at Sawbill today. Very little news to report. Moose sightings in the wilderness seem to be increasing as the hot afternoon horseflies drive the moose into the water. Although the D.N.R. asserts that the moose population is only down slightly, anecdotal evidence would suggest a significantly lower population. The good news is that the breeding season seems to have been very successful following our unusually mild winter.

Excited about the new microwave phone system, Bill Hansen expresses his jubilation 100 feet off the ground.

6/26/98 – There are a few lingering technical problems, but the new microwave radio telephone system is fully operational. Our new phone number is (218) 663 – 7150. Our old number will be in service for a couple of years, but change your Rolodex now 🙂 Our FAX number remains the same (218) 663 – 7980. Our FAX will now be automatic, so it will be smoother sailing for folks who FAX in their reservations.

6/25/98 – Slow progress continues on our new radio telephone system. We now have all five lines coming into Sawbill, but all the bugs haven’t been worked out. The end is in sight though and the pay phone has already become routine. We even rigged it with a motion detecting nightlight.

The weather is very humid today, but not terribly hot. Although darkly overcast, we have just had a few drops of rain. A customer driving in saw two bears on the Sawbill Trail this morning. So far, there have been almost no bear encounter reported in the wilderness.

6/22/98 – We thought we had seen it all when some customers from Iowa arrived at Sawbill in a limousine (see story and picture below), but this group topped even the limousine for unusual method of travel.

6/21/98 – Sawbill has a pay phone. We literally broke out the champagne when the new pay phone became operational yesterday. Although still connected through our radio telephone system, it works like a regular pay phone. After 42 years of explaining our odd phone situation to people, we are now free to answer "Yes!" when people ask so casually "Do you have a pay phone?"

Jared Gustafson was the first lucky customer of the new Sawbill pay phone when he called his dad in Faribault.

6/20/98 – Imagine our surprise to see a limousine arrive here at the end of the Sawbill Trail! The bus serving the north shore broke down yesterday, so customers arriving from Des Moines rented a limousine to finish their journey to Sawbill. Perhaps we should provide Sawbill Trail limousine service to every Sawbill camper?

Poor timing on our part. After nearly a week of perfect weather, the day we chose to install the second antenna for our new microwave system, lightning and high winds kept the technician off the tower. We did get all our new phone instruments installed, and the microwave link will be done on Monday or Tuesday, weather permitting.

6/18/98 – What can we say about the weather – perfect is the only apt description. This morning is cooler and breezy, with a few clouds drifting around.

Our new phone system hit a delay yesterday when the tower technicians truck broke down and he had to spend the afternoon getting it repaired. He promises to be on the job early this morning however, and we hope to be functional by tonight – barring any unforeseen glitches.

The new microwave dish joins the other radio antennas on the Sawbill tower.

6/17/98 – The two excellent technicians, Steve Schuh and Tom Cichanowski, have made major progress on our new microwave telephone system. By noon today, they will have deactivated our old telephones and switched over to the new, modern desk phones. By tonight, the microwave link should be done and you will start to notice a difference in the audio quality of our phones. By coincidence, Tom’s brother, Mike Cichanowski, is the founder and owner of Wenonah Canoe Company.

The Woodside Middle School kids continue to enjoy beautiful weather. Sunburn is their biggest challenge at this point. They enjoy some of the best leadership we have ever seen, so I’m sure they are being wisely sunscreened and shaded as appropriate.

6/16/98 – Yesterday was another beautiful day in paradise! 85 degrees and light southerly breezes tempted many canoeists into an afternoon dip. A couple of dark clouds rumbled by about supper time, but no lightning or rain was observed. Today has dawned cool and clear with a nice breeze keeping the mosquitoes down.

We have begun installing a new microwave radio link between Sawbill and the outside world. At the same time we are replacing our aged internal phone/intercom system. There may me some down time in the next three days, but it should be brief. The new system will give us a new telephone line, much higher audio quality, higher data bandwidth and (best of all) capability to have a pay phone.

6/14/98 – Indiana invaded and conquered Sawbill yesterday. We had the Woodside Middle School from Fort Wayne, Indiana, back for the umteenth year of outfitting with Sawbill Outfitters. Their excellent leaders told us that the 7th and 8th graders that they bring must complete a 30 hour course before they qualify for the canoe trip. It includes an overnight "dry run" in a local state park. They are the best behaved and highly motivated group of junior high kids that we see all year. We also had Troop 390 from northern Indiana in the campground at the same time. The 36 scouts didn’t outfit with us, but they sure did their best to use up our 7-day out-of-state fishing licenses:-)

6/13/98 – The dryers in the Sawbill laundry room worked overtime yesterday. A parade of people with soggy sleeping bags streamed by, each with a tale of tent failure. We call them "wishful thinking" tents. They only leak when it rains. We also sell and rent tons of rain gear whenever it rains, all to people who are heading out on canoe trips. It makes one wonder how many people head into the wilderness without rain gear when the sun is shining. This morning glorious golden sunshine is pouring down from a stonewashed blue sky.

