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West End News

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

What's On:

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 29

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The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. After a swell time with our daughter in Iowa, we’re happily home in the wilderness quiet.
For 57 years the Smiths were citizens of what most would call organized civilization. Having been away from urban America’s hubbub for 15 years, it’s culture shock to go back after being graced with the serenity of border country living. Our unorganized territory is oh so sweet!
August 2014 is a near has been. How could it have slipped away so quietly? As America takes another monthly break for the Labor Day holiday, summer’s gone, in spite of the calendar still calling for another three weeks. And for many, parting with warm season elements is difficult to accept.
One can sense our warm season demise;  in whispering winds, browning tangles of roadside weeds, the apprehension of ripening tomatoes and maturing garden produce,  aspen hills and valleys turning to gold, dwindling daylight minutes with hurried sunsets and the early fall animal rituals.
The fading of this short season should not be taken with too much alarm. More good things are just over the borderland horizon. We year-round residents welcome the renewing of solitude after a busy summer, with the upper Gunflint at the threshold of autumn’s Technicolor explosion.
Tinges of yellow, orange and red are fringing some of the maple leaves along the Mile O Pine. While the last flowery blooms twinkle with their final hurrahs, rose hips and high bush cranberries are aglow like scarlet holiday ornaments. The area will be a leaf peeper’s enchantment in a couple weeks.
Speaking of rose hips, many find them a tea drinker’s delight following a frosty end to their time of maturation. The quaint fruit of the rose is rich in vitamin C, but don’t attempt eating one; I’m told the fuzzy innards could bring on some gastric distress.
Although I wasn’t present to observe such, I find the Wildersmith neighborhood received some valuable moisture during my absence. The frequency and duration are a mystery but proof was in the rain gauge where 1 inch was captured.
However, at this scribing, the area is moderately dry once more. So care should be exercised with any burning activities.
The Gunflint Lake water temp at the dock has slipped to the high 60s (68 degrees) and is probably following suit on other area bodies. Such would indicate that atmospheric conditions during my time away were certainly not like the muggy heat experienced in southeast Iowa. Living up here for a decade and a half kind of has me forgetting the miserable sticky corn growing times of my previous life.
The area looks to be busy for the next few days as several families and property owners gather to commence a beginning of the end for cabin days throughout the Gunflint forest. 
Another memorable sweet happening will be held on Sunday. The annual Gunflint Trail Historical Society pie and ice cream social will take place on the grounds of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The craft of area pie-making artisans and frozen sweet cream will be served from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. along with coffee and lemonade.
Everyone is invited to come up and enjoy not only the treats of the day, but also the magic of this special place at Trail’s End. The event is a fundraiser for the society in support of museum operations, with a free-will donation being appreciated.
Of course the museum will be open for viewing and several local authors will be on hand for book signings. The Chik-Wauk gift shop will also be holding an end of season parking lot sale. So it looks as though several bases can be touched by making this upper Gunflint journey a must do!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the end of the summer song!



