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 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!

Goodbye Nav Buoys

Earler this week the US Coast Guard buoy tender visited Chequamagon Bay and retrieved all the navigation buoys for season. No more 'red right return' until spring I guess. I think this means we are officially supposed to cease paddling for the season, or maybe it just means we need to paddle at our own risk. The buoys are great in heavy traffic areas because you can just stay on the 'wrong' side of them and avoid the motor boats. They also make great reference points since they show up on the charts and are a discrete point, visible for quite a distance. I usually punch them in when I first encounter them in the spring and use them when I time the legs on a crossing, especially if its foggy and you can't see your destination. The one negative thing about the buoys is that they really and truly stink.

All the good that the Coast Guard buoys provide is tempered by their use as a seagull and cormorant crapper. Only a foolish paddler approaches a buoy from downwind. The collection of birds in the photo below were not on a moored buoy but were sitting on Manitou Rock, a pile of rocks that marks the end of the reef that extends off the southwest tip of Manitou Island. Its not much of a rock pile but it has a permanent navigation marker in the middle of it. This marker might as well say Waterbird Outhouse - Unisex. You can bet that I shot that image with a telephoto lens from well upwind. Unfortunately, being upwind shields you from the otherworldly odor but is also the preferred take off route for the birds. Don't get too close! The last thing you want is to spook them and have them come cruising over your kayak...and your head of course. While biking with the VOR in Stanley Park in Vancouver, I narrowly missed being strafed by a roosting Double Crested Cormorant sitting on a cliff above the trail. That would have not been good, miles from the hotel. I'm not certain I would have been allowed on the ferry had I suffered a direct hit.

But the buoys are stored and the cormorants have headed down the Mississippi Flyway to plague the catfish farmers in the southeast US. Since DDT was banned, the Double Crested Cormorant population has exploded, tripling in the last dozen years. I guess the 'balance of nature' is more of a pendulum. Still, its nice to see bird life when you are paddling in the Apostles. I just don't want to smell em'.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thinning the deer herd

The deer herd in Wisconsin is at an all time high, bad news for motorists, farmers, and vegetation. Last year 45,000 car/deer collisions were recorded and there are species of plants, Canadian Yew and white cedar particularly, that can't reproduce due to over browsing. There are 4 main factors that help control this huge deer herd in Wisconsin - hunting, car/deer meetings, wolves, and winter. All are in play at our camp on Reefer Creek.

Deer in northern Wisconsin are in the peak of the rut, the mating season, right now. Like most males, sex is not far from their minds at any time but for bucks this time of year it's an absolute overriding imperative. A walk in the woods will reveal evidence of this doe lust, including ground scrapes, an area that is pawed bare with a footprint 'signature' at the edge. Usually there is an overhanging branch that the bucks rub to leave scent, warning other bucks that this is my territory, stay out! Rubs are another sign that the rut is on. Bucks rub trees, proportionate to their size, with their antlers which does not do the trees any good. KingIronwood returned home after an unsuccessful hunt one weekend last season to find that the local buck had trashed his two new apple trees. In any event, its the best time to hunt since the natural wariness has been short circuited by thoughts of comely does and gathering a harem. Human and canine hunters are well aware of this phenomenon.

Last weekend Marley the grouse machine, a young American Water Spaniel, was diverted on his way into camp by something interesting just off the trail. When he came back with 'venison breath' Podman went to investigate and found a wolf kill a scant 200 yards from the camp. Wolf kills are unmistakable since there is pretty much nothing left but a skull, fur, and a spinal column. This one was still in the dining stage which meant it was relatively fresh. Score one for the wolves. Lots of hunters that spend more time in the bar than the woods bemoan the number of wolves and how the deer numbers are down. This, to put it bluntly, is complete bullshit. I could go into the reasons but that's a whole post by itself. We feel the wolves are what make the area wild and do volunteer tracking and counting for the Timberwolf Alliance in the winter. We're happy that the pack is still around and viable, and prepared to do some deer hunting of our own with the bows on the last weekend before gun season began. Shortly after 3pm on Sunday afternoon the GurneyGranny had an eight point buck wander under her stand and she promptly dispatched it with a single arrow. This was her first buck with a bow and her first buck that qualifies for the prestigious Eight or Better Lounge. Plus it will replenish the dangerously low venison stock in the freezers.

