Thursday, May 31, 2007

Campfire Restrictions Eased

  • We've been having such wet and misty weather---the fire ban in the Quetico Park (Canada)has been lifted;
  • In the BWCA campers can have fires between the hours of 7pm and midnight.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Thousands of Trees

This weekend many volunteers came to the Gunflint Trail to plant thousands of white pines, red pines, jack pines in the private property that burned. We are grateful for the crews that came to Tuscarora!

Kjersten collected the bags of trees.
Nancy Seaton organized the entire tree planting extravaganza. (and still she had the energy to plant a few!)

Our new friend Summer came with her dad and brother from Minneapolis to help us plant--and clean up glass from a window that blew out.

Friday, May 25, 2007


We're back in full swing here at Tuscarora. It feels great to have the time fly by again as we are back to welcoming staff and guests, stocking the store, preparing equipment, shuttling folks across Saganaga. It has been a rainy cool week, and our energies are focused less on survival and more on summer.

People have been asking how things have changed. For some folks--everything has changed. For Tuscarora, not so much.

The kids were surprised to find a little white school house right next to the Gunflint Trail--revealed near Iron Lake where the fire burned near the road. They've driven by it every day and never seen it.

We're surprised by the conveneince that temporary cell towers have brought to us at Tuscarora--and those traveling in the woods close to us. We're sensitive to the issues that changes in accessible technology bring to all of the stake holders here in this place---currently for necessary safety reasons for the buisinesses and private residences at the end of the Gunflint Trail. After the land lines are restored, cell phones could still provide convenience, safety, illusions of safety, noise pollution, solitude, wilderness experiences.

I went for my regular run this morning--- first time back to flat scenic Warren's Road--near the kids' bus stop. We don't see much human traffic, but Denali and I have seen lots of moose, a bear, and much wolf scat on that road (and have heard rumor of a mountain lion, but we doubt that). We love it there, and I was worried about the cabins on that route--it runs to the end of the narrows between Gunflint Lake and Magnetic Lake. Especially I worried about about some folks that are selling their cabin (would it become a fire sale?). I'm fond of these anonymous people because their crib dock is right at the half-way point in my run, and Denali and I respectfully borrow a corner of their dock to witness the changes and moods of the seasons on Gunflint Lake, and we ponder the universes. I consider it to be one of my alltime most peaceful places in this world.
The north side of the road was burned for the 1st mile of my run, the south side was still green. Nothing appears to have burned at the end of the road by the cabins. Instead of being dissappointed, I was simply curious at the way my daily routine has also changed.

I got to thinking about change, and about my urge to keep everything the same. I've always wanted to stall my kids as they've been growing up, I want my favorite campsites to stay the same, I want to repeat experiences. Is this a bad thing? I hate it when summer ends, I don't want to say goodbye to staff and guests, I don't want anyone or anything to die.
I suppose it is a natural phenomenon to want to preserve things, and certainly I'm glad that the BWCA has been so faithfully preserved. But there is a time when that urge to keep things the same becomes a way to stall things, when I think I'm overdoing it. Seagull Lake has been hit by fire for 3 years in a row. It's definitely different. But when I visit, it still has the Seagull Lake magic. This is why the BWCA isn't going to lose its charm. This is why I don't have to worry about my unknown friend's cabin selling. Still, it's magic.

We had a guest call and request a trip with no burned area in it. Of course we're glad to accomodate him with his vacation wishes, but I also thought to myself "well you're missing out---you should see it, and feel the refreshing newness of it."

I'm grateful to witness this circle of life first hand. .

Sunday, May 20, 2007

We Leave the Memories of Fire Behind Us.

Good news! They are calling the Ham Lake Fire 100% contained on the US side, and the Gunflint Trail and the BWCA (with the exception of the Granite River) should be open for "buisiness as usual" starting on Tuesday, if all goes as planned. We're ready to begin a normal summer here at Tuscarora, and our guests will return on Tuesday.
We woke up to snow.
Andy slept more soundly as the piece of the north side of Round Lake was covered in snow. On May 10th we left Andy to shuttle the fire fighters to attack the blaze from the water. Fire fighter Stefan Moran generously sent us this photo taken from the boat---the scene of the fire on Round Lake that has been haunting Andy since that afternoon.

