Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Greetings from us at Tuscarora!

It’s December and we have been dumped on by the big silent snows. We’re welcoming cabin guests as they come to spend the holidays at Tuscarora. The Boundary Waters are covered with snow and ice, the woods are gorgeous. It’s been cold, crisp, sunny, perfect.
Many of you know that we had an unusual May this year---too hot, too dry, too fast. On May 5th, while there was still a little ice on the Cross River, frozen ground and no leaves on the trees, we had a windy 90 degree day. The Ham Lake Fire started a mile away, raced behind our yard, and left us shaking. We are thankful no one was hurt. We grieved for our neighbors and friends that lost property, for the acres that burned. Miraculously, the white pines and most of Tuscarora property were left untouched. In the midst of the evacuation time, the grace and generosity of the people around us were as remarkable as the tiny green shoots that were already popping.
As the fire cooled, we worried about Tuscarora. There was a fair amount of fiery news---would the guests still come? They (you!) did, and we are so very thankful. We continue to be amazed by the rapid recovery of the woods. The folks camping in the wilderness haven’t been disappointed---the fires of the last two years have not devastated the wilderness experience; not at all.
The summer buzzed by. We had some amazing rains in September and big snowfalls in December. The water levels were high when the lakes froze; Spring 2008 should be great for opening paddling!
The high points of our year continue to be our interactions with really cool people as the seasons pass ---guests, staff, family, friends, neighbors--- even the firefighters who lived here briefly on the front lines with Andy and changed our lives. As we reflect on 2007, we realize we are fortunate to have these experiences and memories of many different people that cross into our lives. We are so much richer because of these relationships.
We’re looking forward to some of the festivals happening on the Gunflint Trail this winter and spring! If you are looking for the next opportunity to visit the Gunflint Trail, check out the agendas for the Winter Tracks Festival (February 28- March 2, 2008) and the Gunflint Green Up Tree Planting scheduled this spring (May 2-3, 2008) .
Some thoughts on trip planning:

On the U.S. side, the United States Forest Service is currently accepting permit lottery applications through January 15, 2008. After this date we can still get you a permit, but we encourage you to book as soon as you can commit to an entry date. The BWCA fees have changed this year: Starting 2008 BWCA overnight camping visitor permit costs are $16/ adult and $8/ youth. Permit reservation fee remained at $12. To make a permit the United States Forest Service asks for a permit deposit of $44.
For Quetico Park in Canada we can reserve a backcountry permit for you exactly 5 months prior to your date of entry. Remote Border Crossing Permits are still acceptable border crossing documents when traveling into Canada. We can give you specific information about the area affected by fire. Whether you wish to experience wilderness forest fire ecology for yourself or steer around fire impacts, we will listen to you and build a custom canoe adventure which meets your expectations. Please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss (1-800-544-3843) or you may review some route offerings online at our new trip route planning tool on our website

There is no better time to think about your 2008 canoe county adventure!

Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for supporting Tuscarora through 2007!

Happy Holidays!

Andy, Sue, Shelby, Dan and the Staff

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh Christmas Tree

The best spot we've found to cut down a Christmas tree is under the power lines---the power company must clear those areas out every 10 years or so---so the balsam trees are just perfect.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Shelby and I were home Friday night, it was dark, it was December, it was time to make lefse. So we invited some neighbors (where we live, this is a very broad term), and had an impromptu lefse making party.
The ricing of the potatoes is really a road block for me---so when our friend Stephen gave us a paper plate full (beginning of November), and he said that he used instant potatoes, I was much more inspired. Stephen has earned expert status--in addition to starting in November, he helped the Lutheran women with the lefse production at church. That’ll do it.
Of course we invited his family---he brings his own grill, rolling pin, prepared dough. Their dough was perfect. I figure mine might have been more authentic, because my Norwegian ancestors had to be resourceful and may not have always had the perfect ratios for the recipe. If they had used the industrial gourmet instant potatoes in little balls instead of flakes, they would have had to keep adding milk and butter and use the puree wand to get rid of the little powdery balls in the mix. Then, enough flour to facilitate the rolling.
The Ahrendt grill didn’t produce the perfect lefse, but it was warm and fresh and we had butter and sugar, and I heard no complaints. At any rate, it was a perfect way to spend a very chilly evening.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Deep Freeze

