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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: November 2007
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « October 2007 | December 2007 »

11/28/07 - "It may come on some quiet day in November with a hush so deep and so profound it seems to press on everything. All living creatures feel it. They watch the skies and wait. Suddenly the air is white with drifting flakes and tension drains as the ground is speckled with white. The first crystals rustle as they settle onto leaves and into crevices, and then almost magically the earth is white and winter has come." - Sigurd Olson

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Sawbill has been blanketed in 7" of light, powdery snow over the past two days. My skis are anxious to get waxed-up, even though it's disappointing to hang up the ice skates for another year.

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Chickadees struggle to keep warm. Cindy keeps 'em well fed, though.

11/22/07 - Happy Thanksgiving. Here is what I'm thankful for...

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Sawbill Lake at 9:30 am and 12 degrees.

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4" thick and solid.

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Wilderness ice!

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Stop at the Alton Portage.

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Alton Lake was open!

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I am thankful for wild ice.

11/21/07 - Tom Heinrich from Hayward, Wisconsin sent along this lovely story:

We went looking for a retrieve and found a snowstorm this weekend. Two weeks before, seduced by the warm October weather, Zip and I spent an extra hour swimming and retrieving after our canoe trip. No one was at the Brule Lake parking lot, the granola and water from our packs tasted better than any food that could be bought down on Highway 61, and the thought of stealing a Monday to paddle one more time brought a smirk to our faces until I screwed up and checked the time: three hours from that grand moment was an important meeting located some four hours from Brule. Zip didn't buy the logic and by the time I forced him into the truck, he had flipped that soggy Remington canvas retrieve into the alders along the edge of the parking lot. Frankly, the loss didn't show up until Rugs and Zip battled hard over the white plastic retrieve on Wednesday morning. I had just separated two hundred pounds of Labrador from their wrestling, scolding both for being selfish when they gave me that Labrador look that said: howdumbareyoudon'tyouknowthatweonlyhaveoneretrieveleftandi'mnotgivingittohim!

So, I bought another retrieve--a grand orange retrieve, one that floated high in the water, one that could roll down hills in front of its pursuers. Rugs chewed a hole in it and Zip marked it with his scent. Both continued to fight over the white plastic. So on Saturday we threw a canoe on top of the truck and the four of us-- Rugs, Zip, Carol, and I climbed in the Dodge Dakota and headed for Brule to find the retrieve. Brule's four hours away and we decided to sprint the distance nonstop. But, Rugs groaned from Minong to Duluth as Zip butted beyond his allotted space and Zip left the odor of peanut butter and milk bones throughout the truck cab. So we stopped at the Holiday Gas Station in Two Harbors. Rugs and Zip pulled Carol around the parking lot, while I fueled the truck, grabbed two chocolate banana muffins, and lectured the labs on truck etiquette. Both dogs responded by wrapping into a tight balls as we bounced north on highway 61 beyond Two Harbors.

Now Brule has become our elixir until we can reach the Woodland Caribou again.. Its size reminds us of Couderay--our home waters in Hayward. This feel of a 5000 acre lake with no homes crowding the shoreline, the hills on the west calling us to travel beyond our time, and the strong winds blasting across the four mile fetch create an illusion of a remote Canadian lake--a refuge from our daily lives. So when snow iced the Caribou Trail west of Lutsen, I popped in the four wheel drive, moved the truck to the middle of the road, and spun towards Brule. Past Tomash and Homer Lakes, past Brule Mountain trailhead, and all those little frozen swamps we slid down this lonely, November road. Now Rugs and Zip are both up gazing out the woods and wondering why we travel recklessly on this forest road. A mile later we slid to halt in the parking lot at Brule Lake and peer towards the water, unfrozen and canoe able. Carol opens the door and releases 200 pounds of energy. Both dogs sprint the parking licking freshly fallen snow, searching old scents, hunting food, and finding-perhaps-a canvas retrieve. Zip hits the alders but flushes only a gray jay. Rugs in typical take charge style sprints beyond the truck and plunges into Brule Lake. Often reluctant to swim in milder, close to home lakes, he prides himself on being the first to sample the wilderness waters that we come to...he goes neck deep, turns as though to taunt Zip, and then swallows his thirst in several loud gulps. Zip, more timid, cautiously plies the cold waters to paw deep, looking for a scolding so he can save face and leave the waters. He finds none as both Carol and I untie the canoe, load our day pack, and dress for a November paddle in the Boundary Waters.