Like other parents, Andy and I constantly evaluate whether we are doing right by our kids—whether the choices we make help them to grow to be the best they can be. I remember on May 5th, comforting my distressed kids in the car after driving through the flames and I wondered--is this going to mar them for life?
Daniel had a chance to fish today; we’re reflecting on these last two weeks. We’ve had a little taste of displacement, we’ve worried about Andy’s safety, we’ve had moments when we’ve wondered whether we had lost our home and possessions. But we didn’t. We had no tragedy. Maybe this experience will help enhance our compassion for those who have lost their people, their homes and communities to natural disaster or war, for those who do not get to call it over and return to their regular lives after a mini “adventure tragedy”. It has certainly helped us all to count our blessings today.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Shelby and Daniel returned to Tuscarora in the snow flurries today. We're loving the cold wetness--it is beginning to feel like the kind of weather that would make it almost impossible to start a little campfire for dinner.

The unofficial word is that they hope to lift all evacuation restrictions and all entry point closures on the Gunflint Trail (with the exception of Magnetic Lake and Larch Creek) on Tuesday May 22nd. Of course, all depends upon containment and safety, but return to normalcy is in sight.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shaky return

The moose pond continues to green up. (Blackened photo from May 9th, green photo from May 18th) . I continue to hear that the mopping up crews are holding the lines, and all is going well on the fire.

I returned to Tuscarora today, after several days sleeping in town. The quiet solo drive left me contemplating the past 2 weeks. I remembered driving over this hill (below) in the dark on Sunday evening May 6th. The entire horizon that now looks so blue was red, and it felt as though the entire upper end of the Gunflint Trail was burning (only parts of it did). I could hear the Grand Marais fire department on the portable radio, fighting for homes and cabins. The memories shook me up all over again.

I looked over at Denali, who was so eager to get home,

and I looked at the new growth in the burned areas. I wish I could share a slice of this north-woods peace with all people encountering shaky moments today.

P.S. For all Tuscarora customers with "displaced" vacation plans due to this fire: of course we will return your deposits in full. Thank you to all of you who have been too polite to ask

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good Buisiness?

The fire permiters haven't change---and containment is on the rise...65% on the American side. The kids and I are still officially evacuated and in Grand Marais >.

We've set up an office in Kim and John's Nelson's place (High Doubt) just outside of Grand Marais. We miss Andy, the road block is just a mile from our mailbox at Tuscarora--hoping that we can all be home together soon.

In the meantime, we're trying to figure out how to get all of the BWCA trippers into the woods-if not with us, then with our neighbors. Please feel free to call with specific concerns about an entry points/dates.

Andy and I are "newbies" in the Gunflint Trail buisiness community. We know these woods intimately---we've paddled and guided and camped in this area since 1978...but we're still marveling in the way that small buisinesses work in our neighborhood.

Our friends, our running buddies, our surragate families, our kids' "next of kin" around here are in largely our direct competitors. They may have benefitted the most if we had burned---yet they were the first ones in to help us when the flames came our way. They were the first to reassure us that we would find a way to serve our customers. They're not looking for compensation, they're looking out for people.

We took a "buisiness" trip with Nancy and Dave Seaton (far left--Hungry Jack Outfitters) last October. We were checking out campsites, the changing wilderness, trying out our gear, etc. Rather than guarding our buisiness secrets, we spent the entire time comparing equipment, sharing menu ideas. (We've added Santa Fe chicken to our menu--with tortillas-- it's the BEST) , discussiong the pros and cons of the Wenonah Escape vs. the Wenonah MNII. ...

Is this good buisiness? Maybe, maybe not. We've found that it is the way it works around here. And it certainly makes the Gunflint Trail a great place to be.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


The trucks and crews have been streaming out of Grand Marais--and the evacuation line has moved back to the Cross River. With two wet days, it is amazing how the woods are continuing to green up.

The Forest Service is beginning a plan to reopen the woods to visitors--as it becomes safe. As of May 20th, folks can return to the lakes around Trail Center. As of May 29th, the plan is to allow folks to return to the lakes in the upper trail area--Seagull, Saganaga, Cross Bay, Missing Link, Brant, etc. The delay will allow for the Forest Service rangers to get in and check out the portages and campsites--make sure all is safe for travel--and make sure any embers continue to behave themselves.

The kids are looking forward to getting back to their regular lives. We sat around pondering the high and low points of this entire fire experience, and the kids agreed that it wasn't such a nightmare driving through the flames. The hardest part was the displacement from home. They're feeling grateful that they won't be displaced for months, like the kids in other disasters. Aren't we fortunate that we didn't really have one?