6/12/98 – Wet, wet, wet. Yesterday was a classic foggy, drizzly June day. Every leaf on every tree is hanging down, sodden and soaked. The forest is lush and full of damp smells. Light, persistent rain continued all night and this morning. The lake is flat calm and the sky is uniformly gray.

6/11/98 – A quiet day at Sawbill yesterday. People peacefully coming and going from the wilderness, no complaints about the fishing, moderate temperatures, and light breezes. Sawbill’s youngest crew members, Carl and Clare Hansen, successfully completed the second and fourth grades respectively. Carl is now a full fledged reader of chapter books and Clare is 4th grade chess champion.

6/9/98 – A western painted turtle chose the Sawbill Lake canoe landing to lay its eggs last night.

A snapping turtle female also uses the landing every year, but hasn’t appeared yet. She is about 20" long and has lived in the same bay for at least thirty years.

6/8/98 – Bob Caticchio of Plymouth dropped off this picture taken during his last trip to the Sawbill area. He weighed this walleye at 8 lbs, and caught another at 10 lbs. Bob returns every fish he catches to the water, so this beauty can be caught again.

6/7/98 – Sorry for the slow newsletter update. It happens when Bill and Obie go out of town at the same time. They were most recently delegates to the Minnesota Democratic State Convention, where they continued their work in defense of wilderness. They made many good contacts and are optimistic about the political future of wilderness in Minnesota, but both were somewhat dazed by the noise and hoopla of the convention floor. They agree that they would rather be paddling in the wilderness than swimming with the sharks in political waters.

Tina McCauley and Jim Pietila and their children, Danya Larson and Tad Jokinen, of Grand Rapids, Minnesota were joined in holy matrimony in the Sawbill campground this afternoon. They have camped at Sawbill for several years and decided it was the ideal place to be married. Rev. Linda Wahlstrom, pastor of Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte, officiated.

Posted on

May 1998

5/31/98 – May weather has finally put in an appearance here in the north country. Yesterday, folks were wearing wool sweaters and discussing the attributes of long underwear. The drizzly weather has cut the fire danger for now, but no significant amounts of rain have fallen so far.

Five Sawbill crew members are currently appearing in three sold out shows featuring the Sterling Dance company at the new Arrowhead Center For the Arts in Grand Marais. Ruthie Hansen, Clare Hansen, Cindy Hansen, Natasha Warner, and John Oberholtzer have drawn standing ovations at their first two shows, with the third slated for this afternoon. Natasha is also accompanying one dance set on the grand piano she helped select for the Arts Center. The five have been rehearsing hard for nine months along with about 85 other dancers. Sterling Dance director, Renee Moe, has done an incredible job. She must have more people dancing – per capita – in this county with less than 4,000 souls, than anywhere else in the country. Ask the above mentioned Sawbill crew members for a little tap demonstration the next time you see them.

5/28/98 – A large storm swept through the area last night and dropped 1.25" of rain on Sawbill. Heavy lightning accompanied the tempest, causing concern to the Forest Service fire crews. One fire has already been discovered along the Sawbill Trail this morning and extinguished. The lightning knocked out power all over the county and our phones were out for a couple of hours this morning. If you called and got no answer, try again.

5/26/98 – Turtles and dragonflies are on the roads. Each of these are seasonal indicators that have us exclaiming about our early Spring. Our crew feel quite sensitive about these organisms and are known to alter their driving habits to protect them. Many turtles have been carefully transported to the ditch by concerned Sawbill crew members. After hatching, dragonflies migrate to the roads to bask in the sun. Like black stones popping out of the gravel, they attempt to flee oncoming cars. Unfortunately, many end up on the losing end of a windshield, dragonfly collision. Symbiotically, our crew slow their speed, in the judgment that every dragonfly deserves the right to consume as many mosquitoes and black flies as possible! We awoke today to the acrid smell of forest fire. A brownish haze hung in the air dulling the blue skies and bright sunshine to which we have become quite accustomed these past months. The Forest Service called early to let us know that the smoke was from a large fire in Canada and that the smoke was throughout the region. The smell has lingered all day and is likely the cause of several slight headaches among the crew.

5/24/98 – A Memorial Day Weekend to remember. The weather has been perfect and the fish are biting. The Sawbill Lake Campground filled to exact capacity last night – every site taken without a single group in the overflow. With a high of 73 degrees and light southerly breezes, the wilderness canoeing was sublime. A few brave souls even went swimming – unheard of this early in the season.

One group brought in a 7.5 lb walleye to be frozen yesterday morning. Last night, the same group was back with an even bigger walleye. They were wishing they had released the "little one."