We did this last year, drove hard to Brule in early November, broke ice in front of the boat landing, and paddled a wind swept Brule for an hour. This year the lake is entirely ice free, the wind from the southeast, and we are dressed for the weather. Carol fired on neoprene pants, a water proof top along with the traditional long underwear and paddling shoes with neoprene socks. Me, I'm layered: long underwear, pants, a hooded top, a Helly Hansen raincoat, wool gloves covered by leather choppers....my polar fleece and neoprene pants safely hide in the day pack keeping the sandwiches dry. Rugs and Zip dress Labrador: black coats, paws....although Zip's thick coat seems to be an advantage over Rug's sleek hair. Both willingly jump into the canoe wagging their tails in approval of the trip.

The lake is dressed in November grey: sky, water, trees all melt into a uniform mass of color. Only the cedar blunt the scheme giving a faded green to distant shores. Our excitement causes us to paddle hard and we plunge the canoe into the big part of the lake where we stop and watch the Cherokee Hills disappear in a white cloud. Snow, a November paddle, and wilderness: we laugh and turn east into the wind to explore a narrow channel for moose. Gradually our thoughts fade from Wisconsin and turn to icicles clinging to low lying cedar and the swirling southeasterly wind that brings snow. In June we paddled into some of the worst bugs ever seen: often by noon Rugs and Zip hid inside our tent as mosquitoes, horse flies, and black flies filled the woods. In August the winds blasted the bugs away from these Labradors, and now snow replaces their summer tormentors. We head east, towards Vernon Lake, hoping to paddle through the narrows, explore the shorelines of east Brule, and walk along the falls into Vernon.

The wind shifts, twirls northeast, and then unleashes a wrath of snow. Brule Island disappears from sight, the cedar shorelines become dark snowman on a windy peninsula. Thoughts of lunch on a rock warmed by a November sun get swallowed by the grey granite turning white...it's winter on Brule. Zip sits in front of me, accumulating snow, turning white with black flecks of hair intertwined on his broad back. Rugs, behind Carol in the bow, shakes and keeps warm with a short pace around his place in the canoe. Both have this bemused look: what another adventure--first bugs, then winds, now snow? We find Brule Island and paddle behind it for protection from the wind. Snow drops straight down, builds on the Duluth pack in the center of the canoe, and removes our giddiness from the trip. It's cold now, the waves have built up, and the afternoon light has faded into the snow clouds. Beyond Brule Island, the hill marking the route to Winchell appears like a volcano cone. The wind darts around the canoe pushing us off course. Snow builds in the bottom of the canoe and my sun glasses have snow lenses. In the bow, the east side of Carol's stocking hat is snow packed, the west side lies in the shadow of protection. Zip glares at me: whatintheworldarewedoingouthere. I apologize with a quick sweep of snow off his back. But we hang on to the paddle, hoping for the wind and snow to stop, yet we enjoy the moment. Appearing in the distance is the white pine campsite. Two weeks ago the moon washed our tent and sunrise brought a warming breeze. Today, a collage of pine cones, fallen logs, and snow mix on the ground reminding us that paddling season is closing. We pause, wipe the snow from our clothes and cautiously check if the paddle should continue. In summer we pushed a Souris River canoe loaded with dogs and packs for 23 days. Wind, bugs, thunder, and lightning slowed us, questioned our abilities, but never forced us to quit. In the end we paddled 250 miles, did 90 portages, and enjoyed the Canadian bush. To turn towards the parking lot just wouldn't be the right way to end the paddling season. Carol pushes for a paddle west another mile, past wolf point, then back east into the snow and wind and the calm of the parking lot. Dogs and humans accept the idea: past the tall white pines deformed by the blow down winds of '99, past the rocky point where we sat on Christmas watching a wolf pack eat their prey a half mile in the distance. The wind mixes snow on our back, then slips around the tip of the island to lash our faces. We have come to the turn: a time to slip back the parking lot.

