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Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: November 2005
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « October 2005 | December 2005 »

11/28/05 - Carl and I had a cool nature moment yesterday. We went for a ski up the lake just before sunset. About half a mile up Sawbill we crossed a set of animal tracks. It was a deer, closely followed by a wolf. A little farther on, we saw the same set of tracks crossing back across Sawbill toward Alton Lake. When we entered the bay heading for the Sawbill to Alton portage, we saw them again. We followed them and could see that the deer was slipping on the lightly snow covered ice. We could also see where it kicked back at the wolf. At the shoreline, the deer leaped over a fallen tree and the wolf carefully picked its way around.

Deer and wolf tracks on Sawbill Lake after 12 hours of rain and thaw.

We headed over to Alton, hoping we would catch a glimpse of them. When we reached the end of the portage, we saw the deer, dead, about a quarter of a mile straight out from the portage. We skied out and picked up the trail to read the story of the deer's last moments. There was no blood on the snow, so the wolf wasn't biting the deer's back legs. The deer fell twice and then fell the third time for good. By the time we got there, the wolves had opened the deer and eaten a few choice organs. There were no obvious bite marks on the rear legs. The deer's neck fur was disturbed, but no blood there.

The deer's eye reflects the cycle of life and death - prey and predator.

Two ravens lifted from the carcass as we approached. It is well documented that ravens and wolves cooperate in hunting. The wolf tracks showed that a second wolf had joined the first at the kill from the point to the south. Both wolves walked back to the point, probably when they heard Carl and I coming.

By the next morning, the wolves had eaten all the vital organs, most of the ribs, and all the back meat.

We didn't have a camera with us, so I skied out this morning early to revisit the scene. It rained quite a bit overnight with temperatures well above freezing, so the lake ice had degraded. I had to ski through either a few inches of slush, or a few inches of standing water. On Alton, the ice was so black and clear as to be nearly invisible, giving me the illusion that I was skiing on open water. My heart was in my throat a few times as I could feel the ice sag beneath me and watched cracks shoot out from under my feet.

Scary ice on Alton Lake.

11/27/05 - Yesterday was the Nearly Annual Sawbill Bowl touch football game, played in 10" of snow on the Sawbil public parking lot. Tim Velner and Gus Gustason have been camping at the Sawbill Campround on Thanksgiving weekend off and on for more than twenty years. They bring bikes, skis, footballs, frisbees and coolers to keep their beer from freezing. Among many other traditions, they instigate the football classic in the snow.

Play action during the Sawbill Bowl.

Team photos from the 2005 Sawbill Bowl.

11/26/05 - We often have pine martens (a large member of the weasel family) visiting our bird feeders. Yesterday, a new marten appeared, probably attracted by the remains of the Thanksgiving turkey that we hung for the grey jays to feast on. This marten was unique in that he was missing most of his tail and had white feet.

The tail-less marten camps under our bird feeder and snacks on sunflower seeds.

11/21/05 - Many of you remember Beth (Rolf) Rehfus, who was our year 'round employee for several years. She returned this past weekend for a visit with her husband Bill and two good friends, Erin and Kim.

(L - R) Kim, Erin, Cindy, Bill, and Beth ready for sliding from the sled's point of view.

What is wrong with this picture? The dogs look on as the human pulls the sled!

11/17/05 - Sawbill Lake froze over today.

11/16/05 - Winter has arrived in earnest today. Although it has been snowing occasionally for more than a month, today's snow has the feeling of permanence. A cold north wind has temperatures plunging as snow falls persistently. Single digits above zero are predicted for tonight.

The lake hasn't frozen yet, but almost certainly will when the wind stops.

Last weekend was our annual cookie party when Cindy, her mom, Arline, sister, Sherrie, neice, Anna, and daughter Clare lay in an unhealthy supply of cookies for the holiday season. Innocent bystanders (like me and Clare's boyfriend Derek) get recruited for the decorating assembly line.

Clare and Derek admire the cookie artistry.

Cindy, Sherrie, and Arline show the effects of cookie overdosing.

11/9/05 - The gales of November have arrived in northeastern Minnesota. As I write this the wind is howling and wet snow is driving in sideways. We are having sustained winds of 35 mph with gusts near 50 mph. Twenty foot waves are predicted on Lake Superior today.

No canoeists have ventured into the BWCA Wilderness for over a week. When there is a risk of Sawbill Lake looking like this, is there any wonder why?

Horizontal wet snow plastered to the trees at the Sawbill Lake canoe landing.

Homer and Sunnie enjoy the bracing wind in their faces.

11/1/05 - We were shocked last week when Dave mildly commented, "I just saw something I've never seen at Sawbill before - a raccoon on the back deck." Indeed, a raccoon has never been seen in the 49 years that we've been here, nor had we heard of one previous to that. Raccoons have been moving steadily northward for the last twenty years or so. They have been seen along Lake Superior's north shore and near Ely. Our raccoon proved to be small and extremely docile. The leading theory is that he/she hitched a ride to Sawbill stowed away in a vehicle, or was live trapped elsewhere and released here.

After a few nights of emptied bird feeders and violated dumpsters, we invested in a raccoon sized live trap. Alison and I used all our trapping wiles (obtained mostly over the internet) to fool the little guy into capture. We were a little disappointed by how easy it was. He watched us bait the trap with marshmallows (a raccoon favorite) and was caught almost before we got back in the house. Following our internet advice, we delivered the masked marauder more than ten miles away and released her/him near a stream. - Bill

Rocky looks at us reproachfully after paying the price for his stale marshmallow cravings.

Rocky ambles to freedom at an undisclosed location within the Superior National Forest.

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