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Phone: (218)663-7150
Fax: (218)663-7980
Mail: 4620 Sawbill Trail
Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter

4/16/14 - Here is the sweetest essay from Matthew Campbell about a canoe trip he took last summer with his brother, Sawbill crew member Tyler Campbell.

Last summer i went on a three day trip into the boundary waters with my brother Tyler. My brother works at a campground in Tofte Minnesota, the campground is named Sawbill. Sawbill is a wonderful place that my family has been enjoying for many years. We make sure we go at least once a summer. My brother has been going to Sawbill since he was a very little child, all of my siblings have. This is a magical place. Its a getaway spot for my family that relaxes the mind,soul and body. Its a place for family and fun and getting away from the stresses of daily life. It is a place to get in touch with nature and it really makes me think about my life. It is a place with many memories.

Like i said i went on a three day trip into the boundary waters with Tyler. When we first planned this trip my other brother, Ben, was supposed to come with us but he was unable to make it because he had hockey. Just before we had finished packing Tyler and I decided we were going the take the Kawasachong river up past Malberg down River lake to see some pictographs. We also decided not to stay on one lake the whole time but instead pick a new site each night. It was set to be a great adventure.

We started our voyage on Lake Kawishiwi, a twenty minute drive from Sawbill Lake. It was a cloudy overcast day with a chance of rain, but nothing could get in the way of having a great trip with my brother. We paddled hard for hours through rain, fog, and a tiny bit of sun. When we finally got to Lake Phoebe where we were planning to stay. We went all around Lake Phoebe checking out all of the sites hoping to find an open one, but to no avail. We had to paddle a little bit farther to Lake Polly where we settled in for the night. My rain jacket had kept my arms and torso dry but i forgot my rain pants so my legs were soaked to the bone, i felt 20 pounds heavier because of all the rainwater.

The campsite we found sat on a gently sloping hill with a gigantic rock at the base that extended far into the water it looked like it went on forever reaching into the deepest depths of the water and acted as a landing of sorts for canoes to load and unload. About fifteen yards from the rock was a tiny island with a small pine tree and two baby poplars. It was more of a rock than an island. The space in between the rock and the the island would have been perfect for fishing if the weather had permitted it. The hill the site was on had two natural banks in it. On the lower bank there was a small fire box, about the size of a shoebox surrounded by furniture made of logs and big rocks. The upper was a perfect spot to hang our tarp and set up the "kitchen". To the left of the lower bank was a small, circular area, shaded by a multitude of trees, for our yellow , three man, Eureka tent. After unpacking our green Duluth Packs the first thing we did was put up the tarp. Next we set up the tent and by then it was time for dinner. We scarfed down a dinner of Hamburger Helper and hot chocolate as fast as possible because we had not eaten anything but trailmix that whole day. I think its amazing how food seems to taste better when you are so hungry you could eat a horse. After washing the dishes Tyler hung the pack so the bear wouldn't get it while i brushed my team and made sure nothing was left out in the rain.

I hopped into the tent and whipped off my soaked clothes and put them at the base of my camp mattress so i could stuff it to the bottom of my Sealpack in the morning. Tyler climbed in through the other side and did the same. We each grabbed our books, I was reading The Hobbit and he was reading Walden. After maybe ten minutes of quiet reading I heard a shuffling a little ways from the tent followed by a low grunt. I wasn't sure if something had actually grunted or if i was hearing things so I didn’t say anything to Tyler and I continued to read. About a minute later i heard the same shuffling and grunting, this time i put my book down and listened to the silence of the night straining to hear the sound again but I couldn’t and just to clarify that i wasn't losing my mind i turned to Tyler and asked in a hushed tone "Did you hear that?" he set Walden down and replied "Hear what?" He had just confirmed that i was in fact going crazy. I said "Nothing...nevermind." Two minutes after that i heard it again but Tyler had confirmed that i was paranoid so i ignored it. This time Tyler put his book down and whispered "Matthew!" He had surprised me with his sudden shout of a whisper and i jumped and whipped my head to him and replied in the same tone "What?" "Did you hear that?" He craned his neck to listen for it "That grunt?" he turned to me and smiled. He said "Matthew, I think we have a bear in our campsite." Before your trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) you must watch a video that tells you the basics of what you must do, in the video there is a circumstance where a bear enters a site and the two campers bang their pots together to scare off the black beast, but we didn't have anything to clang together. I wish i could have seen how wide my eyes were when I looked at my brother and asked whispered "what do we do??" my reaction only made him smile wider and chuckle to himself. My eyes widened not because i was scared but because I was excited. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I got really pumped because its not everyday that you get to be this close to a bear. He thought for a second and said "while we need to make noise to scare him away I’ll read from my book." I set The Hobbit down and fell asleep listening to my brother read a very lengthy description of a pond to a bear.