Saturday is the start of the Wisconsin gun season and its estimated that we hunters will harvest about 350,000 deer. State wildlife managers are worried that this might not be enough to get the herd through a tough winter with minimal winter kill. With a bit of luck, some skill, and perseverance, the hunters and the wolves along Reefer Creek hope to keep the herd at a healthy and sustainable level.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On the cusp of three seasons

My brain is spinning, caught between three of my favorite outdoor activities. First and foremost is the impending start of 'Holy Week', the Wisconsin Deer Gun season, on Saturday. Stands have been repaired and sited, rifles dialed in, blaze orange clothing and gear sorted, and, frankly, focus on most of my daily activities has been lost. The nine day season traditionally begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving and ends the Sunday after. The last time I attended work/school for the complete 3 days before the Thanksgiving break was in the 7th grade in 1966. My dad told me that if I got good grades I could take the three days off the next year; you can bet that mid term 8th grade report card was all A's and B's. Still, with the focus on the hunting season I'm still hanging on to the kayak season and looking forward to the start of the ski season.

I left camp early on Sunday after completing some deer season related chores, Q-boat on the roof. It was about 28F (-2C) and, figuring it may be my last Gitchee Gumee paddle of the season, donned the tuliq and neoprene mitts and hit the big lake. After a brisk warm up paddle I did exactly 7 rolls of various types. My head, even with the 3mm neoprene of the tuliq, felt like a block of ice. That little bit of seepage around the face was chilly to say the least. RangerBob's newfie Mary is a far more tolerant organism than I. She actually looks happy as she leaves the freezing waters of Chequamagon Bay. After getting the boat back on the roof and cranking the heater to thaw the frozen head and claw-like hands, I headed up the hill in Duluth toward home. What I saw was the last activity in my three 'brain spinning' avocations, the ski hill at Spirit Mountain. They had at least a dozen snowmaking machines cranked at full blast, creating a mini blizzard over the area. I had to swing in to check it out of course. It looks like they may be skiing by Thanksgiving Day.

Deer hunting ends on 30 November and the inland lakes will likely be frozen by then also. That leaves skiing only (remember, I'm not a pool session guy; I'm an anti chlor-ite) after December 1. For the next couple weeks I'll just have to live with those three activities jumbling my brain. The Russians love a troika, whether it be horse sleighs or politics, and I guess I do too, at least for a couple more weeks.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gales IV - Don't listen to the weather folk

The whining began, via emails, on Tuesday. "The weather looks really crappy", "80% chance of rain", "Its snowing in North Dakota and coming this way", "south winds, 10-20mph" etc, etc, etc. I had to remind people, not for the first time, that hitting a baseball and weather forecasting are the only two activities where you are considered a superstar if you succeed 30% of the time. Once again the weather folk were dead wrong as we launched from Bay Park on Lake Minnetonka. The three founding members, the BessemerConvivialist, BDahlieOfMahtomedi, and myself, along with 4 rookies including the VOR, paddled on the Twin Cites 'luxury lake' in calm water, dry skies, and monochrome gray November scenery.

This was not quite a wilderness paddle. Lake Minnetonka has some mansions that should be pictured in the dictionary next to the word 'ostentatious'. We particularly liked the one in the picture that had the scale model Statue of Liberty on the balcony. It was good to get on the water, felt really good to be playing hookey from work, and it was nice meeting folks I had not paddled with before. Its amazing how the common language of paddling can draw people from different backgrounds and life experiences and create an instant comfort level. Everyone had thrown some firewood into their hatches and we landed on Goose Island for the traditional happy hour picnic and campfire. As in past years, time flew by and we were loading the boats in the dark to head back to the launch site. About half of us had headlights but we kept a pretty tight formation on the way back, an unnecessary precaution because there was not another craft of any kind on the lake. We had to paddle through some channels and every dog within a quarter mile was howling as they heard our relatively loud crew paddle by. We hit The Narrows Bar for some adult beverages and food, and stayed long enough to catch the first set of the Lisa Wenger Band, a fine R&B band. Several paddlers that could not make the actual Gales paddle showed up for moral support, as did one of my partners in crime and his new bride.

