Tuesday, December 30, 2008

End of the football season and the Lambeau Leap

On Sunday afternoon RonO and I met at Grumpy's in preparation for a trip over to St Paul to watch our recently hapless hockey team, the Wild, lose decisively to the streaking Chicago Blackhawks. Even though the Wild are creating extreme suction as of late, they still manage to sell out the building to the loyal fan base. We also watched the Minnesota Vikings clinch the division title against the New York Giants second string. As the lone Packer fan in the bar, I was much more interested in the Packers helping the Detroit Lions achieve their 'perfect season' than in any Viking win. As an alien in enemy territory for the past three decades, I have a snappy comeback for every smug comment that was sure to come my way at work on Monday morning. As I watched the Vikings celebrate, I recalled that fifteen years ago I was at Lambeau Field with my two boys watching the Packers win their first division title in a dozen or so years. Reggie White was completing his first year with the team and, although we didn't know it at the time, we witnessed the beginning of the famous Lambeau Leap.

My former spouse was from the small town of DePere and every Christmas we would drive the 5 1/2 hours to the Green Bay area for the holidays. While there, we would scalp or otherwise track down Packer tickets. Prices tended to drop with the temperature and this particular day the temperature was around 0F (-18C) with a brisk breeze. This was the old Lambeau, the one that looked like a giant John Deere implement barn before all the corporate improvements were made. The bench seats were, and are, aluminum and act as a heat sink that sucks bodily warmth right out through the butt cheeks if you're not armed with some sort of insulating cushion. The official Packer colors that time of year in Lambeau are green, gold, and blaze orange. For most folks in Wisconsin, the warmest gear they own is their deer hunting stuff and it makes for an interesting color spectrum in the stands. The boys, 11 and 14 at the time, and I had plenty of warm gear and were in good shape for the game. I did run into a fellow in the bathroom that had a similar layered look but he negated 50% of his stored warmth when he neglected to properly clear all layers of clothing as he stepped up to the communal urinal trough. As I zipped up, I glanced over and pointed out to him that his used beer was flowing down the inside of his snowmobile suit leg rather than into the stainless steel trough. He was not pleased; it appeared to me that he had been overserved.

I can't remember exactly when it took place in the game, but Reggie White forced a fumble, picked it up, and lateraled it to Leroy Butler, who took it in for the touchdown. For some reason, after he scored he jumped up into the stands. "Because I had pointed, the fans knew what they had to do," wrote Butler, the Packers' former All-Pro safety. "I go up into the green padding ... and when I'm halfway up, a guy starts pulling me up the rest of the way. Everyone right behind him grabs on. Everyone is screaming and yelling. Some are complimenting me with 'Awesome' or 'Good job.' It only lasts 2 or 3 seconds, and I'm back down". The boys and I thought it was pretty cool but had no idea that we were present at the start of a tradition.

Good luck to the Vikings. They will be playing the Eagles and we'll up north cross country skiing. It sounds like there are still about 20,000 tickets left; I don't know why people wouldn't want to attend the first home playoff game in a few years but the Viking fan is a unique creature. It would certainly send a message if we had a playoff game blacked out in Minneapolis and St Paul. As for me, I'll stick with Wild hockey and Packer football when the occasional ticket falls into my lap. As far as TV sports, give me the ski's, kayak, bike, deer rifle, etc. any time over the tube. Enjoy the new year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A cold winter so far

Although yesterday was above freezing, a fact that forced the ManFromSnowyLegs and I to go to the hated waxless cross country skis on our little ski workout, the winter has been nicely frigid. So cold in fact, that all the outdoor skating rinks were open well before Christmas break and guys were ice fishing the weekend after Thanksgiving in many places. I've kind of gotten away from ice fishing but fully expect to take it up again 'When I Have More Time'.....whenever that is. As a kid, the Old Man knew that the fish would really bite right after the ice went on. This would mean shuffling out on the bay with snowshoes, a Stearns life vest, and homemade ice picks on a string around our necks to haul our frozen asses out if we did go through. We did slay the panfish but also incurred the vehement disapproval of my mother, who I'm sure would have liked to have the Old Man committed on a number of occassions.

The ice on my favorite body of water is well ahead of schedule also. The western tip of the lake near Duluth is iced in but its still thin enough so that Coast Guard can clear the way for the big lakers loaded with coal and taconite. The ice between Bayfield and Madeline Island is thickening and for the first time since 1985 the Madeline Island Ferry Line will be shutting down in December. There will be an interim period where the kids get to school and people get to the mainland on the ice sleds (seen above) but then the ice road will be safe enough and free transit will begin. This is a very good thing in my opinion, because there have been winters recently when the ferry has run all winter long due to wimpy winter weather.

There are good things that can happen when a big piece of the lake freezes. Scientists think that the lack of ice cover has been one of the factors in the decreasing lake level over the past few years. It would also cut down on some of the lake effect snow. Somehow, I don't think the folks in the snow belt would mind if they only got 200"(5m) instead of 300" (7.5m). I know the KingOfIronwoodIsland would not mind, since his normal whine as he leaves deer camp early at the end of November is, "I gotta get home and blow the damn snow".

I hope our real winter hangs on. I always dread the January thaw and its snow melting, ice dam building, slush creating havoc. May the snow be good and the ice strong until at least the Ides of March!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace on Earth

Christmas Eve unfolded as it has for a number of years with one notable exception; I didn't have to work a half day or more. Newly anointed 1st LieutenantO was back home from Brooklyn and wound up crashing at our place after a particularly fun filled hotdish night at Grumpy's Bar with GuitarMatt and I. GM just turned 21 and was exposed to the delights of IPA, winter warmers, and Russian Imperial Stout by me, 1stLtO, and PatD, the affable owner of Grumpys. Once we shook the cobwebs in the morning we ran a number of errands, including a gyros and beer for lunch, and I dropped 1stLtO off at mom's work. I headed back home to prepare for the onslaught of friends and relatives that would descend upon us after 5pm mass, where the VOR would be singing in the Christmas Choir.