I woke up the second day to the pitter patter of rain over my head. I sat still listening to the ratta tat tat of rain on my tent as a waited for Tyler to wake up and watched the drops of water streak down the rain fly, when i watch then i like to think are racing. Tyler woke up and we got dressed trying to delay getting wet for as long as possible but it was inevitable. We rushed to take down the food pack and prepare a breakfast of instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. "Well are we going to pack up and move on or just day trip to the pictographs?" I asked even though I already knew the answer "We can pack up now and see the pictographs today and stay on malberg tonight and then paddle back in the morning tomorrow or we can stay here and see the pictographs today or we can just paddle around and not go to the pictographs. Its up to you." "Since its raining i think we should keep camp here and paddle to see the pictographs now." "Okay do you still want to go fishing on Koma?" Tyler asked because i had been talking about fishing all trip long and Koma is a great lake for catching walleye "I would love too if this rain would ever let up" i chuckled. He brushed his light brown dreadlocks out off his face and scratched his his tiredly. "Alright lets bring lunch in the small bag and hang the big pack. You get the paddles and lifejackets I'll get the food." "Sounds good."

Tyler pushed us off the big rock into the water, rippling from a heavy drizzle of rain. There was a breeze blowing directly in our faces as we paddled hard towards the portage to Koma Lake. We canoed through Polly and Koma easily but then we had to row all the way up the long narrow Lake Malberg. By the time we took a break on the portage to Malberg the wind and rain had both picked up to make a nasty combination to be traveling in. "Do you want to go back now?" Tyler asked, rain dripping off his barely visible, scruffy, blond beard. "No we made it half way lets push on." He looked at me with doubt that i would make it all the way. "Okay lets get going." We made it to the last portage of the day, through a whipping wind with horizontal rain biting into my skin like needles. This last portage was a long one with parts that had knee deep swampy water. "Are you sure you want to keep going?" he asked "I don't know" "well its up to you Matthew." "lets go back." "alright." I felt terrible. i had looked forward to this trip for weeks and seeing pictographs was one of the coolest things and now I was turning around because i was too weak to continue. We stopped at a campsite on Malberg to have lunch. The campsite was on a huge rock that was more like a cliff than a boulder. The rock would have been great for jumping into the water if the weather had allowed it. We ate a lunch of refried beans on a quesadilla with cheese and salami. It tasted much better than it looked. We paddled through Koma and fished a little but it was pointless because nothing would bite in this terrible rain.

