Posted on

October 2000

Sawbill Outfitters Store, 8:30 a. m., Saturday, October

10/31/00 – As of midnight last night, the summer-long fire
restrictions in the BWCA Wilderness have been lifted. Of course,
there is literally nobody in the wilderness right now, so it
really doesn’t matter. Our last canoeists came in yesterday.
We’ve had a few calls about early November, but I suppose it
depends on the weather. The snow buntings have arrived from the
arctic in the last few days and the snow is never far behind
them. – Bill

10/28/00 – Got a bit of snow last night – just enough to cover
the trees and ground.

We received this message from Ed Dallas, the Poet Laureate of

Tell Carl that I know how he feels with the owl flying over
him. Some years ago I was running the dogs over in the Aitkin bog
country and it was just after sun down when it is just about
ready to go dark when the dogs all look back at me and many of
them bent down as they ran, I, quickly, turned around to see this
huge Great Grey talons out flying for my head!! (I’m sure he/she
was after my beaver hat). It does make the heart pound faster!!
Have a good one.


ps………… Carl, watch your hat now!

10/25/00 – Carl Hansen, age 10, had a couple of notable
experiences last night. After school, he was doing something
outside, between the store and the Sawbill Trail. A pickup truck
pulled to a stop on the Sawbill Trail, less than 100 feet away.
The driver, who was screened by trees and brush, jumped out and
fired a shotgun blast at a grouse directly in Carl’s direction.
Cindy, Carl’s mom, heard the shot and ran out to confront the
reckless hunter. It is illegal in Minnesota to fire a gun that
close to a house, campsite or road. Cindy not only chewed out the
thoughtless hunter, but turned in his license plate number to the
game warden. An hour later, Carl was walking alone to dinner when
he heard a faint whooshing sound over his head. He looked up in
time to see a great grey owl gliding just a few feet above his
head. With a five foot wing span, the great grey is an impressive
sight at close range. Two hours later, Carl reported that his
"knees have just now stopped feeling like rubber."

10/23/00 – Another string of gorgeous weather favored the
small crowd of canoeists that visited over the long weekend. The
third weekend in October is when the teacher’s union holds its
conference in Minnesota, giving school children Thursday and
Friday off. We had a nice visit from former crew members Mick
Mickelson and Carol Winter. They had never met each other, even
though they both worked here during the 70’s.

10/5/00 – Snow! Yes that’s right campers, it’s snowing in the
northland. The temperature today barely made it over 40 degrees
and unfortunately with the snow came dreary skies. Of course it’s
not quite cold enough for any accumulation on the ground, but
that might not be too far off. The current forecast is calling
for temperatures in the 20’s over the next few nights and snow
is predicted to continue for the next few days as well. We’ve
been blessed for quite a number of days with clear blue skies
which the crew has had the opportunity to take advantage of. Several
of us have been ru
nning down the quiet Sawbill trail lately enjoying
the wonderful fall colors and smells. Yesterday I had the opportunity
to take a bike down the Pancore Lake road (about 10 miles or so
from us down the Sawbill Trail) to none other than Pancore Lake.
The largely unused designated trout lake is quite a sight this
time of year. Another road on my journey took me to a spot where
I stopped to watch a local resident work on his beautiful new
home. To end the day perfectly I hiked to Britton Peak, just a
few miles up the Sawbill Trail from Tofte. The vista from Britton
is not to be missed , if you’ve not seen it before stop and take
the 1/3 mile hike the next time you’re in the area. The 180 degree
view of Lake Superior along with the wonderful sight of the changing
foliage was absolutely breathtaking. Well, time to go check on
Bill’s progress draining the water from the shower house……..Wait
a minute, I just looked out the window, the snow is sticking and
piling up quickly! More snow tales to come. -Hoeky

First snow on the puppy.

Posted on

September 2000

9/30/00 – Ed Dallas, the Poet Laureate of Sawbill, writes:


At this time of year,

those who paddle

out from the Sawbill

find each night’s campfire

a bit warmer,

sleeping bag zipped

all the way up,

stronger morning coffee

and portage trail mud

mimics potter’s clay.