All went well and the party began. The VOR was concerned that we wouldn't have enough food. Translation: We only had enough food for four times the actual number of guests rather than six times the number. Rookie the Wonder Dog was in his glory because when someone got sick of scratching his ears and told him to beat it, he'd just move on to the next victim. By the time he had hit everyone he just started the cycle over. We did have one new guest at the party, the new husband of one of the VOR's nieces. They had flown up for Christmas from San Diego, Camp Pendleton actually, and would be heading back Sunday. In the din and chaos of thirteen people stuffed in the living room, I managed to get a chance to chat with Jeremiah and he told me that he would be heading to Iraq for his second deployment in a couple months. On our errand mission that morning, 1stLtO told me he thought their brigade would be heading for Afghanistan in 2011. His good friend and 'battle buddy', Lt MannyC, will be shipping out in a couple months also, leaving behind his wife and two small girls, both of which have 1stLtO serving as their godfather.

Two months is a lot more immediate than two years but they both gave me pause, having talked to both of them the same day, Christmas Eve day at that. There is a local play that's enjoying a nice run in town, about the Christmas Truce in World War I. Soldiers on both sides just said to hell with this war thing and met in no man's land. True story. And then they climbed back in the trenches and continued shooting at each other the next day. I always wondered why they couldn't have just decided to continue the truce and maybe the idea would spread to neighboring units. Simplistic but a good thought.

Enjoy the holiday season. Good friends and relatives, food and drink, time to relax, and the spirit of the season, the same spirit that caused those soldiers in the trenches of 1914 to lay down their arms and meet on common ground. Think about peace on earth and continue to think about it well after the holiday season has passed. And perhaps take up the pen or keyboard and bring a little heat to those who think we need to defend every slight, every act that might diminish our power, with a bunch of young people with rifles. "Change" is supposed to be coming on 20 January. Some collective feet need to be held to the fire until someone says enough. Peace On Earth.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Open your eyes and smell the chlorine

Since GalwayGuy is back from St Louis, an area which does not have readily available kayak opportunities for him, I thought I'd set aside my anti-chlorite views and absorb a bit of the noxious chemical on Sunday. As it turned out he was stuck in Bismarck, ND due to the blizzard conditions. His plan to get up at 4am, drive back, and make the pool session at 11am was thwarted, but I felt that since I had told RonO I'd be there I better show. So after being forced back inside a couple times to restore small motor function to my fingers as I attempted to tie the boat on the roof in sub zero temperatures, I made my way over the black ice on I-694 to the Brooklyn Center pool.

Four of us made it to the session, hearty or stupid souls who either had the holiday shopping, baking, and stressing out under control or maybe just didn't give a rip. I personally fell into the procrastinators camp and it was strongly suggested by the VOR that a 'quick' beer stop at Grumpy's after rolling might be pushing the envelope, Christmas prep-wise. I ran into MrEngineerGear in the locker room and he immediately informed me he would have to give me some shit about showing up after reading my anti-chlorite ramblings from last winter. He was way too easy on me however. I did hear of a new and uniquely cold weather pool mishap when I got in the pool though. RonO left his neoprene booties in his gear box and they froze solid. He put them in the pool to thaw and one drifted over to the pool filter, was sucked in, and has not been seen since.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later I had executed a few rolls feebly, forgotten everything I'd learned this summer about my offside (excuse me, other side rolls), and remembered that doing a bunch of rolls in quick succession after a two month layoff generally leaves my back sore for a week. That, combined with the chlorine saturation of all my gear and mucuous membranes, made for a pretty typical DaveO pool session experience. The foggy photo above and attached video clip of an aborted roll attempt while holding the camera, further illustrate the 'fun' I had on that frigid Sunday afternoon.

If GalwayGuy wants to hit the pool again, a likely scenario once he sees what Santa brought, I will go along but perhaps in a boat sharing scenario. They do have a nice sauna there and I would envision perhaps a 90-10 breakdown in 'butt in the boat' time. I believe I will stay true to my principles for the rest of the winter and glide over the snow rather than brush it off the kayak rack. Its shaping up to be one of those bountiful snow winters and I'm all over that.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Leinies Bock is back!!

During my holiday liquor mission yesterday I ran into one of my old hockey buddies who, conveniently, is the beer buyer at Surdyks, a very fine liquor venue in Northeast Minneapolis. When I asked him what was new he said that the original Leinenkugels Bock, renamed 1888 Bock, was back. Memories immediately popped into my head and a 12 pack immediately popped into my cart.

I grew up about 15 miles south of the Leninkugels brewery in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. It was the Old Man's favorite beer and two returnable cases were a permanent fixture next to the door that went from the garage to the house. Regular Leinie's was a small cut above the Schlitz/Pabst/Miller/Bud of the day, perhaps because Leinies continued to use leaf hops instead of hop pellets, a substance closely resembling rabbit dung or that bad 'natural' cereal they sell. It was the Leinies Bock however, that was different from other beers of the time. Rather than the pale yellow, over carbonated, and undrinkable above 40 degrees F 'American lagers', it was dark, flavorful, and actually had some character. It was produced in the spring, right around the start of Lent, and the rumor was they made it when they 'cleaned the tanks'. The tank thing was ridiculous, of course, but the timing got me in to the habit of giving up light beer for Lent. I do not believe I've violated my Lenten pledge for nearly two decades now. It was pretty much the first beer I ever tasted that pushed the envelope and I credit it with getting me on the trail of the good beer that's available today.

One of my fondest memories of Leinies Bock was when the Old Man, his buddy Hoot, and me headed up to our lake cottage early one spring to construct a storage shed. The cottage was not a current day 'lake home' but an uninsulated, oil burner heated frame building with an outhouse and a hand pump halfway down the hill to the lake. We headed up in early April, armed with our tools and a cooler full of sandwiches and Leinies Bock. I must have been about 17 years old at the time. As we built this structure we sipped on the Bock and carried out the instructions on my Keweenaw Brewing T-Shirt. Keweenaw is in Houghton, MI and was founded by Michigan Tech engineering grads. The instructions are, "Drink beer. Material balance. Iterate". The shed was right up next to the woods in back so the 'material balance part consisted of simply turning around on the platform and peeing off the back of the structure into the woods. After 3 or 4 hours of work the place was framed up and it was time to frame in the windows. When I asked Hoot where he wanted the window in the back he looked at it with a critical eye, thought for a moment, and told me, "Better put 'er about shvanz high".

