Posted on

May 2000

5/29/00 – Whew! The busy Memorial Day weekend has passed. Paul
Lundgren, a former Sawbill crew member, and his friend Cindy came
to help us out. I would like to thank all the other former crew
members who have pitched in to help us this spring: Steve Surbaugh,
Kate Surbaugh, Natasha Warner, Jason Morse, Karl Hansen, and Lee
Stewart. Special thanks to Kathleen Heikes, who is not a former
crew member, but also helped out immensely during the start up
season. It is great fun for us to have these fine friends come,
visit and work along side us for awhile.

Many canoeists reported seeing moose this weekend. The babies
are all born now and the mothers keep them near water for the
first few weeks of their lives. Several sets of twins were spotted.
– Bill

5/25/00 – Memorial Day weekend had begun with a noticeable pick-up
of the pace here at Sawbill. Five of our summer crew members have
arrived from the early adjourning colleges. It is a huge relief
to have the extra hands at this busy time of year and great fun
to share the cheerful energy of these remarkable young men and

Speaking of young people, we seem to have about half the population
of high school age kids from Rochester, Minnesota here at Sawbill.
Kids from all three high schools in the town famous for the Mayo
Clinic have taken canoe trips out of Sawbill in the last week.
They are a clear eyed and polite group with leaders that are clearly
respected teachers. They have battled black flies and high winds
this week, but their spirits remain high. – Bill

5/22/00 – Another round of significant rain is encouraging
the forest to don its coat of summer green. The leaves are about
halfway out now. Woods anemone are blooming and the broad leaf
aster are starting to appear. Violets and bunchberry can’t be
far behind. Unfortunately, the black flies have also made an early
appearance. These small, but voracious, gnat like creatures are
known as "the flying mouth of the north." They have
not been too plentiful so far, thanks to the cold weather and
brisk winds. They should peak during the Memorial Day weekend
when human blood is at its most plentiful. Normally, the black
flies are only around for a few weeks. We are hoping they will
disappear on the same early schedule they arrived on. Head nets
and a judicious application of repellent are highly recommended
for the next couple of weeks.

Open fires continue to be banned in roughly half of the BWCA
Wilderness. In our area, Alton and Sawbill Lakes are in the ban
area. West and north of Alton up to Mora Lake, fires are allowed.
East of Alton, fires are banned. The local Forest Service office
tells me that the ban is likely to continue until the end of June,
irregardless of the weather. The Forest Service has amassed an
incredible arsenal of fire fighting weapons, including the amazing
Sky Crane helicopter, capable of dropping 2,400 gallons of water
at a time.

5/17/00 – We received this email today from Ed Dallas, the
poet laureate of Sawbill:

Bill –

Well I’m back from the flagging trip on the Kek Trail. We flagged

Bingshick to Seahorse plus another 1/2 mile. It is a mess out
there! In a

few places we were 8 – 10 foot off the ground, looking for that
6" wide

path. We canoed in on last Friday from Round Lake and camped on
Bat Lake,

just off Gillis Lake. It snowed off and on on Saturday and Sunday,

was great as it kept the blackflies at bay. On Sunday it coated
the ground

for awhile. On Monday it got warm and the blackflies came out
in force!!

Tried to eat us alive!!! The trip was great as we got our job
done and also

saw moose, deer, a bear, saw a grouse drum, from about 15 feet
away, and ( I

hate to bring this up ) a camp marten. Saw him each night in camp.
I think

he was wearing a "Sawbill T-shirt" but the light was
bad and once a guy hits

50 his eyes go and if he does not have his contacts in ………well
I’m not

sure about the T-shirt. We did catch some trout and had one mighty
fine fish

boil for supper on Saturday night. I bet you guys are working
hard now, hope

you find time to get out in the canoe. Say "hi" to the
kids and Cindy for

me. I guess the "office move" back to the store went
well. Maybe I can help

with the move come fall. I leave you with this haiku:

after the windstorm

old trail now pink ribbons through

maze of broken trees

Have a good one,


5/14/00 – Dr. Steve DeVries is a professor at Cornell College
in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Every year, Steve, along with co-leader
Jeff Reihle, brings a group of college students on a canoe trip
through Sawbill as part of a class. In the last fifteen years
or so, they have endured almost unrelenting bad weather. In spite
of this dampened reputation, Steve remains relentlessly positive,
enjoying every moment of his time in the wilderness.

This year, the forecast looked hopeful. A chance of showers
on the first day and partly sunny for the four days following.
On Thursday, it started to rain hard about fifteen minutes before
they arrived, but the forecast called for improvement. "That’ll
change." said Steve, without rancor. Friday, in all honesty,
wasn’t too bad – warm with just some fog and a few light showers.
Saturday – snow started to fall early and continued off and on
all day in the teeth of a 25 mph northwest wind. Still, the forecast
called for improvement.

Today, we woke up to this:

The Sawbill Outfitters Store 5/14/2000

Steve is due to end his trip tomorrow. The forecast is for
clearing and warmer this afternoon, but I’m not planning to take
the long johns off until the Cornell group starts back to Iowa.
– Bill

5/12/00 – Yesterday was John Oberholtzer’s last day of work
at Sawbill. "OB" has worked about fifteen years, off
and on, here at Sawbill. Those of you who don’t know him in person
will recognize his name from this newsletter where his beautiful
writing has been featured for several years.

As a send off, Cindy designed a timed course of common Sawbill
jobs. In order of their appearance below, the picture are:

packing a cookkit for 8 people, putting canoes back on the

(the Forest Service airplane observes from above), washing
a pack,

turning off the high pressure washer, locating the wing nut
wrench in the workshop (and putting it in his pocket so no one
else can find it), stocking the firewood,

stocking the ice, stocking the Diet Coke,

preparing a dishwashing kit, fetching the towels from the men’s
shower room to the laundry, finding a jar of beets in Frank and
Mary Alice’s cold room,

making queso and chips for the crew, and the crew enjoying
the queso and chips. Total time elapsed: an incredible 17 minutes
57 seconds.

We were tempted to give OB a gold watch, but decided a Peter
Puddicombe paddle was more appropriate. His smiling face, capable
hands, and empathetic heart will be deeply missed by crew and
visitors alike. I hope he will contribute the occasional piece
of writing to this newsletter. He will stay in the area and is
planning to expand his passion for writing and wilderness travel
. – Bill

5/5/00 – The US Forest Service announced on May 3rd tighter
restrictions on campfire use in the BWCA Wilderness. The restrictions
come amid a sustained period of very dry conditions across northeastern
Minnesota .

The USFS has upgraded the fire danger index in the BWCA Wilderness
from a "low" to a "moderate" danger rating.
This is due to a lack of soaking spring rains and low snowfall
during the past winter.

Campfires will be prohibited in the areas affected by last
summer’s blowdown, where over 350,000 acres of forest was affected
by high winds. This includes all camp and cooking fires. The fire
ban in the affected area will likely be in effect at least until
June, when early summer rains usually soak the area and reduce
fire risk. at: A
map of the area
covered by the campfire ban is available on
the Superior National Forest website. The
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also has a helpful web
that contains fire related information for the entire
state of Minnesota, including the BWCA Wilderness.

There are currently no restrictions on the use of campfires
in areas not affected by the blowdown; however, as always, caution
is encouraged.

5/2/00 – More crew news: We had a visit overnight from Jeff
Thompson, former Sawbill crew member and charter member of the
Sawbill Frisbee Golf Association. Jeff is a talented newspaper
photographer. He has been working for a chain of northern Minnesota
and Wisconsin newspapers based in Duluth, but has just been hired
by the Mankato Free Press in Mankato, Minnesota. He stopped by
for a quick northwoods fix before moving his life’s possessions
to farm country. Jeff hopes to relocate to northern Minnesota

5/1/00 – Sawbill crew member Ruthie Hansen has chosen the University
of Chicago as her venue of under graduate study. Congratulations

Posted on

April 2000

4/29/00 – Despite a brisk snowfall yesterday afternoon, several
parties have taken advantage of the early Spring and are out canoeing.
Lloyd Geving, a Sawbill camper since birth, wrote that he and
his son Carl were getting equipment ready for an early season
trip last week. Carl asked about the possibility of taking their
new puppy along. Lloyd said that it would be OK and moments later
snapped this picture.

4/25/00 – Yesterday was a symphony of seasonal firsts. Clare
spotted the first chipmunk of the season. it is the "tame
one from the campground" and took sunflower seeds from her
hand. Cindy saw several grouse on the road in their mating display
– necks ruffed up, tails fanned, strutting like high school boys
at the prom. The aspen trees around Sawbill suddenly sprouted
catkins and the buds are swelling on the hazel brush. The first
mosquitoes made their appearance. It is a species that always
appears early. they are larger than the average Minnesota summer
variety, but are fortunately quite sluggish. The woodcocks were
executing their dramatic twilight mating flights. They shoot out
of clearings and rise straight into the air to dizzying heights.
Their wings make a distinctive musical sound. They spiral down
to land in almost the exact same spot they departed from, take
a breather, and repeat the process. The last sign of Spring was
the appearance of the Hansen family’s badminton net. Clare proceeded
to trounce me in the inaugural game. – Bill

4/24/00 – Cindy, Carl and I went for a bike ride yesterday.
We rode on a little used logging road about seven miles from Sawbill.
Along the way, the road skirted a large pond. Carl and Cindy rode
a bit ahead when I slowed down to gaze at the beautiful blue water.
My eye caught a flash of grey on the far side of the pond. As
I watched in amazement, a big, beautiful wolf emerged from the
underbrush. Carl and Cindy hurried back and we were able to watch
the silver-grey wolf for about 30 seconds as he worked his way
along the edge of the pond. We are so lucky to live in this wonderful
part of the world. – Bill

4/21/00 – Ruthie Hansen, Annie Olson, and Danielle Trego just
returned from a sunset paddle and report that Alton Lake is still
frozen over. The three young ladies are visiting for Easter vacation
from their schools in the Twin Cities. – Bill

4/20/00 – We received a report last night that all the lakes
along the Gunflint Trail are still ice covered. There was a party
canoeing out of Sawbill last weekend, but they came and went without
comment, so we don’t know what they found (except 4" of new
snow). I suspect that the larger lakes are still iced in, but
they should go out in the next few days. – Bill

4/13/00 – The ice is officially out on Sawbill Lake as of yesterday,
April 12th, a full six days ahead of the previous recorded record
for early ice out. The pictures below tell the tale. At noon yesterday,
we drove to the end of the campground and encountered quite a
large sheet of pretty solid ice. OB even walked on it. After supper
I went for a paddle and the large sheet of ice had decreased by
about a quarter, eaten away by the wave effect from a brisk southerly
wind. I worked my way around the ice and when I got through the
narrows that mark the boundary of the wilderness I was stunned
to see the rest of Sawbill Lake completely ice free. The official
rule is that the lake is out when it is more than 90% ice free.
Don’t rush up for a canoe trip right away though. The bay containing
the portage to Alton is still frozen and I’m sure any other bays
and lakes as well. We got two inches of snow last night, but as
soon as it warms up again, the remaining ice should disappear fast.
– Bill

While on my paddle I saw green head mallards, golden eye ducks,
black mallards, and bufflehead ducks. I also rammed an ice berg
that was completely awash and almost undetectable in the water.
The little solo canoe rocked just enough to remind me that the
water is 32.1 degrees and I needed to pay a little more attention.
It felt great to be paddling again. – Bill

South end of Sawbill Lake at noon on April 12th, 2000.