Oh, some will enjoy crispness

of blue sky dotted

with winter-chased geese

and yellow aspen-leaf rain

while others

(garageless city dwellers)

see only hardships

brought on by dreaded


and City Officials eager


9/29/00 – We had a visit on Wednesday from Wilson and Jane
Arbogast. In 1934, Wilson and Jane, along with their father George,
stepmother Jean, and two other brothers, built Sawbill Lodge on
the south end of Sawbill Lake. Theirs is an amazing depression
era story. They built a beautiful log lodge and twelve cabins
from trees cut right on Sawbill Lake. It was a true northwoods
pioneer effort under very difficult conditions. Wilson had many
pictures from those times and I was impressed with how happy everyone
looked. It was a hard life, but a great life. Sawbill Lodge went
out of business in 1980. The Arbogast kids left the lodge to join
the military during WWII. Their father and Jean divorced and Jean
ran the lodge until she sold it in 1960. Jean started us in business
in 1957 when she spun off the outfitting business to my parents,
Frank and Mary Alice Hansen. – Bill

9/28/00 – Annie Pearson (nee’ Stritmatter), former Sawbill
crew member, now lives in Nicaragua. She sent up this picture
of a 47′ aluminum boat that her husband, Marcos, made. It is the
second of three that he is making for an organization called Alistar.
It will be used on Rio Coco for hauling freight and people to
remote towns. Annie asks if we would like a few for BWCA Wilderness
use. They only weigh two tons.

Pictured below are Brad (Gus) Gustason and friends who biked
from Duluth to Sawbill and back last weekend. It took them four
days total. They had wet and cold weather, but were revived by
the Summit beer selection in the Sawbill store and the sauna.

Homer the puppy is thriving. Gus and Sunny have taught him
well, as you can see…

9/23/00 – Gus and Sunny, Sawbill’s most popular residents,
would like to announce the arrival of their new friend, Homer
Howard Hansen to Sawbill.

Homer, age 8 weeks.

Sawbill customer Eric Flom sent along this picture from the
fires in Montana this summer. Impressive.

Photographed by John McColgan, Bureau of Land Management,
Alaska Fire Service

9/17/00 – Yesterday morning, Dave and Harriet, who live in
a camping trailer here at Sawbill, woke up at 6:30 a. m. to some
strange noises outside their door. Peering out the window, they
discovered two canadian geese standing in the driveway honking
at each other. I’m aware that geese are common, especially in
urban areas, but we rarely see them here except flying overhead
in "v" formation.

9/14/00 – Picture taken by Dave Freeman in front of the Sawbill
Store. The pine martens are casing the place…

9/13/00 – A variety of news here at Sawbill. Moose continue
to be sighted at a record pace. I saw three in one trip to town
a few days ago. All were bulls who were starting into their annual
mating period known as "rutting." These gentleman were
obviously preoccupied and unwilling to concede possession of the
road without a stare down. One huge bull even took a few threatening
steps in my direction. I was stopped a respectful distance away,
but still shifted quickly in reverse – just in case.

Ruthie Hansen departed yesterday, bound for her freshman year
at the University of Chicago. People have expressed amazement
that a country girl like Ruthie would choose one of the most urban
campuses in the country. But, she is looking forward to the excitement
and cultural enrichment that Chicago can offer. Perhaps we can
entice her to submit a few impressions of Chicago from a northwoods
point of view for this newsletter… if she has time.

Sawbill crew member Erik Hoekstra had an unfortunate accident
with our big 3/4 ton pickup truck yesterday. He was driving down
the Grade Road with the recycling trailer in tow and got sucked
into some soft gravel. After a few fishtails, he ended up in the
ditch. It was unlucky that the embankment was deep and steep at
this point and the truck ended up on its side. Erik was thankfully
unhurt. The truck is now in Richie Nelson’s body shop having most
of its sheet metal unwrinkled.

The fall colors have started in earnest along the Sawbill Trail.
The maple hillsides near Tofte are showing about 20% red. Farther
up, the underbrush is fully aflame with color. The birches and
aspen are showing sudden splashes of yellow which are beautiful
set against the vivid green background.

9/4/00 – David and Kathryn Olson, from New Jersey, have traveled
many miles in canoe country over the years. They took the pictures
below on their trip a couple of weeks ago and have many more on
their website.

