Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial day 2011

It began as Decoration Day in 1868, a day when the graves of Civil War soldiers were spruced up, flowers planted, and flags placed. As wars rolled over us in the 20th century the day became known as Memorial Day, the last Monday in May when all the nations war dead were honored. In my family we were inevitably up at our cabin on a lake about an hour north of town but we usually made it back for the Memorial Day parade and ceremonies. That was because the day was very important to my dad and also due to his involvement in the celebration and events.

My dad and most of his buddies and classmates were veterans of World War II and active in the American Legion. A couple of weeks before each Memorial Day, a bunch of them and a bunch of us kids would go around to the local cemeteries and replace every flag in every flag holder on all the veterans graves in town. It seemed as a ten year old kid that there were an awful lot of them. Memorial Day Monday usually involved the old man and his fellow vets getting into their American Legion uniforms and marching in the parade. They would then head down to the band shell on the river where speeches were made and a few volleys were fired by the color guard with vintage WWI ’03 Springfield rifles. Kids would wait underfoot and then scramble for the ejected 30.06 shells as the color guard ejected them and then jacked another shell into the chamber for the next volley. The day ended with beers at the Legion Club and a few sodas and dimes for the pinball machine for we kids.

This Memorial Day was very different. We started the seven hour drive back home in a vintage Lake Superior thunderstorm on the tip of the Keweenaw. As we perpared to check out I ran down to the desk to touch base with the owner of the mom and pop resort we stayed at. He is an elderly fellow and was in the process of tracking down a relatives military service on ‘the Google’ as he referred to it, while watching the national service from Arlington on the TV. They had had a service at Fort Wilkins, the Michigan State Park near Copper Harbor but the thunderbuster and resort duty had made it tough for him to get over there this year. I felt kind of bad that we didn’t get to any events but watching Bob in his little office and remembering how we used to celebrate the day made me feel good. When we got to Superior,WI we decided to head down MN 23, the Veterans Memorial Highway, past the veterans overlook above the valley of the St Louis River. It wasn’t much but it prompted more thought and talk of the day and what Memorial Day is all about. I guess that thinking and remembering is the point after all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fun in the fog

The 'out of office' auto reply on my work email said, "Out of the office in honor of Victoria Day, returning Tuesday". Although I clearly saw Canada across the Pigeon River bridge, we did not enter the country. It was actually quite a feat that we even saw Canada, given the fog that blanketed the area for most of the weekend.

The VOR, GalwayGuy, and I made what has become an annual trip up to the Grand Marais, MN area for some paddling, sight seeing, beer tasting at the Gunflint Tavern, and even a bit of golf, Yours Truly not included. Saturday found us in Grand Portage, launching at the Voyageur II marina where the ferries to Isle Royale base. The wind was dead east 10-15mph but the bay was nicely sheltered by Pete's Island. Just as we were coming off the water, we saw the USCGC Alder about to place the green can buoy off Hat Point. We figured that getting any closer than about 400 meters might cause some angst, ala USS Cole, so we stayed back and watched. The operation took about a half hour and the Alder departed and we never saw her again along the lake on the drive back to Grand Marais. We figured that perhaps she headed across the lake for the Apostles and nav buoy placement in that area. Speculation and discussion by GG and I as to the sailing route went well into the night at the Gunflint.

