The most common question that we hear from our customers here at Sawbill Outfitters is, “What do you do in the winter?” They seem to feel that when the canoeing season ends, there must not be very much to do.
I thought about this as I struggled to cope with the brisk West End weather that we had this week. The first chore was to plow and shovel the eight inches of snow that fell over the weekend. As I stepped out of the plow truck a wind gust almost knocked me over. The blowing snow created a total whiteout and branches were flying sideways through the air.
By morning, the temperature stood at 22 below zero. We make our own electricity here at Sawbill and the first thing I noticed was that our diesel generator hadn’t started during the night when our battery bank triggered the automatic start circuit. The batteries were still providing power, but just barely.
The last thing I wanted to do before breakfast was to trudge through the squeaking snow to the diesel shed to diagnose the generator failure. It turned out that the propane tank heater on the big diesel engine had been blown out by the strong wind gusts the night before. With the heater re-lit, it only took about half an hour before I was able to get the rig running.
The next thing I noticed was that our backup propane furnace was off line. The wood-fired boiler was keeping us plenty warm, but I’m always nervous when there is no backup for a critical system. I had to work my way through five levels of the troubleshooting guide before I discovered that the fresh air intake on the furnace had been packed with snow by the same pesky wind gusts the night before.
Relieved to have everything working again, I headed back to the house for breakfast, only to discover that our radiotelephone system was not working. At first I suspected a power outage in Lutsen, where our base station is located. But after some checking, I found that the electric light bulb, that provides just enough heat to the little radio shed to keep the radios working, had burned out.
After replacing the bulb, I was happy to head back toward the house to warm up my cold fingers and finally eat breakfast. But before I got there, I noticed that the diesel had shut itself off. So I passed right by the warm house where breakfast was waiting, and headed back to the diesel shed. The diesel fuel, which is supposed to be fine down to 40 below, had gone from a liquid to a solid in the fuel lines. By that time, the sun was high enough in the sky for the solar panels to start charging the batteries, so all I had to do was wait for the air to warm up to a balmy 16 below and the fuel thawed itself out.
Breakfast was really more of a brunch by the time I got around to it, then the normal daily chores began. It’s just the price we have to pay to live here in paradise.
I’d like to express my condolences to the family and many friends of my friend, Jim Johnson, who passed away this week. Jim made many contributions to the community, but over the last eight years he served very honorably as a Cook County Commissioner. Jim always led by example. His calm and friendly demeanor belied the passion he felt for public service. He did more for us than we will ever know and did it with dignity, patience, respect and a good sense of humor. He will be sorely missed.
Eight teams eventually signed up for the Birch Grove January boot hockey tournament. I look forward to reporting the action and the results next week.
Remember that Birch Grove is looking for members to join their “Keep It Moving” team for the month of February. All you have to do is go to the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic website, sign up for the Birch Grove team and log your walking, skiing, running or biking miles, or minutes of other exercise. You are also cordially invited to Birch Grove on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. for gentle exercise or walking.
If you are of pre-school age, save the date for the “Winter Wonderland” event at Birch Grove on Feb. 4. This is the annual fun day for pre-school children, their families and caregivers. More details will become available as the date draws nearer.