9/3/00 – We received this story by email this morning:


By Brand Frentz

We were forewarned to stay alert on the double portage from
Kawasachong through Townline to Lake Polly in the South Central
BWCA. In mid-July outfitter Bill Hansen’s Sawbill Newsletter (
told about a smart, aggressive, and apparently pretty hungry bear
who had been marauding along that trail. The bruin reportedly
sneaked up on people, then when their backs were turned darted
out and grabbed the food and ran! That put me on edge, but in
fact we saw no bears in a week (probably because a good hazelnut
crop had ripened). As it turned out, the wildlife was not as wild
as their human counterparts. What we did see was some portage
action, portaging, some original styles and interesting problems.

It was on the return trip. We had worked hard to get from Little
Sag to Koma in one day, and started the last day late, and sore.
As we moved slowly homeward the 190-rod portage from Townline
to Kawasachong loomed as the back breaker.

As luck would have it, we faced a brisk south wind, right in
our faces — just as it had been out of the north and right in
our faces when we came in. Because we were worn down to start
with, it did not surprise me that as we crossed Lake Polly a pair
of athletic young guys in an old 17-foot Alumacraft easily overtook
us. We exchanged a few words, and they told us their impressive
route: put-in at Hog Creek and in six days they had gone all the
way west to Gabbro Lake and then back up the Kawishiwi River.
To me that is a long trip, and they looked stronger than ever.
We wished them good speed, although they already had it, and paddled
on behind.

By the time we reached the portage they were loaded, each with
a big pack on his back and a small one in front. What they did
next did surprise me. They bent over and picked up the boat together,
flipped it up over their heads and set it down with the seats
resting on their big packs. This portage starts with a mean little
rocky climb. They bounded up it like mountain goats, and out of
our sight for good. So that is one way to carry the canoe, and
it obviously was working for them.

We got loaded, Vycki with the food pack and incidentals, me
with the canoe (Penobscot 16) and my day pack. Before going far
we met a woman, then a man, then another, all with light loads
and reserved (if not sullen) attitudes. One of them warned us
that there were "terrible mudholes" on the second portage.

Then I came to the next curiosity of this portage, two women
struggling with a red Penobscot 17. It was on the ground as I
came up, and I couldn’t help noticing that it had no yoke. Instead
it had two broken pieces of wood connected to the gunnels, and
nothing between them. They told me that one of the guys had been
carrying it on the previous portage, and the yoke "just broke."

Very unfortunate, I agreed, so what are you doing now? They
were on a day trip from Kawasachong to Lake Polly to fish, and
they were determined to push on. How? They had secured PFDs to
the bow and stern seats, then bent their heads forward and put
the boat there, resting on their necks. Now that is a hard way
to portage! I had to admire their grit, and wished them good luck.
More with portaging than fishing.

After we completed the portage normally, me making a second
round for the two other packs (equipment and clothing), we paddled
across Townline to meet the day’s main challenge. We had now been
warned that it was muddy in addition to being long. We loaded
and crossed over. Things seemed okay. Along the way we passed
two young couples, who said a friendly "Hello," and
gave a fleeting impression of uncertainty. At the put-in I rested
a minute admiring our old friend Kawasachong, then started back
for the final pull — two 40-pound packs, front and back, and
me already dragging. I thought to myself, "I’ll at least
enjoy the walk over, with nothing to carry."

You bet! I hadn’t gone 100 yards when I came up to one of the
young guys, struggling with a huge red seabag, a 17-foot Mad River
Explorer on the ground next to him. Although I could see the problem,
I said, "Hi, what’s up?" He muttered something about
this portaging being a tricky business. "Here," I said
with my best BWCA manners, "Let me have that bag. The canoe
is plenty by itself." He looked astonished. He muttered a
breathless, "Awesome!" as I took his pack and he took
the canoe.

As we walked I told him that it was normal for me to help him
out, and that the other day on this very portage a guy had done
the same for me. He told me that this was their first time in
the BWCA and he didn’t know how he could carry the pack and the
canoe at once (this was the first real portage of their trip).