It was a fine 'Gales' experience and an excellent cold weather paddle. We all have the gear, we live in the north country, and there is no reason not to extend the season until the lakes become too hard to paddle on. As you can see, some of us forgot our wine glass (venison beer stick, not a cigar in BD's left hand), and others had inadequate clothing for standing around sipping wine, but for the most part we were in good shape. As the BC pointed out,while wrapped in a tablecloth, its good to have a shakedown cruise like this so you can discover what you really need for a true cold weather trip, say on Gitchee Gumee. So get out and paddle in those pricey drysuits, don't forget your wine glass, and for god sakes take a look at the sky, sniff the air, and trust your own judgement on the weather. With a little intelligent observation you can be batting .400 before you know it

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Great Bloodhound

Rookie, the wonder dog, is your basic mutt. Describing his lineage is like a wine critic describing a wine he's tasted; vibrant Rottweiler, with Australian Shepherd overtones, a hint of German Shepherd, and some background hound tones. He's a good boy, great companion, has remarkable vocal range and vocabulary, but is not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer. This was brought into clear focus as he attempted to find TheKingOfIronwoodIsland as he relocated the propane lines for the gas lights in the Eight or Better Lounge.

The Eight or Better Lounge and its centerpiece, the Goddamn Bar (named as such by an anonymous member of the camp), was added on to our 20' x 24' hunting camp a half dozen years ago as a peace keeping initiative . Before that, a dozen people were eating, sleeping, and partying in that 20' x 24' space. This created conflicts when the actual hunters wanted to go to bed so they could answer the bell at 5am and the less dedicated hunters often stayed partying until 5am. There is nothing as aggravating as a loud argument or a pie tin banging against a head, waking a person up at 2am; some people can become almost murderous in that type of situation. In younger, more impetuous days a punch might even be thrown. The lounge solved that problem and is a cozy and convivial spot, with a couple ratty couches, bar stools, and the GD bar itself. The name arose when it was decided that only racks with eight or more points would be displayed in this space, adding another incentive for our Quality Deer Management program. The Humphrey gas lights give the lounge a pleasant ambiance and also provide heat. They were on a small propane tank and we wanted to hook them up with a 100# tank but someone would have to crawl down under the deck to make the connection. The King figured this selfless act might take some of the heat off him for missing the buck last weekend so into the access hole and under the deck he went. The Rook didn't notice him slip into the hole and thats when the fun began.

Rookie popped out through the door and looked around. I scratched his ears and asked him, "Where's Sam?". He started looking around and then the Rook heard, "Hey Rookie" from some magical unknown spot. He looked down the hole but could not figure out where that voice came from. That cocked head look of his is one of dim understanding and major canine head scratching.
The King spoke his name again, which sent the Rookie running up to the propane tank hole for the main gas lines into the camp. Still no sign of the mystery voice. By now its a spectator sport and we're cracking up. More than once Rookie was urged to raise his leg, a act that the King protested very vocally, which only confused our boy even more than he already was.
The Rook was running back and forth, sensing movement between the cracks in the deck board, barking his puzzlement, when the King finally popped out of the hole. Mystery solved, tail wagging, all is well at the hunting camp.
I don't think this performance did anything for Rookie's possible induction into the Doggie Mensa Society. He may not be all that bright but he sure can be entertaining.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day '08

I am the only guy in the family lineage since the turn of the last century that didn't serve in the army. At the time that I was eligible, I fervently hoped I would not have the opportunity. Nixon had just initiated the 'Christmas bombing' of North Vietnam and my number was due to be drawn in the draft lottery a month later. Fortunately I got number 248 and they only went to 119 that year, the last year that anyone was drafted in the US. That was not a problem with my grandfather, dad, and youngest son; they all volunteered.