Wow. This is what we said when we got in the car this morning and the thermometer read -10. We’ve dropped right into the deep freeze. I like it. It means the skies are my favorite color blue and the clean snow clumps don’t melt off of the pines.
We’ve fallen into one of the familiar parts of this season---long drives home from the kids’ hockey/skiing practices. The dark tunnel of the Gunflint Trail facilitates some great chats.
After we pass the South Brule river, the Gunflint Trail starts twisting and then we come upon the moose. As long as I’m not in a hurry, ( been trying not to be lately), it’s such a comforting pleasure to see them again. Usually we see their glowing eyes first. They hesitate to leave the salty road to forge the deep snow. The blank look they give us, along with their lankiness reminds me so much of our first dopey yellow lab named Buck. Finally they lumber along and their furry rumps disappear into the woods. It’s all part of the rhythm really, this regular occurrence defines the winter time of the year.

I know the moose population is on the decline. During hunting season, I absolutely hate to see their heads in the beds of pick-ups. With the increasing deer population, I’m afraid that the brain worm that the deer can carry will wipe out the moose. So when they now re-appear on the Gunflint Trail to lick the salt, I am relieved. Another year, and it looks like they’re going to be all right.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Whose Grouse?

Andy and Daniel went hunting last week---Andy shot it---

Daniel was very proud, and he cooked it.

But it was clearly Denali's grouse.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Best Advice

Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast...a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.

---Edward Abbey


As of Friday, November 15th, Round Lake is officially frozen.
Daniel hopes we can skate before too much snow---it looks like we're going to have to wait until it is thick and shovel it this year.....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Can’t Get Enough Of Quetico Park

Andy spends all summer hearing of other folks’ adventures----Fall’s biggest allure is to create his own. Andy and his friend Dave had to take one more Quetico trip in late October.

He spends weeks rearranging the colored Post It arrows on his office map---this time they hit Northeast Quetico---French Lake, Baptism Lake, Cache Lake, Cache River into north Kawnipi, Poet Chain, Pickerel etc. They can’t quite get enough---even paddling through much rain and wind once again. They started the trip in the rain, against the current up the Baptism River---moving logs out of the way.

Late fall canoe trips mean constant movement---to stay warm, to get to all the places you want to see while you have light. They portaged over multiple waterfalls up there---a continuation of the falls chain beyond Kawnipi. (below---the Cache river flows into North Kawnipi.)

Kawnipi rocks.

The Baptism River
Morning on Pickerel (below)

They apparently will remember this Sauvage Portage---Dave went first, in mud to his hips. If I had to choose ONE photo to define Andy, this might be it. When I first met him, one of his jobs was to drive the pontoon to Fishook Island on Seagull Lake where he schlepped loads of gear and food and tools and materials and campers’ gear and….EVERYTHING up the hill at Wilderness Canoe Base. (He says this is a before shot in an advertisement for Hairclub For Men. I’ll admit that he’s showing a little more skin on the forehead than he did 20 years ago)

One byproduct of fall canoe trips---we didn’t take the dock out until November this year-it was actually very pleasant in the snowy calmness of Round Lake.

Monday, November 5, 2007


We've been scrambling around sweeping roofs and emptying gutters and taking docks out because we knew it would be coming.... The kids (and some friends), on a workshop day off from school were not disappointed AT ALL!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The wolves