Before long we overtook his wife, who was cheerfully carrying
two more big seabags, front and back. He beamed to her, "Look
what this awesome guy is doing. He’s taking our pack." Well,
they were from Chicago, where I guess "awesome" is a
popular word, and helping out strangers may not be as common on
the street there as on portage trails in the BWCA. We chatted
about the beauty of the woods as we approached the muddy section.

Now I had been through this mud already. It was okay. I just
sloshed through in sandals, right down the middle where the trail
once was. My friends from Chicago had not seen it. In fact they
had only been in the BWCA for a couple of hours. Suddenly just
ahead I heard, "Yiiiy!" and saw the woman sinking, right
down to the packs! I dashed up and grabbed one arm, and another
guy who happened to be coming the other way came over quickly
and held her up on the other side.

Then slowly, carefully, we lifted her and her two big packs
out of the rippling mudhole. When she was back at ground level,
we set her down in the middle of the trail, where the mud was
3-4 inches deep but solid underneath. She gasped for air. Her
husband with the Explorer on his shoulders came up just then,
and she excitedly told him what had happened. More "awesomes,"
and everyone was happy.

The reason she went in, she said, was that she didn’t like
the looks of the mud on the trail. So she stepped off to the side,
where it appeared to be grassy but was not.

We crossed the rest of the trail together in fine spirits.
At the end, the Townline Lake put-in, I politely suggested that
they consider double portaging next time, and they agreed enthusiastically.
They thanked me, of course, and I said, "No problem, anybody
would’ve done it." As I grabbed my two packs and headed across
the portage for the last time I heard her say to her husband,
voice crackling with emotion, "Wow, that was exhilarating!"

I was so anxious to tell Vycki about my adventures that I completely
forgot that this was supposed to be the big challenge of the day,
and the portage was over in a flash. Time flies when you’re having
fun. (The fatigue hit later, as it always does.)

9/2/00 – A man just walked into the store with a 27.9 lb Northern
Pike tied to a paddle. He told us he caught the huge fish on a
little spoon and 6 lb test line. Unfortunately our digital camera
is having some technical difficulties, so we weren’t able to get
a picture of the fish. We’re storing it in our freezer for the
rest of the weekend. I was afraid to tell him that the last time
someone stored a huge fish in our freezer, Adam pulled it out
and threatened to use the stiff fish to play a few rounds of wiffle-ball.

Labor Day Weekend is in full-swing here at Sawbill. The campground
was full last night, and is full tonight too. There’s been a steady
stream of people in the store and dome all day long. I know the
summer’s coming to an end when I overhear kids in the store discussing
their school schedules. Oh my.

Sincerely Yours, -Ruthie

9/1/00 – 108 Carleton college freshman arrived at Sawbill today.
In the morning they will split into 12 separate groups and venture
into the wilderness on 12 different routes. Former crew members
Natasha "BA" Warner and Annie Strupeck are here to help
out over the busy weekend. It’s great to see some different faces
sitting behind the counter in the store. I’d like to write more,
but Hey! There’s work to be done!

Signing off, -Ruthie

Posted on

August 2000

8/31/00 – Terrific storms moved across the region during the
night. Lots of thunder and lightning, hail and 1.23" of rain
here at Sawbill. The winds were moderate though. No trees down
on the road this morning. The water levels will be unusually high
for the next week or so. It will be a busy day here as the Labor
Day weekend ramps up. – Bill

8/30/00 – Today was a beautiful warm day here at Sawbill. Around
5pm, it started to get colder. By 8pm, I had my winter jacket
on. Shivering, I consulted the thermometer on the side of the
pop-shed: 60. Maybe I should have picked a college in Arizona,
or better yet, somewhere on the equator. It felt like snow could
fall any minute. I could even see my breath! (When I was in the
cooler stocking pop anyway.) -Ruthie

8/28/00 – I received the following email this morning from
Dale Coffman:

Hi Bill

…What I really want to tell you is to make Ruthie write more

updates to the newsletter. She has a neat style that is fun to
read. When

she learns to trap little critters in the store she will be ready
to write

for Outdoor Life.

Hope you and the whole family are well and happy.