The center portion of Sawbill Lake at 7 P.M. on April
12th, 2000.

4/5/00 – We got 4" of snow the night before last and temperatures
in the teens last night. This will slow down the early Spring,
but probably not by much. The south end of Sawbill Lake is about
one half ice free. – Bill

4/4/00 – The Forest Service has released the following advice
for the ’00 season.


The windstorm that swept parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe
Area Wilderness on July 4, 1999, blew down trees over a 350,000-acre
area. This storm has changed that area of the wilderness for years
to come, and has created the opportunity for new experiences and
new risks for BWCAW visitors.


Choose a camp stove instead of a campfire. If a campfire is allowed
and there is little or no wind, build it in the fire grate and
keep it small. Keep flammable materials and firewood far away.
Drown the fire with water until all embers, rocks and sticks are
wet. Stir the remains, add more water until the fire is extinguished
and cool to the touch. Do not bury coals as they can smolder and
break into flames much later. Be sure the campfire is completely
extinguished before you leave, even if for a short time!


There may be hazards due to downed and weakened trees and trees
may continue to fall. Stay alert and heads up, fallen or leaning
trees may snap back unexpectedly when cut. Avoid camping and walking
under damaged and leaning trees. Root wads above the ground may
also be unstable and dangerous.


There may be fire restrictions in all or part of the BWCAW. These
are for your safety and to reduce the threat of large, dangerous
wildfires. Before entering the wilderness, please check on fire
restrictions. Contact any Superior National Forest District Office
or forest headquarters, (218)626-4300, or check the Superior
National Forest website
for specific information and maps.


There is a significant increase in the likelihood of fires in
the blowdown area as a result of the storm. Wilderness visitors
can expect: wildfires that start and spread, even in wet conditions.
Wildfires that burn more intensely and may spread rapidly. Wildfires
that easily jump barriers such as small lakes and streams. Increased
risk of being trapped by a wildfire with difficult escape routes.


The fire may be miles from you and pose no threat to your safety.
If the fire is nearby or moving in your direction, travel away
from it at a right angle, if possible. That means going south
or north if the fire is approaching from the west. While you travel,
try to stay close to a large body of water until the fire passes.
In extreme cases, paddle to the middle of a lake, wear your life
vest and submerge yourself under your overturned canoe, where
you can breathe the cool, trapped air to protect your lungs and
airways until the fire passes.



Wind: Most fires travel east and north. Make sure you have a safe
route to follow in case wind direction changes. Embers can blow
more than a mile, possibly starting new fires. As humidity increases
in the early morning and late evening, fire activity may decrease.
Travel may be safer at these times. Tall smoke plumes indicate
a very hot fire. If you see a tall smoke plume upwind of you,
seek a point of refuge, such as a lake.


Look at maps, alternative routes and your proximity to a large
body of water. Stay close to water. If there is a safe way around
the fire, with broad expanses of water, consider traveling from
the area. If you must travel through burned areas, watch for burning
stump holes and hot embers. Burned trees can fall easily.


If you feel threatened, get on a large lake. Stay upwind, but
be aware that large fires can burn unpredictably in any direction.
If the fire is upon you, take your canoe into the water. Put on
your life jacket, paddle to the middle of a lake, tip over your
canoe and go under it. You can breathe the cool, trapped air under
the canoe until the fire passes.

4/3/00 – Two ravens sit on the swing set and ponder the temporary
return of winter today. We saw our first grackle today – a reliable
sign that the snow is not long for this world. The lake is too
shaky to even measure the ice. I would guess that it is only
about 6" thick and quite degraded. I’m thinking the ice will
be out by the weekend or shortly thereafter.

This small brown bat was discovered snuggled up in our back
door frame this weekend. Although it seemed to be sick or injured,
perhaps it was just sleepy, as it disappeared shortly after dark.
– Bill

Sawbill Outfitters is a proud member of Northeastern
Minnesotans For Wilderness
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.

Posted on

March 2000

3/28/00 – OB reports the ice to be 10" thick on Sawbill
Lake. The upper 8" is honey combed and candle sticked. Only
the lower 2" is solid ice. OB ice skated on Crescent Lake
yesterday on his way to work. He reported the best skating conditions
since last Fall. That should be the last ice skating of the year,
but you never know… – Bill

3/27/00 – My old friend, Steve Krahn, sent word of an old Sawbill
Outfitters brochure
for sale on eBay
. It will be interesting to see what it brings.
What does it say about us that our old stuff is now considered
"collectible?" – Bill

3/24/00 – It is raining hard here this morning. After a nearly
60 degree day yesterday, I am thinking the lake ice is no longer
safe for skiing (sigh). I am a bit more conservative about ice
conditions after I fell through, skis and all, two years ago.
I have no desire to repeat that near death experience.

Ruthie Hansen has been accepted for admission to the University
of Chicago. She now has an important, but pleasant choice ahead
of her.

Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill writes:

black lake ice

so thin

even crows stay off

3/21/00 – Here is some happy news from the Sawbill crew. Patti
Olson, a multi-year crew member of recent years past, wrote yesterday
to let us know that she is engaged. Her proposal came on St. Patti’s
day. You have to love a guy who likes a pun. Congratulations Patti
and Chuck 🙂

Ruthie Hansen is enjoying the last half of her senior year
at the Minnesota Arts High School. She has been accepted by Kenyon
College in Ohio and Lewis and Clark College in Washington state.
She is waiting for word from several other institutions before
she makes up her mind. She will be full time at Sawbill again
this summer, after spending a good part of last summer in Israel.
– Bill

3/17/00 –

Jeff Reihle from Mt Vernon, Iowa sent us this unique
canoe picture. This was actually a stock Old Town model in the
70’s. I saw one on Kawishiwi Lake during that era. From a distance,
I thought it was a "Budweiser" canoe, which was another
classic of the era. Probably in better taste than the paisley.
– Bill


3/16/00 – Owlman Bill Lane is back in the area for his annual
survey of Boreal and Sawhet Owls. The return of winter weather
has slowed down owl breeding activity, but while it was still
warm, Bill reported hearing many owls. This is encouraging after
several years of declining owl activity. Bill does hypothesize
that the blow down areas will see a drastic decline in cavity
nesting bird populations. It may be that owls from that area are
moving into the territories located in the non-windblown portions
of the forest. After imitating the call that OB and I heard a
couple of weeks ago on south Alton, Bill informs me that we were
hearing a Sawhet Owl, not a Boreal. – Bill

3/10/00 – I heard a hawk whistling today. It reminded me of
warm sunny wind, the kind of days that move the white pines, when
the hawks cruise above Sawbill so fast their calls seem to be
everywhere at once. Two bald eagles rolled like ribbons out of
some aspens today. They went straight down the road, bouncing
ascension, heads twisting, watching my car under their bellies.
Glad to see them again. We are earning sunlight, up to 11.5 hours
today. As the days lengthen, so too does the fun at the end of
the day. I am off to explore Crescent Lake on my new ice skates
(they attach to my cross country ski boots!) Evening exercise
without headlamps strikes the most significant blow to winter.
My psychology slips toward Spring. OB

3/8/00 – Yesterday, we skied up Sawbill, down to the south
end of Alton, over to Beth and back to Sawbill in under two hours.
Several of us wore running shorts only and were perfectly comfortable
in the nearly 70 degree heat. Unfortunately, the digital camera
failed, so it will have to live in our memory as another northwoods
peak experience.

Today, we are having a thunder storm (unheard of in early March)
and 4 – 8" of snow are predicted tonight and a low temperature
near 0 degrees tomorrow night. Never dull. – Bill

3/4/00 – It was another perfect day for skiing on the lake.
I visited the little pond directly north of Sawbill Lake. On the
frozen surface were the tracks of a large wolf. The track were
quite old, but distinct. This is a phenomenon of the melting lake
ice. Every track deposited during the winter re-emerges as the
snow cover melts and evaporates. The denser snow created by the
tracks deteriorates more slowly, causing every track from the
winter to emerge like invisible ink heated with a candle. As I
pondered the wolf tracks heading north, a southbound jet passed
high overhead leaving a brilliant white contrail against the deep
blue sky. Both of the tracks were dramatic records of a passing,
both of the track makers were unaware of me, and both were ethereal
– passing quickly into oblivion. With these thoughts on my mind,
I turned and confronted my own tracks on the ice, looking like
giant bird tracks.

We were visited over the weekend by former crew members Ellen
Lock, Annie Strupeck, Michele Thieman, and Sandy Zinn. What was
planned as a "women’s ski weekend" became the "women’s
hiking weekend" due to record high temperatures. Ellen is
getting married in May, so we had a wedding shower Sawbill Style
on Saturday night. Even Frank got in on the fun and games. – Bill


3/3/00 – We had a recreational triple header on the frozen
lakes today.

OB and I met at 8 A. M. for ice skating on Crescent Lake. The
surprisingly smooth ice allowed us to range freely across Crescent
and even up the river to Boulder Lake. It was hard to leave because
we knew that this might be the last chance for ice skating this
season. Crazy cracks made beautiful abstract patterns in the ice
interrupted by lovely symmetrical formations resulting from repeated
freeze and thaw.

Later in the afternoon, Sawbill Lake’s surface had softened
slightly, allowing a ski edge to bite perfectly for ski skating.
The wet surface made the glide nearly frictionless and twenty
kilometers passed under my skis in one hour and twenty minutes.
We drilled a hole and measured 19.5" of ice.

After dark, OB and I ventured out again. Now the surface had
refrozen so our ski skittered when we tried to skate. We soon
discovered that double poling was nearly effortless and found
ourselves on the south end of Alton Lake in no time. As we stood
quietly for a moment a Boreal Owl began its mating call in the
woods near by. It is unbelievably early for these plucky little
owls to be thinking of romance. – Bill

3/2/00 – I ice-skated on Lichen Lake this morning. Unusual
activity this time of year. The warm weather and rain has resurfaced
the lakes on the Grade Road, many of which look good for skating.
I plan to try Crescent Lake tomorrow. This is not the black ice
of Fall. It is whitish opaque to dark gray and surprisingly smooth
considering all the meteorological variables it was born out of.
There were many patterns on the ice. Large sections were paved
in small jigsaw size pieces, like skating on an exotic inlaid
courtyard. Other areas were covered in cinder block size tiles.
They were slightly arced, like the brickwork strokes in a Van
Gogh sky. All the cracks in these sections were just below a veneer
of ice, perfect for skating. Rocks are hatching through the ice,
providing dry mid-lake seats for soaking in the morning sun. The
ice was shifting and heating this morning, sounding like a pod
of whales whistling and singing below. I hardly heard another
sound, just a couple of woodpeckers. It was a great way to start
the day and a dandy elixir to chase away the melted snow blues.