Grandpa Emil was in the MP's in WWI, today being the 90th anniversary of the end of that "war to end all wars". There is a great shot of him leaning on a building, somewhere in France, and the family legend is he is guarding an off limits whorehouse. My dad volunteered after Pearl Harbor and crewed in twin engine tactical bombers in the ETO, A-20's and A-26's. They bombed bridges, rail yards, and won the Presidential Unit Citation when they decimated the 9th and 10th SS Panzer divisions at the Falaise Gap after D-Day. My youngest son volunteered because he was interested in the field of security management and also because he is a stubborn, bullheaded Norwegian, not unlike myself. He was in basic training when all the pagers carried by drill instructors went off at once on the morning of September 11, 2001. He landed in Kuwait the day the war began and served as a humvee gunner from Kuwait City to Basra, to Nasiryah, and eventually up to Baghdad. He is still in the army, now an officer, in an artillery battalion in New York.I'm sure there are many folks out there with a similar story. But unless you've been there, as Silbs points out in his excellent Veterans Day post, you can't begin to know what it was like and what was endured. So take a few minutes to think about that today, no matter what your politics are. In my opinion, whenever a country invades another one the invader is in the wrong. I'm a history major; I can't think of one exception to the rule. Conversely, I don't think floating little paper boats down the river on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing does a damn thing to advance world peace. I always think of the old man and the same comment every year at that event: "I'll bet the guys on the Arizona would get a real kick out of this shit". If it did nothing else, dropping the bomb short circuited the transfer of the 416th Bomb Group to the Pacific theater, thereby ensuring the existence of me and my two sons. But the bottom line is that war, any war, is a destructive and highly negative event. Just think about the people that were involved in, survived, and in many cases did not survive and tell em you appreciated their service.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The arrows were flying

For the first time since last March we headed north without kayaks on the roof. This was the weekend to get the deer stands ready for the opening of deer gun season in Wisconsin on 22 November and I thought that eliminating paddle temptation would be a good plan. Other members of the camp would be bow hunting but I didn't buy a license this year. A combination of limited hunting weekends plus aggravation at the State of Wisconsin for charging out-of-state landowners the full non resident fee, combined to make me decide to take a year off. Charging taxpayers in the state, who don't utilize many of the services their taxes support, full $165 out of state license fee rankles me considerably. There needs to be a middle ground but since we out-of-state taxpayers have no representation locally or statewide this will be never happen. As James Otis, a Boston politician circa 1775 famously said, "Taxation without representation is tyranny". And I'm confident the tyranny will continue indefinitely.

It was a fine weekend however, and winter was in the air. Rain turned to sleet and then to snow on Saturday but there were breaks in the weather. Bucks are in the rut this time of the year as is evidenced by ground scrapes, where they paw all the leaves away from an area and add their footprint 'signature', and rubs where they scrape the bark off trees with their antlers. Deer are running all over the place, lovin' on their minds, and its a great time to be up in the bowstand. This weekend I had the rare pleasure of having a cup of coffee with the hunters before daybreak and then crawling back into bed for a couple hours. I was just starting breakfast for the crew when GurneyGranny stormed in. "I missed an eight point buck because something's wrong with this GD bow! This was GG's first year of bowhunting and an 8 pt buck with a bow would not only be quite a coup but it would also get the rack into the prestigious "Eight or Better Lounge", (aka the porch) at the camp. My first thought was an accusation of 'buck fever', that malady that causes your heart to race, breathing to become shallow, and arrows to fly over the backs of deer when you glimpse the big buck. I checked out the bow however and it was indeed an equipment failure; a shaft that held a small plastic keeper had slid forward, releasing the keeper and knocking the arrow off the knock when the bow was drawn. Extremely disappointing when you're out all morning in the nasty weather.

But that was not the only eight point buck that was missed last weekend. On Sunday morning TheKingOfIronwoodIsland came dragging back to camp half frozen after sitting in the 26F (-3C) weather. He had his game camera, which had been out all night, and wanted to see what had wandered past his stand. He mumbled something about wanting to see 'if the one I missed' is on there. My ears perked up. "One you missed today?", I asked. His stand that was relocated after the timber sale was called 'Four Strikes' for now obvious reasons. All of the stands have names denoting some event, usually mildly humorous, that occurred there. Excalibur, Wounded Knee, Twin Towers, Freefall, and the Invisible Woman are all well known locations that anyone in camp could walk to as easily as a downtown building or park in the city. Sure enough, the lucky 8 pointer was on the camera and the story came out. "There were does watching so I had to move slowly, it was a brand new stand I was unfamiliar with, my fingers were frozen, the arrow hit a twig, etc, etc,. Dr Dave's diagnosis was immediate: Buck Fever! Dr Podman and Dr GurneyGranny offered a second and third opinion but the diagnosis remained the same. The sheepish yet guilty expression below says it all.