5/22/98 – Congress took the action today that we have all dreaded for the last two years. In a last minute, back door maneuver, anti-wilderness forces have managed to strike a blow at the BWCA Wilderness and the whole National Wilderness System. If signed by Clinton, it will be the first time congress has degraded a wilderness area legislatively. Surely a step in the wrong direction. I know we have asked a lot, but take a moment to email President Clinton and express your sadness and outrage at this subversion of the democratic process. Ask him to veto the ISTEA (Transportation) legislation until the BWCA Wilderness truck portage rider is removed.

President Clinton

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

202-456-1414 Phone

202-456-2461 Fax

5/21/98 – Thanks to everyone who has helped protect the BWCA Wilderness with your phone calls and emails (see below). We are making a difference. Today, Thursday, is likely the most critical day, so if you haven’t called, please do. If you know somebody who cares about the wilderness, have them call too. Wisconsin residents should email or call Rep. Tom Petri, who also sits on the
Transportation Bill’s Conference Committee. Ask that he oppose any rider
to the Transportation Bill that will allow trucks to haul boats across
wilderness portages in the BWCA Wilderness. This deal will set a bad
national precedent that could harm wilderness areas across America.

Congressman Thomas Petri

Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Phone: 202-225-2476

5/19/98 –

Action Alert

Your immediate action is needed to defeat a late breaking “deal”
that will allow trucks to haul boats across two wilderness portage trails
in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness. The deal is expected
to be attached as a rider to the Federal Transportation Bill, a.k.a.
“ISTEA,” as early as tomorrow!

Last year, Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Senator Rod Grams
introduced legislation, HR. 1739 and S. 783, that would roll-back
wilderness protections for the BWCA Wilderness by allowing trucks to haul
boats across three portages and eliminating the 1999 phase out of
motorboats on the west end of Seagull Lake. This legislation was
by a bill by Congressman Bruce Vento (D-MN), HR 2149, that would increase
protections for the BWCA Wilderness by eliminating all tow boat use,
removing motorboats on Lac La Croix, Loon, Canoe and Alder Lakes, and
adding approximately 7,400 acres of land and lakes to the wilderness.

Unfortunately, late Monday afternoon, 5/18, an unexpected backroom deal
was announced between Oberstar and Vento. While still sketchy, details of
the deal are as follow:

1) Trucks would be allowed to haul boats across Trout and Prairie
portages, both within the BWCA Wilderness.

2) Motorboat access would be eliminated from both Canoe (107 acres)
and Alder (342 acres) Lakes in the wilderness.

The deal may be attached to the ISTEA Conference Report, a practice
often used to hide controversial legislation from public scrutiny, as
as tomorrow morning! Congressman Oberstar’s status as Ranking Minority on
the House Transportation Committee gives him enormous power on the ISTEA
Conference Committee, and the ability to attach legislative riders at

Fortunately, we have two allies on the ISTEA Conference Committee.
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senator John Chaffee (R-RI) have both
indicated opposition to efforts to increase motorized access to the BWCA
Wilderness in the past. They have the power to prevent Oberstar from
attaching this rider and the power to strip the rider out of the

Your immediate action is needed now more than ever to prevent a
roll-back of wilderness protections for the BWCA Wilderness. With your
telephone calls we may be able to stop this legislation from being
through the back door! Please take the time to contact the Senators


Call the offices of Senator Baucus and Senator Chafee today! Ask
them to oppose any rider to the Transportation Bill, or ISTEA, that allow
trucks to haul boats across wilderness portages in the BWCA Wilderness.
This deal will set a bad national precedent that could harm wilderness
areas across America.

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) Senator John Chafee (R-Rhode Island)
Hart Senate Office Building Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-2651 Phone: 202-224-2921

5/18/98 – For those of you who may have a warped view of Cindy due to the earlier picture of her in this newsletter, here is a more accurate picture – reflecting her true personality.

Ready to rent canoes 🙂

Today is a wonderful day to look into the air. The aspen catkins have burst open, and their fluffy seeds are filling the air. They are pure white and glint in the sunlight as they shift with each breeze like a school of fish. Dainty, colorful May flies hover above the lake. Occasionally they land, allowing closer inspection of their graceful tails, and ornate wings. I was drawn into the air around me, as I examined the May flies and catkins. Many more objects came into focus: insects and bits of organic debris I could not identify. So accustomed to looking through the air to trees, hills, or lakes, I forget to look into the air. Now, I will try to see like the bat, nighthawk, or dragonfly, who undoubtedly see the air around them as a populous place.

