Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Monitoring Fires

When we issue permits this summer, we’ve been able to tell guests consistently “There are no fire restrictions, we’ve had enough rain.” And then I'd go on to rant and rave about leaving campfires cool-to-the-touch.

We’ve had smoke from Canada fires all summer long--and if you've been paying attention, they've had some biggies. If the wind direction is just right, Manitoba fires can make our eyes water, just a little bit.

And even though conditions aren’t supporting a wildfire around here—doesn’t mean that we humans haven’t started a few. It’s really easy to do, with so many people in the woods. When it is 40 degrees in the morning, the skies are cool, calm, a little cloudy the campfires die down and appear ‘out.’ Then, in the afternoons, when it reaches 80 degrees and the wind picks up, any embers take off again, and passing paddlers see a fire in a grate—with no one attending it.

Most often, good Samaritan paddlers douse these unattended fires, and then return with the stories. But occasionally—more often than we’d like to think, an unattended fire spreads. This last month, fires have been suppressed on Kekakabic, Loon Lake, Brule Lake, Gaskin... The cause isn’t always campfires, sometimes it’s lightening, sometimes the experts can't or won't identify the origin. Fire cleans up the ground fuels, it’s supposed to happen----just not where you and I want to camp next week, I guess.

Earlier in August, we were sent information and a photo of one of the fires on Kekekabic. I have a soft spot for that lake, my ears perk upwhen I hear about Kekakabic---where the USFS completed a prescribed burn last fall.

In January at a ski meet, I was trying to give one of those fire managers in the Ely area a hard time for torching MY FAVORITE lake. He smiled, but would have none of it. When I saw photos of this summer’s fire---I noticed where the smoke and embers might be blowing---I could see the prescribed burn footprint---right in the path of the fire. And I realized—all that mess of blowdown in there, ready to go up like kindling—already burned in a controlled way. I thought AHA! Somebody ought to be smug about this! It’s perfect. Can you see from the photo—that the trees along the shoreline (across from this particular spot), were not burned. Which means, from the paddlers on the lake, the shoreline might still appear pristine.. And behind it---the ground fuels are all cleaned up. We didn’t hear any news of the Great Kekakabic Wild Fire--because there wasn't one.

Near Ely right now, Pagami Creek Fire: less than 200 acres are burning slowly. According to a recent press release:

Ely, MN… Lightning caused the Pagami Creek Fire that was detected August 18, 2011 approximately 14 miles east of Ely in the Pagami Creek area. The fire is located within the borders of the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) between the South Kawishiwi River, Clearwater Lake and Lake One. This high use area within the BWCAW is a favorite for visitors recreating in northern Minnesota.

Friday, August 26, 2011 a combination of low relative humidity and higher winds caused an increase in size from approximately half an acre to 130 acres. The rapid increase in fire size lead the Superior National Forest to request an Interagency Incident Management Team (IMT) to assist in managing the fire. The role of the Incident Management Team is to “monitor, confine and contain” the Pagami Creek Fire according to Incident Commander Greg Peterson.

The current moderate fire behavior is allowing the Pagami Creek fire to provide several benefits. Fire creates natural fuel breaks by reducing heavy fuel loads. It also helps to preserve the health of the ecosystem of northern MN.

The Pagami Creek fire will be carefully monitored to ensure that it does not become a threat to the safety of the public or firefighters. If there are areas that require containment, crews will use more aggressive firefighting tactics. Hand tools and saws may be used to build containment lines. Aircraft may be used to drop water on the fire. Fire may be used to fight fire by “burning out” or removing fuels from ahead of the fire.

There are no closures in place at this time. Visitors are asked to avoid the Pagami Creek area and immediate fire area. Incident Commander Greg Peterson stressed, “We will be working with the Superior National Forest to develop short term and long term planning to allow visitors to safely enjoy the BWCAW.”

Additional fire information is available at or by calling 218-365-3177.

I’ve seen the competence of the teams they bring in, and while they can protect people and property on the edges of the fire, no amount of human competence can control the conditions that fan a stray spark into a wild fire, or hold a .5 acre fire around a fire grate to wait patiently for some rangers to paddle out and monitor it.

The truth is, the weather makes the rules. Humidity and wind are out of the hands of the management teams. The woods are wild, the fires are necessary. I keep reminding myself. The woods are wild, the fires are necessary.........

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Name is Asher

Hey!!! On August 15th, we had the newest addition to the Tuscarora family.......Asher Garbarino was born to Paul and Cass. I just can't stop looking at him.

We're figuring.....Tuscarora staffer, Summer 2032---and we love him already. Definitely worth the wait. Can you tell what good parents he has?

Years ago, when Cass was the nanny--we knew it already.

Welcome to the world---Asher Paul!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Miracle of an Ordinary Morning

My eyes popped open before 5am this morning, and Denali and I set out to paddle into the moon-set.

It was so incredibly lovely it made my heart feel like it was cracking open.

I can't imagine there was anyplace on earth more beautiful than this spot. How is it that we were lucky enough to witness it?

Denali was so alert and still, it made me wonder if she could also appreciate the the beautiful scene, or was she just really looking for something to eat or chase like she usually does?I wish I could have recorded the loons calls, surely they could appreciate the way their own songs echoed.

I can't express how grateful I am for the honor of witnessing this morning.