Its actually kind of cool that after all the years and all the deer hunting that a person can still get all fired up with adrenaline to the point that something almost automatic becomes difficult. Walking the woods with the VOR and pointing out the buck sign has me all fired up for deer season. Frying up the last package of venison bacon is another major motivator. Maybe I should have bow hunted and maybe $165 isn't so bad for the priveledge of filling your freezer with three deer. The lure of the kayak on Lake Superior is powerful but the lure of the hunt trumps it. I am officially in rut!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Video Night, a visitor, and a Great Lakes update

Last night was SKOAC video night in the basement of Midwest Mountaineering and another crop of excellent kayak videos were debuted. This is the night that marks the semi official end of the paddle season, although my pathetic offering for the evening was an infomercial for the 4th Annual Gales of November paddle next Thursday. I would like to think that is the official end of the season but we shall see. We had excellent videos from Pukasawa Park in Ontario, the Silver Islet to Rossport paddle, the Chippewa Flowage (the 'Big Chip') in northern Wisconsin, and some Apostle Islands stuff. We also saw Jerome's portfolio for his budding outdoor modeling career but I'm sure most are trying to blot that out of their memory banks. It was a great night with good memories, an adult beverage or two, and early planning for next years potential adventures.

Its been a rough week for me however, with late nights for the election, a customer after work event, and the SKOAC videos last night. A visiting dignitary will be jetting in from Milwaukee today and the plan is for an informal happy hour reception with a pseudo elite group of paddlers. The snow is beginning to fall here so we hope Midwest Airlines is on time. After that its off to the hunting camp for what promises to be a weekend of R&R.

The most momentous event of the week, the Obama election, must be mentioned also. During the campaign Obama pledged $5 billion bucks for a Great Lakes restoration project. Of course both candidates pledged $5 billion bucks for almost anything that anyone wanted during the campaign but there are indications that Obama just may follow through. He is from Chicago, a Great Lakes city, and is actually aware of the issues. His newly appointed Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, introduced a comprehensive Great Lakes cleanup packgae in Congress in 2003, which is a great indication also. Our economic malaise and the giant budget deficit will be major challenges but we can hope that the Great Lakes at least get a good look and a taste of the Federal pie. Its gotta be be better than what we've seen after 16 years with guys from Arkansas and Texas at the wheel.
(Photos courtesy of Ron O)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Northland water temperatures

Last Friday the trio of RonO, TheManFromSnowyLegs, and I did some paddling at the mainland sea caves in the Apostles. It was sunny with a north wind, light swell, and perfect for wearing a tuliq. This meant some rolling, of course, and we remarked that the water was fairly warm for Halloween day on Lake Superior, warm enough that gloves weren't really needed with a nice warm, wooden Greenland stick. This was not the case on Lake O'Brien when we arrived at CampO after a grueling trip across the top of Wisconsin.

The first thing we noticed when we pulled into the camp was that the KingOfIronwoodIsland had his bright yellow CD Storm on the roof of his VW. This could mean one of three things: he wanted to get one last paddle in before sticking the boat up in the rafters; he needed an excuse to avoid roofing for the better part of the day; or he finally was prepared for some rolling instruction. Some probing questions over beers did not reveal the Kings true intentions, although the MFSL offered his opinion that it was a bit cold for rolling instruction. The next morning we hit the water to see just how cold Lake O'Brien really was.

Since we had completed our assigned roofing task of picking pieces of the old roof off the ground and throwing it in the dumpster, our trio headed for the kayaks. When we paddled down past the cabin, the King quickly said, "Wait up, I'll grab my boat". I noticed right away that there was a critical safety violation on the job site; there was more than one Croatian on the roof. Four Croatian brothers, two of which are partners in the ownership of the camp, can't agree on what to eat for dinner, much less roof line angles, fascia style, shingles v steel roofs, etc.; hence the One Croatian rule. The King saw the kayak run as a good chance to flee the jobsite in the midst of an obscenity laden brotherly debate on whether or not to rip out a section of the roof and start over. After witnessing one of these 'discussions', a visitor remarked on how the dissolution and collapse of Yugoslavia now made complete sense to him. We were quickly joined on the lake and paddled around the outside of the beautiful, near wilderness lake. Otters, diver ducks, and ring of mature cedar trees, browsed up as high as a deer could reach, made for a great little day paddle. On the way back, near the middle of the lake, it was time to see if the King did indeed have rolling on his mind.