We're looking forward to the raspberry and blueberry patches these next few years are sure to bring to our neighborhood!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

55% Contained

The Lone Peak Hotshots pulled out today---bringing many yards of hoses. We're so grateful for the competence and ambition these guys bring to their jobs....
The fire appears to be behaving in our area: 55% contained on the American side.
They came and took down the sprinklers from Tuscarora. Tomorrow the evacuation is pushed back to the Cross River---and residents will be allowed to the end of the trail briefly.
The plan is for the fire to be contained by Sunday, May 20th. Contained means the perimeter of the fire is blackened with hose laid all around it.
The fire may not be controlled until late summer or fall . Controlled means that someone signs on a dotted line assuring that the fire will not flare up again.
A drizzly day today enhanced progress, optomism, and the green shoots at the moose pond.
As the active fire moves up on the east end of Saganaga, we worry about the homeowners and buisiness up in Canada....we sure could use another cold and rainy day.

It's Raining

  • Drizzle at Tuscarora this morning. High humidity, good news for the fire fighting efforts--looks like this may be another quiet fire day.

  • They are working successfully to contain the "finger" of the fire extending south of the Gunflint Trail---in the Rush Lake area near Poplar Lake. (

  • Power is being restored all the way up the Gunflint Trail,-to properties that were not damaged.

  • The Canadians are working to protect structures on Red Pine Island on the east end of Saganaga. Apparently they are working on back burns in Red Sucker Bay and Northern Lights Lake.

  • Nancy Seaton tells me these plants are called Crooked Stalks.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hotshot crews returned from Gotter today---blackened and proud. They held the line.

Fishook Island-Morningside---from Blankenberg's Landing. (note: trees)

Every drop of rain helps

  • Thundershowers last night. ½ inch of rain mid-trail (Hungry Jack Outfitters is no longer in the evacuation area), they're saying 1/10 inch of rain at Seagull Guard Station. The mist and humidity are helping containment efforts today. The number of lightening strikes was worrisome (I love thunderstorms, but woke up here in Grand Marais at 2am and thought “EVACUATE, EVACUATE! )I understand there is technology available to track each strike, so that aircraft can monitor strike-spots regularly in the next couple of days. This will be important for the entire forest up here.

  • Things are cooling in the areas around Tuscarora. This morming they were busy with a flooded dining hall basement---we are mighty wet in our sprinkler-fed bubble.

  • The fire is intense up on the east end of Saganaga---I understand that some structures have been lost on the Canadian side, and many are being evacuated/ and protected. These are the folks to worry about today.

  • Today in Grand Marais we’re trying to look to the months ahead. The Forest Service is meeting and hopefully will open up permit reservations for June. Many areas remain untouched---so, we’re doing what we can. We do have an entire summer ahead of us, and right now almost all of the lakes are OK. We’re all for getting back into the woods, when the fire is contained. (Note, there may be extensive campsite damages on the Granite River route—this is my best guess).

  • There are many levels of concern here---all important and valid. Folks anxious to return to protect their homes, cabins, businesses---. There are those equally eager to return to the places that have become a “home” to them—camps, resorts, lakes –to explore the areas, witness the damages. There are those who just want their BWCA vacation---they want to fry walleyes on an open fire. We're all for that too---when it is safe.

  • The crews are working diligently to protect the Loon Lake “finger” of the fire---extending south of the Gunflint Trail. This morning they were calling the Ham Lake fire 20% contained---which means that there is sufficient cooled burned areas and hose laid around 20% of the perimeter of the fire.

  • Once again, the community is incredibly supportive—both near and far. My brother Mike arrived and has been staying up with Andy—providing relief and welcomed camaraderie that help keep the bounce in Andy's step. My sister Lori also helped with the re-supply---and I realized last night the most important thing she has brought is a new set of ears so that the kids could re-tell their stories again. My parents still know what I need before I ask..

  • I’m a little nutty-- I arrived at the clinic for Shelby’s Dr. appt and I realized that I hadn’t picked up Shelby from school yet. I’m thankful for patient people. Someone even stopped me today and offered to tie my shoe.