West End News: August 28

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Fifty years ago, on Sept. 3, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act.  The law established a National Wilderness Preservation System, along with a process for Congress to identify and preserve more wilderness areas in the future. 
In my opinion, the Wilderness Act is one of most significant and beautiful legislative actions in the history of this country.  It ranks right up there with the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, The Social Security Act and the 19th Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote.
The act is unusually poetic for legal language, including this much quoted definition of wilderness:  “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The use of the obscure word “untrammeled” was deliberate.  It has a precise definition of: “not deprived of freedom of action or expression; not restricted or hampered.”
The 1964 Wilderness Act included the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a big chunk of which is located right here in Cook County.  Interestingly, the act contains many management exceptions for the BWCA, including continued motor use and logging, reflecting the political climate in Minnesota at that time.
Since 1964, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown from 54 wilderness areas totaling 9.1 million acres to 758 wilderness areas comprising more than 109 million acres.  In 1978, the BWCA Wilderness Act removed all logging and most of the motorized use from our local wilderness.  
The Wilderness Act created a lot of controversy in the West End back in the day, but now it has become a welcome and treasured part of our local economy and lifestyle.
My hat is off to the men and women who early on recognized the need to protect wilderness areas and those who continue to work hard to protect and expand wilderness across this beautiful country of ours.
Speaking of modern day wilderness defenders, Lutsen’s own Amy and Dave Freeman are off on another big adventure in an effort to raise the public’s awareness of the value of wilderness.
They are paddling and sailing 2,000 miles from Ely to Washington, D. C. where they will present a petition to the Obama administration in opposition to the proposed mining projects near the BWCA Wilderness and the Lake Superior watershed.
The Freemans will be featured speakers at the Lake Superior Wilderness Conference in Duluth on Sept. 5 and 6.  The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College in Ashland, Wisc. sponsors the conference, which will be held at the Inn on Lake Superior in Duluth.  The conference is dedicated to Sigurd Olson, who was one of Minnesota’s most prominent advocates for wilderness preservation.
You can find information and registration information on the web by searching for “wilderness conference in Duluth” or contact WTIP for full contact information.
Ted and Marcella Jensen were Silver Bay residents who came to the town when Reserve Mining built a taconite plant there in the 1950s.  They were active in the community, especially in the welfare of children.  They had many foster children as well as their own four children.  I knew them because they camped for many weeks each summer in the Sawbill Campground, especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Their son, Hawk, is one of my dearest friends to this day.
Ted died a number of years ago, but Marcella just passed away a couple of weeks ago.  Even though they were like second parents to me as I grew up, I have to think a moment to remember their first names.  The reason is that they were called “Ma” and “Pa” Jensen by virtually everyone. 
I spent many happy days at their house in Silver Bay, which was always a hub of activity for every kid in town.  Ma kept a freezer full of frozen pizzas, so when you arrived at her house you were immediately fed, made to feel loved, closely questioned and carefully steered to the straight and narrow.  She was one of those amazing people who accepted everyone as inherently good.  In her eyes only the behavior could be bad – never the person.
Her memorial wishes were that anyone who knew her should buy themselves flowers, a good mystery novel or a puzzle in her memory.  She also asked that her family gather at the Sawbill Lake Campground in a couple of weeks to share memories and honor the life of a woman who spent so many happy days here.
She was 91 years old when she died and will be missed by many, many people.



West End News: August 21

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Cook County is offering a couple of interesting and free workshops this week about restoring and maintaining healthy shorelands and aquatic plants.
The first workshop is Wednesday, August 27th, from 1 to 5 pm at the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center, which is located next to the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department Hall halfway up the Gunflint Trail. It will include some indoor learning, followed by a field trip to tour some shorelands and maybe even some actual restoration work, time permitting.
The second workshop is the next day from 8:30 am until noon. It also starts at the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center, but will head right out for East Bearskin Lake for a tour of aquatic plants.
Pre-registration is preferred, but not required.  You can call Ilena Berg at 387-3648 or, as always, you can contact WTIP for more information.
If you’re interested in plants, don’t miss Chel Anderson’s talk at the Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder at 10 am on Saturday, August 30th.  Chel’s talk is titled “Tales They Tell – Plants At Sugarloaf.”  She is truly an expert, not only on the botany of the North Shore, but on the relationships that plants have with each other, with history and with the human community.  I guarantee it will be a fascinating experience.  Just search “Sugarloaf Nature Center” online to get a full description and contact info.
It’s not too early to mark your calendar for the return of Professor Ahmed Samatar from Macalester College in St. Paul.  He will be the Cook County Higher Education guest lecturer on Friday, September 12th at 3 pm. The guest lecture is always at Higher Ed’s North Shore Campus in Grand Marais. 
Professor Samatar’s subject will be “Perspectives on Globalization.” He is a respected researcher, writer and teacher in the areas of global political economy, political and social theory, and African development. I caught his lecture in Grand Marais back in 2011 and I highly recommend his upcoming talk.  Call Higher Ed at 387-3411 for more information.
The Blandin Foundation has been calling attention to recent research that is good news for rural Minnesota.  For decades, the common wisdom has been that our brightest and best young people are moving to the city and leaving their rural roots behind.  The story of boarded-up downtowns, declining school enrollment and declining population has dominated the rural conversation. This is often referred to as “brain drain.”
New research is showing a marked reversal of this trend. Mid-career professionals are migrating back to rural areas, especially those areas that offer high quality natural amenities. Some of these migrants are newcomers and some are people returning to the communities where they grew up. This new trend is being called “brain gain.”
It’s pretty clear that we’re seeing this trend in Cook County. The research clearly shows that brain gain picks up when broadband internet is established in rural areas. The research also shows that the rural areas with the most brain gain are the ones that work to strengthen their existing strengths. Outdoor recreation, access to higher education and a vibrant arts scene have all been mentioned.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years in Cook County. In my opinion, broadband internet, our inherent natural beauty, our vibrant arts and culture, and the creation of affordable housing, will cause a significant “brain gain” here in the West End.