This lovely letter not only reminded me to update the newsletter
(you should have seen me fume when I was away at school and the
newsletter went un-updated for a week or more!), but it also reminded
me to check my extensive trapline. Mouse traps, that is. I have
caught over 30 mice in the crew quarters this summer. One of my
favorite parts of living in the woods is mingling with nature
and living with the forest creatures, I just don’t want to live
WITH the critters! So, I set some traps and got started. I couldn’t
bear to deal with the bodies, so I made a deal with another (braver)
crew member to empty the traps, if I set them and checked them.
As the summer has gone by, I’ve come to grips with being a mouse-murderer,
and I’ve started emptying the traps myself. Do you think "Outdoor
Life" wants to hear about my mice-capades? Or maybe there’s
a magazine called "Indoor Life" that would be better
suited for this type of article? Hmmmm…

Today was chilly and a little foggy. Very few customers have
been in the store or dome since noon, and it’s really starting
to feel like Fall. It’s still a wonderful time to take a canoe
trip though: No bugs, fewer people and better fishing in September.
The days can get up to 80 just as easily as they can get down
to 40, can’t they? Ever Optimistic, Ruthie.

8/27/00 – I discovered a few late-season blueberries growing
along the Sawbill Trail this afternoon. The tiny berries were
dustier and more tart than the early season berries. I’m not sure
how many I picked, because I practice the "one berry in my
mouth, one in my pail" method of berry picking, and of course
I ate from my pail when the picking was slow. -Ruthie

8/26/00 – We enjoyed a moment of quiet between the summer rush
and the pre-labor day rush, which now seems to be well under way.
Oh well. Soon it will be February and we will be dying for the
summer to begin again.

Many of the Sawbill Crew members have left for college: Nathan,
Anna, Emily and Laura are all gone for the year. Clare and Carl
Hansen have begun soccer practice in Grand Marais, and will soon
be returning to school. The nights have begun to take on the particular
chill and smell of early fall.

I awoke this morning to a very agitated squirrel clucking away
outside my bedroom window. I rolled over, half-awake and squinting
against the morning sun. I threw a handy magazine at the screen,
and the ruckus ceased. I was just beginning to slip back into
sleep when the racket began anew, this time closer to my head
and twice as loud. I gave up on getting back to sleep, opened
my eyes a bit and looked at the clock. 9:46. I suddenly felt some
of the squirrel’s panic myself. August is nearly over, the leaves
are beginning to turn, I’m leaving for school in two weeks and
here I am still in bed! I remember this feeling from summers long
past; summers that seemed to last forever, when I felt as if I
had all the time in the world right up until the moment I realized
that school was bearing down on me, along with winter coats and
frostbitten fingers and toes. I promised myself this morning that
I would soak up more sun, swim more, wear shorts more, as if I
could convince the earth along with myself that it was still midsummer.
But the fact remains; it’s August 26th. Soon it will be September,
and before long, the first snow of winter will cover the dusty
pine-needle carpeting of the forest, and I’ll be longing for June
again. -Ruthie

8/19/00 – The temperature dipped to 40 degrees last night and
I noticed a few colored leaves along the Sawbill Trail yesterday.
The ripening hazelnuts seem to have lured the bears away from
campsites. We’ve had very few bear reports in the last week. The
moose are feeding on abundant aquatic plants right now, so moose
sightings have increased dramatically. High water is making for
easy travel.

With "back to school time" upon us, overnight permits
for the wilderness are more readily available. With the exception
of Labor Day weekend, September is wide open for permit availability.
It sure makes me dream of a solo trip during the peak of the color
season… – Bill

Ed Dallas, the Poet Laureate of Sawbill, does it again with
this evocative Autumn poem:

touch of autumn chill

the old buck

lets young ones go first

8/15/00 – Ed Dallas, Sawbill’s Poet Laureate, sent this poem
this morning:

last campfire

she blames the smoke

for tears in her eyes

8/13/00 – Sunday morning here at Sawbill. There is a chill
in the air this morning reminding us that the snow line is moving
south every day. A hint of wood smoke smell drifts over from the
campground. Some people are arriving to begin their canoe trips,
others are exiting the woods and heading for home. Those arriving
are hurried and anxious, full of last minute details, and a little
irritable. The folks coming off the water are dirty, but relaxed
and happy. They move at an unhurried pace, putting off the inevitable
return to the "civilized" world as long as they can.
They smile easily as they relate the high points of their trip:
a moose spotted on a portage, northern lights arching across the
entire sky, sunrise across a fog shrouded lake, and the stories
roll on… – Bill

8/11/00 – The Consortium XXIV group is pictured below. They
have developed many traditions over their 24 years of Sawbill
canoeing, including the "grog cup salute."

