Monday, November 26, 2012

The Snow Makers

Chip, Kari, Kristoffer, and Meaghan of the Anderson family have started a tradition of bringing the snow with them.  They visited Tuscarora a few years ago for Thanksgiving.  That year they raced a blizzard up here from cities, arriving just in time for the snow to start.  This year they made a last minute decision to come back up for Thanksgiving.  On Wednesday they arrived in time to see fall.  The met a nice buck on the road (not saying where!), hiked on the crunchy, bare ground, and listened to waves lapping on the shore of Round Lake.  After their turkey was devoured, the snow started.  The next morning they were out snow shoeing in  a picture perfect winter day.  Heavy snow lay on all the trees and from their perch in cabin 5, they watched the ice form on Round. If the snow is pokey next year, we will give this nice family a call and have them bring up some snow!

photos courtesy of Kari Kennedy

Monday, November 5, 2012

Reflections in November

Denali and I went for a walk yesterday.  It seemed like typical November.  Bleak, stark, bare. Cold.    Still. Bland. Boring.

The thing is, Denali wasn't bored.  All her muscles were on alert, she was listening  to the silence,  tense and aware.  She loves it so much, it's contagious.

Also, up close-the wilderness-even completely at rest, is the most beautiful place to be- if you ask me.  Very subtle.   And incredibly quiet.  The only sound, the only life I could pick out besides Denali was a lone merganser who wouldn't stop splashing.  Fishing?  Staying warm?  No kidding,the  entire hour we walked she was swimming and splashing and diving.   It looked miserable to me, but I don't  actually know if it was.

I think the woods set a good example for us.  They are frantically busy sometimes, with the growth, new life, the activity, the fires the storms, the winds.  This weekend it just all stopped.  And I stopped too, long enough to notice the ice forming along the shoreline.
I've been reading about math teachers these days-- the literature seems to agree that people who don't reflect on how they teach will default to the way that they were taught.  It doesn't matter if it worked well for them as students.  If teachers don't work on becoming reflective practitioners, they're bound to repeat their own classroom experiences.

How many more things in life are like that? If we don't take the time to reflect on our decisions, will we simply default to the way things always were?  Is it that way for parenting?   If I don't reflect on the way I'm spending my time, I default to...what?  You know, maybe November in the woods reminds us not to default our entire life away.  Maybe the woods are practicing a little deliberate sabboth time,  just plain reflective rest.

Then I started trying to be ultra-aware like Denali.  These are the little mosses from our hike. I didn't even know what they were until a minute ago, when I googled moss trumpets.  Maybe there is such a thing as trumpet moss, maybe other people made that up like I did.  I know that the tiny trumpets aren't there in the spring.  Well, that is what I think, but it could be that I'm too busy in the spring to notice, or all the lady slippers are  too arrogant, and command any available attention.

The frost heaves are also cool looking in their own subdued way, cultivating the path and displacing the soil like tiny little spiky gardeners.

As I sat on BA point  I realized that I was watching the ice form on Round Lake. I suppose it's like sitting around watching the grass grow, but I was sort of excited about it.  I'm not sure I've seen the actual minute of ice-in before, and it was growing in crystals.  Can you see the little finger?  This was not ice at the start of our hike.

For such a dull day, I'll remember it, that's for sure.  I don't know if I'll change anything, or live my life any differently, but I do appreciate the reminder.  And as much as I like the action and the people of my days, I do soak up the time when I can be still and marvel at the tiny trumpets.  And have a little ice-in thrill.  And consider my own defaults, to become a reflective practitioner of life.

In the 11th month, the northwoods rested.  And it was good.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Secret of September

People definitely have discovered September paddling.  In the olden days--well, it seems to me that the woods were deserted in Septembers back I remembering correctly?  
The last three weeks have relatively busy at Tuscarora--and, well, I start to get worried that if I get too loud about it, even the bugs are going to find out.  Right now, it's a big bug secret.
Do you know Denali enough to read her body language in this photo?  I was sitting on the dock, doing the hard work of holding this floating canoe with my feet while these nice guys loaded it. She was sure we were going canoeing and there was no flipping way she was going to let me in that boat without her.... Then, when they took over, and I said goodbye--happy paddling....her tail drooped and she stood and stared at me.  "When is it OUR turn? this is what she would like to know.  I'm right with her on that question.
This photo (note September 15th), is taken from the US side of Knife Lake.  The Emerald Lake fire stayed in Quetico, but it was big enough to have us worried about people on Ester and Hanson and Cherry area for awhile, until the rains came.  Warm dry Septembers make for happy fires.  Everything is laying low now.  Andy's begun to shut down water in the non-winterized cabins, and fish surgery and crew cabin. Chilly nights, golden days, but fleeting..