The good bye party for Leinies Bock in the returnable case took place about 5 years ago, once again in the spring of the year on a weekend where there was work to be done. Pod and I headed out to camp to burn some brush before the woods dried out, and like that spring weekend many years before, brought a supply of Leinies Bock. Only this time we knew they were discontinuing the Bock to brew insipid crap like Berry Weiss and Summer Shandy. We got the pile going and then, to avoid any runaway forest fires, sat and watched it like hawks for several hours, leaving only for material balance. The photo above illustrates our vigilance perfectly. You can't see our fire fighting equipment in the photo but trust me, its there.

This beer isn't an assertive dark beer like a winter warmer or even a malty German style bock. Its a good 'session beer' as my English buddies say, one that you can have a few of and still be in pretty good shape. It actually reminds me more of a mild ale than a bock but what it really reminds me of is good times, good memories, and an very early glimpse of the outdoor beer drinking season.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Trouble on the North Shore, harmony on the South

Two separate cases in Minnesota's Arrowhead have lowered the already low public opinion of the Feds in that part of the state. In one case, the Border Patrol agent that struck and killed a doctor clearing a tree from the Gunflint Trail, had her claim, that she was immune from local prosecution because she was a federal agent on duty, denied by a Federal judge. She will need to return to the area to face charges. In the other case, the man that prosecutors claimed started the Ham Lake forest fire in virtually the same area killed himself in his Washington DC home. Even though all evidence seems to indicate that it was an accident, caused by a campfire getting out of control, the US attorney insisted on charging Mr Posniak with a more serious felony charge, similar to arson, which had mandatory jail time if convicted.

I had written about the sketchy reputation of the Border Patrol in northern Minnesota in an earlier post. I think the Federal judge made the right decision in having her return to face the music in the area where the the accident occurred. You can make book on the fact that there will be a motion for change of venue however. The Posniak case on the other hand, will never go to trial. The charges by the prosecutor and possibility of doing time in Federal prison prison apparently drove the man to take his own life, making him as one area resident put it, "...the only casualty of the Ham Lake fire".

I know a little bit about prosecution because in another life 'I were one'. I worked as a paralegal in a District Attorny's office in western Wisconsin for 3 years in the mid '70's. One of the more interesting aspect of the job, one that I was involved in only as an observer, was the decision of what to charge a defendant with. In many instances the cops would arrest a guy and charge him with a number of crimes. We would then attempt to sort out the police report and figure out what the defendant actually did, what he could be convicted of based on the elements of the crimes, and often attempt to puzzle out actual intent based on prior records. A good example to illustrate this process is the heinous crime of public urination, very common near the nest of bars by our college campus. Depending on the circumstances, attitude of the urinator, mood of the arresting officer, etc., charges could range from simple city disorderly conduct to a boatload of charges including state misdemeanor disorderly, public urination, public drunkeness, indecent exposure, and so on. We would get the reports, usually a pile of em on Monday morning, and the prosecutors would decide what to actually charge in the initial appearance. In some offices (not ours) it was a common practice to 'load the boat'. Charge the defendant with 3 or 4 things, hoping to get him to agree to plead guilty to the one you really want in exchange for dropping the others. This would make the defendant feel good because he got a couple charges dropped, make the cops happy that you charged all the stuff they did on the arrest, and also served to make lazy defense attorneys look good because they could claim they got charges dropped. The technique of charging a more serious crime with the hopes of avoiding trial by reducing it to a lesser charge was also common. The other element in this whole mix was politics. High level cases were usually grabbed by the DA rather than one of the assistants because he needed the publicity since he was the guy who had to stand for re-election. At the US attorney level politics would never be an issue however because there is no politics involved in that.........oh wait.....I guess there was that Gonzales/US attorney firing thing wasn't there?

If I were the US attorney (and still had my job because I hadn't pissed off any Bush administration officials) I guess I'd take a look at the arrest reports and other elements, and attempt to reason out appropriate charges. Mr Posniak was a 64 year old retired Federal employee who graduated from the Uof M and had been returning to the BWCA every spring for the past quarter of a century. It would seem from reports that his campfire got out of control, he tried to put it out, and then took way too long to get back to the lodge and report it. When he was questioned by the authorities, he panicked and claimed he was on a different lake than the one he was actually on. He lied to the law. But nothing would indicate that he set the fire maliciously or was attempting any kind of arson to an area that he loved and had made a point to visit every spring. And let me tell you, it ain't an easy shot from Washington DC to the BWCA; you gotta really want to do it. So, I guess if it were me, I would have charged him with a couple of misdemeanors like Fibbing to a Forest Service Guy and Negligent and Dumb Ass Campfire Control and let it go at that. You can be certain that he would have been dealing with enough civil suits and actions to make his head spin anyway. Now his estate will get to deal with those. It would seem that a lot of the folks up north that were affected by the fire have the same opinion, that the Feds were heavy handed in this case and because of it a man is dead.

We can only hope that the tone and tenor set by the incoming Obama administration will help alleviate some of this negativity and suspicion regarding the Feds. On a very positive note, on our side of the big lake, the National Park Service has given a grant to local fire departments to help equip them to fight forest fires, some of which may occur in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This is the kind of stuff that helps to cement the relationship between Federal and local entities and also tends to grease the wheels of cooperation. Radios, fire shelters, protective gear and equipment, and training are all postive things that can help protect everyones forest (including mine!). We need more win-win's like this and less of the bull in the china shop mentality that seems so easy for the Feds to embrace. We shall see come January 20th.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Storms, weather, and a new lock

After mentioning in my last post that I hadn't seen a good Lake Superior Nor'easter in a couple of years, GurneyGranny emailed me and told me that I missed a good one last weekend while I was out in Portland enjoying the Pacific storm. I asked her how big the waves were and was told that she had no way of knowing because she never left the house. This was not the answer I was looking for so I checked the two Lake Superior weather stations linked on my blog, Devils Island and the mid lake buoy. I discovered that neither was functioning.

