Friday, December 13, 2013

Deer Camp 2013 - Ten Days in Hell

 Every year when I head for what I refer to as my week in the 19th century at the deer camp, people marvel that we can survive without electricity, plumbing, or central heat.  These are just the minor items of depravation however, there are a number of other things that we do without for this hellish week on the cusp of winter. 

At one point we did have a generator but the smell and the noise just didn't seem worth it.  Since we have no hair dryers, Fry Daddys, or small appliances of any sort it's just not much of an issue.  We can still make toast without a toaster and excellent waffles with the cast iron waffle maker.  It operates on the 1924 Detroit Jewel propane stove, and propane Humphrey lights provide indoor light as well.  Plumbing consists of the hand pump outside the camp and the outhouse. While the seat is very, very cold on a 10F morning, careful timing can result in a prewarmed seat.  A sauna takes care of the other aspect of no plumbing, a shower.  Finally the vintage pot belly wood stove takes care of the central heat issue.  We just throw another log in if its cools down and damp the stove down and open a window if it's too hot.  No, these basics are not the problem, it's those other subtle reminders of civilization that we really miss.

I personally find electronic background noise to be very soothing.  A TV or radio on in the background, beeps and alerts from electronic devices, the whirring of various motors and drives firing up. Soothing for sure, but we are deprived of such enjoyment due to that pesky electricity being gone.  We do have a battery powered Montgomery Wards Airline model radio, dual cassettes and all, that was a circa 1977 wedding gift and we will have the oldies station on from time to time so I guess that offsets the lack of electronic buzz. The one reliable source of electronic noise was eliminated when I stabbed Rudolph during a psychotic episode, but that's already been discussed on these pages.  We have discovered that if one climbs up into the Wounded Knee blind that two bars of Verizon service can be achieved.  This has been used for birthday calls to the VOR as well as emergency calls to Woody to bring another buck tag in particularly good years.  Having to work to make a call, hiking a half mile and climbing a tree stand, puts a whole new light on prioritizing which calls are important and which are not. 

Thanksgiving dinner is another depravation.  How can you make a large turkey with gravy, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, squash, and three desserts in such a primitive and tiny space?  Every year we manage to battle adversity and get it handled with the Weber grill, the above mentioned Detroit Jewel, and some creative juggling.  This year we managed to pull off dinner for seven of us with a four course wine flight to accompany the above courses, in the face of this adversity. 

The other thing that we go without for the week of deer camp is angst and expectations.  The only thing scheduled permanently is happy hour.  Stroll in after hunting, eject shells, place gun in rack, and pour beverage of choice.  There is total freedom on whether to go out and hunt or drink coffee, read a book, BS with the crew, or hit the sack at 8pm or midnight.  There is some whining about pumping water, filling the wood box, and stoking the sauna stove, but minor bitching is part of camp as well as the smart assed and predictable comebacks to said whining.  After going without schedules and expectations, coming back to the world, especially that first morning at work, is unusually invigorating.

The other thing we go without is decorum. Casual visitors might find that people walking around, drinking beer, and cooking in their underwear is a bit disconcerting.  It is said that I do my best cooking in my underwear and this is yet another cross that we bear during deer camp.
The ultimate lack of expectations is sitting up in the blind.  Thought uninterrupted by background noise or other people is a powerful thing.  Being deprived of  the distractions can steer your mind to all sorts of interesting spots and time tends to slow to  it's slowest passage of the year, especially when the temperature is in single digits and a northwest wind is coming off Gitchee Gumee.  Oh for the warm office, with the comforting glow of the computer screen, emails and co-workers stimulating your mind, and the prospect of a productive meeting looming in exactly 18 minutes.  Being deprived of that is certainly one of the most disturbing things about those ten days at camp.

This year three 8 pt bucks were shot, one each by Pod, GurneyGranny, and the KingOfIronwoodIsland.  The very late spring had reduced the herd in our area and even though we had doe permits aplenty, it was decided to pass on the smaller deer this fall. Every year I hear morons bitching about the wolves but our DNR has effectively reduced the population with their ill conceived, non science based hunting seaon so I find it difficult to figure out how there were more deer and more wolves last year and fewer of both this year.  Maybe the fact that we had snow and tip ups out on a foot of ice on opening fishing in May had something to do with deer mortality?  Nah, sorry I blew up there.  It is the latest that deer season can be in Wisconsin and it was cold and especially windy for most of the week. My guess is that part ot the 26% reduction in the deer kill in our area is not just the late spring but the attractiveness of the bar stool blind in the rough weather.  Poor weather, fewer deer, and the depravation described above made it a particularly hellish year at camp.  And we would do it all over next week if we could.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Unarmed hiking