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Jerry's Groupies

I watched an old video of Bruce Springsteen singing Born in the USA the other day, he had so so much energy that all the people watching him were in some sort of shouting trance along with him....and I was thinking....hmmm...I've never had that.  Never really been a groupie before.  In fact, when I used to listen to the Stranger Album in Jr High over and over and over again, I didn't even want to look at Billy Joel's photo who wasn't even part of my musical experience.  In fact...his mullet might even ruin some of my favorite songs.

And James Taylor is so smooth, but doesn't he sort of look like a wide mouth frog when he sings?  I just want to listen to him.  It's almost as if the existence of the real singers took away my enjoyment of the a movie that gets the book all wrong.

This July, Jerry Vandiver came back to Tuscarora.  First off, we just really like that guy.   I don’t like mullets or the wide mouth frog look, and Jerry doesn’t have either, but I’m saying if he DID, I wouldn’t even mind, I’d still want to watch him sing.   Our staff and guests were part of the honored ones of his concert BWCAW tour (see link below, if you have the bandwidth for it, ((ahem)).  He sits in the same spot in the dining hall each summer, Andy and I sit on the same table in the back, and I want him to sing my list of favorites, repeat the same concert, and he makes me really happy.   The audience changes a little, he writes new songs, but overall, I get the same exact experience, and that is what I want.

I don’t know if groupies like the person first, and the music second, or the music first and then the person second or if it’s just a big mishmash of admiration, but we’ve got it for Jerry around here, that’s for sure.  I don’t really care if he’s popular or sells a lot of albums, although I want him to.  We can name the songs, I feel like singing along with him….  Yep—can you tell from the photo?  Definitely groupies.   

Sunday, August 19, 2012

WE like our team....we LIKE our team....we like OUR team

Around January we start interviewing our summer staff.  They come from....all over really.  Some of them have connections to Tuscarora, some of them have connections to former staff, some of them see our ads on their college job sites, some of them have worked with us before, some of them just want to live in the north woods, so they find us.

We've collected questions over the years, for applicants and references, so we can try to figure out if the staff members are trustworthy....if they work hard, if we can trust them, if they can get along with others, if they are trustworthy, if they know how far into the woods we actually are.   Secondly, we like it if they have a sense of humor, if they are trustworthy, if they are willing to scrub, and if we can trust them.  Then...we invite them to join our family.
In May they start coming.  Some years are exciting because we have a lot of returners, some years are exciting because everybody is new,........ usually there is a mix.  We share meals together---you know, the family dinners that all the literature supports for building strong families.  And they start out a little quiet and a little awkward....and pretty soon.......well, basically, strangers become family. 

Every week we have a staff meeting--and we go around the table, and bring up any issues.  As in....Justin wants us to rinse the dishes before they go in the dishwasher, or Dave reminds us to double bag the fish gut trash can--that sort of thing.  Only last weekend, it was the last staff meeting for a couple of our people, and on our way around the table there was a lot of appreciating going on...a lot of 'awesome summer' comments.  It was a sweet moment as I looked around the table and wondered how I was now supposed to say goodbye to these kids I've grown to love.   I really mean it when I tell them the Number One Rule is not to die.  And as the seasons go around, a poignant moment like this where people go around the table and tell each other how much they care about each other is larger than life.    It's August again, especially in the morning when I sit in my office  listening to the witty chatter on the walkie talkies I realize another summer has slipped by.
They make me laugh with their playfulness. I poked my head in the crew cabin a few minutes ago and asked if anyone was up for getting three canoes from Cross Bay. Twenty seconds later Caleb and Alex were madly racing to the truck, in ridiculously long gangly legs and sandals.  They're kids really, but when I see how hard they work, and how committed they are to Tuscarora guests, they make me a little limp with gratefulness.
Let me introduce you to this years'  Tuscarora Team.