To start with, I love the wolves. Ever since 5th grade when I read the fictional glory stories, then I followed David Mech’s research, just because I was interested. I worried about the wolf population on Isle Royale, I hated that people would fly low in airplanes in Alaska and shoot them up, I even used to visit the MN Zoo to watch them (although the pacing in captivity bothered me more than anything else).
Up here, the howling gives me happy shivers, especially when it echoes over the ice. I’ve liked sharing Round Lake with the covert pack of 6 including 2 pups last season (we listened to them learn to howl). Last winter in the middle of the night one howled so close to that I checked on the kids—my first thought was that one of them was weirdly crying in terrible pain. This summer our guests spotted them more often than ever. Once a lanky pup approached my car and sniffed all the tires.
This fall, the sightings have become even more common. My dad saw one by the showerhouse---and it didn’t startle and run away fast enough. Denali gets her dander up and runs around in circles more often on our road.
Last week, I drove into the dumpster site and snuck up on two of them. I watched quietly, wished for my camera, then I decided that it was time to unload my trash into the dumpster. So I honked. No response. I rolled down my window and yelled. Nothing. They were less than 10 feet away. I opened my door and stamped my foot and growled. Then one of them looked at me long and hard enough to illicit prickles on the back of my neck. I could detect no aggression, no submission in the look, just a stare. I banged the dumpster around. I finally had to unload my trash and they still weren’t fazed by me. I was trying not to look scared, trying to be the Alpha. They just weren’t so charming nosing around the dumpster sight.
A couple of days ago Denali and I were running where they leave scat in the middle of MY road, which is starting to annoy me. Denali turned a corner and hollered. Differently than her raven bark, or her treed squirrel frustrated yelp. So I whistled. As she came around the corner to me, the wolf that was following her bit her on the tail. I thought that was bad form. She turned on the wolf, and my first thought was that I was going to have to kick them apart (still thinking domesticated dog fight, not wild wolf vs. lab) but as I ran forward instinctively waving my arms and yelling “no”, the wolf slunk off to the river. Denali wasn’t really hurt, and I think she was secretly relieved that I wouldn’t let her chase it. A minute later when it crossed the road ahead of us to sneak off into the woods, she wasn’t even serious about the chase. Obviously she’d rather stick with me, Alpha that I had just proven myself to be.
Now I’m trying to figure out how to claim my territory back. I’ve ordered an airhorn—like the boats have. This I figure will cause them some pain (in the ears) at the same time that it might startle them. Several people in town recommend firing a gun to scare them off. First of all, if I carry a gun around I’ll probably shoot myself in the foot. Secondly, I don’t really want to hurt these guys, even if they’re not behaving as respectfully and regally as Amaroq, the hero from Julie of the Wolves. I just want them to find their OWN territory. I think Denali will be OK as long as she sticks by me, but I’m not really willing to put my joyfully bounding dog on a leash either.. She leads a very happy life, and that is worth it. I’ll just have to wait for the airhorn.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Sad Sad News

Ken Peterson, Seagull Lake neighbor, longtime friend and supporter of Wilderness Canoe Base, Alaskan Dr, partner of Rob (Horton) of last year's Chrismas play, really good guy---was hit and killed on the Gunflint Trail on October 31st. He was on his way home from choir practice on that windy night, and stopped to clear a tree out of the road when a truck hit him.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Betsy and Saganaga

According to the Cook County Star, Betsy Jane Powell of Saganaga Lake died on October 21st 2007.
I didn't know Betsy personally, only from hearing the stories, then reading her book. We portaged into her abandoned Saganaga Lake resort this September---she operated Green Forest Lodge, a resort on the Canadian side of Sag from 1937 until 2004 when she fell and hurt herself while blueberry picking.
I think I really liked her. Noah told us of avoiding her little bay in his towboat in 2003---he claimed that she sat on the dock with a shotgun to scare off intruders. Not sure if it was true, but it is fitting for my image of a strong eccentric woman growing old in the north woods.
I like to imagine what it was like to survive life in the true wilderness in the 30's and 40's---when she lived off the grid, without Internet access, or highway to Duluth. (Sure, we live at the end of the road, but Bill the UPS man visits us nearly every day.) I like to think of her unconventional get-her-done nature with little regard for society's rules. I like it that she was self reliant and capable, even into old age. She was tough. I think I miss her.