(Photo courtesy of Macalester College)



West End News: August 14

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On Tuesday, August 11th, April Knight walked into the Sawbill store.  April had paddled away from the Sawbill Lake canoe landing on May 17th and made her way to York Factory on Hudson Bay. 
April was fit, tanned and happy to be back in the West End after her epic solo canoe adventure.
She reported that her two favorite parts of the trip were the BWCA Wilderness at the beginning of her trip and the Hayes River at the end.  She enjoyed the solitude and beauty of the formally protected BWCA Wilderness and the same attributes on the remote and unpopulated Hayes River.
Her least favorite part of the trip was the large bear that appeared, as if by magic, uncomfortably close to her in camp.
Judging from her attitude, I have the feeling that more long distance wilderness trips are in April’s future.
Wayside rests are popping up all over the West End.  The beautiful Tettegouche Interpretive Center is now fully open in Little Marais after more than two years of construction.  It’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside and will host a variety of programming related to the stunning Tettegouche State Park.
The Ray Berglund State Wayside is now open at the Onion River in Tofte.  Although it’s tiny compared to the Tettegouche complex, it has its own beauty and will be much appreciated by travelers, hikers, bikers and trout fisherpersons alike.
Last, but not least, ground has been broken on a new wayside rest and Gitchi-Gami trailhead in Beaver Bay.  This wayside will have natural and human history interpretive displays, restroom facilities and parking.  It is expected to open mid-summer next year.
The opening of the new wayside rest areas is especially welcome this summer, when the travel time from Cook County to Two Harbors has been significantly increased by the various highway construction projects.
For the next three weeks or so, north shore travelers will be detoured up through Finland via Highway 1 and Lake County 6.  The good news is that both those roads have wide, smooth pavement and the scenery is outstanding.
I have just two words for this week’s blueberry report: pick now!  This is the best blueberry crop in the last 20 years.  We are right in the peak of the season now, so don’t miss this golden opportunity to sock away some sweet taste of summer for the upcoming winter.
Congratulations to Bruce Martinson and Ginny Storlie for their success in the recent primary election for West End County Commissioner.  Many thanks to Stan Tull and Tim Goettl for offering to serve their community.
I was pleased that the campaign was civil, subtantial and focused on the issues.  This is how democracy should work everwhere.  Knowing Ginny and Bruce as I do, I expect the civility will continue through the general election in November.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Holy Cow has it been busy for the last few weeks!  This is always the high season, but it seems even a little busier than usual.  My theory is that there is pent-up demand for North Shore goodness after the tough winter, spring and early summer weather.  Blue skies and blueberries aren’t hurting things either.  This should be the last week of craziness until the fall color season starts, so hang in there and enjoy the rest of this beautiful West End summer.



West End News: August 1

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April Knight, the adventurous nurse from North Carolina, arrived in York Factory on Hudson Bay on Tuesday, August 5th.  April left Sawbill Lake in Tofte on May 17th
She paddled solo to Winnipeg.  From there, she rode on a supply barge to Norway House on the north end of Lake Winnipeg. From Norway House, she joined another group of paddlers on the Mackenzie and Hayes Rivers for safety in the big rapids on those remote rivers.
April will be hanging around Cook County for awhile after she travels back from York Factory, so hopefully she will schedule a public slide show of her adventure.
I had the pleasure of guiding two rock stars for a paddle on Sawbill Lake this week.  Dessa is a hip hop performer with the Doomtree Collaborative based in Minneapolis.  She is not only internationally famous for her music, but is also a published author, newspaper columnist and radio host. 
Ben Burwell is a well known songwriter, performer, guitarist and member of the popular Twin Cities band Taj Raj.
The two were in the West End for a performance at Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen, where they play at least twice a year.  They’ve become big fans of the West End and are slowly sampling all the outdoor activities that we have to offer up here.
I must say that they are delightful people to hang out with.  They asked good questions, are sparkling conversationalists and just genuinely nice people.  Hopefully, they’ll be regular visitors for many years to come.
There are a couple of fun upcoming events at the Clair Nelson Center in Finland.  On August 20th, the next cooking class with Tracy Jacobsen will be held.  This class will feature red meat entrees.  There is a small charge for the class.
On August 29th, there is an Asian Dinner fundraiser at the Clair Nelson Center.  It will include, among other things, peanut steak stir fry, Asian barbeque pork, jasmine rice, manchow soup and five spice chocolate cake.  It makes me hungry just talking about it.
Sign-up for both events can be done by calling the Clair Nelson Center at 218-353-0300.
This week’s blueberry report is that the blueberries are ripe, plump, plentiful and can be found everywhere.  The picking season is now fully underway and the yields have been among the best I’ve seen in my 58 years in the West End.  Everyone’s secret spot is producing, but if you are a beginner, just go to any of the areas that experienced forest fire in the last ten years and you can’t go wrong.
We are at the front end of the prime season, so you have at least two – and probably closer to three – weeks to get your annual supply of delicious fruit.  I have learned from experience though that the early berries are the sweetest, so I give you permisson to leave work right now and go picking.
There are two teenage sisters who are staying in the Sawbill Campground this week.  They’ve been camping at Sawbill every year since they were born, as their mother did before them and their grandparents before them.
The entire family is nuts for fishing and have become acknowleged experts on all the lakes in the Sawbill area.  The sisters are very serious about fishing and are carrying the family expertise into the next generation with aplomb. 
I was chatting with them last year and they volunteered one reason they enjoy fishing so much.  They admitted that they tend to argue with each other almost continuously, but they never fight when they are fishing.  When I asked why, they looked at me like I was dim witted and said, “We can’t argue while we’re fishing because it would scare the fish!”
That is the best argument for world peace that I’ve ever heard.