Not sure Dave came to Tuscarora with a plan to be the outfitting manager,  but...come on, he's been here so many can he NOT be the manager? Besides that, he's a natural.  He is gentle and kind, and almost never flusters.  Except maybe once.   He keeps track of  everything, and he keeps us on track with all of those details in his head. He sports his widest smile when a tree falls-and he takes out his happy chain saw. Every once in awhile---after hours---you might see him with the roll of pink flagging tape, marking the dead poplars that will come down in the fall.
Elizabeth is sunshine personified.  No kidding, I don't think I've ever met anybody with such an optomistic outlook on life.   One time, at lunch, we decided she might be the only true extravert on staff. Most of us were pretty deliberate about working in the woods---Elizabeth sort of stumbled on us I think (lucky us).    I think she'll probably live longer for this kind attitude. Definitely the people around her can't help but absorb some of her cheeriness.  It is fairly remarkable.

Shelby left first to start her tennis season. She had a blast on the housekeeping trio.  When they told their  stories at lunch, they filled in for each other, as Shelby and Elizabeth's voices get higher and higher and faster and faster and they'd all  just start laughing.   They are full of inside jokes.  Shelby is learning the big life lesson about saying goodbye to people she really cares about. I think it is the hardest lesson that there is.

Alex has been camping in the BWCAW since he was 6 years old, his family has been everywhere, and he can talk tirelessly about the rules video for a long long time.  He has passion for the woods, and the details about portage etiquette and leaving no trace.  I heard someone say we are all ages in our life, at all times.  If that is really the case, well, when Alex smiles, he is a very charming 6 year old.     Six years old, 6 feet 5 inches tall. He's tidy and consceintous and he runs 80+ miles a week while collecting  trash on the Gunflint Trail.  When he does a trash run, they stop the truck (Trashy Pete)  to get his current stash of road garbage from behind the mailbox.
Rachel packs the food and is fiercely protective of our fleet......both the canoes and the staff.  She supervises general canoe maintenance, housekeeping, the store, the food room, phones, and our all-around support person . You might think she runs the place, because honestly, she runs the place.   What would we do without Rachel?
Daniel  I overheard Pumper Pete, our local saint who  pumps the septic system once a summer (whether we need it or not)  telling Andy that Daniel is as "good as they come".  Well, coming from Pete, that is the no small complement.  It sort of choked Andy up, in the tough guy with a shovel in his hand kind of way.  When Danny gets too serious, and he gets his scrubbing face on, I must step up to the very important job of taking him down.  I still can, you know.
Granny and Gramps/Sheldon and Jane (my mom and dad) came to help cook, pick berries, fix stuff, maintain the calm, and do any dirty work they could find.  I still lean on them-and they're as steady as they have ever been.  I sometimes wish that all people in this world could grow up with the kind of support that I've  had.   And also...they're pretty entertaining.
My nephew Tommy is between med school semesters, and is our summer handyman, volunteer, and happy hippy.  I like it that he likes it here, because he's a good kid, and I get to see him, and he loves the stuff that I love.  I'm just really sorry that I missed him singing Mack the Knife at Karaoke Night. 

I've never met anyone so excited to become an old man and putter. So, if Alex is 6, then Karl is 85.     He's a very kind young man who already has an old man chuckle.  He plays the guitar like a pro, and makes up songs about Denali on the trolly, which I understand is very entertaining at the bonfires.  It turns out that his proclivity for puttering  is perfect for re-surfacing kevlars, and fixing low-riders, and taking the time to listen to people of all ages.

When we realized Justin might actually come back as crew cook, we thought we'd died and gone to culinary heaven.  He keeps it simple, he's great, and he leaves stashes of cookies and lasagnes and meatloafs and pies in his wake.  He laughs hard, and he can tow, clean, paddle, and charm just about anybody. As if all that weren't enough.........well, there is always pizza night.

  Jen is actually the naturalist at Bearskin, but she joins our family  on weekends.  She's such a solid boost, matter-of-fact about any job.  She's a Tuscarora veteran.  I hear her called on the radio  "Jen to the outfitting yard please" and I can also almost hear her shrug and say..."OK"  and off she goes.  We like her style, and we like the way her presence marks the passing of the weekends.
  You might wonder if Caleb is a farm boy or a suburban Indanapolis kid, and you are right.  We still wonder about that.  His grandparents homesteaded then sold land to the suburban development where he lives.  Yet he can't remember a time when he wasn't riding on a tractor, and still helps his family maintain the piece of The Homestead that is left.  We like to tease him about Jimmy, his 4H hog...but we also realize that  he works as though Tuscarora is also his personal farm.  He sat in my office at the beginning of the season, when it was raining too hard to fish, and I said...."Well, Caleb, what are you going to do now?"  And he shrugged and said  "I'm used to working sun-up to sun-down, is there anything else I can do for you?"  (add in ma'am here, to get the true picture).   He'll be here all winter, and next summer too... lucky us.