Zip is completely white and he hangs his head over the canoe's edge searching for a refuge from the oncoming winds. Rugs dances from front paws to back paws, shaking off the snow. The green Duluth pack is completely white now, snow covers the bottom of the canoe. My pants are soaked by the wet flakes, my glasses ice up, and the wind challenges my glances at our route. In August, we sailed across a Canadian lake pushed by strong winds and three foot waves. Easy times. Today, the winds have turned on us and we must earn the two miles back to the truck. We reach a point, hide from the winds, and glance west hoping for a view of the Cherokee hills. Still swallowed by the storm we can only imagine them and our summer of canoeing. Silently, we paddle to shore. Rugs leaves first, jumping into chest deep water, Zip waits until the canoe touches the shore. Each sprints up the road in anticipation of drying off, milk bones, and perhaps a retrieve.

Carol snaps a picture of a snow covered canoer and I return the favor. Together, we load the truck, dry the dogs, and search for the canvas retrieve. Like our summer of canoeing it is gone. We load the dogs, secure the canoe, and head south...thinking about the retrieve...

11/16/07 - Sawbill Lake froze over last night. The ice is about 1/2" thick by the landing. It was calm overnight, so it is smooth. If we don't get too much snow in the next few days, we might be able to start skating.

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We picked up our first load of new Kevlar Seliga canoes yesterday from Bell Canoe Works in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Most of the canoe companies like to deliver our canoes early so they can clear out their warehouses for the spring retail rush. I drew quite a few interested looks from other drivers as I traversed Wisconsin and northern Minnesota. After fourteen hours of driving, I finally pulled into the driveway at Sawbill. As I wearily climbed out of the truck I heard hissing. After all that driving, a tire was going flat in the driveway. The Sawbill Trail claims another tire! - Bill

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11/8/07 - While on my daily run this afternoon I noticed fresh wolf tracks in the snow starting where Sawbill Creek crosses the Sawbill Trail about half a mile from home. It is not uncommon to see wolf tracks around Sawbill, especially when there is fresh snow. At the one mile point, I was surprised to see a large, grey, male timberwolf loping down the road toward me. We regarded each other briefly, then he headed into the woods and I continued my run. I love seeing wolves and I hold no fear of them, but I did glance over my shoulder during the next mile. A little further on, I came upon the tracks of the entire pack. There were so many tracks at one point, it looked like they'd been having a dance! - Bill

11/5/07 - I had to drive to Grand Marais this morning for a meeting. It was early enough that I was the first one across the road and got to enjoy the fresh snowfall. - Bill

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At first glance this looks like a tire track in the fresh snow. It is actually the tracks of an otter, taking advantage of the fresh snow to do a little "slip 'n' slide."

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The Grade Road shows off it's new look early in the morning.

11/1/07 - I took a walk this morning to snap a few pictures of this gorgeous November morning. Before I got more than a few steps, I noticed that the dogs were interested in one of the dumpsters in the parking lot. In August, a bear did some slight damage to one of the dumpster lids. It created a hole big enough for a pine marten to crawl in. Once in, the marten wasn't able to jump high enough to reach the entrance hole and was effectively trapped.

I opened the lid and the marten immediately ran up the front slope of the dumpster and started jumping from dumpster to dumpster. I assumed it would jump into a nearby tree and escape, but no, it chose to jump down onto the ground. Instantly, there was a tornado of dogs and marten around the dumpsters. Homer, the golden retriever, was quite a bit behind the action and was slightly confused by all the activity. Phoebe, the terrier, was about six inches behind the marten with teeth snapping like castanets. Lucky for her, martens are slightly faster than terriers. Phoebe's heartfelt desire to fight with the marten falls squarely in the category of "be careful what you wish for."

I rigged the dumpster to prevent further marten trapping and we continued our walk. - Bill

sawbilllake11_1_07.jpgAlthough this looks like the perfect day for a canoe trip, the ice forming around the edges presages the end of the canoeing season.

homer11_1_07.jpgHomer inspects the ice forming on the Sawbill Lake canoe landing.


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