( I understand that I may be romanticizing the same woman who may have turned us back at the portage we took last September---had we dared to brave the shotgun blasts. Still.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Last Three Goodbyes

We said goodbye to Noah, Jake, and Anna (they called themselves the A team) the last of our summer staff members. It was a unique honor to eat, live, and work with these young people in this transition time of their lives.
This fall Noah and Jake coached both of our kids in soccer; Anna (covert star athlete) was Shelby’s unofficial cross country running coach during her long Saturday runs. On Saturday evenings we had make-your-own-pizza night---and I thought more than once of our little extended family—how lucky we were to be able to hang with them and hear their perspectives as they figured out what directions their lives were going to take next. I felt a little nostalgic on behalf of their mothers---someday my children will also be at this stage in their lives apart from me— all part of the growing up equation.
Jake became the expert raspberry pie baker this fall---using up his summer surplus. They brought a 6am breakfast farewell pie before the school bus came. Jake tells Daniel that a great part of being an adult is that you can eat pie for breakfast if you want---or you can order it first at a restaurant to make sure that you have room for it. As we button up and shut down the outfitting building, Andy sees ghosts of clients and staff members around every corner. It’s peaceful as we approach our quieter season, but we definitely miss the people that filled our summer and fall.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quetico Camping Trip

Each spring, Andy and I dream and plan for the Hunter’s Island 10 day trip we’re going to take in September. Maybe some year we’ll pull it off. This year, it was whittled down to 3 nights in the Quetico. But they were splendid.
We went out with our friends Dave and Nancy again.
This year we took a 4 seater Bell Kevlar Canoe. (we called her Bonnie) She was perfect! Bonnie plowed through the Cache Bay rollers with 4 strong paddlers (or at least 3) hardly taking on any water. We stayed on Saganagons and traveled up and down the Falls Chain in an easy day. I don't have the patience to fish much, but these fish are not crafty at all. A half an hour each day yielded great dinners.
It was a cold and drippy week, but even that was perfect. As outfitters, we need every dry day to button up for winter. Wet days are worry-free travel days. We're also on to the warm-when-wet clothing---how to keep dry and comfortable in the void of all comfort. We pack relatively lightly ( 3 out of 4 of us do), but we all have our little luxuries. Extra weight for the fishing net, for the box of wine, for all of the apples, for the cotton pillow case (this is the BEST new trick for me).
Andy loves to look for old cabins and the evidence of history, Nancy’s favorite moments are when we sit in the chairs and look at the water (never long enough), Dave is a great fish cook, and I 'm just delighted not to be in charge of anyone.
We all were game to explore the 1000+ rod portage that we were pretty sure was there…part way through we came upon a boggy pond. It seemed like we might be able to paddle it, but it was full weeds.. We would paddle up to a dead end, Dave would stand up and look through the maze at what appeared to be flowing water, then we’d use our paddles to all move a floating bog island aside and presto---a passage would appear. Just like Harry Potter. I LOVED THAT PART!

We left Tuscarora under the charges of my father, plus Noah, Jake, and Anna. Who knew that my dad missed his calling as a resorter? Noah should already be running his own soccer camp in the woods, Jake kept everyone’s spirits up with his ‘no worries’ attitude, and Anna lingered in the background with all of the answers. My mother took care of our house and kids, tucking them into tightly made beds and leaving them clearly relaxed and well cared for. This competent crew handled the broken foot emergency during a wind storm. Noah cleared the road of downed trees to rescue a group that had bailed out early, Jake gave a portage lesson to a group of arborists who then gave him a chainsaw lesson so that they could cut their way into Bunkhouse 4. Never a dull moment! We couldn’t have left the place in better hands.

We’ve come home to warmer and sunnier days for some beautiful fall canoe trips for guests! Peak color season, still plenty of water soaking into the woods. It doesn’t get any better.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Smokey Bear says MODERATE!


District Forest Ranger Dennis Neitzke calmly let the town know that USFS resources were maxed out. In his non-panicky underdramatic way---he reported over the radio that overall conditions in the Superior National Forest ranked in the 99th percentile on a danger scale of 100. (YIKES!)