Allie:  Easy going Allie notices everything.  Sometimes when she quietly makes a comment, it is so surprisingly witty and ironic that I look twice and wonder if she really meant for that to be funny, is she really that smart?  Yes, she is.  She's calm, professional, hardworking, and effective.   On her way to becoming an architect, we're hoping she'll pass through Tuscarora for another summer--and bring all her Pladson sisters.

Mata cleaned bunkhouses during the summer of 2004--and this week...she's at it again.  Her family worked for Tuscarora back then and the I'm still hearing stories about the antics that summer-with Shelby and Daniel and her siblings, Allison and Joe. She was about 10 at that time.   In between her summer job and starting college she's become a full time housekeeper, server, all around everyjob.  Since she's a Tuscarora veteran, she fit right in---and she has brought an energy with her that has been a big boost. 

Here's Andy.  It's our anniversary today. You know one of  the tricks  to staying married all these years?  He always takes the blame.  I'd say it  falls where it falls, but I'm going to admit....... I had statistics class, and I know it can't fall in his court 100% of the time.  What are the odds?  I'm on to that trick, and I appreciate it almost every day.  Also, he does know how to hustle.  I'd recommend him on any staff, any day of the week.  Without a doubt.

There you have them.........We  like our TEAM!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Blueberry Abundance

My friend Ingrid visited a few days ago, for a little less than 24 hours.  I'll bet she picked blueberries for 8 of those hours.   Whoa, did she ever find an abundance of blueberries.

She's always had a harvesting talent.  One summer before we had kids she took me to her secret patch in the Chequamegon National really it was my turn to show her some of our secret spots.  Honestly though.... on the Gunflint Trail beyond us...the abundance goes on for as far as you can see.  And then some.  The staff have their own secret spots, and come back with blueberry loads for muffins and pancakes, and cookies, and cakes.

I divvy up my summer hours a little differently than Ingrid does........I take my vacations in little doses.  After the office closed the other night, I went out with her for a couple hours.  Which means Ingrid picked steadily for two hours, and I picked for one, and then I sat on a rock near her and chatted for the last hour.  I take my breaks in doses too.

She sticks her nose in the blueberry patch, and there she stays.  As she was walking in with her bucket early the next morning, she passed two friendly people and she asked how it was going.  They shrugged with their empty buckets and were heading back to the car. "It's all picked out."   Ingrid smiled........and came out 4 gallons later.   Hint:  6 years ago, acres and acres and acres were perfectly primed for blueberries.  If you want some of the abundance, you can trust that it is out there, you just might have to keep walking.

I've decided that a great life trick is to figure out what is abundant in the current season, find it, and bury yourself in that particular patch..If you can't find it, you can trust that it's out there, you just might have to keep walking.

I can remember in mid July, my grandpa used to eat raspberries all day long.  Sweet corn=same thing.  I remember asking him if he was tired of eating corn.  Really, he had a  simple sustainable slant: When the corn's ripe, a guy eats the corn.  He had those progressive practices well before writers like Barbara Kinsolver and Michael Polen were writing about alternative food movements.  He could carry on a good conversation with most anybody, but somehow, I think if those writers would have run into him on the Greyhound bus between Milwaukee and Minneapolis those years ago, they might have been a tad bit turned off by the great big  Nixon and Reagan stickers he posted all over his suitcase. If they had met him, and been inclined to chat, they would definitely given him the thumbs up on this particular eating practice.

 I can still remember the look on his face, sitting at the kitchen table in the morning, eating a big bowl of raspberries still warm from the patch, doused in cream.  Without a doubt, he was living a life of abundance--he was on to that trick!  He was completely satisfied, and relishing his moment.

On the Gunflint Trail, it's our season for sun, for visitors, for blueberries.  I hope I have learned something from my grandpa.  I hope that sometimes my face reflects that same look of richness, of satisfaction, of appreciation for whatever happens to be in current abundance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hit the Reset


The other day the fax machine quit working.  So I found the manual, and stood on the desk to reach the shelf and started paging through, skimming the directions and pushing buttons.   I was talking to a friend of mine about fixing those electronic things.  Really--I didn't fix anything.  It occurred to us that in the end, most things just need to be turned off, and rest for a minute, and then they magically reset.   And so it was with the fax machine

Last week was a little hot here at Tuscarora.  Once it gets into the upper 80''s hard to keep the zest for working.   So about every two hours, it was time to hit the reset---we call them "safety swims" but really--they're a fabulous fix for morale and productivity....and just to remind us that life is fun.  It's amazing how a lake can do that for people.  And you can bet, every two hours, we're grateful for the cool waters of Round Lake.

