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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: July 2009
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « June 2009 | August 2009 »

7/31/09 - Swing your partner 'round and 'round! We got a chance to practice our do-si-dos Wednesday at Sawbill's annual Dome Dance. Once a year we put on our dancing shoes and gather in the former outfitting dome behind the canoe yard to spin, see-saw and gypsy the night away at an old-fashioned contra dance. Terrance Smith, Duluth, called the dance, with the help of wife Marge on the tin whistle, friend Kelly on the fiddle and our very own Bill Hansen on the guitar. Guests from the campground and around Cook County came to dance their hearts out and revel in the July heat. It was a whoop-and-hollering good time, as usual. - Lee

A few of the dancers, with Marge and Kelly in the background.

Contra circles in mid spin.

Terrance gives a guest a helping hand.

7/30/09 - Lida, KT and I (all current or past crewmembers) just returned from an outstanding canoe trip full of rock jumping, roaring waterfalls and plenty of blueberries and raspberries to sweeten up our granola each morning. The berries were not quite ripe around Sawbill when we left on the trip so we were delighted to find abundant patches on nearly every site we visited.

Lida fills her cup on our very own raspberry island.

Our harvest on the first site.

Early morning yoga looking out at Knife Lake.

Despite an ominous forecast and forgetting a few important items (yup, it happens even to the professionals!), it was one of the best trips any of us has taken. We covered a lot of miles and the laughter was constant. Who needs perfect weather when you've got great friends?

From our site on Seagull Lake you can see the far shore is still brown and scarred from the Ham Lake fire of 2007.

Our eager group on the only sunny morning of the trip.


7/27/09 - Sawbill crew member Lida Storch just finished a bike trip around Lake Superior. The intrepid Alaska schoolteacher returned to the lower forty-eight this summer to work at Sawbill for a few weeks and pedal her heart out on the 1,200 miles of highways circumscribing the lake.

The trip started with Lida and three other Alaska schoolteachers biking the south shore leg from Superior, Wis., to Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. At that point two of the riders left and Lida continued with cycling partner Brian Tesch.

That's when the road got rough, Lida says. The hills and mountain roads of the Ontario shoreline made for a challenging closing leg. Overall, the cyclists averaged 60 miles a day, and completed a 140-mile day to finish the trip in the Twin Ports on July 20.

After a few days of rest, Lida passed through here again to visit and go on a canoe trip with Caitlin and Katie. Looks like Lida is going to get the most out of her summer before starting school again in the fall. - Lee

Lida spinning.

Waterfall bliss.

Brian Tesch over the hills of Ontario.

The happy cyclists after their last day on the road.

7/24/09 - The first Sawbill crew member paid us a visit this past week. Tom Kubiak drove up from his home in Illinois for a multi-purpose visit to the North Country. Between stopping in Duluth to see family and pop in on a fiftieth class reunion, he spent a few days fishing and camping here.

Kubiak began working as a guide at Sawbill Lodge in the mid fifties and started working for Frank and Mary Alice in 1956. Now retired from a 25-year career in the United States Air Force, Kubiak remembers fondly his early years working in the area, and chuckles when recalling watching Bill Hansen catch a monster northern pike on Sawbill Lake when Bill was just old enough to cast a line.

To rekindle these and other memories of campfires past, the Kubiak clan visits Sawbill and the Boundary Waters every three or four years now. The proud grandfather says his affection for the place had spread.

"Sawbill, Sawbill, Sawbill. That's all I hear." Kubiak says, imitating his granddaughter. "Once Sawbill gets in your blood, it's always there."