  • This catch-up day in town will also help me to stop anthropomorphizing this fire. Isn’t it clever how it sends a draft ahead of it to further dry the fuels, so when the fire arrives it burns more brightly? Isn’t it evolutionary how it creates its own weather system—changing wind directions, sometimes drying up the rain before it hits the ground? Isn’t it evil how it seems to be hooking around and trying to come back on Tuscarora from the south and west again---our only weak flank? Isn’t uncanny that it can be beautiful and wicked at the same time?

  • National structure protection teams spend a fair amount of time sitting on the dock at Tuscarora, on the hill by Loon Lake Lodge, and the roofs of Gunflint Lodge---watching the horizon and waiting. I think it is disappointing not to be assigned to be part of the fire action. Here’s hoping that they don’t see any.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I’m sitting in town and listening to the start of a thunderstorm. Andy says that it is also raining a smidgeon at Tuscarora. Wahoo! It just started---it would be nice if it lasted all night. Not sure what the forecast is, but at least it isn’t a scary windy fiery night.

They let me go back and forth to Tuscarora even with the road block because Andy is supporting the fire fighters—who come and go, and use the bunkhouses and showers. Today it actually felt great to scrub down the shower house. It is a weird sort of”business as usual.”

On this windy day we worried about our Poplar Lake neighbors, but it appeared that the fire fighting teams made some amazing progress laying fire hose lines south of the Gunflint Trail in the swath to Rush Lake. Around 5pm we passed by some ground fires on the Trail near mid-trail.
(For accurate logistical details).

I’m anxious for people to drive up the Gunflint Trail, and see how beautiful it still is. All kinds of mixed feelings roll around as we grieve what has been lost and see the displaced people, attempt to keep in contact with those who want reassurance that their summer vacation plans will turn out….we chose to live on the edge of the wilderness; it has been our privilege. And we understood that fire might be part of the deal.

Bottom lines: The Ham Lake fire still isn’t over. It has devastated special places. But when we drive over the hill towards Gunflint Lake, we still see the beautiful view to Magnetic Lake---the deep blue sky, the gorgeous waters, a landscape that will soon be sprouting green---it feels cleansing and hopeful.

Gunflint Lodge, Hestons Lodge, Gunflint Pines, Loon Lake Lodge, and the homes along the south shore of Gunflint Lake are fine.

The hottest burning spots (I’m told the flames were 80-100 feet high) were at the north end of the Granite River---Sag Falls, near the east end of Saganaga. The fire spotted north to Horseshoe Island (I hope those beautiful campsites are still intact), and the Canadians began to evacuate some of the nearby Saganaga Islands.

Shelby and Daniel stay in town. They’re great sports: it’s exciting to be around their friends and around family members. But when the action of the day is over, it can be hard to settle in. They miss Andy, they miss home, their beds, their belongings . They each have said; “I just want things to be normal again. When will things be normal?”

Wrapped up in this event must be a good life lesson for all of us trying to control things.
The moments of our days are good. We get to experience grace and generosity of the people around us first hand. We can either focus on the smoke that we smell, or the rain that is falling.

It is going to be OK.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A calm day.

The fire crossed the Gunflint trail by Loon Lake the other day.

Wilderness Canoe Base:

Dominion island--- Foreground: Blue Waters staff cabin. Background: the chapel survives!


One week later, green shoots push up through the blackened ground.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Good news today

  • Jim Colbert and Jim Holz and the Iowa State crew are fine---being routed out through Brule Lake.
  • Andy and Tuscarora are fine.
  • no new structures were lost on the Gunflint Trail yesterday/last night---as of 10am this morning.
  • It is a calm cool day, with an easterly breeze.


When I got to Tuscarora about 9am yesterday, the wind was already picking up. Andy was shuttling crews across Round Lake to the Brant Lake portage. Katie and Mike were delivering food to the Round Lake access point---for the Hot Shot crews going into the woods. The word is that those guys run toward fire….and they’re very good. Here they paddle toward the fire—a new kind of challenge for a few of them!

The day was so gusty—and we worried as we saw big plumes to our north in the afternoon. Jake (our lynch pin staff member) continued to motor supplies all afternoon. We hosed down the houses, then evacuated once again---and headed down the Gunflint Trail.

Andy stayed put and helped with logistics through the night..

All looks good at Tuscarora and Hungry Jack Outfitters today. Also, it looks good on the south shore of Gunflint Lake. Dave reports sky is blue, the smoke has lifted—a beautiful day. It appears to be a perfect day to get some of the campers out of the woods nearby. Jim Holz and Jim Colbert from the Iowa State group are camped near Poplar Lake---I’m sure they’ll come out reluctantly on this clear day—with the east wind blowing the fires/smoke away from them.