Sorry readers, I'm waaaay behind on posts due to ten days of deer hunting among other things.  Here is one on hiking up on the Bayfield Peninsula.  Annual deer hunting post to follow shortly......
To the best of my recollection, this is the first hiking post that I've ever written.  It's not that I never hike but the whole concept of a hike is something I just don't spend that much time thinking about.  It's more like a walk in the woods, usually with some other purpose in mind rather than just a hike.  I hiked several miles yesterday, but with a shotgun in my hand as we hunted pheasants and chukar in a lovely little snow flurry.  Last weekend though, two true 'hikes' were completed. 

Both sisters and spouses were in town and the one thing that we all knew how to do was walk.  Kayaking, skiing, or biking would not have fit the skill set and motivations of this diverse group at all.  So we hiked, Saturday along the mainland sea caves and Sunday in the new Houghton Falls area.  We were led by Monk the puppy in all cases.  He's the only male dog I've ever had that doesn't immediately head for the hills when let off the leash.  For a lab/boxer, he is water shy, although he eventually splashed across the creeks, perhaps from peer group pressure if nothing else.  It was a bit of a drab, misty, sometimes rainy weekend in the low 40's F, but that was almost perfect for hiking.

In all my years up in the Bayfield Peninsula I had never hiked out to the mainland caves, although the VOR had with some women friends.  It was a bit of a sloppy slog with all the wet red clay and one had to be careful not to go on one's ass as the wet clay is 'slipperier than snot on a doorknob' as the old saying goes.  It's about two miles out to the lake view and the giant crack that we've all paddled up into.  It's an interesting perspective from above looking down rather than on the water gazing upwards.  The whole area appears to have suffered a major windstorm with lots of downed popple and balsam as well as the occasional large cedar tree.  The wind must have been accompanied by heavy rain as a couple bridges were washed out and laying on the bank downstream.  We could have continued on to the one mainland campsite but the rain was beginning and the siren call of the Snug was a powerful lure back to Washburn.

Sunday we did the short hike along the Houghton Falls trail out to the overlook of Chequamagon Bay.  This gem just became a public nature area a couple years back though the combined efforts of the township, state, and environmental groups including the Bayfield Regional Conservancy.  Its a short hike on an excellent trail and both the geology and the trees are spectacular.  Hemlocks pretty much end here, the western end of their zone, and there are some monsters interspersed with equally majestic white  and red pine.  Your reward when hitting the big lake is worth the short stroll as well. 
While I enjoyed the hike in this cusp season between kayaking, hunting, and skiing, I must admit to looking at the nice inviting lake and thinking about a last Lake Superior paddle.  I will be 'hiking' starting tomorrow, deer rifle in hand for nine straight days up at the deer camp.  A couple ski areas have opened and the rumor is that ABR in Ironwood has been tracking trails a bit already.  Hello winter, I hope you provide some outdoor fun for us this season and don't wait until March like you did last year.   

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No more printed charts

After being on life support since our annual fall trip, I finally had to euthanize my old Garmin Etrex gps.  Garmin, your product is NOT waterproof no matter what you say.  Its water resistant and the resistance was overcome somewhere between Outer Island and  Red Cliff.  A few waves breaking over the deck, condensation inside the display, and everything went to hell.  Even a spa treatment in a nice pail of quality rice did not revive the unit.  The new one will be in the clear bag, lesson learned.  Fortunately I had a chart on my deck, the big official NOAA chart, folded up and stuffed in a water resistant map case. The difference between the two is that if the map got wet it might be soggy but would still be readable.  Reliable redundant systems are always good.

It was recently announced that NOAA will quit printing navigation charts this spring.  I'm sure they can be downloaded and printed on large format printers, most likely at a cost that will exceed the twenty bucks they charge now.  If you have the time and inclination, a company like West Marine can print it digitally at the normal twenty buck cost and get it to you via whatever shipping method you choose to pay for, from overnight to regular USPS mail.  The graphics and print quality will be better and it's printed on water resistant paper.  Shipping of course can equal chart cost for overnight service. On the positive side, we can zero in on the very area we plan to paddle and probably even print the thing on our own waterproof.....or resistant...paper at some place like Kinkos.  There are a few retail places that don't raise my blood pressure when I enter them and the typical marine supply store where I purchase charts is one of em.  I only hope that this more complicated path to chart procurement doesn't cause some people to just say to hell with it and rely on the gps.  That would be the path of least resistance, excellent if you're electricity but bad if you're a kayaker. 