3/1/00 – Ken Harmon, excellent wilderness photographer, sent
us this picture of snowshoeing near the Gunflint Trail around
the middle of February. Less than two weeks later, I took the
picture below it of the slush and dark ice on Sawbill Lake. Several
days of 55 degree weather have had a dramatic impact on the snow
and ice. – Bill

Posted on

February 2000

2/28/00 – Puddles, birdsong, swelling buds, slushy lakes, closed
ski trails – all the signs of mid-April are here. The warm, dry
winter has culminated with the earliest Spring in history. While
there is plenty of time for more winter, the weather service is
predicting the current weather pattern to hold for quite awhile.
If it doesn’t change, we could be canoeing by early April. – Bill

2/23/00 – We received the following email and picture today:

Attached is a bitmap I put together as I was thinking of summer
nights at Sawbill. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting
it together. Hopefully the download wasn’t too awfully long!

Take care, stay warm and we’ll see you again when the ice is

Bob & Cheryl Borowick

2/19/00 – Gorgeous moon in the sky! I hope it shined as brightly
on your homes. I skied out with the dogs and listened to a very
bright night. The lake’s winter tarmac held thousands of specks
of moonlight. An owl’s call took the breathing out of us, as we
strained to hear it again, faintly we heard voices camped on Alton.
The dogs were dark red stains on the snow. They tended their snow
packed paws, making small sounds that ballooned, then snapped
in the sub-zero air, crunching back to the surface amplified.
There was good ski skating on the packed trail heading up the
lake. We rounded the point leading to Alton, passing through a
forest of perfect tree shadows, painting us like galloping zebras.
We skied and ran hard, returning with a frosting of breath on
our collars and fur – souvenirs of the white night. OB

2/17/00 – The snow has been so gentle and delicate. Over the
past four days, snow has been in the sky a majority of the time,
yet the accumulation has been a scant two or three inches. It
moves like tiny bubbles, amounting to about the same in terms
of moisture. A handful of the stuff is a pile of feathers. In
fact, the crystals of this snow look very much like down, but
down from an exotic bird. The crystals interlock like down and
have the same opaque appearance, but the snow is even finer and
is bluish like the purest frozen seeps of winter cliffs. To complete
the image, the down is not evident at the surface where the warmth
of the sun polishes the snow into the whitest linen. The top layer
has to be peeled back, to see how it fluffs for miles and miles.
What is it like for the vole or mouse to move through that layer?
There are special meeting rooms in Oz convention centers like
that, and cotton candy tunnels ala Willy Wonka.

I just checked, and that layer of down is already breaking
up. Soon it will be a micro layer of delicate shards in the stratigraphy
of the season’s snows. There are special layers in the snow each
season. The last unusual layer was the day Bill photographed the
frosting on the trees (see the picture from 1/27/00 below.) Those
crystals were woven by the trees all night. In the morning, they
gave them to the wind who flew them like tiny kites. The wind
moved on to other pursuits and left them all over the snow, glistening
fragments of mica. Those are rare sheets of snow, I think about
them all the time, like Charlie fixated on the golden wrapper
layered in with the other millions at the Wonka factory. OB

2/16/00 – Bit of a shock the other day. Gust our older retriever,
caught and badly maimed a pine marten. It was a vicious sight
and extraordinary because the hundreds of chase hours logged by
Sunnie and Gust have, to the best of my knowledge, resulted in
one squirrel kill (nearly botched). Imagine my surprise when I
looked out and saw Gust’s jaws firmly clamped around the belly
of a pine marten. The violent shaking was a terror, and I noted
rarely seeing Gust in such a no-nonsense posture – hackles up,
legs spread wide to support the blurring shakes, and an overall
firmness of muscle and intention I had not considered in this
slightly over weight, lounging retriever. Despite this intensity,
this was a big chore, and I began to wonder if Gust had the requisite
know-how to satisfy the urgings of his instincts. Gust employed
a strategy of brief, vigorous shakes, after which he would hold
still for a quick assessment. Each time he found the pine marten
"coming to", diving in for a violent kiss. After one
session, the marten appeared to make contact with Gust’s nose,
prompting a dropped marten, which immediately lunged for a nip
at Gust’s paw. Gust leaped away and both animals sat a few feet
away staring into space. The marten’s back was broken and it began
to feebly drag itself. Sunnie, inexplicably, skulked in the woods
apparently conflicted. Gust continued to stare. In the interest
of hastening the marten’s last moments and avoiding anymore bites
which might result in a trip to the vet, I intervened, finishing
the marten with the .22 rifle. It was sad, as I enjoy watching
the martens, especially this year as we have kept them out of
the buildings!

The moment when Gust stared into space is etched in my mind.
It seems a defining moment, one I cannot imagine a wolf enacting.
It seemed a sensation of genuine confusion, where instinct was
at odds with experience. My hunch is that wolves have learned
by experience to avoid martens whose bites and viciousness are
as painful and willful as the action of a sewing machine engaged
in an errant finger. I also suspect, if a wolf were in the act
of killing a marten it never would have turned its back on it,
but instead, switched to a more decisive grip to the neck.

The whole scene was a little disturbing, not because of the
violence, but for the sense of an act poorly done. In our cultivation
of dogs, something like the spring of a venus fly trap was lost.
Dogs are dependent on us, like children, but sadly they never
blossom into beings of independence and skill. Though their need
for us is comforting, it is also a burden, especially on days
like yesterday, realizing that there is a yearning buried deep
under mounds of Purina, which is cut off from the daily cycles
of snapped necks, clasped talons, rabbits becoming lynx, and tearing
red muzzles. OB

2/9/00 – We received the following email and photo the other

Hi to all,

This is a picture taken on July 4, 1999 minutes before the rage
that occurred that day. We had taken shore on the north end of
Sawbill Lake at the 2nd or 3rd campsite on the east side of the
lake. The time of day is about 12- 12:30 PM. Notice how dark it
is. Within minutes of this shot, it was even darker and the air
was filled with water, both from the rain and from the lake.

Picture was taken by Karen Cook of Mound, MN with a Kodak Weekender
waterproof camera looking south.

Keith Cook

2/2/00 – Many of our canoes pass through the work shop during
the winter for routine maintenance. I look at all the scratches
that build up over the seasons and see that the canoes come to
have a certain luster, a broken in look. Though the new canoes
look more crisp, the older canoes have a seasoned look, softened
at the edges, seemingly more fit for this landscape. I know many
of the canoes by sight, and mainly I conceptualize them as our
canoes, seeing them in my minds eye either on the racks or stored
for the winter. Today, as I stood with four canoes in the workshop,
I thought of how many stars or raindrops they have sat below patiently
waiting on distant shores. I wonder about the waves a certain
canoe has traversed, or the drift another performed at the stillness
of a moose sighting. I see one is newer, probably not yet made
it over to Kekekabic or east to Gaskin. Likely it will be steered
there soon, en route occasionally bumping a bit of the country
or resting against a log under a swarm of black flies and a worn
out portageur. The path will take away the shine, just as the
wind transforms the youthful symmetry of the white pine. Then
the canoe will be broken in, and after another year or two, we
will sell it to one of you who have come under the spell of this
place too, and having weathered a few storms and rocky portages
are getting to know it well enough to explore it on your own.

Posted on

January 2000

1/27/00 –

Red fire in the sky and gleaming diamonds in the tree
tops greeted the dawn in the north country.

1/25/00 – Here, in the center of the pine marten metropolis,
we are able to observe pine marten behavior in some detail. We
now have identical twin martens visiting our bird feeder. The
perfectly matched pair perch on the narrow ledge of the feeder
and munch sunflower seeds. They seem perfectly at ease with each
other, with no sign of dominance or territorial issues. I’ll try
to snap a photo during their next feeding session.

1/21/00 – I don’t know if ski trails are magnets for wildlife,
or if I just spend so much time on skis that I see my wildlife
there. Yesterday, near Tofte, I found a beautiful set of bobcat
tracks. They look just like the kitty tracks on the hood of your
car, except about four times bigger. The tracks were interrupted
by a neat pile of bobcat scat, something I haven’t seen for twenty
five years.

Paralleling the bobcat tracks, but going the other way, was
a set of huge wolf tracks. The wolf was running flat out, digging
deep holes in the hard packed snow. I once clocked a wolf at forty
five miles per hour on the Sawbill Trail. All the more remarkable
because the wolf only had one front leg. At top speed it made
an abrupt left turn off the road – on to a ski trail.

Last night I was leaving the house to meet Clare on the late
bus in Tofte. I let the happy retriever, Sunnie, in as I went
out. I walked to the pickup and opened the door to throw the mail
on the dash, when a movement caught the corner of my eye. On the
ski trail, not eight feet from where I was standing, stood a red
fox, breathing hard. It seemed completely unconcerned with my
presence, looking at me frankly and sniffing the air carefully
and methodically. What a symphony of information that sensitive
nose must experience. It stood its ground while I walked around
the truck and got in. I flipped on the headlights and it didn’t
even flinch in the glare. Every hair was vividly visible and little
puffs of steam came from its nose with each breath. When I turned
the key and the starter engaged, it turned and flicked away down
the dark ski trail. – Bill

1/17/00 – Toady is the kind of day we expect in the middle
of January. Temperatures rose steeply during the night and snow
started to fall just before dawn. It is coming down hard here
at mid-morning. The snow belt area (2 – 10 miles away from Lake
Superior) is getting the benefit of "lake effect" snow.
This will finally set up the ski trails along the North Shore
with the base they need to last the rest of the winter. – Bill

1/13/00 -Cross country skiing is dominating my life this week.
Last weekend I skied in the Grand Marais International Races.
On Saturday, I finished 6th in my age class in the 15K classical
style race. On Sunday, I finished 3rd in my age class in the 15K
free style race. Not bad for an old duffer. Karl Hansen is the
trail groomer for the 60K of trails between Tofte and Lutsen.
I have been training him in the operation of the groomer, a very
impressive machine known as a Kassbohrer Pisten Bully. We discovered
that the July 4th storm had thrown many trees across the trail
and have spent many, many hours pretending that we are loggers.
Karl turned to me yesterday and said, "I remember now why
I didn’t go into logging." We got it done though, and skiing
is quite good now.

We have several former crew members visiting. Michele Thieman,
Annie Strupek (freshly back from a year in Japan), Harriet Settle,
Dave Freeman are all here right now. Jeff thompson and Natasha
Warner are coming up on Saturday. Quite a little reunion. – Bill

1/6/00 – There’s something so attractive to dogs about humans
running. As I move between buildings in the winter, I rarely "suit-up",
preferring instead running to ward off the cold. From behind,
and I never hear her coming, our retriever bowls by my heels.
It is an exuberance of gold dog on white snow, and I smile hollering
glad tidings, no matter how close she comes to knocking me on
my keester. Dogs seem to sense in the energy of running, the robustness
of the movement, something good going on. Our two dogs rarely
move fast unless some excitement warrants it, like the time a
moose walked just about to the store, almost tripping over two
very surprised retrievers – that was a big chase! The dogs don’t
want to be left out of the action, they are eager to know all
that is happening in their domain. I wonder what the dogs are
thinking just before I come onto the scene. Probably just sort
of looking around, suspecting or hoping for something out of the
ordinary, and then they see me running, confirming their hunch,
"Aha, something is brewing over there!" I hope my disappearance
into a building is not too disappointing. Though, I suspect it
is, because they must remember and cherish as well as I, the times
we have chased bears or rascally pine martens. Yesterday, when
Sunny bolted by me, she gave me such a strong sense of place.
This is what is happening at Sawbill, right outside the door,
these two beautiful, curious dogs are roaming the snowy forest
margins, seeking the excitement that often comes sneaking out.
I knelt with Sunny, as she looked from left to right, and east
to west, and felt the lively cold on her back as it sank into
my bones. I looked and listened with her, noticing several lines
of tracks radiating off to the activities and homes of various
boreal denizens. I thought this dog has it right, excited and
curious at the drop of a hat, attentive to the moment, and fully
engaged in and knowledgeable about her home. OB

1/3/00 – On New Year’s Eve, Karl Hansen and Lee Stewart got
married in the Sawbill Campground. The ceremony was held in the
campsite where they first met each other, 43 years ago. In the
twilight, the path to the service was lit by candles burning in
large blocks of ice. A fire burned brightly in the fire grate.
The Rev. Peter Monkries officiated over a brief (thankfully) ceremony
with approximately forty friends and family looking on. Snow drifted
straight down and the guests lit sparklers to celebrate its conclusion.