West End News: July 31

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The hot news from the West End this week is the ripening of the blueberries. We’re still at least a week from the peak, but ripe berries can be found now on south-facing slopes.  There is an anonymous couple from Duluth who stay in the Sawbill Campground and are the world’s leading experts on blueberries in the West End of Cook County.  They picked four quarts in a couple of hours last Saturday.  Based on the number of green berries, they are predicting one of the best berry crops in history this year, thanks to the plentiful moisture and abundant black flies earlier in the season.
The Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder is having its annual meeting and ice cream social Saturday, Aug. 9, beginning at 1 p.m.  The festivities will also include a presentation from Andrea Crouse, aquatic ecologist from UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute.  Andrea will cover the health of North Shore streams and what you can do to help monitor, maintain or improve their quality.
Mark you calendar now for John Schroeder Lumberjack Day in Schroeder Saturday, Aug. 16, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  As usual, this fun event celebrates the rich timber harvesting history of Schroeder, with sawmill tours, kid activities, vendors, brats and the always popular history walks with Skip Lamb.
The next day, Sunday, Aug. 17, the Schroeder Area Historical Society will host a book signing with Carl Gawboy and Ron Morton, authors of “Talking Sky,” the fascinating book about Ojibway stories connected to the night sky.
The primary election ballots for the West End county commissioner race, and several statewide races, have been mailed and need to be returned by election day, which is Aug. 12.  This will determine which two candidates advance to the general election in November.  Primary elections can easily be won or lost by one or two votes, so it is critical that you exercise your democratic right to vote.
If you aren’t registered to vote, you can register at the Cook County  courthouse in Grand Marais.  To be eligible to vote in this election you must be a U.S. citizen and have lived in the West End for more than 20 days prior to the election.  You also have to be 18 years old by election day and not be a convicted felon.  You can register with a valid ID that shows an address in the precinct where you plan to vote, or you can bring along a registered voter from the precinct who can vouch that you’ve lived here for more than 20 days.  In Minnesota, you can register up to and on election day.
Thanks again to everyone who is running for office and keeping our democracy vital and relevant.
One of my favorite parts of working in a tourism business is never knowing who might walk in the door.
Last week, a gentleman approached me at the store counter and asked if there used to be a lodge at Sawbill.  When I told him that Sawbill Lodge existed here until the early 1980s, he told me that his father worked there when he was a young teenager in the 1950s.  When he said his father’s name was Don Sunde, I surprised him by telling him that I not only knew his father, but he had saved my life in 1957.
I was four years old and spent all day, every day at the Sawbill Lodge dock, where my dad was dock boy, in charge of renting boats and motors, dispensing bait and cleaning fish.  I spent my time exploring the dock area, especially the shoreline and Sawbill Creek.  I was fishing continuously, with a line in the water from dawn to dusk.  I fell in the lake at least twice a day.
I was pulled from the lake by my collar more times than I can remember, but one day I fell into the flooded creek when no one was around to see me.  I was washed down the creek and was unable to save myself.  Don Sunde just happened to be walking by and saw me go.  He ran through the woods and intercepted me as I was swept by.
I don’t actually remember the incident, but according to my parents, I was about three-quarters drowned by the time he got to me.  I can only remember waking up, sick and battered, with my parents’ very worried faces hovering over me.
So, 58 years later, in the midst of an ordinary working day, the son of the man who saved my life pointed his phone at me and said, “Say something to my dad.”  Across time and space I was able to say, “Thanks for saving my life.”