Sunday morning the fog was out in earnest. It seemed that we were the only people in Grand Marais, a tourist hotbed starting next weekend, and visibility was about a block and a half as the image above illustrates. GG and the VOR had a golf time set up at the stunningly beautiful Superior National Course and I hit the water in Tofte and paddled up to the Onion River and back. I love paddling in the fog. Watching cliffs and tall pines emerge out of the mist and the softening of the landscape seems to put my mind at peace. It was not quiet however, since the east wind was still coming straight in at 10-15 causing noisy crashing against the cliffs and lots of clapotis. If I paddled out to get away from the bounce waves I couldn't see shore and if I couldn't see shore my sightseeing paddle would have turned into the hated 'fitness paddle', plugging mindlessly along in a white, rumbling cocoon of fog. The Explorer didn't mind the bouncing a bit so I bobbed along about 35 yards out, the limit of visibility. Some guys in the Bluefin Bar, where I stopped to rehydrate, said they barely saw mefrom their bar stool vantage point, coming in and out of the fog, as I paddled back to the launch site. Another excellent day on the water.
The fog had not lifted as Victoria Day dawned. The VOR and I launched in Grand Marais harbor and paddled around Artist's Point and then southwest toward the Sawbills. The swells were swirling around the rock stacks and openings and we enjoyed a bit of mini rock garden play along the point. As we paddled back into the harbor the fog did begin to lift and the Sawtooths became visible down the shore. Other than the Alder we did not see another craft of any kind on the water. I guess there are some advantages to paddling when the weather conditions are a bit less than perfect.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Many kinds of 'good days on the water'

GalwayGuy is home from grad school in St Louis and the first thing we needed to take care of, other than some Que Viet egg rolls for lunch, was getting the boats out for some Greenland style rolling. Hazy sun, 70F air temps and water temps in what could loosely be described as the 'comfortable range' made for a fine evening.

The paddle plan was discussed on the way to the lake. Maybe we would paddle up to the creek, play in the current and then come back and roll.....Or perhaps just as far as the beach and then come back to roll..... I'm sure those of you who like the skinny sticks and that upside down feeling know where this is going; we wound up paddling about 40 yards offshore and rolling the boats for about an hour. The interesting thing was that we were far from the only paddlers on Long Lake. It was a veritable paddling fest on the water last night with damn near everything that could float on the lake. When we got there we saw a couple loading their vintage, beat up Alumacraft canoe on their car. Next to them was a guy getting a surf ski ready to hit the water. The parking lot was full of tandem and solo racing canoes and there were many more racing boats on the water. Two folks were padding in with touring kayaks and a woman in a little rec boat was playing near shore. The only power boats were a fairly modern fishing boat out trolling and a couple guys trying to start the '73 25 horse Johnson on their '50's vintage 14' Crestliner fishing boat.
It was apparent from the comments and looks that everyone thought everyone else was mildly nuts. I was thinking it was far too nice to work up a sweat hammering around the lake in those racing canoes, the people in the touring kayaks looked mildy horrified as we 'tipped over' and the folks training in the racing boats seemed deadly serious in their training and not even conscious of the rest of the flotilla bobbing around them. Which is just fine. We had pleasant conversations with a few of the performers in this Thursday night water ballet, including a discussion of the quirks of the '60's and '70's Johnson outboards, a subject I have some familiarity with. There was no proselytizing or evangelical style persuasion to give this or that style of paddling a try, just some nice idle small talk on a sweet spring night. All of the paddling styles have their pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, but we were all having fun on the water. It would be nice if the polarized yahoos holding political office on the left or right, and the ideologues that either support of savage them could get a bit of this accepting attitude in their heads. Maybe we just need to get 'em out on the water.

The 8 month layoff did not bother GG and he hit all his rolls, including the hand roll in the clip below. Ah, to be young and flexible. No hand or stick rolls for this guy but I was OK on most of the standard (meaning easy) Greenland rolls, layback and forward finishing. Don't ask about the offside......oh sorry Turner, the 'other side' rolls. Doable but uncomfortable is the verdict at this point. We grabbed a growler of Little Barley Bitter on the way home and broke down the evenings rolling. This weekend we are off to Grand Marais, MN for a bit of padding and to await The Rapture, which is scheduled for around noon on Saturday. Being tormented by scorpions doesn't sound like a lot of fun but maybe a couple beers will make it more tolerable. Get out on the water and be sure to say hey to your fellow water folk. Maybe the civility and friendly attitudes will be catching.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Killer is gone