The reason the mid lake buoy was not functioning made complete sense and I should have known, give the fact that I did a post on removal of the navigation buoys. Duh. "Buoy 45006 has been recovered for the winter and will be redeployed in the spring. When the redeployment date is known, it will be posted in the weekly maintenance report". I guess it would be hard for a weather buoy to report wave height when it was frozen in the ice. I thought I had my ace in the hole however, the Devils Island weather station. It's lack of functionality was more of a head scratcher. "Station DISW3 failed on 11/20/2008. It will be restored to service when it can be worked into the schedule. When the service date is known, it will be posted in the weekly maintenance report". I guess I can't blame them for not rushing out to fix the thing however. Getting to Devil's Island this time of year could be problematic and the environment once the island was reached would just not be very hospitable. Given the alternative though, I guess I'd rather go out there now, or at least before or after the bug season. I was talking to the lighthouse volunteer on Devil's who said that a couple of years ago in June two guys came staggering up to the door of the Keepers Quarters, loaded down with gear, sweating profusely, and breathing like they had just finished a marathon. They were two repair guys, up from St Louis to fix either the automated light or maybe the weather station. When they were dropped off at the dock, a mile south of the lighthouse, they immediately realized that they were food; every black fly and mosquito on the island seemed to zero in on them and they ran the mile to the light station with all their gear. Give me cold and snow every time; I despise biting insects. They did get the problem fixed however, and I hope they get the weather station fixed soon as well so I can check the conditions on Devils, and mutter to myself how glad I am to be sitting in my replacement LazyBoy blogging.

A much larger project than fixing the Devil's Island weather station is being discussed again also. Maritime interests on the Great Lakes have renewed their push for a second large lock at Sault St Marie. The Poe lock, built 40 years ago, is the only lock that can handle the thousand footers like the American Spirit in the photo, that comprise 70% of the traffic into Lake Superior ports. Apparently, like many things our Congress 'authorizes', the new lock has been OKed but not funded. On any number of occasions I've authorized and OKed free beer at various pubs but none was forthcoming due to funding issues. Congress seems to have the same problem. Part of the push this time around will be job creation, both to build the thing and also the permanent jobs that would be created if the ports were open year round with increased traffic. We shall see how it plays out. Since the Obama administration is going to fix all of our woes, I guess they might as well add this one to the list. Maybe we could tie funding to a ballast water treatment regulation. That way we could have the economic benefits to the area without the risk of more lampreys, zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil, or any of the other vermin that have hitchhiked to the lake when the salties exchange their ballast. It sounds like a win-win to me but I'm not holding my breath. There could be politics involved. In the interim the shipping season will close January 15, the lake will partially freeze, the ice road will open from Bayfield to Madeline Island, and I'll be marking the days on the calendar until Canoecopia in mid March.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pacific Storm

Once again the decision to travel to a tourist destination in the off, off season has paid off. Not only are lodging, dining, and ale at reduced prices, but the most aggravating element of tourist spots, the tourists themselves, are gone. Cannon Beach, Oregon was at a 'normal' early December level with locals and a few travelers strolling around and enjoying the shops, ample parking, Christmas ambiance, and, of course, the brewpub. Travelers tend to have the flexible and open mindset to go wherever opportunity or interest may lead them while tourists seem to need to see everything in the tourist brochure and see if for a rigidly prescribed amount of time. The other thing that identifies tourists is that they pretty much want to see those touristy sights in a pair of bermuda shorts, white pleated ones with matching sandals for the ladies, with the sun shining warmly down on them. That precondition makes it certain that they will never see what we saw over the weekend; a genuine, kick ass, 60mph wind gust, 25' (8m) wave producing North Pacific winter storm.

We checked into our two bedroom ocean side bungalow on Friday afternoon. This rental would cost you your first born son (mine was along on this adventure) during tourist season but in December it was roughly the same as a Holiday Inn Express. The storm was anticipated by the innkeeper as we were handed a lantern and told it was for "when the power goes out"; which it indeed did. In addition to No1 son and I, our party also included the VOR and No1 Son's lady friend, CycleKat. When we walked down to the beach to view the famous Haystack Rock, we were sand blasted by the northwest winds and watched huge waves breaking far offshore. The VOR and I got up early for the 6am low tide to see if we could get near the tidal pools but with the wind and waves it was hopeless. A combination of the storm and full moon made the 12:30 high tide on Saturday the highest of the year, something we definitely wanted to see. The best place to view that seemed to be Ecola State Park, which included some Lewis and Clark history, the temperate rain forest, and a great view of the ocean and the Tillamook Light.

We arrived at the trailhead and admired the ocean and the tide rolling in. We also learned about the concept of the 'sneaker wave'. CycleKat and I were on the shore crawling around some big timber that had washed ashore when the fairly monotone warning, "better run", came from No1 Son. The sneaker wave got me wet to the knee on one leg but CycleKat had water over the tops of her swampers plus one of the logs rolled on her ankle. Fortunately all was well and the VOR found a stand with plastic doggie dung bags in the parking lot, which both of them used to line their boots after changing to dry socks. The hike was great through the giant spruce and fir and I had the privilege of hugging a tree that was there and roughly 200 years old when Captain William Clark strolled by in 1805. We were rewarded for our 800' (250m) of vertical with a spectacular view of the Oregon coast and the Tillamook Lighthouse, a very strange and eerie place indeed. And the storm was very impressive.

There is something about a storm hammering the shoreline that brings out our primal emotions. Watching the lovely swells roll in as the kids play in the surf is nice but when the folks at work ask about the weekend it will be the awesome power of the storm that's discussed, not the serenity and beauty of the beach. Locals kept apologizing for the nasty weather but I had to tell 'em that I couldn't have asked for a better experience in their town. I'm still waiting for a good Lake Superior northeaster this year but our trip to Cannon Beach and its accompanying storm will be remembered for a good long time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Portland bound

We're off to Portland, possibly our last flight on Northworst Airlines before its absorbed by Delta, to visit No1 Son as he goes about the business of setting up his own business. Portland Design Works is set to begin selling commuter bike accessories, anything that will make it more comfortable, safer, easier, or more efficient to use your bike to get from point A to point B, sometime this spring. He and his lady friend will be taking time from their busy schedules to hang with the old man and the VOR for a long weekend. The only firm plan is a trip to the Oregon coast to check out the Cannon Beach area. As much as I'd like to take a paddle in the Pacific again, I don't think time will permit on this short trip. One thing is a given however, and that is my goal to take as large of a slice out of the Portland craft beer scene as time and brain cell availability allows.