RonO and I pulled up the hoods on our tuliqs and over we went. When I came up I couldn't feel my face. Suddenly the ice on the south end of the swamp made sense; this lake was going to be frozen in less than a week. I stifled the normal, "Oh Christ, thats cold!" and made some benign comment, hoping to lure the King into giving it a try. Ron however, came up with the "Oh Christ, thats cold!" when he broke the surface. The ManFromSnowyLegs, rolling with a drysuit and neoprene skull cap, rolled twice, muttered a couple obscenities, and headed for the hot lakeside sauna. His Majesty had seen enough. "Think I'll stay dry and warm today" was the comment as he headed toward shore. I told him he could use Ron's tuliq and my boat but he wasn't buying it for a minute. If only we could have faked it better we might have lured him into the water but its tough to stay nonchalant when you have an ice cream headache and your face is blue. Bottom line is that a huge body of water like Superior stays a lot warmer a lot longer while the small ones tend to heat up and cool down much more rapidly. I guess thats intuitive info but its the first time I've experienced it real time. The King will have to wait until next year to nail that sweep roll.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The election year mimosa tirade breakfast

This weekend was the Annual Grouse Kill weekend at CampO in Iron County, Wisconsin. One of the great traditions of this event is the election year mimosa breakfast, designed to provoke political tirades from the wide ranging political backgrounds of the guests in attendance. We even had a representative of the Commonwealth there, advocating replacement of the Federal system with a parliamentary form of government. Everyone agreed that the 6 week election campaign sounded wonderful but that we'd kinda miss having a president. One of our most passionate bleeding hearts (almost hemophiliac, actually) could not make the event due to Halloween activities and our token religious right guy didn't show either, balancing the absences. That still left us with a wide variety of views with right wing redneck, rock ribbed Republican, yellow and blue dog Democrats, Libertarians, and at least one guy whom I believe voted for the irrelevant Ralph Nader all represented.

I must confess that the event is not without its detractors. A member of the CampO ownership group, the WoodFondlingBarrister, feels that drinking mimosas and then heading out to grouse hunt, work on roofs, roll kayaks, or pull docks out of the water is not only a questionable order of events but also saps any ambition that might be present in a group that is normally lacking in that quality anyway after Friday nights welcoming festivities. In the final billing letter for a momentous timber and property matter that he represented me on, the Counseler wrote, "I am making an additional generous reduction in an already too low bill with the proviso that the resulting savings may not be used to fuel political rants or otherwise incite the guests at CampO". I felt that this was a blatant bribe and an attempt to limit political debate and discussion. To prove that I was not susceptible to special interest money, I purchased a large magnum of champagne (key ingredient in a fine mimosa, of course) and a gallon of orange juice with part of the nebulous 'savings' referred to in the letter.

It was a spirited discussion. Publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to The Onion were cited, candidate voting record claims were shouted down, voices raised, tables pounded, and everyone pretty much got their point across. And, like the flurry of political ads this time of year, no ones mind was changed one iota. The best comment from anywhere on the political spectrum was regarding Gov Palin; "She's like a turtle on a fence post. Its not real sure how it got there, has no idea how it will get off, and you gotta question the judgement of the person that put it there". Unlike the congress however, when its time to get something done the guys at CampO pull together. That was illustrated by the weekend roofing project. It was also pointed out that all of us have friends across the political spectrum. I've noticed that many people, especially in urban areas, seem to have an unspoken political litmus test for friendship. We all agreed that not only was that complete bullshit but that it also makes it difficult to develop any empathy for other views, which is the key to working together.

Go vote tomorrow. I have my candidate picked out but go pull the lever whether its for a Republicrat or one of the fringe parties. Its called participatory democracy and everyone needs to particpate. And please, PLEASE don't go into a three year old-like sulk if your candidate loses. You'll get over it, especially if you look for a bit of common ground. The country is in desparate need of a new roof. Now go vote.