Saturday, June 30, 2007


The Mastec guys (contracted through Century Tel phone company) finished connecting every last phone on the Gunflint Trail. Hooray! A crew of them has been staying at Tuscarora—some in cabins and some in Bunkhouses 5 and 6. They eat breakfast at 6am, take bag lunches , and return to Tuscarora at 9 or 10pm.
We’ve grown fond of them—they are a hardworking bunch. The phones were supposed to be connected by July 15th---and they completed the entire task in the buggy wet ditches of June. .
When you live this far out in the woods technology progress is limited—we are perhaps less inclined to take it all for granted--sometimes. A few weeks ago the phones were on the fritz—Mastec Marvin said there was too much “froggin' of the lines” going on---adding folks on Iron Lake or other burned areas to existing systems--- overloading them for a weekend. YIKES!!! What if somebody out there NEEDS us! We HAVE to have phones.
Later I was running errands in Duluth with my increidbly consistent cell phone. I was delighted that my list of contacts brought friends from far places to the touch of a button. Presto, I was talking to Kay and Joe in Seattle. Is that not remarkable when you think about it? Most astonishing to me still are all of those people sitting in airplanes, suspended in the air. I know how airplanes work, I just can’t believe that they really can get those heavy things off of the ground .
On a trip last week, I just barely got cell reception on Gillis Lake. I’m usually one that doesn’t have strong feelings AGAINST cell phones. I’m pro choice on that matter---I figure that people can say yea or nay, and they don't bother me. It was comforting and convenient to bring the phone, yet when I actually used it for 30 seconds the connection made the wilderness feel less remote, and interfered with our ‘closed’ group. Were the convenience and safety worth bringing the outside world into our haven? I might have to say definitely not, but I think I’ll still stash the phone in the first aid kit next to the epi-pen next time---depending upon if and when Verizon takes the temporary cell tower down.
We now have wireless technology at Tuscarora. I listened to the staff at lunch discussing “ground rules” regarding the Internet---they don’t want to nag each other, but they also came here to get away from the technology scene—and don’t want it to interfere with relationships with each other. These free spirited young people don’t particularly like rules--- this issue isn’t something that I ever considered at age 20. I admire them for the ways they are deliberately choosing to live and I’m reminded of the ways that the technological world creeps up on all of us when we’re not paying attention.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


The wildflowers are in full bloom. They are as happy as I’ve ever seen them. It has been a cheerful June, with the continued promise of a great blueberry crop. We are currently scouting the hot picking spots….

A newer ditch weed is actually an import---pink and purple Lupine have taken hold along the Gunflint Trail and the side roads. They’re very beautiful—and remind us of one of Granny’s favorite books from Maine (Mrs. Rumphius—the Lupine Lady). My friend Laurel, a landscaper in Minneapolis area struggles to grow Lupine in peoples’ gardens. A very popular suburban want-a-flower.

The habitat must be just right in Cook County for these pink and purple beauties. However, as transplants,—they are a hearty invasive species, taking over the local plants. The woods are changing for those local plants---suddenly more sun is available in some of the burned areas. So the shade loving woodland plants don't necessarily thrive in the open.

The Gunflint Trail isn’t native to these woods, and neither are the dry rocky ditches. As I investigate more, I understand that orange hawkweed aren’t native, nor are the birdfoot trefoil. Now I'm starting to feel guilty about my favorites..

I’m very interested in the discussion, and in the harm that transplants, both plants and animals, do to the local biosphere. I understand that some of the burned areas are most susceptible to infestation, and landowners are proceeding carefully, reseeding their properties with native seed mixes. I also am reminded of some of Michael Pollan’s ideas (The Botany of Desire) ---regarding plant adaptations. Aren’t the Lupine evolutionarily clever? They are so beautiful that they have conned humans into transplanting them here---thus ensuring their survival. Isn’t this a “smart’ seed transportation strategy? Should we humans be more aware of the ways that the plants are manipulating us?