When the sun came up my heart spilled over. I know it rises every day, but it still made me cry.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Staff Appreciation

We have to appreciate them. They scrub the place until it is unreasonably clean. The carry canoes, they cook, they tow. They came here to take care of people, and they're really good at it. By this time in the summer, they are the heart of Tuscarora. It makes me a little misty to think of them, and the uniqueness that they each bring to peoples' experiences here..

Even if Haley didn't really come from a primitive log cabin in Michigan, she fits the profile. She's as spunky as the lost boys from Never Never Land. And sometimes she carries a hatchet on her belt. Can't you just tell how likable she is?

Megan worked for most of May and June. She was the creator of the orange popsicles in this photo....which were actually frozen old oranges. We liked her energy and creativity, and we missed her when she left even if it meant that our sliced cheese staff food orders dropped by 50%.

Little Ben took to Carl---and so have we. Carl knows a lot of things about a lot of political science , and he also can hustle around the canoe yard and get it all done. We give him an A.

Shelby has had one great summer, and sometimes she even finds time to work at Tuscarora.

Here's Juan (on the left)......., a great guy and a worthy fisherman. The fact that I sent him to Clearwater landing instead of Duncan didn't phase him one bit on the phone just now.. It's fun to have him here--he loves the woods so much, he spends all his spare time in a boat----and I don't think anybody can touch him in the fishing contest of the summer.
You might think Daniel looks disappointed because the rules of the fishing contest say that he will have to open his tackle box for the winner to choose a lure. Actually though, I think Dan simply knows that, although he reached 6 feet this summer, his mother who brought him into this world, could still take him out if she wanted to.

Maggie is the Tuscarora veteran, and is as competent at transporting canoes, as giving fishing advice, as cleaning cabins. We love it that she chose to come back this year....some day she is going to be a big cheese at the DNR, just you watch.

Allie got to pick out the Upper Lakes Ice cream flavor, because it's already time for her to go. She was the latest to arrive this summer, but she caught on quickly, and she tends to run wherever she needs to go. If we're lucky, I think you might get to see Allie here next year. She is upbeat, and never gets caught in any dramarama.

Andrew isn't coming to dinner for the next couple of weeks: he's busy harvesting blueberries and fish. He's staying on for the winter at Tuscarora. I sort of admire his Sam Gribley (My Side of the Mountain) approach. He's a quiet guy who spent the first couple months working in a cowboy hat. And he has the best story for "what's the hardest thing, physically, that you've ever done." Ask him.

Well, we definitely could hand the business over to Rachel and her many talents. She politely keeps her accounting ideas in her head, but we know they could be bubbling forth. Her photo of Abbie from last fall appeared in the Chicago Tribune AND the Milwaukee journal. This year she manages all the food we eat--and holds it all together splendidly.

You can't imagine how funny Anne is. Everybody has learned to perk their ears in her direction...when she says things like "Anne likes it when Sue talks in the 3rd person." It makes me chuckle a little just thinking about her. Also, she's a movie expert, and she knows everything there is to know about the constitution...and the presidents...and....I don't think she even needs to sing any songs to let us in on that.

Aren't we lucky Jamie came back for another summer with us?---last time she worked here was in 2007. The guests who just left kept complementing Jamie on her food packing and canoe lifting skills--telling her that she just put her masters degree to good use. Jamie just laughs it off--one of her biggest skills is her ability to shrug off the size of a task, and just tackle anything with competence and good humor.

I am grateful for the way that they take care of the Tuscarora guests--but the part that they weren't hired for, and the most amazing thing I think, is the way that they take care of us.

Cheers to the Tuscarora Summer Staff 2011.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Little Rascals

It's kind of quiet for a few hours-turnover in cabins today, all the paddlers are out on the water.

We're all push overs for the little guys around here. They run around and eventually squirm their way into our hearts.

Ben spent the day in the outfitting yard yesterday. He insisted on 5 photos because he is 5 years old. After awhile, "helping" included spraying John and Carl with the hose, as they were moving the canoes around. At one point John said..."Uh oh, Ben, I think you might be busted." His mom appeared out of nowhere, -to make sure he was truly helping. His lower lip only came out for 2 minutes, until he was happily invited back to the scrubbing.

Also--little chocolate Laramie was the new member of the Levin crew. Honestly, Could they be any cuter?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kicking the Kek

Linda and her friends finished the Kekekabic Trail today. They came back all sweaty and dirty and beat up.

The trail runs about 41 miles from Snowbank Road to the Gunflint Trail--just about 1/2 mile from us. I don't know the Ely end, but as you get close to us, it dips down to campsites on Gabimichigami, Howard, Bingshick and Agamok. It's a great hiking/running trail for us around here---it's well cared for and maintained by the USFS and the Kek Trail Club.
I know more people tend to traverse the entire trail in the spring and the fall.
It's a rough trail--and when I asked them if they had fun, they just laughed at me. No they said, they'd never call it fun. This time of year it was sort of hot, the trail was grown over, and they met obstacles everywhere.
For Andy and me, was actually a refreshingly amusing trip report. We have had just gorgeous weather for the last month or so. Sweatshirts in the morning and evening, swimming in the afternoon, fish and sun. Everybody is usually so pleased with this little slice of nirvana.

Check them out though---they're still glowing from the escapade. I'm sure they'll not repeat this experience----ever........but it was an adventure--and adventures are the stuff of life. I had a little touch of envy as they laughed with each other....and I had to take their photo before I let them "get the hell out of here."
They were definitely proud that they kicked the Kekekabic!