Rev. Peter Monkries, Karl Hansen and Lee Stewart.

Posted on

December 1999

12/26/99 – We had an excellent Sawbill Christmas. A surprise
warm snap, along with brilliant sunshine, made Christmas a beautiful
day. Karl, Adam and Ruthie Hansen along with Karl’s fiance, Lee
Stewart, all made the trek home for the holiday. Adam and Ruthie
were admiring the full moon while driving up the Sawbill Trail
when a moose decided to gallop out of the woods directly in front
of the car. Adam did an instantaneous cost/benefit analysis and
steered the car off the road. They missed the moose by inches,
cruised through the ditch for 50 feet and returned to the road,
a ruined front tire the only casualty. Karl and Lee saw a fox
and a wolf on the Sawbill Trail on their way up. Both were unusually
large examples of the species.

12/23/99 – Clare (age 11) and I skied under the incredible
full moon last night. We were able to groom the unplowed campground
roads. It felt good to be back on the boards and conditions were
excellent, in spite of the -10 degree temperatures. The moon
was almost painfully bright, casting crisp, black shadows across
the trail.

Both Clare and I spotted a small dark creature hunched next
to the trail. Clare fearlessly approached it, thinking that it
was a small animal in trouble. When she was within eighteen inches,
the "animal" revealed itself to be a large swatch of
birch bark.

Clare commented on how much she would like to see a large black
wolf cross the trail in the moonlight ahead of her. I told her

Sig Olson’s famous story of being surrounded by a wolf pack while
hiking on the frozen Kawishiwi River in the middle of the night.
Clare said, "That would be so cool!" It could sure happen
here, as we often see wolf tracks on our ski trail. – Bill

12/21/99 – The new price lists, reservation forms, and food
menus are now updated for 2000. Follow the links above for the
latest info. Prices remained essentially the same this year.

Real winter has finally arrived here at Sawbill. -18 was the
low last night. In years past, we used to joke about the official
start of winter being the 21st of December. By that date, we have
usually had at least a month of winter – and sometimes more. We
have about 6 – 7 inches of snow on the ground. We are able to
ski on the unplowed roads and the lake, but not the ski trails

12/17/99 – Cold weather has arrived in earnest. The high yesterday
was eight degrees Fahrenheit, and the low was minus nine over
night. This morning’s drive to work provided the pleasure of changing
a flat tire in sub-zero temperatures. Fingers and lug nuts were
at odds, and it did not help that I kicked several of the neatly
piled nuts into a bank of snow. I was feeling pretty cold and
blue, so I put on all my winter gear and settled into to do the
job right. Soon, I was into my "Indy car pit stop"
mode (we change a lot of flat tires up here!) Just as I was finishing,
the only car that passed while I was working, stopped offering
help and cheery words of support. As he drove off, I realized
how lucky I was to change a flat with such good companionship;
the still woods, early morning light greeting my breaths, and
friendly neighbors with time to help. I drove the rest of the
way patient for my destination, with a keen eye for the details
that are so rewarding while driving the back roads. A series of
wolf tracks put my brief cold encounter into perspective. I considered
the past two nights nipping fiercely at wolf noses, curling their
sleeps into tighter balls. To imagine a wolf waking and stretching
in this bitter cold, with little notion of where the days successes
and disappointments lay, made me feel pretty cushy sitting in
a warm well running car, full of tools, a snack and warm clothes.
I wonder if I can ever remember or understand what it means to
wake and feel that way? OB

12/15/99 – Last Sunday was a very special day. A day I will
not soon forget or replicate. For the past week and a half, ice
skating conditions in Cook County have been good to excellent.
Skating in the BWCA is a special treat, and I have often imagined
traveling great distances. Last Friday, dining at the East Bay
Hotel and comparing skating stories of the past few days, I dreamed
with a friend about the sheer joy and novelty of skating on Cherokee
Lake. At the time, it felt like the type of idea that forever
lingers in the "what if" category.

This past Sunday, looking over the toes of three casually crossed
pairs of skates at a sheet of ice filling bays and wrapping islands,
I rested with friends on a sunny rock on north Cherokee Lake.
Earlier that day, we had put in at Brule Lake. We were skeptical
and careful, knowing that larger lakes take longer to freeze.
In forty minutes of travel, four and a half miles down Brule to
the west, we began to realize that our dream might slip into reality.
Brule had small patches of open water and a little rough ice,
but mainly black ice prevailed. Effortless skating coupled with
lifting morning fog, kept us firmly in the dream state, and we
kept checking with each other to confirm our luck. At Brule’s
west end, we found open water on the creek leading to South Temperance
and decided to approach Cherokee through the Cam to Town chain
of lakes. On short portages, we shuffled across in skate guards,
and on the longer ones, changed to our pack boots. The portages
were covered in wolf tracks – human sign non-existent. We felt
alone in this moment between paddle and snow-shoe. The fog fully
lifted on Town Lake, and under a bright sky, at the tips of long
pine shadows, we raced to Cherokee. Our skate tracks were three
urgent lines of text on a thin parchment of snow covering Town
Lake. Finally on Cherokee, we hugged, hollered, and raced off
to explore. On the north end, we found a large section of open
water. We speculated that the wind kept this section open and
wondered too, if maybe the deep water under that spot took longer
to mix and cool. We steered clear, knowing an accidental plunge
there would carry the additional weight of dangling over one-hundred-forty
feet of icy water, miles from home. During lunch we could not
believe our position relative to daylight. We pulled out the map
and considered our options, choosing a surprise visit to Sawbill.
Cherokee creek seemed a likely candidate for open water, but we
found it rock solid right to the portage. We skipped one portage
on the way to Sawbill, choosing instead a creek through a swamp.
It too was covered with a trace of snow, offering a sidewalk width,
white and winding, through brown grass and dried irises. In the
late day sun, Sawbill greeted us with rose colored ice, some of
the smoothest of the entire trip. Near the landing we shocked
Cindy who was out skating with the kids, "You came from where?!"

It was an amazing day, full of pleasures like racing into big
banking turns, switching to skate backwards, and seeing all of
Cherokee Lake recede from view. I skated ten feet off shore so
fast the cedars blurred, stopped on a dime and levitated, peering
through crystalline ice above rocky mute stillness There was a
vastness of opportunity that day. The easy speed we achieved took
us from Brule to Sawbill in six hours. Standing in the middle
of Cherokee on top of such wondrous means of conveyance, I began
to wonder about the ice on Frost Lake, the ins and outs of Little
Sag ice, and how Gabi, so open and wide, might be the best of
all ice. It was the sort of day where the limits of the natural
world strangely combine and lift, the kind of day that rewards
the mindfulness of closely watching the country with the opportunity
to be part of its ephemera. I am uplifted after Sunday, knowing
that in the mysteries of the Northwoods there are dreams that
pop down on the landscape lucidly and gleam like Oz.

Today, a light snow falls that will bond to the ice and pebble
it, or pile in shallow banks, both of which will slow skating.
The snow is welcome, because we can’t wait for skiing. It’s late
arrival is the topic all over Cook County. Inevitably, likely
before the evening is out, I will join my voice with my neighbors’
complaints about the lack of snow. However, I will do so disingenuously.
Thus far the snow has been perfect, hiding in corners on Brule,
slim to none on Ada Lake, and confused on Sawbill, slipping away
in disarray. OB

12/9/99 – I apologize for the long silence here. I have been
struck down by the flu from hell. Based on other’s experience
with this virus, I should get some energy back tomorrow. To add
insult to injury, the lake is frozen enough for excellent skating.
I have carried bits of overheard skating conversation in and out
of fevered dreams for the last five days, so I’m not sure what
is reality, but it seems that there is much black ice and fairly
smooth. OB has, of course, been logging the miles. He cracked
his head a good one last week, but seems to have suffered no permanent
damage. Two people he was skating with fell through some thin
ice, but fortunately, it was only thigh deep, so no harm done
there either. If my health does return, I’ll try to get some pictures
up here. – Bill

12/3/99 – Sawbill Lake refroze for the third time on Monday,
11/29. Since then, it has turned quite warm again and the ice
is starting to degrade. I have never seen it freeze and thaw three
times, much less the four times it seems to be headed for.

Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, stopped in for a rare
visit on Monday. Ed was in the area helping a friend train some
dogs for the upcoming mushing season. It was a treat to see him
and hear some poetry first hand, including this one:

long chase ends

the wolf licks

a bloody paw

Here is a great email we received from long time customer and
friend Ron Holtman:

O.B. Your notes about the red pines reminded me of a canoe
trip in Algonquin Park in my youth. We had blazed a new trail
into the northern part of the park that had been logged – back
then the canoe routes had not been completed into that area and
we created some new trails. Here was my recollection (written
many years later). Ron Holtman -Wooster, Oh

Walking a quiet trail

I come upon a lumber camp

long deserted.

Expectantly, I open doors with care,

Perhaps to find an antique tool

or some old hermit living there.

The stillness here seems odd.

These cabins once were filled with raucous men

who toiled with saw and ax,

rough roustabouts

who took their wages from this timberland.

The trees they cut,

whose stumps are now but mounds of earth,

were primal growth

of massive oaks or stately pines;

of such a size that two,

with arms spread wide,

could not span their girth.

For native ones with lesser needs

the trees were gifts

of their Earth Mother’s generosity;

living beings which

with the wood’s inhabitants

shared their bounteous limbs and leaves.

To others later claiming rights

by legal deed or treaty

the trees seemed better used for commerce,

masts of ships or charcoal fires,

or furniture for those at ease.

I try to visualize those ancient giants now removed

replaced by planted rows of lanky firs

whose genes, someone has shown,

assure much quicker growth and uniformity.

And so I ponder there my children’s loss

and speak in anger

of those rough hewn men,

in woolen union suits,

who I contend clear cut this land.

Enough, I say, No more.

But as for me, I do have needs

necessities, a house of pine

and paper reams

and oaken chairs to grace my floor.

The source of these

is lumber yard or other place

that sells commodities

or products ready made,

and buying there I fail to see

their ancestral link to forest floor.

But I should know,

the hands that sent that timber down

are my hands too;

and all my PACS and lobbying

and all my righteous indignation

will not reclaim for future’s sake

what those weathered foresters,

in my name, have taken.

