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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: June 2008
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « May 2008 | July 2008 »

6/30/08 - Painted turtles have been lining the Sawbill Trail and nearby roads. They haul themselves out onto the roads in search of sunny spots, but unfortunately are often the victims of vehicles. If you're traveling on the backroads near Sawbill, keep an eye out for their dark shells. Try to avoid hitting them, or even better, help them get to safety. - Frosty

Frosty helps a turtle to safety along the Sawbill Trail.

This painted turtle had an eight-inch shell, leading me to believe that it was pretty old. In the wild, painted turtles have a maximum lifespan of 30 or more years.

The lupines are blooming! This year is proving to be one of the best years in recent memory for the lupines.

A lupine from above.

The sunset in Grand Marais harbor last night was spectacular. So even though this photo might be a little out of place, I thought I'd share it with you. The ship is North House Folk School's Hjordis, which regularly takes groups out to enjoy the lake. Find out more information at the North House web site. - Frosty

6/29/08 - Grand Marais residents Mark and Karen Blackburn-Till brought their kids, David, 8, and Chloe, 5, up to Sawbill for a weekend of camping. Karen worked at Sawbill for a number of years, and David and Chloe are already working on their applications for being crewmembers in 2021. Karen and Mark have vowed to take their kids camping every other weekend this summer. So far they've stayed at Trail's End up the Gunflint Trail and Lamb's Resort on Lake Superior in Schroeder. Way to go, guys! - Frosty


6/27/08 - Summer is in full swing around Sawbill. The warm weather and clear skies have lured flowers into bloom. Along trails, portages, and roads, colors appear in fine contrast to the green shady boreal forest floor. - Frosty

Wild Roses just started blooming en force. The shade of pink reflects their surroundings. Those found in shade appear darker than the lighter ones found in full sun.

Hawksweed lines ditches and thrives in warm weather. Even though they're not native, we still like the looks of them.

Trumpet Honeysuckle is very rare around here, but is such a treat to see. This flowering shrub can't be resisted by hummingbirds.

What would summer be without a sighting of the elusive Ladyslipper? Ladyslippers are orchids and have six varieties, all of which can be found in Minnesota. Ladyslippers have an extremely low germination rate, but once they do, they can flower for over 100 years. If you see a Ladyslipper in the forest, please leave it for others to enjoy. Picking one could destroy a century-long blossom.

The water in Sawbill Lake has warmed up to allow for comfortable, long swims. Come on up and enjoy! - Frosty

6/25/08 - Northeast Minnesota moose are reclusive animals and thus a rare sight in the Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest, so count yourself lucky if you ever get a picture like this. Jeremy Schulz, from southeast Minnesota, just sent us this photograph he shot of a young moose skirting Four-mile Lake, just southwest of Sawbill. Thanks Jeremy! - Lee

Young moose, courtesy of Jeremy Schulz.

6/24/08 - Jogging south on the Sawbill Trail today, I saw a large black figure about 300 yards ahead moving away from me on the trail. I kept running to within 200 yards of it and saw it was a big black bear skirting the road lazily. I was downwind from it, but wanted to be cautious since I was on foot, so I slowed to a walk and followed it for about three minutes as it continued ambling along. Finally at about a mile south of the outfitter I drew close enough to distinguish the lighter shade of tan around its snout when it ducked off the road and into the brush to the west. Awed by the encounter, I decided to head back to the outfitter to avoid giving the bear the impression it was being followed. - Lee

6/20/08 - The photograph hardly does it justice, but the first summer swarm of dragonflies has arrived en masse. The shot below, taken above the outfitter, shows just a small part of the multitude of these predatory insects that can be seen buzzing around the woods and lakes here. Dragonflies signify another step in the progress of the seasons here in the Boundary Waters, and a valuable ally in our resistance against the invasion of pesky critters like mosquitoes and black flies. - Lee

Those little black specks in the sky? Dragonflies, looking for a bite to eat.

6/19/08 - Bill and Beverly Flood from Lindenhurst, Illinois, say hello to Rita Flood, Bill's mother, who was not able to travel with them to Sawbill this year. They promise to bring home plenty of pictures to share. - Bill

Bill and Beverly after a relaxing paddle on a perfect June day.

6/18/08 - This beautiful photo comes courtesy of Boundary Waters fan and Sawbill customer Gary Langham. The shot shows two of his kids paddling near the canoe landing on Sawbill Lake during a stunning sunset. Thanks Gary. - Lee

What a shot! A big bold skyscape, shimmering gold water, and a pair of canoeists result in an iconic Boundary Waters photograph rendering some of the grandeur and sublimity we are privy to here in the wilderness.

