West End News Nov. 3

The Pagami Creek fire uncovered old roads through the wilderness.
The Pagami Creek fire uncovered old roads through the wilderness.

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I'd like to add my sincere condolences to the friends and family of long-time Minnesota Public Radio personality Tom Keith who passed away unexpectedly this week. Tom was famous for his mastery of the nearly forgotten art of radio sound effects. He provided inspired and hilarious sound effects for Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, which is heard on public radio stations nationwide. Garrison would often try to stump him by calling for nearly impossible sound effects, like a man falling into a pool filled with piranhas and the sound of tires spinning on ice. Tom was also the co-host of the MPR Morning Show for many, many years, with his radio partner, Dale Connelly. Tom was a frequent visitor to Cook County. He took several canoe trips out of Sawbill. Years ago, he stayed for a week at Bearskin Lodge and called in a live report each morning. When the local MPR transmitters in Grand Marais were built about 13 years ago, Tom and Dale brought the Morning Show to Grand Marais and broadcast live from North House Folk School. Tom's dry humor and classic laid-back Minnesota manner endeared him to millions of people. Losing him feels like losing an old friend.

This weekend is the Bluegrass Masters Weekend at Lutsen Resort. This amazing event has been running annually for 21 years. It brings some of the biggest names in bluegrass music to little old Lutsen for workshops, jam sessions and a Saturday night concert. This year, Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley, two of the best bluegrass guitar players in the world, will be the masters in residence. In recent years, the event has drawn participants from all over the midwestern U.S. and northwestern Ontario. The workshops and concert are great, especially if you are a bluegrass fan like me, but the real highlight of the weekend are the continuous jam sessions that fill every nook and cranny of Lutsen Resort. Everyone is welcome to stop by, especially on Saturday evening, and listen to spontaneous music being made very accomplished players. As an example, last year I ran into a friend who is a fabulous guitar player. He told me that he had just spent the three hours playing with a group of fiddlers. He said they had played approximately 60 fiddle tunes without a repeat. The Bluegrass Masters Weekend, which is sponsored by the North Shore Music Association, is not only a significant artistic and cultural event, but it brings hundreds of visitors to the county on a weekend that would otherwise be very quiet. Tim and Steve will give a preview of the weekend on The Roadhouse this Friday.

It is the time of year when everything in nature seems to be waiting for winter. Flocks of snow buntings are passing through and creating a minor driving hazard on the back roads. They are tundra dwelling birds during the summer and their reflex when threatened is to fly toward open space, which causes them to fly in front of cars instead of off into the woods. It is fun to be able to see into the woods now that the leaves are down. You can actually watch animals as they walk though the woods, and interesting artifacts re-emerge after being covered by foliage during the warm season. For instance, there is a Model-T pickup truck just off the Sawbill Trail that can still be spotted near one of the creek crossings. It dates back to the time when the Sawbill was upgraded from a cart track to an actual road. Some local firefighters have told me that the Pagami Creek Fire revealed several old cars and trucks in the BWCA Wilderness. It wasn't too long ago that logging roads crisscrossed what is now wilderness in the area of the fire. The old roads have been overgrown and almost impossible to trace for many years, but the fire has made them jump out of the landscape as plain as day. The firefighters actually made use of some of the old roads for access and fire lines. I'm old enough to remember the road that used to cross the portage between Phoebe and Hazel lakes. One time, I was carrying a canoe across the portage and paused at the canoe rest that was located right where the road crossed. As I caught my breath, a loaded logging truck pulled up, driven by my friend, Hans Hall from Lutsen. Hans stopped and we had a nice chat before he continued toward the sawmill and I trekked on up the portage. Another time, I was paddling down the Kawishiwi River just north of Square Lake when I came upon a Forest Service pickup truck parked next to the river. Of course, we chatted for a while before heading our separate ways. It is hard to imagine these encounters in today's wilderness setting.

Speaking of changes in the wilderness, there is bill working its way through Congress that would exempt the Border Patrol from virtually every environmental law within 100 miles of the border. This includes the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act and many more. On the House side it has the disingenuous name "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act.” I'm surprised that they didn't call it the "Mom and Apple Pie Act.” In my opinion, it is silly piece of election year nonsense that uses the pretense of national security to justify circumventing laws that protect the public from rapacious special interests that would put their own wealth ahead of the health and well being of the American people. Worse than that, it is wasting time in election-year posturing when we should be working on the real problems facing our country and world. Tourism travel between the U.S. and Canada is sharply down in recent years, much of which is attributable to tougher border requirements. In this part of the world, where tourism is a huge part of our economy, we have to be careful not to protect ourselves into poverty. I'm afraid this bill is more about the ever-expanding silly season that seems to accompany the election process these days than it is about national security. 


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