Sawbill Outfitters is a proud member of Northeastern
Minnesotans For Wilderness
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.

Posted on

November 1999

11/28/99 – Sawbill Lake thawed out again on the 26th. It is
in a unique configuration now, with about 30% of the lake covered
with strange, grey ice and the rest is wind whipped water. This
is the first time I can remember that the lake has frozen and
thawed twice in the same season. – Bill

11/26/99 – Sawbill refroze on the night of the 24th.

The Cook County High School football team won their third straight
state championship today at the Humphrey Dome in downtown Minneapolis.
Carl, Clare, and Cindy Hansen were in attendance along with about
2,000 other Cook County residents (not bad for a county with only
3,200 total population). Cindy, being an alumnus and former cheerleader,
treats the games as class reunions.

Dave Freeman, long time Sawbill crew member, visited for Thanksgiving.
Dave is working for Wintergreen
Sleddog Lodge
in Ely this winter. He will be guiding clients
on winter wilderness camping trips by dog team. Dave and I fulfilled
a long time ambition by running from Sawbill to Tofte together
yesterday. The 23 mile jaunt took us 3.5 hours and ended at the
Bluefin Bay Resort hot tub – the perfect therapy for tired leg

It looks as though our snow is here to stay. Although there
is only about 4" on the ground, it has that permanent look.
It is startling how the snow cover transforms the landscape. One
moment the woods are brown, brittle and bare. The next moment
it is a soft white wonderland – the sharp edges blunted and the
dark hollows filled with white light. Even more evocative are
the hushed silence and the fresh snow smell. Fall becomes winter
in a few minutes. – Bill

11/23/99 – Snow today! Good weather for tracking pine marten
activity. A friend this morning told me about pine martens tearing
holes in canvas yurts up the Gunflint Trail. I am reminded of
the architectural strategies of the Three Little Pigs. We are
in the late Straw Age here at Sawbill. Huff and puff Marten, I
know where to find some brick!

Outside the window, in a three foot square of birch, evening
and pine gross beaks sit with a blue jay puffed up against the
chill and snow. Yellow, red and blue dashes on this morning’s
fresh canvas. I can imagine the warmth of their color.

I have been meaning to report on a walk among many fallen old
growth red pines above Sawbill’s eastern shore. The Storm knocked
down about one third of these 90-110 year old giants. The trees
lie serenely, long trunks propped on elbow branches like reclining
Buddhas. Cool ashen soil, remnants of the fire that gave birth
to these trees, streak the soles of the root balls. Roots drying
in the Western sun are telling life lines. Many large earthen
bowls were excavated, red pine foot prints, cool and moist four
feet down. I sat for a long time and thought about forest ecology.
A novel angle of repose, my feet and legs running down the thick
trunk, back against the forest floor upturned by the root ball,
I saw the forest anew. I walked the path of the trunk, each step
marking my progress on an identical standing neighbor. At the
top, in the spiky angular crown, I held on to branches that used
to hold the sky. The tip of the tree was a springboard, and before
I jumped ship, I looked out and surveyed a harbor full of anchored
reds, calmly awaiting their final journey – descent to the forest
floor. I walked to the top of another fallen tree, the same as
the last except more of a twist and a slightly deeper cut lightening
scar. I think of all those B-52 bombers retired in the desert
sun, so similar, yet distinct in the decals and names of former
crew. Just as those planes recall former lives and mark geo-political
change, each red pine is a story of wind, moisture and storm in
the succession of the forest. Both, retired from above, allow
new light and shadows to fall across the land. OB

11/22/99 – The Revenge of the Pine Martens. Regular readers
of this newsletter will recall the saga of the breaking and entering
pine martens last winter. OB and I did epic battle to discourage
the varmints from chewing their way into the store building. For
awhile, it looked like the martens were smarter than us. But,
after much creative use of hardware cloth, live trapping, and
giving a long free car ride to nine of the buggers, we finally

Imagine my horror today when I entered our crew quarters (known
to the Sawbill crew as "The Mobe"), and found clear
evidence of a visit by a marten. I immediately tapped OB for his
superior marten tactical prowess and we moved in, armed with hardware
cloth, spray foam insulation, some sturdy lumber. a couple of
hundred nails, and a mean attitude. We flushed two of the big
weasels out of the place as we worked. One sat in a tree and stared
at us mockingly as we labored. We halfheartedly threw some rocks
at it, but it didn’t even flinch. Last year, after each skirmish,
we would congratulate ourselves on outsmarting the little devils,
only to be humiliated the next day. This time, we are taking a
"wait and see" attitude, ready to shore up any weakness
they find in our defense.

My non-violence policy toward martens is being severely tested.
My trusty shotgun is temptingly close by… But, I think we can
do it with our superior intellect and opposable thumbs. Stay tuned.

Sawbill Lake thawed out again today after two days of temperatures
near 40 F. – Bill

11/20/99 – We were saddened to receive news of Larry Matheson’s
death today. Larry, from Belvedere, Illinois, was a loyal Sawbill
wilderness camper for more than thirty years. For many years,
Larry wore a silver construction hard hat while traveling up to
his favorite campsite on the "big bend" of the Kawishiwi
River. Several times I encountered Larry on the trail and was
able to identify him from miles away by the sun reflecting off
his hard hat. We received the sad news via the following letter
from Larry’s wife, Celestia:

Dear Friends,

I wanted to relate to you how much Laurence and I enjoyed all
the wondrous years of trips to the Sawbill. They provided us with
many memories we enjoyed together.

After this last year of failing health, Laurence passed away
Nov. 3, 1999. Because I have had some nursing experience, Laurence
was able to be at home where I cared for him.

Laurence always thought the Sawbill area was the most beautiful
place in the world. I usually pulled up your newsletter on the
Web every couple of weeks and read it to him. The good times (and
some not as good) were never forgotten. I hope the Sawbill will
be open for years to come so many people have a true nature visit
and get to know all of you good friends in the North Woods.

Sincerely, Celestia Matheson

While running yesterday, I encountered a cow moose and her
calf at close range. As they ambled away, I noticed that their
backs were covered with the ice, just like the brush that was
tinkling as they pushed through it.

Sawbill Lake froze over last night. – Bill

11/19/99 – We had some much needed rain early this morning.
It came as freezing rain, so everything is covered with a quarter
inch of glazing.

11/18/99 – On Monday night Frank and Mary Alice returned from
Duluth at suppertime. As they were unloading their car in front
of their house, they were brought up short by a wolf pack which
began howling less than a quarter of a mile away. Tuesday morning
I saw wolf tracks on the road right in front of Frank and M.A.’s
house. It is always a treat to hear or see the wolves that live
all around us. In the 43 years that we have been here, we have
never had a wolf cause a lick of trouble (unlike the bears, martens,
and squirrels).

The small ponds have a half inch of clear ice on them. Sawbill
Lake has a bit of thin ice in the sheltered bays, but is otherwise
wide open.

11/13/99 – Several of the staff from Wilderness
are here for a brief recreational canoe trip. They
are enjoying the incredible weather.

Ruthie Hansen had her first public reading of the year as part
of her participation in the Literary Arts program at the Minnesota
Arts High School. It was held at the Mighty Fine Cafe in North
Minneapolis with about 130 people in attendance. Ruthie read with
a clear, strong voice two beautiful poems she had written. Clearly
the best of the evening, but I’m not biased or anything…

I had the fun of being a guest on the public television show
"Almanac" last night. It is a public affairs magazine
style show that is produced by KTVA – TV in St Paul. It is shown
widely in the midwest. The issue, of course, was fire risk in
the wilderness. I tried to emphasize that this forest has a fire
based ecology and we all need to learn to adapt ourselves to that
fact. And,we will be working with the Forest Service to provide
visitors with good information about what to do if they encounter
a wild fire.

This morning, Cindy Hansen’s mother, sister , niece and nephew
are here participating in a giant Christmas cookie bake off. The
house is redolent with the aroma of cookies and lefsa (a traditional
Scandinavian treat). Holiday music is playing and the sun has
pushed the thermometer over 60 degrees. – Bill

11/11/99 – The Forest Service released their study of increased
fire danger in the BWCA Wilderness due to the July 4th windstorm.
Using computer models designed to simulate fire behavior in areas
of logging slash (the closest they can come to simulating the
blow down), they are predicting a 90 – 95% possibility of large
fires for the upcoming season.

On the good news side, most of the Sawbill area was unaffected
by the worst of the blowdown. Fire danger in the standing forest
will only become a factor in extreme drought. The only area that
our customers commonly use that are included in the blowdown areas
is the Little Saganaga area. In the Brule area, large lakes and
two previous fires have provided us with enough fuel reduction
to decrease the likelihood of a large, fast moving fire.

The major change for most users will be some added education
about what to do if you encounter a large fire. The Forest Service
experts said that most lakes will provide adequate shelter from
even a large fire. Their only caveat was that during windy conditions,
heavy smoke could make it a "miserable" experience.

The Forest Service will be creating a web site to contain all
the data and models that they are using. We will pass along the
URL for that site as soon as it is available.

Our philosophy is that fire is, and always has been, a normal
and inevitable part of the forest ecology. As visitors, we need
to acknowledge the fact, and plan accordingly. Some simple steps
to protect ourselves and our possessions is the appropriate response.
Beyond that, we need to respect the powerful forces of nature,
and learn from them.

11/10/99 – Warm, golden sunshine has poured over the wilderness
these last two days. Sixty degree temperatures, light southerly
winds, and high humidity all contributed to the illusion that
it was July instead of the middle of November. We quickly capitalized
on the situation. After two days of chainsaw work on the ski trail,
OB went for a half day paddle with some friends while I went for
a run in shorts and a t-shirt. Several species of small flying
insects have been fooled into hatching. I spotted a Great Gray
Owl on the Sawbill Trail yesterday afternoon.

Speaking of animal sightings, we had our first Pine Marten
on the back deck Sunday afternoon. We were glad to see it, with
only a small pang of fear in the back of our minds. – Bill

11/7/99 – I just returned from a two day journey to the heart
of Iowa. Ruthie and I went to Grinnell College for a prospect’s
tour. As is often the case, almost everyone we met had either
been to Sawbill or knew somebody who has been here. The admission
office secretary said her husband and sons had gone out of Sawbill
for the last two years. Iowa is an interesting place (if you like
farms, which I do), but it is always good to return to the northland.
– Bill

11/3/99 – OB returns to Sawbill today after his big trip to
Ireland. We are looking forward to his stories and having his
cheery face back on the ranch. The slight covering of snow that
fell two nights ago is still with us. The ponds are frozen again
this morning, but it may be a little while until the lake freezes
for the season. – Bill

11/1/99 – Ellen Lock, former
Sawbill crew member, now works for Wilderness
, a non-profit group that provides wilderness opportunities
for disabled people. Ellen is the featured staff member on WI’s
website this month.

Posted on

October 1999

10/31/99 – Halloween will be beautiful at Sawbill this year.
Clear skies and light breezes this morning bode well for the warm
temperatures forecast for this afternoon. This is likely to be
our last little hint of late summer before freeze up.

I attended the annual meeting of Northeastern
Minnesotans For Wilderness
in Duluth yesterday. This is always
a fascinating event, with speakers that illuminate different facets
of the wilderness we all love.