8/5/00 – Thoreau’s necessary tonic of the wilderness is held
in a star’s reflection on the still of a lake. The blackened shoreline
creates a mold that only a few of the tallest trees dare to spill
from. As one paddles closer to shore, the trees reveal their individuality.
Branches, bark, and needles become distinguishable only by outline.
The shades of night contrast each other to give shape, and depth,
and meaning. The unplanned light of the stars’ dance is stirred
with every dip of the paddle. – Frosty

8/2/00 – According to the State of Minnesota, there are twice
as many bears in the woods as usual. I’m not sure exactly how
one goes about counting bears, but until recently it seemed to
us that there were no bears left. Now, there are bears almost
everywhere. The Kawishiwi to Polly Lake corridor seems to have
multiple bears. They are a canny band of thieves, stealing packs
off of portages, unlatching pickup toppers, finagling ropes out
of trees and generally making pests out of themselves. The blueberries
and hazel nuts are beginning to ripen, so they may lure the bruins
away from their freeze dried gourmet diet. – Bill

Posted on

July 2000

7/28/00 – We received these photos from our friends at Woodside
School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can see from their faces that
this is an exceptional group of kids with dedicated, respected

7/27/00 – Here are a couple of belated items. Ben Boss caught
this nice northern on Beth Lake earlier this year.

Dave Monos and Ed Dancek were here last week. They had to leave
several of their usual traveling companions at home this year.
They say to Gary, Tom and Ray: "August is coming. 23 1/2"
walleye on Brule."

7/21/00 – Yesterday afternoon, Shawn Loiselle from Inver Grove
Heights, MN reeled in quite a walleye on the northern end of Sawbill
Lake. Usually not known for excellent walleye populations, Sawbill
Lake has proven to be very productive this summer for fish of
all species. Shawn was in the store earlier in the morning, and
asked where he could get a fish as big as some of the pictures
on the wall. We told him, and he found one (although not quite
in the same area as we had told him, or even same lake). By the
way, yesterday was Shawn’s first day of his fishing trip. Not bad,

Walleye caught on northern Sawbill. (9.5 lbs, 32")

7/20/00 – Recently members of the crew and I spent a quietly
cool eve talking about what Sigurd Olson termed "the singing
wilderness." As we took turns reading aloud, I was reminiscent
of what first brought me up to the waters of Northern Minnesota.
I came for the solitude of walking a less-traveled portage, the
silence of friends sharing the glow of a night’s fire, just as
we come for the conversation during a morning paddle. Olson’s
words remind me to find the beauty of the wilderness by looking
a little closer, walking a little slower, or just smiling a little
wider. When I find myself doing so, my appreciation sings for
all things wild and for the history of those who have traveled
these waters before us. Olson writes, "Everyone is listening
for something, and the search for places where the singing may
be heard goes on everywhere. It is part of the hunger all of us
have for a time when we were closer to lakes and rivers, to mountains,
meadows, and forests than we are today." However reminiscent,
there is always something new and fresh. Be it a new leaf on an
elder tree, a paddle passing through waters that have felt many
before, or a cloud moving through an endless sky of blue, we must
revel in and sing the song of the wilderness that surrounds. This
is why we continue to paddle these waters and how historical canoe
trips are forged. – Frosty

7/18/00 – The "Walk
To Remember"
is an interesting grass roots effort to
create a sense of community surrounding Lake Superior in order
to address issues effecting the big lake. The walk passed through
our area a week ago and is now working its way along Canada’s
North Shore.

7/17/00 – Sorry for the long delay between updates here. The
program we use for this newsletter self destructed and we have
been too busy to fix it. All is well now though.