Obie returned from a day of volunteer trail clearing along the border route trail west of Rose Lake. He too had tales of the winds from Saturday. On the return trip, two members of the group split off to take another route home. Intense winds created large odd shaped waves on Duncan lake. With a great deal of work and lots of splashing Obie and the others made it back to Hungry Jack Outfitters. Dave and Nancy Seaton, who own Hungry Jack Outfitters, had organized the trail clearing and were having a party at their home for the crew when news came of the two who had chosen an alternate path across Duncan. Swept into the middle of the lake their canoe was capsized. After an hour in very cold water little progress had been made and discomfort was turning to desperation. By luck, a party of three in one canoe who taught canoe safety came by and performed a T-rescue in very difficult conditions. They really saved the day. They transported the frigid pair to shore, and after some coaching, got them on their feet and pointed them to a path that would take them to the portage. The three then tried to paddle for the portage and toe the other canoe. Murphy’s law prevailed that day and soon they too swamped! It was a brutally windy day. Paddling was abandoned in favor of walking. A group from Grand Marais found the five huddled at the portage – canoeless and in varying degrees of hypothermia. A huge blue tarp was put around everyone and a group hug, one below the legal person limit, was enacted to great affect. Somewhat revived, the group trudged over the portage, lit a fire and waited for the help that the Grand Marais party promised to send. Alerted, Dave and Nancy set the wheels of a rescue in motion. Gear was gathered, soup heated, and within half an hour Obie and Dave were transporting a worn out group to safety. The two who spent so much time in the water were clearly shaken and swore they would never let their canoe go parallel down the face of a wave into its trough again! Both were family men who will surely delight in the smiles and affections of their children upon their homecoming this eve.

5/17/98 – Strong winds blew through the BWCA yesterday. Sawbill drivers weaved through an obstacle course of wind thrown trees on their way to town and entry points. Wilderness canoeists returned with many adventurous tales. The Corey party calmly fished on the lee side of an island for many hours until the wind receded sufficiently to allow them to land at their campsite. They awoke the next morning to find that the loud noises they heard in the night were fallen trees that had come very close to their tents! A father and daughter duo stood by helplessly as they watched a tree come crashing down exactly on their camp stove. Trees could be heard crashing in the woods frequently. Quite a windy day.

5/16/98 – At 1 P. M. today, the fire ban in the BWCA Wilderness was lifted. More than two inches of rain in the last three days (and more predicted) has relieved the dry conditions for now. As always, fires are only allowed in the fire grates provided at the campsites.

5/14/98 – Bill and Cindy decided to let their two big golden retrievers, Sunnie and Gus, sleep in the house last night. The decision was made based on the fact that the day was going to start at 6 AM anyway and even the dogs wouldn’t stir before that. At 4:30 AM the dogs appeared at bedside, groaning in apparent agony. Once consciousness was regained, they realized that the dogs were nervous about distant thunder. By 5 AM, it was raining hard and by 10 AM about an inch had fallen, accompanied by frequent lightning and small hail. The forest breathed an almost audible sigh of relief as the parched ground soaked up moisture. At noon the sky cleared and the humid sunshine was welcomed by swarms of newly hatched black flies and a chorus of warbler song.

The question on everyone’s lips: "Is the fire ban lifted?" The answer is: no. The Forest Service will wait to see if the lightning started anything smoldering. They will want to see some more rain soon or the dry conditions will return quickly. Stay tuned for updates. We will post it immediately when the ban is lifted.

5/13/98 – We have many customers who claim to have the ability to make rain fall while on their canoe trip. Steve DeVries, from Cornell College in Mt Vernon, Iowa, actually does seem to have the knack. For twenty five years he has endured some of the worst weather canoe country has to offer. Storms, sleet, snow, and wind have been his constant companions as he has introduced succeeding generations of college students to the BWCA Wilderness. Fortunately, Steve is blessed with one of the world’s most easy going personalities. The Cornell group arrived yesterday during the worst drought in more than twenty years. The clouds almost seemed to follow them in. By suppertime it was sprinkling and at about 11 P. M. it started to rain in earnest. This morning it is partly cloudy, breezy and cool. Perhaps the DeVries jinx is broken after all 🙂

5/11/98 – Plants and insects all seem to be developing a little more slowly with all this dry weather. The large leaf asters are beginning to unfold, the honey suckles are leafed out but seem sort of limp, and the black flies and mosquitoes are around but not much of an issue. The good news is rain seems to be on the way. We are hopeful.

Fishing has been poor to middlin’ over the opening weekend. Only a few people were seriously fishing. There was fair success on Burnt, with very slow results elsewhere. The serious fisherpeople seem to have planned their trips for later in May.

5/10/98 – A group of men and boys from the Hope Community Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota was here over the weekend. They had this unique 24′ wood strip North canoe which carried all nine people and their gear.

24′ North canoe.

5/9/98 – Our slow updating of the newsletter is an indication of our frantic preparations to get ready for the summer season which officially gets under way today with the opening of Minnesota’s fishing season. We are pleased to report that, with a few minor glitches, we are now fully open. Hot water is flowing in the shower house, our vintage industrial strength coffee pot is perking, the permit video is playing (now with closed captioning), and the ice machine is churning out cubes. Small steps for humanity, but a giant leap for the overworked Sawbill crew.

The weather continues to be beautiful here. A little frost each night, but blue skies and warm sun driving us into the low 70’s every day. It remains terribly dry here. The fire ban is official now – no open fires in the BWCA Wilderness. However, fires are allowed in the Sawbill Campground in the fire grates.

