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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: August 1999
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « July 1999 | September 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. OB

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. On
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, when
they split for the mainland, presumable due to being startled by us. I
have never encountered wolves before Sunday, and thought you might be
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 out


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
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « July 1999 | September 1999 »


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