6/17/08 - A beaver dam washout near Mulligan Lake, between Brule and Winchell, gave Ryan Gresback and his group a hard time traveling over Memorial Day weekend. The breaking dam released the water from a small pond, leaving it mostly mud and bog. Rough! Everywhere else, the water is high this season thanks to consistent rains. The washout only affects a very limited area of the Boundary Waters, so if you plan on paddling between Brule and Winchell, plan to go through the Cones, instead of Mulligan. - Lee

The results of a beaver dam washout near Brule Lake.

Part of Gresback's group paddling through the muck.

6/15/08 - Sawbill played host to a memorable guest yesterday. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty went on a trip with our wilderness guide Dave Freeman. Freeman led Pawlenty, wife Mary and daughter Mara, along with two friends, through the Kelso Loop. Freeman said they had a sunny, relaxing day paddle, aside from a few sprinkles of rain around lunchtime. The Pawlentys were in the Arrowhead region for a short summer vacation taking advantage of vacation destinations on and around Lake Superior's North Shore. - Lee

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty gets ready to lug the canoe across a portage while his wife Mary and daughter Mara collect the other gear in the background.

6/13/08 - Congratulations to former Sawbill crew member Beth (Rolf) Rehfuss and husband Bill Rehfuss! Newborn baby boy William David Rehfuss joined their family June 5. Beth says Will is quite a brute, at nine pounds, four ounces, and 21.5 inches long; plus, he's got the biggest feet she's ever seen on a newborn. "Will, Willie, W-D 40, Buck, Jr. are all acceptable nicknames at this point," Beth says. The whole family is now home from the hospital feeling well. - Lee

Bill and Beth Rehfuss, with newborn Will. Perhaps a future Sawbill crew member in the making?

6/12/08 - Ben Birr pulled this 32-inch walleye out of a Boundary Waters lake on June 2. Dan Birr, Ben's dad, said it came out of an "undisclosed lake," and he has photo and video documentation of his son measuring the fish and then releasing it. That's all well and good, but I've been looking for "Undisclosed Lake" on our maps all day and haven't found a thing. Sooner or later, Dan, something's got to give. Either way, special thanks is due Dan and Ben for sharing the photos, and we'll be waiting patiently for you to disclose the name of that lake. - Lee

Ben Birr shows off a 32-inch walleye he recently caught in the BWCA.

6/11/08 - While out driving at about 8 p.m. last Friday camper Gary Freiermuth and his wife and daughter had a unique wildlife encounter near Lichen Lake on the Grade Road, which cuts through Superior National Forest about six miles south of Sawbill. Gary recounted it in an e-mail for us when he sent a photo-file of the animal's paw print:

"The night was quite windy following the thunder storms and I believe the wind noise allowed us to get closer than otherwise might be true. The animal was walking west away from us as we were coming from the east. We commented that it was very slender for a bear. We were able to get to about 75 yards when the animal turned to see us. Unexpectedly, rather than go into the woods on its near side, it went north across the road, across our field of view, and into the woods.

"This is what we saw. From the nose to the tip of the tail, it was totally black. Not charcoal grey, but very ink-black. It was a darker black than a black bear. It had a very smooth coat. It was long, slender, and had a very long, full, but not bushy tail that it carried horizontally but slightly tipped up at the very end and carried the tail horizontally at the same height as its body as it moved. As the animal moved, its body lowered somewhat to what I could describe as semi-crouch. It moved quickly but not at an all-out run. It had a smallish head relative to its body. No markings of any type were visible. From nose to rump I would estimate 5-5 1/2 feet. The tail seemed nearly as long as its body. Based on the size of my dog, the animal was about 25-26 inches tall at the shoulder and 100-110 pounds. Very sleek."

The Freiermuths then stopped to look at the animal's paw print in the road, and took photos. The print measured about 3 5/8 inches across. Because the existence of wild black cats like this in North America is unconfirmed by scientific researchers, Gary is reluctant to go around telling people, positively, that he saw a black cougar (a.k.a., mountain lion) in the North Woods. But that sure is what it sounds like.

Gary continues, in the e-mail:

"A second time minutes later, we saw only its head as it poked out from the woods about 50 yards from us while we were photographing the tracks. The contrast of the black or almost blue-black color and the current light green state of the area's vegetation was striking. As it got closer to evening and as we talked about what we had just seen, it got a little creepy standing on the edge of the road. What a great experience.

"I hope you enjoy this note and realize how lucky you are to live in the midst of such a wild and special place."