My first trip to Portland was on business about 15 years ago. I am in the habit of not booking lodging ahead of time because I never know if I might run into something more interesting than the usually bland spot the company would normally reserve. That trip I ran into something called the Portland Rose Festival. I had no idea that there was a rose event that was not held on New Years Day and featured no football game. The bad news was there was no room at the inn anywhere in Portland. The really good news was that I was directed out of town and up the Columbia gorge to a new lodging called McMenamin's Edgefield. It had been the county poor farm and then the county home before closing in 1982. The McMenamin company opened it as a B&B that featured......drum roll.......a craft brewery and bar. So once again procrastination had taken me from the mundane blandness of a Holiday Inn or Ramada to the funky and eclectic wonder of a room at the brewery. I was so impressed that I returned a year later with my former spouse and the WoodenOne. Northworst once again managed to botch the flight and the WoodenOne ended up joining us via Seattle and Alaska Air. We had all boarded in Minneapolis and the gate agent came rushing down the jetway to inform us that he had boarded one too many passengers. FormerSpouse was the only passenger not seated, looking like a cross between a deer in the headlights and the loser in a game of musical chairs. The WoodenOne gallantly volunteered to be redirected. After getting to Edgefield in a rather surly mood the ambiance and 24 tap handles of the onsite pub managed to restore our equilibrium.

I'm not sure what the trip will bring but thats the great part. Planning is vastly overrated in a trip of this nature and we hope to drift from place to place taking our own sweet time. I can only hope the travel is lubricated with some fine craft brewed beer. I understand a person can even find some real ale taps in the Portland area. You don't need a plan but its great to have a goal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wanna buy a lighthouse?

Lighthouses are a big draw on Lake Superior. In the Apostles, lighthouses (Devil's complex below)are one of the main attractions and the newly refurbished Raspberry Island light station is one of the loveliest I've seen. Previous keepers must have planted asparagus because early in the paddle season a person can usually sneak an asparagus spear or two to freshen up dinner. Often the remoteness and the effort it takes to visit a light is a draw in itself. Anyone that has paddled out to the Battle Island Light, off Rossport, ON, knows what I'm talking about. One of my more insane cronies has even paddled from the Keweenaw, to Stannard Rock Light, on to the Caribou Island Light, and then to the Canadian east shore of the lake. Masochism in its most severe form. Being windbound a couple years back at the tip of the Keweenaw, watching the waves batter the Gull Rock Light (above), had to be one of the finer non paddling days on the lake. Some lighthouse have been sold and converted to popular B&Bs' as well. We stayed at the Sand Hills Lighthouse in the Keweenaw and were unable to get reservations at the very popular B&B lighthouse in Two Harbors. While at the Sand Hills lighthouse I talked with the owner about how he actually acquired the property. I thought about that conversation when I read that the inner breakwater light in Duluth had been sold at auction by the Feds.

Two guys from Duluth, one of which grew up on Park Point, bought the light tower for $31,000. Not bad in my estimation. The light was put into service in 1901 and is a cast iron cylindrical tower, 67' high. The Feds decided they didn't need it anymore and tried to donate it to various orgainzations but the myriaid of restrictions associated a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the work that needed to be completed, and the fact that a lease needed to be negotiated with the Corps of Engineers, tended to scare the faint hearted away. The two guys that got it, Steve Sola and Matt Kampf aren't really sure what they are going to do with it. “Something will evolve, we’re just not exactly sure what it is,” was the comment that was made.

Good luck to em'. Its a great piece of history, well worth the thirty one large that they paid for it in my opinion. Mr Sola's family owns the South Pier Inn, right on the ship canal, very close to the tower and it should dovetail nicely with that property. I hope they are able to come to some sort of rational, amenable, and equitable agreement with the pile of Federal agencies that have their fingers in the Lighthouse pie. Once again, good luck to em'.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Skiing and tormenting children

Some of the SKOAC Renegades straggled out to Elm Creek on Saturday for the first cross country ski of the season. There is an opening on the Renegade relay team for the Vasaloppet this winter; RonO has already mailed in his entry fees to ski the 42k classic. That would be a full marathon of 26 miles and you can most definitely count me out. But best of luck to Ron anyway. We can only hope that his beer drinking is not compromised by excessive training (closed circuit to BDahlieOfMahtomedi: you really CAN train too much!). I took a couple laps on the classical skis and then switched to the skate skis, just to make sure that every muscle and nerve synapse in my body would be screaming the next morning.

I arrived home in time to welcome TheMayor, Nipper, and their two boys who were down from Bemidji, MN for the annual Holidazzle parade on the Nicolet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. A plan was hatched where Nipper and I would selflessly give of our time and head down early to The Local, a fine Irish pub right on the mall, and patiently save a table for the Mayor, VOR, and the two boys. It is the perfect spot to watch the parade, get warm, and have an adult beverage if so inclined. The theme of the parade this year is fairy tales which gave ample opportunity for me to indulge one of my favorite pastimes, tormenting small children.

I was present but not the instigator of one of the finest child tormenting episodes of all time. A bunch of us were enjoying beers on The Terrace, the University of Wisconsin student union, situated outdoors on the shores of Lake Mendota. My buddy's young 4 year old daughter had the twin life changing experiences of seeing the Wizard of Oz and getting a pair of bright ruby red jelly shoes earlier in the week. She became, of course, 'Dorothy'. She flitted around the table, insisting we call her Dorothy, asking who wanted to be the Scarecrow, and trying to get us to follow her down the 'yellow brick road' until The WoodenOne had enough. Apparently the aggravation factor for lifelong bachelors is significanly lower than for we parents. Anyway, 'Dorothy' had just finished asking the WoodenOne if he could pretend he was the Cowardly Lion when a flock of geese took off on the far side of the lake. Without missing a beat he told her, "I would but I don't want to be carried off to the castle by those damn flying monkeys", as he pointed across the lake. 'Dorothy' followed his finger, looked, her lower lip began to quiver, and she ran crying and screaming to her mom. The humorous vs cruel vote split cleanly along gender lines. Guys were doubled over laughing and women were giving the poor WoodenOne The Look as well as some very pointed comments.