When we got back to camp we got the food pack down and snacked on red licorice while Tyler read and i just sat on a log and thought about nature. It's not often that anyone takes the time out of their busy life to just sit and appreciate nature. That is the reason i love the BWCA, it really allows you to connect with mother nature and calms the soul. Tyler started dinner and I approached him. "Can i make a fire?" I asked him. "Sure! matches are in a ziplock bag in the food pack, you know what wood to pick right?" "Yes only wrist sized pieces that are dry and dead." "Alright go ahead." I gathered firewood and started the fire. It was a challenge to start it with what i had. the rain had ceased so we could finally eat and warm ourselves and dry our wet sandals. After we ate we sat around the fire, feeding it wood until we ran out. We talked. Tyler smoked one of his honey scented cigars, the pine smelling smoke from the fire mingled with the smoke from his cigar creating a delicious smell that relaxed me. The reason I had looked forward to this trip so much is because my brother Tyler was twenty-four. I was thirteen. He moved out of the house when he was eighteen and spent as little time at home as possible before that. I was seven when he left. I never really got to spend any time with him when I was little like my brother Ben did. For as well as I knew him my parents could have just found a bum on the streets and told me I was related to him and i would have believed them. This was the first time I had spent time with him. And this night in particular was my favorite night i have spent with him. Around the fire talking about adult things. Almost as if we were equals. It was the first time we had really connected. I am the youngest of four children. My closest sibling is ben who is six years older than me, next is Katie ten years older than me and then Tyler at eleven years older than me. Katie was only a year younger but i was a lot closer to her. Tyler was my role model when i was little, I wanted to be like him sooooooo much because he was the coolest. I tried to spend as much time as I could when i was younger, he loved music I just happened to love to listen to the same music he did, he lifted weights and i asked him if I could try. I must have been like the annoying puppy he never wanted but he was still a great brother. This night, around the fire, was one of two moments that I had really felt like his brother instead of a little kid he had to see sometimes. I went to bed that night with the biggest smile I have ever had.

Sawbill Lake ice was 31" thick again today. At least it hasn't added any thickness. - Bill

4/15/14 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice measurement is 31". There was very little progress yesterday. The high temperature was 25F and the low was 13F. The sun did provide a little melting, despite the cold temperatures.

Here are some pictures taken by ice measurement crew this morning:

First the bad news. The Sawbill store still looks like the middle of winter, except for the snow being shed from the metal roof.

Now the good news. Sawbill Creek is wide open, which is a major indicator of impending spring.

Leif Gilsvik hanging out on the old, abandoned bridge across Sawbill Creek.

4/14/14 -
Today's Sawbill Lake ice measurement was 33". A cold snap is definitely slowing down the melting today.

This very fresh wolf scat was near the canoe landing this morning. It made Roy very nervous.

4/13/14 - Today's ice measurement on Sawbill Lake is 31".

4/12/14 - Today's ice measurement is 35" with the top 6" highly degraded and honeycombed. The first ice-out lakes have been reported in southern Minnesota. We are usually about a month later, but it depends entirely on the weather.

We had a nice visit the other day from the new interns at North House Folk School. Former crew member, Jessa Frost, is the program director at North House and Sawbill's own Cindy Hansen works there part time. If you're interested in traditional crafts, you will love North House. - Bill

(Front to back) Emily Derke and Mary Cowen - NH interns, Leif Gilsvik, Jessa Frost, Austin Kennedy - NH intern, and the ever graceful Cindy Hansen. Photo by Nils John Anderson.

4/11/14 - The first measurement on the countdown to ice-out on Sawbill Lake was taken yesterday. 33" of ice was the official reading.

Sawbill crew member Leif Gilsvik puts his back into it for the first daily ice measurement leading to the open water season. Photo by Nils John Anderson.

That said, we've lost at least half our snow pack in the last few days. A high sun, warm winds and temps near 50 have all taken a toll. I estimate an average snow depth of about 18", down form nearly 40" at the beginning of the week. - Bill

4/8/14 - Cindy and I took our first extended vacation over the last couple of weeks. We wisely chose to head far enough south that we missed the last several blasts of this bitter Minnesota winter of 2014.

Here is what we had to put up with while the blizzards were raging at home. That's me in the chair to the far right. I think I was napping at the time. - Bill

Here are some recent Cook County West End News from WTIP-FM, North Shore Community Radio:
West End News: March 20th
West End News: March 27th
West End News: April 3rd

In a few days we'll start the daily Sawbill Lake ice report.

3/18/14 - Here are a couple of pictures to prove that both we and winter are still alive at Sawbill. - Bill

The classic, non-flattering selfie, including a bit of lunch stuck in my teeth.

For this whole long winter Sawbill Lake has had deep, soft snow covering almost universal slush. Finally, the freeze/thaw cycle is allowing us to get out on the lake to wander around and play with Roy and Phoebe.

