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West End News Sept. 29

Fall colors are starting to peak on the West End, photo by Liz Foot
Fall colors are starting to peak on the West End, photo by Liz Foot

Finalcut_WEN_20110929.mp34.44 MB

The fall colors in the West End seem to be reaching their peak this week and next. It’s a decent year for color, if not a great year. The drought caused some stands of birch to lose their leaves prematurely, but that has created another sort of beauty by letting the colorful reds and yellows from the underbrush shine through the white birch trunks. The color combined with balmy weather, clear skies and mild winds have created sort of a false “spring fever,” including distracted window gazing, laziness and overwhelming desire to get out in the woods. Some flora and fauna are fooled too, so we’ve seen a few black flies, some blooming violets and mating displays from the woodcocks and ruffed grouse.

Speaking of ruffed grouse, the season is well under way, of course, and hunters are having pretty good success already. On opening day, all of the area around us here at Sawbill was closed to the public due to the Pagami Creek fire. A couple of days before the opener, a few of the hunters on the Sawbill crew realized that they were living in the middle of what amounted to a private grouse hunting preserve. They were quick to take advantage and bagged 10 grouse between four hunters in the opening hours of the season. When the officer at the roadblock found out what they were up to, he put a damper on their enthusiasm, suggesting that they hunt only near home and off of any roads that fire engines might have to use. In spite of those restrictions, they were still able to get in some spectacular hunting days before the area was reopened to the public.

There are still some slots available for the North Shore Health Care Foundation golf tournament, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2 at Superior National in Lutsen. The tournament is the main annual fundraising event for the Health Care Foundation. The foundation gives grants to improve and enhance health care in Cook County. Since it started in 1995 the Foundation has raised and donated more than $426,000 to Cook County health care providers. It seems hard to believe, but the golf tournament is in its 16th year. Many individuals and businesses contribute to the tournament, but special thanks to Superior National golf course for providing the course at no cost to the foundation. While we’re on the subject, it’s not too early to plan for the annual Fall Brunch fundraiser held at Chez Jude in Grand Marais beginning at noon Sunday, Oct. 30. More information on both events can be found at

There is a big change happening in the West End that is kind of flying under the radar. For a variety of reasons, many people have, or are about to, retire from their jobs with the U.S. Forest Service. The combination of the baby boomers reaching a certain age and some policy changes within the Forest Service is causing a significant number of long-time employees to retire this year. This causes me to have some mixed feelings. First feeling is sadness at losing the day-to-day working relationship with so many fine, dedicated public employees. The second feeling is jealousy as I see my friends happily engaged in leisure activities at any time of the day, week or year. The third feeling is a little trepidation when I realize how much wisdom and experience is walking out the door. I do take consolation though, in seeing the bright young people who are joining our community as they step into new roles within the agency. Whenever someone stops doing something that they’ve done for a long time, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else can fill their shoes. But, in my experience, people step up when they are given the opportunity and the world keeps on turning.

The northern lights have been very much on display this week after being relatively quiet most of the summer. I’m told that there is going to be strong solar storm activity for the next few weeks and the northern lights may be spectacular during that time. I guess I’ll have to start taking naps so I can stay up late enough to enjoy the show.