Cut to last night on the Nicolet Mall. As the brightly lighted floats began rolling by it was apparent that the opportunites to torment 4 year old Brent would be limitless. I hoisted him up to point out Captain Hook, waving his brightly lit hook, and the crocodile that bit off his hand in the first place. There was a wide eyed look but no other reaction. The witch in Hansel and Gretel's house wasn't a problem for him either. "You just put a stick out and she thinks its your finger", says Brent. However I spied my ace in the hole heading toward us, the Wizard of Oz float. By now our boy was right down in front on the curb as the munchkins, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and the brightly colored float with the Wizard marched by. Behind the float on a bike was the nastiest, ugliest witch you've ever seen along with her flying monkeys. Simultaneously, the VOR innocently steered him toward the street for a better view, I gave him an additional shove, and the witch turned directly toward him on her bike and gave him a stare. Poor Brent found himself standing alone on Nicolet Mall with an evil and very mobile witch headed directly toward him. He stood rooted for a moment, then turned, screamed, and scurried for mom and dad, crying. We all laughed, including mom, dad, me, the VOR, fellow spectators, and especially older brother.
Is this a character flaw on my part or just good clean fun, this teasing and tormenting of these poor little guys? My son's will recall with possible fondness, visits from the 'pinching worms' and 'Doctor Iron'. Nephews will recall my testing of their first grade reading skills, reading aloud the phrase that I had written, 'Uncle-Dave-will-you-please-give-me-a-chicken-leg'? I would then immediately grab them and apply the feared chicken leg, a modification of the figure four leg lock, a hold any competent professional wrestler can execute. In any event, young Brent recovered quickly and is probably better for the experience, and I had a pleasant flashback to when my guys were small. It turned out to be a pretty good night for all concerned.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Chickadees of Reefer Creek

Lake Superior and, in particular, our little corner of it makes for some interesting bird behavior. Rafts of bluebills, one of the tastier diver ducks, are bobbing on Chequamagon Bay and Bark Bay Slough although the giant rafts of a thousand birds have not been seen for a few years now. Birds that can't land on the water tend to funnel down the north shore of the lake and cross when they are confident they can make it to the other side. Hawk Ridge in Duluth has a seasonal average of 94,000 raptors (hawks, eagles, falcons, etc) that soar past in the fall and its a spectacular sight. Many other birds cross before they get to Duluth and a lot of them cross squarely at our camp on Reefer Creek. The GurneyGranny, an avid birder as well as deer hunter, has identified countless species and entered them in the camp journal. I tend to aggravate her, sometimes on purpose, with my egregious bird misidentification but the one guy I can always identify is my old buddy the Black-capped Chickadee.

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I bring bird feed up in the deer stand because I enjoy chickadee company and also because they tend to distract the deer with their movement. Another reason I like them is because they hang around in the winter and don't head south like other birds and elderly snow-phobic retirees. We collect the fat and suet from our deer and hang it, and the carcasses, on the buck pole for the enjoyment and nourishment of the local bird population throughout the winter. This year there was a particularly social and friendly crop of chickadees in the area, and some truly bold birds paid me a visit up in the spruce tree. Most had no problem landing on my rifle and carrying off seeds. Apparently researchers have found that the chickadee brain can remember up to a thousand seed hiding places in various nooks and crannies of the forest.
They also seemed to have no problem landing on my head. I could feel them land but just barely. A number of times I had multiple landings but holding the camera out at arms length got tiring so the best shot was of these two, one on the brim and one on the crown.

Only the boldest chickadees would land on my hand. At first they wouldn't stay long but after they discovered my hand was more comfortable than some gnarly twig they would spend some time. My guess is they only weigh a couple ounces because their weight was barely discernible.

It was loads of fun photographing and playing with the chickadees. There were fat ones, skinny ones, big ones, and little ones. Ones that sat and looked me in the eye and others that bored in, grabbed their seed, and were outta there. Fellow members of the camp that read this may be thinking, 'what the hell was he doing playing with the chickadees when he should have been focused on hunting'? I guess all I can say to that is...check the buck pole. And my freezer.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Carp attack - the followup

While reading my portion of the morning news in my favorite location, I suddenly heard the agitated voice of the VOR. "I knew it! I was right! They are voracious eaters AND can fly out of the water!!". Upon checking I discovered that the invasive Asian flying silver carp have been discovered in one of the pools of the Mississippi River near LaCrosse.

Blog readers will recall that last spring, on a day which will live in infamy, the VoiceOfReason was suddenly and deliberately attacked by forces of the Empire of Carpdom. Apparently this article triggered her pre breakfast outburst, reliving what she called 'the most terrified I've ever been kayaking'. It is a bit disconcerting that once again an exotic and invasive species has been introduced into our environment, this time apparently by lax commercial fish farmers rather than through the ballast tanks of Great Lakes Freighters. My guess is that one of these guys could easily knock a kayaker over if they came flying out of the water. The good thing is that what agitates them is the sound of an outboard motor. I'll admit that sound agitates me at times also, especially when paddling in remote and quiet areas such as Voyageurs Nat'l Park. Hmmm....given the cigarette boat racing controversy in the Apostles, maybe we could move the races to one of the pools above LaCrosse. That way you could solve two aggravating problems---but no, its cruel of me to even mention it. Although jet ski competitions.....sorry, I'm sorry.

Its sad that I have not even strapped on the skis yet and already I'm thinking about paddling the Trempealeau pool. This weekend the SKOAC Renegades are talking about the initial cross country ski outing at Elm Creek. BjornDahlie and the IrishPirate already have some time in and are heading for Colorado soon. Maybe once I get the skis on my kayak angst will subside. Or maybe not.