We certainly are lucky, Gary, and thankful for your sharing your experience seeing a black cougar, or whatever it was, in our neck of the woods. - Lee

The photo Freiermuth shot of the purported big black cat's paw print. When we checked this print against examples in our field guides, it appeared to match up best with the cougar/mountain lion entry.

6/10/08 - Finally, after a cold cold spring, green up is in full swing. Purple, yellow, white and pink wildflowers dot the dense green ground cover just off the trails. The scraggly bare-branch spots on the landscapes that marked the aspen and birch stands in winter and early spring now bear the fresh leafy evidence of a wet start to the season here in the Boundary Waters. Looks like a sign of good things to come. And just in time for summer. - Lee

A few of my favorite aspen basking in the evening sun off the back road of the Sawbill Campground.

Forget-me-nots growing in a spot of afternoon sun near the outfitter.

6/8/08 - The lake trout hit hard and often on an annual trip led by former and current Sawbill crew members. The guys caught 15 lakers (on an undisclosed lake) in all, bringing back six to the outfitter today. They released nine back into the lake. Carl Hansen said they also lost two fishing poles, eight lures and about a hundred feet of line. So, either the fish put up a few good fights, or the fisherman fumbled a few too many. - Lee

Carl Hansen, Jeff Greensmith, Nathan TerBeest, Eric Frost, Josh Jones and Adam Hansen home from a triumphant fishing trip.

Three lake trout caught by a few of the Sawbill guys on their latest trip.

6/6/08 - Heavy rains fell on Cook County last night. Sawbill's gauge measured two inches of rain. Mary Alice Hansen called in from Grand Marais to report more than five inches (and a flooded yard) there. If you're coming up today, tomorrow or Sunday, plan a few extra minutes into your drive time to account for a sloppy but passable Sawbill Trail. Highway 61 along the north shore of Lake Superior is experiencing creek and river overflows, but it is still open. Former Sawbill crew member Jeff Greensmith drove up from Duluth this morning and said anyone else passing through should expect brief delays. - Lee

A usually peaceful Sawbill Creek at the south end of Sawbill Lake is rushing hard after last night's rain.

A view north from south Sawbill Lake, where a few rays of sunshine, and pair of paddlers, defied the clouds and possibility of rain this afternoon.

6/2/08 - Carl Hansen graduated from Cook County High School over the weekend. His plans for the future include attending the University of Montana in Missoula this fall. But for now, Carl is content to spend his summer at Sawbill and hanging out with his dog, Homer. - Eric


Yesterday afternoon a brief thunderstorm rolled in from the south, bringing a gentle spring shower. It was over before it amounted to much, and since then we've been enjoying clear skies and mild temperatures. The fishing reports have been stellar from the weekend, and members of the Sawbill crew have been sending out groups with a touch of envy.

6/1/08 - Spring's blanket of green comes late in canoe country. But, it's finally here. During the last two days, the boreal floor has sprouted to life with plants just as eager for winter's end, and summer's arrival, as we are. - Eric


Two species of violets, the wooly blue violet and the downy yellow violet have just recently become visible - a few weeks overdue. These tiny, delicate flowers will grow to be larger as the solstice approaches. Rather than these colorful flowers dispersing seeds, violets will grow a second flower at the plant's base.

Flowers of wild strawberries dot the forest floor. Until they fruit, mouths around here will be drooling in anticipation.

mystery.jpg We have a mystery to solve. With Mary Alice, our former-resident botanist, now living in Grand Marais, we must rely on our newsletter audience to help us learn more about this fungi we've noticed along paths. It's the size of a golf ball, and seems to prefer living near spruce. What is it? Send us an email if you know.

6/1/08 - Aaron Johnson sent along these pictures of an eelpout that he caught on Alton last week. Eelpout are fairly common in BWCA Wilderness lakes, but are rarely caught. They are bottom feeders, so they are usually caught when the fisher person accidentally lets his or her bait rest on the bottom.

While they look somewhat eel-like, they are actually members of the family Zoarcidae. There are 220 species world wide. I've seen them up to five pounds come out of Alton over the years, usually caught in the winter. They are quite delicious to eat - often called the "poor man's lobster" by locals.

Their odd appearance has also spawned a host of nicknames. The most common around here are lawyer, burbot, fish doctor, or what I said the first time I caught one when I was a kid, "What the h*** is that ugly thing?" - Bill

Aaron Johnson with his unusual catch on Alton Lake.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Current Sawbill Newsletter | « May 2008 | July 2008 »

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