Harmon Killebrew, a true gentleman in every sense of the word, passed away in Arizona yesterday. Both Twin Cities daily papers led both the main page and the sports page with the story. The tributes from former teammates, current and former Twins, opponents, his many friends, and people who may or may not have seen him play keep pouring in. As a kid growing up in Eau Claire, WI., a short 90 miles away, I had a double allegiance to the Milwaukee Braves in the NL and the Minnesota Twins in the AL. Predictably, Henry Aaron and Harmon Killebrew were 'my guys'. As a tall, skinny kid with toothpick arms that could barely hit the ball out of the infield, I had to admire these guy who could pound the ball out of the park. Due to the close proximity to 'the Cities' I was able to see a lot more of Killebrew than I was of Aaron, and after 1966 and the disheartening move to Atlanta, I became a 100% Twins fan.

The next door neighbor in our tightly knit neighborhood, Jim S, managed a bakery that I later worked at, and had that goofy bakers schedule that permitted lots of trips to summer day games and that rarity these days, the double header. His son Fred was our age and was in the special ed program. Boys being boys, we would sometimes torment Freddie a bit (God help the kid from outside the neighborhood that tried it) but he was a buddy and almost Rain Man-like in his ability with numbers. One of his amazing math feats was the mental calculation of Harmon's batting average based on how he did that particular day. He loved riding his bike and putting miles on the big round odometer that was connected the front wheel with a cable, sheer joy from watching the numbers accumulate. In one of our more creative pranks, the MadDog and I heisted his bike, put the front wheel on an electric washer motor, spun off about 25 miles, and put it back in his garage. Let's just say Freddie's angst was monumental. Since we were all usually hanging out together , a spur of the moment trip to Met Stadium was pretty easy to pull off, especially when my old man was on the night shift and could ride copilot in Jim's massive Olds 98. Even with two adults and 4 kids it was still cavernous in this classic 60's vehicle, whose hood resembled a football field when viewed through the windshield. We would load up before lunch and head for Bloomington.

When it came to homeruns Harmon's were towering. Hank would hit line drive home runs with his unbelievably quick wrists but Harmon's, along with Mickey Mantle and big Frank Howard of the Washington Senators, were the classic tape measure shots. We never saw The Mick hit one in Met Stadium but the Killer and Howard both entertained us with some blasts in the mid '60s. Harmon finished #11 on the MLB official all time home run list and # 7 on mine and many fan's list. That's the list where you dump the steroid cheaters. Bonds-cheater. A Rod-cheater. Sosa- cheater. McGwire-cheater. Henry Aaron is the home run king and the Killer is #7 and there is absolutely nothing you can say that will alter my opinion one iota.

He was and is the face of the Minnesota Twins franchise and his statue graces one of the entrances to the new outdoor ballpark, Target Field. The current players, including Jim Thome, one of the non steroid guys ahead of Harmon on the home run list, will wear #3 on their uniforms for the rest of the season. They all knew him because he was a fixture at spring training for many years, a class guy who never thought he was better than anyone else. We need more guys like that but they are more rare in the pro sports world these days. It's a tired cliche but the world is indeed changing and I'm not sure I like it. Happy trails to Harmon and the best to his family and his much larger Twins family.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Plan B? Almost as good as Plan A

I had one of my better tirades in draft form at the end of last week, a rant on why none of the amazing 'breathable' fabrics were really breathable at all for perspiring middle aged paddlers, and Blogger had some sort of glitch and the disappeared into some nether world. The weekend kind of pushed that into the background though, with a perfectly unplanned dose of fun. The original plan was to kayak fish Bark Bay and slay the Coho salmon, which are in close this time of year. 25-30 knot northeast winds kind of put the kibosh on that scheme since Bark Bay faces northeast and served as the perfect receptacle for wind and waves as they curled around Bark and Roman Points and funneled straight into the bay.