West End News: July 24

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As Cindy and I stood at our patio doors at 3:30 in the morning on Tuesday, I thought, “Here we go again.” 
The 100-foot-tall red and white pines in our backyard were bent halfway to the ground and the rain was whipped into a white, sideways froth filled with branches, leaves and needles flying by at 60 miles per hour.  Massive lightning bolts were creating a disorienting strobe effect, brilliantly lighting the landscape one second and plunging into cave-like blackness in the next.
As I was lost in a flashback to the catastrophic 1999 blow-down, Cindy’s voice brought me back to the present by announcing that someone was at the door. 
We opened the door to the bedraggled Bagnato family, Greg and Ellen, along with their young children, Mia and Taj.  Ellen was a Sawbill crew member 15 years ago and they were camping on the Sawbill Campground for the night before beginning a canoe trip.
As we hustled the bedraggled family into dry towels, they informed us that a tree had fallen on their tent, landing on Mia’s legs.  Although the tent is a total loss, x-rays at the emergency room in the morning revealed that Mia did not have any fractures, just large, colorful bruises to show for her frightening experience.
We ended up with nine large trees down in the campground, including some huge white and red pines.  Four of them fell within feet of people sleeping in tents. 
Mia’s bruises turned out to be the only injuries from the storm in the Sawbill area, and the blow-down didn’t materialize, but both were very close calls.
Weather disaster was already on my mind, as earlier in the day I had attended a workshop on climate change hosted by the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.  The University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University and Carleton College have teamed up to study how Minnesota’s North Shore can adapt to climate change.
The workshop was attended by representatives from government, non-profits, tourism business and academics.  The project will study how climate change will affect the North Shore and what strategies will help us deal with those changes as they come.
Ironically, one of the prime topics of conversation at workshop was increasing frequency of extreme weather, in the form of floods, droughts, wind storms, and wild variations in seasonal temperatures.  The examples are too numerous to ignore, including the ’99 blowdown, the Ham Lake and Pagami Creek fires, the Duluth flood, the record early ice-out in 2012 and the polar vortex last winter, just to name a few.
The climate change adaptation project will be active on the North Shore over the next year, interviewing stakeholders and collecting data of all kinds.  I applaud their efforts, but I also think we are far past the time for the world to come to grips with this important issue. 
I often hear the argument that our economy can’t afford to slow down climate change, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious, here on the West End, that we can’t afford not to deal with climate change.


West End News: July 17

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Pastor Deborah Lunde has announced her resignation as minister of Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte.  She has served as pastor at Zoar for six years and has guided the church to a strong position in terms of having an active program with robust membership.  She plans to take a break from ministry for a while for some personal reflection and time with her family.  She won’t be leaving until the end of the busy summer season, which gives the church leadership plenty of time to make transition plans.  I’m sure the whole West End joins me in thanking Pastor Deb for her service to our community.
Another branch of the extended Lundie family has been on the minds of Schroeder residents recently, surrounding the 10th annual Lundie cabin tour sponsored by the Schroeder Area Historical Society.  The tour this year consisted exclusively of cabins and homes designed by celebrated architect Edwin Lundie.   For the first time in ten years, the tour included the incredible Slade mansion.  One hundred and ten tour participants made this the most successful tour in history. A big thanks to the private owners of Lundie cabins and homes, who graciously share their beautiful properties with 110 strangers. The tour is a major fundraiser for the Schroeder Historical Society.
Sugarloaf Nature Center in Schroeder continues their wonderful summer lecture series next week with a program entitled “The Evolution of North Shore Streams” by Dr. Karen Gran from UMD.
Dr. Gran will cover the geologic history of western Lake Superior, with a focus on how this history affects the rivers today.  The Cross River in Schroeder will be highlighted, including its history as a log-driving conduit during the horse-logging era.  She will also demonstrate a virtual tour of the river using high definition lidar topographic data.
The lecture is free and starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 26. The Sugarloaf Nature Center is located at Milepost 73, just west of Schroeder on Highway 61.
This is the week when we will receive our mail-in ballots for the District 5 Cook County Commissioner primary election.  I strongly urge everyone to exercise their right to vote in both the primary election and the general election in November. 
In my opinion, the election process on the national level in now broken. A series of disastrous Supreme Court decisions have not only disenfranchised the ordinary citizen in favor of the rich and powerful, but have led directly to the inability of Congress to take meaningful action on any of the pressing issues facing the nation.
This is a serious problem with no easy fix.  I’m an optimist by nature, but I fear greatly for the future of our democracy if we can’t find our way back to the system of one person, one vote. The Canadians, as usual, can teach us a few things, with their strict limits on both the duration of the election season and on campaign contributions.  In Canada, only real people are allowed to contribute to campaigns.
On the local level here in Cook County, elections are still a reflection of true democracy.  It’s a healthy and meaningful process that has a direct impact on all of our lives.  By casting an informed ballot, you are doing your part to make this West End an even better community than it already is.