Mayo High School from Rochester, Minnesota is here, preparing for a four day canoe trip in the wilderness. They have been rock climbing at nearby Carleton Peak for the last two days. They’re as friendly and personable a group of high school seniors as you could hope to find.

The Forest Service has instituted a BWCA Wilderness User Fee for this year. They charge $10/person/trip. Children under age 18, elderly, and handicapped people will be given a 50% discount. The fee will be collected in advance. It is refundable if the permit is cancelled more than two days before the trip. Reservations will still require a $9 non-refundable fee and can be placed with the same service that handles them now. Call 1-800-745-3399 to reserve a permit.

Permit reservations are not required during the months from October through April. You can pick up a free permit from a box located at the landings.

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

5/3/98 – The Forest Service called yesterday to let us know that there will be a burning restriction on all open fires starting 5/4/98. They were very pointed that this was not a "burning ban" but it basically means that all campers, both in and out of the wilderness, must use stoves for cooking. Wood fires of any type are illegal.

We received no rain from a cold front that moved through over the weekend. The temperatures have cooled slightly, but the sky remains unrelentingly blue.

Posted on

April 1998

4/30/98 – Bill Hansen has returned from his trip to Alaska. While in Ketchikan he rented a sea kayak from Greg and Kim Thomas at Southeast Sea Kayaks. He highly recommends these fine folks if you are looking for a sea kayak adventure in breathtaking Southeast Alaska. Their hospitality, knowledge and good humor are top notch. Bill even saw humpback whales in the exact spot predicted by Greg.

4/27/98 – Blue skies and lovely sun continue. The few who are out paddling, have the BWCA Wilderness to themselves. No bugs, sunny warmth, basking turtles and deep silence. Sounds pretty good. Friends who paddled the granite river reported seeing lots of interesting ducks. The male Common Merganser is briefly in residence this time of year. After mating, the male mergansers migrate further, and the females have our lakes to themselves. I’m sure each of you would hold various opinions as to the optimality of a merganser social analogy for our human love affairs. A survey of our early arriving crew, all of whom are female, found the female mergansers’ situation to be somewhat dour.

The woods are very dry and have yet to green up. This leads us all to be very concerned about thunderstorms and wind, the primary agents of forest fire ignition and mobility. A small fire burned above Grand Marais yesterday. Luckily, no one was injured and no buildings were damaged. If we don’t receive some moisture soon, this may be our year for fire drama. We have fared well in recent years, but it is inevitable that fire will return.

4/25/98 –

Fun was had by all at the Sawbill Beach Club opener.

4/23/98 – The ice is gone, and no sooner than it’s disappearance, we have our first customers. Thank goodness for the diehards who prioritize flexibility in their schedules so as to meet nature on it’s terms. The ritualistic opening of the Sawbill beech club will occur later today. Stand by for the chilling madness that characterizes that bit of lunacy. The store and dome have been whipped into shape, and the canoes, awakened early from their hibernation in the woods, are piled on the stacks awaiting your use. The cash registers are the final topping, and momentarily, they will be brought from their den which protects their sensitive electronics from our unique Minnesota chill. There is a general buzz amongst the Sawbill crew as we anticipate the first canoe orientations and the Northwoods vacationers’ characteristic queries regarding weather, fishin’, and bears. Let the season begin!

4/22/98 – The ice hangs on! Much to our dismay, the majority of the lake is still covered with ice. We are enjoying a seventy degree day, cloudless skies and a light warm breeze. Computer problems and a fishing tackle pricing nightmare, drove Michele, Cindy, and OB to the parking lot for an impromptu game of frisbee. It is a novelty to have a parking lot completely devoid of snow and cars simultaneously. Jog bras and shorts were the attire for the occasion! Compared to the past two winters, we are enjoying an extra month of Spring. Just before sunset, OB opened the door to let the cat in and was greeted by the haunting call of the loon! Their first calls transform the landscape more than any other event. He heeded the call and had an interesting walk amongst a grove of cedars examining their roots. He found their exposed portions dry blood red in appearance. Our interest in the forest floor this time of year borders on the eccentric. It is long hidden by the snow’s blanket, and it’s emergence provides a rich canvas of colors and textures for our imaginations. Common golden eye and ring neck ducks visit us briefly this time of year. They have been a frequent sight on the ponds and lakes adjacent to the roads in our area.

4/20/98 –

Looking north from the public landing, Sawbill Lake – 4/20/98

The smart money is on the ice going out tomorrow. It is only about 5" thick, black, and honeycombed.

A national telephone poll commissioned by The Wilderness Society, shows broad national disapproval of putting trucks, jeeps and outboards back into the BWCA Wilderness.