I'm convinced that the reset button improves creativity too.   One afternoon after work, the staff took up dock bowling.   Jenny (Jen-ay)  was the pin and ball retriever....the water is mighty comfortable, a person can float  for a long time..

Lucky for us in Minnesota, we're not experiencing the drought so familiar to some of our southern guests.  Cross River is up--and last Saturday my nephew Tom and I hit the reset---and we tubed down the river from the bridge on the Gunflint trail to the bridge entering Gunflint Lake.  It's rare for me to get such an uninterrupted 2 hours with this kid these days..well, he WAS a kid about 10 minutes ago, ....The adventure was mostly a gentle float, but there were a few rapids thrown in just to keep us awake....yikes!

Tommy is on reset from medical school this month....but our lazy river sleepy discussions seemed to wander between woods and life and relationships and his classes.  He has sort of an interesting perspective on the ways that the earth systems all mirror internal life systems.  As in....the narrow rapids were fast moving arteries, and the lazy parts were the capillaries of the Cross River.   The entire universe is a  human anatomy metaphor or would that be the other way around? 

All I know is, on a day when the water is the same comfortable temperature as the air, it is a great thing to just lay my head back on the tube and close my eyes half way, and hit the reset button.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Flowers with Magnetic Personalities by Rachel

Sue's note:  I have such fond memories of hiking the Magnetic Rock Trail through the old growth forest...and those friends I hiked with back in the 80's...before wind storms and fires cleared it...and when I think about it.....especially those friends that I hiked with...  Now I'm so happy with my little route by the pond, over the bridge, and to the windy overlook on top of the alpine meadow, that the other day I found myself wishing away the jack pines that have taken a growth spurt lately.  Yikes, they're going to take over the meadow!! And then I have to slap the side of my head and say.....'Let it go Sue'.  I know I can't stop the change by clinging, but I sure can expend a lot of energy with the struggle.   Life is change, it was good then, it is good now.  And aren't the woods full of metaphors?  Thanks to Rachel for sharing her hike.  P.S. The blueberries are a little sparse this year, but some are already ripe!

On Wednesday, Justin, Denali and I went for a hike along the Magnetic Hiking Trail just across the Gunflint Trail from Tuscarora.    We're glad to navigate guests through routes of old forest upon request, but variety  is beautiful when you are walking through the sunshine through fields of flowers. So what if there are no towering pines or thickets of alder shading your portage? Without a dense canopy, the wildflowers go nuts in the spring. Every ecosystem needs variety, and here that means a riot of color. The yellow hawkweed is blooming so abundantly I gave up on taking pictures of it a while ago. The wood lilies are so charismatic it is hard to not stop and take a picture of each one. Harebell is one of my favorite delicate little flowers that tenaciously hangs on to bare rock. I spotted one little columbine being attacked by a neighboring hawkweed. Little splotches of pink vetch were here and there along with blooming shrubs like serviceberry. I know not all of these beauties are native to this part of the world, and that they indicate a disturbed soil environment, but when I walk through miles of them in the bright sun sometimes I like to forget all that and just enjoy.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tuscarora Summer by staffer Caleb

 Up until this year I had never experienced the beauty and wonders of the true great outdoors. I left home from Indiana curious and exploding with excitement for what my summer was going to include, could it be a big mistake or the experience of a life time?
 I soon found the answer to this driving question in my mind as I soon began work at Tuscarora. My new-found deeper love of the outdoors overcame any homesickness I might have and proved that this will be the greatest summer of my life.
I am truly happy with the life here at Tuscarora, as I cannot imagine working for any other outfitter now that I have spent nearly a month here. The staff here at Tuscarora is a very well equipped team willing and ready to overcome any obstacles to improve our clients visit, I could not ask for better people to work with.  The sheer amazing atmosphere found here is well worth the visit to our clients. Once you have witnessed the whisper of the pines, the splash of a fish, and the relaxation of an evening paddle you will be hooked, like me, on the BWCA.
I also came to the trail to experience the world class fishing that is available in the abundance of lakes and rivers that are the BWCA. Since I have arrived the Smallmouth have left the beds and the top-water bite is on as I have experienced the thrill with my fly rod. Round Lake is filled with Smallmouth, Perch, Northerns, and  Walleye. The normal jig and leech have proven to be the best go to bait if all else fails. Tuscarora is truly the place to be this summer so we hope to see you  very soon!