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Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: November 1999
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « October 1999 | December 1999 »
11/28/99 - Sawbill Lake thawed out again on the 26th. It is in a unique configuration now, with about 30% of the lake covered with strange, grey ice and the rest is wind whipped water. This is the first time I can remember that the lake has frozen and thawed twice in the same season. - Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

Sincerely, Celestia Matheson

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

Sawbill Lake froze over last night. - Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11/1/99 - Ellen Lock, former Sawbill crew member, now works for Wilderness Inquiry, a non-profit group that provides wilderness opportunities for disabled people. Ellen is the featured staff member on WI's website this month.
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « October 1999 | December 1999 »


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