4/16/98 – Bill Hansen had a chilling experience yesterday. He and Obie tried to sneak in one more ski expedition up Sawbill Lake. With a 15" ice thickness and a freezing night, it seemed like a safe bet. Skiing was pretty good until the first narrows near the wilderness boundary. An alarming amount of open water caused a pause for reconnaissance. Bill was skiing slowly east inspecting the narrows when the ice suddenly gave way and he plunged in – skis and all. He quickly removed his skis and, with some difficulty, hoisted himself back up onto the ice, rolled to more solid ice, then quickly skied home to a warm shower. Another lesson learned the hard way.

Owl researcher Bill Lane has been haunting the night woods around here lately. The following is an excerpt from his journal of observations:

On Friday (10 April) I completed my second round of surveys for northern forest
owls in northeast Minnesota. Conditions during the period were mostly favorable
and characterized by clear, calm weather patterns. My work is supported by the
Superior National Forest, Tofte District, the MN DNR Natural Heritage and
Nongame Research Program, but most importantly, by my wife Oksana.

Only seven new boreal owls were detected during what historically, has been my
most productive survey period (1-15 April). Since 15 March, nine boreal owls
have been located during 301 miles of surveys (3 min stops @ 0.5 mile
intervals). Adding to the relatively bleak survey scenario is the fact that no
new owls have been located outside of surveys, despite my persistent presence in
the woods. Should this pattern continue, boreal owl detections will be at their
second lowest since 1987 (two owls heard in 1996; 18 in 1990). No females have
been observed on territories, although vocalizations by a male on Thursday
indicated a female was present. Similarly, northern saw-whet numbers are near
record lows (9 located in 1996), with eight males heard during surveys and three
located outside nocturnal survey protocol. Barred owl numbers are down
considerably from the last two years, with 20 located (45+ in both 1996 and
1997). One great gray, but no great-horned or long-eared owls have been
detected. However, two additional great grays and a nesting pair of
great-horned owls have been found outside the scope of surveys.

Perched Atop a Soapbox
A preliminary assessment of population trends for boreal owls, based on 9 years
of survey data (survey protocol was not utilized from 1993-95), suggests that
there has been a decline in boreal owl numbers in my study area since 1987.
Good years are not as good, while bad years are worse then they once were.
Concurrently, the acreage of old forest aspen harvests has increased, especially
adjacent to spruce lowlands, a critical habitat feature for boreal owls. Is
there a relationship? Absolutely. Is there a simple analogy? Put 100 families
in 100 houses. Then remove 10 houses each year. What happens to the displaced
families (pardon the anthropomorphism)? It is a simplistic viewpoint but one
that I feel appropriately describes the situation for both boreal and northern
saw-whet owls. Being obligate secondary cavity nesters implies two things: the
owls have to nest in cavities, and they don’t create those cavities. Continued
removal of older aspen will have long-term, negative impacts on boreal owl and
northern saw-whet owl populations throughout northeast Minnesota’s managed

The Aesthetic Side of My Research
Last year, boreal owls were very viewer friendly. Several nights were spent
conveniently perched atop the hood of my truck watching courtship and nesting
activities. There, my thermos stood at-the-ready and the shows were better-than
cable. Throw in shimmering auroras’ and my role as an owl voyeur has been
established. This year, however, field work entails just that. It is work and
often without the cooperation of the owls. Walk-ins to six of the nine owls
have been arduous, with 1 mile inland jaunts the rule, rather than the
exception. Twice this year I have entered the BWCAW (no permit required), to
determine the status of owls’ located during earlier surveys. Last night, armed
with an aerial photograph and compass, I undertook another journey, skirting
streams and windfall to get to my destination ridge. Once there I waited, and
relaxed. The North Woods opened its doors. Oils of conifers traveled atop
wisps of wind, mingling with the organic aroma of reawakened mosses, creating a
hedonistic smell of spring. At sunset, song sparrows sang their last melodious
notes, while the robins complained; they are always complaining. A ruffed
grouse dined on swollen aspen buds, framed by a fat, rising moon. Darkness came
and with it, only silence. The owl did not appear; didn’t send me scurrying
wildly on a direct-line through alder and snow. Perhaps it was best that way.

If you have questions or comments, please direct them to:
. I will be happy to respond. Bill Lane
Schroeder, and points-north.

No change in ice depth today. 15" and holding.

4/15/98 – Two Bald Eagles wheeled high in their mating dance as we measured the ice this morning. Wing to wing, they flew intricate maneuvers in perfect synchrony, the sun flashing off the brilliant white of head and tail. A chill northeast wind solidified the slush layer overnight. There was no change in ice depth in the last 24 hours – still 15". We may try a ski expedition this afternoon when the sun softens the lake surface a bit.

4/14/98 – At noon, Sawbill Lake’s ice was 15" thick, 3" of slush and 12" of clear, hard ice.

Year around Sawbill resident and ace weather observer, Ruthie Hansen, has been accepted into the literary arts program at the prestigious and competitive Minnesota Arts High School beginning this Fall. She will be residing at the school in the Twin Cities during her junior and senior years and returning to Sawbill in the summers to join the Sawbill crew. Congratulations Ruthie!