Here are the last four editions of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio:

West End News: March 13th
West End News: March 6th
West End News: February 27th
West End News: February 20th

3/4/14 - Jerry Vandiver is a successful Nashville songwriter, dedicated wilderness canoeist and friend of Sawbill.

Jerry has recently released his second CD of canoe camping themed songs, "Every Scratch Tells A Story." The CD begins with the song "My Wilderness Journey." While Jerry was recording the song, he cut an alternate version called "My Sawbill Journey" (click on title to listen).


If you are inspired by Jerry's Sawbill journey to share a picture or short video of your Sawbill journey, email it to me and Jerry will produce a YouTube video of the best pictures set to the song.

By the way, Jerry is perfoming with his "One Match Band" at Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sawbill's guides, Amy and Dave Freeman are also speaking at Canoecopia. - Bill

2/28/14 - Our fabulous guides, Dave and Amy Freeman, were featured today in Minneapolis Star Tribune article.

2/14/14 - Here is this week's edition of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio.

Here is an excerpt:

Last week, I mentioned my epic fall off the peak of my house. I got a number of emails and comments about my inventing the new Olympic sport known as roof diving. It got me to thinking about other West End winter sports that could be included in future winter Olympic Games.

One event could be Cold Weather Dog Walking. This would be judged on the dog's form and skill at walking while holding one or more freezing paws off the ground. Points could be awarded for maintaining speed while walking with one, two, or at the pinnacle of skill, three paws in the air. Extra points are awarded for successfully "taking care of business" with one or more paws off the ground.

Another sport could be competitive car starting. Athletes would each be provided with a 1992 Toyota Camry with two hundred and thirty thousand miles on it and a four-year-old battery, cooled down to 32 degrees below zero. Points would be awarded for the least time elapsed from leaving the house to pulling out of the driveway. Style points would be added for combinations of starter fluid, gas pedal pumping and application of jumper cables. Needless to say, at the Olympic level, only batteries with the tiny little side-mounted terminals would be allowed. Points would be deducted for failure to make a solid connection or having the jumper cables pop off just as you turn the key. You are disqualified if you leave your choppers sitting on the air cleaner when you slam the hood.

The final new event could be that ultimate test of speed, agility and strength that we call roof shoveling. Points would be awarded for speed and style, with extra points being added for the size of each block of snow pushed over the edge of a low pitch cabin roof. The judges will want to see a few graceful roof diving moves, with points being added for the length and loudness of the scream and the gracefulness of the landing. Veterans of this Olympic sport, like me, would delight the crowd with our perfect belly flop techniques.

This all gets me to thinking that the West End should submit a bid to host the 2022 winter games.
- Bill

2/13/14 - Former Sawbill crew member (and our daughter), Clare Hansen, is featured in the University of Montana News article below. - Bill

UMSL ABA Negotiation Team Invited To National Competition

(pictured above, left to right: 1L, Nick VandenBos [Bozement, MT] 3L, Clare Hansen [Tofte, MN] and Prof. Klaus Sitte, Coach).

UPDATE February 10, 2014:

The UMSL ABA Negotiation Competition Team of Clare Hansen and Nick VandenBos competed at the National Negotiation Competition in Chicago this past week. Nick and Clare advanced to the semifinal round before succumbing to the University of Minnesota Law School team which eventually took 3rd place. The ABA does not officially ranked teams below the final 4.

Clare and Nick are remarkably gifted negotiators. Clare's appearance in the Saturday morning round marked the end of her amazing 3-year competition career. She is one of only a handful of students who has competed in the Regional Final round twice in successive years, followed by a national competition appearance. I have had no other Neg Team member who has accomplished that feat in 22 years. Those of you who have had her in class are witnesses to her talent and competence. Nick, as a 1L, was notable just by his mere presence, let alone unique skills: not many 1Ls make it to national competition, of course. His ability to sense Clare's next sentence is quite uncanny.