Podman, BDaehlieOfMahtomedi, and I were up at 5:30 with the plan to meet RangerMark at the DNR landing in Bark Slough. The morning ritual at the deer camp is to stumble out the door, turn on the propane tank, and relieve one's self off the north deck. It was raining and the north wind was blowing hard enough to make northward bladder emptying a fairly sketchy proposition. We did head down to the landing, rendezvoused with RangerMark, and decided that breakfast at the Village Inn in Cornie was the wisest choice at this point. There was no sign of the wind dying down, either by personal observation or the always reliable NOAA forecast out of Duluth, so we returned to camp, grabbed a big bag of seed mix, and our foursome took a 3 hour walk around the property, doing the Johnny Appleseed, or in this case Johnny rye-fescue-clover seed, thing. Lunch and a beer at camp and all of a sudden the sun was out. After driving all that way with my boat on the roof I needed to paddle. My compadres' were seduced by the sunny yard, spring smells, grouse drumming in the woods, and Summit Gold Sovereign, Lake Louie IPA, and Pod's 'Three Hearted' homebrew. I needed to paddle however, and saddled up and headed for the mouth of the Iron River, 7 miles north of camp.

The waves were still rolling in but the river launch allowed me to punch out through the surf and paddle the rollers between the Iron and Port Wing to the east. I did do my mental 'paddling alone in bigger conditions' safety check. Dressed for immersion-check. Paddle float and bilge pump-check. Spare paddle on front deck, easily reachable-check. Radio, cell phone, gps-check. Wind direction that will blow me into shore rather than into the shipping lanes or the 25 miles to the north shore-check. Helmet for surfing.......duhope!! I told myself I would not succumb to the urge to spend an hour surfing and I didn't. I only wound up spending about 45 minutes. The plan and my good, safe intentions changed, like the mornings decision not to paddle,due to evaluating conditions. I was able to surf the swells out in the lake and get some nice rides. As I turned around to head upwind, I noticed that the wind was dying down. The forecast 5-7 footers, really 3-5 footers in actuality, had dropped down to pretty much 2 footers with a few 4 footers sneaking in. A pure sand bottom at the mouth of the Iron River and a nice place to turn around in the river after the break made me decide to play a bit. I had a half dozen lovely runs with only one near capsize that was averted with a timely high brace. BD and RM couldn't stand the suspense and wandered over shortly after I got out of the boat while Pod manned the grill back at camp. The lake had really died down by this point and it was a beautiful May evening on the south shore of Gitchee Gumee. Burgers, beer, and a blistering hot sauna rounded out an excellent albeit unanticipated day.

Sunday morning found Pod and I on the slough, listening to the rejuvenated north wind howl through the pines and waves crash on the south shore of the bay. We paddled out to the mouth of the Bark River, a sight that always makes my heart glad as we round the bends in the river and are suddenly rewarded by the sight of Lake Superior in all her glory. Paddling the bay would have been OK and so would have kayak fishing, unless we got a fish on. Then a person has the rod in hand and not the paddle. The unguided boat always broaches then wants to turn upwind, usually just as the fish is at the boat and the net on the back deck is needed. We paddled the slough, enjoyed the waterfowl, and called it a good weekend.

Once again the lake was the boss. Through discussion and what we felt were sound decisions, we took what she offered us and had a good, safe weekend on the water. Skill levels, the crucial comfort level, the wind and waves, and just plain experience and gut level intuition steered us to some good options for marginal conditions. That macho 'by god we came here to fish coho and dammit, we're gonna fish coho!' attitude was nowhere to be seen. It has no place on this body of water nor on any other body of water. Be flexible and find your paddling fun where the conditions and your personal experience level offer it. In other words, paddle smart this summer.