4/13/98 – At 8 A. M. the ice was 18" thick with 12" of clear ice and 6" of slush on top. A canoe was needed to reach the firm ice which is separated from shore and is now floating. Usually, the ice goes out about a week to ten days after it floats up. Flickers, red winged blackbirds and red polls have returned to the northwoods.

4/12/98 – We drilled a hole in the ice on Sawbill Lake last night. The ice went from solid and white on Saturday morning (see photo below) to 18" of water and slush around the edges Saturday night. Nothing like 65 degree temperatures to soften things up. The ice depth is 22". Approximately 12" of hard ice and 10" of slush on top.

Cindy Hansen and Michele Thieman saw a wolf at close range while walking this morning. The wolf walked out on the road 20 – 30 yards ahead of them, paused to look at them, and then bounded away. It was very near to the two golden retrievers, Gust and Sunny, but showed no interest.

We received the following poem along an outfitting reservation from Bob Ingwalson of the Washington D.C. area:

——————- BWCA BOUND ———————
For over a year, we’ve been planning
To canoe the waters of solitude, in Northern Minnesota
To listen to the Loon sing his song in the morning mist
To sit in awe, while watching the eagle soar
To visit the land of moose and wolves
And lay spellbound beneath open stars, as the Northern Lights dance
across the sky.
Now the time is near
To complete our plans and accept our challenge
To assemble our group and head for Sawbill
To meet Cindy and Bill, face to face
To live our dreams, while we build our memories
And complete our journey, before we exit the wilderness – without a

4/11/98 –

Looking south from the far north end of Sawbill Lake – 4/11/98

4/9/98 – This may be the last gasp for cross country skiing this year. The four inches of snow that fell on Tuesday has settled down to a dense one inch on the lake. An overnight low of 23 degrees set it up for skiing perfection. Bill skied the Kelso Loop (approx. 5 miles) in 30 minutes this morning. Another cold night is predicted for tonight and that, along with a nearly full moon, should make for sublime night skiing. Giddy Up!

4/4/98 – Gorgeous today! Fifty-five degrees and sunny. The warm weather is being enjoyed by some migrating crows. We have at least three of them around curiously surveying our home. Crows are not common here, and it is fun to compare them to the ravens which are here for the entire paddling season. The crows are smaller, have a different tail feather arrangement and are much more gregarious. The bright sun today is giving these visitors a slight purple hue – quite beautiful birds. There is such an obvious intelligence with the crows and ravens compared to the other feathered denizens of the Northwoods. The crows have been doing their funky walk between the buildings and seem quite pleased to have discovered the feeder. The other birds do not share my enthusiasm for the crows. They are out of sight when the crows are exploring.

Obie returned from Utah with glowing reports about the beauty and solitude provided by our red rock wilderness. Clare and Carl reoriented him to the snow conditions in the woods. He provided them with much entertainment, as he was crushed in a game of follow the leader, discovering the snow conditions crusty enough to hold children but not Obies. The snow depth is still adequate to fill pack boots, and Clare and Carl squealed in delight as Obie examined his soaking socks and pruned toes. We try to provide a challenging work environment for our only year round crew member!

4/1/98 – So, the ice is out and the canoeing season has begun! The leaves are rustling on the trees and even a few mosquitoes have been sighted. April fools! Reality is five inches of fresh wet snow over night along with 40 mph winds. The lake ice is still 16+" thick and quite solid. Obie is back from Utah, although he still hasn’t truly made it back to Sawbill yet. He got stranded in Two Harbors by the storm last night. Bill, Ruthie, Clare and Carl Hansen were stopped in their tracks by a large tree blown across the road while driving home last night. Usually this is not a noteworthy event, causing only a brief delay, while the bow saw is uncased and the offending tree reduced to movable chunks. Last night however, the trusty saw had been removed from the vehicle by parties who wish to remain anonymous. After a half hour of semi-ingenious efforts to remove the tree without a saw, they gave up and backtracked 60 miles.

Posted on

March 1998

3/27/98 – Bill Hansen is just back from a trip to St Paul to lobby the Minnesota Legislature on behalf of the BWCA Wilderness. Bill participated in a training session for citizen lobbyists and then spoke at a rally in the capital rotunda. Almost a third of the legislators have become co-sponsors on a bill that would protect Seagull Lake from anti-BWCA Wilderness bills currently before the Congress in Washington, D.C. On the state level and the federal level, current or stricter protection of the BWCA Wilderness enjoys broad public and legislative support. In both arenas however, key committee chairs who oppose wilderness are working political mischief. If you are from Minnesota, contact your state legislators and ask them to co-sponsor the
Morse/Tuma (SF. 3400, HF. 3844) legislation that protects the BWCA
Wilderness from increased motorboat use. You can find your reps easily at
Minnesota State Gov’t – Gov/Senate/Reps (via Vote-Smart)

3/22/98 – John Mellang, Doug Olson, Bill Hansen, Buck Benson and John Wood skied the Cherokee Loop yesterday. The approximately 36 mile loop took them 5 hours and 40 minutes. That time included a detour halfway up Cherokee to the island campsite with the big sloping rock for lunch and several conversation stops. They saw many fresh wolf tracks, but just a few moose tracks. John wood skied the entire day in running shorts.