This year, Lee Frelich, a researcher from the Department of
Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota, spoke about fire
ecology and large blowdown events. He said that fire history has
been accurately mapped within the wilderness back to the 1600’s.
Up to 100 years ago, each part of the wilderness would burn every
50 to 70 years. Most of these fires were low intensity ground
fires that burned out the understory, but left the fire resistant
pines unharmed. However, every 90 to 100 years, large canopy fires
would break out and burn huge areas of what is now the BWCA Wilderness
and the Superior National Forest. These more intense fires would
burn all the trees except for those along shorelines and exposed,
rocky outcrop areas. This explains why canoeists see so many large
white and red pines along the shorelines and ridgelines. The interior
areas were dominated by jackpine, unless two large fires passed
in less than a decade, in which case aspen and birch would thrive.

According to the Forest Service, under current conditions,
each part of the forest will burn every 2,000 years. This is due
to vigorous fire protection and climate change. The average temperature
in the BWCAW has risen 4 degrees in the last 100 years. Paradoxically,
this makes for a wetter climate, as it tends to draw Gulf of Mexico
moisture farther north, making thunderstorms more likely to carry
heavy rain when lightning is present. The warmer temperatures
also create more intense thunderstorms, resulting in a series
of large blow down events over the last few decades. Frelich said
the BWCAW blow down event of 1999 was not unique – it just garnered
more news coverage. He said that it is nearly inevitable that
the blown down area will burn in the next few years – probably
in a series a fairly large fires. If conditions are very dry when
the fires come, the forest will regenerate in a white cedar, birch,
aspen mix. If conditions are moderately dry, it will return to
the more typical jackpine type.

Chel Anderson, a former BWCA wilderness ranger and now a rare
plant ecologist with the Minnesota DNR, gave a slide show presentation
of the floral ecology of the BWCAW. She structured her talk by
habitat types, starting underwater and progressing through the
various habitats to the high, rocky hilltops. She introduced the
group to hundreds of plants, from common to rare, that are indigenous
to this region. She stressed that every species is intertwined
with, and dependent upon, many other species. In her calm and
thorough way, she brought home the wisdom of preserving large
landscapes for the overall health of all species – including the
human. I only wish I could remember even a quarter of the plants
she showed us. – Bill

10/29/99 – Some of you will recall the loon that became tangled
in fishing line on Alton Lake earlier this summer. David Chasson
brought the poor thing to us and we arranged transportation to
the wildlife vet clinic at the U of Minnesota in St Paul. The
loon had a badly broken beak. The lower beak was dangling straight

We received this email from the vet clinic today:

Dear Bill,

So sorry it has taken so long to get back to you!! The loon that

in from you (and David Chasson I believe) had been tangled in

line according to our records. Our vet made the decision to euthanize

the bird-sorry. We sure wish it had been a better outcome. We

had two loons in this year and neither of them made it. Thanks

helping out, though.

Connie Hart

Wildlife Coordinator

10/28/99 – Just like the red squirrels, we are scurrying to
put our lives in order for the coming winter. Our list seems to
grow even as we check off the top items. Drain water, pump septic
tanks, box up store stock, turn off the coolers and freezers,
stow the camping equipment, make lists of repairs needed in the
spring, order canoes, put Kevlar canoes inside, cover the firewood,
the list goes on and on. Soon it will include plowing snow, grooming
the ski trail and stoking the wood stove.

Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, writes:

Good News!!! I just got word that I won 2nd place in The Fall
contest of

The League of Minnesota Poets for fixed form. It was a haiku:

wintry autumn mist

the chatter of a red squirrel

and smell of woodsmoke

10/23/99 – We’ve had a few emails asking for updates of family
and crew activities.

Last night Karl Hansen and Lee Stewart announced their intention
to be married this New Year’s Eve. The ceremony will be in the
Sawbill Campground on the exact spot where they first met in 1957.

Ruthie Hansen is home for the weekend from the Minnesota High
School for the Arts. She is enjoying her second, and final, year
there. She is in the Literary Arts program and is immersed in
researching college options.

Adam Hansen is a freshman at the U of Wisconsin, Madison. He
is training with the cross country ski club and reporting for
the Badger Herald. The Sawbill Frisbee Golf Association is inactive
for the time being.

John (OB) Oberholtzer is currently touring in Ireland with
his friend Kathleen Heikes. Kathleen’s mother won the all expenses
paid trip for two and gave it to OB and Kathleen. We got email
from them yesterday and it sounds like they are having a wonderful

Here is a run down of the crew and where they are right now:
Josh Bacskai is studying at U of Wisc., Milwaukee; Anna Constance
is a sophomore at Macalester College in St Paul; Dave Freeman is
still here, but will be moving to Ely to lead winter camping trips
by dog sled for Wintergreen Lodge this winter; Eric Frost is in
his senior year at the U of Ohio in Athens; Erik Hoekstra is in
his senior year at U of Wisc, Madison. He is the publisher of
the Badger Herald this year; Crescent Lake campground hosts Jo
and Bill Koski are nearby at their home in Two Harbors; Sawbill
Lake campground hosts Jim and Fran Sampson are back at their winter
home in Florida; Laura Smith is in her sophomore year at Macalester
College in St Paul; Laura and Nathan TerBeest are both at Northwestern
College in Iowa. Laura is a junior and Nathan a freshman. Nathan
is on the football team which is ranked 13th nationally; Sawbill
Lake campground hosts Jim and Rachel TerBeest are both back at
their jobs with the Omaha public schools; Natasha Warner is helping
her parents winterize their house in Macgregor, MN. She plans
to move back to Grand Marais in January.

Heavy winds over the last day and a half have brought down
some of the trees weakened by the July 4th mega-storm. More than
40 trees were down on the back road to Grand Marais yesterday.
A large red pine blocked the campground road near campsite #18
this morning. The RVing club from International Falls, MN is camped
in the Sawbill Campground this weekend.

Jim Romito sent along the following haiku:

autumn snowflakes fall

in the wilderness that we

will drink next summer

– Bill

10/22/99 – It snowed this morning. I stood in front of the
big picture window in the living room in my pajamas and watched
the big heavy flakes fall diagonally down. Clare shuffled into
the room in her slippers. "It’s snowing!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, it’s been snowing all week." she responded. "Oh."
I shrugged, content to watch what was my very own first snow-fall
of the year.

The Hansen family selected Halloween pumpkins in Duluth yesterday.
We’re keeping them inside for now so they don’t freeze before
we carve them.

There are no cars in the parking lot, but Minnesota schools’
MEA vacation has prompted a few courageous families to drive up
for one last canoe trip before the ice sets in. -Ruthie 🙂

10/18/99 – For the second time this year, we woke up to a snow
covered forest. This time of year, the snow creates strong contrast
against the dark, shining woods. It is a black and white snap
shot. Only two cars in the parking lot. – Bill

10/16/99 – This October Saturday has produced a heavy rush
of customers. At one point we actually had two groups in the store
at the same time 😉

The leaves are all down now, which opens the view into the
woods dramatically. A hidden landscape emerges allowing you to
see the shapes and contours of the earth. The bare, glistening
tree trunks provide a vertical counterpoint to the undulating
earth forms. Large boulders, whimsically named "erratics,"
emerge from their leafy camouflage to punctuate the sylvan sentences.
I always watch them carefully in case they decide to do something

Jim Cordes is writing a book on the July 4th Storm that hit
the Boundary Waters with such impact. He is looking for personal
stories from the people who experienced the storm first hand.
Jim’s not on-line, so contact him at:

Jim Cordes

Box 135

Lutsen, MN 55612

10/14/99 – In classic October fashion, the weather progressed
from beautiful, sunny and mild – to gray, windy and sleeting in
about 12 hours. There is only one car on the parking lot now.
Some brave souls now have the wilderness essentially to themselves.
I have a fantasy about canoeing out some year, getting frozen
in, stashing the canoe and snowshoeing out. In the spring, I would
repeat the process, hiking out on the late spring ice and waiting
for the lakes to thaw. It is a lovely, mysterious time of year
and completely wild.

Yesterday, twenty three students from Kelly High School in
silver Bay came up for a three hour canoe trip. Silver Bay is
about thirty miles toward Duluth from Tofte. North Shore visitors
will remember it by the huge iron ore processing plant located
there. The students were on a monthly field trip that takes them
out of the school for various practical learning experiences in
the community. Predictably, most of the kids had never been to
the BWCA Wilderness or in a canoe. Their teacher told me that
we had "created some converts." – Bill

10/9/99 – While running yesterday, I saw a common but rarely
encountered animal. A beautiful Blue Spotted Salamander was making
its way across the Sawbill Trail. A herpetologist once told me
that salamanders are extremely common on the Superior National
Forest. He said that they represent the largest mass of vertebrate
life in the forest. In other words, there are more total pounds
of salamanders than there are of moose, bear of even mice. The
salamanders live in the litter on the forest floor and are almost
never seen on the surface, except when they migrate in the spring.
What the little fellow I saw was up to, I have no idea. I did
gently pick him up and transport him to the far side of the road,
to reduce his chance of becoming a grease spot.

10/6/99 – Yikes, the BWCA Wilderness has been named by National
Geographic Traveler magazine as one of the "50
greatest places of a lifetime,
destinations they believe no
curious traveler should miss."

Given the status of this magazine, this is pleasing and somewhat
frightening at the same time. Luckily, it came at the right time
of year, so we won’t be overwhelmed with a sudden wave of new

Ed Dallas, the Poet Laureate of Sawbill, has been on a roll

in the tree branches

replacing each falling leaf

a view of the lake

10/4/99 – We received the following email from Steve and Cynthia
Crooks who ended their canoe trip yesterday morning:

Thanks very much for thawing out the pipes this morning – it
was so good

to have that post-trip shower! My wife commented that this was

first time she had taken a shower in a bathroom where she could
see her

breath. Quite refreshing.

We woke up Saturday morning to snow blowing at a 45-60 degree
angle over

Flame lake, had our tea and oatmeal and broke camp. On Burnt Lake

were tempted by the blue sky and calm water to make the portage
to Kelly

for a little exploring, but my wife’s knee was sore from a slip
at the

portage. We opted for Smoke Lake, where we were met with ice particles

in the eyes. Part way across the Lake we could look left and see

sky, look right and see an ice storm! Our campsite on Smoke was
a good

stop – during the night we were out gazing at the stars – too
cold to

lie back for long, though. The knee was definitely stiffer in

morning so we were glad to be closer to "home." Thanks
again for the


Steve & Cynthia Crooks

Sawbill’s Poet Laureate, Ed Dallas, sent this along:

tracing the canoe route

on the map my finger stops –

again the wolves howl

10/1/99 – There are many trucks at Sawbill today. This huge
chipper truck has been working along the Sawbill Trail clearing
trees that fell into the right of way during the July 4th storm.
It can grind up a full sized tree in under ten seconds.

Bill and Doug Alexander arrived in style for their canoe trip
today. Doug is and over the road trucker. Bill flew from his home
in North Carolina to Minneapolis where Doug met him in his Peterbilt.
It is certainly the highest powered camper we’ve ever had at Sawbill.