As a history fan I love the paper charts simply for the tale they tell after numerous trips.  Where and how they were folded, scribbled notations made, and the big picture, an aspect that the tiny gps screen is woefully lacking. Here on the Great Lakes the charts just don't change that much for we kayakers.  We really don't care where and how deep the ship channel into the Ashland coal dock is unless we want to avoid it or fish the edge of it.  On most of the areas that I paddle frequently I have backup paper charts.  I usually have the gps along but very little of the functions it performs can't be performed with a chart, a navigation tool, and a watch.  The gps might be more accurate but how accurate do you really need to be?  Plus you always have the 'waypoints' available on the map.  A few years back four of us did a foggy crossing from the tip of Rocky Island in the Apostles out to the Devils Island light, the northernmost point in the State of Wisconsin.  I had my battered chart and little nav tool with the fish line to calculate a bearing on the map and two of the folks had gps units.  Unfortunately they did not have the waypoint for the Devil's light punched in.  The other problem was they had not sprung for the 'Blue Water chart package' or whatever the extra chip they stick you for is called.  Devils Island did not appear on their tiny screens even though we were pretty certain is was there.  After all it showed up on the chart.  The fog was so thick that we could not see Devils Island until we were about a quarter mile out.  The boys were nervous but we hit it right on the money after a blind three mile paddle.  To her credit the  VOR was confident in my navigation ability......pretty much.  The one place that the gps really shines over the chart is picking ones way out to a deer stand through the forest at dark o'clock.  Getting out to da blind is much simpler with an accurate waypoint, since it's typically far too dark to zero in on any landmarks.

The end of the litho printed charts, printed by the FAA by the way, not NOAA will be a sad day for many of us.  As a printer as well as the owner of some small pulpwood acreage, I must disclose a vested interest in the printed chart.  I wanted my emails to have "please print this frivolously, I got timber to sell" instead of the usual admonition to please not print this email. Higher ups at my company thought this to be a message they did not want to send; go figure.  Nonetheless we need to keep the skill and the joy of navigation alive.  A number of us took John Carmody's course at the Gales event and it was refreshing to see the interest.  Far more people in the Great Lakes region have taken John Browning's navigation course and perhaps even enjoyed a whiskey with him afterwards. For the guy who sets out for Sand Island in his rec boat and flip flops, not having a map or gps is likely the least of his worries.  Whether the map and compass or the aggravating electronic beeps of the gps are your prime method of knowing where you are, just make damn sure that you have the other one for backup.  Also remember the map and compass are significantly more reliable.  See paragraph one above.  Practice those skills as well.  I don't know what either son's phone number is because I just tell Siri, the iPhone wench, to call Erik or Ian.  I do remember my grandparents number from the 1950's however, 835-6041.  This is because I had the hands on experience of sticking my little finger in the rotary dial and actually dialing the numbers.  Keep folding those charts, sticking them in the Sealine chart bag, and calculating those times and bearings.  Not only is it fun but someday it might save your ass.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Penokee mine thoughts

The Annual 2013 Grouse Kill is in the books.  Most of the usual suspects made an appearance and Friday nights session ended at approximately 4:45 a.m., a time that I only know about through hearsay evidence.  Four of us who were nicely vertical at the noon hour decided it would be a good time to check out the proposed GTAC mine tailing and waste rock site which is only a short drive from camp. We were armed, although grouse loads would have been no match for the M4 carbines or H&K rifles carried by the Bulletproof security gang. Thankfully, no other souls were spotted on the hike.  Three grouse were flushed but none were harmed, and it was a lovely fall day in the woods
The area we explored was the spot where the giant waste rock mountain would be located.  It was partially cut over and markings on the trees suggest that a select cut of large oak trees is in the works.  There are plenty of streams in the area, some with names, some without, that feed the Tyler Forks River which meanders through the Penokee Range and dumps spectacularly into the Bad River at Copper Falls State Park.  The area we checked out was near Bull Gus Creek, named after an eccentric logger who lived in the area.  Apparently, folks who knew Bull Gus are still around and tell interesting, mostly true stories about the fellow.  His namesake creek is a nice little brook trout stream that originates in a large beaver pond in the highlands.  The dam is active and impressive at approximately fifteen feet high, and it releases water to the creek in a number of trickles--leaks in the dam, as it were.  This insures that the creek stays cold even in summer as the snow melt and cool water from the pond flow into the creek.  Brookies love cool water and trout fishermen love brookies.