I’ve witnessed what the Kudzo has done to the woods in North Carolina---I’ve seen what Eurasian Milfoil has done to the lakes in Minneapolis, and purple loosestrife to the cattails—I am very sensitive to the idea of invasive species, especially during this time of forest regeneration. I’d never advocate planting or transplanting any Lupine, but the noxious weeds still make me (guiltily) happy. All things considered, it is a fascinating time to be looking down at the exponential growth happening on the forest floor.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nature Deficit Disorder

A friend sent me the following article from the Washington Post

I’m hoping that it might inspire somebody to take a kid outside to play today.

Has your child lost touch with nature?
Today's 'indoor generation' spawns movement to connect kids with the great outdoors
Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Linda Pelzman appreciates the beauty of the outdoor world, sometimes pulling her children into the yard to gaze at a full moon or peer into a dense fog. An educator and founder of a summer camp, she wishes her enthusiasm were fully shared.
On a recent nature walk near her Gaithersburg, Md., home, her younger son, 6, was unimpressed, pleading, "I just want to go back to civilization." Her older son, at 13, has made it clear he prefers PlayStation.
"Kids don't think about going outside like they used to, and unless there is some scheduled activity, I don't think they know what to do outdoors anymore," Pelzman said.
Her view is shared by a growing number of children's advocates, environmentalists, executives and politicians who fear that this might be the first generation of "indoor children" disconnected from nature.
Concerns about long-term consequences - to emotional well-being, health, learning abilities, environmental consciousness - have spawned a movement to "leave no child inside."
In recent months, it has been the focus of Capitol Hill hearings, state legislative action, grass-roots projects, a U.S. Forest Service initiative to get more children into the woods and a national effort to promote a daily "green hour."
Today, 40 civic leaders - representing several governors, three big-city mayors, Walt Disney Co., Sesame Workshop, DuPont, the gaming industry and others - will launch a campaign to raise $20 million to fund 20 initiatives to encourage children to do what once seemed second nature: Go outdoors.
"If we really want to make a difference in this area, we need a shift in the culture," said Larry Selzer, president of the Conservation Fund, which organized the alliance.

Researchers long have been aware of the decline in outdoor activity. It has been documented by experts such as Sandra Hofferth, a family studies professor at the University of Maryland.

From 1997 to 2003, Hofferth found, there was a decline of 50 percent - from 16 percent to 8 percent - in the proportion of children 9 to 12 who spent time in outside activities such as hiking, walking, fishing, beach play and gardening. Organized sports were not included as an outdoor activity in the study, which was based on detailed time diaries.

Hofferth's study showed an increase in computer play time for all children and in time spent on television and video games for ages 9 to 12. And it found increases in sleep time, study time and reading time.

The increased activism has been partly inspired by author Richard Louv's best-selling book, "Last Child in the Woods."

Coining the term "nature deficit disorder," Louv argues indoor kids are more prone to a range of childhood problems, including obesity, depression and attention disorders. He contends they miss out on the spiritual, emotional and psychological benefits of exposure to the wonders of nature, including reduced stress and improved cognitive development.

"I'm not saying a child who grows up without nature is going to have terrible problems," Louv said, "but if you look at the studies that show what nature does give kids, it's unfortunate that so many children are missing out on that."

At the National Wildlife Federation, Kevin Coyle, vice president for education, said Louv's book attached a name and a framework to a phenomenon everyone knew existed.

Coyle's group, which publishes Ranger Rick and Your Big Backyard magazines, looked for a way to take the next step. It started promoting the "green hour" - and the idea that children need a casual hour outdoors each day in the same way they need a good night's sleep or a vitamin.

At least 30 grass-roots efforts have been started across the country in the past two years - focusing on legislation, nature centers, nature-based preschools, open space and other matters, said Amy Pertschuk, managing director of the Children & Nature Network, which was co-founded by Louv.

Experts suggest a major factor in the decline of outdoor time is parental fear about leaving children unattended - aggravated by excessive media coverage of horrific crimes.