Here is a haiku from Ed Dallas, the Poet Laureate of Sawbill.

at bog’s edge maples

flame red out in the brown grass

tamarack still green

Posted on

September 1999

9/30/99 – We had a visit from Bev Hagar (nee Wine) the other
day. She thinks that Wine Lake may be named after her. In 1945,
her boyfriend took a Sawbill canoe trip and visited a beautiful
unnamed lake. When he returned, he told Bev that the beautiful
lake reminded him of her, so he named it after her. She had forgotten
this until she saw her old boyfriend again at their 50th high
school reunion. Her father had died in a swimming accident in
1945 and this tragedy drove many other memories out of her mind.
Her son and a friend decided to take Bev to Wine Lake for her
70th birthday present. She did say that her ex-boy friend was
an eagle scout, so "he may have named the lake after me,
or it may have already been named Wine Lake and he just took advantage
of that fact." We have a map from 1928 and Wine Lake was
not named then. Ms. (Wine) Hagar did transfer a bottle of good
wine into a Nalgene bottle to toast her 70th birthday on Wine

Matt Caron, who completed an ambitious solo trip last week
sent this gorgeous photo he took just after dawn on September

John Abbott sent along this picture of his son Dave. He says
they took to calling him "Trooper Dave" and you can
clearly see why.

9/29/99 – I spent a pleasant morning fishing with Duluth News
Tribune outdoor writer Sam Cook. Sam and I enjoy fishing together
because we are both content to enjoy a beautiful day and not worry
too much about catching fish. That was indeed the case yesterday.
It was a glorious, warm, windless day. The colors were brilliant
gold against a flawless blue sky. We did each catch a small perch,
but not the chunky Rainbow Trout we were hoping for.

David Armstrong sent along these pictures of his daughter,
Danielle, admiring ancient rock paintings and displaying a trophy
fish. The Armstrongs, who live in Silver Springs, Maryland, enjoyed
a two week BWCA Wilderness trip at the end of August.

9/25/99 – As the days shorten and the cross country ski season
draws nearer I frequently run long distance after dark. This week
I have been enjoying clear skies, brisk temperatures and a waxing
moon. One night, I surprised a moose (or vise versa) who was standing
about twenty feet off the road. She gave a startled snort and
then started running through the woods parallel to my course.
In the dark, she was crashing through the underbrush at an alarming
rate. It’s amazing what a large dose of adrenaline can do for
your running speed.

Last night, I was about four miles down the road, when a sound
stopped me in my tracks. A pack of wolves was howling under the
huge pie plate of a moon. They seemed to be located roughly a
half mile ahead of me and slightly to the east. In spite of my
rational mind thinking how beautiful and sublime the moment was,
my brain stem was sending a tingle of fear into my stomach. I
was planning to run another mile, which would take me on almost
a direct course toward the pack. I briefly considered turning
back, but decided it would be much more exciting to continue with
the chance that I might actually see the pack under the moonlight.
I thought of Sig Olson’s famous essay about being surrounded by
a wolf pack while hiking alone, at night, on the Kawishiwi River.
I also thought about the ability of a wolf to break a moose femur
in it jaws. That inevitably led to thoughts of the occasional
mountain lions that are spotted near here.

Ultimately, the remainder of the run was uneventful, although
a few well placed shadows raised my heart rate from time to time.
Today, in the daylight, I’m grateful for the presence of these
awesome predators in our shared ecosystem. It reminds me that
human beings do not have exclusive dominion of the night woods.
There are beings out there that are smarter, faster, and far more
at home than I.

Yesterday morning, Minnesota Public Radio’s "The Morning
Show" with hosts Dale Conelly and Jim Ed Poole, broadcast
live from the North House Folk School on the harbor front in Grand
Marais. Observant listeners (The morning show is heard over 29
stations in 7 states and on the web a may have recognized
yours truly as one of the judges of the stone skipping contest.
The judges used the aliases of Larry, Curly and Moe to protect
their anonymity. The Morning Show visit was a kick off to a capital
campaign that will bring two new MPR stations to Grand Marais.
Visitors to the area will be able to listen to this fine radio
service at 88.7 and 89.7 FM beginning in November of 2000. – Bill

9/22/99 – The Forest Service has announced an increase in the
BWCA Wilderness permit reservation fee for next season. The $9
fee that goes to the private contractor running the reservation
system will rise to $12 next year. The $10/person user fee which
is used by the Forest Service to fund their work within the wilderness
will remain the same. In another change, the user fee will not
be collected in full, as it is now, when the reservation is made.
Instead, a standard deposit of $20 will be taken when the reservation
is made and the balance will be due (or refunded for solo trips)
when the permit is picked up. In other words, every reservation
will require a $32 payment next year ($12 reservation fee + $20
deposit on the user fee).

The private reservation service, ReserveAmerica, provided very
poor service this year. Many mistakes were made, their website
is slow and confusing, and phone calls often involved 20 minute
holds accompanied by some of the worst canned music imaginable.
The Forest Service assures me that the problems will be addressed
during the off season and next year will be better.

9/21/99 – We had our first snow flurries yesterday. It froze
hard last night with a low of 27 F. The fall colors will reach
their peak sometime this week, probably during the full moon this

9/20/99 – Scraped ice off the windshield for the first time
this morning.

9/18/99 – Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, sent this haiku:

with each paddle stroke

a whirlpool spins and fades

behind my canoe

Long time wilderness campers, Carol Loch, Mary Bart, and Barb
Hultman sent this picture of themselves in front of the Sawbill
store. This year, hampered by various injuries, they limited their
stay to the Sawbill campground. Next year they vow to return to
the wilderness.

Ted Heinonen, artist, musician, and all around good guy, sent
this still commemorating the ’99 Fish ‘n’ Pick gathering in the
Sawbill campground.

9/14/99 – We are growing gills in anticipation of a permanent
underwater life here at Sawbill. It has rained 12 out of the last
14 days. In spite of the unrelenting gray weather, most returning
canoeists are still professing to having a good time. They are
saying things like, "We had a wonderful time – it could have
rained a little less, but…" Fishing has been generally
quite good and the forecast is positive for tomorrow. The Fall
colors have just begun to show themselves in the last day or two.
We are still a week or better away from the peak. – Bill

9/8/99 – Last month we had a report from Phil Coates about
a renegade squirrel in the Sawbill campground that stole the peanut
butter knife from Phil’s table. Another member of the group, Joe
Johnston, got this picture of the pirate in the act.

9/7/99 – Another Labor Day weekend has come and gone with no
shortage of activity and excitement here at Sawbill.

Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota sent us a fair chunk
of their freshman class for a four day canoe trip. This is a tradition
with Carleton and Sawbill going back some fifteen years. As always,
they are well organized, have high wilderness ethics and are generally
pleasant to deal with.

Another Sawbill Labor Day tradition is a group of fine Minnesota
musicians who camp together in the the Sawbill Campground. They
call it the "Fish’n’Pick" and that is just what they
do. Fishing occupies their days and jamming ’til the wee hours
consumes their nights. Over the years we have made a campfire
available in our canoe yard so they can play and sing without
disturbing the campground. The music has evolved over the years
from straight ahead Bluegrass to acoustic original music. Some
of the state’s most talented instrumentalists and song writers
participate. Great fun for us.

Lloyd Gilbertson, dog musher and former neighbor, sent an email
today wondering if any Sawbill newsletter readers would be interested
in hiring on with him for the winter as a dog handler. If you
like dogs, like to work hard, and have the freedom, it would be
an intriguing adventure. I can attest to Lloyd’s fairness and
good nature. He now lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His email
address is:

As an aside, Lloyd invited me to go on his Y2K9 New Year’s
Eve sled dog trip 🙂 I will definitely do so if possible.

On the down side of the weekend, a few cars were broken into
on the Sawbill parking lot. This has not happened for many years.
Sawbill always seems like a magic place where crime doesn’t happen,
but I guess it really can happen anywhere. The Cook County Sheriff
responded quickly and arrested a young man who was staying on
the campground and driving a stolen car. They found the valuables
that were missing from the cars and will quickly get them reunited
with their owners. We are blessed with excellent and professional
law enforcement here in Cook County.

9/3/99 – We received the following email from Jim Mason of
Mason City, Iowa:

Hi there,

I’ve just returned from another wonderful BWCA experience that
began and

ended at the Sawbill Outfitters. I just wanted to drop you a line
of thanks

and share an experience I had that might be appropriate for the

I’ve always enjoyed interacting with birds. On our first day
in, I decided

to go for a swim across Alton. When I got to the other shore,
I noticed

three loons had taken a keen interest in me. Apparently they had
not seen

anyone swimming in their water before and were investigating.
They made

their noisy inquiries and I did my best to return them in their

Somehow, the cold water made it easier for me to duplicate their
calls. They

kept getting closer and closer trying to figure out what I was.
All they

could see was my head, which is about the same size as they are.
Then, a

bald eagle joined into the chorus. The eagle was perched on top
of a large

pine near the waters edge just behind me and was chittering away
along with

us. The eagle, the loons and a loony human were carrying on a

It was a remarkable experience, one I’ll take with me to my grave.
This went

on for what seemed like quite a while. The loons got within about

yards of me. I could see their eyes and one seemed to have a reddish

about his head. I started to get a little nervous about the eagle.
Did he

think I might be food? I realized that if he decided to try to
come down and

grab me, I may have already received my advance notice. So, I
hauled myself

out on the rocks so they could all see I was just a human. That
ended the

interactions but I got to leave with one of my favorite wildlife


My partners dubbed the place where this all happened, the protruding

rocks just west and south of the Sawbill/Alton portage, Loony
Yanni Point

in commemoration of the event.

My thanks to Anna and John for getting us off to a good start.

Jim Mason.

Sawbill Outfitters is a proud member of Northeastern
Minnesotans For Wilderness
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.

Posted on

August 1999

8/31/99 – Much is being written in the regional newspapers
about the increased risk of wildfire in the BWCA Wilderness in
the wake of the July 4th windstorm. Our view is that the windstorm
and the fires that will follow are natural events in the wilderness
forest ecosystem. Although human nature makes it tempting to view
these events as "disasters," they are in fact a healthy
events within the forest’s time frame.

In 1995, a huge blow down event occurred in the Adirondack Park
in New York. We found a very interesting article studying the
blowdown event in the Adirondacks which has many similarities to
the situation in the Superior National Forest.

The article is available on the web on the Conservation
Ecology online magazine.

8/27/99 – What a commotion the spiders made last night! They
decorated the woods with ornamental webs on every tree and strung
streamers across the road. Their fine threads glistened in the
moonlight like bubbles in champagne. Everyone came to witness
the spectacle, and they were treated to fine sights: spiders covering
great distances between trees by "ballooning" on long
strands, and rodeo like contests of insect bundling. In a great
display of generosity, miles of web were strewn out,wrapping the
woods in a thick tangle. In the early morning light, evidence
of the celebration hung damp with dew or drifted in the wind,
living lines dancing hypnotic, graceful curves. A diehard moose,
wearing a sodden trench coat of webs, marched about pestering
the others to wake and continue the festivities. Two ravens, who
had held a mutual but distant affection, found courage in the
evening’s passion. They glided under the sun, draping themselves
in the finest webs which whipped and snapped behind them to the
rolls and tumbles of their aerial flirtations. Flicker was crazed
wearing a curly wig of web. He had lost all sense of gratitude
and began rooting around eating his hosts! A playful dragonfly
jumped from reed to reed, enjoying the whip at the reed top when
the spiders’ taught threads snapped under his weight. As the day
progressed, wind and sun broke down the threads, pieces littering
the forest like confetti after a parade. Tiny worms that live
in mushrooms collect it as ticking material. The spiders sleep
all day in the center of their webs, some waking later confused
to find themselves riding on a pine marten tail or bear snout
that crashed through their tree archways. In the late August evening
sun, the spiders reconvene under mushroom domed conference centers.
Lounging on long velvety strands of spaghum moss, in a haze of
spore, they plan the night’s activity – a hum of clicking legs.
Each night, until the frost, they will tie the woods in a different
shape, a different theme, celebrating the aspects of a good summer.