Since Smokey Bear also said conditions were SEVERE, Jake and other staff members spent some time making sure our fire pump worked, watering trees and crispy grass, just hoping to raise the humidity a little bit.

We've had some rain this week---an entire Cross River full one night----a few washed out roads, and a happy Jake could kayak down the swelled river---that was just a trickle last weekend. Smokey says MODERATE. The fire ban has been lifted, water levels are way up. Fortunately, our neighborhood is equipped to handle this kind of rain without many problems---other than a few temporarily soggy people in the woods.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Abundance of Wild Flowers--photos by Daniel

Photo from Round Lake Road on May 5th...
Same road.....Daniel took the photos below on his way to the mailbox on August 30th-----the burn cleared the way for a spectacular display of wildflowers.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Fleeting summer

Change is in the air…these end-of-August days are absolutely golden. They’re bittersweet, and I want to hold on to them. Most of the staff members have returned to school. Andy says the place is full of ghosts this time of year------those of us left at the crew cabin table linger a little bit longer with our tea and cheesecake...

Those who plan their autumn canoe trips know the secret of the woods in the fall---fewer people and bugs…happy people, big winners! They’re on to the possibiltiy of golden canoe trips into October.

The resident pack of wolves are moving in close and we see them often. I’m honored, but wish they were a little more alarmed by our presence here---I saw one of the pups the other day. I stopped while the lanky healthy guy trotted around my car, his mother trotted around after him. Neither one changed posture when I rolled down my window, hoping my scent would startle them even though the car didn’t. As tough as Denali appears, she will bristle and bark when we pass by an area they must have just glided through---but she trots back to me—I must be the alpha female in our pack of two.

The kids are excited to return to school as they savor their last moments of freedom. As much as I love fall, I hate to see everybody go. There is a relaxed busy-ness to our days as we start to wrap up—I feel excitement mixed with an ache for the people of summer---unsettling feelings wake me up early. At dawn the other morning I was hustling over to the office to catch up---when the calm lake called me out for a brief paddle. I wish I could bottle up these stunning days and offer them to everyone I know

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Happy Campers

Jack Randall's group trekked from Austin Texas to complete a BWCA adventure last week.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fire Restrictions

We're sorry to report, due to lack of rain in July, full fire restrictions are in effect. According to the USFS, you cannot have a campfire at any time. Our weather has been beautiful, sunny, in the 70's. Great for everything up here---the bug cycles are finishing--everybody is happy. We'd be even happier with some gentle evening showers for about a week.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Dragon Boat Races

Last Saturday the Grand Marais Harbor park filled up with teams and spectators in a rainbow of different tshirts---our (Hungry Jack Outfitter sponsored) team wore lime green. All proceeds went to local causes---the Hospital, North House Folk School, WTIP Radio. This was my first time on a Dragon Boat Team—didn’t really think it could hurt so much to pull that boat across the harbor—so I was pleasantly surprised. Lisa set the heartbeat on the drum up front, Dave hollered commands as he steered the boat, the rest of us pulled in unison. Truly a rush of synergy. (Note, most of the photos are of the kids races--I had the honor of riding without being allowed to paddle--there is no time for photos when I'm supposed to be reaching and pulling!).
For me the day was joyfully over-stimulated. Keeping track of the races, the kids, unexpected faces popping out of the crowd---left me wanting more time with each. My summers feel like they have the same sense of busy happy hectic ness. People come and go, I want more time , and always there is somewhere else I need to be. I watch my children leaping off the dock—I plan to get down there, turn around and they’re riding away on bicycles. The guests---many becoming dear friends, are gone in a flash… I’m living a slideshow existence of photo moments.
When I have time to reflect---to pull out the snapshots of my days---it’s late September.. A friend sent me a poignant “take time to smell the flowers” poem. So true, but not on the 2nd of August. We do have balance here, just not a daily balance. There are some days in the winter when the woods are empty. The trick is always to savor the moments as they come, savor the busy hectic ness, savor the dark quietness. Both have their season.

Weather: has been warm, clear, windy, dry. Beginning August 3rd, there is a fire ban in the woods.