As you can tell, I am resoundingly proud of these 2 UM Law Students. Not only are they amazing ambassadors for UMSL, they are incredibly fun to work with. Please join me in congratulating their impressive achievement. - Prof. Klaus Sitte

2/7/14 - Here is the latest edition of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio.

Below is an excerpt:

I am particularly happy to be able to report the West End News this week, because by all rights I should be either be in an intensive care ward or attending my own funeral.

Last Wednesday, I fell off the peak of my roof, plunging 22 feet straight down on to rock-hard frozen ground.

I was up there to clear a frozen sewer vent, which is something that a lot of West End residents have been doing lately. To access my roof, I climb the latticed radio tower that is bolted to the high peak of my two-story home. At the peak, there is a steep eave about 18" wide that I have to step over to reach the much flatter main roof area. When I committed my weight in that first step, the snow on the eve broke loose and avalanched down and off. I wasn't too worried because I still was holding the tower with both hands and my other foot. Unfortunately, the physics of the avalanche took a large chunk of dense snow off the flat part of the roof with it, including my foot that was buried within it. The huge mass of the moving snow plucked my hands off the tower like you would pluck a mosquito off your arm. Meanwhile, the foot that was still on the tower became momentarily wedged in the latticework and in the blink of an eye, I was spun around and launched into mid air 22 feet above the unforgiving earth.

I'm here to tell you that good old gravity accelerates a falling object frighteningly quickly. It's one thing to observe an object dropping from the heights - and quite another thing to be the object.

I've often wondered what would pass through my mind if I were facing sure death with only a few seconds to ponder my fate. Would my life flash before my eyes? Would I think of my children, spouse, family or beloved friends? Would I feel regret or fear? Well, now I know. I had one thought and one thought only as the ground rushed toward me. Calmly and without fear, I thought to myself, "This is really going to hurt." - and it did.

As it turned out, I was incredibly lucky to land a perfect belly flop on absolutely flat ground that was covered by 25 inches of soft snow. Thanks to the cold weather, I was wearing multiple layers of thick clothing. That combination saved my life. I had the wind thoroughly knocked out of me, but once I recovered from that, I had only a moderately sore shoulder and foot to show for my adventure.

The experience definitely did change my outlook on life. I was stupid, then lucky, and that's a combo that you don't get to repeat too many times in one life. After the fall, you can be sure that I've thought often about my children, spouse, family and beloved friends. - Bill

Here is the divot that is created when an outfitter and radio commentator falls 22 feet.

1/26/14 - We had a fun visitor to the office bird feeder the other day.

The pine marten is a member of the weasel family.

Pine martens are formidable predators, but they also like to eat sunflower seeds.

They are incredible climbers, spending much of their life in trees. It takes some serious skills to climb the steel bird feeder pole.

Here is this week's edition of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio. - Bill

1/18/14 - Mike Valentini, our friend who lives at the end of the Gunflint Trail, had a lucky encounter with a lynx this week.

It's always a treat to see a lynx. Photo by Michael Valentini.

...but to see a lynx chasing its lunch is amazing! Photo by Michael Valentini.

Michael reported that the squirrel got away, but the lynx' agility in the tree was phenomenal. Photo by Mike Valentini.

Tom Sonnek is a long-time Sawbill canoeist. Tom sent a link to this video on the Ugly Stik website highlighting his fishing adventures on Sawbill Lake.

Steve Gendron is another avid Sawbill visitor who sent along this note and picture:

Hello Sawbillians. Enclosed is a photo of a black bear that I made of chicken wire, papier-mache, and white pine needles. Insofar as I've got 14 white pines in my small, south Mpls yard, and I read at least one newspaper cover- to- cover every day, I've got plenty of supplies. I've also made a bull moose and an African, two-horned black rhino. Each is life-sized. Making these animals-except, obviously, the rhino, is one way for me to be "in" the BWCA in the deep winter. There aren't rhinos in the BWCA, are there?

Steve Gendron, artist extrodinaire, inspired by his time at Sawbill.

Here is this week's edition of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio.


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