8/25/99 – Mike Coomes and Kathleen Lock sent along this photo
of their daughter Caitlan from their recent canoe trip.

8/24/99 – The evening sun lay in the tree tops and a loon flew
over calling. In the cool shade of Sawbill’s western shore, we
fished for walleyes. Before I heard the loon, I saw it – a speck
drawing a line toward our canoe, enlarging like a raindrop falling
cheekward. The call, impossibly loud from such a distant object,
cracked through the silence announcing, Loon! We paused, enrapt,
our troll drifting back, lines crossing. Closer and closer, the
loon’s neck undulating to the beat of wings. Just at the tree
tops, a warm glow lit the creamy white belly yellow, taking the
chill from the dark cool waters. I hoped the loon would call again.
I ached for that call, as if my brain, so accustomed to audio
communication, needed further confirmation of this other sentient.
A call could suggest I existed to her and, just maybe, she sensed
my well intentioned curiosity and happiness to see her. There
is a desire to connect, to become enmeshed in the workings and
lives of the pulsing surrounding ecosystem. When I chat with a
moose on the road and its big head tilts, or whistle at a curious
fox that stops and looks me in the eye, I feel accepted, like
an insider. The wilderness is foreign terrain, and just as we
seek acceptance in a smile or warm gesture in a another culture,
we seek in wildlife sightings understanding and a sense of belonging.
In the silence, approaching wing beats tapped lightly like a conductors
baton. We were scarcely breathing when a burst of yellow notes
washed down on our heads, a loon cadenza. It was so like a salutation
I grinned and waved, murmuring hello in happy surprise. OB

8/21/99 – Effective immediately, the Forest Service is allowing
open fires in the BWCA Wilderness between the hours of 6 PM and
midnight. As always, fires must be contained in the fire grates
provided at the campsites and drowned thoroughly before they are
left unattended.

Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, sent this poem this morning:


Once you’ve paddled and portaged

a canoe north, out of the Sawbill,

camped where fleeting glimpse

of wolf dominates campfire conversation

late into star drenched night,

interrupted only by haunting

wail of distant loon,

you’ll be surprised how often

this "wilderness yardstick" measures your life,

finding you to far

south of the Sawbill.

8/19/99 – We received two interesting emails from Sawbill campers.

John Mills wrote:

Just wanted to report a wolf pack sighting. My canoeing
partner and I were

camped on North Temperance, on the island site at the north end.

Saturday evening we heard, we heard wolves yelping in the not
too distance,

and were quite astonished to hear them, as it was my first such
encounter in

21 trips up north.

The next morning (Sunday), we headed south toward Brule
at around 7:45 am.

Just as we cleared the southern portion of the island, Mike spotted
a wolf

pack (4 wolves, two browns/whites and two grays) circling a cow
and calf off

the little island to the south. I had just got a glimpse of them,

they split for the mainland, presumable due to being startled
by us. I

have never encountered wolves before Sunday, and thought you might

interested in the event.

I couldn’t get the wolves in a pic, as they were too far
away by the time I

got my camera out, but did catch the cow and calf.

Phil Coates wrote:

Subject: Warning about campsite #21

While camping in this site last week (during the storm)
a red squirrel

licked some peanut butter off of one our of camp knives. Liking
it, he

picked the knife up and carried it up the white pine tree.

Be warned that there is a Red Squirrel with an attitude
hiding out on

campsite #21. He is armed and believed to be dangerous. Be careful



8/18/99 – Another chapter from the July 4th storm has closed.

For several days last week, we were mystified by a Royalex
canoe abandoned on the Alton to Sawbill portage. The canoe was
grotesquely indented at the stern and was equipped with fishing
gear. I received a call the other day from Dave Nelson, and he
was asking if the Forest Service could drop his canoe at our place
for him to pick up. An odd request, and then the light bulb lit.
Dave proceeded to tell me a very amazing story.

The afternoon of the storm, Dave and his girlfriend were on
a day trip from their camp on Alton. They were seeking big pike
on Sunhigh Lake when darkness descended at mid-day. They leaned
the canoe against a big pine and crawled under it to wait out
the storm. Then, Dave says, "all the trees starting coming
down." They were trapped below the canoe when a pine fell
across the canoe mid-beam. Dave painfully extracted himself and
then carefully assisted his girlfriend whose head was pinned below
the bow seat. Sans saw, Dave began to dig out the canoe but quickly
ran out of soil. To extract the canoe, he pounded it out, bashing
the stern with a rock. The canoe popped back into shape (amazing
Royalex), and the couple headed toward Wonder Lake. About one
hundred feet into the Wonder to Alton portage, elevated ten feet
off the portage, in a tangle of wind blown trees stretching in
all directions, Dave determined portaging was infeasible. The
canoe was abandoned, and they negotiated a 200 rod maze of pine,
birch and aspen. Exhausted, they rested while staring at the mile
and a half of shore and woods between them and their campsite.
After wading, swimming, and bushwhacking, a tree hammered tent
greeted them. They extracted the tent and slept uneasily on bruises
and concerns of being in the BWCA without a canoe – up the river
without a paddle.

Their luck continued in the morning when not a canoeist was
in sight. Dave improvised a raft from his Thermarest and huffed
and puffed to the Alton to Sawbill portage. In disbelief, he saw
not a soul, and splashed in to continue his arduous trek to the
landing. Finally, a camper in the bay, spotted him pushing a Thermarest
through the water, and loaned Dave a canoe. Dave immediately returned
to his girlfriend and they headed home.

A few weeks later, the sawyer crew that cleared the Alton to
Wonder portage retrieved the canoe and, mysteriously, left it
as a conversation topic on the Sawbill side of the Alton portage.
Finally, the canoe was towed to the Forest Service guard station.
There’s not a fish in it, but that is one hell of a fish story!
– OB

8/15/99 – There is a fire ban in effect for most of the BWCA
Wilderness for the rest of the season. Due to the large amount
of blow down associated with the July 4th storm, fire danger will
be very high throughout the fall, no matter what the weather does.
The leaves and needles on the fallen trees have dried to the point
where they are very volatile. Only the area west of a line from
Kawishiwi Lake to Malberg Lake is exempt from the fire ban.

8/14/99 – I opened this newsletter today and was shocked to
see how long it has been since we made an entry. My apologies
to the regular readers. The whole Sawbill crew gets a little frazzled
this time of year.

Clare Hansen, age 11, and I were able to sneak away for a four
day father/daughter canoe trip this week. We entered at Kawishiwi
Lake and visited the pictographs on Fishdance Lake, before camping
on Alice Lake. We traveled up through Thomas and Fraser Lakes,
got temporarily lost on Roe Lake, and came back to Kawishiwi through
Boulder, Adams, and Malberg Lakes.

On the 238 rod portage between Cacabic and Thomas Lakes, there
is an infamous swamp section about 200 feet long. Sometime in
the past, the Forest Service built a corduroy walkway across the
slough. Over the years, the walkway has sunk about a foot below
the surface of the muddy water. If you stay right in the middle
of the trail as you cross the marsh, you will be fine. If, however,
you stray from the center, you will sink to your waist or higher
in the foul smelling mud (known to veteran canoeists as "loon
shit"). Clare had a brush with fate when she stepped just
off the beginning of the boardwalk and got her foot thoroughly
stuck. Fortunately, she was able to patiently extract her foot
without losing her boot.

Some other canoeists on the portage were not so lucky. A girl
about Clare’s age did have her shoe sucked off just moments after
we extracted Clare. We saw the same group after lunch on Fraser
and asked them if they had found the shoe. They said they had,
after an hour and a half of feeling around in the grime. They
also found two other shoes! It makes you wonder what else might
be in there. Perhaps a boy scout or two?

Our trip concluded on Thursday with a long day of travel in
the pouring rain. We stayed dry in our Helly Hansen rain suits
though, and kept our spirits up by making up silly songs. Clare
turned to me as we approached the last lake and announced that
she was not going to paddle because she didn’t want the trip to
end. I asked her if she would really prefer setting up a drenched
tent and eating dinner under the tarp to a hot meal and a warm
bed at home. Without hesitating, she said yes. I love that girl.
– Bill

8/4/99 – Ed Dallas, Poet Laureate of Sawbill, comments on his
recent canoe trip out of Sawbill:

I am still thinking about the canoe trip and the fun we
all had. Everyone liked the snowshoe rabbit that came into camp
every night on North Temperance and was like a pet dog. Then there
was the two dragonflies at the island camp on Burnt that flew
in and cleaned up the gnats. That was something to watch.

Now I don’t know what it is about that first portage from
the Sawbill to Smoke but every time we hit that portage there
are people there that have lost something. Last year it was car
keys this year it was a life jacket! Plus after I had told the
guy he should be standing on the wood walkway, he went through
the bog up to his chest!!! He didn’t have to be worried about
get dirty for the rest of the day.

But the best thing on the whole trip, in my book, was the
campsite on North Temperance. Our tent faced west and on the first
night laying in bed looking at the sunset was out of this world!!
Here was this near perfect reflection of three clouds, a pinkish
rose color, framed by the tent door and just as the color was
starting to fade a loon landed on the lake right in the middle
of the cloud reflections. It was so beautiful. Both nights the
loons called like crazy on the lake. – Ed

8/2/99 – Last night was the annual Dome Dance at Sawbill. It
is a chance for our excellent and hard working crew to blow off
some steam and have fun. Line, square and circle dances were called
by Terrence Smith, caller extrodinaire from Duluth, and father
of crew member Laura Smith. Fiddling was provided by Laura, Mark
Boggie from Two Harbors, and Tom Van Cleve from Grand Marais.
Besides the Sawbill crew, the dancers included some Sawbill campers,
wilderness rangers, and some folks from Grand Marais and Tofte.
The highlight of the evening was the world debut of the Sawbill
Band. It is made up of crew members playing instruments that they
have never played before. What they lacked in technical skill,
they made up for with enthusiasm.

The 1999 Sawbill crew is among the best we’ve ever had. Hard
working, cheerful, committed to wilderness – truly a pleasure
to be associated with. – Bill

8/1/99 – We had two great groups of high school kids here this
morning. The Zackley Youth Group from the 1st Congregational Church
of LaGrange, Illinois, and the youth from the Flossmoor Community
Church of Flossmoor, Illinois, are both long time customers, friends
of Sawbill, and the BWCA Wilderness. It is a joy for us to deal
with such lovely, intelligent, and alert youth. Both churches
run excellent programs for their young people and we are proud
to play a small part. – Bill