(flying carp photo by Pioneer Press)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Cayuga Project

It would appear that we have our own version of the spotted owl in the Clam Lake area of Northern Wisconsin. This story was in the Ashland Daily Press, reporting on a 5,000 acre timber sale near Clam Lake that's been tied up for years due to concern over the habitat of the endangered pine marten. As a guy in the midst of a timber sale of my own I have, predictably, a few opinions on the topic.

It would appear that this sale has been tied up in the courts and government bureaucracy for years already. Phrases in the article like 'Federal judge ruled in 2005', 'revised draft environmental impact statement', 'the agency combined parts of alternative 5 with parts of alternative 6 to create alternative 7', all point to a lawyer and bureaucrat full employment plan rather than a well thought out timber management plan. To get a handle on the area being discussed, 5,000 acres would be a hair under 8 square miles. The area is shaped roughly like the top of Homer Simpson's head so lets call it 2 miles by a bit less than 4 miles. This is not a huge area by any means; I've been there a number of times. The creature in question, the American Pine Marten, had been extinct in Wisconsin since 1925. The reintroduction effort began the year before I was born, in 1953, with an attempt to reintroduce them on our beloved Stockton Island in the Apostles. This didn't work so well. Stockton is apparently much more hospitable habitat for stunted black bears than pine martens. The current effort began in 1975 and continues today. These little two pound creatures are apparently not very social. The males have a range of two square miles, the females one square mile and both, "are highly territorial and neither males nor females will tolerate another American marten of the same sex in their territory". My third grade arithmetic skills tell me that if this is true, the entire area in question could hold a maximum of 4 males and 8 females.

If we boil this thing down to the basics, the controversy and arguing is over a small area, 5,000 acres, (8 square miles, less than a fourth of a township), that we want to do a combo select/clear cut on and there are a maximum of a dozen martens that could be displaced. This parcel has been in the administrative and judicial system for years with slash and burn logging advocates, tree fondling environmentalists, half a dozen agencies of state and federal government, a gaggle of lawyers, and a judge or two, all pissing away tax dollars like an incontinent wino full of cheap white port in a dark alley. It would seem that there is no one who has to power and authority to say enough is enough and just pull the trigger one way or the other. There seems to always be the time and money for another appeal or four. This process is like trying to eat a piece of dry toast while suffering from a monster hangover. The bite of toast is chewed and chewed and chewed but its very difficult to finally gulp it down, even though its perfectly swallow-able. In the case of this Cayuga Project, someone needs to swallow.

For a bit of perspective, our own little sale involved 6 landowners and 320 acres. Some of us contracted with the Living Forest Cooperative in Ashland, WI to mark the timber, manage the sale, and provide other services as professional foresters. A timber sale is a lot like getting a haircut; you can either have the buzz cut, a little off the top, or somewhere in between. We opted for clear cutting pockets of mature aspen (to regenerate as aspen) and balsam of 'two sticks' or larger. All hardwoods, spruce, and other conifers were left standing. This will maximize food and cover for deer and grouse, our ultimate goal. The sale will be completed this winter, the money will be paid, and the forest will be healthier for it. My guess is that our entire net from the sale might equal 2 or 3 days of litigation on the proposed Cayuga sale. Our woods actually houses the big brother of the pine marten in the weasel family, the fisher. This was one of many successful reintroduction programs undertaken by the Wisconsin DNR. The photo at the top of the post is fisher tracks on a beaver pond on our land. Fisher are voracious predators and eat things like skunks, red squirrels, and are one of the few animals to kill and eat porcupines, crucial if you want healthy, live hardwoods. They also enjoy a tasty stray cat or two whenever they encounter one. This helps the grouse, songbird, and other ground nesting bird population, since irresponsible jerks don't seem to mind dropping off their unwanted cats in the area. The cut looks ugly now but new stems are beginning to emerge already. A few hundred white pine were planted and in just a couple years things will look great as well be excellent wildlife habitat.

At this point in the debate over the Cayuga Project, it is my humble opinion that due diligence has been done and its time to cut a tree down. The injunction in 2005 forced the forest service to agree that A) national forests are not for maximizing pulp production and paper mill jobs and also B) to defer half of the harvest for four years. This would give the Wisconsin DNR, an agency that has successfully reintroduced a number of native species including the fisher, turkey, and the grey wolf, time to make sure the pine martens were in good shape in the area. The DNR agreed that this was plenty of time. Yet some environmental groups, notably the Habitat Education Center, based in Madison, still oppose the timber sale, blaming Bush in part for the plan that's just been approved and ignoring the compromises that the new plan embraces. I for one am sick of the BS. Quit pissing away time, money, and energy on this thing and lets execute the compromise plan. It really is time to swallow.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to reality

After spending the better part of nine days without electricity, plumbing, central heating, running water, electronics, or cars, it would seem I am forced back to reality. I was once asked how long I could 'stand it' in an environment like that and my reply was that I'll need to retire to find out for sure because I only have a limited amount of vacation. I'm even out of blogging shape and, as a result, am going to take the lazy way out and just throw up some pictures with comments.

Central to the week was the task of putting venison in the freezer which was accomplished at 8am on opening morning. When asked if the VOR understood the concept of me needing to be up there for the entire week, even though I got my deer opening day, I said she comes from a family of at least 4 generations of deer hunters; she gets it.

Here is my home for most of the week, a 15' ladder stand with camo netting. Its amazing what goes through your head when you have hours of solitude to just listen, watch, and think.

There are plenty of visitors in the woods and this little six pointer came by on Sunday morning.

We had three snowfalls of a couple inches each. The woods is fantastic and the animals are really visible when they move. With proper gear sitting in the snow is no problem and actually lifts up the spirit.

Reefer Creek is frozen and can be walked across at points but you do so at your own risk. TheKingOfIronwoodIsland went swimming twice in the same day a couple years ago and he was not wearing a tuliq.

At the end of the day its good to get back to camp and Happy Hour in the Eight or Better Lounge. The propane lights provide a nice soft ambiance, perfect for adult beverages but not quite so perfect for photography with no flash.