*Iron River images courtesy of BDaehlieOfM*

Monday, May 9, 2011

The rare gear reivew

I had a couple new pair of gloves I wanted to test in the cold water but they were kind of trumped in the new gear lineup when ChrisG made me an offer I couldn't refuse on a used Gore-tex dry suit. He lured me north, off my normal path, with the news that it was the 'opener' at Ethels in Bayfield. Four New Glarus taps were complimented by Bell's Two Hearted and Keweenanw's lovely Widow Makerblack ale. The deal was done and the Widow Maker tested. I paddled in the drysuit for a couple days and will need to get my head around the differences between that and my Tropos semi dry suit. The very first thing of course, was to trim the aggravating neck gasket back a bit. The second thing I did was put it on and jump into the lake to assist with installing the triple dock arrangement at Lake O'Brian. When the boys saw the suit I was pretty much forced into the water, but I told them that if I somehow tore the suit on that damn dock that they would be suffering the aftermath for years. The dock is in, the suit is unscathed and retains waterproof integrity, and I remembered how to do at least 4 rolls after my usual winter hiatus.

While rolling in the 42F LakeO water I tried out the Glacier Gloves Perfect Curve glove. I need to disclose that I was sent these gloves to check out but I already owned a pair of the 'regular' Glacier Gloves that I had picked up at the local fishing shop. The stitched and glued seams is what lured me in initially. These gloves are light years ahead of my fishing/decoy gloves. They are precurved for a paddle shaft, have fleece inside to make it easier to get them on and off with wet hands, and a velcro strap around the wrist to help keep water out. After rolling about a dozen times the combination of the strap on the gloves and the wrist straps on my tuliq only allowed water in to the wrist area at the base of my hand. A quick paddle around LakeO proved them comfortable for touring. The neoprene is a bit too grippy for easily sliding back and forth on the Greenland stick but comfort, warmth, and excellent fit offset that minor issue.

As Monty Python said, "And now for something completely different". I had ordered a pair of Reed Chillcheater gauntlets over the winter and tested them out on Gitchee Gumee on Sunday. A quartet paddled from Little Sand Bay out to Justice Bay on Sand Island in a day with air temps around 45F, water temps around 38F, and a steady 10-15 north wind. I used a pair of fleece gloves underneath the Reed gloves, which came up over the elbows. Once I got past the cracks about gutting deer and bovine rectal exams I found the gloves performed just fine. My hands were not only toasty warm but dry as well. The concept of neoprene gloves of course, is that a thin layer of water warms between your hand and the neoprene and insulates you. It does indeed but clammy hands are the result, a sure occurrence if suffering from sweaty palm syndrome. The one issue with the Reed gloves is that being a two part over the elbow set up, they are not easy to get off. Snapping a picture or grabbing a healthful dried apricot can be a prolonged operation. Also, if one did go over the result would surely be saturated fleece gloves inside the Reed gauntlet covers, a very similar situation to going over the tops of the waders when smelting. For cold water paddling with minimal fumbling they work just fine and are extremely comfortable. The liners can be mittens, gloves, wool, fleece, just about whatever conditions warrant.

The Reed gauntlets and the Glacier Perfect Curve both work nicely but the Glaciers seem to be more versatile and a bit more user friendly for normal paddling conditions involving photography, snacks, etc. We did have some interesting following seas on the way back which resulted in a bit of water swirling around the spray skirt and a quick brace or two and I did not have a drop of water in the gauntlets. Dry hands are worth something for sure. Next weekend's plan is to give the coho hell on the south shore and both pairs of gloves will be in the mix.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ensuring the toilet paper supply

Our normal 'weekend before fishing opener Chippewa Flowage kayak trip' was postponed this year due to the arrival of several hundred trees from the nursery. After the timber sale at the deer camp a couple winters ago, and a year to see where the natural regeneration is taking place, it was time to assist mother nature in starting some new forest growth. Podman and I headed to camp with 4 wheelers, a variety of spuds (tree planting tools as well as some Baby Reds and Yukon Golds), and a few hundred seedlings of various types.

