Spring's Arrival

From there to here, we have come full circle and are once again in springtime.  If I think in calendar terms, it was only five weeks ago that my front room view was this. 

April 8, 2016

April 8, 2016

Now, in mid-May, we can once again see the north shore, and the lake is open, but if you look closely, you can still see a bit of snow on the rooftop.

April 14, 2016

 While we enjoyed temperatures in the mid sixties recently, with one blip up to eighty, we are once again back in a more familiar range.  It was about 28 degrees this morning, and I can only imagine that it was a bit chillier than that when fishing officially opened at midnight.  Greg said that he heard one boat go down the lake last evening, and it looked to be loaded with camping equipment.  Kudos to the hearty souls that carry on the tradition of staying on the islands and in the shoreline campsites.  In the past, we would have several cars and trucks parked here for folks who wanted to be as close to the good fishing spots as possible.

On my recent trip to Fairbanks, I got to see spring arrive.  Snow was still in piles and patches throughout our son's property,  In fact, Addie got to go dogsledding one morning with Robert's wife Amanda.  They loaded up the dogs and sleds and drove a short ways to the mountains.  She said it was an awesome experience.  I stayed up there for two weeks more, and in that time, the snow melted away, mud season came, and the leaves all budded out and popped on the trees.  It was amazing to see it happen in such a short stretch.  I came back at the beginning of May, and now two weeks in, the buds are still holding tight in most places on our property. Here and there I see a brushstroke of chartreuse on the tree tops, but then the cold wind blows again.  My poor tulips (all three of them) are trying hard to open up and be cheerful! 

With the mailing of my postcards yesterday, I promised that I would tell the story of what inspired our ice out card for this year.  Each winter, we watch the lake cool off on a daily basis, and we wonder if the ice will form in a fashion that will allow for some ice skating.  Greg and the kids enjoy getting out there when it is possible.  (I gave up skating many years ago--my ankles ache at the thought of it!)  Some years back, the whole lake froze overnight, right before Christmas Day.  Greg, Paul and Addie were out there as soon as it was just thick enough, and one of the best parts was that the ice not only felt like glass, it looked like it, too.  If you missed seeing my Christmas card the next year, we sent it with a link to the movie that Greg put together.  You can see that here: Skating the Mirror Ice

This year was a different freeze-up than I recall seeing before.  The west half froze several days before the eastern part.  The line ran roughly from our point, northwest to the Canadian shore.  Ice to the west, wide open water to the east.  Once Greg deemed it safe, he was out there skating each day. We never know how long skateable ice will last before a snowfall comes to cover it all up.  In this case, the window was short.  And at that, the area available to skate was fairly small.  

On one adventure, the west wind was blowing quite hard.  Greg skated a ways into it, then turned around and headed east, the wind at his back.  As he glided along, he noticed movement to his left.  He looked over to see an otter not twenty feet away, traveling in the same direction.  Greg sped up a bit, and sure enough, the otter followed suit.  So Greg increased his speed yet again, aware that not far ahead was the end point for him, where the ice stopped and the open water began.  The otter cruised along, too, keeping up the pace.  Greg stopped before the edge, but the otter did not.  He kept right on going, and slipped easily into the water.  Soon, he popped his head up to look and see where Greg was, and if he had jumped in, too.  Greg said that it was like the otter was thinking, "C'mon!  What's wrong with you, buddy?"  In the absence of a camera, Greg just had to fully enjoy the moment and share the memory with us.  He said that he thinks the otter was not afraid of him, since it was willing to run so closely to him.  Otters are such playful little creatures, he probably just really enjoyed having another being out there to enjoy the new ice with him.  Such a rare experience!

So hats off to a new season!  More adventures lie ahead for all of us, people and otters alike.


Ice on Gunflint Lake

Oh my, a year and a day since my last post.  Wow, time really does fly.  2015 was an awesome year for us.  With any luck (and true diligence) I will be able to write a summary post soon.  But first, I think it is more important to address the pressing question of the day:  What is the status of the ice on Gunflint Lake?