It’s funny how a person can’t stay in a state of crisis for days on end---somehow it must be human nature to try to make a new normal. We waiver between evacuation and buisiness as usual---helping the Seatons evacuate---Daves guitars, Nancy's artwork, Ben and Will's legos----sadly considering the possibilities---to a cool calm day when we unload dried food and prepare for the season ahead. I still have high hopes for Tuscarora, with all of the “buffer fires” that occurred in this past week. As of last night the sprinklers were still running, creating a humidity bubble. .
It is cool, the fire has lain low today---which will give that Type I team a chance to attack.

As the evacuation teams keep track of everyone, they’re also keeping track of a wolf that is wondering near Tuscarora—our resident guy. He's fine too.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Windy Day

It's hard for me to be optomistic after what I've seen today. I just helped our good friends Dave and Nancy Seaton evacuate Hungry Jack Outfitters....they have sprinklers that work.

It was such a windy day. When we pulled out, Andy was still shuttling hot shot crews across Round Lake. Tuscarora is a bustling little city with 60+ fire fighters....seems to be fairly secure with all the black on the outskirts of the property. At least for the moment...

As far as I know everybody is safe. Andy called about 10 mintues ago, power is out, phones will probably go out as well. Huge plumes over Poplar Lake....
Please pray for the safety of the folks that are still up there.

Another Day...

On Wednesday, we watched the shoreline of Round Lake (our little jewel) burn from the landing to the Brant Lake portage. Helicopters (like giant mosquitoes) sucked up the water from Round Lake to dump on hotspots.

We scurried around prepping canoes and camping food for crews that plan to go in to Brant Lake this morning at 8am. Katie, our newest staff member arrived to help Mike and Jake, and begin her summer adventure! Worker bees from Grand Marais--Judie Johnson and Lynn Swanson received check point clearance for Fire Business and came to our food packing party. Jane and Sheldon Fewer (my parents) continue to be stabilizing forces.

Dave and Nancy Seaton down on Hungry Jack Lake have stepped up their busy outfitting weekend to help us accommodate for our fishing opener guests. There isn’t any smoke around the mid trail area---and on Saturday the season opens for lake trout and walleye fishing.

Wednesday evening we watched a successful back burn—planes ignited a fire line from Larch Lake toward Magnetic Lake---and the north side of Gunflint Lake. This was an awesomely beautiful sight. We’re hopeful that it burned the fuels on that line—so that when the wind shifts today---out of the north west, hopefully the fire will burn back onto itself and stall on the north side of Gunflint Lake. As I drove down the trail to spend the night with the kids in Grand Marais (they still have school, piano lessons, tennis practice in town…) I saw a moose watching the flames. She stood still---apparently not afraid of the fire, but she spooked when she heard me roll down the window—so I couldn’t get a photo of her.

Shelby and Daniel's friends and cousins will be glad to know that although the fire burned all the way around the back house, only sparks touched their trampoline.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hot and Dry

Please pray for rain.
(The worlds largest mosquito sucks water from Round Lake)

Aren't we lucky?

Our neighbors, our competitiors---Hungry Jack Outfitters, Gunflint Lodge, Voaygeur Outfitters, Seagull Outfitters, Gunflint Pines, Loon Lake Lodge, East Bay Suites---these folks go out of their way to make sure that Tuscarora survives.

  • The volunteer fire departments----(the slogan "support your local volunteer fire department" takes on a whole new meaning) are also our neighbors, coaches, community members. They have walked through fire for us here. (note that this picture was taken on Sunday night at the end of the Gunflint Trail)

  • Our guests and staff members--- all Gunflint Trail guests---aren't just looking for a good time, but have found a home in the BWCA and Quetico. They're loyal stewards as well.

  • We are even grateful for fires in the Wilderness. They refresh, they cleanse. We see what new growth a fire in July can incite by September. We've been through the Cavity Lake Fire footprint. We now realize that an outline on paper doesn't mean that the area is black. (Ashy pictures are newsy and compelling, but the actual experience is that of a mosaic).
    Most campsites are still lovely, views still stunning.

  • Fires don't burn lakes. Still, there are calm waters, big skies, ecosystems always changing.

We are blessed with incredible community support for our family far and near--nothing like a crisis to drive that home!