The area in the Lake Superior watershed is pretty much red clay and aspen, encouraged by the forestry monoculture and quick and easy regeneration of the species. Clear cut, come back aspen, and cut it again in 40 or so years was the conventional wisdom for awhile. Its great for deer and grouse reproduction, two species that we find especially valuable as well as tasty, but its a boring forest to look at, almost as boring as the straight rows of red pine that the big timber companies are planting these days. When they clear cut a forest, they treat the land with herbicide to make sure none of the native stuff comes back, then plant it with row upon boring row of Red or Norway pine, another fast growing species. Our goal is to have a bit more.....cliched, politically correct term coming up.......diversity. We think our little part of western Bayfield county needs White Pine, Hemlock, Swamp Oak, Tamarack, White Cedar, and even some High Bush Cranberry. That was the mix we had and at the crack of 8am on Saturday we loaded up and headed for the select cut.

It's a little known fact but I'm a tree planting professional. My very first job at age 15 was planting Red Pine in one of those boring plantations for the minimum wage of $1.25/hr. The process has not changed much. On the way north I stopped to see TheLegend and picked up my ATV, his variety of vintage tree planting spuds, and some valuable advice on what to do and what not to do, all of which proved useful over the next couple of days. Podman and Woody had been out there two weeks before in a snowstorm planting hemlock and swamp oak. This weekend offered us a Saturday with 45F and on and off rain, followed by a Sunday with 38F and a raw northwest wind. This made us actually glad we were not on the Flowage or trolling for Coho in Bark Bay, another variant to the plan that had been tossed around.

The actual planting went just fine. The soil was saturated after the snow melt, the spud went into the ground like a hot knife through butter, and the moisture will ensure that the roots take hold. Image left has a planting spud and bundle of 25 White Pine seedlings. Like the snow two weeks ago, the rain and cold made for comfortable planting with a minimum of perspiration and zero insect companions. OK, we may have found a tick or two but this insect free window will not last. I found every swamp and puddle teeming with larvae waiting to hatch; it could be an interesting bug year on the islands. Even though the planting went well and conditions seem favorable for the trees to survive, the main enemy will strike next spring. Our overabundance of deer has annihilated a lot of the new growth aspen that's coming up. The land that was harvested a few winters earlier has White Pine planted and protected by cages. In the image to the right you can see what happens when a pine seedling pokes its nose out of its protective cage. We did find a couple wolf kills but they can't keep up with the deer any more than the bats can keep up with the mosquito population. White Cedar is especially tasty to deer and natural regeneration of that species as well as Canadian Yew is almost zero in the State of Wisconsin. We have cages in the master plan to allow them to grow past the deer's reach.

In the future we will plant more trees and cut more timber. Our goal is a good looking forest that's pleasant to walk in and inviting for those pesky deer and mouth watering grouse to live and thrive in. Timber sale dollars are a side benefit. Almost 2/3rds of forested land in the State of Wisconsin is owned by private individuals and families. The various governmental bodies own 30% and the corporations only own 11% at this point. Its pretty obvious that the private landowners have the power and responsibility to keep most of Wisconsin's forests healthy and productive. The group that we worked with on our timber sale, application for Managed Forest status, and tree species consultation is the Living Forest Co-op out of Ashland, WI. Charly Ray is the guy running the operation. Kayakers may know Charly as the head of the Inland Sea Society, sponsor of the every other year kayak symposium, 16-19 June this year.

We need more trees. Roughy 16% of the worlds greenhouse gases are caused burning and clearing the planets forests, more than all the internal combustion engines combined. Forest carbon offests, a relatively puzzling thing for a number of people including me, could be a future incentive to improve and preserve our forests. For right now however, the prospect of a healthy and attractive woodland, deer and grouse for the table, a couple bucks from timber sales, and good exercise are all the incentive we landowners on Reefer Creek need. I would encourage my fellow woodland owners to do the same.

Fine Ruffino Chianti Classico wine courtesy of the KingOfIronwoodIsland, a no show for the tree planting.