We’ve had several fine visitors during the last week or so.
Bruce (Rube) Rubenstein, former Sawbill crew member of indeterminate
age, was here for over a week. Rube is a writer in Hollywood now,
so he appreciates returning to the sanity of the northwoods. Mike
Gaud, who worked here four years ago is visiting now. Mike just
finished with a Geology PhD program at the U of New Mexico. As
soon as he defends his thesis, we will start calling him Doctor
Mike. Dan Seemon and Cathy Iverson visited for the last two days.
They were also former crew members a few years ago.

The bears were active for the last couple of weeks, especially
in the Polly, Koma, Malberg Lake area. There was one particular
bear that became adept at snatching unattended food packs of the
Polly-Townline portage. People reported that they would literally
turn their backs for a minute and the bear would appear silently
and snatch the pack. Several parties battled back with rocks,
sticks and pepper spray and got their food back with minimal damage.
In the last few days, no one has had any trouble, so we’re hoping
that the few ripe blueberries have lured the bruins back to their
natural habitat.

Dave Monos from Westerville, OH is here on a trip right now.
He sends greetings to the several members of his usual canoe group
who had to stay home this year. So far, Dave has had nearly perfect

The BWISB (Big Women In Sports Bras) group is back for another
year of hilarity. This year they will be gracing Polly Lake with
their refined and cultured presence.

Jeff Thompson, another former crew member, visited last week.
He was catching batting practice for Carl and after a couple of
close calls, donned a life jacket – diaper fashion – and a logger’s
hard hat as protective gear.

The SFGA (Sawbill Frisbee Golf Association) annual Masters
Tournament was played last week. Jason Morse, who last won three
years ago, recaptured the title. The tournament was not without
controversy though. Defending champion Adam Hansen landed a shot
in the water hazard (Sawbill Lake) and a difficult ruling involving
the interpretation of what constitutes a rock was required. Adam
graciously accepted a penalty shot, in spite of disagreeing with
the rock interpretation. It ultimately cost him the tournament,
but "we’re all winners for playing."

7/3/00 – Today was the picture perfect day at Sawbill. The
weather was ideal – not a cloud in the sky, low 70’s for temperature
and a light southerly breeze. It was busy, but not too busy. Everyone
was in an excellent and relaxed mood. Swimming, exploring, sunbathing
and a little fishing seemed to be the order of the day.

The night before last, our radio telephones were put our of
service by a lightning strike at the Lutsen Mountains Ski Area,
where our real phone lines begin. The lightning struck a junction
box for the 480 volt power system that the ski area uses for their
snow making equipment. The system shorted out and ran 480 volts
into all the snow-making wiring, water piping, and the nearby
telephone cable. Telephones run on 24 volts, so the cable immediately
melted. We were able to have our calls redirected to our old single
line radio telephone system for a couple of days until US West
was able to install a new cable. We got along, but it was pretty
pitiful trying to handle all the phone calls, VISA machines, electronic
fishing licenses, and internet traffic on one bad quality phone
line. We are back to our crystal clear five-line microwave system

Posted on

June 2000

6/26/00 – Ruthie and I just returned from a quick three day
canoe trip in the Parent River/Isabella River area. We practically
had to push wildlife out of our way. Eagles, hawks, golden eye
ducks, and egg-laying western painted turtles everywhere. On Boga
Lake our campsite was a major nesting area for the local turtles.
At any moment the campsite was ringed by half a dozen turtles
waiting to crawl up and lay their eggs in the soft, warm soil.
During dinner, one particularly desperate turtle came climbing
up the bank and crawled directly toward us. Ruthie picked up a
twig and brandished it in mock defense. The turtle stopped three
feet in front of us and carefully looked at each of us in turn.
She patiently worked her way over the rough terrain, skirting
our position, and started to dig a hole for her eggs. She was
contentedly laying them when we turned in for the night.

There is a canoe trip of ex-Sawbill crew members departing
this morning. Mike MacMillan and his wife Leigh, Will Decker,
Sandy Zinn, John "OB" Oberholtzer, and Kathleen Heikes
will be canoeing for the next few days. We are trying to press
them into temporary employment while they’re here, but they are
carefully avoiding our enticements.

We’ve had a lot of rain in the last week, dropping the fire
danger and raising the water levels.