Dinner is produced, devoured, and if a sauna is taken that evening its pretty much time for bed.

Then its the same comfortable routine the next day. There is so much interesting stuff in the woods, like this tree fungus, that sometimes it takes twice as long to get where you are going. The nice thing is that normally I don't know or care where I'm going and if it took 4 times as long to get there that would be OK too.

And finally we have the view off the deck, looking down in to the valley of the creek. I love this shot and this spot and can't imagine having the camp in any other location. And now I guess, it back to what serves as my 'reality'.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Out to da blind

Out to da blind,
Out to da blind.
Six O'Clock in the mornin',
Its real hard to find.
-Conga Se Menne

With apologies to Derrick, this tune by the famous Finnish reggae group from Marquette, MI perfectly describes the trip out to the deer stand in the dark. On Saturday morning it was 7F (-14C) and things were very crisp when I climbed up in my tree and strapped myself in. By 8am the very same doe featured in an earlier post showed up with an amorous 8 pt buck and within a few minutes I was pulling my knife out of its sheath and he was field dressed and on his way to the buck pole. Venison in the freezer once again this year.

I'm posting remotely from the Thanksgiving feast, featuring 18 diners, in Mora, MN. Early tomorrow its back to camp and back up into the blind, attempting to fill that remaining doe tag. The focus is not all deer up there however; there is plenty of other woodland drama to keep a person occupied. One thing I always do is to construct a chickadee feeder from a PET water bottle. I hang it in the stand to both distract the deer from my movement and also to just watch the Black-capped chickadees load up for winter. I really enjoy their company and admire their perseverance for hanging around all winter. After we butcher our deer, we leave the carcass hanging on the buck pole and by mid winter the chickadees have picked it almost clean of fat, keeping their metabolism cranked during the often brutal winter conditions. Other deer stand excitement was heard and not seen. I heard ravens on the gut pile, located 170 yards away and shortly afterwards an immature bald eagle banked over my head and descended toward the feast. The co-mingled raven and eagle screaming made me wish I was over there spectating and painted a vivid picture, in my mind, of what was taking place. By far the most dramatic thing I ever witnessed on the deer stand however, was the demise of a loud mouthed red squirrel. I saw a pure white ermine grab one of his relatives a dozen years ago but this event had a far better story line. The squirrel was grabbing corn and taking it back to his den. Whenever he left the area, two blue jays would swoop down to dine and then fly up in a tree when he came racing back, screaming (or laughing) at him. He would chatter back and then the scene would repeat itself. It soon became apparent I was not the only one witnessing this scenario. All of a sudden the woods exploded and a red tailed hawk was climbing away from the corn with poor Mr Squirrel in his talons. He flew right by me up in my tree and I never thought to grab the camera hanging from my belt; I was simply too stunned and just watched him gain altitude as he passed within 10 feet of me.

Whether another deer makes it way to my freezer or not is uncertain. What is certain however, is that I'll enjoy every minute of my three remaining days of solitude, 15' up in a spruce tree with my chickadee buddies and whoever else decides to put in an appearance. And that is what deer hunting is all about.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More cous cous and the Detroit Jewel

I had planned on a brief 'see you in a week' post as I rushed to work, in order to rush to the deer camp, but Bonnie, who writes the fine Frogma blog (live from Brooklyn, NY) derailed that plan. Her culinary confession is everything I had ever suspected about cous cous being elitist, big city liberal fare. She also revealed the Obama plan to funnel money from hard working, frugal midwesterners to freeloading layabouts in east and west coast mega cities. As readers may recall, I was one of the victims of a cous cous outbreak so virulent that a highly compensated professional writer from a Large, Nameless government agency (located in the Atlanta area) suggested it should be reported to avoid a worldwide epidemic. Come to think of it, the 'chef' who whipped up that cous cous atrocity in Voyageurs National Park is a self admitted Madison liberal, a city the Old Man constantly referred to as 'the Peoples Republic of Madison'. Shocking! As I mentioned in the 'outbreak' post, cous cous will never again pass my lips and it most certainly will never be found simmering on the 1920's Detroit Jewel propane range at the Reefer Creek deer camp.

Hunting is fun, watching wildlife from the blind is fun, and so is the cameraderie of the post hunting happy hours. But I find cooking on the nearly 90 year old Detroit Jewel to be one of the highlights of any trip to camp. When I stroll back to camp in the dark, unload the gun, and grab an adult beverage of choice, I'm thinking about what I'm going to whip up for supper. One of the reasons cooking is so attractive is the strict camp ruling that he who cooks does not touch the dishes. I usually have people clamoring to help so they can claim dishwashing immunity but there are strict standards and potential dishwashers keep a close eye on the activities of those fishing for exemptions. The other thing that makes it fun, as well as very liberating, is that I do my finest cooking in my underwear. After a cold day in the woods it's awfully hot in camp, especially when the Detroit Jewel has a couple burners fired up. Since I don't have room for my chefs whites and hat in my pack, I just pull off my Malone pants and my wool shirt and cook in my long johns. In fact, I'm not sure I would be able to cook effectively if fully clothed; its a psychological thing, you know. I find it amazing that this thing is still turning out the meals at age 80 plus. I guess planned obsolescence wasn't thought up until after WWI, at which time the Jewel had already been in service for over 20 years.

We have a fairly rigid menu during gun season; variations tend to provoke whining and nostalgic discussions of last years fare. Friday burritos, Saturday ham and trimmings, Sunday chicken and dumplings, Tuesday corned beef and cabbage, Thanksgiving turkey........you get the drift. Maybe even a stir fry or two in the industrial sized wok during an 'open' evening. At the end of the hunting day the pot belly stove is revived, the sauna stoked by the first folks out of the woods, the alcohol supply is drawn down nicely in the Eight or Better Lounge, and if anyone is still on their feet at 9:30 its a minor victory. Bonnie, I like your idea of a cultural exchange between New York City and Oulu, Wisconsin. Just leave the cous cous on the subway.

I'll be back in the blogosphere in about 9 days.......can't wait to hit the road for camp!