Like many things regarding the mine, the State of Wisconsin seems to be bending over backwards to make sure it gets done.  The guy with the most supple spine, a guy who can almost touch his toes bending backwards, is Sen. Tom Tiffany of the Minocqua area.  Those of us who own land in the Managed Forest Land program receive a tax break in exchange for managing our timber.  We signed a contract stating that if we decided to pull our land out of the program, we would pay the state back the tax difference since we enrolled in the program.  All of the land proposed to be mined by GTAC is enrolled in this program allowing public access as one of the conditions of the MFL program.  Having people snooping around and taking pictures of erosion from core sampling and maybe even finding asbestos- bearing rocks (!) is certainly not what GTAC wants.  So a bill was introduced by the above mentioned supple-spined Senator to allow them to take their land out of MFL with no penalty.  After all, it's only about a million bucks in lost tax revenue.

Another good example of 'it's OK for you little people but not for us job creators' is the whole wetlands thing.  If you want to create a pond, much less fill one in, an incredible amount of paperwork and inspections are part of the process .  Contrary to GTAC President Bill Williams assertion in the Ironwood Daily Globe that the DNR is holding up the permitting process, it would appear instead that the dog ate GTAC's homework in the case.  The DNR is actually waiting for them to get their feces in a group, to use the polite phrase, and submit the required documentation for stormwater run-off, location of access roadssans wetlands, etc.  We as private citizens could literally not dump a pickup load of dirt in an area that had three cattails growing but these guys can destroy the entire watershed, including the area in the images, if this Republican-and-Tiffany-led-fast-track program goes through. 

I always thought Republicans were the party of local control and decentralized government oversight.  Yet our guy Sen. Tiffany introduced a bill to turn over local control of air and water monitoring, sampling, and blasting completely to the state DNR rather than townships and counties that are being affected.  Right now in my home town area of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls they are mining and hauling much of the sand deposited by the last glacier out to North Dakota and Texas for fracking in the oil fields.  Tiffanys fellow Republicans in those areas, what I would call traditional Republicans, have cried foul and are in favor of retaining local control.  It seems to me to be a fairly transparent scheme to centralize the activity in the DNR, appoint a pro developer as head of the DNR, and then cut funding so they don't have the resources to do the proper.......oh wait, I guess they already did that. 

Which brings up the grunerite issue.  Since you can't just back out of the MFL program immediately, and the rifle-toting, camouflaged guards from Bulletproof Security were found to be operating in Wisconsin illegally, people can still wander the land, fishing, bird hunting, and collecting things.  Like rocks.  I personally helped the FrugalFisherman collect several rocks, ignoring complaints from my back, when we were hiking on Saturday.  Apparently some of these rocks contain grunerite, an asbestos bearing rock. Noted geological experts like Senator Tiffany and Ms. Kolesar, chair of the Iron Co. "We Will Do Anything for a Mine" committee have observed that the grunerite was likely planted by mine opponents.  From the evidence so far it would seem to be a massive planting effort.  Science seems to be a four letter word in Wisconsin these days, even though it obviously has seven letters.  Geologists and other scientific experts seem to be ignored whether it about asbestos bearing rock, air quality from massive frac sand operations, or the wisdom of a wolf hunting season in the state.

The fact is that the very last thing on the minds of these giant corporations is worker safety.  It's been that way since the very start of the industrial revolution. I say that as the son and grandson of two guys who both died way too young after working at the US Rubber / Uniroyal tire plant for decades, both coincidentally from lung related ailments.  I don't think those diseases are hereditary.  It surely couldn't be the rubber dust, chemicals, and working conditions, right? However, Uniroyal brought jobs, jobs, jobs to the Chippewa Valley area, just like the frac sand operations.  Large corporations will only do what they are required to do, and they work diligently to eliminate pesky requirements that impact jobs and especially profits.  An excellent way to do that is to take away local control from those affected by the operations and put it in the hands of an underfunded state agency rather than encouraging a scientifically based collaboration between local entities and the DNR and even the Feds and the Tribe. 

One of my favorite beers is Keewenaw Brewing's Widow Maker, an excellent and very quaffable black ale brewed up in Houghton, MI,.  The beer takes its name from a drill. "The Widowmaker, a pneumatic drill that operated without benefit of water to lubricate the bit and cut the dust, was introduced to copper country mining in the late 1890's.  While greatly improving productivity, the drill became known as the "Widowmaker", killing many of the miners that used it from illnesses related to prolonged dust inhalation".  I have no information on when or what made the mine operators quit using the drill.

Lets open our collective eyes and do some strategic cost/benefit thinking on these issues.  We need some facts--scientific facts--not ideological propaganda put forth by the right or left.  It's the only way we will collectively win in the long run.