West End News: July 10

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Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center in Schroeder is offering a fascinating lecture next week.  Award-winning author Ron Morton will guide you into the world of the night sky as seen through the lens of traditional Ojibwe culture.  In his book “Talking Sky,” cowritten with Carl Gawboy from the Bois Forte Band, Morton explores contellations of wandering wolves and brave fishers, as well as explanations for comets and meteors.
Ojibwe people not only had explainations for what was happening in the night sky, but also used it to created marvelous stories of great cultural and practical importance. 
Talking Sky will be presented at Sugarloaf Cove at 10 a.m.  Saturday, July 19.  The Cove is located at milepost 73, a little way west of downtown Schoeder.  Call 218-525-0001 for details.
Tofte native Bjorn Tofte was back in town over the Fourth  of July holiday with his lovely wife Andrea and his newborn son, Vincent.  Vincent is the latest of the fifth generation of the Tofte family to gather in Tofte each Independence Day for a family reunion.  Everyone was glad to see Bjorn and Andrea, who now live in Portland, but Vincent was clearly the man of the hour.
Noah Horak, who is a contemporary of Bjorn’s and also a Tofte native, is now more than two years into his around-the-world tour by motocycle.  This week he finally left Asia for Australia. 
Noah’s adventures are far too many to recount here, but he’s spent the last six months in southeast Asia, riding around Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.  Noah shuns the highways and rides his specially designed motorcycle on the most remote back roads he can find.
Australia forbids the import of even a tiny amount of foreign soil, so Noah spent four solid days disassembling his motorcycle and cleaning every tiny nook and cranny.  After two years of seeking out the muddiest roads he can find, it was, needless to say, quite a project.
After Australia and New Zealand, Noah plans to ride around South America and then, possibly, return home.
I follow Noah’s adventure on his blog, which you can easily find by googling “RTW with Noah.”  “RTW” is short for ‘round the world.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I am pretty much been living my life vicariously through Noah for the last couple of years.  For someone like me, who is rooted to one spot on earth through numerous commitments and responsibilities, Noah’s life is like a siren call of adventure and glamor.  Ride on, Noah!
While not strictly a West End event, I highly recommend Tim Cochrane’s upcoming presentation at Cook County Higher Education in Grand Marais titled: “Most of Everything You Think about Early Grand Marais is Well -- Wrong: The American Fur Company in the 1820s.”
Among many other historical myths, Tim makes a compelling argument that the common belief that Grand Marais means “big swamp” in French is probably not correct.  You’ll have to attend to find out why.
The program is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 22 at the North Shore campus of Higher Education in Grand Marais.  The lecture is free, but goodwill donations are encouraged. You can contact Higher Ed at 387-3411 for more details.
Animal sightings have been very good along the Sawbill Trail and in the BWCA wilderness this week.  Moose sightings have been almost routine.  I hope this means that the moose population is rebounding, but I know that anecdotal sightings are not an accurate measure of population. 
Many bears are also being seen too, but not in the usual way.  Historically, most bear sightings are unwelcome visits to a campsite with the bear casting a hungry eye on the cooler or food pack.  This year, people are seeing the bears in the wild.  A bear even walked through the Crescent Lake Campground, where many unattended coolers were sitting on picnic tables, and were left unmolested by the passing bruin.
This is the fifth season since the last time bears were causing significant problems in campsites, barring a couple of individual problem bears here and there.  With the plentiful rain and the lush vegetation this summer, I’m relatively confident that the bears will be content with their natural foods again this year.
I know the bears aren’t much of a problem when I start being asked by visitors if we still have bears up here.  I always assure them that we still have plenty of bears and they are a big part of what makes the West End a wonderful place to live.



West End News: July 3

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Commentator Bill Hansen reports on the latest West End News.