Changes in family life also have had an influence: more mothers in the work force, more structured playtime, more organized sports. Fewer hours are left for kids to slip out the back door and play hide-and-seek, catch fireflies, skip stones and create imaginary worlds.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study shows children ages 8 to 18 now spend 6.5 hours a day on TV, electronic games, computers, music and other media, with many multi-tasking electronically. For many, the virtual world has become a more familiar setting than the natural one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Kayaking on Saganaga

I’ve always been one to rack up new experiences with my kids. As long as it is fun, safe, affordable, and there is time---I’m usually up for anything. While I happen to think that fun is a worthy goal, I don’t often take the time to consider the value behind these experiences.

Last weekend Shelby, Daniel and I overnighted on Saganaga by kayak. I worried about the high winds, but we braved it anyway--with the option to turn back. While I prefer traveling through the BWCA by canoe (haven’t found an efficient system for portaging the kayaks)---- I do prefer traveling a windy Saganaga by kayak. As we paddled, I came up with a few benefits of this adventure. The trip enhanced our:
· Strength and fitness (definitely a work out for all of us)
· Confidence--that comes with learning a new skill.
· Perseverance (no other option in the middle of the white caps)---especially Daniel had some very frustrating and difficult moments. Creativity---from a game of “stand behind and catch the bug net as it blows unpredictably off your sibling's head” to building little boats with bark, moss, birch bark---and sailing them off to sea.
· Relationships.
· Interests---Shelby thinks she wants to try whitewater kayaking—she absolutely loved fighting the high rollers, and struggling up the rapids.
· Camping skills—reading the maps (they each had one), setting up camp, cooking, leaving no trace.
· Experiencing Green Spaces—I’ve read about the incidence of ADHD in children and the benefits from spending time outside in green spaces. The benefits are hard to quantify, and I haven’t seen convincing evidence to show that experiencing the outdoors increases IQ or decreases behavioral disorders, but I see solid evidence in my own children that the time they spend in the woods greatly increases their sense of well being.
· Wildlife viewing—we had never seen such a young baby moose swim from our campsite.
· When I spend that kind of time with my kids I learn more and more about the things that they are thinking, the things they think are funny, the games they like to play.

I'd recommend camping with kids even if FUN were the only benefit I could come up with---we had a great time.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Yesterday on the way to school Daniel looked at the thermometer and wondered if it was normal to have 41 degrees in June. The kids are so keyed into global warming issues that they often worry (more that I did at age 10) about average temperatures. Shelby doesn't like to see the aspens becasue she thinks that they are threatening our boreal forest (which she worries about changing too fast). She also wants the pines to support the blueberries!

We talked about the ways that extremes that sometimes create the "average" number mathematically. It feels good to have a cold sunny morning. It feels good to see the lush forest--and to see the way that the burned areas are steadily recovering with a carpet of green plants.

It feels good to see the Cross River (on our driveway) run at a more normal spring rush--the water has come up a good 4 inches. Shelby is anxious to try tubing on the Cross River---fire fighters last summer had time to clear the deadfalls from here to Gunflint Lake, and as the weather warms up we'd like to see if that is a safe trip.

It feels good to have the staff ramping up and doing normal things---Kyle and Noah and Anna (4th and 5th year Gunflint Trail staffers) are helping to train in and welcome the newer ones. Also, the Tuscarora staff hosted a Gunflint Trail staff potluck last week---about 65 summer staffers attended--and planned for other ways to connect throughout the summer.

It feels good to see the woods so green. The fire ban has been completely lifted in the BWCA. We're getting plenty of rain. There are some spots on the Gunflint Trail that have blueberry bushes that are thigh-high (maybe these were some domestic plants, Nancy Seaton thinks?) At any rate, it looks to be shaping up to be a bumper berry crop this year.

It feels good to have the campers coming out of the woods unconcerned with fire---the Frost River is coming back up and may actually be a pleasant option---the walleyes are hitting like crazy on Saganagons, the most experienced lake trout fishing people are catching them in Tuscarora, Long, Island, and Gillis.

It's great to be alive in the north woods!