Asked to give a word of advice to today's Boundary Waters pilgrims, Kubiak offered a classic refrain: Be prepared for anything. - Lee

Tom Kubiak

7/22/09 - More wildlife sightings: Paul Gray sent us these photos from his recent trip in the area. After he snapped the picture of the wolf from the side, it trotted down the trail in front of his car for a quarter of a mile or so. It is likely the appearance of the car waylaid the wolf from a day's hunt. I hope the moose cow and calf stay alert. Wolf packs (as well as bears and humans) present one of the greatest threats to moose populations. Lucky for the moose, their size makes them a foreboding obstacle for wolves to tackle, and they are usually good at evading contact. Wolf or no wolf, stay quiet and keep your eyes peeled while traveling through marshy areas like the one pictured. You'll have a better chance to see a moose up close. - Lee

Wary wolf.

Moose cow and calf.

7/20/09 - Greg Fangel just sent us a nice photo email. Greg writes that he was driving to check on the blueberry growth in the area and met a fox family playing near the Sawbill Trail. As you can see below, the two kits proved especially photogenic. Thanks, Greg! - Lee

Kits at play.

7/18/09 - It's not every day we see a house rolling by. In fact, Bill says it was a Sawbill first. Monday a semi-tractor pulled into the Forest Service parking lot adjacent to the outfitter. The driver was looking for Gust Lake, which is on the way to the Brule Lake entry point on the Grade Road, about seventeen miles away. Once he got his head, and his truck, pointed in the right direction, he continued the delivery, but not before getting his rig jammed in the intersection out in front of the store. All it took to get him through was some deft trailer backing and a gathering crowd. - Lee

This is what we saw from the front of the store.

That's what I call a tight squeeze.

And away he goes.

7/15/09 - I caught this walleye on Sunday evening on an area lake. I hooked into it and I immediately knew it was not another 12-inch walleye. It made a few runs which made me think it could be a decent northern, but the fact it was staying down toward the bottom made me hope it was a large walleye. After about a five minute battle I got it within landing range, but naturally I did not have a net. After two missed attempts I was finally able to land it with my hands. I was lucky enough that someone was on shore with a camera and able to snap some photos. My main concern was getting the fish back in the water, which I was able to do quite quickly. The fish was 28 inches long and I'm guessing in the 8.8 pound range. Fish of my dreams! - Brian

Thanks Britt for taking this photo for me.

7/12/09 - Curtis Wyland sent us these photos from a trip he took in the middle of June with his friend Corey. The pair were fortunate enough to get a few snapshots of wildlife on top of having some great fishing. - Brian

Nice picture of a moose wading in the shallows.

Looks like Curtis had a rare opportunity to get up close to a moose in his kayak.

Nice smallie.

A snapper basking in the sun.

7/11/09 - I just returned from a wonderful six day canoe trip with my oldest daughter, Ruthie. Ruthie lives in Chicago now, where she teaches at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. She hasn't forgotten her canoe tripping skills though, so we completed a large five day loop from Kawishiwi Lake up through Malberg, and Alice to Fraser Lake. From there we headed through Wisini, Kekekabic, Knife, Amoeber (the requisite lake with a funny name - part of every good canoe trip), Cherry, Hanson and back to Kawishiwi through Gabimichigami, Little Saganaga and Makwa.

We had perfect weather, great fishing and many interesting animal sightings. It was a "busman's holiday" for me, but it is still my favorite vacation. - Bill

Ruthie and I literally jumping for joy at the Kawishiwi Lake canoe landing moments before our trip began.

Fishing from a beautiful campsite on Gabimichigami Lake.

The reward for the hard work of fishing.

Early in the trip we saw a massive snapping turtle basking on a rock in the middle of the lake. Later we found this tiny baby snapper at the end of a portage. The little guy tried hard to bite me, even at it's tender age!

Ruthie casts a long shadow across our tent site.

7/10/09 - Cassandra Wagner sent us these snapshots from her recent trip out of the Sawbill Lake entry point. Between good fishing and wildlife encounters, it looks like a memorable one. Thanks for sharing, Cassandra. - Lee

Cassandra Wagner and a nice smallmouth bass she caught on Kelso Lake.

