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West End News March 19

Lake Superior Ice
Lake Superior Ice

For the first time in many years, there is a logging sale in progress near our home at Sawbill. It's been kind of nice to have neighbors again, even if they do go back to town at quitting time each day. This week, the loggers finished up the sale, and a trucker has been making regular trips between Sawbill and Superior to get the pulp to market before the roads break up. The trucker is very professional and I've noticed when I've met or followed him that he is a careful driver. I was headed home from town a few days ago and saw some ravens lift from the ditch about half way up the Sawbill Trail. This would hardly even be noteworthy on Highway 61, but it is rare for anyone to hit a deer on the Sawbill, so it caught my interest. I couldn't see the carcass over the snow bank, but I did see a gruesomely vivid trail of blood from the middle of the road up and over the snowbank. It was strange enough that I stopped to take a look. When I climbed the snow bank I saw the dead animal but it was so mangled that it took me a minute to figure out that it was a large wolf. If was freshly dead and looked for all the world like it had been run over by a logging truck. When I got home, I called Conservation Officer Tom Wahlstrom. Tom had already been to the scene and was actually the one who dragged the wolf off the road and into the brush. Before I could say anything, Tom commented that it looked like it had been run over by a logging truck. A few days later, I stopped to chat with the truck driver who was hauling from the sale near us. It turned out that he had indeed hit the wolf, but he said the strange part of the incident was that the wolf had plenty of opportunity to get out of the way. The Sawbill Trail at that point was still mostly ice, so the truck driver did what he could to slow down and avoid the wolf, but it just stood where he couldn't avoid it and paid the ultimate price. This is very odd behavior for wolves, who are usually plenty smart enough to avoid large trucks. The driver said it was unique to his experience. Of course, we'll never know why the wolf behaved in such an odd way, but at least it didn't suffer.

Winter turned on a dime this week and spring is upon us. Melting seemed to start immediately after daylight savings time ended. Now that the snowpack on the lakes and rivers has become very soggy, we are hoping for some cold nights to set a nice crust. In the years when we get a couple of weeks of freeze and thaw cycle, it can make for some great fun. On the lakes, travel becomes very fast. In the late morning, the hard pack snow becomes just soft enough to hold a ski edge and a cross country skier can eat up the miles with very little effort. One one warm day a few years ago, a group of us skied across six Boundary Waters lakes in nothing but running shorts. If the rivers get a suitable crust, it can make even an average skier feel like an Olympian, because when you ski down a river, it is always slightly down hill. If you are lucky enough to get a breeze at your back ... well, it's heaven. Once in about every 20 years, the lakes will flood themselves with melt water, then refreeze smooth enough for ice skating. Of course, everyone should use great caution when venturing out on spring ice. Know the iced thickness, never ski alone, keep some distance between individuals and carry rescue and survival equipment. If you haven't done it before, go with and experienced person the first few times.

This has been a wonderful winter for live music in the West End and all of Cook County. The Cook County Visitors Bureau has cooperated with area resorts and watering holes to present live music nearly every day. On weekends, there is more live music than one person can possibly attend. Some venues bring in their own musical acts. The result of all this musical opportunity is that local musicians have had many chances to showcase their talents to visitors and locals alike. This has been a deliberate strategy by Cook County's tourism community to establish our area as a music destination, provide outstanding entertainment for local residents and provide work for local artists. As a side benefit, the local music scene has become very active with new bands forming, jam sessions popping up all over the county and a noticeable improvement of skill among local musicians. The attendance at the music venues has been gradually going up and people from outside the area are starting to think of Cook County as a place with great music scene.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend that you mark your calendar and plan to attend the concert at Papa Charlie's in Lutsen on March 31st. There are, of course many nationally know bands that play at Papa Charlie's and they are all worth seeing, but the concert on that Thursday night will, in my opinion, will be special. The Travelin' McCourys are one of the finest bluegrass bands in the world. The leader, Ronnie McCoury, is widely believed to be the best mandolin player in bluegrass music. The whole band are virtuosos on their instruments and they are renowned for their wonderful vocal harmonies, especially on old time gospel songs. A couple of years ago, the McCourys met another great gospel band, the Lee Boys, at a festival. The Lee Boys are veterans of an African American gospel tradition coming from a denomination know as the House of God Church. These churches specialize in a gospel music called "Sacred Steel" that uses the pedal steel guitar, which is most often used in country music, where most churches use an organ. In this music though, the arrangements draw heavily on rhythm and blues, jazz and blues influences. Like the McCourys, the Lee Boys are powerful and skilled singers. At the festival, these two bands started jamming and the results were magic. It is a happy marriage of two great American music traditions with the sum being greater than the parts. They are now touring together and we are lucky enough to have them appearing here in the little old West End of Cook County. Be there or be square.

Airdate: March 19, 2011

Photo courtesy of Tom Kelly via Flickr.