6/19/00 – Sawbill crew member, Dave Freeman, went for a paddle
last night and took these snapshots on the south end of Sawbill

A beaver goes about his business.

A nesting loon trying to look inconspicuous.

6/15/00 – The fire ban has been lifted. As of today, fires
are allowed between 7 PM and midnight in the "restricted
area" and allowed anytime in the rest of the wilderness.
In our area, the restricted area includes Sawbill and Alton Lakes,
and everything roughly east and north of here. The Lady Chain,
Kawishiwi Lake up to Malberg and everything roughly west of there
is in the unrestricted area.

We got a wonderful letter from long time customer and friend
Jim Nelson today:

Dear Bill, Cindy, Frank & Mary Alice:

First, I found my sunglasses in my fanny pack, which I carried
with me over the Memorial Weekend, but never opened all the way.

Second, I wanted to thank you for your part in helping Scott,
my three grandsons and myself have a great time. I know you didn’t
have anything to do with the weather, but it was pretty good.
For each of the three grandsons, Zach and Colin (the 7-year-olds)
and Jacob, the 11-year-old), catching their fish was by far the
highlight. You should have seen the smiles on their faces when
we reached Des Moines. (As I think of it, Scott & I had Cheshire
grins as well.)

That was for me, and I believe for Scott as well, a perfect
opportunity to introduce those three young boys to the lore of
the north land with its unique and bountiful history. One of the
seven-year-olds, Zach, mentioned that the BWCAW was his idea of
paradise. (Not that he was coached, or anything — his two uncles,
mother and grandpa would NEVER influence such a delicate mind!)
He said that, however, last winter before he had ever been there.Of
course, I think he was right, and I believe he confirmed it for
himself in those four days.

They were each entranced with the place, from the soaring eagles,
to the primordial language of the loon, to the glassy gift of
a peaceful lake getting ready for the night’s rest as it reflects
a golden sunset full of the promise of a beautiful tomorrow.

Come to think of it, so was I. I can’t wait to get back.


Jim Nelson

Scott Hall rode his bike and trailer combination up
to Sawbill from Minneapolis last week. He left his bike with us
and took a five day solo canoe trip, then rode back to Duluth
to meet and friend and continue his vacation in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

6/11/00 – We’ve been entertained the last few days watching
people get out of there cars after driving up from the south.
Everywhere south of Duluth has been baking in 90+ degree heat.
The high temperature along the North Shore yesterday was about
45. Here at Sawbill, folks stepped out of their cars into the
chilled air and were instantly sporting goose bumps the size of
actual geese. They dove back into their cars in search of long
pants and down vests.

Sawbill crew members Annie Olson and Ruthie Hansen recently
finished a 48 hour Wilderness First Responder certification course
at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. The course, taught
by B.J. Kolstadt, prepares Annie and Ruthie to respond to emergencies
requiring first aid within the wilderness. It is comforting for
us to have trained First Responders on our staff.

6/9/00 – Summer is fully arrived at Sawbill. The black flies
are nearly a bad memory as friendly dragon flies replace them.
The no-see-ums arrived with a vengeance last evening, due to the
balmy temperatures and low winds. These tiny pests only affect
a minority of people. Some people think they are literally a joke,
but those of us who endure the itching, burning welts are not
laughing. The unpleasant sensation only lasts for about 20 minutes
and they do respond to repellents, so they aren’t too bad.

The leaves are fully out now. The blossoming bushes are done
and the bunch berry and strawberries are taking over.

The male members of the Sawbill crew spent the night in the
wilderness recently. The object of their trip was to terrorize
the lake trout on a certain lake. They returned with many stories
of fabulous fishing and three actual fish. The three lake trout,
yielding their dense, rich meat, fed ten people with plenty of

Cindy and I missed the fish dinner because we were guests at
a gourmet dinner at Papa Charlie’s restaurant at the Lutsen Mountains
ski area. They have recently hired two wonderful new chefs and
the dinner was offered to local business owners to introduce their
talents. They are using many local ingredients (lake trout, wild
rice, maple syrup and wild mushrooms, among others) to create
truly delicious food. Life is hard here in the north country.
– Bill

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

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

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.