Amanda Connolly hooked into her own smallmouth bass right at dusk on Sawbill Lake.

Bear crossing?

7/8/09 - Out hiking yesterday in the Superior National Forest, I came across a female ruffed grouse protecting its young. It became agitated as I approached on the trail, puffing up the feathers around its neck, strutting and flapping its wings, hissing and clucking. I snapped a few quick photographs and kept moving to avoid further fuss. The Minnesota DNR reports that spring drumming was up 44 percent over the 2008 counts, which it records as an indication of the overall population. That's a good sign for the bird, and a compelling development for fall's small game hunters. - Lee

Angry mother grouse.

A shot of the grouse, ruffled feathers and all.

The grouse, upon closer inspection, turned to run off the trail.

7/7/09 - Following up on the 1999 blowdown entry, I drove down the trail today to find a place where a clearing still showed damage from the storm. The pictures show how much the forest recovers from that kind of disaster over ten years. With sunny skies and temps breaking seventy degrees, it made an idyllic morning for a walk through the woods, yet a stern reminder of the destruction wrought by the forces of nature. - Lee

The tops of the trees broken off like matchsticks.

A few surviving white pines stand tall amid dead stumps and new growth.

7/4/09 - Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the devastating windstorm that hit the BWCA on July 4, 1999. Here is what we wrote and saw at the time:

7/5/99 - Things here are busy and a little hectic. We had a thunderstorm pass through here at about 2:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon, which lasted about a half an hour, with tornado-like winds and heavy rain. It took a lot of trees down and the Sawbill Trail was impassable until about 7 p.m. last night. There have been no injuries reported so far and all campers and Sawbill crew are accounted for. We are all a little weary, as this twist of events on the 4th of July has added more excitement to this normally peaceful place. It is events like this that bring to our attention, once again, to the awesome force of Mother Nature.

The storm was the worst in our history, with 80 mph windgusts violently uprooting trees by the thousands. After the storm passed, the Sawbill crew of 1999, including Laura (Ter Beest) Strubbe, Nathan Ter Beest, Eric Frost, Natasha (Warner) White, Adam Hansen, Laura (Smith) Greensmith, Anna Constance and Josh Bacscai, worked tirelessly to check on those people staying in the campground, and begin to clear the roads.

In front of the Sawbill store, a few days after the storm, the extent of the damage was evident.

Even after the storm passed, we still could not comprehend the total extent of the damage. A few days after the storm, we wrote:

7/7/99 - Now that we've had time to assess the damage from Sunday's storm, we are counting ourselves very, very lucky. Although many trees went down here, in the campground and in the wilderness, it appears that no one in this immediate area was hurt. One family on the campground had two tents set up on their campsite. When the storm hit, they all dived into one of the tents. The other tent was totally destroyed when two huge trees fell across it moments later. Another group was driving over to Kawishiwi Lake with two canoes on a trailer. A large tree fell right across the trailer, destroying both canoes. Our worst loss here at Sawbill was our largest and most beautiful white pine, right by the picnic table in front of the store. It uprooted and fell just a couple of feet from our communication tower guy wires.

The Duluth News Tribune is reporting that 19 people were airlifted out of the wilderness with injuries. No deaths have been reported in the BWCA Wilderness, but a few of the injuries were severe.
- Bill

These stories are just a few among the thousands told by those who experienced the storm.

In the 10 years that have passed, the wilderness has shown remarkable signs of rebirth. Many exposed hillsides now bristle with new growth. More sobering, the BWCA has seen two massive wildfires--the 2006 Cavity Lake fire and devastating 2007 Ham Lake fire--burn through the blowdown area and beyond.

It's hard to believe that 10 years have passed. It has been a truly remarkable period of destruction, change, and resilience--and a reminder that wilderness is a place all its own that does not always bend to human will. Through it all, so many of us continue to seek out wilderness year after year, occasionally humbled, but always inspired to follow our own path and see what lies around the next bend. - Adam

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