Handle Lake 11:30 A. M. Thursday, 3/19/98

3/17/98 – Pete Cummings and the Consortium (not a rock band) returned from their annual winter camping trip yesterday. These four gentlemen, along with several others, have been Sawbill wilderness campers for more than twenty years. The core group originally met in graduate school while earning their M.B.A.s. After many canoe trips, the group now returns in March to enjoy the solitude offered by the BWCAW in the winter. This trip, they only met one other group on the trail – two men who are in the M.B.A. program at the University of St Thomas in the Twin Cities. Surely Alton Lake was the most unlikely spot in the world for a meeting of six M.B.A.s that day 🙂

Bill Hansen returned late Sunday night from his speaking appearance at the Canoecopia show in Madison, Wisconsin. He saw many old friends there, including customers, fellow outfitters, suppliers, and former crew members. The highlight was seeing Larry Mathison, who drove up from the Rockford, Illinois area. Larry has been a Sawbill camper since 1964, with many adventures to remember. Confined to a wheel chair by heart problems now, Larry was clearly enjoying himself in the crowd of paddlers.

3/12/98 – Transitions and travels are the rule here recently. Mary Alice Hansen, co-founder of Sawbill Outfitters, attended her last Tofte Township meeting as Town Clerk. She has held this crucial elected office for many, many years. In the Minnesota Township system, Town Clerk is as close to being mayor as you can get. The Clerk does most of the hard stuff, keeping minutes, filing state reports, organizing the elections, and much more. Mary Alice received a plaque and many testimonials to her faithful service.

John Oberholtzer, Sawbill’s faithful year ’round employee, is vacationing in southern Utah. He is spending three weeks backpacking in the red rock canyon country there. Several former Sawbill crew members are joining him for various lengths of time. They are Steve and Kate Surbaugh, Mike Gaud, and Will Decker.

Sawbill’s Bill Hansen will be speaking at the "Canoecopia – the world’s largest paddlesport exposition" in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend. His topic is "Living Off The Grid – Kids In The Wilderness" but it is hard to stop him from discussing BWCA Wilderness politics 🙂

3/9/98 – Craig Cornwall, from the Detroit, Michigan area, was here for a quick two night camping trip this weekend. Craig mentioned that he estimates this to be his 35th trip to Sawbill. That is an impressive record for someone who drives almost twenty hours to get here.

One of the most common questions we get in the summer is "What do you do all winter?" While we often jokingly respond with something like "as little as possible," it seems like the reality is a season full of varied activities. This year, the cross country skiing has been exceptional. The lakes are once again in prime condition for ski-skating. On Friday night, the quarter moon was ducking in and out behind fast moving clouds. On the lake, large pools of moonlight were silently traversing the broad white expanse. Skiing hard, one could just overtake these traveling pools of light, ski through them and then pursue the next one through the moon shadow. Soon the usual landmarks of bays, points and hills were forgotten and the miles slipped away while gliding effortlessly through a sparkling, featureless white plain suspended in an endless sky.

3/3/98 – Winter has returned to Sawbill after taking the month of February off. Between temperatures in the 40’s and the most rain we’ve had since summer, it has been a very nice April this last month. Last night after dark it dropped quickly below freezing, brought in by a steady north wind.

A late night ski up Sawbill brought the sweet smell of wood smoke to the nostrils about two miles north of the landing. Rounding the corner into Kelso bay a campfire and a glowing red tent appeared across the bay. The spot of warmth looked very cozy in the midst of the freezing black night. Skiing south again with the wind behind, each step brought a glide of at least twenty feet. Although the overcast caused almost total darkness, the snow surface was so smooth that no head light was necessary. The wind speed and ski speed were almost perfectly matched, creating a weird, sensory deprived feeling. The hiss of the skis on the snow the only clue of forward progress.

This morning, Cindy and the kids had their first Spring moose encounter on the way to school. The freeze/thaw cycle has produced a heavy crust on the 16" of snow standing in the woods. The moose that discover the plowed Sawbill Trail are very reluctant to get off the road, even when confronted by a large green truck. The bull this morning even became a little aggressive, trotting toward the truck with his fur standing on his back and his ears laid flat. After twenty minutes of alternately trying to scare it and backing up at a high rate of speed, Cindy called Bill to bring in reinforcements. The pickup approaching with the plow down, producing a cloud of snow proved too much for Mr Moose and he beat a retreat to the hills. Carl and Clare missed the first half hour of school, but their teachers are understanding about their unusual commute.