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Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: December 1999
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « November 1999 | January 2000 »
12/26/99 - We had an excellent Sawbill Christmas. A surprise warm snap, along with brilliant sunshine, made Christmas a beautiful day. Karl, Adam and Ruthie Hansen along with Karl's fiance, Lee Stewart, all made the trek home for the holiday. Adam and Ruthie were admiring the full moon while driving up the Sawbill Trail when a moose decided to gallop out of the woods directly in front of the car. Adam did an instantaneous cost/benefit analysis and steered the car off the road. They missed the moose by inches, cruised through the ditch for 50 feet and returned to the road, a ruined front tire the only casualty. Karl and Lee saw a fox and a wolf on the Sawbill Trail on their way up. Both were unusually large examples of the species.

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

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

Clare commented on how much she would like to see a large black wolf cross the trail in the moonlight ahead of her. I told her about
Sig Olson's famous story of being surrounded by a wolf pack while hiking on the frozen Kawishiwi River in the middle of the night. Clare said, "That would be so cool!" It could sure happen here, as we often see wolf tracks on our ski trail. - Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

long chase ends
the wolf licks
a bloody paw

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

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

Walking a quiet trail

I come upon a lumber camp

long deserted.

Expectantly, I open doors with care,

Perhaps to find an antique tool

or some old hermit living there.

The stillness here seems odd.

These cabins once were filled with raucous men

who toiled with saw and ax,

rough roustabouts

who took their wages from this timberland.

The trees they cut,

whose stumps are now but mounds of earth,

were primal growth

of massive oaks or stately pines;

of such a size that two,

with arms spread wide,

could not span their girth.

For native ones with lesser needs

the trees were gifts

of their Earth Mother's generosity;

living beings which

with the wood's inhabitants

shared their bounteous limbs and leaves.

To others later claiming rights

by legal deed or treaty

the trees seemed better used for commerce,

masts of ships or charcoal fires,

or furniture for those at ease.

I try to visualize those ancient giants now removed

replaced by planted rows of lanky firs

whose genes, someone has shown,

assure much quicker growth and uniformity.

And so I ponder there my children's loss

and speak in anger

of those rough hewn men,

in woolen union suits,

who I contend clear cut this land.

Enough, I say, No more.

But as for me, I do have needs

necessities, a house of pine

and paper reams

and oaken chairs to grace my floor.

The source of these

is lumber yard or other place

that sells commodities

or products ready made,

and buying there I fail to see

their ancestral link to forest floor.

But I should know,

the hands that sent that timber down

are my hands too;

and all my PACS and lobbying

and all my righteous indignation

will not reclaim for future's sake

what those weathered foresters,

in my name, have taken.

Sawbill Outfitters is a proud member of Northeastern Minnesotans For Wilderness which is working to organize the many people who support the wilderness and happen to live in northeastern Minnesota. Visit their site for more information on BWCA Wilderness issues and what you can do to help protect the BWCA Wilderness.
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « November 1999 | January 2000 »


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