Our freeze-up timeline this year was unlike any we had ever seen.  The western half of the lake, from our point to the northwesterly direction, finally froze around December 29th.  Everyone here for the holidays remarked on how unusual it was to see open water.  Some folks asked about the possibility of taking a sauna and jumping in to the lake.  We discouraged this, since our landing ramp is at an angle, and being ice-covered from the lapping of waves, one would have to slide in, and then somehow figure out how to crawl out on an uphill slope.  So we contented ourselves with watching this amazing beast of a lake, for that is what it tends to look like in the dark days of late fall/early winter, as it cools itself enough to freeze.

By January 4th, we finally saw ice on the eastern half of the lake.  For the next few days, it stayed frozen and it didn't snow.  The temperatures, however, were still not conducive to much ice formation.  Greg checked ice thickness at that stage (just past our point, very near to shore), and found approximately one and a half inches of "eastern" ice.  The painful part of this process was limited to viewing the incredibly smooth glass that invited skating on a mirror surface--so near to do, yet so far from possible at that thickness. He likened it to gazing at a field of perfectly-ripened blueberries that he was not allowed to pick.

Now the thermometer has finally dropped into the range of decent below-zero temperatures.  On Monday, Greg measured 6" of ice to the west of our point, and about 5" of ice to the east of the point.  There are a few inches of snow on top of it, but we are hoping that it is not enough to insulate the lake from more ice-making.  He has ventured out on the snowmobile, traveling down the shore to the west, and straight across to the north side. 

Trout season opens on Gunflint Lake this coming Saturday.  As with any ice travel, check with the local folks to see what the current reports are before heading out there. 

Active Wolves

In winters past, I have often written about hearing the wolves howling out on the ice.  I have always wished for a decent way to capture the sounds, to share it here with all of you.  Many nights, Greg and I would wake up and hear them, then scramble to start the video recorder or the camera, since we don't own any audio recording equipment.  We have so many bits and bobs of little video scraps, dark as night, with limited sound quality.  Never could we come close to what we actually heard.  Until now.

I found a small microphone recently that fits into the headphone jack of my iPod.  It looks like a regular microphone, complete with a foam cover; it's just a miniature version.  It is made by a company called Amp Ridge, and I bought it through the website PhotoJoJo, which is an awesome place to find all sorts of cool tools and gadgets for your iPod or iPhone camera.  I took a chance that this might be just the ticket I need to record the wolves.

My opportunity came two nights ago.  While Greg and I were eating dinner, we heard the wolves singing.  We stepped out the door, and to our delight, they were just down in front...the sound was coming from that close!  It was amazing!  This video is what I was able to record, and it is just a small slice of their performance.

Because it is a camera, and not an audio recorder, you have to endure the black screen.  But close your eyes and picture a pack of wolves out on the ice, singing their songs.

After they stopped, I proceeded to cook dinner.  Greg decided to go down to the ice, just to check things out.  He came back about ten minutes later to report that it was an awesome and eerie experience.  He couldn't see anything ahead of him, but he could distinctly hear the beat of the paws, as the wolves were running past him further out on the ice.  There were dozens of footfalls.  It was difficult to judge how far away they were, but it sounded as though some were headed to Canada, and some were just wandering around.  They returned later in the evening, and howled some more.  It was like our own personal performance.

I feel doubly lucky, for getting to hear the wolves, and for finally being able to share it here.  When I listen to this, I feel like I could just loop it over and over, and never get tired of it.  They are amazing animals.

It Looks Like It's Here to Stay

Finally, it is looking like true winter, both by land and by sea.  I was gone for several days in the last week, so I missed the warmer temperatures.  That was fine with me, as I didn't want to see our snow disappear.  By the time I returned, we were well into our new round of winter, with seven to eight inches falling.  Driving was a little slow, but I happily did it, because new snow is usually worth it.  Even better, this batch of snow means that trail grooming begins today.  Yay! Time to pull out the skis!

To top it off, the lake looks like it has finally, finally frozen completely.  While I was gone, Greg said that the lead on the north side had opened up.  When I saw it in daylight, I was surprised by the size of it.  Mercifully, we didn't have any wind, so the rest of the ice did not break up.  After a reading of minus five this morning, daylight revealed a white expanse. 

It looks like the Northwoods is wearing its holiday finery.  Let the celebrating begin!

Can you see the darker ice towards the north side?  That is where the new ice begins.

Can you see the darker ice towards the north side?  That is where the new ice begins.